From developer to PM in 90 days

Original author: Firstround
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Recently, a certain trend has been observed in the field of IT. Startups neglect management, and all decisions are usually made by the founder. When a startup starts to grow, there is a need for new employees. And then managers are urgently needed. The founder seeks help from his best developer: “I'm in trouble. Can you manage this team in my place? ”

David Loftness , a former director of Twitter’s development department, has been the same developer many times, and over the past 20 years, six different IT companies have addressed this question, including Xmarks and Geoworks. After several such transitions between the positions of the developer and manager, Loftness began to help other developers in mastering the skills of working in senior positions.

Not so long ago, he shared his experience in this area and drew up a 90-day plan for developers about to become managers. In this unique article, he describes in detail his plan to help future managers in the ability to prioritize, maintain confidence and analyze the results of their work. So they will develop faster and begin to support other employees.

Why do i need a plan


“Everyone knows that many articles have been written on the topic of management. However, it seemed to me that these articles not only contradict each other, but also miss key points, says Loftness. - I wanted to draw up a time-limited plan that allows a person to choose whether to continue to develop as a manager or not. This is my approach to creating a 90-day plan that would help developers become successful leaders. ”

He decided to draw up this plan after he realized that IT companies are often forced to appoint their developers to leadership positions (sometimes regardless of their opinion and work experience). On the one hand, a developer who becomes a manager already has a deep knowledge of technologies and business processes that play an important role in product development. However, these new leaders, as a rule, have no idea how to manage people.

During the survey, Loftness found that on average only one out of 15 managers underwent planned training before becoming a leader. When answering the question about which methods turned out to be the most effective in training managers, almost 75% indicated a trial and error method, half referred to the feedback of their subordinates, and 40% said they observed other managers.

This coincides with the opinion of Loftness itself: “When I was just starting to work as a manager, at least the first 6 months I just repeated after others. When compiling our schedule, I thought: “Probably we need to hold meetings.” And we began to hold meetings. Basically, I just copied everything that was happening around me. ”

What does this lead to? The development team begins to be led by technical experts with no management experience. Newly-made managers often have to deal with an even more difficult situation, because they are appointed at the most inopportune moment: when you need to take an empty position, release a product without meeting the deadlines, or overcome the crisis in the company.

Loftness's 90-day plan can help managers navigate a new position in three months. The plan consists of 3 stages: self-education (Days 1-30), the search for your rhythm (Days 31-60) and self-analysis (Days 61-90). But first of all, it is necessary to decide whether to become a manager at all. It is much more important (and entails more serious consequences) than many believe.

Day 0: Simple Truths That You Have To Resign With


Most developers spend too much time programming, so they will never assume the leadership role if they are not assigned. Potential managers can be discerned only by experienced managers. “Over time, I realized that when choosing such a developer, an inner instinct should work,” says Loftness. “But this will not bring any result if the future manager cannot mentally imagine himself in a completely new position for him away from the code.” Loftness found that the best young leaders fully understand and accept this state of affairs.

The manager must be prepared for action in three directions.

“About two years ago, one of our developers asked me:“ How do I understand what I’m ready for? ”Says Loftness.

Before answering, he drew a small diagram:



“You will be ready when you finally understand that you have to act in three different directions, and not just control the development team,” says Loftness.

Below are three of these areas, as well as questions that every potential leader should know the answer to:

  • Your team. Can you effectively manage a development team, in particular, your former colleagues? Do you fully understand what your job is? Will you take responsibility for realizing the goals of your team?
  • Your colleagues. Can you work effectively with other managers and avoid conflicts with them? Do you communicate effectively with colleagues?
  • Your supervisor. Can you briefly and clearly explain to your busy boss how things are on this or that project? Can you defend your point of view when you do not agree with your leader?

In addition, Loftness notes that the most successful leaders at the same time are able to follow the instructions of their boss, manage their team and interact with their colleagues. “Imagine that this is not a sequence of actions, but rather a list of tasks,” adds Loftness. “You need to make sure that all three tasks on the list are completed: maybe not even immediately, but within the first 90 days.”

Decide in advance how your work will motivate you.

