So you have just become an Engineering Manager — congrats!
That said — being a new Engineering Manager can be overwhelming. You have a lot of things to immediately start making progress on:
- Letting those around you get to know you and acclimate to your style
- Getting to know your team and building a foundation of trust
- Reviewing and beginning to learn your team’s technical ecosystem
- Meeting other departments you will work with and rely on
- Getting to know your customers, their needs, and pains
- Understanding the expectations of your team, boss, and leadership
- Defining your new role for yourself
So — where do you start? By taking one step at a time.
This article is a step-by-step guide for how to handle your first 90 days as an new Engineering Manager. While it isn’t comprehensive — it should give you a good place to start.
Let your team get to know you
Teams feel apprehension when their manager changes.
You need to begin to earn your team’s trust — don’t assume you are trusted (by your team or your leadership) because you have the title of manager.
Research demonstrates that trust (and psychological safety) is one of the most important factors to developing a high-performing team.
Recognize for your team — a great manager could mean jumping their careers forward, and a bad manager could mean an upcoming nightmare.
When your team finds out their manager is changing, they wonder things like:
- How will my job change?
- Will my job get harder/easier?
- Will my new manager like me?
- Will I get along with my new manager?
- What will they think about my performance?
- What imperfections/mistakes of mine will my manager notice?
- How will my manager react to my imperfections/mistakes?
You want to directly address these fears through conversations and meetings. Most of these can be solved through simple, transparent conversations by:
- Embracing your weaknesses, stating them upfront, and asking for help
- Discussing your leadership/management philosophies
- Talk about what you are like to work for / the good / the bad
- Being open and honest about thoughts and perceptions you have
- Earning their trust little by little in conversations, and in your work
Get to know your team
It is not the job of your team to introduce themselves. It is your job to jump in and get to know your team — individually and as a whole.
Begin getting to know your team members by immediately setting up 1:1’s. Initially, this is the best place to build your team’s trust.
For your team it provides a private place to voice thoughts and concerns. For you it allows you to develop a feeling of psychological safety across your team by listening attentively, being thoughtful, and being responsive to their needs.
When you get to know the team — you want to focus on:
- The career desires and paths for your team
- What does each person do and what is their skill set
- What does each person enjoy doing and what do they not enjoy
- What is going well (strategically and day to day)
- What makes their job harder (strategically and day to day)
- Where do they perceive they want or need your help
Review the Team’s Tactical Observations
Your next step is to start having conversations about your team’s tactical experiences. Spend meaningful time asking questions, listening, and understanding the current state of your team.
Work with your team members to review how your team is working today. A few items to pay attention to are:
- What are the good/pain points your team has with tooling and platforms?
- How does your team feel about current equipment/hardware?
- How does the team feel about their current architecture practices?
- How does the team feel about current infrastructure?
- Where does the team perceive technical debt?
- How does the team feel about their work intake/distribution?
These questions will identify where to deep dive over the next 6 months. The goal is to begin to understand impediments to your teams’ productivity and general quality-of-life.
Meet the Broader Organization
After spending meaningful time with your team (1–2 months), begin to meet the people your team relies on that work outside of your department.
You will need to develop relationships with other teams that you will rely on.
These are often departments or teams like:
- Peer development teams
- Project Management/Delivery
- Operations / Support
Start developing your relationship by meeting with key people and discuss:
- What is going well with their current relationship with your team
- What sucks with their current relationship with your team
- Where do they perceive they want or need your help most
- If they could change or improve one thing — what would it be?
When working with any stakeholder — listen constantly and spend more time listening than talking. Stakeholder and departmental relationships often have long histories — which are important to discover and understand for context.
Get to know your customers
After you get to know your partners — start getting to know your customers.
Customers can be either internal and/or external depending on your organization and your role. Here I mean the people/groups that your team ultimately is working to support and make happy.
Start getting to know your customers by:
- Identifying your power customers — Who are the biggest customers you have? Who are the different people that represent them? What are the different ways you can engage and/or work with them?
- Research and listen — Customer relationships have histories, which are often important to understand how your customer feels today. Learn the history of your most critical customers.
- Successes and failures — What is going well for them? What are their pain points?
As a manager, expectations can be complex because each individual organizational layer or area can have unique expectations of you:
- Your team: They are going to see your performance primarily through a tactical lens. How are you impacting their lives/work day-to-day?
- Your peers: They are going to have a fairly well-rounded view of your performance. How are you enabling or creating friction for them?
- Your boss: They are going to see your performance strategically. How are you making a strategic impact with your team?
- Yourself: What you will hold yourself accountable to. How are you setting realistic, but challenging expectations for yourself?
The above doesn’t include customers, the larger organization, leadership, and potentially vendors. All of these expectations (accurate or not) can impact your role and team.
Defining your role for yourself
As a Manager you can and often work do with a lot of autonomy, with very little feedback or direction from leadership.
I have often gone more than a year with receiving any feedback from my direct boss or leadership. And when I have made mistakes — often leadership is not able to provide tactical feedback since their view is mostly strategic.
This is also important for happiness and mental health. As a manager often you need to learn to pat your team (and yourself) on the back when it is needed. Because others often won’t.
So…how do you start defining your role yourself?
- Tactically: Outline what needs to happen day-to-day. How do you plan to ensure those things happen? How do you want to keep up with your team, information flow, decisions, and your boss? How do you want to structure meetings with your team?
- Strategically: Start learning where you and your team can make oversized impacts. These ideas will help you begin to understand where/what you should prioritize long-term.
Having your own anchor of what you define the role as will be vital. Why?
- Since you likely will not have consistent feedback from leadership above you, you need to develop your own ‘ruler’ to judge your work and role. You will need to be your own coach, critic, and inspector.
- If you take on too many responsibilities you will stumble — by defining your role you can push back on work that might not be appropriate for you
- Those around you can have different ideas on your role — and you will need to clarify and educate them on what your role is versus perceptions.
Originally posted to My Medium Blog.