Chapter Lead Handbook

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This handbook aims to guide team members on their role of Chapter Lead by providing detailed insights on:

  1. What the role is really about.
  2. How to perform well in the role.
  3. The expectations from the perspective of not only management but also of their fellow chapter members.

Core Principles

A key part of better understanding the Chapter Lead’s role is to grasp the following guiding core principles.

Servant Leadership

Similar to all leadership roles involving the management of individuals, such as the roles of Team Lead and Engineering Lead, servant leadership is also at the core of the Chapter Lead’s role.

Indeed, similarly to squads, a Chapter is a flat structure i.e., Chapter Leads are not hierarchically above their fellow team members. In practice, Chapter Leads do not have management duties since Engineering Leads are the only individuals fulfilling this responsibility in the engineering team. Therefore, Chapter members do not report to the Chapter Lead.

They are selected by their peers who entrust them to serve their Chapter efficiently i.e., all their responsibilities are focused entirely on ensuring their Chapter not only functions adequately but also strives and continuously improves. They also support new team members to ensure they are successfully onboarded and find their place in the Chapter in a short amount of time.

Individual Growth Outlet

Since the Chapter Lead’s role is ephemeral, i.e. a Chapter Lead performs in the role for a period of six months, it provides a significant individual growth outlet for less senior team members, team members who never performed in a leadership role previously, or team members who need to improve their leadership skills.

While taking the role of Team Lead in a squad requires reaching a specific level of skills and experience on the Developer Track, there are no such requirements for the Chapter Lead’s role. As a result, taking the Chapter Lead’s role is often the first time a team member can not only develop their leadership skills but also do so in a riskless environment. The role’s scope is entirely focused on internal matters. Thus making mistakes while learning on the job does not have the same level of risks as all the other leadership roles. At the same time, Chapter Leads can receive feedback and coaching support from team members who are more skilled in leadership. Thus it is a hands-on and practical learning experience.

Breaking the Silo Effect

A Chapter consists of all the team members with the same skill/domain mastery, i.e., individuals who do similar work. Some of its members can work in the same squad for a client project, but all Chapter members never work together on the same client project. As a result, without additional efforts, every individual would have a perspective of what their peers are doing that would be limited to their current project, i.e., working in squads leads to a silo effect.

Therefore, Chapter Leads are responsible to bring all Chapter members together, foster an environment where they can learn from each other, and feel they are improving as a skill/domain-focused group. In practice, it is crucial that learnings made on each client project squad are shared so that other Chapter members can benefit and leverage them on their current or future projects. Chapter Leads are the orchestrators breaking the silo effect. They instill a sense of belonging to a group for which continuous learning and improvement are highly valued.


Lead Retrospectives

Similar to an agile coach, a Chapter Lead must ensure that the ritual of retrospectives is 1) held every two weeks and 2) fulfills the following goals:

  • Providing an open space for all team members to have a voice.
  • Syncing team members across all projects.
  • Celebrating large and small victories.
  • Discussing bottlenecks and opportunities for improvements.

To ensure the aforementioned goals are reached, a chapter’s retrospective must follow the following activity-based format:

  • Open Space (10-15 min)
    • A Chapter member can bring up for discussion, an idea for a process improvement, a piece of knowledge they recently acquired, or an issue they are facing or have solved on a client project.
    • While no formal presentation is required, slide presentations are encouraged.
  • Showcase of client projects (3-5 min/squad)
    • A single squad member for each client project presents to the team what they have built during the previous two weeks.
    • Squad members can make a walkthrough of insightful features, chores, and bugs.
  • Sharing Cards (5-10 min)
    • Each Chapter member can share their achievements and failures/concerns at their individual level.
    • The focus should be on successes and issues not covered in the other activities.

While this format must be strictly followed, a Chapter Lead has room to make amendments to:

  • The order in which the activities are done, e.g. Sharing Cards first, then Showcase and Open Space.
  • The duration of the retrospective, i.e. 30 minutes (minimum), 45 minutes (recommended), or 60 minutes (maximum).
  • The schedule of the retrospective, i.e. the day and time.

