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A Development Manager’s Strategy

It’s the end of the year and as a software development manager I find myself thinking about strategy. I’ve been in this position for 5 months now, and I think it is time to start consciously working towards a strategy rather than just doing what I think is right. After a few discussions with others I think I have the foundation of something that really resonates with me, what I believe, and what I hope we can achieve. I thought I’d share it and see what people think.

I believe there are three things that our board and executive team expect from product development. These are the 3 key goals or objectives for me for the year: Predictability, Quality and Value.

Predictability: They need to know that we will deliver what we say we will deliver, when we say we will deliver it. This helps them make effective business decisions about risks, potential markets, and tradeoffs.

Quality: Our reputation for delivering quality both in the product and in our customer support is what brings us future business, and keeps customers happy. It’s also pretty closely coupled with predictability in my book, because without reasonable quality you never know what might suddenly throw several spanners in the works.

Value: Let’s face it, we are in business to make money. If the product we are building doesn’t result in revenue which exceeds our costs we will go out of business. I know this one is hard to measure but without it I feel we are trapped into measuring productivity which I think is a mistake, so somehow I’m going to take a stab at measuring value.

Okay so those are the things we need to achieve, but the question is how are we going to achieve it. My answer is …. through culture. Okay you might think I’ve just lost the plot but let me explain what I mean.

According to wikipedia one definition of culture is: The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group. This is what I mean when I say culture.

I have worked in several organisations which I would describe as having a toxic culture. The thing I learned there is that regardless of the processes and people involved, they usually achieve nothing.

I am also an avid agilist and believe that agile is not a set of rules or practise you follow blindly, it’s a set of values and principles. Alan Cyment says scrum has a spirit. I’m going to say scrum is a culture.

My strategy as a dev manager is to cultivate and encourage a culture which supports this. That means a culture of trust and respect. A culture of embracing failure and not blaming. A culture of collaboration. A culture of excellence. A culture of taking pride in our work. A culture of quality over speed. A culture of sustainable pace. The list goes on.

This resonates wholeheartedly with who I am, what I believe and the work environment I strive to create.

So what does this mean in real terms of what I am going to do next year?

I am going to keep seeking opportunities to create and support this culture (as I have been doing this year), but I will do it consciously knowing that this is what helps us deliver Predictibility, Quality and Value. I can’t measure culture, but I can measure predictability, quality and value.I hope to use that to prove that product development are doing their job well.

My message to our board is this: Our culture, which at times might seem challenging to you (like when you walk in and find our developers playing Wii) is the very thing that helps us deliver the things you need. As long as we are delivering that and showing you how we are improving, give us the freedom to have the culture that serves us best.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Gr8 article Karen!

    I believe that one of the biggest challenges of a dev manager is to be able to shuffle people and teams to meet the long term goals of the product(s) – the tools and planning and people and processes around that need to be put in place… to facilitate the “shuffling”.
    Culture is THE key to building a great team and in so doing creating the culture of teamwork.

    December 18, 2010
  2. Great article, Karen! I think your strategy is clear and, with the appropriate supporting details, should resonate with the board. I sincerely hope your board has the culture to give you that freedom as you prove success. The fact that you are thinking about your strategy in this way is a promising sign that you are in an environment where this will succeed.

    January 7, 2011
    • Yes I am definitely in an environment that gives me alot of freedom, and I am grateful for it everyday!

      January 7, 2011

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