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Aligning Developers: A Personal Approach

Strategies for Creating a Shared Vision and Overcoming Obstacles

Aligning a team towards a new goal is no easy feat. Whether in a fellowship, my own company, or a diverse team of developers, the journey is always challenging. Here's my take on effectively aligning teams and navigating the inevitable obstacles.

The general notion that we just need to be friendly, inclusive, and polite isn’t simple enough, yet those aspects are very important.

The key ingredient is something more rooted in humanity. The culture between people in software development and tech in general isn’t unique. In fact, it’s very basic.

People have different opinions and experiences; here, people differ a lot.

Where people don’t differ is that we all face Resistance, the little voice that is telling us we don’t need to change. This voice is convincing, and it’s the same that is responsible for us not pursuing callings, professions, or dreams because that would mean we need to change 😀.

My personal go-to strategy is a 3-steps approach.

  • Create the vision of a journey with a mission.

  • Overcome hurdles like Resistance, hesitancy, and skill gaps.

  • Invoke ownership; become a leader and start the journey.

Step 1: Create the Vision

The first step in aligning any team is clearly explaining why you should embark on this journey. This is the foundation—the mission and vision guiding everything you do. It’s crucial to communicate this vision effectively. Narrating the story behind it creates a compelling notion that everyone can rally around.

If the vision isn’t exciting or inspiring, people won’t follow. Make sure your mission is something people can connect with and believe in.

It’s essential to not underestimate this step. We all know how good films or books can pull us into a story. Long series, in particular, make us even more addicted to watching them to the end.

The very same applies here:

👉 Make your developers the story's heroes; they will follow the journey through.

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Step 2: Overcome Resistance and Different Opinions

Once you have a strong vision, the next challenge is aligning everyone to a familiar path. This is often the trickiest part. You might have a great idea that everyone is excited about, but disagreements arise when it comes time to start. With ten developers, you’ll likely get ten different opinions on tech stack, programming languages, frameworks, and even how to name variables.

In these situations, the most experienced voices tend to dominate, while the less experienced remain quiet, even though they have their own opinions. It’s important to acknowledge that everyone has an opinion and find a way to bring those voices to the table.

Resistance to change is natural and expected. People find reasons to resist, often creating problems rather than solving them. You must show why the change is necessary and beneficial to overcome this. It’s crucial to address these negative aspects and find a way to align everyone’s interests. This might mean adjusting your tech stack or finding a middle ground accommodating different preferences.

You must understand every individual to address their doubts, opinions, and ideas. I don’t speak of forcing anyone. But making clear that we are on a shared journey with a single narrative, we cannot please everyone’s history and comfort.

Resistance tells us:

  • I like XYZ language better

  • ABC is more effective than XYZ because of…

  • I just mastered XYZ, so why should I start learning something new?

  • I don’t want to start at the beginning again; I would instead join another team to stay with what I have learned.

It’s all about current comfort and fear of the unknown, which is yet to come.

The good part is that once this voice is beaten and overcome, developers see there never was a reason to. And this is always the case. As soon as the team is in motion as one, everyone will be okay and will not think about negative thoughts anymore.

Resistance can and must be beaten again and again. The sooner we respect it, the earlier we can tackle it as a group.

👉 Rule of thumb about Resistance:

If you read this about Resistance and think it is nonsense, that’s Resistance speaking 😀. Start fighting it today; it will bring you nowhere.

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Step 3: Foster Ownership and Responsibility

After overcoming initial resistance, it’s essential to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility within the team. You need to define the framework and the qualities you expect but allow the team to find their own solutions within that framework.

👉 Don’t micromanage—let the developers and designers do what they do best.

When team members are free to create and contribute their ideas, they take ownership of the project. This leads to better results and a more motivated team.

Your role as a leader is to provide the vision, remove obstacles, and keep the team aligned with the mission. However, the specifics of achieving that mission should be left to the team.

This is the actual reward for the effort. This is the opposite of Resistance and will be expressed in creativity and progress, a state of happiness.

This is how you follow through and lead your people on a Journey to something new.

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Takeaways: What You Should Remember

  1. Start with a Strong Vision:
    Clearly communicate the mission and vision to inspire your team.

  2. Overcome Resistance:
    Acknowledge differing opinions and find a way to align them.

  3. Foster Ownership:
    Define the framework but allow the team to create solutions.

Conclusion: The Importance of These Steps and the Danger of Resistance

These three steps—creating a vision, overcoming resistance, and fostering ownership—are crucial for aligning a team and achieving success. Resistance to change is a significant obstacle, but addressing it head-on and showing the benefits of the new direction can turn challenges into opportunities. Allowing your team to take ownership and responsibility leads to better outcomes and a more cohesive, motivated group.

In the end, successful projects aren’t created by a single person. They result from a well-aligned team working together towards a common goal. By following these steps, you can navigate the complexities of team alignment and create something truly remarkable.

Have a great Sunday!

Adrian

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