“This is a completely different job. Do not expect that as soon as you manage to complete several tasks, you can immediately call yourself a manager, says Loftness. - Now on your shoulders lies the responsibility for the well-being and effectiveness of your wards. You will be responsible for the results, but you will not be able to cope with everything alone. ”

As a manager, you are not driving in the passenger seat, but driving. This should motivate you. If not, then perhaps this work is not for you.

Before you take responsibility for other employees, you need to carefully analyze the reasons why you are taking up this position. Honestly tell yourself what drives you. Loftness saw how good and bad intentions exalted or ruined novice managers. Here are some things you should pay special attention to:

Don't become a manager to please your boss.“The desire to make your boss happy at the cost of your own well-being is not the best reason to take office,” Loftness said. - It is not easy when your leader is your friend or former colleague. To begin with, think and ask yourself why you need it. ”

Do not become a manager to move up the career ladder. In many IT companies, career growth for developers and management is parallel. “Good if you want to lead a team. However, you should critically assess the situation: are you ready to take on this role now? If you take office too soon and fail, it will be a step back for you, not forward. ”

Do not become a team-only manager.If you used to play the role of a martyr, then you better slow down. Heroic deeds - and the subsequent ups and downs - will now mean much more. “You need to know yourself well enough to decide if you can sacrifice yourself for the team,” says Loftness. “The desire to make life easier for your colleagues is noble, but not rational in the long run, if this is the only reason you want to improve.”

Become a manager if your growth depends on the growth of other employees.“One summer, two of our developers became managers. At this time, new interns came to us. The first manager constantly complained that the trainee was attached to him and this took him a lot of time. The second saw this as an opportunity to teach the young developer something new, says Loftness. “Managers may also like the technical part of their work, but they will feel complete satisfaction when they help others develop.”

Become a manager if you can show empathy.This is one of the main qualities of a good leader. “Not everyone has the ability to empathize, but I know one way how you can verify its presence. I ask employees to talk about the conflict that occurred at work. Then I ask them to describe what was happening at that moment in the head of another person, ”Loftness says. “If they can explain why the other person wanted them to perform a certain action, this is a sign of empathy, as well as a sign of a good manager.”

Become a manager if you can show the trust that you expect from others.Perhaps the most important piece of advice: don't lie. Do not tell subordinates important news “in confidence”. There is another effective way to establish - not only maintain - trusting relationships. “A good leader is like a good interviewer,” Loftness said. - The best interviewers do what they themselves expect from their interlocutor.

They tell incidents, share funny stories and get the same in return. Obviously, they do not try to control the entire discussion process: they usually give little, but get a lot in return. I think the same thing with managers. When you ask questions and show that the interlocutor is not indifferent to you, you get the opportunity to share emotions and arouse confidence in yourself. ”

If you see that your colleague is experiencing difficulties at work, and one of the first to approach him to offer your help, then this is a good sign.

Get ready to say goodbye to programming. When you begin to lead other developers, programming and solving technical issues are no longer your direct responsibilities. Most of the new managers are not ready for this, and it is not easy for them to get used to it.

“Adaptation can take some time, and the faster you adapt, the faster you become a competent leader,” Loftness said. “Of course, it all depends on the current situation in the company, but given the amount of material that needs to be learned, it seems to me that future managers should be prepared not to program for a year.”

Judge for yourself: most developers spend four years at the university to learn the basics of programming and get a job. Wouldn't it be wiser to devote part of this time to learning management skills? It is up to you to decide whether you can do without programming during the year.

It is worth noting that when Loftness says that you need to relax from the code, he means writing it. “For a manager, it’s much more important to be able to read code than to write it. Each leader has a desire to write the code for himself, and this distracts him from the main work, says Loftness. - You need to read a lot of code in order to know what your subordinates are doing and what stage they are at, and then take appropriate measures. Just do not succumb to the temptation and do not write the code yourself just to get away from the duties of a manager. ”

Loftness has seen many managers experiencing difficulties during such a transition. “We had one developer who knew that he would be promoted, but had no idea what he would do. As a result, management turned out to be a more severe test for him than he expected. He watched me and other managers. He knew that managers were littered with a large volume of letters, meetings, and non-computer work. ” But he did not think about how hard it would be for him without programming, so, in the end, he remained an ordinary employee.

