Managing Managers

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Changing Role

Overseeing a Team Lead Manager (TLM) or Engineering Manager (EM) means being indirectly responsible for the group of Individual contributors (ICs) this TLM or EM is managing. Moving from an individual team manager, this shifts the focus from managing the direct outputs of the team to the broader outcomes of multiple teams.

Avoiding micromanagement, it will be important to be supporting the manager in delivering their results, watching for blind spots, gaps in project plans, and keeping team development aligned with a larger perspective. Asking questions, fostering learning opportunities, and focussing on coaching rather than solving problems directly.

The manager of managers' role is to ensure clear communication and alignment within the EM/PM partnership to allow the team to focus on efficiency and delivery, while taking ownership of handling external roadblocks.

Larger Leverage

‘Leverage’ is the ability to deploy resources towards an outcome, whilst reducing wastage.

A team focused on the right outcomes produces positive results. Applying pressure or leverage on a team which is misaligned, or applying this at the wrong time, can undermine the performance of the team, leading to wasted effort and costing the opportunity to work on other activities.

A manager of managers will have a broader scope, more responsibility, and more resources. All of this means that more pressure or leverage can be applied, with much larger impact – for better or for worse.

This double-edged sword of leverage means decisions can be more complicated and carry larger amounts of risk. Mitigating this risk by keeping close to the development teams, seeking feedback from customers and ICs, and staying close to partners across the business.

Outcomes over Output

Emphasis of results as the outcomes of the work performed by the team, not the effort or output. What are the tangible outcomes driven by the teams' work, and how are these driving the business forward? The alignment of teams and the work they undertake is only measured by the changes in these business outcomes.

The details of how the outcomes are produced is related to the output. As an engineering leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that the teams' efforts and outputs are aligned to achieve the best outcomes. And with this shift, is also a change in how the teams' output is monitored.

As you move away from the day-to-day detail of the teams' progress and output, you have less direct information about smaller scale challenges and decisions. When to cut corners, cut scope, or how much to invest in exploring a particular opportunity.

Managing indirectly will require concerted effort to maintain communication channels to keep visibility into the progress, challenges, and outcomes. This includes participating in demos and architecture reviews, monitoring dashboards and sprint reports, reviewing release notes, and holding 1:1s.


Some topics to explore for managers of managers:

  1. Shifting to indirect management
  2. Mentoring managers
  3. Managing relationships and resolving conflicts
  4. Setting performance expectations and measuring results
  5. Effective leadership with organisation politics
  6. Continual growth as a leader

  1. Managing managers – what changes?
  2. Manager of managers – Leverage is a double-edged sword
  3. Manager of managers – Outcomes over output
  4. There's no A for Effort
  5. Path to engineering manager of managers