The Disappointment Frontier
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
15h ago
I recently listened to Tim Ferris interviewing Claire Hughes Johnson, who, during her time at Stripe, wrote the excellent Scaling People: an actionable handbook for how to implement and run all of the administrative machinery that makes a company work. Check it out if you haven’t already. During the interview she referenced a quote that I’d forgotten about until then, that: “leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can absorb“, which is typically attributed to Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. Well, that’s rather grim, isn’t it? Yes. Is it true? Perhaps. Disappointment i ..read more
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The Tarzan Method
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
1M ago
Performance review season always gets people thinking: where am I going? Where do I want to be next year? Why haven’t I managed to get that promotion this time around? What’s the point of all of this anyway? How do we find answers? I am not an expert in your career. But I’ve been around enough to begin to see patterns, and sometimes being transfixed on a single goal can do more harm than good. Let’s dig into this a little bit. The Fallacy of the Straight Line Something that often throws people off is the idea that they need to doggedly progress in a straight line. For example, if som ..read more
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Performance Management: The Rising Tide
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
1M ago
There’s an exciting announcement at the end of this article, so make sure you read all the way to the end! For many of us in the tech industry, we are either in the middle of, or ramping up into, performance review season. It may be the case that you are currently writing your self-assessment, or writing reviews for your staff, or you are preparing for calibration meetings. But the question is: why are we actually doing this? What is the point of performance management? Why do we spend so much time and effort on it? To understand more deeply why performance management is so important, let’s re ..read more
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Parkinson’s Law: It’s Real, So Use It
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
3M ago
Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Although it is counter-intuitive, you will find that through practice and experience, there is a lot of truth to this. Projects that don’t have deadlines imposed on them, even if they are self-imposed, will take a lot longer than they need to, and may suffer from feature creep and scope bloat. By setting challenging deadlines you will actually get better results. It’s all about manipulating the Iron Triangle of scope, resources, and time. If you’ve not come across the Iron ..read more
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Trifectas Go All The Way Up
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
4M ago
One of the most powerful groups that you can be part of as a senior leader is a trifecta. A trifecta is a group of three people from different disciplines who work together to achieve a goal. Typically, this is a group consisting of engineering, product, and UX. Engineering is responsible for building the product, that is, writing the lines of code that make it work. Product is responsible for defining what the product should do, that is, what features it should have and how it allows a user to achieve their goals. UX is responsible for designing how the product should work, th ..read more
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The problem with your manager
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
5M ago
It may be the case that the problem with your manager is… you. Let’s start with the thing that you don’t want to hear: your manager will always disappoint you. This isn’t necessarily because they are bad at their job or because they have a specific grudge against you. In fact, generally speaking, they may consistently do an excellent job of managing you and your peers from the perspective of the outputs that the organization produces. Teenage Rebellion: Raging Against the Machine However, as you become an increasingly senior leader, there are a number of traits that you will develop, and be ex ..read more
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The tragedy of the common leader
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
6M ago
You’ve likely seen it before: something with no specific ownership between a group of people falling into disrepair. It could be a shared kitchen in a house that nobody keeps clean, a communal garden that is overgrown, or a shared path that is constantly littered with rubbish. It seems that despite our best efforts to desire to be altruistic and to do the right thing, we often fail to do so when there is no specific ownership. In fact, this happens in software all the time. Shared codebases that grow in complexity and become a tangled mess, shared infrastructure that nobody wants to touch, and ..read more
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It’s all just leadership after all
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
7M ago
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far, away, when I first got into management, I had mistakenly assumed that progression up the org chart meant only managing other managers. How I was totally wrong. Individual contributor career progression grows in parallel with management career progression, and in large organizations that implement these dual tracks, you will see individual contributors with the same seniority as managers. And this goes all the way up to the top of the org chart. For example, at large technology companies you’ll find Principal Engineers reporting to Dir ..read more
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How Many Direct Reports Should a Manager Have?
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
8M ago
Ah, the classic all-time question that has probably caused more arguments than it has resolved. The answer is, of course, it depends. However, there are some guidelines that can help you make the right decision, both for yourself and for your team. Let’s explore. Span of Control The number of direct reports that a manager has is most commonly referred to as their span of control. It’s a bit of a strange-sounding term, but it’s what we have. Other terms used include span of management or wingspan. Deciding an optimal span of control is a key part of organisation design, sinc ..read more
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Growth in a downturn: progression when you can’t progress
The Engineering Manager
by James Stanier
9M ago
Denied! A common frustration being felt in my network is that progression opportunities have been slim since the recent economic downturn. I have been speaking to people who are on both sides of this dilemma: those who have been denied progression opportunities themselves, and those who have been unable to secure them for their best staff. The hard truth is that there isn’t really much you can do about it. When the economy is fragile, the right thing for companies to do is to control their costs, and one of the biggest costs, whether we like it or not, is people like you and me. So, if compani ..read more
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