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A New Manager to a Platform Team Should First Define Team Roles

Managing Expectations
Team Processes
New Manager

25 June, 2019

Jack Danger
Jack Danger

VP of Engineering at Pathstream

Jack Danger, Head of Infrastructure at Gusto!, delves into challenges of building a platform team and emphasizes the importance of clearly defined team roles.

Problem

Platform teams are unique of its kind. Being appointed a manager of a platform team brings along many challenges. Information on platform level work is still scarce and managers learn along the way. One of the commonplace problems is where and how to draw a line between a platform team and other teams in terms of their roles. Without an explicit demarcation, you will end up being overwhelmed with the workload. Clearly defining your team roles will help you establish healthy boundaries.

Actions taken

  • First off, I always try to situate a platform team within the company by applying a very general model that identifies three core layers of the technology stack. Platform team falls between the foundational layer consisting of plugged-in computers and the top layer where the product is situated.
  • To better understand your team's roles and responsibilities do not hesitate to compare it and model it after leaders in the field.
  • Try to imagine that your team features a product. Advertise that product by saying Here is what we offer to the company and enumerate all the things you deliver. Conceptualize this as writing a job description -- list all the roles your team performs. In addition, by saying Here is what we offer to the company, you will be able to create a roadmap for your company.
  • The taxative listing of your roles implicitly implies that you are not responsible for anything that is not on that list which helps establish healthy boundaries. This will also help you with problems created by other teams that you will eventually inherit. Do not martyr yourself by crossing already established boundaries.

Lessons learned

  • Companies may define platforms differently. The core responsibility of any platform team should be to manage infrastructure but there are other aspects of their work that are distinct for every company. Therefore, every platform team has to come up with their own, detailed role description.
  • It is important to reach a shared understanding of what your platform team does and what is its role within your company. Be very explicit about the scope of your responsibilities and your relationship with other teams.
  • Clearly defined responsibility lines are the greatest determinant of a team's long-term happiness. Otherwise, platform folks will have to clean up after other teams which can impair their relationship with their colleagues.

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