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The Good Engineering Manager Framework
A Framework to Guide First-Time Managers Taking Their First Steps in the New Role
In the last few months, while writing more and more about engineering leadership and management, an idea started to grow in my mind. The job of an engineering manager is something that the manager themselves has to figure out, shape, and build over time. Still, I began to wonder if it might be possible to create a framework or a sort of blueprint that every first-time engineering manager could follow when they start in this new role.
I looked around to see if anything like this was already out there. I did find some interesting frameworks, but they all seemed mainly focused on moving up in your career. That's all well and good, but it wasn't what I was looking for.
So then, I started to think about creating my own, and I came up with what I'm going to show you today: The Good Engineering Manager Framework!
🤔 Why an Engineering Manager Framework?
There are many frameworks out there, but none are designed just for first-time engineering managers who want a structured way to do their job, rather than relying only on gut feeling or sorting through tons of scattered information. This gap is what sparked the idea for this framework.
When I embarked on the journey to create The Good Engineering Manager Framework, I laid down some fundamental requirements:
Adaptability: the framework had to be actionable and easily adaptable to various scenarios.
Iterative Cycles: it had to include iterative cycles that include distinct phases. Each cycle should incorporate measurement and improvement stages.
Time-Framed Cycles: every cycle had to lasts a maximum amount of time and conclude with phases focused on evaluation and improvement.
Stream Structure: the framework had to be divided into different streams that can be followed in parallel, with a maximum of four main streams.
Critical Activities: every stream had to contain at least four crucial activities for the manager to follow, with the possibility of expanding with more.
Self-Usable: the framework had to be designed in a way that the Engineering Manager can use it independently.
Visually Representable: it had to be possible to summarize the framework visually and preferably on a single slide.
These were the foundational guidelines that I had in mind when I delved into this project and that I followed to create the first version of the framework.
Non-Goals of the Framework
The aim behind The Good Engineering Manager Framework was to provide a straightforward yet structured process that covered all the primary areas of competence for a first-time engineering manager.
However, it is essential to note that this framework does not tell you how to work on these areas. This newsletter already covers a multitude of issues dedicated to specific topics, and there is an abundance of resources available to help you decide how to approach individual activities.
In essence, the framework offers a structure and a roadmap, leaving room for flexibility and customization based on your unique situation and needs.
🗺️ The Framework
As always, a picture is worth thousands of words, and that's why one of the requirements was to make the framework visual.
I've also included a high-res version of it to be downloaded, printed, and kept always in front of you 🙂
Let's dig more in deep and see how the framework is structured and works.
💪 The Four Main Action Areas
The four main action areas are the vital work-streams that every engineering manager should concentrate on over a 1 year period.
These areas include:
The sequence of these areas is intentional, reflecting the prioritization from what requires the most focus to what requires less. Let's explore them in detail.
The people action area is arguably the most important stream that every engineering manager should focus on. It encompasses all the activities related to building, growing, and maintaining a healthy team. It includes:
Hiring: Hiring is the process of recruiting and selecting qualified candidates for specific roles within the team. This includes defining job roles, advertising vacancies, conducting interviews, evaluating candidates, and making final selections (I already wrote about hiring good candidates here).
1on1s (One-on-Ones): One-on-one meetings are private, scheduled conversations between a manager and a team member. These meetings are critical for building trust, providing feedback, understanding individual needs, and identifying areas for improvement or growth. They also offer a safe space for team members to express concerns or share ideas, leading to better communication and collaboration.
Growth: Growth refers to the personal and professional development of team members. This encompasses mentoring, coaching, performance reviews, providing opportunities for skill enhancement, setting clear and achievable goals, and offering continuous feedback.
Celebration: Celebration is the act of recognizing and appreciating individual or team achievements, milestones, or successes. This can be done through various means such as public acknowledgments, rewards, parties, or simple words of gratitude (I extensively wrote about that here).
The Vision action area is also a crucial aspect for any team, encompassing the most important activities meant to set goals, define the way the team operates, and create a unique team identity. This action area is comprised of several key components:
Roadmap: a roadmap is a strategic plan that outlines the team's goals, objectives, and the path to achieve them. It serves as a visual guide that aligns the team’s efforts and helps them understand the direction they need to move in. By defining short-term and long-term goals, timelines, and milestones, a roadmap offers a clear picture of what needs to be done, by when, and how the efforts connect to the larger organizational vision. It helps in prioritizing tasks, allocating resources, and measuring progress, thereby ensuring that the team stays on track.
