How can software development leaders manage the pressure?

As a leader, you have to set the right expectations. I repeat the ability to SET THE RIGHT EXPECTATIONS is the difference between a leader who is consistently stressed out and one who confidently manages their workload. I would argue the ability to set the right expectations is what companies are truly looking for when the job req says, “communicates and collaborates effectively with internal stakeholders.”

I’m sure you’re thinking, it’s not that simple. Your right, but it plays a significant role in your work-life balance. Most people aren’t able to turn off work-related stress by simply clocking out at the end of the day. I recently read some major contributing factors to burnout were workload and lack of control.

If proactive and managed correctly you can use the control you do have to prevent ridiculous deadlines and pressure. I’m only going to focus on three areas right now. Addressing the below bullets should help balance or at least minimize your workload so you can focus on what really matters.

  • Mitigate risks
  • Manage change request
  • Right tools at the right time

Mitigate Risks

By implementing frequent releases this ensures that the design moves forward. Running 2 week sprints gives the team a chance to identify and correct mistakes quickly. As an engineering leader, it can be hard to vocalize what your team is working on and the challenges they are facing. It’s challenging because often someone outside of software development may not understand the effort involved to complete said work. They are often quietly working in the background. It’s easy for outsiders to assume your team has more resources than what’s actually available since they don’t physically see the work being done.

Frequent releases allow internal stakeholders to see work being closed out. Completing work in smaller packages encourages faster follow-ups and is easier for external leaders to follow and understand.

For the sake of simplicity, here are a couple of benefits:

  • It’s easier to manage requirements. Confusion is cleared up quickly and allows leaders to be impact-driven.
  • Transparency ensures alignment and forces the focus to be on work that helps the organization achieve its goals.
  • Improves quality by being able to identify mistakes and address mistakes quickly.
  • Spend less time in meetings providing updates since there will be continuous communication.
  • Gives leaders the ability to manage resources more effectively.

Manage Change Request

The trick to managing the unexpected is to set up a process for how a change request will be evaluated and implemented. This helps the stakeholders understand why the changes were made and the impact it brings. Everyone values and appreciates knowing what to expect.

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of requesting sudden changes. Just last week I reached out to my CTO to discuss a potential sudden feature for customer acquisition. As a sales professional, I know that my request would impact their current workload. We know our request could delay existing work. Will that stop me from asking? No. Do I understand why it might not be possible? Yes.

If you don’t already have a process that involves all the stakeholders in the initial decision-making process you are asking for surprises and ridiculous deadlines. It’s your job to protect your team, just like it’s my job to speak for the customers. The easiest way to build strong effective relationships with internal stakeholders is through transparency.

  • Alignment- Involving stakeholders in the decision-making process ensures the best decisions are made and accountability falls on the team instead of one department.
  • Prioritize- Understand where your focus should be by discussing the impact vs. the effort required with all stakeholders. You can’t be the bad guy/girl if everyone agrees on whether a release is or isn’t worth the effort required.
  • Reframe- Instead of saying no all the time, respond back with a question that suggests they offer a solution. This prevents people from avoiding you and being on the defense. For example, instead of saying no say, “If we switch our focus to providing a new integration, that will delay improving user experience. We all agreed to focus on user experiences for these reasons (include reasons). Is it worth making this a priority over improving our user experience? Do you have a plan for maintaining customer satisfaction during the time we won’t be able to work on that? We simply don't have the resources to do both.”

Right tools at the right time

How many times have you heard,

  • “Why is it taking so long?”
  • “It didn’t take this long before.”
  • “Can you make it happen?”

Sometimes you can’t take on new work because you have restraints such as team size or lack of appropriate tools. Most teams have too many tools as it is. Instead of reaping the benefits of all these tools, you become paralyzed. You need a solution, but you don’t have the time it takes to become an expert in all the tools you have. You definitely don’t have the time it would take to manage them all, so what do you do?

Bite the bullet and set up a tool review to identify tools that aren’t being used, aren’t necessary, or could be combined. Instead of going rogue out of frustration and making your own spreadsheet to manage your progress, identify what you need to be successful. Match existing & new tools with your overall goals.

  1. Simplify your stack, it’s hard for teams to collaborate effectively when information can’t be consolidated. See if any tools can be used for multiple purposes. For instance, tools such as Azure DevOps or Gitlab allow you to manage both PM and Code Source activity in one tool.
  2. Right tools. Save time by finding a tool that can organize data across multiple tools and make it easily accessible and understood. A good example of this is Allstacks. They combine data from PM, code, build & communications tools. They use existing data and machine learning to help you understand your process health.
  3. Right time. Save time by maximizing the usage of existing tools. Reduce the number of meetings, back and forth, confusion, and unnecessary tasks by utilizing the right communication tools. For example, Slack can be used to collaborate and track releases. Set up a channel to ensure all communication regarding releases is transparent.

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