More than ever, we’re seeing the ramifications of stress and burnout in employee experience, especially among software developers. That’s why, as leaders, it’s imperative to create a psychologically safe environment to combat these effects. Building an environment of safety allows developers to take risks, challenge the status quo, and get creative. However, it’s not enough to just set up this foundation — you must empower your team to innovate and adapt.
Realizing all the benefits that come along with psychological safety requires leadership’s focused intent. Once a culture of safety has been established, structuring your projects to leverage that trust leads to motivated teams and high-quality products.
Here’s how we set up our projects for an optimal software development cycle, regardless of project management methodology.
1. Assess the situation
Start by understanding the scope of the project, goals, and success criteria. Because you have already created a psychologically safe environment, the team will help expose risks and challenges.
Be sure to understand the business benefits related to what you’re trying to accomplish. A big part of motivating the team rests on your ability to explain why the work matters. When the team is assembled, take an inventory of individual skills, which helps illustrate how important each member is to the success of the project.
2. Create an inventory of work and the roles needed
Create an inventory of necessary project activities and categorize them by function and role. Ensure everything in the scope can be assigned an owner. You need to build roles in such a way that those assigned will see how valuable and integral they are to project success.
Try to avoid overlapping roles and unnecessary handoffs. For example, if you have a Business Analyst involved with requirements and design, try to find ways to include them in testing acceptance criteria and user acceptance process. You’ll instill a sense of ownership throughout the project, and the analysts will have a sense of completion at the end, too.
[Learn more: 8 Steps for Creating a Psychologically Safe Workplace]
3. Involve the team in the role and activity assignments
Assign the roles and activities and review the assignments with each member individually. Be sure to ask them what they want to own. Validate that the assignments are a good match and let them lead the discussion on how they want to approach them.
For scrum and agile projects, involve the developers in the requirements refinement and estimation process, and gauge their willingness to participate. Be sure to cover the benefits and the value of the work, so that the team feels like they are working on something that is meaningful.
4. Empower your team
Once the team has been set, empower workstream owners to innovate and adapt processes, using safety to elevate their participation. Be flexible and open to new ideas.
Give the team freedom to work and agree on the right level of communication. Be thoughtful about when you schedule daily stand-ups and other team meetings. Allow the team, particularly the developers, to have large blocks of uninterrupted time to work.
Like most management techniques, building on psychological safety works best as an iterative process. As leaders, it’s important to include these considerations every time:
- Consider role clarity as priority 0 when you start or join a project.
- Revisit roles every time you onboard someone new.
- Use retrospectives to assess what’s working well and what isn’t with given roles, regardless of methodology.
- Be flexible with complex situations.
- Communicate with sponsors and stakeholders often to keep them up to speed and vested in project success.
- Include enjoyment. Have a sense of humor and be sure to celebrate the wins.
For every software project, the ultimate goal is the a successful deployment. To do this while also improving employee satisfaction, involve the team early in the process, establish roles that will lead to a sense of accomplishment, and empower your team to proceed in ways that work best for them.
Looking for a partner to help empower your digital transformation efforts? Contact one of our Digital Enablement experts or visit our services page for more information.
Doug Luehrs is a Director of Client Success at RevGen. He is passionate about building strong teams and putting innovation to work while delivering products and services that have a superior customer experience.