Building Respect in a New Team

Starting in a new team, especially when leading a team of smart engineers, is always a delicate dance.  Learning a new company, forming new friendships, understanding a new application, and likely learning new technologies all at once, what could go wrong?  That first small win where your team begins to trust and respect you is always so rewarding.

This essay does such a great job summarizing the feelings many of us have had:

You start climbing out of The Great (Incorrect) Disappointment with a small unexpected win. No one expected you to fix that, no one knew it was that broken, and no one thought it was that important. When you fixed it, no one really noticed. When the consequences of the fix became obvious, they thought, “He can do that?” Your fix is your first legitimate reputation defining moment because while people were told who you were, they didn’t believe it because people don’t believe what they have not seen. The Great (Incorrect) Disappointment vanishes slowly and quietly each of these smalls wins. The wins don’t feel substantively nor impactful, but they continue to incrementally define who you are to the rest of the team. They start to build a realistic model of you in their minds. You’re not who they expected, it’s not what you expected, but after three months you start to think of this strange place as home.

My Photo on the Front Page?

Remember this post about my quest to get that perfect photograph of Golden Gate Bridge?  Well, somehow that post and photograph were discovered by the editor of the San Francisco Bay Times (a small local newspaper I'd never heard previously) and the next thing I knew it was used for the front and back cover of a recent issue.  Pretty cool seeing my work online and in print.  Check it out:

Leading a Team as a PM

I love building software and seeing as I've thus far decided to be a generalist in my career that has usually meant that I'm a PM for a team of specialists.  Managing projects should never really be easy; if you find yourself coasting that likely means you are being far too conservative.  If you are struggling, Robbie Abed recently published a great essay on Project Management that hit upon many of the same things I've learned thus far in my career, especially the two philosophies he lives by as a PM:

  1. My #1 job is to make everyone's life around me easier.
  2. My #2 job is to make everyone else around me look good.

I could not agree more with these philosophies, especially #1.  I believe in being fully transparent with my teams, but at the same time I strive to do whatever is possible to let those in my team avoid the distractions and focus on the work they are best at.  I shield them, baby them, spoil them.  Need help with writing that script?  Sure, send it my way.  Need me to waste an hour debugging some slow running query?  Here you go, this join is causing us some problems.  Need a quick wireframe for that page?  Just give me a few minutes.  It's one way for me to not drift too far from the details of the project, but it also earns a lot of respect from those I work with who can focus on other stuff that only they can deliver.

I can also think of a few people I've worked with that at first I didn't really see eye to eye with.  Robbie writes:

There is no such thing as a difficult person on a project. It's just someone who you don't understand why they act the way they do. Understand their motives. Understand why they are being difficult. Understand how you can make their lives easier. Understand what makes them happy. Ask how you can help them. If you make their life easier, you will become best friends with them and they will give you everything you need in a timely fashion.

On a personal level, I naturally enjoy making people happy.  As a PM, I enjoy my team being as effective as possible.  Usually these go hand in hand.  Finding what motivates someone can take a little time, but it is totally worth the effort.  One team member always enjoyed the free food I'd bring back from the common area, another liked the detailed specs I'd write, many appreciated the hours I'd spend answering questions even though they knew I was super busy.  Empathy and compassion will go a long way towards earning the respect of one's team and more often than not delivering solid products.