97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should Know

 97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should Know

97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should Know

Answer These 10 Questions to Understand Whether You’re a Good Manager

Something I struggled with as a new manager was finding a sense of accomplishment. It’s difficult to find the right success metrics upon which to judge our work because our output is to make the team better. Without success metrics beyond the team’s improvement, though, it can be easy to feel like you’re just riding a wave of good people doing good work without contributing anything yourself.

Some managers deal with this feeling by seeing their success metric as being available to their teams 24/7 (unsustainable) or by counting lines of code (which would be like editors focusing on the number of words they wrote themselves—absurd). Some embrace the performance of management without understanding the underlying motivations. They “perform good manager” in one-on-one meetings, standup meetings, and feedback cycles, but it doesn’t really make them feel accomplished, and it’s difficult to put a finger on why. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of signs that I look for in managers on my teams that suggest they’re doing a good job.

Can You Take a Week Off ?

There’s nothing like a week off (or more!) to show which of your activities has the most impact. When you come back, pay attention to what you find. What’s surprising to you? What comes up in your one-on-one meetings? What did people miss? What did they not need you for?

Can Problems Be Handled Without You?
This is huge—you’ll never get away from using constant availability as your metric if every emergency must come to you. Ensuring that everyone on the team feels a sense of responsibility and ownership, and having a clear Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) is key.

Does Your Team Deliver Consistently?

Delivery is a trailing indicator for a healthy team, but it is an indicator. Healthy teams ship, consistently, and keep shipping over time. We all have projects that become unexpectedly complex, and every individual one might have a reasonable explanation, but if you look at the overall picture, is the team delivering more often than not?

Do People Tell You What They Think?

One thing that we all must get used to in leadership is people being less can‐did with us. We need to make ourselves available explicitly to people who don’t want to presume to seek us out (these are important people to listen to; otherwise, you just hear the loudest voices). It’s also important to note how people give you critical feedback. Do they wait until it’s something they are really frustrated by? Or is it an ongoing conversation? Will people tell you what they are worried or insecure about? Will they share what they notice is going on around you?

Do People on the Team Treat Each Other Well?

Effective teams are inclusive teams. As a leader, it’s on you to cultivate a respectful environment on your team, and to make it clear that you will not tolerate discriminatory words or behavior. This is the minimum. Beyond that, you can set some values around reward and advancement that make it clear that success on your team is something that happens interdependently, not as a competition.

Is the Team Self-Improving?

Self-improving teams critique and iterate and change things as a part of their process. They’re not afraid to discuss what worked and what didn’t, make suggestions, and try changes knowing that some of the changes they make will fail These teams get better over time with less and less intervention from you. It can be difficult to get teams reflecting on what went right and wrong with a project because this process is scary (and the first few times might be quite rough). But getting to a place where these “postmortems” are a matter of course is the outcome of a self-improving team.

Can You Give People Who Report to You Meaningful,
In-Depth Feedback?

The way I think about feedback is this: feedback is someone’s work reflected back to them, in a way that helps them take pride in their accomplishments and makes actionable the places where they can improve. This means having enough insight into their work, accomplishments, and struggles to be able to do that. A lot of that feedback happens as we go, but at most, every six months I make a point to get some (qualitative or quantitative) feedback from team members that I can use to put together a bigger picture of how someone is doing.

What Kinds of Things Can You Delegate?

Do you feel like you can hand off pieces of work or problems to people on your team? Are those projects growing bigger over time? Maybe you started by giving people tasks, but over time, you want to be able to give them broader problems to own. This allows you to take on more. If you manage managers and you don’t have people to whom you can hand stuff off, you will drown. It’s just not possible to operate effectively at that scale without the shock absorption of people being able to take things off your plate and handle them. If you don’t have it, you will need to build it, because it will only get worse over time.

Who Is Taking on Bigger Roles?

As the team grows, there’s more opportunity—and more need—for people to step up. Delegation flows down: pushing things onto the managers forces them to push things onto people on their teams, and this is how we grow new leaders.
As much as we might adore everyone on our team and want to keep them together, having a strong team means that sometimes people’s best path for success lies outside of it. It’s our job as managers to help them toward it. It’s a sign of success when people from our teams go to other teams and take on more responsibility there.

Can You Take on Work Outside of Your Immediate Scope?

Having our own teams in order, and strong support within them, makes it possible for us to provide more support to those above and around us. What could you take on that would most help your boss? Your peers? Can the scope of your work get bigger over time?

Do Your Peers Value Your Perspective and Come to You for Advice?

Every organization has its own unique set of quirks, and the people who best understand the stress under which we operate are our peers. In a functional and collaborative environment, who respects whom in a peer group says a lot. Pay attention to the topics people seem to value your opinion on. It shows what they notice—which are often the things we most take for granted.


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