Book: The Manager’s Path, Managing a Team

The Goal of This Post

This post is a synthesis from the book The Manager’s Path, by Camille Fournier. Camille packs a ton of insights along the journey from individual contribution to leadership. This post focuses on building the situational awareness and skills to Manage a Team. I hope you enjoy it!

The Manager's Path, by Camille Fournier
The Manager’s Path, by Camille Fournier

If You Only Takeway One Thing

“It turns out, being a good manager isn’t about having the most technical knowledge. The work of supporting people was far more important to management success.” – Bethanye Blount

Some of the key ideas we’ll explore in this post:

  1. Role and Responsibilities
  2. Staying Technical
  3. Debugging Dysfunctional Teams
  4. How to Drive Good Decisions
  5. Managing Conflict

1. The Role of a (Technical) Manager

According to Camille, this is what you can expect of a Technical Manager…

  • They hold responsibility for identifying bottlenecks in the process and roadblocks to success for their team and clearing these roadblocks.
  • They are capable of identifying the most high-value projects and keeping their team focused on these projects.
  • They are comfortable managing team members with different skill sets from their own.
  • They communicate expectations clearly to all team members, and solicit and deliver individual feedback frequently.
  • They clearly communicate the timeline, scope, and risks to internal partners, and lead the delivery of major initiatives on clear timelines.
  • They identify areas of technical debt, do the analysis for resolving this debt, and communicate timelines for prioritizing it.

Staying Technical

In order to effectively lead and command the respect of an engineering team

  • They must see you as technically credible.
  • You need to stay enough in the code to see where the bottlenecks and process problems are.
  • You must be able to identify the shortest path through the systems to implement new features.

You hold your people accountable for their decisions, of making sure that the decisions pass the technical smell test and have been balanced against the overall context of the team and the business.

Debugging Dysfunction

Some common team dysfunctions to look for and how to solve them.

Not Shipping.
Sometimes, the tools and processes used make it hard to get work done quickly.

  • Humans, by and large, feel good when they set small goals and meet them regularly.
  • Learn how to balance pushing your team and holding back.
  • Dig in to the part of the project that’s slipping and help understand the situation.

People Drama.
You have to be brave and nip people drama in the bud quickly.

  • Be prepared to have a series of conversations wth the employee, your team, and your boss.
  • Make it clear when behaviors needs to change
  • Bring clear examples, and provide corrective feedback quickly.

Unhappiness due to Overwork.
If overwork is due to instability:

  • slow down the product roadmap in order to focus on stability for a while.
  • Make clear measures of alerrts, downtime, and incidents; and strive to reduce them.
  • Dedicate 20% of your planning time to system sustainability work.

If overwork is due to a pressing, time-critical release:

  • Support the team however they need supporting, especially by helping out with the work yourself.
  • Cut features if needed. Push back on the date if it’s unrealistic.
  • Do everything you can to learn from this crunch period and avoid it the next time.

Collaboration Problems.
When you see a lack of internal and cross-team collaboration dragging everyone down…

  • Start by showing a willingness to improve collaboration.
  • Make sure you’re having regular touch-bases with the appropriate peers to work through issues.
  • Gather actionable feedback from your team, and have conversations about possible improvements.

Driving Decisions

Create a Data-Driven Culture.
Add new data, efficiency and technical data, to the decision making process:

  • Data about team productivity. (Such as the time it takes to complete features)
  • Data about service stability. (Like how much time is spent dealing with outages)
  • Data quality measures. (Such as the number of bugs found in QA or after releaseses)

Flex Your Own Product Muscles.
Hone your understanding of what is important to your customer.

  • You have some group that depends on the output of your work. Treat them as your customers.
  • Customer empathy is important because you’ll need to give your engineers context for their work.
  • It can also help understand which areas areas of the technology have the greatest direct impact

Look Into the Future.
You need to think two steps ahead, from a product and technology perspective.

  • Getting a sense of the product roadmap helps you guide the technical roadmap.
  • Ask the product team questions about that the future might look like.
  • Keep up with technological development that might change the way you build or operate.

Review and Reflect.

  • Review the outcomes of your decisions, the original assumptions. Learn from them.
  • Run retrospectives. Learn how the decisions you make affect the way your team operates.

The nature of leadership is that, while you may only have tue authority to guide decisions rather than dictate them, you’ll still be judged by how well those decisions turn out.

Managing Conflict

Foster a safe environment where conflict and disagreement can be managed:

  • Take responsibility. Don’t rely exclusively on consensus or voting.
  • Set up clear processes to depersonalize decisions; both as a group and for individuals.
  • Address issues without courting drama.
  • Remember to be kind. It’s natural and perfectly human to want to be liked by other people.
  • Don’t be afraid. Conflict avoidance often arises from fear.
  • Get curious. Thinking about your actions is the best way to combat fear of conflict.

The goal is to identify problems that are causing the team to work less effectively together and resolve them, not to become the team’s therapist.


Assessing Your Own Experience.

Key questions to reflect and assess when Managing a Team:

  • What are your new responsibilities now that you’re the manager of a team?
  • How have you made time to prioritize and work on these new responsibilities?
  • How well do you feel you know the day-to-day challenges on your team?
  • Do your team members seem engaged with one another?
  • Are there one or two team members who cause the bulk of negativity on the team?
  • How does your team make decisions? How do you assign decision-making responsibility?
  • How well does your team understand why they are working on the projects they are working on?


One Final Thought

The book chapter does a great job at explaining how to manage the complexity of collaboration and teamwork.

From building psychological safety, managing dysfunction and conflict, to driving effective decision making.
It’s that hard transition where your success as a Manager is truly about helping others, teams and individuals, work and succeed together.

I greatly enjoyed this part of the book. All content credit goes to the author. I’ve simply shared the bits I’ve enjoyed the most and found most useful.

Cheers ’till next time!

Alberto

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