Table Of Contents
- Daily Standup
- Backlog Grooming
- PI Planning
- Task Assignment
- Design Discussions/Spikes
- Technical Backlog
- Team Communication Model
- Sharing Credit/Recognition
- Listen To Feedback
- Monthly Learning Sessions
- External Support
- Manager Discussions
- Globally Distributed Team
- General Tips
Documentation is one of the important things to be done for any team.
Documentation has many benefits:
- Information easily accessible for all team members
- Helps to understand how the system works
- Helps team members on how to run the code & troubleshoot
and many more…
Also, when people face issues executing a code or take more time to troubleshoot an incident etc. following questions are the first to be asked by managers/leadership:
Is it documented?
Can we document it so that everyone is aware?
etc. and they don’t focus on solving the real problem.
In reality, even if you document things, sometimes teams either don’t refer the documentation or still do mistakes etc. for a variety of reasons:
- lack of clarity in the documentation
- quick to blame nature
- not aware that documentation exists
- not able to find correct documentation
- not spending time on reading the documentation etc.
But nevertheless, it’s good to have things documented, so that next time someone raises question around “Is it documented? Maybe we should do that” you could quickly answer that it’s already done and show it to them so that they will start to focus on the real problem next.
Also, if you don’t document:
- team members struggle and spend more time trying to figure out things (it still happens even if you document - for reasons stated above)
- repeated questions being asked by various teams/members and you end up giving same answers over a period of time
Some challenges that often arise with documentation:
- engineers mention lack of time
- assumptions that certain things are well known
- lack of understanding on what’s needed from a user/novice/intermediate perspective etc.
Things that I implemented in my team:
Depending on the documentation platform that your company uses you could leverage it to maintain a centralized documentation.
I prefer Microsites generated with static site generator tools such as mkdocs, docusaurus etc, for reasons being:
- Docs are maintained in a code repo
- Engineers write markdowns anyway with README’s for each code repo so it’s similar thing they have to do with static site generators
- Enterprises switch tools sometimes e.g. move from Confluence to Sharepoint for pricing, deals etc, and import/export makes things messy. Also, if you were using any vendor specific plugins e.g. draw.io then you might face issues if you can’t port your diagrams to the new platform
- Documentation is reviewable through PR’s - you can offer suggestions
- Establish general documentation guidelines via PR templates
Some general guidelines I established for the team to follow:
- Use concise headings
- Use searchable keywords - e.g. for a troubleshooting guide add the exception message in the doc so that team members can simply search for the exception and find out the remediation steps
- Provide code examples
- Leverage code syntax highlighting features
Use screenshots along with textual walkthrough - e.g. how to connect to a database using a software tool
For some folks, walkthrough through screenshots helps to understand things better compared to text. Although this means more maintenance effort since we have to update the screenshots as tools get updated, we need to think it from the end user perspective. Our main aim is to write docs and make it easier for the person reading it to understand things - Not to make it easier for us to write and complete it for namesake - Otherwise, you may still end up having to clarify things via chat.
Even if you add screenshots, it’s good to have it written as text to make it searchable.
It’s a delicate balance between using screenshots and texts. We shouldn’t overdo with screenshots - use it only where necessary - PR reviews help to maintain the balance.
- Provide as much detail as possible
- Don’t assume people may know something
- Preview your changes to ensure they are properly formatted - images are loading - styles are rendered etc.
Read what you’ve written before raising the PR
Check if what you’ve written makes sense for a new team member/external team member
Check if you’ve used keywords which would potentially be used for searching the information - if people can’t find a document they are going to ping you and take more of your time so it’s wise to spend this time upfront
- Requires constant practice for engineers to get in the process of writing docs following the guidelines
- Each have their own style of writing - don’t strictly expect members to follow same style as yours
- Team members who are new to writing meaningful/readable docs require more training - guide them with suggestions in PR on how they could improve
Create a new backlog for capturing items to be documented. These could be -
- frequently asked questions
- items pending to be documented
- architecture designs
- guideline docs
- existing docs to be updated for more clarity
- troubleshooting guides as new issues encountered etc.
