He has a long resume that would impress any software engineer (and any human, for that matter), including various software development roles at companies that are leaders in the space of server technologies, virtualization business and data platform.
Like many engineers-turned-managers, he was forced into a leadership role because he was really good at his job. He always thought he would go back to the nitty-gritty of building software, but he found he liked leading developers and building teams too much.
We asked Girish to pass on some of the wisdom he’s gained across his years of both technical and strategic work. One illuminating insight we gained from Girish was how different the experience can be for a manager of full-time employees (FTEs) versus outsourced vendors and contractors. Each team style fulfills a specific business strategy, takes on a unique set of operational dynamics, and comes with different needs and challenges.
Girish shared some of his lessons learned from managing both types of teams – sometimes simultaneously. Anyone responsible for managing FTEs and/or contractors can benefit from these stories and experiences.
Motivating and managing on staff engineers during high growth
Before Lenovo, Girish worked at a company which is a leader in content collaboration. While at this company, his group experienced a significant growth and growing pains after some key acquisitions.A team of seven people grew organically to 70 in less than a year and by 2018, that number had grown to 190+ developers.
Ninety-five percent of Girish’s team were FTEs, so he felt the impact of the growth acutely, as well as the need to keep a pulse on not just the performance of the overall team but the shared morale of each team member. There were nonstop critical issues to solve and new code and infrastructure to get familiar with.
“As a leader of teams, you assume ownership of the success and accountability of your team. I wanted to understand how the team was doing, so I sought ways to identify bottlenecks, gauge productivity and ultimately boost morale. We piloted Allstacks for our management team as a way to provide this level of visibility without constantly polling the team,” said Girish of his efforts to effectively manage such a large team. “It wasn’t about, ‘Are you doing the job?’ Instead, it was about, ‘How are you doing?’ That allowed me to motivate the team to do better professionally and personally.”
As you might expect, it’s much easier to understand how a full-time internal team is doing than a collection of independent contractors, spread across the globe. This is Girish’s take on the challenges of managing remote teams, along with some handy advice for taking on the task yourself.
Managing and measuring outsourced teams and vendors
When Girish moved to Lenovo, he found himself with a different type of team: just 30% were Lenovo employees while 70% were contractors. In this arrangement, it was important that they were realizing the value of the investment in their outsourced teams. But there was no way to measure individual contributors or team performance. Instead, everything was to be measured by a milestone or project.
“I had no clue what each developer was contributing, and I couldn’t make decisions about the team or even coach them, as that was not the scope.” That left Girish with many unanswered questions he felt were his duty to get to the bottom of. Of course he had access to Jira and GitHub where the work was happening but reflected that “You spend a lot of time trying to dig through those tools to understand what work is happening, and getting context alongside the milestones was impossible.”
Between the managers, vendors, and internal developers under or reporting directly to him, there was a long list of things that kept Girish awake at night. So he mapped out a checklist of questions to answer that anyone managing an outsourced or remote development team should have on their radar.
Here’s where Girish recommends turning your focus if you too are in a leadership position over remote and contract managers, vendors, and employees:
- Have we built SLAs with our vendors?
- What is the expected time-to-value of the vendor relationship or team milestone?
Project status and team performance:
- Why is a certain project suffering?
- Is my team good?
- Can I measure the quality of the code and not just the code volume?
- Are the right developers assigned to the right work?
- Is the team delivering on things they committed to produce?
- How is each team and vendor contributing to requirements and customer value?
- How is money being spent?
- Are we spending the right way with the right vendors?
- Are we getting what we paid for? Can we get more?
After gathering the insights from the above, you will have a foundational “big picture” view of your team. Girish recognizes this foundation is needed to be empowered to make informed and necessary decisions. These decisions can include reallocation of resources, implementation of a new tool and/or project timeline adjustments to ensure the success of your team.
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