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Why Every Project, Product, and General Managers Should Try Shadowing Software Engineers (or other roles)

Updated: Mar 14

Hello! Let's dive into something I've been mulling over: the idea of project and product managers spending time shadowing other roles, particularly software engineers. Now, you might be thinking, "Why on earth would I do that?" Well, stick around, and let's unpack this together. It's not just about stepping into someone else's shoes for a day but about gaining insights that can transform how you manage and lead. And believe it or not, there are some pretty cool parallels to be drawn with Sun Tzu's ancient wisdom in "The Art of War."

Understanding the Battlefield

First up, Sun Tzu talks about knowing the battlefield. In the context of project and product management, this means understanding the environment where your team operates. Software engineering isn't just about coding; it's about solving problems within a set of constraints, be it technology, time, or resources. Shadowing engineers gives you a firsthand look at these challenges. You'll see the hurdles they face, from debugging to integrating new technologies. This experience is invaluable; it's like scouting the battlefield yourself, rather than relying on second-hand reports.

Knowing Your Troops

"The Art of War" emphasizes knowing your troops. By shadowing different roles, especially those as intricate as software engineering, you get to see the strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and working styles of your team members. Each engineer has a unique approach to problem-solving and innovation. Understanding these nuances can help you tailor your leadership and project management strategies to maximize productivity and morale.

Strategy Over Tactics

Sun Tzu was all about strategy, and so should be every project and product manager. Spending time with software engineers can shift your perspective from just tactical day-to-day management to strategic thinking. You'll start to see how technical decisions impact the project's trajectory and product's evolution. This broader view enables you to make more informed decisions, aligning short-term actions with long-term goals.

Communication Bridges

One of the biggest takeaways from shadowing roles like software engineering is understanding their language and processes. Communication is often cited as a challenge between technical teams and management. By immersing yourself in their world, even briefly, you bridge that gap. It's about building empathy and understanding, which leads to clearer, more effective communication. Sun Tzu knew the importance of clear commands; in our case, it's about clear, empathetic communication.

Fostering Innovation and Agility

Lastly, Sun Tzu’s teachings highlight the importance of being adaptable and innovative. Software engineers are constantly on the lookout for innovative solutions to complex problems. By shadowing them, you can bring back a fresh perspective on problem-solving and creativity to your own role. This can lead to more innovative project management approaches, encouraging a culture of continuous improvement and agility within your team.

Why Even Similar Roles Should Shadow Each Other

Alright, let's shift gears a bit. You might be thinking, "Cool, shadowing software engineers sounds great for managers, but what if I'm in a role that's already pretty similar? Is there any point in shadowing then?" Absolutely, and here's why: even within similar roles, there's a treasure trove of learning and improvement to be had from shadowing each other.

Imagine you're a software engineer, and you decide to shadow another engineer in your team or perhaps in a different team. You're both coding, right? But here's where it gets interesting. Each of you has developed unique approaches to tackling problems, managing time, and even organizing your workflow. It's like having a secret recipe for a dish that looks the same but tastes distinctly different. By shadowing, you get a taste of that secret sauce.

Learning from Different Perspectives

First off, seeing how someone else tackles the same challenges can be eye-opening. It's not just about the "what" but the "how." Maybe they use a tool in a way you hadn't thought of, or perhaps they have a debugging technique that's more efficient. These little nuggets of wisdom can make a big difference in your day-to-day work.

Improving Team Dynamics

Then there's the team aspect. Understanding how different members of your team work can improve collaboration and empathy. It's one thing to know that Jane is working on the backend and John is handling the frontend; it's another to understand the intricacies of what they do. This deepened understanding can lead to more effective communication, better problem-solving, and a stronger team bond.

Fostering a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Shadowing within similar roles also reinforces a culture of learning and continuous improvement. It's a hands-on way to share knowledge and best practices. And let's be real, there's always something new to learn, especially in fields as dynamic as tech. By regularly engaging in shadowing, teams can create a feedback loop where everyone is learning, adapting, and evolving.

Innovating Through Diversity of Thought

Lastly, this practice can spark innovation. When you see how someone else approaches a problem or project, it can inspire new ideas and approaches. Diversity of thought is a powerful catalyst for innovation. By embracing the nuances in how your peers work, you're not just learning new tricks; you're expanding your perspective, which in turn can lead to breakthroughs and creative solutions.

Wrapping This Up

So, even if you're in a role that seems similar to others, shadowing can be incredibly beneficial. It's about more than just learning new skills; it's about understanding different perspectives, improving team dynamics, fostering a culture of continuous improvement, and sparking innovation. Each person you shadow is like a new chapter in a book, offering fresh insights and ideas. And who knows? The next chapter you explore might just have the inspiration you need to take your work to the next level. So, why not give it a shot?



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