What is an Engineering Manager trying to achieve?

This post is part of a series on Engineering Management Basics

While it might sound obvious, the question above has not been discussed enough in our industry. What is the Engineering Manager (EM) trying to achieve? In other words, what is their goal?

What is the EM’s goal? (MS Designer)

These questions are interesting because it is common for engineers to become managers and center their thinking around the main change in their role: they now manage people. Because of that, they focus their activity exclusively on managing their reports.

It is hard to blame new managers for that since the technology industry has incentivized this behavior for a long time. Google’s Project Oxygen portrays this culture well:

Leave people alone. Let the engineers do their stuff. If they become stuck, they’ll ask their bosses, whose deep technical expertise propelled them into management in the first place.

Team over Individuals

My perspective here is different. The main goal of every EM is to make their team successful. In other words, a manager should ensure their teams:

Engineering Manager’s Goals

The two points above are ultimately what needs to be achieved. A team is an investment from an organization to achieve specific objectives or solve specific problems. That investment will be worthwhile if a manager can enable them to do that effectively. How the manager achieves that is less important.

A team also needs fulfilled individuals working in it since only that will create a sustainable situation with long-term engagement among its members.

Interestingly enough, focusing on the team’s outcome will also make people management much easier. If a team is effective, most of the people’s challenges that an EM might face, like reports not feeling rewarded, not feeling a sense of achievement, not enjoying their work, or not growing fast enough, will be minimized. That will also create space for individuals to have more freedom. After all, no organization will put pressure to change a team that is delivering well.

Keep that in mind. The team’s outcome is more important than any individual’s. I wrote a longer perspective on this topic here if you would like to go deeper on this point.

If you have found this content interesting, this post is part of a series on Engineering Management Basics. More broadly, I write about leading effective software engineering teams. Follow me if you are interested in the area.

Success as an Engineering Manager was originally published in Level Up Coding on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

​ Level Up Coding – Medium

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