Mining Code

IT Leadership

The words 'You got this' written in chalk on a road.
How a leader makes you feel is a big part of it

I’ve never written about leadership before, specifically IT Leadership. I’ve always focussed on organisational design structures to eliminate complexity and maximise the flow of value. But I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently. Through my work as a consultant for DevOpsGroup, I’ve been fortunate enough to help dozens of organisations through powerful change, and I’ve come to realise that it’s not governance, complexity, system design, or even culture that contributes most to success, it’s leadership.

Leadership is a complicated area but I’ve chosen to condense everything down to 4 archetypes. This is a gross over-simplification but a fundamental common grammar can help us. These archetypes are categorised on the ubiquitous twin-axis.

Leadership matrix

Instead of focussing on the style of IT leadership, I’ve chosen to push past the behaviours and use the feelings they instill. The two axes to determine this are Invested and Empowered.


Begin invested determines how much the leader cares about you personally. Invested leaders are present, passionate, and make you feel supported. These people will make you feel like you matter to them and to the organisation.

There are quite a few studies kicking around that talk about 6 hours per week being the optimal amount of time to spend with direct reports. Given an ideal number of direct reports as 7, this would mean that engaging with your team as an IT leader should consume all of your available time. In this situation, you are, above all else, the leader of this team. That is your role, to help this team succeed.

An issue arrives as something called the ‘span of control’ increases, more on this in another article perhaps. But fundamentally, we are seeing leaders wearing too many hats and with too many direct reports. They are working too much ‘in the business, and not enough ‘on the business‘. This leads to a lack of investment in individuals, decreasing engagement.


Empowering leaders will make you feel like you are in control of your own fate, that you are trusted to do a good job and pursue your own path.

This is an area with plenty of material already, but I would point you to Dan Pink’s work on motivational theory in Drive.

IT Leadership Categories

These axes will determine how you feel, which is how the categories are determined.


If your leader is both unempowering and isn’t invested in you, then you will likely feel ignored. You feel like you lack both the control and the empathy to be successful or enjoy your role. Some things you may say to yourself if you are feeling ignored are:

  • “I don’t know what I should be doing”
  • “I don’t feel like I see my manager enough”
  • “What am I actually part of?”

Feeling ignored is the most disengaging quadrant to be in.


Should you feel empowered, but without investment, you may feel isolated. This is where you have control over your own work but there is little to no interest in you as a person. Things you may be saying are:

  • “I don’t feel part of a team”
  • “Am I doing this right?”
  • “Where do I go from here?”
  • “What opportunities do I have?”
  • “Is this actually important?”
  • “I don’t feel like I get enough recognition”


This may be the second-most engaging quadrant to be in but is still not ideal. You may feel governed if you have low autonomy but are highly invested in. Your manager cares about you personally, but you have little control. You will spend an appropriate amount of high-quality time with your manager, although maybe wishing that this were less so!

Being governed is typical within a traditionally function-oriented organisation or with a particularly autocratic leader. Some things you may be saying are:

  • “I can’t act independently”
  • “I feel like I’m just working through a TODO list”
  • “I’m not interested in this work”
  • “I’m not developing areas that are important to me”
  • “I don’t think that I can speak up”
  • “I’m not heard”


Should you be in the enviable position of feeling engaged, you will feel both empowered and invested in. You feel like your manager cares about you deeply as a person and has enough trust in you to do the best you can. You will feel safe to speak up and take appropriate risks. You will have a clear roadmap for the journey, that you’ve collaborated on with someone who is important to you. Great coaches fall into this category. This is, unsurprisingly, where you feel the most engaged in your work.

I don’t need to talk about why engagement is important here, plenty of better writers have covered this in detail. If you are feeling engaged, you might say:

  • “I’m excited to get to work”
  • “I’m really developing skills that matter to me”
  • “I look forward to working with my boss”
  • “I feel recognised”
  • “I can see how to reach my goals”
  • “I’m supported in my career”

Improving IT Leadership

I suspect a second article is on the horizon in order to cover this in greater detail, but here are some initial goals to work towards in order to improve IT leadership.

