My journey to transition into a technology lead
Are you too comfortable in your current job? Friend, then you’re probably on a surefire way to derail your career.
After spending 4 years in Quovantis as a developer, playing around with technology and solving real world problems in my own world of development, I felt the urge to come out of my self-made blanket fort of comfort. So here I was ready to breakaway and embrace a new role, a new transition to play around with “team leading” skills. I had no preconceptions how it’s going to turn out for me as I was working single handedly on a product for a year then.
I straight away discussed this with my immediate lead.
And guess what happened?
He agreed and gave me an opportunity to lead a ”TEAM”. Yay!
Though somewhere down my subconscious mind, I was assured that my leader won’t disagree as I had seen the openness in the company. After all, it’s the people and culture which has glued me to the company for so long.
Internal discussions related to the transition started and the only thing echoing in my ears was “CARS”. Yes, the product was connected to cars!
And me and cars are like north and south pole. My inner voice said, “Not a big deal gal! You’ ll get to learn about them through the product. It can’t be tougher than parking a car in Indian market places.”
Next thing, my ears heard was the technology stack of the product. I wasn’t that comfortable with it. But, I had worked on multiple technologies beforehand as a developer and was able to pass through it every time. My confidence regarding it was intact.
Lastly, I was introduced to the new team and a place waiting for me with a “New Role” tag.
Flight about to take off
Yes, now the flight to a new transition/role was about to take off. I had no explicit flight safety instructions by then apart from some mighty words from someone that “I’ll have to work very hard and there should be both leadership and technology books by my bed side”.
But, the only thing I was staring at was my sticky note hanging on my desk for almost couple of months then. It said - “Place where magic happens is far away from our comfort zone”. I desperately wanted that magic to happen in my career.
First leg of the transition - the beginning of discomfort
The first month was full of energy, a time when I was hell bent on proving my caliber and accepting a challenge which I took myself. I tried learning about the product as much as I could from my fellow colleague/current lead of the team. I had books related to the new technology stacked on my bed side.
I was part of the team’s daily agile practices and I was trying to give it an ideal structure.
I started attending client’s call with my fellow colleague to be more familiar. I was feeling content as I had a feeling that things are under my control and I would be able to pass it. I could see my graph going up (at least on my mind!).
During the initial days of the second month, I kicked off with the development in order to dive into the product. Naturally team’s expectations rose from me.
I started attending brainstorming sessions for solution and sprint planning as well where I felt as a dormant participant. Yes, I was not at all active in those. This happened multiple times. I could feel that the team was little dissatisfied with me. That was so obvious too, as I had came to lead the team. How can I be inactive?
Why was this happening? This question did not let me sleep for days. I continued attending client’s calls with my fellow colleague, but here also my graph started going down.
I was clueless by then.
By far this was my lowest dip in my career, I took up something myself and I was failing big time in it. I tried approaching people that may be my decision was wrong. Maybe I was not fully ready to take up this transition.
Meanwhile, the talking helped. I learnt that transitions are a critical time for leaders and onboarding is the biggest challenge.
Encountered a new term - “Transition Traps”
I went two steps back to study the proven strategies for such transitions and found out that I failed because I had fallen into the transition traps. Yes, “Transition traps” is itself a term!
My initial steps derailed me. Here’s what I found out aka the transition traps which were responsible for my failure
1. Sticking with what I knew - I was doing more of the same things which I did in my previous role as a single developer and did not embrace what the new role as a team lead demanded.
2. Falling prey to the “action imperative” - Since the first day I felt the urging need to give an ideal structure to the agile practices of the team and I took that decision so early, even before knowing the team and settling in the environment properly.
3. Working with unclear expectations -Did I clearly know what was expected from me? Or, whose expectations I was trying to fulfill? No, I didn’t try to clarify what this new role demanded? Or what this new team demands? I just knew what client demanded from this role.
4. Attempting to do too much/setting unrealistic expectations - I rushed off in all dimensions by trying to learn the technology, product, domain, team and the new role in one go. I raised my own bar so high in the first month of transition, which was unrealistic.
5. Coming in with “the” answer - For any problem in any brainstorming session/planning meeting, my mind was already made up that I won’t be able to derive any solution because “Cars” is not my cup of tea and even the technology is new to me. This created a fear on my mind that my solutions won't be right and then I didn't try to put forward anything.
6. Engaging in the wrong type of learning - I tried digging in the technology, product, agile and domain. But I did not focus on the actual business side of the product. Which was the only way to connect with the client and at least fulfill his expectations which were clear to me.
7. Neglecting horizontal relationships - I lacked the supportive alliances. I did not try to take support from the former lead of the product. I did not try to fully understand what it’ll take to succeed.
So here I was caught in a “vicious cycle of transitions” and the credibility was damaged. Afterall, lead role was about influence and leverage.
Second leg of the transition - Fasten the seat belt
Now, the second month was about to get over and I wanted to fix things up in a right direction.
As a first step, I did the transition risk assessment.
I Prepared Myself
Figured out what all things I had to do in my new role as lead.
Balanced breadth and depth - I had to gain knowledge of the product in depth and the technology (just breadth wise for now) as there was a team which could look after the technology.
Made up my mind to be under scrutiny.
Business Orientation - Learnt the business side of the product from the client which helped me in getting aligned to the client as well.
Clear Expectations - Had one-on-one with the former lead to recheck the expectations from me and to divide it among ourselves.
Re-learnt how to learn.
I had to pace up, so I started spending my weekends and after office hours in systematic learning by making goals around them and not everything in one go.
Matched strategy to situation/team
I realized that every team and product lifecycle are different. Not all products/teams can follow same set of processes or practices.
Secured early small wins: Instead of running towards big wins, I slowed down to secure small wins. Like by just focusing on the feature I was working on to complete it with quality and with full depth, which helped me to describe it to the client as well to gain trust. Also, instead of changing the whole agile practice in the team, I just tried to follow what we had in a proper manner. Tried my best to be available for support in off hours when required by client, as that was under my control.
By taking feedback from the former lead about my work and what should I improve upon?
Achieve team alignment
I got aligned with the team. We all got to know strengths and the weaknesses of each other. We tried working as a single unit by then. We were overpowering each other’s weaknesses by our strengths.
By doing the above things I was able to secure a better place in the team, as well as landed in a virtuous cycle of transition.
Today - I am on another flight
Today I am leading a different product team and I followed the fundamental principles of the transition from the day one and I did not land in any vicious cycle of transition. (Touch wood)
So here’s how I can summarize my journey-
If you are moving into a new role, or onboarding a new company or team or undergoing any professional transition, I would really recommend you to read “The First 90 Days Of Leadership” book by Michael D. Watkins. It will narrate you the safety instructions before your flight takes off for the transition. :)
Missteps made during the first few months in a new role/setup can derail one’s success.
So you have to be very careful, because not everyone can handle failures.
And don’t fret to come out of your self made blanket fort of comfortness as the whole world is waiting for you to conquer!