Removing the Need for a Formal Tech Lead

Honey Bansal

Engineering Manager at Google



"Most of the engineering teams I have worked with are scrum teams, with five to seven engineers. In the past, these teams would have included couple of engineers and a tech lead. However, we ran into a few problems with this team model. I inherited a team that had a quite a few mid level engineers, and they wanted to have the opportunity to lead design discussions without always having to wait for the go ahead from the tech lead. I realised I needed to give everyone of the team the opportunity to lead. Engineers on team were hesitant to over-step their role and challenge the tech lead."

Actions taken

"I took action, and told my team that even though there was an expectation in the organization to have a formal tech lead, that we will dissolve this role. We agreed that there wouldn't be a single tech lead anymore, and that instead a tech lead would be self-nominated based on a project or feature we were building. Luckily, at that time, the team was well positioned to pick up two separate projects. We were able to put two different engineers to lead these separate projects, and now that there wasn't an official title, team members were more comfortable in sharing their opinion. Everyone got more opportunities to lead and drive decision making. It was not perfect and there were mistakes but this gave everyone opportunity to course correct and learn on the way. However, the tech leads were concerned about what this change meant for them, and about their growth. I explained to them the value of empowering people and providing guardrails where needed. As the tech leads weren't required to be part of all the meetings now, it gave them more time to do hands-on development, implement POCs and work on much waited hack day projects. They were no longer a single point of failure."

Lessons learned

"This approach works really well if at least half of your team is mid to senior-level engineers, as it allows people to be flexible and if a tech lead goes on holiday, a project can still continue. However, a more junior team may not be prepared to take this type of challenge on. In these cases, it is useful to have one person acting as a role model and play this official role but then eventually you can move out to this model. If you have a formal tech lead and you plan to make this change, be very respectful and understand the former tech leads point of view. Ensure that they understand that the decision isn't a reflection on their work, but is more about giving opportunities to others on the team, and giving the tech lead more time to be more hands-on."

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Honey Bansal

Engineering Manager at Google

Leadership & StrategyEngineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementTeam & Project Management

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