7 Mistakes To Avoid as a Software Development Manager

“We learn from failure, not from success!” — Bram Stoker

Since I was a child I used to hear everywhere — “You need to learn from your mistakes” — And even sometimes a more sophisticated sentence— “the real mistake is not the mistake by itself, but not learning from it” — . At some point, I thought: “boy I might be making a lot of mistakes since I’m hearing those words very often”.

Now that I look backward it was kind of obvious. When you are a child you make a lot of mistakes because everything is new to you, there are a lot of situations that you haven’t experienced yet. If you are a new manager, you have a lot of new situations to face, and you don’t want to make mistakes, so, this will help you to learn from my mistakes.

The advantage of making mistakes when you are a child is that you have a very sharp memory, so, you can remember every mistake you had made and avoid doing it again. But when you grow up, the list of mistakes grows immensely, and is hard to recall each of those. You only remember the ones that might kill you or put you in a very uncomfortable situation.

So, I started to write down each mistake in an actual list. But it was very time-consuming to studying it frequently. So, I categorize the mistakes and the list was reduced considerably. Then, while I was categorizing the mistakes, I realize that I could create “Mistakes lists”, one per every dimension of my life: Family, Wellness, Personal, Professional, Money, etc.

So, here is the “Mistakes list” on the ‘Professional’ dimension of my life, season ‘Management’:

Mistakes List > Professional > Management:

#1. Lack of Accountability

What differentiates an average person from an outstanding one is: Accountability. The obsession to own a job and never quit until you see it completely fulfilled.

Some people confuse it with being responsible for a job. But I think the word responsibility falls short. Is more than that, is taking ownership, involve, commit, persistently creative, proactive, taking the leadership, act diligently when things are hard and seem impossible.

#2. The 80/90/100 rule

One common mistake when you are trying to be Accountable is that you think you need to do everything to accomplish a job successfully. You think that if you delegate then the job won’t get done on time and with quality.

There is a formula for this; if you think a person is capable of performing a task delivering at least 80% of the results you can deliver, then delegate the task to this person. The only condition is that you should trust at least 90% on this person's integrity; I mean you need to be 90% sure that this person will actually be Accountable for the task, and handle it with the same level of moral, core values, and honesty that you will.

This will give you back 100% of your time to focus on more valuable things, and it will in fact motivate your team members by facing interesting challenges and understanding you trust them.

#3. Not empowering people.

Now, you know the formula to know when to delegate. But just “fire and forget” is never recommended unless you consider the person 100% capable and 100% unquestionable integrity. If that’s the case then you should also empower that person to make decisions without asking you, and even to lead some more junior persons.

If you don’t have a 100/100 person, then you can check how mature is that person; where Maturity = Capabilities + Integrity.

From Jurgen Appelo in his book Management 3.0.

#4. Not developing people

Now that you delegate, empower them, and they actually deliver a task successfully, you need to keep developing them so they can help you to with bigger tasks that have a major impact on the company, and of course also in their professional lives.

To develop them you can:

  • Help them to learn new areas of the business, and technical skills that made them better at their jobs.
  • Give them new responsibilities.
  • Have them be a mentor and teach what they know; there is an old saying: “When you teach, you learn twice”.
  • Help them to learn about their next step in their careers; what will be the expectations so they can start getting prepared and even act as if they were in that role already. You know “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck

#5. Fighting fires and not working for the future

Now you have a Dream Team! You know to whom to delegate, how much amount of power to give them, and how to develop them so you can have a very strong team. Now what?

The short answer: stop being reactive and start being proactive.

The medium size answer: There will always be something that demands immediate attention. The problem is that if you just focus on fixing today's problems you won’t be ready when you have to face tomorrow's problems.

The large answer: There are a lot of competitors that are innovating and want their piece of cake right now. They are becoming better each day and I assure you they are not doing that by just fixing today’s issues. It’s a race, and if you stop for a minute to “fight fires” then they will pass you. Nowadays companies that do not move forward die fast. You are the more senior person on the team, so let's delegate these fights with fires to someone else, and by doing that you’ll help them to probably learn new stuff about the business and problems resolution. Be careful and don’t assign the same people to fight fires over and over, you have to switch them; sometimes some of them will be fighting fires, and some other times they'll be working with you in foreseeing the best direction for the company’s successful future.

#6. Do not align goals

You just foresee the future, now act!

You can see the path you need to walk to accomplish the company’s mission. Now you need to define the outputs that will make you reach that point. For instance:

  1. Improve customer experience

2. Improve employee experience

3. Increase sales

Those will be the main goals, and you need to cascade down those goals to your leaders so they can align their own, for instance:

1.1 Innovate new features on our product/service according to customer feedback > Improve Customer Experience

2.1 Develop and delight our team members with the company’s culture > Improve employee experience

3.1 Continuously demonstrate we are the leaders of the market > Increase sales

Then your leads will cascade down in more specific goals:

1.1.1 Develop feature X for our product as per customer specifications > …

2.1.1 Participate and help to organize team-building activities > …

3.1.1 Create marketing content with technical characteristics about our product > …

#7. Fail to understand that is all about people — People first

Is not about the company, is not about the project, is not about you, is all about the people!

They are the ones that deal with customers, listen to them, have insights about them, and understand them. The ones that develop the features, and the ones scoring goals.

We as managers are just facilitators, coaches, or mentors, that provide direction and tell them about our previous mistakes so they can avoid them, learn from them, and quickly grow to strengthen the team and with that the company's future.

This is a list of mistakes in the subcategory: Mistakes List > Professional > Management > Not understanding is all about People:

  • Failing to Listen to your team.- You need to get continuous feedback to know which areas you need to improve first. I use an online anonymous suggestions box. In which I have 3 questions: What should I continue doing? What should I stop doing? What should I start doing?
  • Treat everybody the same way.- They are individuals with different necessities, desires, and perhaps aspirations. You need to emphasize with each one of them and understand their perspective so you can act accordingly.
  • Recognize top performers but also extraordinary efforts.- Sometimes attitude is better than aptitude. And you need to also recognize people that are doing their maximum effort, even if they are not getting the expected results, sometimes is a matter of luck that is preventing them from achieving results, or sometimes is you that is not providing the correct direction, double-check this.
  • Stay Technical, be relevant and helpful to the people.- Don’t sit in your chair to just “manage people”, learn the complex hard technical stuff, digest it, simplify it for your team and teach them.
  • Never rule out that sometimes we (managers) are the problem.- A failure on even 1 of your team members is a failure that you could prevent but didn’t see it with anticipation and now it becomes a failure.

Conclusion — Always choose choreography over orchestration

If you are Accountable; I mean, obsessively responsible for delivering success at all times. And you know what and when to delegate by giving the right amount of empowerment to your team, and of course, your team is strong enough (highly developed), you will be able to deliver success at higher levels, and accomplish major impact not only in the present of the company but on the future!.

And remember everyone needs to be paddling in the same direction. Like a ship, you don’t need to be the captain or the orchestrator, your team just need to know which part they are accountable for, so they can perform their act independently, like in a choreography: there is not an orchestrator, everyone is performing perfectly and rhythmically at the sound of the same music (goals).

If you enjoyed this article, clapping (digitally) helps me a lot to self-motivate me and continue writing helpful articles for you. Also, you might enjoy this one: https://hugeponkce.medium.com/the-software-engineering-manager-handbook-51f84be2cb79

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I have been in the software development industry for more than 14 years. I have experience building, designing and architecting enterprise software.

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Huge Ponkce

Huge Ponkce

I have been in the software development industry for more than 14 years. I have experience building, designing and architecting enterprise software.

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