Retrospectives are managed via this Trello Board (read how-to manage the board).

Lead Conventions Initiatives

Compass is the repository of all the team conventions and processes. While any team member can contribute to any part of its content, each Chapter has a substantial investment in specific areas, e.g., the Android Chapter maintains the code conventions for Kotlin and the Android platform.

To ensure each Chapter can drive the updates and improvements to their area of focus, Chapter Leads have merge permissions on Compass. They are also entrusted to drive the privatization process for open issues, RFCs, etc.

As servant leaders, Chapter Leads still must strive at reaching a consensus on their decisions on Compass. Prior to merging any pull request, they must have at least three approvals from their Chapter members. The more, the better.

Manage the Chapter’s Budget

To support their ability to develop a sense of belonging, the company allocates a fixed six-month budget for each Chapter that they can spend on group activities. The budget is based on a fixed amount per Chapter member.

To ensure the budget is allocated adequately, the group activities must be inclusive, i.e., they must be considered a team-building initiative. Therefore, all Chapter members in each location must participate in each group activity.

Coordinate the Succession Process

The Chapter Lead’s rotation follows the standard schedule of rotations. After acting in the role for six months, a new Chapter Lead must be selected by their peers.

Chapter Lead rotation over one year

The current Chapter Lead must lead the selection process and ensure the below rules are strictly followed:

  • The selection process must be open and fair, i.e., All team members must cast their votes. So ensure absentees are accounted for and plan for it.
  • A former Chapter Lead can take on the role again as long as there is one six-month rotation gap, i.e., a team member cannot have the role two rotation cycles in a row but can be elected/nominated again after 6 months.
  • A team member must have passed their probation period to become a Chapter Lead.
  • The new Chapter Lead must be announced in the Slack channel #nimble.

Best Practices

To avoid common pitfalls, the following guidelines must be followed:

  • DO reschedule a retrospective when it cannot happen as per the usual schedule.
  • Do NOT cancel a retrospective session due to scheduling issues.

👉 Retrospectives, as an agile ritual, must be held no matter what. All Chapter members must also participate in, i.e., it is not an optional team meeting. Therefore, the Chapter Lead must coordinate the rescheduling when either a session falls on a holiday or when too many Chapter members are on leave at the same time.

  • DO value the time of all Chapter members.
  • Do NOT decide the schedule of the retrospective based on your personal schedule.

👉 Meetings have a cost. To ensure time is well allocated and the retrospective does not impact negatively the schedule of Chapter members, scheduling it at the end of the day is preferred. First, participants can dedicate all their attention to the retrospectives since their work for the day would be completed. Second, it ensures the meeting runs no longer than the allocated time as everyone has a personal interest in not finishing their work-day too late. Eventually, it allows Chapter members to have uninterrupted focus time for the major part of the day.

  • DO go out of your way to run retrospectives as a useful and enjoyable group activity.
  • Do NOT run the retrospective session as a chore.

👉 Chapter Leads must ensure that they create an environment fostering collaboration, support, and growth. Retrospectives sessions are the only moments when all Chapter members are together. Therefore, Chapter Lead must consider themselves as the host/MC of each session, e.g., ensure introverted members do speak up and contribute, the meeting runs on time, or use ice-breakers to create a fun environment.

  • DO take seriously the selection process of the Chapter Lead.
  • Do NOT select a Chapter Lead randomly.

👉 The Chapter Lead’s role has serious responsibilities and impacts on the Chapter. Six months, i.e., the total time a Chapter Lead is elected for, is both short and long enough to make a mark on a team. Therefore, their selection must be done with the utmost care. It is to everyone’s benefit that the right Chapter member is in place to lead them.

Closing Words

Chapter Leads play a significant role in serving and bringing together engineering team members with the same skill/domain knowledge. Acting in the Chapter Lead’s role does not only have an impact on a group of individuals but also supports the growth and strengthening of core leadership skills at the individual level.