Saturday, October 17, 2020

Expectations of an Engineering Manager

This is a beautiful article that very succinctly and accurately defines management responsibilities:

The key principles being:
  • Support the members of your team and help them grow.
  • Follow along the deliveries, setting quality standards, making sure the team has the support they need and upper management the feedback they need [through you and without you]
  • Keep a constant practice of creating, improving or eliminating team or company processes.
There are some issues with the article as well: for example, the reliance on Andy Grove's definition of management is something that I don't fully agree with. It's a reasonable definition, don't get me wrong. It's even valuable in certain ways, I just don't fully agree with it though.

Traditionally, Andy Grove defined a manager's output as the sum of their team's output and the teams under influence output. This is great if the goal of your organization's managers is to play politics at promotion time (hey I influenced this guy, this is my project! this win is from my team! etc.). It's not so great if the goal is to objectively define a manager's performance with respect to items under their control and that work they do on a daily basis.

For example, a team or organization can be highly effective and yet have a terrible manager or leader who pits the team members against each other. A prima donna manager can "influence" teams by being a pain. That's typically not what's desired. A manager (for better or for worse) is an institutional position. It's institutional because where there's a team, there needs to be a goal, someone who sets goalposts and a referee that calls the goal when it's achieved. It's inevitable. That's the process nature of management => things need to happen, there needs to be one or more people who can take responsibility for the goal and process. That's the manager. However, unless the manager actually directly contributed (positively) to the goal, the process, the execution; taking credit for the team's work feels a bit ingenuous. Similarly, a great manager joining a team that needs a turnaround can't be adequately measured by the total team output. The change in the team out is a valid benchmark.

My preferred benchmark of a manager's work is in a term called effectiveness. Effectiveness is defined in terms of the actions of the manager with respect to their team. 

How effective is the manager in growing the team or growing the org? 
Is hiring well thought out? 
Are the roles clear before a hire? 
Are new hires well integrated? 
Are existing team members aware of their growth charts? 
Does the team interact well with each other? 
Are process blockers simplified or removed?
Are decisions made quickly?
What is the quality of those decisions?
Are non-consensus decisions documented?
Is communication within the team smooth?
Are processes within the team smooth?
Does the work of the team get adequately documented and promoted in the org?
Is the team correctly benchmarked for effectiveness against its peers?
How accommodating is the manager of diverse perspectives?
How much autonomy does the team have? Is there micromanagement?
Is the manager inclusive of opinions that diverge from their own?
Are the right members of the team rewarded?
For team members that are struggling, is corrective action taken? 
How is that corrective action communicated and managed?
Are performance conversations continuous and regular?
Does the manager actively and regularly seek feedback about their own performance?
Does the manager provide opportunities to lead?
Do you feel you have enough scope that stretches you in your current role?
Does your manager provide technical guidance and support? [(in-my-view) a delicate question].

The team's eventual output is a derivative of a well run team and facilitative management trounces management by control and process any day. If we agree with the previous statement, a manager should then. be assessed by their team and their own peers and managers on the questions listed above - how well does the manager facilitate the work of the company? For the questions listed above are specific, they are positive and a negative reaction on any of them indicates things that the manager can do to be more effective. There are probably more questions that can be added to the list and I'd love to hear some from you. If you come across this, please leave a comment!

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