As in any new business, the most important tasks that you are facing at the moment will always cause discomfort. And this is normal.

“Immediately after the upgrade, I did not stop programming, because I got used to it, and so we quickly completed our tasks. But I had to regret it, says Loftness. - I did not tell my boss that we were behind schedule, and did not give a critical assessment of one of the members of my team. If I paid more attention to the result of the work of my subordinates, I would have fired the one who could not cope with his duties much earlier. This would ultimately benefit the developer, the project, and the team as a whole. I needed to stop programming much earlier. ”

“You need to be able to see the difference between an“ assistant ”and an“ anchor, ”he says. A new manager acts as an “assistant” if he does everything in order for his wards to do their job better and faster. However, he becomes an “anchor” for the whole team if he tries to do all the work himself, without giving others the opportunity for development.

“Trust, but verify,” Loftness says. - You do not need to constantly monitor how your employees write code. However, it is worth paying attention to important points and giving positive or negative comments about the successes or failures in their work. ” In addition, from time to time, give them freedom to implement their own ideas, even if you do not agree with them yet. This is the best way to demonstrate your trust.

“Try to look for moments when the future manager wants to try something new. Of course, if the current task is important, and its failure can disrupt the entire project, then this will not be the right moment. But there are situations when an employee wants to make X, and it seems to you that it is better to make Y. Explain to him why you think so. By allowing an employee to make X regardless of whether he succeeds in this or not, you will cause him to trust himself. ”

Get ready to actively engage with your team. After Loftness became director of the Twitter development department, he quickly realized that not programming, but communication with people would lead to his success. “I took charge of a major project launched by our vice president of technology. My boss had too much work, and he asked me to take on this project. His only goal was to launch the product. ”

Loftess immediately needed three more developers to launch the product as quickly as possible. One of them turned out to be rather observant and began to question Loftness about the details of the project and its main goals. “At that time it was the main project in our company. He had to save Twitter, and no one doubted that, ”Loftness recalls. - But after this developer asked me some serious questions, we realized that we had created the wrong product and closed this project. In the end, we decided to take a different path, but this was a turning point for both our team and Twitter leadership. ”

The decision to become a manager means that instead of working directly on a product, you will now constantly look for opportunities for communication in order to better understand what your subordinates are doing and maximize their work efficiency. Here are two non-obvious ways that Loftness uses to improve interaction with his team:

Continuous communication about future plans. “Perhaps this will not happen at your first meeting, but, I think, very soon you will need to find out what your employees are striving for? What are their goals for future work, if they have them? Usually they say: "I just want to be a developer."

However, they may think of something more specific, for example: “In a couple of years I want to become a manager,” or “I want to someday launch my startup, so I need to learn everything that can help me with this,” or “ I want to become a recognized technical expert. ” Be that as it may, it is very important to ask these questions and regularly communicate with employees on this topic. ”

Making a list of sequential actions.“Every week on Monday morning I meet with my boss, in the afternoon I have a meeting with my team, and starting on Tuesday, we talk separately with each employee. Thanks to this sequence of actions, information is transmitted down from the very top, so the developers are always up to date on all matters. Otherwise, I slow down the whole process, and the information is lost on me or on someone else. With such an inconsistent interaction, the manager can easily miss something. ”

As you can see, even before you assume the position of manager, you need to think a lot, prepare well and develop a detailed plan. The sooner you do all this and decide how you will achieve your goals, the better you will prepare for further work. If you have not yet changed your mind about becoming a leader, then this is what you have to do next.

Days 1-30: Self-education


If you decide to become a manager, then you will have to spend the first month on self-education. For this, Loftness offers several ways: Allocate a

separate time for self-study. There is no easier and more effective way to gain knowledge about management than to set aside time for this in your schedule. This will be extra time, not counting meetings with new employees and individual conversations where you will put your knowledge into practice. “Seriously, open the calendar and set aside a separate time for yourself,” says Loftness. “At this time, you will do everything to become a better manager, whether it be a meeting with a mentor or reading literature on management methods.”

