Some days ago when having a discussion at work about the responsibility of the tech lead in an agile team, I’ve realized that this is not a so simple subject as I thought it was. Therefore, good subject for a post : )
But before being dictatorial and just writing my opinion, I ran a small twitter poll asking about this subject. Fortunately, most of the answers matched what I think in some level, so hopefully I will be able to cover it all here.
Before starting, a last note. I was reminded that the term tech lead might not be so used and known as I think it is, so if you don’t use this term at all, sorry : ). You can replace tech lead for architect, technical manager, master jedi, whatever you feel like…
Giving an introduction, the tech lead (TL) term is defined here as a person who has the technical overview over a specific project. Some people disagree about the need for a tech lead at all, but that’s the topic for another post, and here we will assume that the tech lead exists and is a single person. Ok, that was the easy part.
What a tech lead should be doing:
Have a technical overview over the whole project – As a developer doing everyday work, it is easy to lose the long term perspective about where the project is going and make decisions that will be better in the short term, but harm the project in the long way. It’s the job of the TL to keep that in the mind of the development team.
Make sure the project has a common face – Standards are important IMO, and making sure the project still makes sense as a whole, avoiding knowledge silos it’s the job of the TL. He shouldn’t have to enforce standards or ways to develop code, but facilitate the discussion within the team.
Remove technical impediments – As the most experienced person in the project, its natural that sometimes the TL will be the person in the best position to remove technical blockages that the team might have.
Bring people to a good technical level – If the team has different levels of experience, the TL should work to help people achieve a good work quality by sharing his knowledge and incentive others to do the same.
Write code. Write a lot of code – The TL is not a superior being that gives directions from the top of a mountain. Don’t know about your opinion, but if I can’t rely on the TL to sit down and pair with me when I have a problem I can’t solve, it’s no good to me.
I think that is enough for now. Now, for what the tech lead should not be doing:
Be the person responsible for the code – Being the tech lead doesn’t mean being the owner of the code, or the team’s boss. It’s everyone’s job to create high quality software, and the TL should only expose problems to the team and lead them in the right direction (emphasis on lead, not mandate).
Making all the difficult decisions alone – During a project, the team will be exposed to different technical decisions that will have to be made. Allowing the TL to take them alone just expose the team to more risk, since they won’t understand/care about what was decided. What we want to achieve is that Paulo exemplified here.
Impose his opinion – This is probably the most important point. Remember collective code ownership ? It is still very important. No matter how brilliant a TL can be, if he can’t share his knowledge/decisions and specially the responsability with the rest of the team, things will go bad.