This is the most useful thing that a manager ever did for me: he setup a standing, consistent weekly meeting with just me. The aptly-named “one on one” meeting.
This meeting is possibly the most powerful 30 minutes of your work week. You can know that what you say will be heard by your boss. We are all deluged with emails and passing each other in the hall while on the way to some other task. Not much chance to focus that way. Your manager has a lot to to consider when dealing with the big picture. They go to all the meetings that you consider a waste of time. They are busy people, even if they are handling a team as small as five. This recurring meeting is a block of time when you know you have each other’s undivided attention.
Software is a creative endeavor. It is also all about tradeoffs. Choosing to spend your time on the right problems, and glossing over the stuff that won’t ultimately matter. To do that, you need the big picture. The thing is, you do not have the big picture. Your manager does. How you get it is not through email threads or memos. There is only so much information that you can get from open forums with multiple people, due to politics and other factors. You get that big picture by having a conversation with your manager.
If you aren’t asking questions of your manager, then you probably don’t understand the situation well enough. Even if you throughly understand the project, this is time you can learn more about each other on a personal level. This will make it easier to predict each other when decisions need to be made.
I still struggle with this even after doing my creative job of computer software and game development for twenty years. If I wanted management, I could have it in a heartbeat. But I don’t like that it would take me from my code. As Capt. Spock said to Admiral Kirk, it would be “a waste of material” for me to take a promotion.
A few months ago I was put under a new manager for a new project. His suggestion was the first time I’d heard of it in my career. He tells me it became a priority after reading “Managing Humans” by Michael Lopp. I do not fear end of term reviews, or getting close to crunch time. This is because I know that my manager has told me what to expect, and I was able to tell my manager what I thought we can do about it, all long before it happened.
Ask for 1:1 meetings. Make use of them. You both need to know about each other’s expectations and concerns as early as possible.