The following are the materials that Loftness recommends reading for each manager:


In addition, there are many good writers summarizing certain principles of governance. Among them, it is worth highlighting Joel Spolsky , Randy (nickname Michael Lopp) and Bob Sutton . Do not take all their judgments for truth: use them to form your idea of ​​how to better manage the team.

Do not hide that you are engaged in self-development.Young leaders learn quickly from their team, but they also use other tricks. “When you set aside time for self-education, don’t hide it,” says Loftness. - Your team should see your schedule. Many managers do not allow looking at their calendar, and this can confuse or alert the team. Your employees will appreciate your efforts even before they begin to benefit from them. Select the time in your calendar and simply head it, for example: "Leveling manager skills."

Find a manager who will become your mentor (or two, or three).Almost half of the managers interviewed by Loftnesses never asked for advice from a mentor with management experience. This is a missed opportunity. “In the first month, ask your boss to advise you a good mentor. But don't ask him to become a mentor himself, ”Loftness says. - You should already receive the necessary recommendations from your boss. Find someone who works at least partially in another direction: he will be able to give you additional advice or advice. ”

You will be surprised at how many managers will appreciate your request. “The directors on Twitter and Amazon are almost always ready to set aside time to help novice executives,” says Loftness. - If you can’t ask someone personally, write to the management about your request. The question should be extremely simple: “I need someone who can take the time and answer a few management questions. Is anyone free now? ”

Days 31-60: Finding Your Rhythm


In the second month, your goal will be to create a schedule that will help you find your rhythm: it will be very different from the rhythm in which you worked as a programmer. Here are some tips from Loftness and the many other managers he interviewed:

Cancel meetings. Paradoxically, the most common mistake made by managers is to participate in meetings. “It seems to me that canceling meetings at the right time and doing it often is a good habit,” Loftness said. - Undoubtedly, one should respect other people's efforts, but always try to value your time.

You will be invited to the meeting because other managers are present or many people are participating. At first you may feel that you must visit him. Personally, I ask our managers to ask themselves: “Will this meeting help me fulfill my current task?”

As for the time of your developers, it is important to respect and value their opinion. “Once I worked with a man who loved to complain about my subordinates. He once asked me: “Do you know that Susan was not at the last three meetings? Can you talk to her about this? ”I explained to him that Susan is able to make decisions herself, and if he thinks she needs to attend the meeting, then he must convince her that this is important.”

Treasure your time, but not to the detriment of others.For these 30 days, you have scheduled regular meetings with your team, and also set aside time to improve your managerial skills. Continue to value your time, but not at the expense of the time of your developers. “If we need to meet with the developer, I try to allocate time at the beginning and at the end of the working day so as not to distract him from work,” says Loftness. “One hour at the beginning of the working day costs much less than 30 minutes in the middle.”

Create an “event loop” for yourself.An event cycle is a special list that a manager should periodically look at - every day, week and month. “The purpose of compiling it is to make sure that you take the time to do important things that you might accidentally forget about,” says Loftness. - It’s more difficult to accustom yourself to look into it every week and month, as this happens less often. It’s important that you become a habit. ” The following is an example of a manager event loop:


Manager Event Loop - David Loftness

For effective work with the cycle of events, it is necessary to allocate time in your schedule in order to review and answer each block of questions in a timely manner. If you need to change the schedule or postpone viewing the cycle of events, it's okay: at least you will make an informed choice, which will make it possible to change priorities if necessary.

In some cases, you should not postpone the solution to the problem. “Daily event cycles can play an important role in the recruitment period. At such moments, the main thing is to hire a suitable candidate, ”says Loftness. - At the same time, you can decide to postpone sending a letter to the candidate until the end of the next meeting. But if you set aside time for this, you will definitely return to this task. ”

Days 61-90: Introspection: Do You Need It?


In the last month of your 90-day plan, you must evaluate your leadership potential. You are faced with two tasks. Firstly, taking into account your results, you should clearly present your strengths, as well as the direction in which you are going to work further. Secondly, you must have specific facts that you can and want to become a manager. Here are some questions that Loftness offers its managers to evaluate their capabilities:

What are the advantages of each of your team members and how are you going to use them? Loftness learned about this issue from Marcus Buckingham , author of The Only thing You Need to Know.". This question allows you to evaluate the manager’s knowledge of the obvious merits of each member of his team. Try to list all the strengths of your employees in a minute. Moreover, you should have a clear idea of ​​how you will use the strengths of your wards to achieve the goals of the team and advance each of them along the career ladder.

