Starting a new job as an Engineering Manager

Hey Peeps! 👋🏼

So you’re starting a new job as an Engineering Manager shortly! Congratulations, you’re in for a wild ride!

This guide focuses on key goals to achieve in your first weeks with the team. You’ll end with a clear understanding of what is expected of you, as well as a bond with your team members.

👋 Introduce yourself to the team

Let’s start at the beginning. You’ve just joined an established team and you’re looking into making an impression fast.

Start by booking a 30-minute slot on your first week where you’ll introduce yourself to the team. This apparent formality is an incredible way to start identifying common points with your team members.

So what should you do?

  • Create a simple presentation and ensure you go through the following talking points:
  • Who you are
  • How you got there: relevant past experiences
  • The kind of stuff you like to do in your free time
  • How you will contribute to the team
  • Allow space for questions. If you don’t get any, break the ice by asking questions to the team.

👉 Why do I think this is relevant?

Looking back, this was an important moment when I joined my current company.

It naturally felt a bit weird because I didn’t know anyone, but it allowed me to introduce myself and immediately start creating connections with the team — well, professing your love for GIFs will eventually lead to that!

🎯 Understand what your main goal is

Let’s face it, every team is different. And each team is at a different level of maturity.

Different teams need different types of leads so you need to know what your team needs of you.

Start by having an honest and clear conversation with your manager to understand a few key items:

  • Why were you hired?
  • What happened to the previous lead?
  • Is the team newly formed and needs a new lead?
  • Did the previous lead quit? Why?
  • What is the composition of the team? How long have they’ve been together?
  • How does the team deal with their responsibilities? Do they crack under pressure?
  • What’s the team’s workload like? Do they have an intense roadmap or are they comfortable?
  • Have there been any stressful points in the recent history of the team? Any friction points that need to be worked on?

👉 Why do I think this is relevant?

Having a clear understanding of the state of the team allowed me to immediately flag some issues that I wanted to tackle from the get-go. Even though this conversation passes a lot of responsibility to your end you will gain knowledge that will be key in the weeks to come.

📆 Book your first round of 1:1s

Now that you’ve introduced yourself to the team and have a managerial perspective of the team’s health, it’s time to dive into each team member’s perspective of the world that surrounds them.

Your first round of 1:1s is crucial to create a personal connection with each element.

In this session, you will ask key questions like:

  • In your words what is the team’s job/responsibility?
  • Can you share a quick history of the team?
  • Where you are in your career path and where do you want to go (this question makes more sense as they get close to the Y career split)?
  • How happy are you with the state of the team?
  • What would you improve in the team?
  • How do you feel the ratio feature/debt/support is being handled?

Finally don’t forget to clarify that you need to build trust and that you understand that it doesn’t come out of nothing so it needs to be built and nourished.

Note that this will be your first real reality check with the team where you will start to uncover some of the nitty-gritty so take note and prepare to work on it at a later stage.

👉 Why do I think this is relevant?

This is it. This is that moment that will define your coming weeks. I recall uncovering a lot of information that my manager wasn’t aware of and gathering data that would help me guide the team for the coming months. To this day, every time I go into a new team I start with a round of 1:1s to break the ice, create connections and understand the perspective of those who are in fight day in and day out.

✉️ Who’s who

As the team’s point person it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of who are the main people that surround the team.

The ecosystem that surrounds your team is much more than its members, you and your manager.

Understand who’s who in your team universe:

  • Do you have a product manager?
  • Do you work with project managers?
  • Who are your stakeholders?
  • Who’s the architect involved with your team?
  • Get to know people in charge of Support/Service Desk. They will be key to understand what your customers feel about your product
  • Identify other key players

👉 Why do I think this is relevant?

This one was so important to me, and still is! As you join a new team, a new project you need to be aware of who the key people are and what their needs are. The “devil is in the details” so ensure you start creating mental profiles of everyone, from how they view the future of your shared product to small personal things that will break the ice later. We have a saying in Portugal that says that you don’t catch a fly with vinegar so make sure you find the honey in all situations and relationships.

