Have you ever wondered what your manager is doing all day? Are you guilty of secretly thinking he/she is playing Candy Crash and attending endless stream of useless meetings? If yes, then you are normal. Management is often invisible and hard to understand. We have tons of books and courses on management but too few good leaders. Sadly, many of us had a bad boss and too of us had a great boss. This post will share my approach to being a good leader.
My management philosophy revolves around three things but one of them is the most important because if we get it right, then all other parts will fall into place. One thing that I care about the most, and which is my main job, is people. I coach, mentor and help people to grow in their careers. I find their strengths and talents. Most people are not that great at self awareness and self observation because their insecurities, desires or emotions interfere with the clear perception of reality. Observing people from outside as a manager or peer gives much better results—a much cleaner and fuller picture.
A discussion came up in at my work about distinction between a triage and planning meetings. My take on this is that triage reactive whereas planning is active.
Let me illustrate this with examples. Imagine a customer-facing app like a WordPress CMS. Users use the CMS, encounter bugs, and curse. They sometimes report the bugs. An engineering team or a product manager will triage the incoming bugs and issues to sort out what need an urgent fix and what can be deferred. Bugs tend to be urgent but not always important (at least not important for the majority of users).
On the other hand, there is an important task. The CMS has a roadmap to add a paid feature that should increase company revenue and make the next year profitable. The paid feature needs to be implemented. It’s the top priority. Its implementation must be planned actively, separately and before any bugs. If not planned, bugs can take up all the time.
Thus, my suggestion is to plan and plan the priority first. Then plan the triaged work on bugs and tech debt. Focus on important first, not urgent.
The more I work in tech, the more I see the most successful management being at the core about these three separate and often conflicting areas:
- Company: Contributing to your companies bottom line by understanding the business value and long-term strategy
- Customers: Taking care of your costumer by delivering product they want and love
- Culture: Growing your engineers as well as positively impacting engineering culture in the company as a whole
At the intersection of these areas, there are two often conflicting axis which create a healthy push and pull if used with a right balance:
- Short-term vs long-term, e.g., delivering projects on time vs. doing what will scale better in the future
- Us vs. them, e.g., caring about your team vs. company or the entire engineering population
A good manager in the information-based working environment will find a way to combine the aforementioned areas and axis to form a win-win situation. It’s not always possible, but I find that it’s possible more often than not when I just push a little bit more and don’t give up early, when I try to come up with just one more creative solution.
PS: To continue musings, there are two books on the topic worth mentioning. I wrote a short summary on one of them which is called Managing Humans. I really liked that book, but recently I read another book called The First-Time Manager which seems to be the source of inspiration for Managing Humans, to put it mildly. I’m not accusing the author of Managing Humans in plagiarism, but I had a strong feeling of deja vu. It felt like Managing Humans borrowed the outline and a lot of ideas and concepts from The First-Time Manager. Interesting…. So go for “original” (The First-Time Manager). It’s not as specific and tailored to software engineers but a useful perspective. Then follow up with The 48 Laws of Power for a completely different view. :)