The Constant Gardener : Knowing your team

BuzzTheGardenerOne of the most interesting challenges in becoming a lead is understanding your team, and balancing project tasks between them. Whilst experience, both technical and domain, is a valuable indicator of how to assign tasks, there’s a few other things to take into account.

Having worked with a few people over the years, I can see 2 main types of developers. Managers may be asking which of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types these represent, but I’m trying to give a persona sketch rather than a detailed breakdown.

Innovators are the ones I see most often – developers who want to work on the hot new thing, keep seeking out new ideas, and often like to throw things out and start again. They can pick up new projects quickly, by focussing on certain areas but are likely to get bored if they stay on one project for too long and may sometimes miss the bigger picture. That’s great for learning, and pushing forward the boundaries, but may not provide the stability that some projects need, and may need closer code reviews to ensure they maintain the house style for the project. If you’ve ever needed a white knight on your project, they’ll probably be an innovator.

Gardeners will take longer to get up to speed with a new project, because they prefer to dig in and find out how everything works, and build a detailed knowledge of the system before making changes. They will tend to evolve systems over extended periods. If you get someone like that on your project, you’ll want to keep them for several months, as their value to the project increases over time. Long lived projects with several maintenance releases benefit most from this type of individual. You may well find that they know the business domain better than the customer.

I think everyone I have worked with has qualities of both, but there are individuals who are clearly more innovators, and others that are clearly more gardeners. A good project should have both, with innovators pushing ideas and bringing new technologies to the tables, and the gardeners bringing the domain knowledge to make sure the right changes are made for the long-term health of the project. As a lead, your job should be to understand the way your team things, so that you can take the right ideas on board at the right time, and bring your team along with you. And, most importantly, know yourself. The most important thing the others on the team bring is knowledge of things you don’t know, or at least questions that force you to think about them. Embrace it. Inspire your innovators and nurture your gardeners.

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