I've written a book about leading software engineering teams

Ten months ago I set myself a one year goal to write a book on leading software engineering teams. This books purpose was to document the practices and initiatives I followed while leading software teams. It was to provide myself with a reference model to refer back to and reduce the cognitive load required within my day to day role. What started off as a casual few hours a week planning and firming up the books chapter, rapidly turned into 3+ hours every night researching, writing, rewriting, deleting and writing some more in an effort to complete this side project before our first baby was born. I didn't exactly make the 9 month deadline, but published v1.0.0 three days later. The book is titled "Leading Software Teams with Context, Not Control" and can be purchased from Leanpub as well as other online stores like Amazon in eBook or print format.

Why this book was written

As a software engineering leader, the scope of your role is extensive. You have many competing responsibilities and priorities that need to be balanced to ensure you and your team are as effective as possible. These can include providing architectural direction, driving peer to peer collaboration, ensuring cross-team alignment, motivating teams with purpose, supporting team members' career progression, or perhaps helping remove blockers and impediments. All of these efforts work to create a specific culture within a software team that aims to improve effectiveness, engagement, and retention.

I wrote this book for software leaders who are responsible for leading teams. More specifically it focuses on approaches for leading multiple software teams whether that is directly or indirectly through leadership roles reporting into your role. There is a level of unique complexity that comes with leading, aligning and supporting multiple software development teams. This book aspires to provide you with helpful and reusable approaches that can be leveraged to bring about a greater level of efficiency into your role as a leader. There are many books written around leading teams or leading people, this book takes a lens of what specific practices and initiatives you should be investing your time into when leading technical software teams.

Regardless of the size of your software team, if you find yourself needing to better balance both the technical and people aspects of leading teams, or guidance on initiatives you could be running to improve team alignment, effectiveness and engagement then this book is written for you.

What's in the book?

The book comprises of 23 chapters that discuss a broad range of initiatives you can run when leading software engineering teams. These range from baselining a software team to effective software engineering metrics to crafting an experimentation culture. The book is broken into 3 parts:
  • Part 1: Creating alignment
  • Part 2: Leading teams
  • Part 3: Uplifting team culture
Each chapter has a loose structure of explaining the topic, talking to why it is important within a software engineering team and different approaches you can use to implement within your own team. Most chapters include multiple exercises that you can adopt into your organisation, as well as the occasional story around specific experiences I have had while leading teams in my previous and current roles.

Interested in more insight to exactly what is in each chapter just incase it tempts you to pick yourself up a copy? Here it is...

Part 1: Creating alignment

  1. Baselining a software team
    All the thing you need to do to understand the current state of your software engineering team. It talks to technical and team cultural measures and techniques to determine a teams baseline.
  2. Defining a software team target state
    A software target state is the technical and non-technical aspirations of the team that are flags on the top of the hill for you and your team to continuously climb towards. Learn how to define a software target state for your team.
  3. The software engineering roadmap
    A software engineering roadmap is a visual representation that defines a team's pathway to achieving their target state. This chapter explains the importance and how to implement one.
  4. Effective software team metrics
    Metrics within software are measurements that are put in place to keep you and your teams honest, accountable and continuously improving. Learn about what makes good team metrics, as well as metrics you need to avoid.
  5. Importance of collaborating on team goals
    Setting goals for your team or team members does not need to be an overly time consuming exercise, although it does need to align to your team target state, roadmap and team metrics.
  6. Balancing reactive versus strategic work
    Getting stuck in the weeds is all too common for software engineering teams, learn about strategies to better balance the time you spend on strategic based work items.
  7. Balancing technical uplift with product development
    The decision between technical uplift and product initiatives shouldn’t be a binary decision. Discover approaches to find a healthy balance between the two to ensure platform scalability, new product development and retention of team members.
  8. Introducing a new technology
    As a software leader, you are accountable for ensuring relevant new technology is being adopted within your team at a healthy and manageable pace. This is compared to implementing too many technologies too quickly and running the risk of losing great software developers from technology change fatigue or cognitive overload due to overly complex platforms.
  9. Platform SLAs
    Discover SLAs that add value to a platform, as well as important items to consider when implementing SLAs for your software teams platforms.

Part 2: Leading teams

  1. Effective 1:on:1s
    1:on:1s are weekly or fortnightly catch-ups with each of your direct reports, that provide an opportunity for you to listen, provide guidance, coach, listen more and support them within their role and future career aspirations. Find out about approaches to make the most out of 1:on:1s within your team.
  2. Continuous performance feedback
    Performance feedback within software teams should more than a once yearly exercise that is orchestrated through the organisation's HR department. There are many opportunities to provide constructive feedback to your team every day of the week.
  3. Impactful position descriptions
    Position descriptions are short (no more than 3 pages), well formed documents that clearly articulate the impact a role has, where it sits within the organisation and breaks down the key responsibility areas of that role. Discover how to craft position descriptions that create a sense of excitement and motivation within a role that is genuinely valued within the organisation.
  4. Candidate centric interviews
    Understand what candidate centric interviews are and how they build trust between the interviewer and the candidate which results in them being more genuine about their experiences, concerns in the role and their career aspirations. While at the same time becoming more invested in the role within the team.
  5. Onboarding effectively
    Effective onboarding should include a combination of discussions, introductions, workshops, documentation sharing and mentoring to support new starters in becoming a motivated and effective team member. This chapter explains the different phases of onboarding to focus on within your software teams.
  6. Software team structures
    Learn how to implement ‘just enough hierarchy’ while coupling it with small team sizes of seven or less, to dramatically reduce the blast radius and impact when an individual chooses to move on from the organisation. 
  7. Career pathway framework for software teams
    A software career pathway framework links together roles to represent different pathways of progression an individual can follow to advance their career within the team that aligns with their skills, experience and motivation. It is not a trivial task, however this chapter aims to provide some key learnings to fast track your own implementation.

Part 3: Uplifting team culture

  1. Context over control
    It is in the title of this book, and this chapter explains how a context over control approach allows software leaders to lead vastly larger teams and projects when compared to a micromanagement approach.
  2. Engaging team meetings
    As a software leader you are accountable for ensuring weekly team meetings are set up, are engaging, have the right amount of energy and bring value to as many individuals within that session as possible.
  3. Team health checks
    Team health checks usually consist of six to ten questions that focus on technical, team and communication practices that each team discusses and rates every six to eight weeks. Understand what makes health checks valuable and approaches on running health checks within your teams.
  4. Building a culture of learning
    A software team that is built around a culture of learning allows its members to learn in all aspects of their role. Learn about how building a culture of learning can be achieved at no financial cost to the organisation.
  5. Crafting an experimentation culture
    Software teams that embrace an experimentation culture have a more maintainable technology stack, incur less technical debt, and are thus able to iterate faster on developing and releasing new capabilities. Discover approaches to encourage experimentation in every aspect of your teams day to day.
  6. Software engineering working groups
    Software engineering working groups involve a set of individuals working together to build a center of excellence around a specific topic. This chapter explains different approaches of implementing working groups within your organisation.
  7. Running a software team hack day
    Running a hack day allows your teams to take a break from the day to day and collaborate together on solving real software engineering problems being faced. Learn about a high level structure and run sheet you can use to run your very own hack day.
Although this goal can now be ticked off my list, I'm looking forward to many future iterations as I evolve my ways of running software engineering teams. If you would like to check out a free sample, you can download it over at Leanpub. eBook formats are available on Leanpub, Amazon, Google Play and iBooks. Print copies can also be purchased from Amazon.


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