- Every team member needs to contribute to the backlog - this requires commitment from team members
- Constant reminder needed for team members in standup that any items they debug and resolve, any individual pings they receive for more clarity needs to be added to the backlog so that we can address them, avoid repeated answers and save time spent on support in future
Weekly Docs Contribution
We would like team members to contribute docs on a recurring basis - when they find time, working on related tasks etc.
But in reality this doesn’t happen as team members are busy with delivery.
So, we have to start enforcing things.
One idea I had implemented is to ask team members to contribute docs on a weekly basis.
Friday as the day team members will spend an hour or so for writing docs. Friday is usually when team members wind up on items, bit relaxing day so it made sense to utilize that day and ask members to contribute for docs.
Next is how to enforce it -
- We added a reminder card to Teams planner tab - e.g. Friday Docs with reminder/due date
- On Thursday standup, we will bring up the docs backlog list and pick items we think are of quick wins/priority to be documented
As a team, we would discuss
what each member will be contributing on and assign items
check if sufficient details are available for the task
clarify any doubts
- On Friday, team members would spend some time to contribute docs and raise PR
On a recurring basis, this practice worked well.
- Requires the standup facilitator to bring up the card on Thursday’s
- Sometimes, team members still end up not delivering on docs so need to remind for next week
If you have limited team members/more items to document, it might make sense to bring in external contributors to scale up the activity.
Couple of approaches to bring in external contributors:
- Market that they get a chance to work and learn with your team on the topic they document
- Incentivize external contributions by giving thank you points, thank you emails or callouts in meetings.
- Don’t fix hard deadlines for doc delivery
Although this involves spending little bit more time with external contributors on explaining the process, walkthroughs, supporting them by providing required details etc.
If PR’s don’t have README updated (depends on the change) suggest to have it done before giving approval
If PR’s need to be approved due to urgency of the change, then ask the team member to raise an issue in the repo so that it’s tracked as a pending item to be worked upon later
- Assign standup facilitator or rotate it among team members every week/sprint
- Ensure quick round table of updates
- If any team member derails the standup updates remind them to instead bring it up in the parking lot as every team member needs to first finish providing their updates
- Ensure standup doesn’t exceed the alloted time limit
- If any items require more discussion check with the team to see if they wish to continue in the same meeting/provide small break/ask the team member to create a dedicated meeting for further discussion etc.
Also, as a team lead the daily standup is a good place to provide:
- any general updates
- check status on any specific work items
- any specific items to be briefly discussed
Sometimes, people forget what they had planned to raise in the standup.
So, I introduced a process to raise cards in the teams planner tab called
Daily Standup Items where team members/team lead can quickly add a card with due date for discussion as and when it comes to their mind.
Then, in the daily standup ceremony we go through these cards and the member who raised it provides updates/asks questions. In this way, we don’t miss things to be raised in the standup.
- Needs to be part of regular ceremony of things done in standup
- Sometimes, there might be more cards so try to pick cards which are important from team’s perspective to be discussed right now and cards which can be delayed
- Some team members prefer to have their own personal notes
- In a tool of your choice, have different columns such as
- Rotate the retro facilitator every sprint
- Start timer for
10-15 minsand have the team members populate the cards for each section
- Retro facilitator goes through the cards and works with team to see what cards can be merged (as duplicates) and what cards need more clarity
- Start timer for
5 minsto vote on cards - each team member is given certain number of votes which they use to indicate what is important to be addressed
- Retro facilitator works with the team to generate action items and ownership for the cards
Typically, every team struggles with retrospective action items:
- card is not actionable since it requires more authority
- team lead/member who has the action item assigned is busy so they come up with an excuse of
I was busy/no time/forgotin the next retrospective
- not all cards have action items assigned - so a team member could feel that their card is ignored
In the end, retrospective becomes more of a place where people can vent their frustrations on a recurring basis and less problems get resolved.
What I did:
- Even if a retro card didn’t get the votes if it feels to be an important item to be addressed even for a single team member then spend some time to provide tips/address concerns/generate an action item for it
- Pick only reasonable action items - things that could be solved by the team/by manager - anything that requires more authority raise it as a feedback to manager
- Add a card to
Daily Standup Itemswith a due date set to mid of the sprint to have a
Retro checkpointto share any updates on the action items/to remind team members of pending action items etc.
