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I work as the Technical Lead for development team. I proved myself as a star developer in my team and my manager, very much impressed with my work, promoted me to Tech Lead. I was assigned a new project to lead. Based on my previous experience I have led the team. After a 6-month performance review with my manager, there appear to be a lot of lags and problems

  • My team is not comfortable with me
  • The other teams are also complaining few things about me.
  • Deadlines for some of deliverable have been dragged.
  • My manager also appears to no longer be quite comfortable or confident in my abilities. As per my understanding this is due to missteps that I have made. The project that I am handling is different than earlier ones and there are unique challenges

I understand my capabilities are not sufficient for the demands of my current situation and project, that I need to sharpen some of my skills to lead this kind of project. I am just not sure how safe my position with this role is at this point. So I am planning to talk with my manager take short time demotion and apply for promotion next cycle after I improve my self.

My specific question here is, is this right approach? And what can I expect from manager?

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    What country do you work in? Would you say you have a cordial relationship with your manager? How long do you think it'll take you to brush up and come up to speed with your current responsibilities? – kolossus Sep 30 '14 at 5:56
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    The negative feedback you are reporting is a bunch of generalities whose vagueness borders on meaninglessness. This does not give me the confidence that you have taken the time and trouble to make a census of each performance issue let alone that you have a detailed grasp of each performance issue, which in turn creates doubt in my mind that you have the ability to go through each specific complaint and address it aggressively and decisively. Management is not genius work, but it is about having the big picture, being vigorous and careful about important detail and following up on loose ends. – Vietnhi Phuvan Sep 30 '14 at 13:40
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    Two words: Peter Principal. – tcrosley Sep 30 '14 at 22:02
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    You can not learn without making mistakes. Accept the criticism and work out how to make yourself learn from the experience. – Martin York Oct 1 '14 at 4:12
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    @tcrosley, the "peter principle" is a particularly cynical way to see promotion. The fact is sometimes the best leaders are those who have been promoted into their roles after continuous progression. Not every move always goes smoothly sometimes there's a bit of adjustment required, that's OK. – Angelo Mar 26 '15 at 18:07
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Improving yourself can be quite hard, especially without practice. I cannot see how someone would improve as a manager or team lead without actually managing or leading a team.

Find out what went wrong. No matter who caused it, think about what you can change so it works better next time. Propose those changes to your manager and ask for his experience on this matters.

If you are interested in this position, try to keep it. From my experience, getting it again after you have stepped down/been demoted once is very difficult.

However, make sure you want this position. Managing is very different from a senior tech role and not for everyone. If you really liked the job, fight for it. Make a plan to improve on your shortcommings and discuss it in detail with your manager. But if you did not really like it, step back. Getting back into a great senior technical role and knowing what you don't want can be the best experience you can take from this.

Either way can lead to happiness and it's your decision. But I don't think that you can take a bit of both. You need to decide on a course of action because I don't think "Come back to fight another day" is how companies work.

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    +1 stick with it if you want it, but I've had plenty of engineers move to lead/manager and then decide it's not what they really wanted and move back to an IC position permanently... – mxyzplk Sep 30 '14 at 13:00
  • Amen! If you want the position, dont run away just because it's hard. Learn what you can from the review and start making changes in yourself that will address the concerns of the team. – Kent A. Mar 26 '15 at 13:33
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You've learned something that some leads and programmers turned managers never learn - leading a team, even in an arena you are familiar with, takes a very different skill set than being a superstar programmer. In fact many of the things that can make someone a 'superstar' programmer are detrimental in a leader.

The other answers bring up an excellent point. Do you want to be lead? Or are you doing it because it's the 'next step' in a standard career ladder?

If you want to be a tech lead or start transition to a more managerial position then a couple of things should happen. First - I'm of the opinion that a brand new tech lead should almost never be placed on a brand new project. Good companies wouldn't consider letting a dev 1 loose on a complex, from the ground up, business central project without a ramp up period and mentorship. But somehow when it comes time to make folks tech leads they're more than willing to do that. What mentorship and leadership training has been made available to you? Have you taken advantage of it? If there isn't any I would begin by requesting some - entering management is a whole new field. Tech leads bring with them excellent tech skills but they often need mentoring and assistance in making the transition to a managerial style.

The other option is that you decide you don't want a formal leadership position. There's nothing wrong with this. You may find it hard to step down from your current position and remain at your current company, you may not.

Finally - I think you should consider that technical lead should not, in most cases, mean project lead. If you were assigned to lead a project, on your own, as tech lead without a project manager that would definitely make things more difficult than they should be. In this case it sounds like you should talk to your bosses and try to find out what they think 'technical lead' means. In my experience it means a head programmer who pushes the direction of them implementation and standards of the desired product.

