I was lucky when I started out in IT and had a couple of exceptional managers that really understood their role as managers and how to grow a team. As I transitioned into leadership roles, those lessons served me well and I added to them. As those same years have rolled on, I find it harder and harder to find good leaders in organizations. They rule by fear or apathy, often employing the mushroom management principle and acting like spoiled children when difficult situations arise, resorting to statements like “do it because I’m the boss”. All of this doesn’t serve the company or the employees, resulting in high turnover, and late or broken projects, usually both. With that in mind, I present the following:
The intent of these definitions is to separately define each role or responsibility that a single leader might fill as a part of their duties. The purpose of this brainstorming is to determine if these responsibilities can be separated and distributed among a team.
Work Assignment (Delegator)
This responsibility takes into account the existing skills and knowledge of members of the team to assign work strategically, maximizing work output. This person executing this responsibility would, by necessity, work with the Curators to understand the current priorities of incoming work and develop a lineup of work that is ready. As workers become available, the Delegator will assign work to a given worker based on their skill, knowledge, and work priority.
As necessary, this person will be able to direct the worker to further resources necessary to accomplish the work. It is not necessary, however, for the Delegator to entirely understand the ticket, the technical requirements, or even the business objective. This person is not a coach, merely an allocator. To work around their own non-understanding, they may consult others or poll for volunteers to discover the workers who are capable of the work.
During planning phases, this person will play a key role by ensuring that work is defined and divided in such a way that the work may be well distributed and the team will work at optimal efficiency.
- Who wants this ticket?
- Who is qualified to work on this ticket?
- What is the priority of this ticket?
- Will this ticket stretch the abilities of a given worker without overwhelming them?
- What are the skills and expertise of any given worker?
Technical Vision Curation (Technical Curator)
This responsibility is to maintain the short, medium, and long-term visions for the technical aspects of the project. This person will take into account business priorities, the current state of the project, and the established technical vision(s) of the project to establish technical guidelines for incoming work.
During the refinement and grooming phases, this person may suggest or enforce the use of specific technologies to achieve the desired outcomes. This person will discourage the use of deprecated technologies and the accumulation of technical debt.
This person will continue to provide guidance as work is in progress, and will work with the Tracker and Delegator to prioritize and set expectations.
The Technical Curator will also be responsible for determining the work required to remove deprecated technologies, eliminate technical debt, and prepare for future feature implementation (in concert with the Product Curator).
- What are our long, medium, and short-term product goals?
- Which technologies will we use to achieve those goals?
- What are the financial, temporal, testing, and maintenance costs/benefits associated with a given technology?
- Do we currently have the skills and expertise to use a given technology?
Product Vision Curation (Product Curator)
The Product Curator’s primary responsibility is to provide an authoritative place for product knowledge to be accumulated and referenced. This often includes the creation and maintenance of a “Product Bible” and associated reference library, which documents the desired behavior and appearance of the product.
This person is not expected to understand the entirety of the product, but to be the first place to go to determine what the product is and how it works. This person will be familiar with other people with product knowledge and will be empowered to find answers to product-related questions.
This person will be used during the refinement and grooming process to verify the coherency of work with the product vision. In addition, they will be available during the execution of work to clarify and resolve conflicts and misunderstandings as they appear.
As business requirements change, this person will be required to update documentation and consult with the Technical Curator.
- Is this ticket in line with our product vision?
- What is the expected behavior in a given corner case?
- Who knows about a given feature?
- What should this interface look like and how should it behave?
Work Tracking (Tracker)
This responsibility has to do with the day-to-day progress of the work. It is generally unrelated to any specific technical or business knowledge. Instead, the responsibility is to understand the timelines for tickets in progress. As the Tracker becomes more familiar with the paces of workers and general trends, they become key members of the leadership group, providing estimates and potential timelines for future work.
This person will also be especially aware of planned PTO, absences, and unexpected obstacles in the work. This person will work closely with the Delegator and Curators to deal with the aforementioned interruptions, seeking out a replacement or additional workers as consultants.
- How long do you think it will take to finish your ticket?
- Are we still on track to finish this work by the formerly agreed estimate?
- Do you want/need a consultation with your ticket?
- Who do you think would best be able to take over this work during your PTO?
While this is not a leadership role, it is important to emphasize that the role of a worker is to work. To be a reliable, productive, and trustworthy worker is worthy of pride and praise.
It is, however, necessary to understand that the fundamental goal of a worker is to work, to execute assigned tasks in good faith. In the software industry, programmers, architects, and administrators do best when they are allowed to focus on the task at hand with minimal interruption. Thus, the goal of the previous roles and responsibilities is to enable work, prevent interruptions, and focus on the success of the workers.
Happy workers know when they’ve done a good job. Unclear expectations, lack of work, tedious, repetitive tasks, and interruption all prevent a worker from understanding their role, fulfilling their role, and being appreciated for their contributions. The suggested roles and responsibilities mentioned above are specifically designed to protect against the unfortunate outcome of unhappy, confused, and unproductive workers.
All of these roles and responsibilities are not dictatorial. Instead, they are roles of support. Leaders facilitate, enable, and encourage. Using these roles as a means to power or unrighteous dominion hurts the entire team.
It is expected that all of these roles will take into account the sentiments of the team as a whole, the larger business objectives, and the strengths and weaknesses of the team. Likewise, they will work in concert with one another to achieve the best possible outcomes when it comes to timelines, product efficiency, and morale.
These roles may be duplicated and rotated as desired, on a short or long-term basis. Rotation of the roles will teach the skills required, for personal and team growth, and provide redundancy. Duplication of the roles may be wise, for example, when separate, major projects are in progress simultaneously.
It should also be included here that training to replace is a fundamental feature of successful organizations. Any of those roles can and should have assistants, whose role it is to learn the skills required and be able to replace the current operator of the role. Growth and empowerment is a key indicator of success.