“One of our developers was not serious about writing code. He quickly developed the program and began to work with it. Later I realized why, ”says Loftness. - He was a master at debugging programs. He tried to implement something faster, then to start looking for mistakes. ”

The lack of interest of this programmer in improving his development skills negatively affected the team and the final product, but his unique abilities helped him succeed. Especially for him, Loftness singled out a special role: he had to deal with bugs throughout the working day.

However, more complex situations arise. Developers can exhibit unique abilities that benefit the team, but do not contribute to their professional growth. “One manager named Glen did a great job. He knew his strengths and clearly presented his prospects, ”says Loftness. - He was distinguished by his ability to determine the main task of the team and act quickly. Once he made a plan of his expectationsfrom the analysis of the code by the team, and almost immediately the productivity of the whole team increased markedly.

Glen was very much appreciated by the team, but he decided to become a regular developer again. He thought that he liked working with the code rather than with people, although he coped excellently with both. Loftness was more important so that Glen did not lose his motivation and remained in the company, than left her upset.

If after 90 days you can’t tell what is the peculiarity of each of the employees in your team, it means that you communicated with them incorrectly or asked the wrong questions.

Think about what you did not have enough to achieve your goal: skills, time or motivation. If you do not have enough skills or time, try to fix it. If you lack motivation, then this is an equally important discovery for you: you may not be suitable for this position.

Does the team bring the desired result from it? If the first question concerned individual employees, then we are talking about their teamwork. Here are a few specific questions that need to be answered in order to evaluate the result of their work:

  • What was the quality of the software? Has it increased?
  • Have the appropriate steps been taken?
  • What is your team mood?

After 90 days, the manager should be able to identify areas that need improvement. If the problem cannot be solved immediately, the team must understand where to start. Otherwise, perhaps someone is playing the wrong role in the team.

Without a doubt, the results of the team are important for the company as a whole, but it is also important for the manager to understand how they were achieved. “Learn everything about fulfilling the plan. If the members of your team do not meet the deadlines, maybe at a certain stage you overload them with work, as you overestimate their abilities? When exactly does the team fail to complete the work on time and why? - says Loftness. “It’s more important not how far you go, but how your engine works.”

Can you tell when the team begins to benefit?"Each manager has a certain share of responsibility - from reducing costs in a certain area to attracting more customers - thanks to which the company should receive some kind of benefit," says Loftness. You have been appointed leader because someone cannot handle this responsibility.

Sometimes at such a moment you begin to understand where you have achieved success and where you still have difficulties. One way or another, after 90 days you should see clear signs that the company benefits. If you see improvements and were able to determine what was their source, then this can be considered success at this stage. If not, you need to make a plan of how you are going to achieve this.

How often do you work at night and on weekends?“At first, the newly-minted managers work a lot and do it for various reasons,” says Loftness. - They are delighted with their new position, the experience that they will receive in the future, and the opportunity to contribute to the development of the team. They can work at night and on weekends. ” After 90 days, ask yourself: do you spend more time working because you like it, or because it is your new way of life?

The amount of overtime work makes it easy to determine how happy you are now and how long you are ready to work in this mode. How will you feel in a year if you continue to sacrifice your weekend for work? Things may not work out as you expect.

At the same time, don't give up too soon. Just start monitoring your condition after two months. “Honestly, I know only one manager who instantly became happier when he became a manager than when he was a developer,” Loftness says. “The transition from a developer’s position to a manager’s position causes a lot of new and unpleasant feelings. Therefore, first of all, it is worth considering whether you will be enough for a long time. It doesn't matter if you feel happier. At the very beginning, it is wiser to be on the path to happiness than to be happy.

Day 90: Decide whether you stay or leave


On the 90th day, the young leader should already understand whether he should continue to work or is it better to resign. If you were not able to pass all the tests in 90 days, or if you did not want to pass them, then it's time to leave your post. If you clearly imagine where you will move on - congratulations! Your career is just beginning.

