What are the expectations for an Engineering Manager?

Engineering Managers(EMs) do so many things. Let’s start from a high level point of view before diving into tasks that EMs perform on an ad-hoc or recurring basis.

I believe it really boils down to this: An Engineering manager is accountable for delivering results the business needs through their teams.

It is very important to understand that an engineering manager may not be and many times isn’t responsible for carrying out a particular task but he/she is always accountable for the output. No one has as much influence on a team as an EM. No one has as much impact on a team’s output as an EM. As an engineering manager you are expected to assess the situation regularly and ensure that the best results are delivered by your team.

Andrew Grove said this best:

Manager's Output = The output of their organization + The output of neighboring organizations under their influence.

Easier said than done…

Make the investments for the long haul

There are literally hundreds of things that must be done with care and compassion for an EM to build a team that delivers great results. Going one level down from the description above, EMs are responsible for the following areas for their teams:

  • Hiring great talent
  • Retaining and growing the talent they have on their team
  • The reliability of the system their team owns
  • Creating roadmaps that are aligned with business needs, executing these roadmaps, sharing and grading the results of the execution
  • Evaluating the performance of their directs and communicating results
  • Aligning with peers across the company to increase the chances of successful results

This is not a comprehensive list but hopefully it gives some idea of the work an EM needs to perform on an ongoing basis.

In my personal experience, the difficulty of these tasks increases drastically as a result of:

  1. A lack of well defined expectations for an engineering manager
  2. A lack of well defined expectations for engineers

Fixing #1 is hopefully not too difficult, one might just agree with what I put down here in this article and be done with it. 😉 ✅

Defining the expectations for individual contributors is certainly a more complicated and daunting task for many organizations. That said, I think this is exactly where the EM needs to start. Defining the responsibilities of an individual contributor is a pre-requisite for all the work an EM needs to do on an ongoing basis, some of the tasks of which are listed above.

What I’m basically saying is:

  • How do you hire a great engineer if you don’t know how to evaluate them against what their core responsibilities will be?
  • How do you do performance evaluation for team members if there is no clarity about what your expectations for them are?
  • How do you ensure your team members are growing if you haven’t defined what they will be responsible for at the next level?

Leaving the core responsibilities of individuals on your team/organization undefined not only makes an EM’s job very difficult but it makes it impossible to be a good EM and build great teams.

You should start with this...

Start by defining a list of core areas that you expect your team members to be responsible for:

  • Should they be responsible for the results they are delivering?
  • Should they be responsible for helping to hire new engineers?
  • Should they be responsible for setting strategic decisions to solve business problems?
  • Should they be responsible for helping to create a great environment for their team and others in the company?

The responsibilities of an individual contributor will clearly increase based on their years of experience. You will need a common language to define these core responsibilities so that you know how to measure a new hire, grow a team member, or determine if someone is on track to deliver great results.