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Managing with Metrics: A Guide for Engineering Managers

Junade Ali
March 25, 2022
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Metrics provide an empirical assessment of how you’re performing and help answer the question: “What should we change?” However, for managers who seek to achieve internal transformation, measuring is only half the story to achieving change.

For an effective leader, they must also be able to direct their team to achieve the change that’s required to remove the team’s blockers. Measuring alone doesn’t help you do this, you need to also get your team bought into the objective, motivated to create change and have them equipped with the resources needed to achieve the goal. Simply measuring performance, and berating your team if they fail to make improvements, will not allow you to achieve this.

Socratic Method

In The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt, the Socratic method is one of the tactics used by the mentor to bring the lead character along with the transformation project. The Socratic method works by allowing an individual to reach conclusions on their own, rather than prescribing them to someone.

This tactic works by the teacher asking leading challenging questions and the student answering these questions to stimulate their critical thinking. Essentially, you guide someone to finding the answer on their own, rather than telling them what the answer is. This helps draw out incorrect assumptions and ensure someone is bought-in to any solution you propose.

Involving your team in problem-solving and decision-making helps them at least feel part of the solution and motivate them to achieve success.

Experimental Culture

Instead of presenting policies as a dogmatic direction that is set in stone, make clear you need to try new things to find what works that what got us here, might not get us there. Try framing your changes as experiments and making clear that you can try something new, measure it and revert back if things aren’t working out.

Present your changes as a hypothesis that you’re testing to find out if it leads to a good outcome. When leaders are defensive and reluctant to hear others' feedback, it can be a sign of deeper insecurity or incompetence. Instead, discuss what you know and what you are trying to make clear.

Good software engineers understand that the decisions you must be the wariest of are those which are the hardest to reverse, and when you encounter them it’s best to find ways of making them reversible. The same is true when you adopt a culture of experimentation.

Active Listening

Habit 5 in Stephen Covey’s "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" is that we should seek first to understand, then be understood.

Not only are people more likely to be more receptive to you when they feel that you understand them, but you’ll be able to communicate with them more empathetically by understanding the things that worry them. By understanding their perspective, you are able to come to better solutions.

Active listening is one technique to do this and it involves carefully listening to both the verbal and non-verbal messages that someone is sending during a conversation. Whilst listening, you make clear that you are present and are attentive to the messages they are trying to communicate.

When someone has said something, you paraphrase what has been said and clarify what has been said through your own questions. When you’re done, you summarise the information you’ve learnt into a short overview to retain the information and demonstrate the fact that you’ve retained it.

It is important to refrain from passing judgement on what has been communicated and offering judgement on what the other person has said. Focus your attention on the other person and carefully observe how their behaviour impacts what is being said.

Only once you’ve fully understood what someone is trying to communicate with you, do you discuss how you reach resolution and make your own points.

Conclusion

In this blog post, we’ve discussed how you can improve how you manage with metrics by making your team more likely to action the change you need to implement.

It goes without saying that a prerequisite to achieving change, whether you use metrics or not, is fostering a culture of psychological safety. We have discussed the importance of psychological safety before in Developers, Defensive Culture & Psychological Safety and more holistically in our EngProd 2021: A Review on the State of Developer Productivity report.

Achieving change in an engineering team requires more than just communication, it’s about ensuring you have the competence to engage in robust discussion with your team and the confidence to understand that you need to learn through experimentation to achieve your organisation's goals.

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