Processes: processes refer to the established methods, procedures, and guidelines that govern how the team carries out its tasks and interacts with one another. Well-defined processes create consistency, efficiency, and clarity in the way work is done.
Culture: culture embodies the values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that characterize the team. It is the "glue" that binds team members together and shapes how they interact, communicate, and work with one another.
Rules: rules are the formal regulations, policies, and standards that govern behavior within the team. They set clear expectations and boundaries, ensuring that everyone understands what is acceptable and what is not. Rules help in maintaining discipline, integrity, and fairness within the team.
Building and keeping good relations is really important, especially in big companies. It helps managers have more say and influence in what happens. Here's a closer look at what this involves:
Shareholders: it's key to have a good relationship with the people who own parts of the company. This helps in making decisions more quickly and playing a bigger role within the company.
Teams: sometimes, working with other teams in the company can be tough. Good engineering managers know how to build and keep strong relationships with them, making teamwork smoother and more productive.
Partners: if your team works with outside services or deals with hardware, it's crucial to get along well with those partners. This can help you get better prices, more support, and information that others might not have.
External Connections: some might overlook this, but for an engineering manager, connecting with people outside the company can be really valuable. This might mean being on social media, going to conferences, speaking at events, and more. Doing these things can help in hiring new team members, becoming a known expert in your field, and other benefits.
Engineering comes last on the list, but it's still important. If an engineering manager does well in the other three areas, this part can be easier. Here's what it includes:
Technology: stay involved in tech decisions and keep up with new technologies. This helps make sure the team uses the latest and best tools for the job.
Knowledge Sharing: make sure everyone on your team knows what they need to. If everyone shares what they know, the whole team can work better together. This might mean regular team meetings or other ways to share information (presentations, documentation, etc).
Tools: picking the right tools for the job is key. This means finding what works best for your team and making sure everyone knows how to use them. The right tools can make everyone's job easier.
Research & Development (R&D): keeping up with what's new and exciting in the market helps the team stay innovative. This might mean trying out new ideas or ways of doing things. Setting aside time for this kind of research can lead to new and better ways to get things done.
⏱️ The Cycles
A crucial aspect of this framework is the implementation of cycles. These cycles outline a systematic approach to every activity in each area, providing a structured pathway to achieve goals.
The cycles include the following stages:
Listen: start by understanding the needs of the situation. Listen to people, gather information, and identify the key challenges or requirements that must be addressed during one of the activities included in the framework.
Act: with a clear understanding of what's needed, take informed and deliberate action. This stage is where plans are executed, and decisions are made to address the identified needs.
Communicate: after taking action, it's essential to communicate the outcome to the rest of the team. Whether it's a success or a learning experience, clear communication ensures that everyone involved understands what happened and why. This phase of the cycle is crucial!
Measure: evaluate the impact of the actions taken. This might include gathering feedback, analyzing results, or assessing how well the goals were met. Measurement provides a clear picture of what worked and what didn't.
Improve: finally, based on the feedback and measurements, identify areas that can be enhanced. This stage is about continuous growth and refinement, ensuring that future cycles are even more effective.
In essence, these cycles create a repetitive process of understanding, acting, communicating, evaluating, and improving. They provide a robust framework for engineering managers to navigate the complexities of their role, promoting consistent progress and growth.
One important aspect of cycles since they are applied to action areas, is that they can last maximum one year.
The last key component of this framework is Journaling. It's the consistent practice of documenting every cycle, recording all thoughts, decisions, actions, and feedback.
This practice is vital for reflecting on the past, conducting a thoughtful review, and pinpointing what needs improvement in each action area. It lays the groundwork to restart the cycles in the following year, ensuring ongoing growth and refinement in your engineering management process.
→ What's Next?
Trying to squeeze all the main duties of an engineering manager into one framework might seem like a wild idea. But for people like me, who have spent several years working to make processes better and build strong teams with great managers, it's an exciting challenge. I think of The Good Engineering Manager Framework as a work in progress, and that's why I'm sharing it here at this stage that I consider “beta”.
So, what's next?
I Want to Hear from You: if you're a leader or manager, I'd love to know what you think. Is this helpful?
It's Still Growing: think of this as the first version of the framework. I know there's more that can be done and gaps that need to be filled. If you have ideas, I'd be really happy to hear them.
This framework is a start, and I hope it gets people talking about how to make the work of engineering managers even better. Your thoughts and ideas can help shape it into something really useful.
✌️ That’s all folks
That's all for today! As always, I would love to hear from my readers (and if you've made it this far, you're definitely one of the bravest). Please don't hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter and send a message. I always respond to everyone!