On preventing feeling overwhelmed: week 2 as an engineering manager

On preventing feeling overwhelmed: week 2 as an engineering manager

March 11, 2021

This week was Hack Week, so I spent the time on boarding, acquainting myself with the quarterly planning process, and some hacking

Working Well

Using The Eisenhower Matrix for prioritization

Keeping in mind that, if we're lucky, work will always be there so sustainable pacing is key

Practical tips from the experts

From an engineering manager

When it comes to planning processes, don't be affriad to wait until the last minute πŸ˜….

In the context of the Eisenhower Martix, there isn't anything novel about this. However, what feels like a paradigm shift is seeing how an experienced EM applies this pricinple to an area where I have limited experience - intimidatingly large quarterly planning processes. Faced with a new process, I'm prone to try to get out ahead and do everything ahead of time, potentially to the detrimate of activities with more pressing needs. With this more deliberate approach to defining urgency, I'm explitictly accepting that if it can wait, let it wait, even if it feel uncomfortable to do so - it's not an oversight if you are deferring with intent.

From a product mananger

Pick 3 things to focus on for the week, give yourself permission to drop the ball on the rest

Reduce artificially inflated sense of urgency by iterating on a personal task tracking systems

Specifically, using PARA in Notion

Relationship hacking

Building relationship during Hack Week = "relationship hacking". Used the freed up calendar space and reduced delivery expectations to slow down and give some thought to how I want to engage with peers and reports as well as how can I leverage the more chill vibes of the week to connect as people. My approach was roughly:

  • Give folks the option to keep or skip regularly scheduled 1:1s. Unscientifically, there felt like a 50/50 mix here.
  • If they opt to skip, think of a few themes that you might want to touch on for next time. Pass those themes along a head of time, giving the person a chance to think about it but with no pressure to respond until next the next sync.

Room For Improvement

Applying Humility x Confidence in practice: Identifying and combating imposter syndrome in all of its forms

Recognized the tendency to hedge my own voice ("I think", "I guess", etc). A lack of certainty need not produce a lack of confidence - if I am transparent about the level of uncertainty (humilty) we are facing and transparent about what factors and data are informing my decisions, then those decisions can and should be conveyed with confidence!

Learning the leading and lagging indicators for the Engineering Manager role

Leading indicators

Leading indicators: feedback that you are able to quickly respond to and to quickly see the effects of your response. For example, if you ask someone, "Is it clear what you should be working on next ?", if they answer no, you should be able to immediately remedy that by providing a prioritized backlog. After doing so, you would expect the answer to have changed from no to yes if you were to ask the question again sooner after.

Lagging indicators

Lagging indicators: feedback that is delayed in observablility and for which responses produce delayed effects. For example, burnout. It may take a while for prolonged unsustainable work output to result in burnout. We remain resilient until our abilities to cope are exhausted. If a teammate is suffering from burnout, it may take a while for them to notice themselves and even longer for them to say something (if they even do). It may take longer still for you to realize yourself.

By the time that the feedback becomes available to you, the fatigue has already been accumulated and will take some time recuperate once the responses of adjusting workloads and time off have been implemented.

My org uses a system to gather qual and quant team health feedback (bi weekly?). Questions to drill into with time:

  • How does one cross reference this with 1:1s and day-to-day observations to form a more wholistic view of team health?
  • What are the "smoke detector" metrics/signs/indicators that warrant immediate course correction?