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Roles in the tech team: This is behind tech-lead, product-lead and people-lead

Roles in the tech team: This is behind tech-lead, product-lead and people-lead

In tech teams, management tasks can be distributed according to the central components in the development process, i.e. technology, product and process as well as personnel. There are different names for this, such as tech, product or people lead. ( Photo: Shutterstock / dotshock)

According to the job profile at the Viennese company Tricentis, a VP Engineering is responsible for an “effective, efficient and agile software development process”. The company, founded in 2007, develops software test tools that are intended to support business customers with agile process improvements, e.g. according to Devops. The startup Enginsight from Jena, which detects IT security gaps in production companies, promises future employees: “You work with the latest technologies in an agile working atmosphere” and advertises: “Nowhere else do you get responsibility so quickly.”

Job postings like this show how tech teams organize themselves today: agile and with a high level of personal responsibility. Years ago, the first IT departments set out to respond to the so-called “Vuca world” with new working methods such as Scrum, Kanban, Devops & Co., which is characterized by increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Specifically, this means: adapting to short-lived trends, using rapid technological developments to bring complex products and services to market. Because in the meantime, the IT departments, previously kept short as unpopular cost centers, are under enormous pressure: They are tinkering with innovative business ideas for their companies and thus, it is hoped, future profit makers. Routine therefore hardly plays a role for tech teams, especially in software development, rather they rely on creative approaches and innovative thinking. This also makes their control a special challenge.

Table of contents

  • Area Hierarchies and less pressure on managers
  • How are agile methods applied in tech teams?
  • Chaos in personal union
  • A Scrum Master is not a classic boss
  • The future of leadership?
  • The importance of mindfulness
  • Master of Matching
  • New roles and an eye for detail

Flat hierarchies and less pressure on managers

Classic, hierarchical Characterized management concepts reach their limits here, is the Hamburg transformation officer rater Benjamin Wiedenmann is convinced: “IT now has a fundamental role even in small companies, which significantly changes the demands placed on managers. Tech talents are rare – and therefore in the powerful position of demanding a leadership concept that gives them a lot of autonomy, ”says Wiedenmann, who accompanies startups and large corporations in transition for the consulting firm Commitment. In successful tech teams, he observes the distribution of management tasks – according to the central components in the development process: technology, product and process as well as personnel. Companies would find different titles for this, such as tech lead, product lead or people lead. Research into such team roles has been going on since the 1950s, says Michael Busch, who teaches at the Institute for Management and Leadership Development at the University of Applied Sciences Wiener Neustadt. In today’s working world, the topic is more topical than ever, new titles and positions are constantly being added.

The diffusion of the management task: According to Wiedenmann, this new understanding brings enormous advantages. It enables flat hierarchies even in large corporations and reduces the pressure on managers: “In today’s Vuca world, the decision-making processes and the associated role models are also becoming more complex. Communicator, negotiator, strategist: one person cannot fit all equally well, ”says the former change manager at mail order company Otto. According to Wiedenmann, successful tech teams usually started earlier than other departments to resolve the dichotomy between partially incompatible roles – and now benefit from a head start.

The work and organizational psychologist Anne Maigatter advises you to be careful when filling roles in Scrum teams to be careful not to think rigidly in traditional leadership roles. (Photo: Anne Maigatter)

How are agile methods applied in tech teams?

The origin are agile methods, which have experienced a real hype in IT companies in recent years, explains work and organizational psychologist Anne Maigatter, who work at the University of Applied Psychology in Olten, Switzerland, as success factors researched in Scrum teams. “The aim of the method is precisely that the team members share the leadership, specializing in each case according to the individual aspects of the development process,” says Maigatter.

This is how Scrum works Transferred to tech teams: The development team is solely responsible for the technology. According to transformation consultant Wiedenmann, a tech lead is not included in the framework, but is particularly suitable for larger groups to moderate decisions about software architecture, for example. The development team can and should refuse tasks if they are not clearly described. The so-called “product owner” is responsible for the formulation and prioritization of the tasks and is solely in contact with customers. The scrum master, in turn, acts as a coach for the entire team: moderates and structures the meetings and acts as a confidante in the event of conflicts. “In Scrum, product, process and people leads are clearly defined management components that are distributed among several people,” says Wiedenmann.

More on this: What does a Scrum Master actually do?

Chaos in personal union

A concept that is clear at first glance, but it has some pitfalls, such as the Bochum-based IT security specialist G Data Cyber ​​Defense stated had to. It’s been seven years since the first teams with agile methods such as Scrum, Kanban & Co. got started there. G Data claims to be the inventor of anti-virus software – and a pioneer in innovative work organization. Today the company with 500 employees and 30 agile teams is in the process of transferring the experience values ​​to the entire organization. An important lesson: Even when assigning roles, things can go wrong, as Alexander Burris explains.

He has accompanied the change at G Data since the beginning and works with his Mobile Research team using the Scrum method, for example on apps for smartphone security. “At the beginning we thought it was f For a good idea to appoint one of our developers as a Scrum Master. The decision was catastrophic, ”says Burris in retrospect. The reason: role conflicts were inevitable.

Because Scrum Masters can work best from a neutral position. But if you as a developer have just been busy with the technical implementation and have long had your place in the team, you will find yourself caught between the chairs more quickly than someone from the outside, warns Burris. The consequence at G Data: The scrum masters now rotate across several teams and entire company areas. “This is great because they always bring new knowledge and experience to the table,” says Burris, who is the product owner responsible for mobile threat detection.

