jcfausto

Technology and People

Category: People

5 Traits of a Good Feature Lead

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.

Final note

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.

How I Approach New Year’s Resolutions

This is that time of the year where most of us set resolutions for the new year that just started. We usually feel confident and hopeful that the new year will be a better one and we should do some things differently this year so we can improve and become better human beings. Classical examples are:

  • Start doing more exercise.
  • Read more books.
  • Heave a healthy diet.
  • Write more.
  • Learn X.
  • Get Y.

And the list goes on and on. This year I decided to use a different approach, one that I informally have used in the past years and now I decided to use in a more formal way to inspect in retrospect the year that just has passed.

This year I used a Past Year Retrospective to map and have an idea of what I did during the whole year of 2018, what was my main mindset and also to understand some frustrations and pitfalls. The result was quite interesting, because not only I was able to visually see what happened in my mind and how I thought and behave in some cases but also I was able to get some insights on how I learned, how I spent my time and money and some other interesting personal insights.

My Past Year Retrospective for 2018 – Image was blurred due to personal info on the page.

I found this exercise so nice and so insightful that I decided to create a template to share with you. You can find the link to download the template at the end of this article.

As you can see in the image above, the idea is deadly simple. Just grab a blank sheet of A4 size paper and start putting the main topics that you remember from the past year on the paper. After a minute you’ll start making connections between them so you can visualize the relationship between them, causality, and even repetition. This visualization exercise is super important, I do this a lot professionally, especially during retrospectives – because it’s a powerful way to clearly see what’s going on and a starting point for many other exercises or actions. Once you have this visualization done you can use it to extract a lot of answers for questions like:

  • Where I’m investing most of my time?
  • Where do I get knowledge from? Is that good or bad? Which type of knowledge I’m getting?
  • Where I’m spending my money? Is it being well invested?
  • Where I’m struggling?
  • Where there was visible progress?

As you can see, creating the visualization will help you organize your information so you can answer critical questions that will help you to set more realistic expctations and actions for the new year.

On the right side of the page, I added a column with some sections to capture some qualitative data as well. On the back of the page, I added 3 more columns to complete the whole set of information that will help me to set more actionable resolutions for the new year.

The Past Year Retrospective Template

As I said the template is super simple and with low value if you don’t put some effort to really remember your whole year month-by-month and add the info to the paper. That’s when the value will be more evident to you.

Front of the Past Year Retrospective Template

The front-page contains a big space on the left and a column on the right. The big space is a free area where you’ll jot down topics that happened in the past year and you’ll make the connections between them. Example:

Example of a visual mapping – topics influencing each other.

The back of the page contains 3 columns.

Back of the Past Year Retrospective Template

The first one is for writing the good things you did or happened to you during the last year. I write them as bullet points, so that’s my recommendation to you. The second column is dedicated to things you’d like to achieve in the new year. Write items using bullet points as well. Don’t mind to be very specific or to overthink here at this column, it’s just the starting point for your future plans. The third and last column is designed to bring the financial component to the retrospective. Write here the expenses you think you didn’t manage well. I wrote, for instance, how much did I spend on Amazon shopping and was able to figure out that was not that bad this year compared to 2017.

That’s it. I hope you enjoyed this method and you’ll give it a try. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or drop me a message on twitter @jcfausto

Download the template by clicking the link below.

Download the template here: Past Year Retrospective Template

Ontological Humility – A Very Interesting Concept

So, this evening I was reading some articles on Radical Candor’s website and I read a very interesting concept named Ontological Humility. I really liked the idea, and I think that this should be something that all managers should know about it because it will help for sure to understand better yourself, your thoughts, and actions regarding how you provide praise or criticism to your peers. See below the definition:

Ontological humility is the acknowledgement that you do not have a special claim on reality or truth and, that others have equally valid perspectives deserving respect and consideration. This attitude is opposed to ontological arrogance, which is the claim that your truth is the only truth. Even though it may make sense intellectually that people have different perspectives, most people do not naturally act from this understanding, especially in the midst of disagreement or conflict..

Source: Fred Kofman’s book Conscious Business

The concept of ontological humility is very interesting, isn’t it? The understanding that you are not the owner of the truth and that you should respect and value other’s perspectives is something that resonates with me. Also, the opposite idea to ontological humility, the ontological arrogance is also an interesting concept that oftentimes we can observe at our work environments, especially during moments of disagreement or conflict when usually managers tend to make use of their formal power to make their opinions and perspectives override those of others.

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