A couple years ago, right after my son (above) was born, I became a manager of an engineering team.
It was an overwhelming time in my life, and I didn’t really know what to expect — I wasn’t handed a job description, just a title.
My boss had registered me (and the other managers) for engineering management training, but that was a few months in the future.
It was a bit anxiety provoking.
How was I supposed to know if I was succeeding when there wasn’t a description explaining the job?
So, I started with asking fellow managers. How do you do this role?
The answers I got varied tremendously. It was almost like each manager made the position whatever he/she wanted it to be.
So next, I turned to LinkedIn Learning.
LinkedIn Learning has a collection of management courses. I completed a handful of them. These were helpful; but, also all gave different advice — too much for a new manager to handle at once.
Over the upcoming weeks, it became clear to me that the definition of management is a much foggier than I originally thought; and so I set out to define it for myself.
I started with the overall goal/mission of management (as I saw it): Help your team accomplish goals as quickly as possible.
I think engineering management is a purely support role — and it is awesome.
You have a bunch of smart engineers who like to solve problems, but working on a team means there’s minutia and random administrivia that has to be done.
Every minute where engineers aren’t solving problems is both:
A. Wasted time for the company, and
B. Probably something the engineer doesn’t want to be doing anyway.
The number 1 thing you can do (as a manager) to help your team is to clear the path so they can solve the problems.
And what that looks like in practice boils down to a few basic activities, which happen to create the acronym: D.A.M.N.
You are in charge of setting a clear direction for your team. Often, this direction is handed to you from above, but it is rarely “clear”. Your #1 activity will be continuously clarifying that direction and delivering it to your team.
Your second priority is alignment. You need to ensure everyone on your team understands the direction (which is why it should be clear), and is aligned with it.
Third, motivation. You need to ensure your team is motivated to actually drive toward the direction. The easiest way to ensure this is to just talk with each member. Ask them how they are feeling about the direction — and their alignment.
Lastly, clearing blockers. This is slightly an extension of the Motivation part, but different enough that I put it in a separate category. Figure out what blocking your members and remove it. This can (frequently) be something outside of work.
And that’s it. It really boils down to these four activities. They’re not complicated, but do take ongoing effort. If you can accomplish them, you’ll be a step ahead of other managers and your team will fly.
What do you think? If your manager what are your key pieces of advice? Leave them in the comments below.
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