Engineering managers have a tricky job. They have to keep many people satisfied while balancing contradicting goals: quality and speed. Because they're managing many people and many priorities, every engineering manager hears a lot of annoying or problematic things throughout their day. These five common phrases cause unending stress.
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1) No. I can't, do that.
It is never fun to ask someone to adapt to a change in the plan and they come back to you with, "That just isn't possible." As an engineering manager, you're coming to them because stuff happens that derails the plan every day. If you're the engineer, then we suggest that you backup your statement with data. Even if you have always done it one way, listen to what your engineering manager is asking.
2) You're doing it wrong.
Sometimes (read: always) engineering managers are told how to do their job. Trust us, it's not easy. However, this is usually an indicator that you need buy-in from the rest of the engineering or management team. When engineering managers get feedback early, it is less likely they hear this dreaded phrase. If you're the executive that passes this judgement down to an engineering manager, then you may want to seek them out earlier in the process to make sure your feedback is heard in time.
3) That's not something I expected.
Projects have enough curveballs; the least you can do as a team is to see them coming. For engineering managers, this means setting some scenarios out in advance if common problems come up. If you're an engineer that means don't answer with a challenge with, "I don't know" but instead say, "I'll get that done."
4) More money! More resources!
Your customer or management team decides that the project should change in a way that requires more money or more resources. This usually means the plan is out the window and things need to adapt quickly. Engineering managers are put to the test in this unwanted, but all to0 common situation. We recommend drawing up too scenarios and pitching to whoever said this to you, since you know, you can't have a project come in on time and on budget if the timeline and resources keep changing.
5) Just one more thing, then it'll be perfect.
A boss or customer adds one final change and completely ruins the project. This is the worst and is similar to the "you're doing it wrong" scenario. One of the clever (read: evil genius) redditers we found recommended throwing in small easily-spotted errors early on so that this wouldn't happen at the end. We do not recommend that move, but do think you'll limit this if you ask for feedback at the beginning stages of a product. Keep in mind that customer demands are important but can cause scope creep really quickly.
Life as an engineering manager is a balancing act
Engineering managers care about delivering a top-notch product, on time, and with a given set of resources. And, we love them for that. What decides a good manager from an excellent one is how they react when they hear these 5 "life happens" phrases. Do they adapt, confront these issues, and focus their team? Or, do they play the blame-shift game and continue to work with unrealistic expectations? Let us know what we left off the list in the comments.
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