A Product Manager and a Development Lead—also called a Dev Lead—are the people ensuring things are moving ahead steadily, and smoothly. How do the titles differ? And what, exactly, are a Dev Lead’s responsibilities?
The PM is the weatherman, predicting what’s coming and preparing the town (entire team) for all best- and worst-case scenarios. It's thanks to the PM that the whole community prospers.
The Dev Lead is the lightning rod sitting atop one multifaceted structure (the development team). It knows the house top to bottom. And it knows when and where it needs to take action to ensure safety.
Safety from what? In the cheerful words of an experienced STRV Dev Lead: “From the shitstorm.”
WHEN IS A DEV LEAD REQUIRED?
When STRV works on a complex project, it tends to require a Product Manager, QA, Design and a Development Team—composed of Frontend, Backend, iOS and/or Android. At this point, the Dev Team becomes its own animal.
Just as a Product Manager watches over the entire team, a Dev Lead ensures that the development part of the team is working at 100% efficiency, and that all communication is clear. How this is done depends on the type of project.
STRV developers work primarily on two types of projects:
1) Extending client’s team (developers work with the client’s existing team and processes)
2) Delivering full product (developing a product from idea to finish)
EXTENDING CLIENT’S TEAM
When a developer is plugged into a client’s team, he/she often has limited freedom to make final decisions. However, Dev Leads tend to be in tighter contact with the client-side, which often gives them the chance to have a greater impact when planning the next steps. Additionally, with two teams working together, the biggest challenge is that information can get lost, and expectations can be miscommunicated and misunderstood. It is the Dev Lead’s job to ensure this does not happen.
DELIVERING FULL PRODUCT
In the case of product delivery, a Product Manager and Dev Lead are given the opportunity to show their leadership, planning and decision-making skills. This is when the unexpected happens, and when it’s important to have strong leaders—of both the entire project, and of the team of developers that are oftentimes asked to do, redo and undo the impossible.
WHAT DOES A DEV LEAD DO?
Whatever the scope of the project, a Dev Lead is expected to:
- Be in charge of the technical part of the project, as well as of sprint planning in terms of development.
- Connect departments and coordinate development. Whether it’s iOS and Android, or Development and Design, there needs to be someone making sure everyone’s headed in the right direction, at matching speeds, with the same target in mind.
- Assist the Product Manager and/or client with planning (next steps, new features, etc.) by providing technical insight. This insight can include the Dev Lead’s own knowledge, and—when needed—the input of the entire STRV development team.
- Know every developer working on the project; their skills, needs, exact responsibilities and what they both like and don't like to do. This is incredibly useful info when choosing the right fit for a task and setting deadlines.
- Possess basic knowledge about every platform. There are intricate bits and pieces that must come together to create the end product. Someone who doesn’t understand how it all works can’t know if it’s working well.
- Continue contributing to the codebase of the project. This means actively coding, providing input and feedback and staying up-to-date in his/her field.
- Communicate with the team, ensuring everyone is involved in sprint planning and is clear in regards to all short- and long-term goals.
- Understand that there is such a thing as too many meetings. Being able to get to the point while remaining comprehensive and clear. In other words: no wasting time.
- Organize and properly utilize stand-ups (short, oftentimes daily meetings meant for discussing roadblocks only, and not general progress)
- Be perceptive. This stems from experience with the work, the STRV process and the team. It’s important to notice signs of oncoming frustration—and to find fast solutions.
Dev Leads must be action-oriented. Ready to take matters into their own hands. And although the position requires substantial engineering experience, becoming a Dev Lead should not be seen as a natural progression, or the only logical aspiration, of every developer’s career. It is more of a career shift, a move towards product development and away from straightforward engineering work.
Which is why it isn’t for everyone, and why a strong Dev Lead must be prepared to take on a highly specific set of responsibilities.
THE 7 GOLDEN RULES OF TOP DEV LEADS
We asked our most experienced STRV Dev Leads what they find crucial to doing their job well. Their answers can be summed up into seven golden rules.
1) Have full responsibility for the project’s tech side.
2) Connect people, teams, technology. Help them relate.
3) Keep things moving. No matter what.
4) Be the developers’ advocate.
5) Know when to help, and when to give someone the space to figure it out.
6) Remain transparent. Let your team know the “why” behind every decision.
7) Communicate with your team. And when relevant, share their ideas with the client.
Having strong Dev Leads that understand the weight of their responsibilities has played a huge role in STRV’s success. It has helped expand our portfolio of notable projects, and it’s one of the reasons why our clients enjoy working with us on a daily basis. So, safe to say we’ll be sticking to these rules for a while.