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One Year In

And It’s Harder Than Ever

Let me tell you, I’m a pretty good project manager if I do say so myself. I can keep a Jira board maintained, and I can wrangle a backlog grooming session, and I can run a stand-up pretty darn well. I can keep priorities in order, and I can ensure my team is unblocked, and I can keep the stakeholders informed on the status of my team’s resources.

I’m a pretty good product owner as well. I can consult with teams using the design system and make sure we’re building the right things at the right times. I can market what we’re building and present to teams not yet using it. I can triage support requests, pair with engineers, and appease product managers. I can even yell “read the fucking documentation” really loud (in my head).

What I feel like I’m still really struggling with though is meeting my team members where they are and trying to figure out how to nudge and motivate them to grow and learn and improve. I feel like after a year at this managing thing, the same mistakes are being made, the level of output has not improved, and only the minimum amount of effort is being put in.

Maybe it’s me, though. I’m a pretty prototypical “Type A” personality. I’ve got my to-do list and I get that jolt of satisfaction with every item that gets crossed off. I love picking up a ticket and knocking it out as quickly and cleanly as possible. I love building things. I love analyzing processes and figuring out how they can be improved. I love talking shop. I like to stay busy. I like to produce. And maybe the folks on my team just aren’t satisfied by the same things. I ask them in 1:1s what they’re motivated by and they say a lot of the same things, but I don’t know if I see it in the work.

I try to encourage them to work on things that excite them or that expose them to new things. I try to give them the space to work on things without micromanaging them. I try to engage with them in 1:1s. What do they want to do? Where do they want to go? What do they want to learn? Some days the conversation flows and the feedback is taken to heart. Other days it feels like I’m talking to a wall. There are days when I ask someone a question to help get something unblocked and I don’t get a response for over an hour (not during a typical lunchtime or when they are in a meeting). I want to encourage and allow for “heads down” focus time, but a remote team also needs to be able to communicate with each other. There are days when I stay “hands off” and let folks do their thing, and come the end of the day there’s one pull request with a two-line change.

I don’t know. Maybe it all seems so egregious because there are back to back days where I wonder what the heck they’re doing. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to being a high performer and I expect the same from everyone else. Maybe I need to chill out, be more patient. I’m still figuring out what works. Hands on time vs hands off time. I don’t know.