Here are a few tips from Loftness to help you make the right decision:

Mark the 90th day on your calendar.Being a lover of planning and prioritization, Loftness asks new managers to mark the 90th day in their calendars immediately after the first working day. “It is very important that the young manager knows what he should strive for,” Loftness believes. “Day 90 is the moment of truth when the manager decides to continue or stop his work.” Allow at least a few hours to gather your thoughts and draw certain conclusions for yourself, as well as one hour to discuss this with your boss.

If you go away, then you go away, not backward.There are many reasons why people do not want to be managers: a love of programming, the wrong motivation, the lack of a reliable path to well-being. All of them are justified and important, and they must be taken into account. “Consider this not a step back, but a choice based on your abilities and interests,” Loftness says. - You do not need to engage in self-flagellation if you leave your position. It is very important to be able to recognize that a certain type of activity is not suitable for you, and return to what is closer to you. ”

Organizations need to track career progression among both managers and developers. “Danger arises when managers in a company’s structure are taller than developers,” Loftness said. - Talented employees should be able to move from the position of a developer to leadership positions and see the whole picture from their level. They should feel comfortable using the provided opportunities, knowing that they will not go down a level. In addition, it is beneficial for companies to have well-educated, diverse employees who are well aware of the organization’s structure. ”

Companies can facilitate the transition of a developer to a managerial position if they attach less importance to it from the very beginning.

“A successful and productive Day 90 for a technical manager starts from the very first day. Do not attach too much importance to the transition of the developer to the position of manager, says Loftness. “If the company makes a loud statement about the employee’s promotion and organizes a large-scale celebration of this event, it becomes more difficult for the developer to leave his post - even if this decision will benefit both the employee and the company.”

If you stay, you still have a lot to learn. If you feel that you are suitable for a managerial position, then know that you are at the very beginning of your long journey, and you have a lot to go through. Loftness offers several ways to continue its development as a manager after Day 90:

Focus on improving your strengths, rather than addressing weaknesses. A typical mistake of a novice leader is to focus on eliminating their weaknesses, instead of developing their strengths. As a rule, the development of one’s advantages is more useful and lasts longer than working on one’s own disadvantages.

Analyze your personal qualities and productivity.When new managers try to critically evaluate their work, they may pay too much attention to their individual characteristics. If they like to talk, then it will be difficult to stop them. If they do their job well, you may not be in the way. However, you need to make sure that they not only can speak out, but also do not interfere with this to their team.

Find someone who will tell you the whole truth. Throughout his career as a leader, Loftness has always found in his team a person who would tell him the whole truth about him. Such a person does not restrain himself and says what he thinks. “Sometimes this person will tell you everything in person, sometimes he will talk about you at meetings,” says Loftness. - Try to adequately respond to his public statements.

You need to understand that the higher your position, the more difficult it is for you to hear the truth from ordinary employees. If you can find the one who will tell you everything as it is, tell him: “Listen, I'm glad that you are with us on the team and are not hiding anything from me. I have a job for you: I want to know the whole truth about myself. ” It may sound like a compliment to him. ”

Expand your curriculum. During its work, Loftness managed to choose the best management literature for itself. If you’ve already read his recommendations above, add a few more books to them. For example, read Tom DeMarco 's Slack or Joe Javier 's Key Features of a Good Manager .

In addition to reading management books and getting advice from a mentor, you will have to make a lot of efforts if you decide to become a leader, and even more perseverance if you are going to become a good leader. After 90 days, you will also have to follow some plan, which will include meetings with mentors, an independent study of management, as well as identifying the individual characteristics of each member of your team.

But the most important thing is to devote yourself fully to management, just as you once devoted yourself to programming. If you try to become a jack of all trades, then in the end you will not succeed in anything. Referring to the postGaiamTV Product Development Director Jesse Weaver, Loftness remarks: “Don't try to look like a Swiss knife with a bunch of tools that are only partially useful. A sommelier will not use a mini corkscrew, and a miniature saw will not come in handy with a lumberjack. Set yourself the goal of becoming a good manager and stick to your plan. ”

Another of our material on the topic: Preventing mistakes at the first stages of development - Desk Check and the starting meeting .

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