(Engineering) Management PrinciplesFeatured
Like the rest of the world, I experienced more time for introspection in the past year due to the pandemic. I thought through how I became a manager (unwillingly at first, because I loved coding). I formed these principles after reflecting back on what I learned as a manager and examining what I valued as a person. I hope others find it helpful within and outside of engineering, and I’m always open to feedback or other suggested principles.We are all human beings.The first principle is the most important of all of them. As someone who thinks like an engineer, I often find it hard to remember that we aren’t all part of an operating system. Every human in my team is unique and while many processes cater to the average person within the team, working together requires shared empathy, trust, and kindness. I believe in longer one-on-one conversations, and do not compromise holding those weekly because we need more personal connections when we’re trying to help and coach folks.We are a team of highly skilled and intelligent human beings.We have come together as a team, thus we cannot operate as individual units. Everyone needs to put in the work to help the team, and do the task the team has come together to do. This includes the manager of the team. While it’s common for managers to be the linchpin culturally, I also acknowledge that “a manager” is simply one of the roles of the team. Managing people means enabling the team to do work as effectively as possible.The third principle is directly related to the actual day-to-day work of a manager. While prescriptive, I have found the following actions to be helpful for new managers. I spend a lot of time making sure everyone in my team is unblocked from cross-functional stakeholders and themselves. For the latter, that means I help the person unblock themselves by coaching them. As the coach and cheerleader, I believe in being the most optimistic team member for the future of the task at hand (releasing a launch, a project, or a product), all the while, being the most critical (and proactive) of the non-human systems that deliver the task, including being an architectural safety net (in software engineering). On the more visible side of management, I think a lot about what the right team composition looks like. Does this team have the right balance of skills and experiences to enable them to fulfill the second principle? Who and how do I recruit or retain?Managers don’t “own” their direct reports nor the product.These folks aren’t “your resources”, there’s an exchange of time and money involved with the company. Similarly, the product or vertical or whatever area of ownership a manager thinks they have is owned by the company. The magic happens when we all come together and execute, and limit any ego in this equation. A manager does own the decision, the mistake, the success, and the failure. For successes, I attribute these to the second principle.Trust is a hard requirement.As we’ve seen this past year, change is inevitable. If a change happens within the company, or if the manager wants to drive change, trust is a hard requirement. Building trust is very difficult, especially in the remote world, but it helps to explain the context, the inputs, and the why. I also always remind myself of the first principle in any discussion about change since these can often be more emotionally cumbersome than not. Lastly, be open to feedback in all directions, knowing that the manager is also a human being.