How to excel as an Engineering Manager: developing a framework
In today’s post, we sit down with Udi Nir, CTO, to discuss the Engineering Manager role, its opportunity for impact, and the framework behind the role.
This post kicks off our monthly “How to excel as an Engineering Manager” series. This series will include posts from our Engineering leadership team detailing the 5 components of the Engineering Manager framework: Productivity, Team Health, Stakeholder Happiness, Business Impact, and Systems Health.
When I joined GetYourGuide in August of 2018, I could see the amount of time and effort the Engineering team had invested in creating efficient workflows, a clear career growth matrix, and a framework for its leaders. There was a lot of good structure and process, but, in some areas, it wasn’t sufficient. One area where this was particularly notable, was in the role of the Engineering Manager.
At the time, we had only a few Engineering Managers and a plan to hire many more. Adding more Engineering Managers, whether through external hires or transitioning Individual Contributors into the role, meant we needed to make sure we knew what we were hiring for. Making the role and expectations explicit was necessary to help everyone.
Each Engineering Manager focused on what they thought could be best leveraged. This approach meant certain areas were strong, but other aspects of the role were being missed entirely. Every Engineering Manager was trying their best, but how could we expect them to hit exactly what we were hoping for without defining our expectations in the first place?
This is a common state amongst any company going through hyper-growth like ours, a state I had seen at my previous companies. Based on that experience, I knew bringing a framework to the role at GetYourGuide would be beneficial.
We developed this framework aiming to accomplish two things:
First, we wanted to provide clarity to the Engineering Managers on the expectations we had for them. Second, we aimed to provide clarity to the rest of the organization on the function of the Engineering Manager role within the Engineering team. Doing so would eliminate confusion, reduce conflict, promote transparency, and really, just help everyone.
To develop this framework, we worked together as an Engineering leadership team, including all Engineering Managers and Directors of Engineering. First, we drafted what we thought Engineering Managers should work on and be held accountable for. We then collaborated with one another to iterate on the draft until we reached a framework we all believed in, something we felt would help the Engineering Managers, and therefore their teams, and the company as a whole.
The Engineering Manager framework focuses on the Engineering Manager as a representation of the team. So, by setting expectations for the Engineering Manager, we also set the expectations for the team’s outcomes. An Engineering Manager’s success is based on the success of the team. This is the biggest differentiator between the Engineering Manager role and the IC role.
We divided the framework into 5 components or areas of responsibility: Business Impact, Productivity, Systems Health, Team Health, and Stakeholder Happiness which each of our Directors of Engineering will detail in future posts (check out Simone’s post on productivity here).
Looking at the different parts of the framework, there are 3 components which are very traditional, and 2 unique to GetYourGuide.
Most Engineering Managers focus on team health, system health, and productivity. All Engineering Managers think about how they and their teams can work more happily and efficiently while creating bug-free systems. Of course each component has its own challenges, but I’ll leave it to the Directors to address those points in their future posts.
The two less-obvious components are business impact and stakeholder happiness, which are usually left to the Product Manager or another function within the mission team.
Making the Engineering Manager accountable for these two components doesn’t mean the Product Manager no longer has a role. In fact, the Product Manager has an even bigger role than the Engineering Manager in these two areas. But, we made these explicit pillars within the Engineering Manager framework to ensure Engineering Managers don’t defer this responsibility to someone else; they recognize this is a really important part of their job.
Stakeholder happiness is key. The team must meet the commitments made to stakeholders, communicating changes clearly and quickly. This behavior builds trust and ensures a project can move forward. A lack of trust or satisfaction between a team and its stakeholders breaks down the workflow and blocks progress.
And finally, if you have a happy team, satisfied stakeholders, bug-free systems, and high productivity, but you’re productive on things that don’t move the business, then nothing matters. This is why we have highlighted business impact as number one within the framework. Should the Engineering Manager be the sole driver and owner of this? Of course not. But, they also shouldn’t pass on this responsibility.
Stepping back and looking at the framework we created, it provides the clarity we wanted. Of course, as we learn and iterate, we can update the framework, but it’s a good baseline. I expect us to make changes, but I do believe it provides the right guardrails for what we want to do. We’re focusing on what we care about as an organization and making sure that people apply their energy to that end. This helps our current Engineering Managers and also helps us assess candidates applying for the role.
By creating this framework, we sharpened the role of the Engineering Manager, and we promoted alignment within and between the different mission teams. The framework creates one singular focus for the Engineering Managers and a clear system of prioritization. It adds consistency to the system, which was needed given the size of our team.
Although it’s only been 6 months since we implemented this framework, I already see changes emerging. Our Engineering Managers are happy to know what they are supposed to achieve. It’s especially helpful for new managers because it sets the tone and helps them focus on the right things. For more experienced managers, it helps them diversify their focus to become more well-rounded leaders. And, since an Engineering Manager’s success is dependent on the team’s outcomes, it has helped drive the teams in the right direction, and we see that.
Engineering Managers have a lot of autonomy together with their teams to drive change. We’re still early in our journey and a lot of this territory is unexplored, so there are many chances to make an impact. Engineering Managers have the opportunity to change human behavior, travel experiences, and lives.
Being an Engineering Manager at GetYourGuide is incredibly fulfilling and also quite daunting. The individual will be stretched. They will need to deal with people, with technology, with stakeholders, and with the business. All of the components are very different and require a lot of aptitude, resilience, and a growth mindset. So, if someone wants to grow and learn how to do new things, this is the place to do it. There’s a lot of support, senior leaders to mentor, the canvas to play in, and I think it’s a great challenge and learning opportunity for people to come and do it all here.