The IT Service provider Schiffl has turned his understanding of roles upside down: This is how Hermann Behnert made it from technician at the help desk to co-managing director. (Photo: Schiffl IT)

A scrum master is not a classic boss

As with G Data, conflicts arose in many companies over the allocation of roles, observes organizational psychologist Maigatter. A serious mistake, for example, is to equate the controlling Scrum roles with the classic executive role. “The scrum masters do a balancing act: on the one hand, they are asked to act as empathetic, as free as possible, judgment-free mediators who ensure mutual understanding and thus get the teams going,” says the scientist. On the other hand, they are called upon to act as strict process holders in meetings, who also have to set limits. The range of tasks quickly makes you think of the traditional manager – but according to Maigatter, this role is clearly separated in successful Scrum teams. Because: “If the Scrum Master also decides who is to be terminated, then the employees think carefully about whether to admit mistakes.”

Ulrike Kerkmann, who is one of the 20 Scrum Masters at G Data, also made the experience. In order to let them work effectively, for example in the internal training program Cyber ​​Defense Academy, it is located in the organizational chart directly below the management. “We have to get out of the traditional dependencies in order to be perceived as neutral people of trust,” explains Kerkmann. “The role is not about having the power to make decisions. Rather, it is about supporting people in communication in order to encourage them to organize themselves. ”

The future of leadership?

How the traditional management positions are integrated into the system is a decisive success factor, according to occupational psychologist Maigatter. “In the agile world, the classic managers are still extremely important because they make the financial and personnel decisions for the teams,” says the agile researcher. Their conclusion: The modern bosses drive innovation by not pushing themselves into the Scrum Master role because they want to continue to have a say in the front row, but rather withdraw to their core tasks: strengthening know-how through smart personnel decisions To send money into the right pipelines and to keep track of things.

For this reason, traditional management positions are by no means at G Data either abolished. Alexander Burris originally became a product owner from his team leader role, which, in his experience, is easy to combine. His job is formally suspended under the global head of research and development. “You still need someone who keeps an eye on the personal development of a product owner,” says Burris. In the agile world, executives have a special responsibility, for example: to represent the values ​​and to advocate the new way of working. But how do experienced bosses have to change for this?

The importance of mindfulness

Catherine Bischoff deals intensively with leadership qualities in the tech environment. As Chief Relationship Officer of the Factory Berlin business club, she launched a mentoring program for female founders. She cites trust as the most important point for personal development. Your appeal to managers: “Surround yourself with very good people and then rely on them too.”

Trust and empathy are generally becoming more important for HR managers. Likewise: mindfulness for yourself and the team as well as the ability to reflect on your own communication and behavior. For the traditional leadership roles in the tech area, which retain disciplinary power, questions of personnel development in particular are likely to gain in importance, says transformation consultant Wiedenmann: “As soon as the classic managers no longer have any responsibility for the content, they can take care of the employees much more freely to develop – possibly even lead larger groups than before. “

Master of Matching

Smart personnel selection instead of process intervention: Hi Decision-makers in many companies still have some catching up to do, says Alexander Schlomberg, co-founder of the Berlin startup Expertlead. The company, founded in 2018, is on the trail of the optimal composition of tech teams – and has formed a business model from it. Specifically, Expertlead places specialized IT freelancers in software development projects for a period of three to six months, including developers, UI and UX designers, data analysts and technical product and project managers. The positions to be filled range from software developer to interim CTO – with very different requirements.

Alexander Schlomberg, co-founder of the Berlin startup Expertlead, places IT freelancers for short-term projects and has to analyze exactly who fits which role. (Photo: Expertlead)

That the details are important when it comes to role fit some companies are not yet aware of this, says the expert lead boss. “In the tender, many only differentiate between team lead and team members, we then ask more detailed questions,” explains Schlomberg. For example, a technology boss needs fewer programming skills, but a better feeling for the complexity and effort behind certain tasks, explains the Expertlead founder.

New roles and an eye for detail

Boost for autonomous tech teams is created on the one hand through precise matching, on the other hand through radical steps by the bosses: Ideally, they bring enough self-reflection with them, to question yourself and your role. Like six years ago at the IT service provider Schiffl in Hamburg – initially out of necessity. At the time, the high fluctuation was one of the biggest problems, as managing director Hermann Behnert explains in retrospect: “We lacked the cooperative way of dealing with one another. That’s why the company wanted to strengthen the communicative employees in order to put an end to the chopping and sticking between the departments, “explains the 34-year-old.

The role of team leaders was introduced, who should drive the cultural change in the company. The choice fell on communication talents who, until now, had only been noticed by chance. So Behnert moved to his current position as one of the two managing directors at Schiffl: from technician at the help desk to responsible for 150 employees. The company, which has been owner-managed for 35 years, has turned its traditional distribution of roles on its head.

Today, individual team members also have more responsibility: specific organization The employees work in small groups of five to twelve people, each with a specialist area, for which they independently put together expert groups within the group. “Expertise is safe terrain. The focus on your own fields of competence motivates you to keep up with changes, ”says executive coach Michael Rinschen, who advised Schiffl on the reorganization. According to Managing Director Behnert, the effects speak for themselves. “It’s amazing how little the teams need to be controlled today,” he sums up. And: Nobody has quit for three years.

This article originally appeared in t3n 60 Here you can find the latest magazine issues and here our archive.

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