Software Development: Balancing Between Hands-On and Hands-Off Management

Software Development: Balancing Between Hands-On and Hands-Off Management Portrait of mature businessman looking at camera and sitting at desk while workers in background. Photo by SalFalko (

Efficient managers always want to achieve the goals their company has. In most cases, this is not possible without an engaged team. Most employees feel comfortable and do their job the best way possible only if they have great interactions with their boss. So, this means that you need to provide them with everything they need to make them highly motivated and get what you need according to the goals you have.

Type of management has a huge influence on employees. There are a lot of stories about a good or bad usage of both types of management: hands-on and hands-off. In this article, I will try to go through my experience to give some comments on both types.

In different sources, hands-on management is often a synonym of micromanagement. And, if we talk about computer software development, “micromanagement” is usually used as a bad term. So, here is an example of the bad side of this management type: employees may feel not comfortable about too much attention paid to what they do without any specific need. Also, it may limit efforts of people and their ideas. Even if your staff is ok about the fact that you dig into their work deeply, this may start a “mommy syndrome”, and your team will not do anything without confirmation from your side. However, in most cases, hands-on managers have a comprehensive understanding of the product and its details. They will help their team with ideas and suggestions.

I heard many times that hands-off manager gives more freedom to his employees, but the question is whether a team would go for their advice or will try to solve problems by themselves in critical moments when a real manager’s help will be needed. And, also, if you see the guy who talks only about KPIs and different types of a team efficiency measurement – this is a hands-off manager.

To achieve the best interaction with your team, I would use a mix of both ways:

  • Starting to work with a new employee. I would spend as much as possible time with this new part of your team. This will give an ability for this person to get a context of what you need and start helping the team faster. Also, this may give you a fresh look at your product or processes inside your team.
  • Working with creative employees. Be hands-off if you “loaded” in their minds what you need. Asking a designer about the product color change in the middle of something does not help a lot.
  • Starting a new project with your team. Probably you thought about the product all days and nights before coming to the team. You have a vision and even a lot of documents with user stories in Jira or initiatives in google docs. I would not say to your PM, ”here is a list, do it”. Try to light a fire in the eyes of your team by your energy. Try to show how is it important for the company and what goal the team will achieve by performing this. Be hands-on manager for the first few sprints to see that the direction is right.
  • Working with Product Managers. If you have an excellent product manager and you believe him – be hands-off with him. PM needs freedom to make the flight comfortable. You may have brainstorms together, but transfer all individual decisions on details into his hands, as only then he will be responsible for tactics basing on your vision/strategy.
  • Interacting with Project Managers. Project Manager is a person who is responsible for delivery. Moreover, your efficiency depends on his delivery. I would not say that you need to be involved on a daily basis, but I would keep the finger on the pulse here, as overfocusing on delivery may push him to have less understanding of the context, which may influence the results you will get.
  • DevOps/Core Developers. These guys know what they need to do and being hands-on manager here may create conflicts between parts of the team. If you want – you can try to talk on planning meeting to explain details, but give an ability to your product manager to light the fire first. If you are a PM – be the older best friend inside the development process, but don’t supervise too much.
  • Developers. If you are a PM of any kind or a Team Lead, make people sure that you are comfortable with their decisions, but take some time on discussion. Balancing between freedom and cage is pretty hard, I know, but this is why you have pre-demos and code reviews.

Interacting with your team shows them that you need what they do. However, an active interaction may have an influence on other managers in your company. So, please, be careful with going over the heads of other people in order not to make them think that you do not believe in their decisions, as this is how conflicts are commonly created. It is very hard to fix the problems raised by such conflicts.

There is no difference if you work with a few developers or with a team of managers, people want to see a helpful leader who knows answers to most of their questions, hears their opinion and that you are sure about the direction the company goes. Situation dictates whether you need to be a hands-on or hands-off manager. So balancing between these types will help you to achieve the goals of your business.

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