- Do frequent groomings instead of one big grooming call e.g. have the grooming meeting every week or break it down to smaller sessions based on team feedback
- Encourage team conversations rather than you just providing all the required details
- Remove any fear within team members by having conversations with them that it is okay to say you don’t understand the story or it needs more details
- Do a round table if you notice that any team members are not participating by providing their inputs/raising questions/feedback
- Ensure that the story has enough details for anyone in the team to work on it
- Use any tools to get the story point size from all team members
- Always try to go with a bigger estimation when in doubt rather than a smaller one
- If any team member gives very high estimation ask them the reason to see if it’s justified - split stories to multiple smaller ones if needed
- For any stories that are new to the team check if a spike is needed - if so try to have it in the sprint prior to the work so that feasibility/approach to be used/gotchas are known prior to the implementation. Based on the spike further discussions can happen
- If you have new team members they may not be in a position to know if the story has required details - ask them to go through the story during the week and come up with any questions for the next grooming call
- Getting team participation is always a difficult task - it requires commitment from every team member
- Some team members end up asking more questions/indicate they have no idea on what needs to be done after picking up the story
- Sometimes team members assume that they may not be working on a particular story so they don’t need to worry about if adequate details are present in the story
- More experience/domain knowledge may be needed to assess impacts/risks associated with a work item
- Use any whiteboarding tools to plan work items across sprints
- Get inputs from team members to allocate any technical debt/backlog items that they would like to focus on in the upcoming PI and see if it can be accommodated
- Add sections/different areas that the team could focus on - e.g. CI/CD, security etc. so that everything is covered
- Prioritize the backlog to see potential items that could be worked upon to fill any gaps in PI
- Publish the planning to other dependent teams to that they could take a look at raise any items missed out
- Team members pick tasks to work on as they finish each item
- Team members indicate if they are blocked/need additional support
- Team members are aware of the priority tasks
- Team members wait for tasks to be assigned
- Team members take additional time before they reach a conclusion they they need more support/mention it only when asked
- Team members wait for standup to raise that they are blocked - instead they could have quickly mentioned in group chat
- Team members work on low priority items/not aware of priority
What I did:
- To go to the ideal target state, we need to go step by step - so started assingning tasks explicitly to team members while working to develop a culture where members pick tasks themselves based on priorities
- If there is a sense that a team member seems to be struggling or taking more time to deliver, check with them if they need more support or swap tasks as required
- Sort the work items in the sprint board based on priority so team members always pick from the top
- Incase, the priority keeps changing - have a weekly Monday call to clarify the priority items for the week
- Team members don’t want to work on a particular task - boring/trivial/other reasons - but at the end of the day we are paid to do it and someone has to work on it
- Multiple team members interested to take up same work item - determine who to assign based on various factors such as priorities, previous work assignments etc.
- Sometimes team members jump on a hype train/trending tech/pick something they learnt in a course and decide to use that approach for a story
- Always as part of a spike, ask the team member to come up with the list of approaches they evaluated, pros/cons of each approach, recommendations and schedule a team meeting within an agreed time box
- Share analysis report with the team in advance before the meeting so that they can read through it and come prepared
- In the team meeting, evaluate the approaches and recommendation from the team member, ask questions and decide if further analysis needed based on new inputs/risks/impacts
- Prefer incremental improvements
- Assess if the solution is unnecessarily complicated/over-engineered
- Theoretical vs Practical analysis
- Delivery constraints force options
- Prioritise items in the backlog so that you can quickly pick any items/debt the team is interested o work upon to fill any gaps in sprint
- Work with manager/product owner to have a buffer in the sprint to accommodate tech debt items
JADs (Joint Application Design sessions) help to flush out solutions to problems by involving all stakeholders.
- Set prior agenda and send it in advance
- Keep the size of the group small otherwise you will have difficulty reaching conclusions
- Time box to avoid lengthy discussions leading to less meaningful outcomes
- Capture meeting notes, decision points and have them stored in code repository/docs for future reference
- Interrupt politely to have any topics to be taken outside the meeting which is not in scope
- Sometimes it’s better to come with recommendations rather than expecting it from the meeting
- Discuss with team members to ensure every one are on the same page - last thing you want is your team member pitching something different in the call causing more chaos
- Try to influence the meeting in the direction you want to take
- Indicate priorities clearly to the team
- Order the sprint items based on priorities so that team members pick from the top and work towards the botom
- Check if team members are struggling with any priority items and get them the required support to avoid delivery delays
- Indicate to the team as and when priorities change
Team Communication Model
Sometimes you have conflicts within the team as to how the internal communication needs to take place.
