The leadership of software projects involves much more than you think. So, if you are looking to thrive and succeed, you will have to work on boosting or developing the following skills.
Regardless of whether your software development project is small or large or if you decide that it should have a Project Management or a Project Leader, the figure of a leader is essential for the success of the project.
The development of any software project must be led by someone with a set of skills (hopefully both technical and leadership in itself) that would allow him/her to guide his/her team effectively and thus achieve the objectives of the project. Without a good leader, a project is unlikely to be completed successfully.
Even though it is not as simple as it sounds, the leadership of software projects involves much more than you think. So, if you are looking to thrive and succeed, you will have to work on boosting or developing the following skills.
Watch this video: 7 skills of a good team leader in software development
1. Technical and business knowledge: pillars in the success of leadership
As in any discipline and professional environment, those with the most knowledge will make a difference. The same thing happens in a software project. But, what kind of knowledge are we talking about? Throughout my years of experience, I have identified two pillars that I believe are fundamental when it comes to good leadership: business knowledge and technical knowledge.
Business knowledge is essential to understand client needs and problems. Only by understanding in depth who the end user of the solution is would it be possible to make timely and accurate decisions. Good leadership starts, in large part, from being able to understand, analyze, and appropriate the customer’s context and environment in order to transmit it to the rest of the team and work in alignment.
In order to achieve this, it is important that the client and the functional analysts have a close and constant relationship. Participating in the key meetings of the project (e.g., Grooming or Planning meetings if the project is using Agile methodologies such as Scrum) and being part of the technical solution are conducive to a great beginning.
For its part, technical knowledge allows the leader to distinguish quickly how far the customer’s needs are from reality. A leader with solid knowledge in software architectures, design patterns, or how the frameworks of the solution work internally will have the possibility to make more accurate estimations, provide quicker answers, and design or validate solutions with greater authority. To achieve this, the leader must be very perseverant and proactive in these:
- Get your hands dirty. The leader must be an active participant in the design and development of the solution. In this way, technical knowledge is better assimilated, and the professional’s experience is even more developed.
- Leaders should be passionate about continually training themselves to be one step ahead when it comes to technologies and software development trends.
2. They have to be a role model
The leader’s behavior has an influence on the members of his/her team. In some cases, depending on the personalities that make up the team, this influence may be greater or lesser.
For example, if the leader shows no worries about the fulfillment of the project’s objectives or the quality of the project, it is more likely that his team will replicate this attitude. If the leader is not concerned about compliance with the project methodology or technical excellence (unit tests, code revisions, correct use of the Object-Oriented paradigm, etc.), how do we expect the team to do it?
As explained above, the wrong leadership can spread to the rest of the team and directly impact the end result. Of course, this applies to both negative and positive behaviors. A great duty of a good leader is to become a sign of commitment, a source of inspiration, and a role model.
3. They must know when to delegate and when to take action
It is often thought that being a leader means delegating everything to your team members; however, this is not recommended. One of the most effective leadership tactics in software projects is actually being able to know when to delegate and when to take action.
Assessing the workload of each team member and identifying the work ahead for equitable distribution is key. It is important that the leader be part of this distribution, since although he/she is the first candidate to assume critical issues of project management, in case the objectives of the project are jeopardized, he/she will be the one to take the lead and take action. Once again, the leader becomes a role model, regardless of his/her qualifications. The impact this will have on the team will be very positive because it will ratify the leadership role.
On the other hand, if we go to the other extreme, a leader should avoid taking on the most challenging or critical tasks. In this case, it is advisable to include other members and act as a team to encourage motivation.
4. He/She should be concerned about his/her team training and education
Great leadership in software projects is not just a matter of managing tasks properly but also managing people and thinking about them. A leader should not only worry about project objectives but also about the constant training of his/her team.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the cornerstones of leadership relies on technical knowledge, which gives the leader a very powerful tool for both task execution and teamwork. However, in order for that tool to have effect, it is necessary to use it. This is achieved by coaching the team in the designs and solutions they are implementing, always seeking to identify strengths and areas for improvement.
It is in these moments when the leader becomes a mentor and facilitator of knowledge, kind of a teacher. At this point, it is important that the leader has an active listening and doesn’t solve the problem for the other but shows him/her what the right way is. It is about guiding the team towards the solution. If you put this tactic into practice, you will soon realize that the team will have grown exponentially in knowledge and experience.
If the leader cannot do continuous coaching, try to identify one or more professionals within the team for them to help with this activity.
5. The leader must be a natural motivator
Since each project has its particularities and not all people are motivated by the same things, the leader must have the ability to know his team in depth to find out what motivates them. Frequent communication will be key to this, not only to determine the objectives and what the project expects of each one but to deliver feedback in an assertive way.
Content related: 10 ways to improve motivation at work and how to sustain it
Another important motivational tool the leader can take advantage of is recognition. When someone stands out for doing something beyond expectations, it is good that he/she is recognized promptly.
This will have a very positive impact on the individual and group motivation. No matter how the leader recognizes the good work, the important thing is that he is aware of recognizing the successes of each one.
To Sum Up
I recently found a very interesting article in the The New Yorker that delves into this subject very deeply. It says that two-thirds of executives indicate that leadership development and succession management constitute their No. 1 human capital priority. On top of this, another study found that American companies spend almost 14 billion dollars annually on leadership training seminars.
Leadership is a topic everyone is obsessed about, and software projects are not an exception to this. I hope these five effective software project leadership tactics will help you to take your projects to another level. The important thing is to understand that tactics, techniques, and practices regarding leadership have changed over the last years, especially in the IT sector.
New generations are expecting and demanding new things. I hope you take into account these five software project leadership tactics to initiate the change.
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