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Are Your Engineering Managers Effective?

By Numly - Leadership Coaching Group
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The shift from being an independent engineering contributor to becoming an engineering manager can be quite challenging. 

Engineering is often seen as a solitary craft where you spend time fixing bugs, crafting user stories, and taking deep dives into volumes of code. However, as the engineer graduates to the role of an engineering manager, these activities are replaced by one-on-one planning sessions, project meetings, and helping the team progress along the project path. Impact now is no longer defined by the lines of code written but by the success of the team.

For engineering managers, the roadblocks to professional success are seldom technical. They are invariably personal. 

Engineering today has moved from being an isolated activity to becoming more collaborative. Modern technology products demand teams to work cohesively and collaboratively – especially as the world moves towards a more distributed environment. 

Distributed and remote teams are a part of any software development teams’ vocabulary. And thus, along with having a strong technical foundation and being extremely knowledgeable, engineering managers also have to have strong people skills to drive successful projects. 

Jessica McKeller, a major stalwart in the Python community and the founder of the company Zulip (later acquired by Dropbox), says, “When engineering management is done right, you’re focusing on three big things,” she says. “You’re directly supporting the people on your team; you’re managing execution and coordination across teams; and you’re stepping back to observe and evolve the broader organization and its processes as it grows.” 

None of these activities are easy, and each of these comes with their complexities and challenges. 

So, what can organizations do to ensure that their engineering managers are effective leaders?

Enable access to rich eLearning material 

Learning is a continuous process when an engineer becomes a manager. This is because of the rapid pace of technological change, evolving market trends, and growing individual team members’ needs. 

Engineering teams are also more motivated by managers who have strong technical skills complementing their power skills. They will hardly look up to a manager who is not technically superior or cannot solve their problems. They will not lend discretionary effort or become highly motivated if their engineering manager does not provide the technical guidance and emotional support they need. 

To feed this need for continuous learning, organizations should provide their engineering managers access to rich eLearning material to help them navigate the chasm between desired skills and where they stand at present. 

However, with a plethora of eLearning options available comes a complexity. Which learning resource is right for the manager? What do they need training on? Where are the areas of improvement? Organizations thus have to ensure that they make these programs contextual to the individual needs of the managers. 

Enabling an intelligent recommendation engine to direct the managers towards the right program ensures better learning outcomes. It is so because now the managers don’t have to sift through volumes of courses to decide which one is the right one for them but spend time deciding which of the right courses is best for them. 

Provide coaching to become better managers

To be on top of their game and become good leaders, engineering managers have to complement their technical skills with strong strategic and critical thinking skills. They have to identify ways to keep their teams motivated, productive, and innovative. 

While they have to take on more responsibilities, they also need to master the game of delegation and prioritization, increase their EQ, and become better problem-solvers. Developing the capability to identify the development needs, the hurdles that keep the team members from performing to their best capacity and helping them succeed also fall under the purview of the engineering manager. 

These skills, generally categorized as soft skills, are essentially the power tools a manager needs to build a high-performing team. Developing skills like these involve introducing a behavioral change and, hence, day-long training programs do not suffice.

Instead, organizations have to enable these managers with robust, relevant, and contextual built-in coaching programs. These coaching programs can help them internalize these behavioral changes and become managers who can grow teams with industry knowledge, drive engineering excellence, and successfully manage their teams.

Develop the emotional intelligence to lead successful teams

Engineering seems like a cold and scientific process. However, the ones engineering futuristic solutions are human. 

To become successful engineering managers, it becomes essential to connect with the team at an emotional level. An absence of this emotional connection leads to struggles in building trust and camaraderie – tools that are essential for collaboration in today’s world of work.

We have enough research to propound that people don’t leave organizations, they leave a bad manager. But who is a bad manager? Arguably, the one who micromanages, does not trust team members, cannot provide guidance when needed, or is hyper-focused on individual development and ignores the needs that team members require to become high-performing individuals. 

Technically sound engineering managers have to open up to developing their emotional intelligence, identifying the latent needs of their team members, and learning how to best engage with their team members. 

Often the biggest hurdle for engineering managers is to just learn when to bite their tongue rather than give a frank opinion right off the bat. Calibrating when a team member needs your help and when they need guidance and support helps in fostering a culture of accountability. It helps the team members realize the trust being placed on them. 

Focusing on building power skills that help managers become better team leaders leads to more engaged, productive, and motivated teams. The absence of these skills poses the opposite effect and impacts the health of a team. To put it simply, engineering managers with higher EQ and well-developed power skills contribute to lowering employee churn, improve employee engagement, and build a healthier work culture. 

In Conclusion 

Developing effective engineering managers has also become an organizational priority since the pace of remote work has increased exponentially. Managing a remote or distributed engineering team needs elevated communication and collaboration skills. It needs greater prowess to keep these teams motivated, productive, and engaged. 

However, strong managers have to capably navigate the challenges posed in these situations with calm dexterity, greater resilience, creativity, and equanimity so that their teams continue to remain engaged.

Connect with us to understand how our Innovation & Engineering Coaching Program can help you build engineering managers who will lead your engineering teams and your organization to the pinnacle of success.

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