Book Notes: Engineering Management For The Rest of Us
- Find the book here
Caring for your team
your work is now about enabling everyone around you. This entails interruption-driven work so that your team can be flow-driven
The value of values
If you pay attention, you can see how a person’s values dictate their behavior and ethics.
As mentioned before, understanding values in practice isn’t a silver bullet to solving a problem. Values provide context to a person’s mental state, needs, and motivations. In practice, understanding the values of your team members becomes a useful tool to evaluate and drive your own empathy. You may have different values, so unless you actively seek to understand another person’s point of view, it’s possible to be bound by your own context and limitations.
Values as context
More often, conflicts are the result of a misalignment of values, and neither person is attempting malice against the other.
Values misalignment can impact our morale long-term and even lead to burnout if not addressed for a long time.
Choose impact over butts in seats (We’re not counting hours here, focus on making an impact and work when and how you want).
This is pretty much my M.O.
Values & Boundaries
The more we understand one another, the easier it is to work together. When people talk about “good” managers, they are likely referring to people who show care and appreciation for people’s values, and also respect their boundaries.
Happiness & Drive
Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone on our team felt like they were doing their best work possible? That they avoided cognitive overhead when they could, and felt an innate drive to complete their work instead of trudging through for a carrot on a stick? Our job as engineering managers is to create an environment where people can feel like they’re getting their best work done.
I’ve long felt that happiness wasn’t just “nice to have” at a job. I’ve noticed over many years that the teams that are able to express joy and humor together are often the most productive, both in good times and when things get tough.
- The Happiness Advantage shows that happiness is connected to the bottom-line, and “isn’t some “hippie” concept”
“In building teams, it’s important that people have an area where they can do work, collaborate, and feel safe before showing a wider audience of stakeholders.”
Martin Fowler describes the same thing here
- start at 18 minutes
Flow & Purpose
I was in flow state. I love coding. It’s truly hard for me to rip myself away when I get going on a project.
Very relatable. I’m also pretty irritable when I’m in flow state😅 Flow state can be described as:
the phenomenon in which a person is fully immersed in an activity that leads to focus, energized involvement, and enjoyment. A person in flow state is no longer thinking of multiple things, or even their sense of self, but is singularly focused on a task or challenge. Many people report it is the happiest feeling in their lives.
There’s been a running joke with dev friends over the last few days to the tone of ‘programming is addictive’. I have a feeling that what’s being referred to is the the repeated instances of flow state that one has to get into, in order to write software effectively.
So I’ll ask you: When are the people on your team feeling this sense of purpose? What work allows them to feel flow? Does that mean a manager owns their employees’ flow state? Sort of. As managers, we can’t actually create flow state. That’s up to the individual. But we as managers should create an environment where flow state can exist as much as possible.
A few conditions that can help your engineers achieve flow state
- Your work is challenging, but not impossible.
- You feel a sense of togetherness with your team and peers, that you’re all building something together and have each other’s backs.
- You get fair and timely feedback on your tasks. This does not necessarily have to be human feedback. It can also come in the form of compilation success, tests passing, or PRs (pull requests) going through.
- Upon completing tasks and working hard for the company, you get fair pay, bonuses, promotions, and raises.
- You are doing something for the sake of the task, not for politics or to be right. Rather you are doing the best work possible for the best possible outcomes. As such, you care more about continuous improvements than your own ego.
A person who can be in flow state is also capable of seeing perspectives other than their own.
Long term care of employees
“You can’t call yourself a leader by coming into a situation that is by nature uncertain, ambiguous—and create confusion. You have to create clarity where none exists.” — Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft”
“When a person feels that their work is valued, that they have a North Star purpose both for their personal growth and for wider impact with the people and industry, it’s an incredibly powerful thing. Knowing that what you’re doing day to day is meaningful, that small tasks accumulate to a larger goal, and that you have a path forward can be extremely motivating and drive us with resilience past obstacles, into a greater outcome.
On the other hand, I have never seen employees more demoralized than when they’re unsure where their career is headed and whether their title or compensation is fair. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and can lead to burnout. It’s also incredibly distracting.”
“Try to think through what skills someone needs to succeed without you. Teach those skills incrementally.”
“A lot of things are misattributed to laziness that have some other root cause, and yet they appear externally as laziness. If someone isn’t getting their work done, please do your best to explore further with them before writing them off. If you say someone is “lazy,” that is an immovable character assessment and absolves you as a manager from figuring out their motivations, potential misalignments, or challenging external factors that might be impacting their work.”
- There’s also a section titled “Seeing the Team as an Ecosystem”. This lesson has been getting hammered down over & over, as taught at Sigma, James Lewis, Martin Fowler, I’m sure Accelerate mentions it, and of course, Team Topologies.
- Super critical
- These are more for employees than managers
Communicating as a manager
“The more you manage, and the bigger the teams you manage, the more you have to focus on outcomes. This can feel unnatural. If you’re a good engineer, you want to dive in. You may even know exactly how to dive in and communicating what you want will take longer than teaching your team. But you have to stop yourself from the short path of doing it yourself, and slow down to teach people to fish.”
“It’s not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.” — Charles Darwin”
“I have never seen a team that doesn’t need to change and evolve over time.”
“In an industry that moves as quickly as technology, you have more to lose by staying still.”
“Someone bringing up a risk you didn’t see is an enormous gift.”
“Like it or not, meetings are essential for communication and nurturing a good working environment.”
“you’ll also see your own spectrum of meetings: meetings with different types of agendas and purposes, meetings with varying levels of awkwardness, meetings that didn’t have a formal outcome.”
“If you haven’t come to a decision by the end of the meeting, then your next steps may be to figure out who will make the decision and inform everyone, or to roll the conversation over to a new meeting.”
“A good meeting must have a DRI (directly responsible individual), and it is not necessarily the person who called the meeting. It might not be you. But you must designate who owns the project and ultimately makes decisions when there’s one to be made.”
“Bonus points if this DRI is the kind of person who changes their mind based on new information.” Also useful in times of managing conflict!
“An agenda should ideally always state the purpose of the meeting. I personally love to then include some bullets as talking points, as well as space to take notes right in the document during the meeting. Sometimes people use an agenda to write down thoughts before the meeting, and I strongly suggest steering clear of this. There’s nothing wrong with a person who keeps notes for the meeting, but if you come to a meeting where an agenda is locked top to bottom with material, it can sometimes shut down the collaborative aspect of the meeting,”
“For brainstorming sessions, you don’t want a full agenda because nothing breaks the flow of active collaboration like pressure to move on and follow a structure.”
Too many people or not the right people in a meeting
“There’s a certain scale at which conversation begins to feel performative, because there are so many eyes on a person when they’re speaking. Meetings are very much the same. Try not to invite too many people to a meeting.”
“If you’re inviting too many people because the company culture is that everyone should be involved in every decision, that might be a sign of a wider issue that needs solving. Companies at a certain scale start to have issues functioning if there is no clear understanding of ownership.”
“In his book Hell Yeah or No,9 Derek Sivers writes: “You have to know your preferences well, because no matter what you do, someone will tell you you’re wrong.” Most truly innovative concepts challenge the status quo. Part of this process means that you need conflict to challenge and flesh out an idea, to consider the risks, and allow everyone involved to see the size and the shape of the thing at hand.”
“Some conflicts can be settled in a data-driven manner: look at past data, time-box a study, involve data analysts where you can. But there are also conflicts for which there really is no right answer, and it comes down to a matter of opinion.”
Conflict & values
“Let’s say you have one team member who values “debate,” another that values “stability,” and yet another that values “learning.” A problem arises, and they may all view the same discourse completely differently.”