On kindness and ruthlessness; week 4 as an Engineering Manager

On kindness and ruthlessness; week 4 as an Engineering Manager

April 3, 2021

Be kind to people

Work is not separate from the world.

It can be helpful to check some of our feelings at the door - work can offer some respite from external factors outside of our immediate control. But which of those feelings get checked and to what degree should be up to each person to determine.

First and foremost, lead with empathy. When People are hurting, lean into community. Lean into vulnerability.

If you are hurting, you should have room to say, "I am hurting and it is affecting me & my work". Create space for others to do the same. Whether or not you choose to power through or take a pause should be up to you, but you should have room to decide and set expectations as needed.

Be ruthless with processes

From a PM,

Be kind to people. Be ruthless to processes

This is one of the best guiding principles that I've picked up to date. We are accountable for the outcomes of our processes. Paraphrasing,

Find ways to combine grace (for people) and accountability (for outcomes)

Re: the art of raising visibility

I'd previously said that elevating your team & peoples' visibility is a skill that I'm planning to cultivate. But why is that a skill worth cultivating?

Recognition from peers is great. Recognition from leadership is even better.

When recognition comes from the people whose job literally includes evaluating performance, it strongly signals

  • That you are valued
  • What specifically it is that you do that is valued

The benefits that flow from being recognized are

  • Confidence and motivation for the people being recognized
  • Reinforcement of the behaviors that you, as a manager, want to see

And really, all it costs is a little but of time to write or speak about the things that are should already be observing. No need to wait for a formal review process.

The art of planning

Tips I picked up from my first go-round of quarter planning in the management role.


Something I'd like to improve for the next cycle

Factor in reduced dev capacity at the beginning and end of quarters for planning overhead.

Communicate that expectation with your team, as it is likely that folks will feel less productive because of planning when in fact (healthy) planning is a part of being productive. It's not so much committing to less work as it is committing to less heads down deep focus work and committing to more context sharing and discovery work.

High(er) level estimations

Estimate can be a function of team capacity and miltesones


Things to factor: company events, holidays, trainings, PTO


Focus on iterative deliverables

Smaller deliverable units provide higher confidence estimates, but also take more up-front time to produce. Focus on getting to "good enough" not perfect - after all, estimated are estimates.


Writing good tickets: focus on outcomes, not actions. This framing gives you the opportunity to look for alternative or simpler ways to get to the goal.

When tickets are framed as desired outcomes, meaning value delivered to users or impact on systems, then it's easier to define what it means to be done.

When tickets are framed as actions to be taken, it's easier to move the goal post in ways that lead to things being "done" without having derived value.

Good tickets should of course include actions to be taken, but the goal isn't to do the actions but to get to the end state.

Other reflections


On influencing team decisions (without power): reflections on tech leading


On the limits of heroics

Added a dope quote from a colleague,

Overwork is NOT the solution to being overwhelmed…