Nailing your first months as a new Engineering Manager | Hacker Noon

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May 26, 2020 8:59 AM
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CEO of Plato - We help engineers and product people become better managers on www.platohq.com

Congratulations! You’ve been hired or promoted into a management role, and need to quickly transition from being an individual contributor to actually leading, inspiring and managing people. Not so confident about what to do next, and how to ensure your team and you are successful?

1. Foreword

2. Prerequisites

As an IC, you are evaluated on what you do as an engineer, most of which is under your control. When you move to management however, it is no longer about you. It becomes more about bringing the team together and enabling them by getting the best out of each individual. This is not a technical skill you can bring with you, but rather a soft skill you will have to learn to survive management.
Remember that the contents of conversations are just what lies at the surface. […] There’s an invisible layer of interaction between people in a group. Learn to understand human interaction and the potential power play, politics, or influences that are happening.

3. Your first weeks are all about building trust

  • Spend good time with the person, to understand her hiring decisions and factors on each team member.
  • Seek information on her perception of each team member: strengths, areas of challenge and potential.
  • Ask for the goals that were defined for the next 6–12 months, and make sure you have a clear understanding of them, as they will be a critical part of your job.
  • Seek management challenges to expect, be it in terms of relationships with team members or bosses, resources allocated or constraints and issues.
  • Get insights on key stakeholders from the global team.
  • Read everything you can about the product, what it is about, what problem it solves and start thinking about how to improve it.
  • Meet with other managers to get a broader vision of the product and how the part you manage impacts the rest.
  • Learn about the stack: which technologies are used, which libraries were chosen, which were ditched and why, what the server, architecture, database looks like, etc.
  • Read code to get a deeper understanding on best practices, impediments, requirements, tests, etc. You could also assess the level of each of your direct reports if you read commits, pull requests. It’ll also help assess the level of collaboration between each individual contributor and the deployment habits.
  • Meet customers: though this is not compulsory, it’s always interesting to do a small field trip and understand why people are buying the product, how it’s making their life better, who they are and what their goals are. If you can’t/don’t want to meet customers, you can interact with customer support and customer success leaders instead. Whatever the means, you’ll have a to get a pulse on customer perspective to take informed decisions in the future.
  • Make sure everyone has the same level of information in the team, about how stuff goes on in the roadmap, what the next steps are, etc.
  • Stay transparent: which decisions were taken, why, how it impacts their work.
  • Tell your team who you meet with and for what reason, so that they share their input or just know you’re trying to help them achieve their tasks.
  • You can communicate struggles and advance as well: validation problems, how you’re going ahead, etc.
  • Become both a shield and a filter: transform negative feedback into constructive criticism, make sure everything becomes a concrete action. “Protect” people from the top management, so they don’t have to deal with politics or power play.
  • Keep your good habits and present the same as when you began: regular 1-on-1s and team meetings, still caring about feelings and objectives.
  • Help people grow in their mission by giving them a sense of responsibility as well as opportunities to advance in their careers.
  • Don’t overpromise in the beginning: if your direct reports start thinking you are a magician, their experience will be very deceptive, and you will be the only one to blame. Whatever happens: deliver on promises.
  • Build the right culture: a culture where the team can give, receive, accept and act on feedback.

