Your First Week as a Software Development Manager

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Leadership,SDLC Management | Wednesday 27 February 2008 7:45 pm

Wether you are starting a new job, or you just got promoted, the first week as a Software Development Manger, VP, Director, etc, can be a dizzying experience.

Depending on your particular situation, you’ll likely have to meet many new people, learn about new systems, and remember to smile often.

A good starting point is the be sure the following items are in place:

  1. Make a contact list of everyone in your department, your peers, you manager.  Include their desk phones, mobile phones, and email addresses.  Keep this list updated.  You will use it for a long time.
  2. Find or Create the ‘Development Procedures Manual.’  Include in it the following:
    1. Corporate Mission/Vision Statement & Values
    2. Department Mission/Vision Statement & Values
    3. New Employee Hire checklist
    4. Development Workstation Setup checklist
    5. Software Development Procedures
    6. Coding Standards
    7. VPN Setup Instructions
    8. Weekly Meeting Schedules
  3. Create a ‘Development Managers Log’ containing the following:
    1. Employee Time Off Log
    2. Observed holiday list
    3. 3rd Party Software Licensing information
    4. Historical Release Log
  4. Be sure you have a source code repository
  5. Be sure you have an issue tracking system
  6. Review/Create the Disaster Recovery plan for all of your critical systems:
    1. Source Code Repository
    2. 3rd Party Code libraries
    3. Issue Tracking System & DB
  7. Make a ‘projects list’ containing an ever-updating list of projects and their status.
  8. Have a ‘welcome meeting’ with the group you oversee to tell them something about you.  Whomever interviewed you knows about you, but chances are the group you are now managing doesn’t.  Tell them your past work history, your management style, communication plan, and something fun and personable about yourself.
  9. Ask your group what would make their jobs more rewarding.  Ask this question a lot at first because they won’t believe you mean it until you have asked the question many times.

Good Luck!  You’re off to a good start!

Mike J. Berry

What to look for when interviewing a candidate

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Executives,Leadership,Product Owner,ScrumMaster,SDLC Management | Thursday 21 February 2008 10:56 pm

My sister was recently promoted to manage a team of software project managers for a large bank on the East coast.  She told me she gets to hire someone for the first time in her career.

I told her that hiring is always a bit of a dice roll, but I offered her some advice after having hired about 15 people at various times in my career:

1. The most important indicator of future success is past success.  Good interviewers know this.  Dig into people’s past work experience and try to find out if they have been generally successful, or not.  Some indicators of this are whether they have changed jobs often.  If they jumped jobs on their way up the ladder of responsibility, this is OK.  If they jumped sideways, or sometimes down, this is a red flag.  Drill them about each job change.  You will get interesting results.  People will say they were fired, or had fights with their boss or coworkers.  These are usually not your desirable candidates.  If they fought with their previous peers and managers, chances are they will fight with your group also.

2. Look for enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is a great sign of a star employee.

3. Examine their personal lives (you really can’t do this in an interview).  But whatever they tell you can be a clue as to how they respond to accountability, pressure, authority, and responsibility.  If they hate police, or the government, or have been divorced five times, then they may have issues with authority or responsibility.  You have to be careful here because you cannot descriminate.

4. Call their references and ask their references if that person was successful, and if they would re-hire that person.  Ask how socially distracting they were inside the workplace, and what time they came in the morning and what time they went home.  Ask if they were a good team-member, and if they were typically dependable enough to get things done.  Ask why they left and compare their answers to the candidate’s explanation.

5. Because software development is not always a 9-to-5 job, a good question to ask is if they have any extra-curricular activity that would prohibit them from staying late if needed.  I have hired people to discover that every day at 5:30 they need to pick up their kid from daycare.  This obligation makes them incompatible with leading a team that may require them to stay late and fix a critical problem.  This is a good thing to find out before you hire someone for a position like that.

6. Try to get them to express an opinion about something business related and that they are passionate about.  Pay attention to how they express their opinion.  Do they express themselves dogmatically, as if their opinion is fact and you must argue with them to object, or do they express their opinion in a collaborative way, where they would be more of an asset in a group discussion where others may disagree.

7. Pay attention to how they show up for the interview.  Are they on time, and dressed for the part.  Did they bring with them a copy of their resume? Are their shoes shiny?

