The software world is like any other business, with many different levels of hierarchy based on responsibility and authority. Two positions that are often confused are lead and manager.
Understanding the distinctions between these roles is particularly important for those considering technical vs management career paths.
In short, while both leads and managers are responsible for leading a team of people, leads are more technically oriented, helping their subordinates develop more profound hard skills. At the same time, managers are those involved in negotiating with stakeholders regarding high-level business goals and strategy.
This article will compare and contrast the roles of lead vs manager in a software development context.
Leads are responsible for the day-to-day management of a team of developers and are typically more technically oriented than managers. They're often involved in the code review process, and act as mentors to the junior developers on their team.
Leads also collaborate closely with other teams to make sure that projects are completed on time and within budget. There are often many different leads within a company, each of whom has their own duties and responsibilities.
Lead software engineers are responsible for creating and designing efficient applications that meet specific client and business needs. They analyze specifications and build software systems with quality testing in mind, while keeping an eye on current technology trends to provide optimal performance.
The software engineering team leader is responsible for leading a team of engineers and for their work product, and for establishing the culture within that group. Team leads are always focused on providing a high-quality product with a rapid turnaround. In addition to the projects they're responsible for, they also support the growth of their team members.
Like a team lead, a manager is responsible for leading a team of people and overseeing their work.
Managers also collaborate closely with stakeholders to make sure that the business objectives are met. Unlike team leads, however, managers often have a more strategic role in an organization, working on long-term planning and initiatives.
As with leads, there are different types of managers.
A program manager's role is to bridge the gap between business needs and technical specifications. They're knowledgeable in both fields, so they can think critically about how things work together, while also understanding them from an engineering perspective. This helps program managers decide which team member should be implementing certain features or functions.
Taking on projects can be intimidating, but the first step is always the planning. Project managers are responsible for ensuring that the implementation of a project or plan goes as intended from the outset through the conclusion and, ideally, is executed flawlessly. The project manager is expected to break work down into manageable tasks and coordinate the delivery of that work through other teams.
The job of a product manager is to make sure that products respond to market demands, create value for customers, and grow revenue for the company. Products can include any physical thing, service, or software application. The product manager is responsible for ensuring that the quality of the products matches customer expectations, while driving up KPIs and overseeing product development prioritization.
Despite the similarity in some of the descriptions, there are some key distinctions between leads and managers. Typically, lead positions are more focused on the work itself and can require more technical capabilities and skills, while managers are more focused on people and resources.
Although team leads have oversight of individuals and the work they are producing, their focus is more constrained. On the other hand, managers, on the other hand, can have multiple teams reporting to them, so they need a broad understanding of all aspects of the project or business.
The product lead is typically more focused on the technical aspects of a product, while the product manager is more concerned with understanding the customer needs and ensuring that the product aligns with them.
One key difference between leads and managers is their level of authority. A lead might be able to assign tasks or make decisions about work that needs to be done on a particular part of the project, but a manager has the authority to make decisions about the entire project.
Scaling a company is hard. It's even harder when you have to do it while also delivering reliable software rapidly. As an organization grows, it will face new challenges — including the inability for smaller agile software teams to manage their own work as the business scales up.
Enter the role of delivery lead. The delivery lead is a relatively new role that acts as a bridge between product and engineering. Delivery leads complement project managers and are responsible for making sure that the products and features being delivered are consistent with customer expectations and that they meet the technical constraints of the organization.
This role is essential for organizations that want to maintain a fast pace of development as they grow. It provides more effective communication between teams, and helps ensure that customer feedback is considered when deciding what to build next.
The delivery lead should have an intimate knowledge of both product and engineering, and how they work together to create valuable software.
The project lead is responsible for ensuring that the project is completed on time and within budget, while the project manager is responsible for all aspects of the project including scope, schedule, and resources.
Glassdoor and Indeed provide the following average salary ranges for lead and manager positions at tech companies in the US labor market, as of March 2022:
Lead Software Engineer
Software Engineering Team Lead
Every lead should develop a few key skills if they are interested in moving into a management position.
The secret of successfully growing your career in tech is to never stop learning. The biggest part of management knowledge was developed years ago, but new styles keep popping up and you need to learn, adapt, and react properly for the moment.
First, it’s important to communicate effectively with both team members and stakeholders. As a lead, you should already be comfortable doing this, but it’s even more critical as a manager. You’ll need to be able to articulate your vision for the project and make sure that everyone is on the same page.
Second, you’ll need to be able to delegate tasks. As a lead, you may be used to doing everything yourself, but you won’t have time for that as a manager. You’ll need to learn to trust your team, and give them the autonomy that they need to be productive.
Finally, you’ll need to be able to motivate your team. As a manager, you’ll be responsible for ensuring that your team produces results and meets deadlines. This means setting clear goals and providing adequate support and resources. If you can develop these skills, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a successful manager.