  • Work to spend 6 hours a week with each of your direct reports
  • Limit your direct reports to 7
  • Delegate if you are wearing too many hats to achieve the above
  • Establish high-quality, regular 1-2-1s
  • Invest in the ‘Human’ part of HR
  • Work to create Psychological Safety

IT prioritisation struggles

Man at a crossroads in the woods
Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

When I say IT prioritisation, I mean the process by which we choose how to spend our limited resources within an IT organisation in order to deliver value. It doesn’t matter if the value for you is internal efficiency, external revenue, or anything in between. We simply can’t do everything, so we need to make choices.

These choices are often hard enough to make, requiring us to make decisions using imperfect knowledge in a complex environment, but we seem hell-bent on making it 10 times harder.

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8 aspects for good product alignment

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Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Product teams, or product alignment, is rapidly becoming one of the biggest hot topic IT discussions. Following the trend of a host of other buzzwords, Product Alignment has become confusing, contradictory, and unfortunately dogmatic. I’d like to take a moment to both pare back and consolidate the essence of what being aligned to a product actually means.

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Why bother with a daily stand-up?

A rugby scrum
Photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash

This is a question that got asked on a live stream panel I was part of recently. My initial reaction was blunt. Of course we do, and here’s all the evidence you have. But then I started thinking about it a little more deeply. I’ve come to the conclusion that no, you don’t need a daily stand-up. But it’s a rare situation where this is actually true.

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Writing a Definition of Done

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A definition of done is one of the cheapest and most effective ways in which you can start tackling IT issues. It can improve quality, transparency, accountability, alignment, and even predictability. All at the cost of a conversation and some documentation.

There’s plenty of material on what a definition of done looks like and why you might want one, but not much on how to go about constructing your own. This is my attempt to fill that gap.

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What is Agile testing?

An article I recently wrote on Agile Test Data Management prompted some responses on a more fundamental level. What is Agile testing? There are plenty of methods, frameworks, and comprehensive guides available that will provide you with a template for Agile testing. Unfortunately, most of these are either too prescriptive or thinly-veiled waterfall anyway.

This isn’t one of those, this will be a quick dive into the principles that might help you evolve your own practice.

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Agile Test Data Management

It’s likely a coincidence, but I’ve recently noticed a slew of issues arising in my work around test data management. As I dug into this, I found a disappointing lack of prescient information on how to manage this in an Agile environment. It’s going to be a quick one this week, but here’s my take on agile test data management.

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A product team is not the answer

group of people huddling
Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

You can’t move for people talking about the project to product journey lately. Getting organisations to start mapping out what their products are so they can build cross-functional teams around them. Projects are transitory and lose us all of the learning, we want long-lived squads! While these sentiments are all rock-solid, unfortunately, they’re missing the point. I’m going to be controversial and say that creating a product team simply isn’t good enough. What you actually need is outcome alignment.

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Business outcome alignment

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

One of the largest challenges preventing organisations from competing effectively in the market is their structure. When you are optimised for technology or role, then you are not optimised for customer value. But how do you actually get there? What does good look like for your organisation if you went back to the drawing board? I’m going to share a process I’ve developed for redesigning a system for outcome alignment.

Note that this is not going to be a full article on digital transformation or strategic redesign. I am simply going to focus on the guiding principles and a specific approach to assist in exploring an outcome aligned design.

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Lean PMO

A runner on the starting block.

Where We Stand

The role of the project manager in Agile is often a complicated one. While there is little concrete direction by many of the frameworks, it is often understood that a traditional project manager may often find themselves moving into a Scrum Master or Product Owner role. The intent behind this guidance is clear, there’s no need for a Project Management Office (PMO) where we’re going. I disagree. Let me introduce the Lean PMO.

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