Structuring an Engineering Manager Training Program

Daniel Hejl

Founder / CTO at Productboard



I was in a situation where our management team was a little imbalanced. Overall, members were at a senior-level on the technical side but more at a junior-level on the leadership side. I felt like it was slowing us down as a company so I wanted to balance these two areas out. To do so, I thought it best to start an engineering training program that would focus its attention on my more junior engineering managers as well as at those people who would like to grow into an engineering manager role later in their career. After some research, however, I didn't find any companies that had a well put-in-place program that I could emulate. So I needed to create a structured program from scratch for my own team.

Actions taken

First, I created a new self-study page on our Wiki. This was essentially a reading list that served as a baseline for the role. I picked specific books that I thought would be useful for people who were already in engineering leadership and management and for those who were thinking of moving in that direction. For example:

  • "The Manager's Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change" by Camille Fournier. This an overall great book, but I just assigned the first four chapters. I think in those first few chapters one can get a comprehensive understanding of the engineering manager role, and it is worded in a way that aligns with how I think about the position.
  • Another great book is "Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean" by Kim Scott. Again, I didn't ask people to read the whole book but I gave them specific pages and chapters to review.
  • There were a few other books I included that were crucial for the culture that I wanted to build and the values we want to embody as an organization.

Then I established a leadership reading club. Every month there is a new topic and a specific reading list that goes with that topic. An example topic is 'feedback' with cited text from the book "Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well" by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. In our discussion session we delve deep into the material, deliberate our opinions, and talk about our experiences within that area. Additionally, I invite the CEO and VP of Products to these sessions which makes for a well-rounded gathering and interesting conversations.

Next, I gave all the engineering managers and potential engineering managers access to Plato. On the platform they could meet super interesting people and hear their thoughts and ideas. They can ask experienced people specified questions and receive individualized answers.

After, I implemented a coaching program called BetterManager. This is more for general coaching and engineering leadership. So the outcomes are more broad and not as specified toward engineering management but include collaboration, engagement, and performance across the entire management team.

Finally, I improved my thinking about how I should be as a coach and mentor. I have given more of my time and resources to this cause and have even asked the most senior engineering manager to help me along the way.

Lessons learned

  • There was one book in particular that was recommended to me that has been quite insightful on how to structure an engineering manager training program. The book, "Scaling Teams: Strategies for Building Successful Teams and Organizations" by Alexander Grosse and David Loftesness.
  • The structure has enabled engineering managers with the knowledge of what they are responsible for. They are now aware of the full list of competencies they need to think about and do. Most of this baseline understanding came from the assigned readings on our Wiki. While it isn't rocket science, it was something that was missing and that wasn't well communicated before which caused a lot of unnecessary struggles and stress.
  • I have quarter reviews with each person on their progress and in each case we assess the areas that need improvement. With this structure, I now have the tools and resources with which to supply individuals with so that they can learn and grow.

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Daniel Hejl

Founder / CTO at Productboard

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsMentorship ProgramsPerformance Reviews

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