8. Ask them several obvious question about your company to see if they did any research before the interview.  Find something on your website homepage that they would know if they looked there before the interview. This is a clue as to their proactive abilities.

9. Pay attention to how they describe their previous workplace, management, and executive staff.  This will likely be an indicator of what they will think of your staff.

10. If you sense an extreme level of dissatisfaction, high-maintenance, or lots of questions about what’s in it for them—beware!  This is an employee that will likely perform the bare minimum and be unnecessarily needy.

There are lots of books and tips about how to be the interviewee, but not so much is written about how to interview.  I wish I could have read these tips years ago when I began hiring people.  I hope this helps others and I would be interested in hearing what readers have to add.

Mike J. Berry

Book Review: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith’s New York Times Bestseller, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful is an excellent self-help book for executives and managers wishing to improve their “soft skills” and other interpersonal traits.

Goldsmith is an executive coach who has worked with more than 80 of the worlds foremost CEO’s.  As a symbol of his influence,  Alliant International University recently renamed their school of management after him.  With these credentials, probably anything he writes is worth reading.

In his book, Goldsmith lists twenty-one common “soft-skill” dysfunctions he has encountered while coaching top executives.   He explains that the higher you go in executive management, the more your problems are behavioral.  A few of these behavioral problems are as follows:

  1. The need to win to much
  2. Making destructive comments
  3. Starting sentences with “No,” “But,” or “However”
  4. Telling the world how smart you are
  5. Speaking when angry
  6. Withholding information
  7. Clinging to the past
  8. Playing favorites among direct-reports
  9. An excessive need to be “Me” (or, “I can’t change, that’s just how I am”)
  10. Goal obsession

To get the whole list, you need to read his book.  The first half of the book details these ten and the other eleven common issues at length.

One of the primary challenges Goldsmith writes about is getting executives to understand how they are perceived by others in their work environments, and at home.  He separates our personal “perception” into four categories:

  1. Public Knowledge (Traits known to others and self)
  2. Private Knowledge (Traits known to self but not to others)
  3. Blind Spots (Traits known to others but not to self)
  4. Unknowable (Traits unknown to others, and not know to self)

Goldsmith says that the most interesting traits to examine and study are #3, the blind spots known to others but not to ourselves.  He provides a formula for detecting these traits, examining them, and fixing any negative discoveries.  The formula is:

  1. Collect feedback from everyone around us, using both deliberate and subtle tactics.
  2. Apologize to everyone for any negative traits.
  3. Advertise that you are beginning a personal campaign to improve and that you would like their feedback periodically as you work on improvement.
  4. Listen to feedback in terms of “what can I do in the future to improve” and not “what did I do wrong in the past” (one is positive, one is negative)
  5. Thank people for their suggestions, and don’t disagree with them.
  6. Follow-up relentlessly.  This is the key to the improvement process taking shape.

He explains, for example,  that as a professional coach, he and a colleague call each other each evening and report to eachother on the progress of their goals.  This simple practice enables them to metric their performance over time–the same thing effective executives do to examine trends in their departmental interests.

Goldsmith discusses several other topics in his book.  One interesting aside is a list of common reasons why goal setting can fail:

  1. Time: It takes longer than expected, so it couldn’t be completed.
  2. Effort: It’s harder than was expected.
  3. Distractions: Nobody expected a “crisis” to emerge that took resources or time away.
  4. Lack of Rewards: After they see some improvement, they don’t get enough positive response from others, so they give up.
  5. Maintenance: Once a goal is met, there is no fortitude to stick with the pattern that brought success.

One of the closing thoughts in Goldsmith’s book struck me as quite novel.  As one of his executive coaching tools, he sometimes asks executives to produce a “How to Handle Me” guide for his staff.  This is a short memo detailing behavior, values, lessons from past experience, and input from past and present coworkers and direct reports.

As new hires are onboarded, part of their welcome packet is the “How to Handle Me” guide from their manager.

I found the most valuable part of Goldsmith’s book to be his formula for collecting feedback about others’ perceptions of us, and how we can affect change within ourselves where needed.  I appreciated Goldsmiths continuous transcentions that all of these tools and dynamics also have value at home to improve our family lives and social relationships.  This was a reoccurring theme in his book.

I recommend Goldsmith’s book for middle to senior level management, and to any husband or wife.

Mike J. Berry