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Nick Rowlands
Nick Rowlands

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How to measure and improve line management for developers

I was talking to two colleagues the other day about how to structure line management within teams of developers. One of them said they don't like the term line management as, for him, it comes with a bunch of negative connotations. I kind of agree. Maybe I'm thinking of management 1.0. I like the idea of management 3.0.

There are two operating modes to the line manager role, the coach (the default mode) and the traditional manager role, which deals with admin, conduct issues or disciplinary proceedings. I'm not convinced these roles can or should be carried out by the same person. But I'm new to managing so what do I know?

Improving line management across a department

One of my current objectives is to improve line management across the department I work in. In my view, the most important responsibility of a line manager is to look out for the welfare of the person, help them to succeed in their career and work through any issues that arise.

If I'm to improve line management, I must be able to measure it. What results should a line manager should be measured on? Through discussion with colleagues and reading around the topic, I've come up with these outcomes:

  • Team member feels safe to talk about anything (high trust & good rapport)
  • Line manager purposefully creates space to reflect, brainstorm and solve problems
  • Team member knows what's expected of them
  • Regularly talks about career development

I want to do a quick anonymous survey with everyone to get a baseline of where line management is currently. I need come up with a few questions. Maybe I can directly turn the above into yes/no questions to get a quick benchmark?

Once I have a baseline, what are things that we can do as a department to improve line management? Some of the ideas I've come up with are:

  • set a minimum frequency of one-to-ones (the Civil Service guidance is at least every 6 to 8 weeks. This is too infrequent to build rapport)
  • write down actions that come out of 1:1 to help with keep both people accountable
  • set objectives with agreed ways to measure success
  • every line manager goes on appropriate training (at work I've been on a High Quality Coaching Conversations workshop)
  • Regular feedback on performance as line manager from team member being line managed and their own line manager

We're in the "plan" stage of the plan-do-act-check method. I'm really keen to improve until we get good line management across the board, whatever "good" is.

An alternative take on one-to-ones

The colleague I mentioned earlier prefers the term "personal retrospective". This immediately makes sense to me as it makes me think of the retrospective ceremony practiced commonly in agile teams.

The definition of retrospective is:

Looking back on or dealing with past events or situations.

But in one-to-ones we must also look forward. A "futurespective" seems the obvious way to counter this. A common definition of a "futurespective" is:

An exercise helps agile teams to find ways to reach their goals, agree upon their way of working and define a Definition of Done.

Liz Keogh wrote How to run a Futurespective | Liz Keogh, lunivore where you "step forward into the future" and "look back at the past negatively" and "look back at the past positively" and "create actions" to work help achieve the positive events that are yet to come.

This could work.

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