Women in Leadership is a blog series dedicated to highlighting influential women behind The Dude. In it, we'll explore topics like how they came to the tech space, what they're working on and where they see the industry going. This month, meet Jill Sanderson, Senior Agile Coach.
Q: What is your official title at Dude Solutions? What are the responsibilities of your role?
I joined The Dude in July 2018 as Senior Agile Coach. My primary responsibility is to lead agile mindset and process adoption in the engineering and product management groups through coaching and mentoring agile teams, scrum masters, organizational leaders and key stakeholders. Although I haven’t held any other titles or responsibilities at The Dude, I love learning about each part of the system and how we all work together.
Q: What was your experience like leading up to Dude Solutions? Had you worked in a tech environment before?
Funny story! When I graduated college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had a degree in math and knew I wanted to move away from my hometown of St. Louis, so I accepted a job as Purchasing and Transportation Manager for Purina Mills (a feed manufacturing company). It was a time of tremendous growth that set the trajectory for my career. I moved into doing SAP systems implementations and then project management. I left the workforce for five years when my boys were small – talk about hard work! Then, in 2008 I went to work for Minitab, a statistical software company, and started my journey into Agile and Scrum. I feel I’ve come full circle in some ways. My career started with a manufacturing company and now I coach teams at The Dude who work on CMMS!
Q: Do you consider yourself a leader at this company? What do you feel you bring to your role that inspires others to see you as a leader?
I do consider myself to be a leader at The Dude and try to model servant leadership. This means listening, first and foremost. I seek to understand the people around me, their needs and what’s getting in the way of their ability to do their best work.
Many have heard me say “Ask > Tell”. While this is easy to say, it is difficult to do! We get so caught up in thinking that we know it all that we forget to listen. Part of listening is asking questions to further understanding. I hope I inspire others to see me as a leader by being curious and by challenging the status quo, “we’ve always done it that way” mindset.
Q: What projects or goals are you working on or leading currently?
While my team and I are available to provide agile services across The Dude, our primary focus is on supporting the modernization of Asset Essentials™. We’re focused on improving how we scale our agile practices and on making all work transparent. To assist with this, I’ve spearheaded the use of an Agile Portfolio Planning tool that is helping us make data-driven decisions about roadmap predictability. This ultimately helps us set and manage expectations for stakeholders, both internal and external.
Q: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments or wins while at The Dude or in other tech-related ventures?
I’m a people person! It’s in my nature to nurture relationships with my colleagues. When I joined The Dude, I made it a priority to connect with others up, down and across the organization. In fact, I do this wherever I go and it makes “getting work done” much easier. That’s a win to me!
Q: What, if any, have been your challenges navigating being a leader in this industry?
As I reflect on the last 20 years, two big challenges stand out for me. The first was learning how to get out of my own way. This meant letting go of what I think others expect of me and focusing instead on being myself. The second was learning how to juggle priorities as a working mom. Recognizing that I can’t do it all helped me learn how to trust and delegate.
Q: Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about being a woman in the tech field, or advice for other women carving out a space?
Find out what “lean in” means to you. Don’t sell yourself short. Go after opportunities, even if you’re not sure you can do them. This is a great way to grow!
Likewise, don’t push yourself into conforming with societal norms (perceived or real). Leaning in doesn’t have to mean leaning in to your career. Sometimes we need to lean into other parts of our lives. This can feel imbalanced amongst all the talk of work/life balance. I perceive it as more of a mashup. Our lives are multi-faceted, and what takes priority at any given time is situational.
Q: Where would you like to see the industry go?
I’m really excited about AI and predictive analytics in the CMMS space. Looking at it through the lens of agility, I see a huge opportunity to unleash value for our clients!
Q: How do you feel your leadership is helping drive the industry in a positive direction?
Outside of The Dude, I’m involved with a local meetup group called the Agile Leadership Network. It’s an opportunity for me to interact with others in the Raleigh Agile community. We share ideas, stories and lessons learned about agile adoption in our organizations. I am able to bring back fresh, new ideas and an outside perspective to my work at The Dude, and hopefully others benefit in the same way from what I bring to the table in the meetups.
Q: What do you think makes for a good leader?
One of my personal mottos is “The soft skills are the hard skills.” I think that to be a good leader one must hone his/her soft skills, i.e. their people and relationship skills. Hard skills are important, but to be competent as a leader one must be able to relate to people, to put yourself in others’ shoes, to help them learn and grow and to not be afraid of them surpassing you. That is true leadership: to grow other leaders!
Q: In what ways do you help create leaders?
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably noticed a theme in my responses – it’s all about the people!
I choose to focus on strengths and to challenge future leaders by delegating, coaching (asking questions to help others find answers on their own rather than telling them) and giving people opportunities to shine, as well as recognizing when they go above and beyond on their own.
Q: What lessons have you learned being a leader?
I’ve learned that leaders set the tone. People are constantly watching and following your lead. You can’t behave one way and expect those around you to behave in another. Before I offer constructive feedback to someone on my team, I consider what behavior I am modeling. Am I doing what I will ask him/her to do? How would I react if someone approached me with the same feedback? Self-reflection and correction have helped me to approach difficult conversations with greater empathy.
Q: How does your leadership not only influence your team members, but also our clients?
I work directly with the people who make the software that our clients use. The better we get at embracing iterative development (Agile), the more frequently we can deliver valuable, usable software that helps our clients do the best work of their lives.
Q: Who has been a leader you’ve learned from?
My first post-collegiate boss said to me, “It’s okay not to know everything. If you’re asked a question and you don’t know the answer, say that and let the other person know you’ll find out. Then follow up with them.” As a recovering perfectionist, this resonated with me! I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t expect others to either. I do, however, hold myself and my team to a high standard when it comes to having a growth mindset.
More recently, I was inspired by Esther Derby at the 2019 TriAgile conference in Raleigh. In her keynote, she shared her thoughts on how introducing micro shifts into a system can yield macro results. It was a great reminder that little improvements every day can have a bigger impact than trying to design a perfect solution.