It’s 2022 and by now most people working in Software Development will be familiar with the role of a Software Delivery Lead. And while you will have often come across some really nice folk doing the job, most of us will also have experienced a variety of others that we can’t exactly describe as “good”.
Delivery leads also tend to be very very different from each other, as if there isn’t a good enough common understanding of what the role is?! However, as long as you are not in your first job or on your first team, you would have probably met the “project-manager-by-heart-renamed-delivery-lead”, and maybe also the “team-secretary-gone-office-manager-delivery-lead” and perhaps even the “i-am-waaay-above-you-delivery-lead”. There are plenty of other examples, but here, we do not aim to explore the rest but rather figure out the mystery of the all so rare “best-delivery-lead-I’ve-ever-worked-with” kind.
The answer I am about to provide is rather fascinating too for it has little to do with the name. You will never hear this DL talk about how great they are or how much they have achieved. You will rarely see them interfere with the normal flow of work. In fact you will probably not even notice them on a normal day. But you are likely to hear about how great they are from the members of their teams. Spending time with these teams will almost certainly reveal a great working environment while delivery wise these teams will be achieving way better than any other team in the organisation and probably doing so without making a big fuss about it. So how do they do it?
Could it be that these DLs have simply been lucky to have landed in a high performing team and they are just staying out of the way while the team does their job? A close inspection usually renders this unlikely because these DLs often help assemble the teams and usually play important role in the running, just not a role that is visible much or talked about. Could it then be that these DLs do all of their “unpleasant” work (think project managers extracting all so important estimates from their teams for example) behind closed doors so nobody notices what’s going on? This too is very unlikely because you will rarely see these DLs locked in a room with individuals. They rather keep things as transparent as possible and have most conversations (rare as they might be) with their entire teams. Could it be that these DLs are people pleasers and they are doing everything to make their team members happy which results in glowing feedback? If you follow one of these DLs for a day you will find that this isn’t the case either. A great DL knows that they can’t make everyone happy and therefore they don’t even try to.
So what then makes the best delivery leads? They are a relatively new breed and while there is no requirement for it, they have very little in common with the more traditional project manager. Often their actions seem to make little sense in the business world and yet their teams tend to deliver great results. Why is that? We are about to find out.
In order to understand the answer better we will look into three different questions that will help us uncover the reasons why some delivery leads are the best you’ve worked with.
We will start with the first question “What motivates people and teams?” When it comes to understanding motivation, Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” has been my go-to source for a number of years. Motivation can be extrinsic e.g. bonuses or other monetary rewards or intrinsic i.e. doing something for the inherent interest or joy it brings. People tend to perform at their best when they are intrinsically motivated to do so. The question then is what are the drivers of intrinsic motivation? Daniel Pink suggests that the drivers are autonomy, mastery and purpose.
As long as you agree with me (and mr. Pink) this answers our first question and gives us three further topics to explore. We’ll begin with purpose. There is a lot of literature on purpose. I should know since I’ve managed to come across the topic hundreds of times without intentionally looking for it. It’s been just over 10 years since an ex colleague and friend of mine (Hey Dr. Joe :wave) introduced me to the concept of finite vs infinite games which to this day I find extremely fascinating. So, naturally, I was delighted to find out that Simon Sinek decided to explore the topic in his excellent book “The Infinite Game” published in 2019. The first of five points Simon suggests to use on the quest to build infinite mindset organisations is the so called “Just cause”. He defines it as “ specific vision of an ideal state of the future that inspires people”. There is of course more to it but I’ll have to explore that in a separate publication.
Nowadays every organisation tends to have a mission or vision, the problem is that most of them ain’t that great. And yet, a well crafted just cause can make a huge difference and is an essential building block of creating motivated teams. Here are some great examples from Simon’s book:
Let’s now look at the third question “What behaviours can create the best environment for teams to flourish?”. Going back to Daniel Pink’s intrinsic motivation guidance, and having answered the “purpose” part, we can split this question into two more - “how to create autonomy” and “how to support and encourage mastery”.
Autonomy is in the opposite corner of what people often call “command & control”. When your employer needs to monitor what you do all the time, when they ask you to justify how you spend your time, when they give you a set of objectives and grade your performance on that basis, when there is a strict hierarchy in the organisation, these are all signs of command and control culture. To create autonomy you need to relinquish the control and preferably all of it. Some ways to do that - stop micro managing everything your people do, invite them to set their own goals and act just as an advisor, encourage initiative and self organisation, give people 10 or 20% of their time to use on whatever they decide, change the language you use to remove “controlling” words, etc.
Mastery is defined by Daniel Pink as “when people see no limits to their potential and are given the tools that they need to continue to improve their skills”. With this in mind, here are some ideas of how you can promote mastery - provide multiple if not unlimited training opportunities, act as a career coach and always support your people in what they want to achieve, ensure they are equipped with tools and resources they may need to help them achieve their goals, change the language used in the organisation to encourage people to take initiative, learn new skills and explore new ideas - e.g. stop referring to people as resources, remove approvals of the use of training or time, etc.
By applying some of these ideas in order to provide your people with a great sense of purpose through identifying a just cause, creating an environment of autonomy and providing the resources and initiatives for people to master their skills of choice you will go a long way toward creating a working environment and a team that people love to be part of which in turn will enable them to be the best versions of themselves and work and achieve great results for the organisation.