On March 1st I switched roles at Microsoft from an individual contributor (IC) in the Engineering Excellence team to a test lead in the Windows Phone team. This not only meant going from an IC role to a role in which I would lead a team of people, but also going from an academia/consultant role right into the fire pit of the newest Windows Phone 7 release. People often relate the experience of starting a new job at Microsoft, or changing jobs within Microsoft as ‘drinking from a fire hose,’ or in my case right from the hydrant itself.
It has been more than 8 years since I directly managed a team. In that time some ‘operational’ things have changed, but most importantly I have changed. Personally, I think my responsibilities as a lead include helping the people on my team grow their career, providing a vision and guidance towards clear goals, protecting the team from political fallout and pressure, managing the features(s) I am responsible for, preventing project and personal ‘fires,’ and also actively participating in the testing effort. There are skills, experiences, and values that I have learned in the past that will help me in my transition, there are some adaptations to make, and there is a whole lot to learn.
So, here are a few brief thoughts after my first 30 days back in the saddle.
Meet the “people” on your team – this seems rather obvious, but I don’t mean meet the team, I mean really get to know the people on your team at a personal level. You will be spending a lot of time working together, and occasionally socializing outside of the office at morale events, team lunches, etc. People have lives outside of ‘the project.’ Get to know the people and actively support their work-life balance.
Many times the first 1:1 meeting with a new manager mostly spent discussing my role on the team the project status, or other items related to the business. Leading people is different than leading projects. Leaders should be able to relate to the people on his/her team at a personal level, so get to know them a bit. Getting to know your team not only helps build trust, but helps a lead think about parental leave, vacations, children getting sick, dropping off/picking up children at school, wedding planning, and a host of other things that are not accounted for in the project schedule.
Meet your peers – Within the first 2 weeks I set up meetings with my developer and program manager counterparts. At Microsoft the Dev/Test/PM triad meets regularly (often daily), and must work together to manage the project and make critical business decisions. I also wanted to get their perceptions about the test team. Your peers can brief you on group policies, help you get ramped up on team processes, and also bring you up to speed on the project. They can point you to the right aliases to join, and make sure you are scheduled for the appropriate meetings.
Ask (a lot of) questions – you don’t know jack! Of course, leads/managers generally have pretty good track records and are hired not only on past accomplishments but also on future potential. But, when you move to a new team you are going to spend a fair amount of time learning new things. Teams are different, but many people say that it takes about 6 months on a new team before they feel comfortable and able to fully contribute. That doesn’t mean you have 6 months to slack off, it means that the first few months you might be cut some slack. But, the pressure is on and you need to step up and push the envelope of your personal development. Ask your peers and the people on your team for help; they often have a vested interest in your success.
Time management – There are triage meetings, the 1:1 meetings with directs, leads meetings, meetings with partners, etc. Some days I might have an hour or 2 of free time between 9 am and 5 pm that I don’t have meetings, but those days are rare. As a new lead/manager your time is going to be pulled in a lot of directions at once, and time management is a lot more challenging. Expect to come in earlier and sometimes stay later or log on in the evenings to prepare for meetings or catch up on things. Oh yeah…you still have to make personal time for yourself.
Provide stability – change often invokes uncertainty. The people on your team are usually highly capable and experienced. They likely understand their role on the team and know what needs to be done in their areas of responsibility. One of the first things a new lead/manager should do is provide some degree of stability, and provide some clear goals to help focus the team on achieving the project goals.
So far, my transition back into the product groups and a management role is at times a bit overwhelming, but it is a total rush and each day brings new and exciting challenges. On to the next 30 days!