💻 Get all setup

This is one of the most basic pieces of advice but since every company is different make sure you understand all the software that it’s used, the one you are allowed to install and set up your environment so you have the least friction when you want to get things going on a roll.

Examples:

  • Install all the software that you need
  • Get your calendar customized
  • Create email filters
  • Create contact lists
  • Make sure you reserve time slots for concentration
  • Pre-book all of your 1:1s
  • Create document templates, bookmarks etc

These pre-emptive actions will ensure you are fast and smooth every time you need to do anything. There’s nothing worse than someone in charge lagging behind due to something that should be done right from the start.

👉 Why do I think this is relevant?

Speed. I believe in doing the work now so later we can be faster doing recurring things. From automation to small things like color-coding I find that a great leader is also seen by the systems created and used to have even the slightest advantage.

🌎 Understand the scope of your team

Having a clear grasp of what are the responsibilities of your team is extremely important since it will define the tone of your leadership.

To shed light on this topic you might need to talk to multiple people including stakeholders.

Getting this information will help you understand if you have special procedures when deploying features (for example in PCI compliant environments) or if you need specific on-call procedures.

Here are some questions you’ll want to be answered:

  • What services are under the team’s ownership?
  • How critical are our services?
  • Who are our clients?
  • What user journeys do we affect?

👉 Why do I think this is relevant?

For a team to understand the consequences of each action, feature or bug, it’s necessary to know how the services under their ownership affect the user. Ensure that the team is also aware of this because it will help have a deeper connection with the user and have an increased sense of responsibility.

🤝 What commitments are there in place?

Now starts the hard part. Uncovering all the commitments that are already in place and must be obliged. These commitments can come in different ways:

  • Is the roadmap of the team already defined?
  • Are you working on a project with a hard date?
  • Are there any company-wide initiatives that you need to have on your radar?
  • What goals were defined for your team before you joined?
  • Are there any key tech debt that needs to be handled?
  • What’s holding your team back?

👉 Why do I think this is relevant?

You need to show up prepared, and following up on previous agreements shows that you’re ready to take the wheel while the car is moving. This moment can be a bit overwhelming but it’s so important to have clarity of what other teams are expecting from you and your team.

👥 How does your team work?

Direct your attention inwards and understand how your team works. Are they using Agile? Using Scrum, Kanban or a mixture of the two?

  • What recurring meetings are planned?
  • How is the team estimating tasks?
  • Are there productive retrospectives happening? Do you have a track record of your retros?
  • How are goals defined?
  • How is performance measured?
  • What is the definition of done of each task?

👉 Why do I think this is relevant?

It’s important to remember that things won’t change drastically just because you joined the team. The relationship you’re creating implies that you will teach as well as learn so first thing’s first, get acquainted with the processes and procedures that the team uses daily.

Only after you understand properly how the team works, you can begin to suggest and create change.

😕 Dealing with Impostor Syndrome head on

The amount of information you will gather during these initial days and weeks will trigger self-doubts and a good amount of good old Impostor Syndrome.

Having daily habits like keeping an achievement list will help you recap your day and remind you of the value you’re bringing to the company.

Remember that you were hired for a reason and it’s with confidence and a growth mindset of continuous learning and improvement that you will become the leader you really want to become.

👉 Why do I think this is relevant?

We’ve all felt Impostor Syndrome at a point in our careers. Personally, I tackle it by dedicating even more to my craft and learning new things since I believe that it’s with learning that we advance as professionals. Also, the feeling of learning something new mitigates my Impostor Syndrome.

These 9 tips will help you have a smoother introduction to your new team and get you ready for productive times with your team.

Always remember that this is a journey and that you will learn through your experiences. I’m sure that you’re nervous about your new job but show up confident, follow these tips on how to lead a team effectively and trust the process.

Originally published at https://aleadersmindset.com on October 1, 2021.

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My goal is to teach every leader who is still starting their journey, what I learned late in mine. 🚀

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