- Some prefer not to have personal pings
- Some prefer to have everything discussed in a team channel so that every conversation is visible to every team member so that they are kept in loop as well
- Some prefer not to jump on calls
It’s important to have a meeting within the team to discuss each person’s thoughts and reach a collective communication model based on a majority.
|When to use||What to avoid||Examples|
|Teams Chat Room||General discussions |
Quick PR approvals
|Lengthy discussions |
Mixing different topics when a conversation is already happening
|Dedicated Chat Room||Specific work items e.g. Spike||DB Data Migration |
|Teams Channel||Announcements |
Questions which may not get quick answers
Maintain discussion thread for easy reference
|Security Remediations |
- PR’s not reviewed in a timely manner
- PR changes are too large
- PR review comments ignored
- Too much changes proposed
- Rework of PR needed
- Tone of the person’s comment
- Team Member doesn’t approve other’s PR but expects his PR to be approved
- PR sits for more than a week
- Change suggested in one place is not reflected wherever applicable
- Instead of responding to PR comments, you receive pings with explanation
Things I suggest to team members every now and then:
- Dedicate time every day to review pending PR’s
- If you’re waiting for a PR to be approved, post reminders in team’s channel or raise it in the standup if it’s a blocker
- Break PR’s to smaller reviewable chunks - don’t mix things up - do iterative improvements
- Provide description to the PR stating the change, purpose, any other info required for approval
- Provide your response to all PR comments
- Do not count how many comments are given - focus on improving the code, making it more maintainable and resolving any issues highlighted
- Raise draft PR or have a small team discussion on the approach you are planning to take to avoid any re-work later
- Use keywords such as ‘Can you please’ or suggestions in your PR comments. If you are reading the comments ignore the tone of the person and take it with a positive thought, share feedback with the person/manager to add it as a area of improvement for that person.
- Approve any pending PR’s before demanding your PR to be approved
- Respond to PR comments in the PR itself - incase of any delays then reach out to the person to notify that you have responded to their comments
One of the responsibilities of a team lead is to guide junior/all team members.
Strategy I had used is to have bi-weekly connect sessions with all team members.
- Discuss any concerns team members have
- Discuss their goals
- Discuss things they are interested to work on
- Any technical discussions
- Suggestions for improvement
I try to keep these sessions informal and it has helped a lot to understand conflicts happening within the team, areas for improvement, determine potential work assignments, career paths etc.
As a Team Lead, always share credit to the work done by your Team Member. e.g. mention that person X worked on it in a call instead of projecting that it was your efforts and getting undue credit
Recognize the efforts of your Team Members.
Take notes of your Team Members contributions that you feel needs to be acknowledged.
On a recurring basis, recognize the efforts by -
 Sharing feedback with the Team Member’s supervisor
 Recognizing the efforts through any internal awards/points/thank-you portal
Thank You email cc-ing the Supervisor/Manager
 Calling out contributions in any meetings/slides etc.
Be more concrete with your recognition. I have seen many people who send thank you with vague content.
Capture every detail as possible in your email/reward so that the Team Member gets astonished by the level of observation by the Tech Lead.
Bad Recognition Examples
Thanks for all your efforts last month
Thanks for all your efforts in delivering the project X
Listen To Feedback
It’s important to listen to feedback as a Team Lead.
More often, Team Leads fail to gather feedback from their Team Members due to following reasons -
 They think they are doing a good job
 Lack of time
 Confusing the need for feedback with retrospective sessions
Below is a sample feedback you could get from your team every quarter, to know the team pulse -
 Make sure every team member completes the feedback form
 Remove ambiguity in the questions
 Ensure your questions cover aspects you think are important for the growth, culture of the team
 Ensure you ask questions that aren’t covered in retrospectives but are in your team member’s mind which they don’t ask due to some hesitation
First step is to ask for feedback but even more important step is to act upon the feedback!
