Engineering managers and particular person contributors normally need the identical factor: to provide high quality work in a manner that feels artistic and collaborative, all whereas doing so in a predictable and sustainable manner. I’d even say you’ll battle to search out somebody who doesn’t need such a work settlement.
It’s additionally vital to notice that there’s wholesome stress and unhealthy stress between engineering managers (EMs) and particular person contributors (ICs). Nice groups work effectively after they have a wholesome quantity of stress — they ask questions and problem one another respectfully to get to the most effective answer.
However there are a number of shifting components to make the EM–IC relationship work, and it’s the friction between these components that may create unhealthy stress.
The explanation why there may be stress between EMs and ICs
With regards to measurement and analysis, EMs and ICs have completely different perceptions of what provides worth. This may be primarily based on a number of tension-causing elements.
(1) Totally different objectives primarily based on roles. The roles themselves convey inherent stress. EMs wish to guarantee that issues are predictable and the staff is working effectively. ICs deal with doing artistic work that’s, at instances, onerous to foretell and ship with high quality. One desires to measure issues that the opposite can’t at all times ship predictably.
(2) The partition of labor. EMs and ICs are tasked with considering at completely different ranges. EMs assume one rung greater than ICs — about coordinating many individuals and roles comparable to ICs, product managers, and designers, and shielding ICs from the inputs that come from all of these views.
These worries don’t at all times correspond to what ICs take into consideration — comparable to tech debt, their growth course of, their CI/CD movement. It’s not that EMs don’t fear about these items; it’s only a completely different hierarchy of worries.
(3) Dangerous EMs/Dangerous ICs. Typically there are unhealthy EMs who don’t assume their job is to create a staff of ICs who’re unblocked and functioning effectively. This will create a really adversarial relationship, the place a supervisor says, “I want this performed now,” and an IC says, “You don’t perceive what it takes to get that performed.”
Conversely, there could be unhealthy ICs who’re onerous to work with and lack empathy for the issues that EMs fear about. This will result in the “managers are simply pushing paper and don’t really ‘do’ something” narrative.
(4) Measurements that “don’t matter.” EMs measuring issues that ICs really feel don’t matter creates a disconnect. I’ll discuss measurement extra later, however the stress right here comes, partially, due to the character of our trade.
Software program engineering is artistic work, which is by nature troublesome to measure. But, the EM has to ship high quality merchandise on time, which requires some extent of measuring.
(5) Effectively-intentioned processes gone awry. EMs may put in place processes or guardrails to assist their groups ship issues sooner with greater high quality, however they find yourself being too time consuming, inefficient or onerous for the staff. I’ve seen groups with so many onerous process-related duties that they don’t even really feel like they do a lot work. It’s simply checking a number of bins, and the ICs are depressing.
So, what to do? You need to align on measuring what issues.
An excellent place to ease the strain is inside the developer workflow or the software program growth life cycle — the method of taking issues from idea to launch. Inside that life cycle:
Measure issues that matter, not the BS stuff. Keep away from what we all know hasn’t labored previously in our trade — monitoring strains of code, pull requests, happiness sentiment.
Measure issues with consistency that correlate to staff efficiency. It’s vital to measure from the true work ICs are performing as a substitute of simply gathering statistics. Specializing in the staff’s efficiency focuses the measures on how everybody can enhance versus calling out people and making a poisonous stack-rank surroundings.
Measure in a innocent tradition in order that if one thing goes unsuitable, you’re not pointing fingers. A innocent tradition reinforces a deal with the staff’s efficiency, not the person’s. You speak when it comes to the staff’s outcomes and how you can enhance as a staff.
Automate, automate, automate. Our trade has virtually at all times moved itself ahead as a result of we automated away the human, error-prone issues. If you end up saying “Ensure you at all times…” that’s a sign that it’s time to automate. Automate the guardrails as a substitute of creating guide processes.
Automate the developer workflow, CI/CD, alerting, the definition of performed, and so on. You’ll be able to even consider it as linting for the developer workflow, the place you construct guidelines between alerting, CI/CD, challenge trackers, and code internet hosting instruments to automate issues that can assist your staff be extra environment friendly and efficient.
Lastly, be open and clear about what issues, what you’re measuring and what your objectives are. In doing so, you’re serving to to drive a staff effort that everybody owns. It’s a bottom-up strategy the place you declare that you just wish to get higher. You’re asking the staff, “Will we imagine in these items?” to make sure you measure what builders wish to be a part of, they usually have the power to see how they’re doing and the place they’ve alternatives to enhance.
And by doing this, you’re measuring the suitable issues. You’re measuring the issues that persons are really engaged on, and also you’re utilizing these measurements to judge your staff. That’s the stuff that issues.
It’s not simple to maintain stress in verify earlier than it veers into an unhealthy state, but it surely’s important to take action. EMs and ICs will respect one another extra for it, and also you’ll get a extra collaborative, environment friendly staff in consequence. And inside effectivity, the true beneficial properties to your group begin to materialize.