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Q&A: “Priorities for a new development manager?”

A list member, Pat, wrote in this weekend. They were kind enough to allow me to reply to the list so we can all learn.

I’ve been following you for a while and I respect you opinion. My company just hired a development manager as a new position between the VP of Development and our team of 10 developers. Prior to this new position all of the developers reported to the VP. (I’m one of the developers.)

The [new] manager spent the first 2 weeks setting up a development environment on his laptop and scheduling meetings with some of us to gather technical information on how the code works.

My coworkers and I are upset that the new manager only seems concerned with the code and hasn’t made any attempt to schedule 1:1 meetings or get to know any of us.

What should be the priorities of a new development manager? Should the code be more important than the developers?

Thanks for writing, Pat.

There are two perspectives, both occurring at the same time.

  • What the new manager IS doing.
  • What the new manager SHOULD BE doing.

You see what the new manager IS doing.

You and the team feel the manager SHOULD BE doing something else.

I do feel the manager’s first priority is their people, and that their very first activities should be creating trust relationships with the team.

But it’s easy for me to say that, and even easier to condemn them… because I’m not working within the system they are working in.

So it’s easy… but unfair.

The system they are working in includes many factors, such as:

  1. The VP they report to
  2. The team that reports to them
  3. Their understanding of this new role and its priorities
  4. Their past bosses, and past successes, and past failures
  5. Their perspective on the priorities of a development manager
  6. Etc

All of our work in a system – and we all experience various push/pulls from the system.

We also push and pull the system by our actions. We affect the system from within it. All parts of the system are interconnected, so when part of it moves, all parts are moved (even a bit.)

Like a tiny pebble sends ripples through calm water, our words and actions have far-reaching effects on the system we’re within.

Practical steps

First, let’s start by assuming positive intent and rationality. I appreciate when people do that with me, so I try and do it for others.

Second, ask yourself ”what pressures of the system might cause them to spend the first 2 weeks setting up and understanding the code? What made that most important?” I don’t know the answer, but I can toss out three ideas off the top of my head:

  • This is their first Software Manager job, and the last Software Manager they worked for only seemed to care about the code. Thus, they think this is the only way the job is done. (Pressure from past experience.)
  • The VP told them to “learn the code quickly and get set up so you can coach the team.” (Pressure from the boss.)
  • They are an introvert and/or struggle with connecting with people, so they prefer to work with software. (Pressure from within themselves.)

I’m sure my guesses are wrong, but I’m also sure that there’s a rational explanation for their behavior… at least “rational” from a system’s thinking perspective.

“Rational” doesn’t mean “right” – but it gives us common ground to discuss the topic.

Third, I hope you can see a new perspective beyond what IS and what SHOULD BE. That’s the perspective of what COULD BE.

What could be is the most exciting of all, because it means things can change.

I believe that from inside the system you are in the best place to change this.

I suggest scheduling a 1:1 meeting, and talking about what you’ve seen thus far. Tell them you want to have a great working relationship together. That you’ve been looking forward to it, and hope it will start soon. And, that you’d like to help them be successful in their new role.

I don’t know how they will reply, but it’s hard to imagine they will punch you in the nose and fire you. 🙂

I hope this helps, and I wish you all the best.


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About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

1 Comment

  1. Matthew Cone on March 20, 2019 at 9:45 am


    Great advice, eloquently written, I have to throw up a +1 / upvote the idea of leading from the middle, and setting up the 1:1 yourself. It was the first idea that came to my mind, I truly believe intentional relationships can be initiated by either person, it doesn’t have to be started by the supervisor.

    Leading from the middle of an organization comes with a word of caution, being effective at it takes practice, and intention. If done correctly you become an Spitfire wingman battling it out in the skies over England, if done improperly you become a backseat driver battling it out over a BestBuy parking spot on Black Friday.


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