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Dan Lebrero
Dan Lebrero

Posted on • Originally published at danlebrero.com on

Book notes: 97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should Know

These are my notes on 97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should Know edited by Camille Fournier.

Similar to other "97 things" books, loads of useful tips on a broad range of topics in short blog-like chapters. I especially liked the chapters from Cate Huston.

My main takeaway:

As a manager your work is to create clarity, clarity, clarity, and then, more clarity.

Key Insights

The number in (#) is the chapter.

  • (3) As a manager, you need to fix your personal quirks, not apologize or document them.
  • Highlight which items have uncertainty (== learning == mistakes == risks).
  • (12) Consider doing experiments instead of making decisions.
  • (10) The highest leverage activity of an engineering manager is making sure who reports to them have clarity, alignment, and understand "The Why" to "The What".
  • (13) Your company culture is well-defined when you could turn away a world-class candidate because culture fit.
  • (18) "Bad news test" - Given two tasks, which one would you rather be sharing bad news about? Delegate that task.
  • (27) On a struggling team, start by answering two questions:
    1. How do I create clarity?
    2. How do I create capacity?
  • List of "soft" skills.
  • (33) Ask for clarification.
  • (40) To give constructive feedback, pay attention to how the person gets stuck, sidetracked or sloppy.
  • (52) Management is not a promotion. It is a career change.
  • (54) Train new managers.
  • (59) Most of the dysfunctions come from some lack of clarity goal.
  • (60) For a fixed deadline, scope and quality are always negotiable.
  • (67) Emotional contagion is real.
  • (79) As a new manager, listen and understand before you try to change something.
  • (82) Stable teams FTW!.
  • (83) Good interview questions:
    • What have you learned in the past six months?
    • Tell me about the time when you failed and what you learned from that?
    • Do you have the skills, expertise and experience to perform the job?
  • (87) Self-organizing teams: shared goal + set of rules + tension.
  • (92) Complains are good: they show that you are trusted.

All notes

The number in (#) is the chapter.

  • (1) Make one if four 1-2-1 a retrospective:
    • Beforehand both write down : what work, what not, ideas for change.
  • (2) How to know you are a good manager:
    • Problems be handled without you.
    • Team delivers consistently.
    • Honest and meaningful feedback, both directions and between team members.
    • Team is ok with failure.
    • You have time to do strategic work.
    • What kind of advice you are asked for?
  • (3) As a manager, you need to fix your personal quirks, not apologize for them.
  • (4) Effective roadmaps:
    • Impact on users.
    • Metrics and hypothesis.
    • Consider specifying what we deliberately decided to leave out.
    • Highlight which items have uncertainty (== learning == mistakes == risks).
  • (7) Career:
    • Specialist: opportunity to work on most difficult technical problems.
    • Generalist: opportunity to work on most difficult business problems.
    • Dont think I agree completely with this, but I see the logic and know examples.
  • (8) Structure when communicating with Executives:
    1. I am telling you about X because of Y.
      • Why is worth the executive's time.
    2. Details of X.
    3. I need you to do Z, so that X because of Y.
    4. State a clear goal for the meeting.
  • (10) The highest leverage activity of an engineering manager is making sure who reports to them have clarity, alignment, and understand "The Why" to "The What".
    • Write at least weekly a message to you team to connect the What to the Why.
  • (12) Consider doing experiments instead of making decisions.
  • (13) Your company culture is well-defined when you could turn away a world-class candidate because culture fit.
  • (18) "Bad news test" - Given two tasks, which one would you rather be sharing bad news about? Delegate that task.
    • Share openly what your responsibilities and goals are, what has been delegated, deprioritized or simply wont get done.
  • (19) Manager roles is not about being a shit umbrella, but to provide context for the team to understand the problem and come up with better solutions.
  • (23) Management skills to make a team productive:
    • Project management:
      • Break down scope to ship frequently.
      • Minimum viable product.
      • Risks and bottlenecks.
    • Balance product delivery with sustainable engineering.
    • Prioritization.
  • (27) On a struggling team, start by answering two questions:
    1. How do I create clarity?
      • Not vision, but something more immediate and based on today.
      • The more concrete, the more difficult is to get everybody to agree, as there is less room for multiple interpretations.
      • Examples:
        • Take stock on ongoing projects: purpose + timelines.
        • Scope milestones for each project.
        • Articulate priorities and rationale behind them.
        • Make project status visible.
    2. How do I create capacity?
      • Sense of overload, often unevenly distributed across the team.
      • Too much WIP?
      • Align people to work they want to do.
      • Give people clear feedback.
      • Who is doing the estimation and deadlines?
  • (29) Growth path is an intrinsic motivation. To create:
    • What motivates you? What are your values?
    • What demotivates you? What you dont want to do?
    • What are your strengths? Not only technical.
    • What are your goals? What results and impact? What skills to learn?
    • What is the concrete action plan for getting you there?
  • (33) Ask for clarification.
  • (34) Be intentional about how you design the team rituals.
  • (39) 1-2-1 are reportee driven.
  • (40) To give constructive feedback, pay attention to how the person gets stuck/sidetracked or sloppy.
  • (52) Management is not a promotion. It is a career change.
  • (54) Train new managers:
    • Good habits.
    • Appropriate skills.
    • Safe avenues of practice.
    • Understand when to be a friend and when a manager.
    • In conflicts, when to step in, when to take an unbiases stand and when to escalate.
    • When and how give feedback.
    • Asses if what you are doing make you happy.
  • (59) Most of the dysfunctions come from some lack of clarity goal.
    • Whatever definition of accountability you are using, the first place to apply it is to yourself, and your leadership team.
  • (60) For a fixed deadline, scope and quality are always negotiable.
  • (63) A team is a cacophony of stories:
    • Stories are typically incomplete, but rarely wrong.
    • Managers are uniquely positioned to shape the stories that people tell.
    • Repetition is an important tool for spreading stories.
  • (66) Performance issues, 2 types:
    • Event-based:
      • Transitory.
      • Give support.
    • Systematic:
      • Inability to follow through.
      • Team dynamics.
      • Lack of motivation.
      • Constant exhaustion.
      • Unclear goals.
  • (67) To be effective, you need to learn to manager yourself before you can manage others.
    • Emotional contagion is real.
  • (76) Commitment shared by the entire team.
  • (78) As a manger your voice has weight.
  • (79) As a new manager, listen and understand before you try to change something.
  • (82) Stable teams FTW!.
  • (83) Good interview questions:
    • What have you learned in the past six months?
    • Tell me about the time when you failed and what you learned from that?
    • Do you have the skills, expertise and experience to perform the job?
  • (85) Clearly define and communicate your priorities:
    • Being a manger should be the top one.
    • Define what average successful week looks like. It is quite different from what a dev one looks like.
  • (87) Self-organizing teams, 3 conditions:
    1. Clear shared goal.
    2. Set of rules: few and simple.
    3. Tension: short-term reason why the team should make the effort on self-organize now rather than later.
      • Time pressure.
      • Challenge.
      • Reward.
    4. At an org level:
      • Goal -> Vision.
      • Rules -> Culture.
      • Tension -> Motivation.
  • (92) Complains are good:
    • Show that you are trusted.
    • Help find problems.
    • Are feedback.
    • Show what the complainer values.
    • Opportunity for coaching the complainer to grow.
    • Opportunity for empathy.
  • (94) What you do with a new hire's ideas is critical for the behaviour of that new hire.

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