Growing commitment within the team

In any organization, you will find two types of people, those who work to be part of a mission, and those who work for a paycheck. Ideally, you want to skew your developers towards the former.

This can be challenging owing to the nature of work developers do. You wouldn’t be able to tell if your developer is seriously churning code or trolling people on Reddit. Especially, if you don’t have a technical background yourself.

Thankfully, you can bank on people wanting to be part of something greater than themselves. You can tap into this intrinsic motivation to get great results both for your organization and your team.

In this entry, I will be discussing what I have found to work in my own practice.

Jointly come up with stories

The idea requirements are out there to be gathered is a truly misleading one.

I believe the act of story writing is a creative one. Out there what you will find is a problematic situation, your job with your team is to interpret the situations as problems and come up with stories which can then solve these problems.

By being involved in this initial problem setting, your team is able to see the meaning to the work they do.

As Fred Brooks put it:

The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures

By allowing the whole team to participate in this process, you get creations which are in line with the complexities of the business.

Regularly reflect on purpose

Kieran Setiya in his article on How Schopenhauer’s thought can illuminate a midlife crisis starts with this phrase:

Having jumped the hurdles of the academic career track, I knew I was lucky to be a tenured professor of philosophy. Yet stepping back from the busyness of life, the rush of things to do, I found myself wondering, what now? I felt a sense of repetition and futility, of projects completed just to be replaced by more. I would finish this article, teach this class, and then I would do it all again. It was not that everything seemed worthless. Even at my lowest ebb, I didn’t feel there was no point in what I was doing. Yet somehow the succession of activities, each one rational in itself, fell short.

You don’t need to be approaching midlife to get this sense, write-commit-push-deploy can feel as grinding.

Your best developers joined your organization for why you do what you do. It is easy to assume this sense will always remain there after all the company has not changed right?

I would posit you need to regularly remind your people why they what they do. At iHub we built communities, it was always satisfying to see the uber successes in the industry trace their roots back to our organization. At Twiga, we are helping bring food security to the country. From this perspective, each commit matters that much more.

Identify and manage freeloaders

I came across this interesting video showing monkeys understand the concept of fairness

 

Unfortunately, in any team, there will be those who will be looking to do the least amount of work possible. Even if they never mention it, the other teammates notice and I assure you they don’t like it.

Ben Horowitz called it the law of crappy people:

For any title in an organization the talent in that level will eventually converge to the crappiest person with the title. Everyone at the lower level will naturally benchmark themselves against the crappiest person at the next level.

Present growth opportunities

If you did your interviews right, your people are smart motivated and ambitious. The last thing they want to feel is stuck. Paradoxically, your best devs will resist promotion to management. This is no excuse to give up on them. Instead, provide them with opportunities to grow within their interests.

This means actively monitoring what they are working on and scanning for new opportunities to challenge them even more.

How do you grow commitment within your own team? Talk to me in the comment section below or on my twitter @jchex

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Why we are moving to microservices

Ever since I joined Twiga, there has been talk of switching to a microservice architecture. This idea had been baked into the product from the beginning so the switch should not be as hard.

I don’t actively code so there is no technical satisfaction but am still excited about what is coming next.

In this entry, will be talking about what I foresee coming.

The project becomes more expressive

In a previous entry, we delved into what it means to properly name entities in your code.

Having a big vocabulary is useful because we are better able to attend to concepts we have a name for.

By breaking up our system into microservices, we are able to have multiple entities to talk about. For example, it will be possible to have a meeting to discuss authentication and have its code cast in the background that is functionally separate from the rest of the system.

This tallies well with our brain which is wired up for affordance. Briefly described, the theory of affordance states we don’t see things as they are but as what they mean to us. Eg a cup as something to reach towards. Thus our code will now express meaning.

Evolution on multiple timelines becomes possible

Working for a fast growing startup has turned out to require far more versatility than I originally thought. The core product needs to serve multiple parties each having their own goals, values and tech readiness.

We could always work out what would be the best processes for the organization and then code it but of what value would that be to the person using it?

To ensure the product we deliver actually has value to a human, we need to evolve the product to better serve them, when we have multiple classes of users with fundamentally different needs, we are in effect building out a suite of products.

Microservices should help this flow much easier by enabling us to evolve at the rate of the relevant party.

Easier to scale the team

As I briefly explained in the entry How managers cripple their best team members new team members are inherently destabilizing.

Yet a feature of a growing startup is an influx of new team members.

The switch then should enable us to set up independent teams to work on different services while preserving the integrity of existing high performing teams.

Furthermore, it’s now possible to use multiple languages across the system growing our hiring talent pool and enabling us to use the best language for any specific use case.

Do you use microservices in your own organization? Talk to me in the comment section below or on my twitter @jchex

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What it means to be a leader in a software team

In my career in technology, I have had the chance to serve in several leadership roles, latest being Twiga foods. My first time, I assumed leadership, or as the organization referred to it, management involved defining what was good for the organization, breaking that up to tasks then delegating the tasks to individual developers.

Over time, I have come to realize this model of leadership is seriously flawed, not in the least because developers are very smart people, smarter than I am.

Even more important, by monopolizing the work of visioning, I simultaneously lost out on great ideas from others and demotivated them at the same time!

In this entry, we will be looking at what I see is the role of the leader in a software team.

Custodian of priority

All teams face a bombardment of new information every single day. In this blizzard, its very easy to get lost and like the proverbial hyena get split in half!

Your job is to make sense of this incoming mess of requests, messages and bug reports and in the light of your team goals, give them meaning.

Not all tasks are the same, by giving them context, the team can then decide which tasks will give them the greatest return on their time and energy investment.

This also means you guide them in reviewing old commitments to see if they still make sense.

Trawl for new useful information

Nassim Taleb in his classic book The black swan introduced the concept of the unknown unknowns.

A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences.

In software, this translates to unplanned work. As mentioned in How you pay for technical debt

Like matter and antimatter, in the presence of unplanned work, all planned work ignites with incandescent fury, incinerating everything around it

As the leader, you need to be constantly monitoring your environment for signs of this black swans. It may come in the form of changing business environment for your clients or even unresolved disputes in choices to be made.

Either way, bring them up to the team for discussion and resolution.

Ensure personal growth

Maybe I have been more lucky than others. All engineers I have worked with have been naturally curious autodidacts. Yet for those new in the field, they may have no idea what they need to know or the experiences they need to have to mature into senior roles.

Your work as a leader then is to appreciate raw talent and provide support for growth.

Peter Senge establishes Personal Mastery as one of the core disciplines. He defines it as:

Personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.

This is very important to understand and practice yourself while encouraging it for others as well.

You see, the higher the skill level of those around you, the more peace of mind you experience. When you are knee deep in a project this is not the time to start wondering if your colleague will drop the ball.

Provide feedback to the team

All successful systems are so because they have someway of getting and acting on feedback from their environment.

This means even as the team is working on the next iteration, you must be mindful of how the last release is being used. What do the users think of it?

Even here, you must be careful the team does not develop a culture of aloofness and insensitivity to the message coming from the rest of the business.

Through this entire entry, you may have noted the leadership I talk about does not need any official designation to execute, yet it will provide a lot of value to your team.

How have you provided leadership to your team today? Talk to me in the comment section below or on my twitter @jchex

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