In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.
Miha Medven is working in the space of Software-as-a-Service and Web development. We talked about personal growth, what it is like to be a good manager and why he loves to work with freelancers.
How do your coworkers introduce you?
Sometimes they would use my official title – Technical Director. I prefer to be described as Head of Development – a person that is responsible for technical execution projects.
In my experience, the job titles are useful for external people. For internal people, they become an obstacle in communication if they feel that your title doesn’t fit the nature of their problem.
What kind of responsibilities do you take on yourself with the Director in your job title?
I’m the kind of person that focuses on execution. I observe two kinds of people: the ones with idea and vision, and the ones that know how to implement this into a live product. I’m the latter kind. I’ll make sure that we can execute the vision and I’ll try to help wherever it makes sense. I don’t feel any jobs are beneath me if they push the implementation forward such as marketing copy or helping with portrait photography of team members. I’m always looking for opportunities to see what I can do to make sure that the product that we’re building gets to my clients or partners. This kind of interdisciplinary attitude to work allows us to have a high velocity of shipping features and products.
How do you decide on a balance between doing it yourself, delegation, or dropping it?
I try to look at my existing time commitments and what’s the impact of this work. I need to decide between the existing availability of my team’s time and my specialist knowledge. If I can delegate a task to a team member it means that they can grow and can also take more dedicated time to do an excellent job on it.
The challenge I’m facing at the moment is how to find the capacity to make 100+ of these decisions in a day. It’s mentally exhausting. It’s also challenging to figure out how to relay the decision process itself to the team so that they can do it without me.
How do you see your management style?
I’m trying to have a very cohesive team. We’re at 5 people at the moment in my team and I’m striving to have a weekly 1-on-1 with every member. I keep checking with everyone to make sure that my understanding of their needs is aligned with the work they are doing. I see this as my primary responsibility and how I can provide the most value.
I find that we can make the most progress if we work as a team and that we’re not relying on outsized contributions from individuals. I see open communication as a fundamental method to achieve this cohesion. I’m trying to be open about my challenges and to discuss them together with their issues. This puts us at an equal level and I find that it helps with the granularity and type of information I get from my team.
It also helps if I can lead by example and to show that I’m also dealing with remote work issues or time organization in my personal life. This allows us to more openly discuss strategies for how to cope with it as a team and team members don’t feel the need to hide them. I also try to be honest with them and tell them when their actions are leading to erosion of trust so that we can catch them early.
I find that making sure that there is enough open communication inside the team allows us to ship features much faster and of higher quality. I find that when a team trusts that they can change the processes and approach to problem-solving that provides us with the benefit to detect and fix things early.
How do you level up as a manager?
I make sure to read a lot of books. The problem with books is that managing people requires a lot of tacit knowledge and to learn that you need to have a lot of practical experience. At the moment I’m experimenting with different approaches and trying to learn from the experience. We’ll decide as a team to try one approach for 2 weeks and then talk about what worked and what didn’t.
How does your team structure work each week?
We have an in-person day on Monday when we meet together in an office. We take this opportunity to have come together for discussions, planning, and unstructured meetings. As we’re a small team we just need to have a shared space so we can realign our work and highlight challenges. I try not to have too much structure in meetings as I find that it’s better to adapt to the type of work that we’re doing. I’m a big fan of real-time reactions so that we can address issues early.
How do you level up and ensure the professional growth of your team members?
I start by trying to figure out how I would make myself replaceable. I ask myself what kind of skills do my team members need so that they could replace me. This forces me to learn new things and at the same time provides growth opportunities for others. As I talk with team members we try to find different opportunities and I try to challenge them to start taking on these new opportunities.
One recent good experience in this area was our graphical designer who grew into a confident UX lead role in a matter of a year. I supported him in taking bigger roles and helped him understand what we need from this role. Now he is independently leading UX development and it’s something I don’t have to do myself anymore.
What would be your advice to someone that is feeling that they’re not growing in their current position?
It’s hard to change the way you’re thinking and working if your environment doesn’t support it. Tacit knowledge of how to do work better requires immersion into teams and environments that think and work differently. The more they can interact with such teams the easier it will be to start doing this kind of work. This process mostly depends on the management style of team leads so the most such person can do is to choose their (new) team wisely.
An easy way to try out new approaches to work is to do freelancer or volunteer work. This will help you develop a breadth of experience that will create more opportunities for you in smaller markets. We’re mostly solving product as opposed to technical challenges and in such cases, breadth of experience helps more than being specialized. You’ll also see how different leadership approaches product, technology, sales, and team challenges. It’s a much better experience than trying to learn from books.
As a specialized professional such as a developer or designer your added value doesn’t come from your specialization. You need to see how your work can empower the customer in your market segment. The best way to develop this skill is to have experience and understanding of how different teams approach these kinds of work and to not be afraid to reach out from your area of specialization. Skills of talking to people and having an understanding of how a sales process works are invaluable in a team that is developing new public-facing products.
Do you think it’s possible to have highly functional teams that work remotely?
Yes, I think it’s possible. It’s really important that all team members are remote savvy and that they can function in a remote work environment. If a team member doesn’t have this skill they will feel left out and it’s going to be a problem. In our team, we also make sure to allocate part of our work time for social calls so we can connect on a personal level. It helps to have a small team and to be mindful that you need to train any new team members on how your team does remote work.
I’m also a big fan of gifs in Slack. It helps to convey the tone of information that would otherwise be lost in a textual chat.
Can you share some books and resources that you found valuable?
- First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Marcus Buckingham; Curt Coffman) talks about how management is individual to each person.
- The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement (Eliyahu M. Goldratt) because it describes the high-level approaches of a good manager.
- Basecamp books. Rework is the best one from their books. I don’t agree with all the aspects but the foundations are solid.
- Mythical Man-Month, The: Essays on Software Engineering (Fred Brooks) – because it provides terminology on how to explain software engineering to non-developers.
Overall I found that being a manager is challenging and that you need to have a team that you can grow it and that you also have mentorship from your manager. In my experience, you’re lucky if you can find someone that takes management as part of their core competency. I also try to talk to peers in similar roles and try to learn from their experiences. What I mostly get from these discussions is that leadership is individual to each person and there are different approaches.
What I learned from talking with Miha
It’s very hard to learn management and team dynamic from books or conference talks. It’s much easier to switch teams until you find one where you feel that you can belong and grow. Until you don’t anymore. Then switch again.
Resourcefulness and breadth of experience is a big plus when working a small multidisciplinary team.
There’s a need in IT space for support communities for next generation of emerging leaders.