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If you want to continue on the team lead track, don't request a demotion, fix the problems. Requesting a demotion is fine if you have decided that being a lead is not for you, otherwise it is running away when the going got tough. In that case, you will never be a succesful lead, because in all honestly, the going is always going to be tough when you are lead.

First you need to get a better idea of the problems. Why do your team members not like you?

What problems did the other teams have with you?

You can't fix what you don't know is wrong.

The deadline is the easiest fix. Most likely the problem is that you didn't comminicate early enough or raise the seriousness of the problems causing the delay forcefully enough.

To be a lead, you have to communicate well, bad news as well as good news. Bad news needs to be communicated as soon as it is known,. Otherwise you are managing by wishful thinking. If you ever find yourself thinging, "well yeah we are behind right now but can make it up later", you are already in trouble. It is far better to say (3 weeks ahead of time), "We are having a problem with XYZ and it is taking longer than we expect and the deadline will need to move by 3 days" than to tell them you won't meet the deadline on the day it is missed. If the deadline is immoveable for some reason, you need to tell them the problem and negotiate what you can leave off the first deployment to meet the deadline. But the biggest thing is to communicate often and communicate as soon as you know something bad especially.

You don't say anything else specific about the problems, so it is hard to address how to solve them but I will add some things I have noticed cause problems for new leads.

The first is that they try to continue to code. Once you are lead, coding is NOT your primary job, leading is. If you are still required to do some coding, you need to take on the tasks that are least important and least likely to cause delays. That is because your first prirotiy is helping your team get their work done.

New leads are often the roadblock to everyone else because they take on the most difficult/fun stuff and make devs wait when they are stuck because they are too busy coding. Helping the devs when they have a question should be your first priority not your last. Code reviews are another thing that new leads blow off as less important but which cause delays for other people if they can't push the code without a code review by the lead.

The problem with the other teams is likely communication again. The view is wider as a lead, you need to be more aware that what you are doing that could affect others and make sure to let them know.

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A couple of answers have already covered the topic of deciding if being a technical lead is what you really want, and that's a very good thing to decide for yourself truthfully. I'll gear my answer towards the assumption that you've made the decision that this is the career path for you, you really want to do it, and you're disappointed in your performance to date.

Consider every time you've been new to a position. There were new responsibilities, requirements, tasks, knowledge that were necessary to do that particular job. Some of them you had, some of them you didn't have. What made you successful in those jobs was your ability to acquire the capabilities to meet those needs. This job is no different really except that it is probably a little more demanding and a lot more visible. There are managers and project leads above you who are gauging your performance, and there are team members below you who are gauging your performance from a different perspective.

So the first, most obvious concept is that you won't get better by going backwards. If this is the job for you, then a demotion is not what you want. As mentioned by @nvoigt, you need to identify what exactly went wrong with this current project.

When you say team members are not comfortable with you, have you learned why? Engage with them in an honest dialog. Don't be defensive. Talk to them and tell them you were trying, and you know you could have done better. Ask them what they feel you could have done better, what would make them more comfortable. Then genuinely work on these. Put real effort into fixing these things. If possible, engage these team members while doing it. Get regular feedback. If they feel you're doing your best and including them in the process, they'll begin to feel more comfortable with you in general, and they'll have their own "personal investment" in your continued success.

You said your manager has lost some confidence in you. This is not a really big deal so long as (s)he hasn't lost complete confidence. If they are still willing to keep you in "the big chair", then you simply have to make it count. Engage your manager and other managers near your team in a similar manner. Find out from them what you can do to fill the gaps, to correct errors and to make the successes better. Get them to help you draw up a performance improvement plan. In most companies a performance improvement plan is a prelude to being terminated, but if you request something of this nature on your own it shows you're proactive. It shows you know that you did not meet the standard. It also shows that you want to and are willing to put in the work to do it. Come up with benchmarks, new deadlines. Try to take on smaller projects if possible. Work your way up to the larger projects.

My final piece of advice is one that is constantly overlooked. Get a mentor. Find someone who is in a leadership position outside of your team that you respect. Talk to them frankly, and seek their advice. Don't ask for answers or solutions. Don't ask this person "what should I do?" because at that point they're really doing your job for you. Give them your scenario and ask them what you might be overlooking. Ask them how they avoid similar situations or what techniques they use to figure out how to proceed. Leadership is very much like a difficult math problem. Someone can give you the answers, and it might work right then and there, but you're no better off for having gotten the answer. You have to learn how to solve a problem for yourself, and using my analogy, you need a mentor to show you the math.

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