|Disturbing trends, this completely predates just the last six months....
I've moved from being a team lead to being the head of our R&D group. I now have as many teams (7) as I did people to think about, and a whole new world of politics, strategy and planning. With a group of this size HR issues seem to be at least a weekly occurrence and I am now fully and completely on the manager's schedule.
However now that I've somewhat got my sea legs in this position I am increasingly allowing myself to get back into technical issues where I think I can add value. "Where I think I can add value" is the whole challenge here though. I have literally not opened visual studio in five months of running around like a chicken with my head cut off. How often does having the boss swoop in and give their less informed perspective do more harm than good? Impossible to answer without knowing the boss in question of course, but surely there are ground rules some sage masters can teach me.
I have to say I really enjoy looking at things from this altitude, in that you really can see patterns in development across teams, opportunities for reuse or better design across teams, efficiencies to be gained etc. It all can be very fun, but at the same time I worry about losing relevance, and I worry about sidetracking teams. Even worse is the feeling that by interfering I actually hurt the autonomy and self-sufficiency of these teams by interfering (which almost outweighs the fear of divergent or teams).
Here are some things I think I would tell the me of six months ago: (advice to a new executive)
- Don't stop the old routine completely. I actually think a lot of my comfort these days is precisely because I'm getting back to things like my reader and blogger. Just imagine how nice it would be if I could do the occasional code review or bug fix! (unlikely) My life has gotten decidedly more stressful (father died, promotion, second child all within the last six months) and my routine has out of nowhere incorporated quite a bit of gaming all of sudden. (COD2 MW, WoW) Good stress releases but I need to get myself back into creating rather than just consuming things.
- Embrace the manager's schedule, but respect the maker's schedule. It's a very tricky thing not to let your new found schedule dictate awkward length and times for meetings with the people who are there to actually do the development. Resist the urge and find ways to be more effective with meetings. It is SO easy to forget the real costs around this.
- Don't seek consensus on every decision. It can work on a team of seven or eight to drive for consensus and try to win minds but on much larger teams you're going to have to get used to making some calls without the comfort of knowing you have everyone on board. Of course reasonable efforts still need to be made but it becomes about key people and finding the influence in the group.
- Be open and give status frequently. Still one I struggle to do properly but it really is key. I am trying right now to really focus on problems at the request of my boss, but don't forget to acknowledge the wins as well. The more open you are about the warts the easier it is to excise them. In my opinion, maybe counter intuitively, more shit should flow up and more sunshine down. (though that's an easy one to over generalize)
- Trust and trusting your gut. Not really anything new to the position, but the frequency with which I've run into this has gone through the roof. You often just know the right course of action. Waiting to find out the hard way (or expensive way) that you were right can be painful. Trusting yourself is only second to trusting your people. Trust your gut on your people, make sure you have the right people and put that trust in them.
- There will be a lot of water sprayed at your back, be the duck. Or, in other words, find a way to regain your slack.