What is a Feature Lead?
A Feature Lead is a role, not a job title, that can be implemented inside software development teams. It might be starting point for developers aiming to become Tech Leads. This role is the equivalent of a Feature Owner but on the technical side of things. That means this role will take care of all aspects involved in developing and delivering a new product capability or feature.
Yes, it’s not something revolutionary and I didn’t invent the term Feature Lead. So, this article is just a description of what the role is about and some specifics of what is required from a person that wants to perform this role in terms of behaviour and attitude in order to become really good at it.
1 – Management and Leadership Skills
Until now the only thing you had to manage was your own tasks. When you become a Feature Lead you’ll exercise additional management skills. You’ll have to oversee the development of a whole feature, which includes not only having an overview of all pieces of work related to it but also tracking and reporting progress against a roadmap or a particular goal to people outside your usual relationship circle.
2 – Improved Communication Skills
You’ll have to communicate at different granularities. if your manager asks you about the status of the feature you’ll probably include technical details on your report. If a product owner asks you about the same thing you’ll provide less technical details. And, if a director or a C-level person asks you about the progress you’ll have to be even more succinct and still be able to deliver the information needed.
As usual, speaking all these different languages, the technical, product, and business, doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some will struggle a little bit more to be able to understand these languages, others will have less trouble to get there. But one thing is sure: You’ll not learn this in a week. It’ll take you some months, perhaps a year, to feel comfortable with all these languages.
3 – Willingness To Step Out Of You Comfort Zone
If you don’t want to do what needs to be done, don’t accept this challenge. In order to be a Feature Lead you’ll have to step out of your world and start exploring other worlds as well. As mentioned before, you’ll have to visit the business world frequently, you’ll have to visit the product world as well. The leadership world is definitely one you’ll have to check as well. And many other worlds. All these travels might bring you some pains.
If you’re neither prepared to travel to all these worlds nor willing to putting yourself in an uncomfortable position, then I’d say that the Feature Lead thing is not for you. If you don’t like to hold people accountable, provide feedback more often, pay attention to what’s going on with the team, solve conflicts between people, then think twice before entering on this journey.
However, if you’re motivated to accept the challenge and open to do what it takes then you’ll see that this is a fantastic opportunity for you.
4 – Understanding of Business and Customer Needs
Oh yeah. It’s time for you to understand the impact and cost of what you’re doing. I’m not saying you’ll have to become a business specialist, but be prepared to discuss and understand business and customer need and align distinct perspectives with the development of the feature. This might have an influence on the scope of your solution as well as on how you’ll approach the technical solution. You’ll coordinate, negotiate, and make decisions that will impact both business and product performance.
5 – Systems Thinking
When you step out of your own world as an individual contributor, you’ll have to understand the implications of your decisions on others.
You’ll have to start thinking not only on you but on your team, other teams, the product, other departments that will interact with that part of the product you’re building, customers, etc. Your decisions will have an impact on different parts of the systems and you’ll have to be aware to analyse that when making them.
As you can see, performing the role of a Feature Lead is not that simple as it looks like. I’ve heard people diminishing this role but I think they didn’t understand its complexity and value as well as all the hidden opportunities in terms of professional development. Yes, you’ll still be a Software Engineer, but a much better one.