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Lead Lessons, Part 1


Leading software projects can be a challenging endeavor. I’ve been leading software projects big and small for the last 5 years. What follows are some lessons I’ve learned through hardship, from peers, and from mentors along the way.

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Stress comes from the unknown, an unclear path forward, or both.

Things are rarely as bad as they seem. Work towards a plan, and two or three backup plans. Once you have a plan(s) things won’t seem so scary and you won’t be nearly as stressed.

The project lead owns the plan and works to make sure the team executes it.

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This may seem obvious, but sometimes it’s worth re-iterating. The lead owns the plan. That doesn’t necessarily mean the lead creates the plan. It’s up to you to facilitate but it may not always come from you. Sometimes the best plans come from the group. Sometimes the group doesn’t have all the information to make a great plan. Sometimes it will come from you, sometimes it won’t.

If you have a plan, ideally with options, you will be able to react quickly to keep things on track

When it’s crunch time, 100 things come at you at once. Some you will expect some you will not. Having a plan, even if it’s only a mental model, will allow you to adapt and continue moving forward.

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Sometimes the path forward is to ask for more time

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It’s rarely an easy discussion and frequently the last option. Occasionally, though, this is one discussion that needs to happen. The earlier the better.

Frequent communication between stakeholders, development, and anyone else who cares, makes difficult discussions easier later on

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Nobody likes surprises. If things aren’t going well, say so and say so early. If product owner(s) and/or project manager(s) already knows the team is facing unforeseen challenges and working 80 hour weeks, they won’t be as surprised when you ask for more time.