4. Organization, delegation & prioritization

  • Write down the objectives and the purpose of your company, your product and your team to make sure your process will be aligned.
  • Define your vision. Make sure it is clear and well-defined for everyone.
  • Define the problem being solved by the process. Usually, the underlying value is time saved and quality improved. Time saved can be used in other areas (think: innovation, debugging, refactoring), and quality is directly perceived by customers (think: product speed, less bugs, desired outputs, etc.), as well as employees (less rework).
  • Define the stakeholders: you are a stakeholder, your boss is one, every team member is a stakeholder, the virtual entity “team” is a stakeholder too, the organization, as a collection of teams is one too.
  • Define the interactions between stakeholders. Who does what, with whom?
  • Look at existing processes to see how they impact (positively or negatively) the organization. Eliminate the ones that have a negative impact and learn from the ones that increase overall ROI.
  • Start small: begin with minimal process, and build up as things go on. You can take bits and pieces of usual process like SCRUM or Agile if you think some parts are relevant to your team, and cut down on what isn’t.
  • Define KPIs / success criteria. In order to assess the efficiency of your processes, it’s important that you define different KPIs, both for overall productivity, individual productivity, and team wellbeing. That way, you’ll know what to improve, what to ditch, or what to keep.
  • Evolve in increments: don’t forget, people are mostly resistant to change. They won’t accept an evolution that’s sudden and need time to integrate it in their routine. So, work in increments to take out the fear of a big process change.
  • Rinse and repeat. Defining a process is an iterative task. You won’t find the perfect one at first and will need to listen to feedback and adapt. A process is a bit like a product in that way. It’s important to reassess the whole process from time to time too, as sometimes.
  • Writing a notebook will help you organize your notes and action items, rather than relying on memory, especially in the beginning where you’ll have a lot of meetings
  • Keep notes so that you can plan the next one-on-one with a team members
  • Define each action item as a bolded arrow
  • Check your notes at the day’s end and write down each action item into your work tracking tool.
  • Add whatever context necessary not to forget about what you wrote a month before.
  • The notebook will help you see all of your outstanding work in a single place and tackle it by priority order instead of recency or urgency.

time management and delegating tasks

  • Ask yourself the right questions: where do I put my time? How do I optimize it?
  • Every two weeks, take half an hour to write down all the different things you did and order them based on what are most important to you. Self-analyzing will help you ditch what’s less important or delegate it. Try to become more realistic about yourself and stuff you can handle on your own.
  • Do not hesitate to delegate, even to people you’re not 100% sure of. It’ll still free you some time even if you have to look after what’s been done in your stead.
  • When delegating, make sure people have escalation paths for asking for help, and that you do not expect them to handle it only on their own. You and your team can, and should be leveraged if someone struggles.
  • People get a sense of ownership if you let them do stuff you usually handle well. Even if you’re an overextended manager, the output will be better.
  • Average performers can show a lot of growth if you give them ownership, and you may see their weaknesses improve drastically. If you let people grow, overall productivity and wellbeing will grow too. Remember: you fought to gain trust, but you need to trust your team as well!
  • Plan for interruptions: uncertainty is part of your job, and unexpected events might postpone some of your work. Plan accordingly!

overall strategy and roadmapping.

  • Find enough space to think deeply in order to make the right choices.
  • Think about the current roadmap and see if you need to adjust it so that things are done when, and how they should be done.
  • Try to identify needs before they become obvious, and think one step further and staff people accordingly. Think about your hiring strategy for the next few months depending on the needs you anticipate.
  • This is also the time where you’ll think about how to improve your process and tools you will need to maximize productivity.
  • Start taking notes on what has gone wrong, and needs to be improved for longer term success. Be it in terms of behaviour, process, unexpected events, or the mistakes you’ve made.
  • Think about the cultural contributions that were done by your direct reports, and what you need to make the team culture even stronger.
  • Free up some space to assess your rating system, your incentives and how you can make them more objective and productive.
  • Think about your next reviews and who may be on track for a promotion. Also, who you might fire if things aren’t corrected.
  • Review the estimates of the team output to make them more realistic. This will help you handle the relationship with other teams or with your hierarchy.

Continuous self-improvement: our recommended resources

  • The First 90 days — Michael Watkins
  • Turn the Ship Around! — L. David Marquet
  • Managing the unmanageable: rules, tools and insights for managing software people and teams — Mickey Mantle and Ron Lichty
  • The Manager’s Path: A guide for tech leaders navigating growth and change — Camille Fournier
  • High Output Management — Andy Grove
  • Managing Humans — Michael Lopp