Most often, feedbacks asked by companies are not acted upon - empty promises are given such as ‘we’ll look into them’, ‘your feedback is really important to us’ etc. after which the conversation dies and you end up filling similar feedback for next year.
Once you get the feedback do the following -
 See what suggestions are within your control and makes sense that you can quickly implement in the team
 Discuss with your manager on any items that need his guidance/approval/discussion with higher management
 Keep the team posted on a recurring basis on what you are doing to address the feedback items in your capacity
Monthly Learning Sessions
Knowledge sharing is an important aspect to help the team grow, avoid silos, dependencies with an individual team member, career growth etc.
Each and every team member needs to be aware of how certain component works, not just from a code aspect but also from an hands-on approach as well as be given the opportunity to raise questions.
Although we could say that PR’s are the platform for achieving some of the above, it is not always possible as sometimes certain members don’t review PR’s or give quick approvals due to lack of time/delivery constraints.
Schedule a recurring Monthly Learning Session following below practices -
 Keep the learning session to a max of 1 hour - anything more than that will just make people to lose focus
 Make sure every team member contributes to the session - Have a form created before the session and ask each team member to fill it out in terms of what they would be sharing within the team - it could be something that they worked in the current sprint, any technology news/trends etc.
It shouldn’t be the case where one team member keeps sharing the knowledge while others just keep listening. It’s not a training class.
Each team member should bring something to the table.
 Time-box the session to 15 mins for each team member to present.
 Record the sessions and have them embedded in your internal documentation site so that external teams/new team members can simply listen to them instead of having to repeat same information every now and then.
 If your team has more team members than you could accommodate within a 1 hour session then split the session into 2 learning sessions on different day.
What does above achieve?
 Work could be distributed instead of depending on same team member every time
 Anyone in the team could handle support/issues
- Share what the team has delivered every sprint to stakeholders
- Share any new docs published for everyone’s awareness
- Share proposed work items so that external/dependent teams can raise any risks/impacts
- Document any new questions that arise so that they could search and find the information themselves the next time or you could share link to the doc
- Assess priorities of support vs delivery
One of the problem that comes up in a Retro is
too many meetings and how it impacts delivery.
Strategy that I have used is to represent the team in most meetings and invite the team members only when necessary.
This keeps the number of meetings that team members need to attend to a minimal.
As a team lead, you then collate all updates and share it in the standup/team’s channel announcement so that everyone is kept in loop as well.
- Discuss your goals/expectations
- Get feedback on your work
- Highlight any retro items
- Get inputs on any process you would like to try
- Use the expertise of the manager to see how you can solve any team problems
- Provide both strengths and weaknesses of team members on a recurring basis
Globally Distributed Team
When you have a globally distributed team, some of the challenges which arise are:
- Less time overlap where all team members are available
- Team members blocked and waiting for info from members in another region
- Missing any meetings that happen after-hours in a different time zone
- Giving same updates in different standups e.g. Product Owner in US while other teams are in different locations
What I did:
- Use the overlap time effectively e.g. learning sessions, retrospective
- Split the standups to suit different timezones but don’t ask to repeat same updates from team members who end up having to attend multiple standups. Instead, summarize the updates wherever applicable.
- If team members are blocked, have some doc tasks that they could work on in the meantime while members in other location come online for support/clarification
- Share any meeting updates via email/capture a card and give updates in the next standup to keep everyone in loop
- Foresee any information/potential blockers in advance and have them resolved/share information via email/channel notification so that the other time zone members have clarity/unblocked once they come online early the next day
To zoom and view the content, check the image here - https://raw.githubusercontent.com/HarshadRanganathan/team-leader-templates/main/meeting-schedule/meeting-schedule.png
- Try what works for your team
- Do a round table with all team members to garner their thoughts and reach a collective conclusion - avoid being authoritative
- Sometimes what the majority suggests isn’t always the best solution - at those times enforce authority and guide the team in the right direction
- Improve things step by step - you can’t change the culture overnight
- Place trust in the team members - avoid micro management (use only when necessary)
- Market your team’s work
- Give credit where credit’s due