The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change – Camille Fournier Book Summary

The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change – Camille Fournier | Free Book Summary

The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change – Camille Fournier

In software engineering, the career path is different from that of a generic manager. You’re expected to lead your team, but you’re also expected to be a skilled expert who can guide technical decisions. For some people, especially those who like pure technical work, combining these two roles can be overwhelming.

“The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change” by Camille Fournier was written specifically for engineering managers. Fournier, the former CTO of Rent The Runway, and one of the greatest engineering leaders in the industry explains the peculiarities of managing people in tech and gives advice for each career stage.

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Project Management

Project management is a complex process. It involves breaking a goal down into small pieces, and identifying which pieces can be done in parallel and which in sequence. 

How can you make project management effective?

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  • Break down the work. Start with the biggest pieces, and break them into smaller ones. Then break them down into even smaller pieces.
  • Push through the unknowns. When you don’t know something, don’t stop.
  • Adjust the plan as you go. A good plan will show you how much you’ve already done, and how far you’re from completion.
  • Revisit the details at the end of the process.

Managing People

Starting a New Reporting Relationship Off Right

When you start to manage, some of your direct reports will be people you don’t know yet. So what steps do you need to take to make a relationship with them more tight-knit?

Build Trust and Rapport

You could try asking newcomers a series of questions that will help you understand how to manage them best. How would they like to receive feedback, in person or through email? Is there any manager behavior they hate, like skipping 1-1s? 

Create a 30/60/90-Day Plan

Create a clear set of goals for your new hire to achieve in the first 90 days. These goals must be realistic, preferably based on the experience of your prior hires. Sometimes you will see that, unfortunately, you hired the wrong person.

Communicate Your Style and Expectations

New hires must clearly understand what is expected from them. If you want to get a weekly summary of progress via email, let them know. If you’ve got an unspoken policy, according to which an employee has to work alone for some time trying to fix a problem before they can ask for help, let them know.

Get Feedback from Your New Hire

As we mentioned before, it’s valuable to see your work with fresh eyes. However, take new hires’ observations with a grain of salt – these observations might lack objectivity.

Performance Reviews

Continuous feedback, which is a regular sharing of both positive and negative feedback in real time, is very important. But it cannot be used alone. A good idea is to combine it with 360-based feedback. 

360-based feedback includes feedback not only from a manager, but also from teammates, anyone a person being evaluated interacts with, and a self-review.  

The problem with a 360-degree review is that we tend to forget things that happened a long time ago, and overemphasize things that happened recently. This is why, writing a performance review, it’s critical to account for the whole year.

Managing a Team: Conflicts

Managing a team, be ready that conflicts will arise. Avoiding a conflict is not the best tactic – it leads to dysfunctional work.

How can you create a safe environment where conflicts get resolved?

  • Don’t rely on consensus or voting. In teams, different people have different levels of expertise. It makes sense to rely on those whose level of expertise is higher.
  • Do make decisions depersonalized. There should be a set of standards used to evaluate decisions.
  • Don’t turn a blind eye to simmering issues. Address the problems before it’s too late.
  • Don’t take it out on other teams. Conflict-avoidant managers tend to seek conflicts with other teams and react aggressively to threats coming from outsiders.

Team Cohesion Destroyers

Team cohesion is very important, but some people ruin it with their unhealthy habits. Fournier classifies such workers into four types:

  • The Brilliant Jerk. This is a toxic employee that delivers great results but is ego-driven. Brilliant jerks bully other people whose intellect they consider lower. Fournier recommends not hiring brilliant jerks at all. If you did, don’t promote them, and they will leave themselves.
  • The Noncommunicator. This is a person hiding information. Noncommunicators may do it out of fear of being criticized.
  • The Employee Who Lacks Respect. Try to avoid having such people on your team.

Decisions and Delegation

Busy with meetings, you get distracted. Help yourself – start to delegate. Divide the type of tasks into four sections:

  • Simple and frequent tasks – delegate. Minor code reviews or weekly progress summaries can be done by someone else.
  • Simple and infrequent – handle yourself. It’s faster to do these tasks by yourself than to explain them to someone else.
  • Complex and infrequent – handle yourself. These tasks are yours alone – for example, making hiring plans or writing performance reviews. However, you can delegate them to rising leaders, to train them.
  • Complex and frequent tasks – delegate. Tasks like project planning and system designs can be used to develop your team.

Delegation is a process that starts slow but turns into an essential element for career growth. If your teams can’t operate well without you, you’ll find it hard to be promoted.

Managing Managers

Managing managers is similar to managing multiple teams. Again, you’re responsible for handling several teams, but there is a difference – the teams you manage are not closely related. Sometimes you don’t even have the skills some of your teams do. That’s why this level is more challenging.

Skip-Level Meetings

Skip-level meetings are meetings with reports of your reports. Their purpose is to get an idea about the team’s health. One technique is to conduct 1-1s with each person in the organization. This way, big managers can build a surface-level personal relationship with everyone who works in the organization. It’s very useful as it helps the boss to stop seeing people as just “resources”.

Managing New Managers

It would be a mistake to think that once you hired a new manager, leading a team is just his concern. First-time managers need a lot of coaching. They typically overwork. 

A good idea is to have them undergo additional training. You can use either your company’s curriculum (if you’ve got one) or look for training opportunities outside the company.

Hiring Managers

Very often, people don’t want to hire managers from outside. Sometimes it’s a necessity though. To make a safe choice, make sure this person has the skills you need, discuss their management philosophy, and do the reference check.

The Big Leagues

Technical senior leadership is not the same as general-purpose senior leadership. Naturally, their duties differ.

Roles technical senior leadership can play:

  • Research and development. A leader is focused on experimentation and research.
  • Technology strategy/ visionary. A leader thinks about how technology can be used to grow a business. Also, leaders need to predict how technological evolution can impact the company.
  • Organization. A leader takes care of the organizational structure, making sure projects are appropriately staffed.
  • Execution. A leader makes sure the work gets done. He helps with planning, prioritization, and coordination.
  • Face of technology. A leader attends client meetings to encourage the use of their product.

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