I aspire not only to be a great manager, but to be the best manager my team members will ever have (unless they get to work for a manager I’ve coached :) ). I hope to have incredibly stiff competition at the top, and I’ll often fall short of my goal, but by trying I will get closer. This post will gather my research on being a great manager, enumerate some of my learnings, and inspire me to be my best.
How will I measure my success?
Acting is easy, but results are hard. Here are the results I measure.
Coach, empower, build inclusive and supportive culture
- Employee surveys (MS poll, Amazon connections, Amazon tech survey, Amazon Forte)
- Employee referrals and feedback (LinkedIn recommendations, Direct Feedback, etc).
- Employee career velocity relative to median (you can ask me the ratio in person).
Productive and results-oriented
- Trains run on time and frequently.
- Ruthless prioritization (Shipping is a feature)
- Define and deliver business priorities.
Great partner to other teams and non-tech partners
- Biz functions understands team and tech constraints
- My team understand constraints and needs of partner teams and biz functions.
- Team not blocked on other teams or biz functions.
How will I behave to be successful?
As I tell my teams, the what lags the how, here’s my how.
Being a great coach
- The team members are my most important customer, and will be treated as such.
- Coaching is critical to being a great manager - an excellent primer is The 7 coaching questions.
- When we remember work, we think about our peak moments.
- Human Meetings
- Building intra-team cohesion
- Encouraging team to eat lunch together
- Encouraging team to share their out side of work passions.
- Building team ownership over individual ownership.
- Team wide appreciation
- Weekly linked in posts celebrating the team
- Cook the team breakfast
- Individual specific recognition
- Continuous on the spot recognition.
- [Pending] Hand written notes
- Self-service management through fortune cookies.
- Keeping everyone informed and proud
- Monthly newsletters
- Draw pictures/pen casts
- Public posts on career, management and life Work Life Balance and Job Hunting.
- Weekly linked in posts celebrating the team
- Memorable job descriptions
- Magic tricks during interviews and informationals
Working across teams
- Ease at which my team can collaborate across the larger organization.
- Leadership card experience
- Team wide engagement through clustering exercises.
This is worthy of it’s own blog post. Here’s some brain dumping.
Before the how, lets start with why.
Why do great managers need to stay technical? Because they are ultimately responsible for the outcomes of the team and that requires them to understand, confirm and nudge the team to continuously:
- Make correct architectural decisions
- Increase engineering excellence through best practices
Because they often represent teams in forums without their team the need to:
- Making sure you can represent your team in technical forums, and you can bringing back best practices, or catch upcoming mistakes.
- Make swags on costings
- Represent laws of physics
- Architecture and design reviews
- Try to ship software to
- Be on every page the team gets
- Hang w/Principal Engineers
- Follow major tech trends and product launches (keynotes, major tech blog posts)
- Reading seminal books on topics (ML, CLoud Native Apps, Programming Language Design, Architecture)
- Side projects in assorted tech and ideas (ML, PWA, FaaS)
- Be an expereinced engineer before switching to management
- Be an expert in a particular platform and language
- Be a SME in multiple topics (for me networking and security).
- I finally hosted a hack-a-thon for my parent team. Here is my advice for folks setting this up.
Some behaviors I’m just starting, these include
- Team music videos
- Engineering peak moments
How others define great managers
Each company has its own culture, and part of that culture is articulating what makes great managers.
Google’s Project Oxygen
Google is a very data driven, willing to challenge the status quo company. One of their ideas was getting rid of managers all together, and that was a fa failure. Given then conclusion managers were necessary, they formed Project Oxygen, a data driven approach to understanding the attributes of successful managers. Here is there list of management attributes:
- Is a good coach
- Empowers team and does not micromanage
- Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
- Is productive and results-oriented
- Is a good communicator - listens and shares information
- Supports career development and discusses performance
- Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
- Has key technical skills to help advise the team
- Collaborates across the company
- Is a strong decision maker
Amazon’s leadership principles
All of Amazon’s leadership principles (LPs) are superb, and while they apply to everyone, they probably have a twist for managers (which I’m still figuring out).
If you’re not from Amazon the LPs can be overwhelming, and are worthy of a seperate post. To help remember the principles, I think of 3 buckets: 1) Grow yourself and your team 2) Get it Done 3) Be the owner.
You’ll also notice the principles are deliberatly not ranked, and have tension between them (e.g. Insist on High Standards vs Bias For Action) as they’re all important and require high judgement to balance between. Alright there is definetly a post coming on this topic
Grow yourself and the team:
Learn and Be Curious - Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
Hire and Develop the Best - Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
Insist on the Highest Standards - Leaders have relentlessly high standards - many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
Dive Deep - Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
Earn Trust - Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit - Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
Get It Done:
Deliver Results - Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
Invent and Simplify - Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here”. As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
Bias for Action - Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
Frugality - Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.
Be the owner:
Ownership Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”.
Customer Obsession Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
Think Big - Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
Are Right, A Lot - Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to dis confirm their beliefs.
As a manager, you’ll run into these situations. Each company and team has their own culture around these situations, and I’ll enumerate things I’ve learned for them.
Performance Management and Career Planning
- Stack ranking/OLR
- Managing out
- Delivering Performance reviews (Amazon Forte/Microsoft Connect)
- Career Planning
- Strategic Planning
- Amazon promo trackers
Coaching for job changes
Hiring and Recruiting
- Interviewing best practices - External
- Feed forward interview loops
- Feedback interviewers
- Bar raiser, as appropriate
- Initial compensation reasoning.
- Interviewing best practices - Internal
- Building culture
Establishing Process, Project Lifecycle, and Artifacts
Some teams have these things well defined and running smoothly, other teams (seems to be most) need help building out these mechanisims
- Design Meetings
- Weekly Engineer Review (Status Reports)
- Design Meetings
- Weekly Leadership team Meetings
- Weekly Operations/Engineering Excellence Review
Bi-Weekly Team Meetings
- Agile Ceremonies:
- The standard - Standups/Backlog Grooming/Sprint Planning/Retro
- Project LifeCycle Documents/Meetings
- Requirements Review
- Design (p)review
- Test Plan Review
- Operations/Launch Review/Pre-Morten
- Bug Bash
Great Posts and Blogs
- How managers get stuck
- The managers path - This book feels like it lacks “complete” mental models, but it’s the only book of it’s kind - so it’s the best there is!
- Elided Branches - Blog on engineering management.
- I.M Wright’s Harde Code - Engineering Managment from Microsoft, covers most topics.