Book: The Manager’s Path, Managing Multiple Teams

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 the big picture thinking required to effectively Manage Multiple Teams across an Engineering Organization. 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

“A manager’s job involves making it easy for her employees to get things done by creating fertile environments in which work can happen. She focuses her team so that they can do what they do best. She cultivates camaraderie and friendship on the team, and helps people learn new skills. In all these things, she is an enabler, a coach, a champion.” – Camille Fournier

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

  1. The Role of an Engineering Director
  2. Managing your Time
  3. Spotting Warning Signs
  4. Saying “No” and Getting to “Yes”
  5. Measuring the Health of Your Development Team
  6. Building Shared Purpose
  7. The Virtues of Laziness and Impatience

The Role of an Engineering Director

According to Camille, this is what you can expect of an Engineering Director…

  • The engineering director is responsible for their organization’s overall technical competence, guiding and growing that competence in the whole team as necessary via training and hiring.
  • The engineering director is primarily concerned with ensuring smooth execution of complex deliverables. They focus on ensuring that we continually evaluate and refine our development/infrastructure standards and processes to create technology that will deliver sustained value to the business.
  • They are responsible for creating high-performance, high-velocity organizations, measuring and iterating on processes as we grow and evolve as a business.
  • They are obsessed with creating high-functioning, engaged, and motivated organizations, and they are expected to own retention goals within their organization.

Managing your Time. (Priorities, Meetings, Decisions)

Managing your time comes down to one important thing: understanding the difference between importance and urgency.

Not UrgentUrgent
ImportantStrategic: Make TimeObvious Work
UnimportantObvious AvoidTempting Distractions

Make meetings effective

  • Prepare for meetings so that you can guide them in a healthy way.
  • Hold people accountable to prepare and ask for agenda items up front.
  • Standard meetings should have a clear procedure and expected outcomes.

The degree of complexity and the frequency of the task can act as guides to determining whether and how you should delegate.

SimpleDelegateDo it Yourself
ComplexDelegate (Carefully)Delegate for Training Purposes

Your goal is to make your teams capable of operating at a high level without much input from you, and that means they’ll need individuals who can take over these complex tasks and run them without you around.

Spotting Warning Signs.

This section is particularly useful if you’re looking for warning signs to look out for:

  • The person who is usually happy and engaged suddenly starts leaving early, coming in late, taking breaks to leave during the workday, staying quiet in meetings, and not hanging out on chat.
  • The team has absolutely no energy at all in their meetings. In fact, the meetings feel like a total slog, with the product manager and tech lead doing all of the talking while the rest of the team sits silently or speaks only when called upon.
  • A small team internally seems very fragmented in understanding; the engineers profess ignorance about systems they don’t work on and lack the curiosity or openness to learn about those systems.

Maintain your practice of regular, reliably 1-1 meetings with everyone who reports directly to you… Skipping 1’1s because you’re too busy with other things is a great way to miss the warning signs of an employee who is going to quit.

Saying “No” and Getting to “Yes”.

A list of strategies and tactics for saying “no” or “get to yes” in an effective way:

Strategy: “Yes, And”

  • Respond with positivity while still articulating the boundaries of reality.
  • “Yes, we can do that project, and all we will need to do is delay the start of this other…”

Strategy: “Create Policies”

  • Help your team understand what it takes to get to “yes”.
  • Outline the hard requirements that must be met and guidelines for thinking about the decision.

Strategy: “Help Me Say Yes”

  • Ask questions and dig in on the elements that seem so questionable to you.
  • This line of thinking allows for a curious exchange of ideas and considerations.

Measuring the Health of Your Development Team

Technical health signals are the key indicators of a team that knows what to do, has the tools to do it, and has the time to do it every day.

Frequency of Releases.

  • Moving fast requires breaking work down into small chunks.
  • Push for technical process improvements that can lead to increased engineer productivity.
  • Architect code to move forward without breaking backward compatibility.

Frequency of Incidents.

  • Determine the level of software quality you need for the product you’re building.
  • If you’re building a brand new product/MVP, it may be more important to focus on features.
  • If you’re building mission-critical systems, stability and incident minimization may be top priority.
  • Provide time to design systems that are more stable, or writing code to fix recurring incidents as they arise.

Building Shared Purpose

Durable teams are built on a shared purpose that comes from the company. They have a clear understanding of the company’s mission, and they see how their team fits into this mission.

First, you must understand the role you plan and your impact

  • Take the time to understand the company’s strengths and culture.
  • Think about how you’re going to create a team that works well with this culture, not against it.
  • Aim to create a strong alignment between the team, its individuals and the overall company.

A simple way to diagnose the dysfunctional and purpose spectrum:

Fragile, Dysfunctional TeamsPurpose-Driven Teams
Mentality. “Us versus Them”“Team Player”
Loyalty.Fragile to the loss of the leader.Resilient to loss of Individuals.
Collaboration. Resistant to Outside Ideas.Drive to find better ways to achieve their purpose.
Focus.Empire Building.First-Team focused.
Adaptability. Inflexibility and struggle against change.Open to changes that serve their purpose.

Then, you must strive to cultivate a sense of shared team identity and purpose:

  • Foster openness to new ideas and changes that can help the team learn from others.
  • Seek out chances to collaborate more broadly to create the best results.
  • Make decisions that consider the needs of the company before focusing on the needs of a team.
  • Create teams that are more flexible and understanding of change in service of the larger vision.

The Virtues of Laziness and Impatience

Impatience paired with laziness is wonderful when you direct it at processes and decisions.

As a leader, any time you see something being done that feels inefficient, question it:

  • Why does this feel inefficient to me?
  • What is the value in the thing we are doing?
  • Can we deliver that value faster?
  • Can we strip down this project into something simpler and get it done more quickly?

Constantly ask yourself the same questions you ask your team:

  • Can I do this faster?
  • Do I need to be doing this at all?
  • What value am I providing with this work?

Assessing Your Own Experience.

Key questions to reflect and assess when Managing Multiple Teams:

  • Look back on the past couple of weeks. Look forward to the next couple of weeks. What did you accomplish, and what do you hope to accomplish?
  • What was the last task you delegated to a member of one of your teams? Was it simple or complex?
  • How is the person you delegated to handling the new task?
  • Who are the rising leaders of your teams? What is your plan for coaching them to take on bigger leadership roles?
  • What tasks are you giving them to prepare them for more responsibility?
  • Does the process of writing, releasing, and supporting code seem to function smoothly on your teams?
  • When was the last time there was a noticeable incident? What happened, and how did the team respond to it?

One Final Thought

The book chapter does a great job at explaining how to manage the complexity of collaboration and teamwork, cross-functionally and at scale.

From building a healthy organizational climate, to cultivating a shared identity and purpose. It’s a role whose impact yields high performing teams across the whole of the Engineering Organization.

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!



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