Recently got promoted to a management role? Congratulations! But now what?
Software engineering management is an essential area of modern software development and key to the success of technology-driven companies. In this article, we aim to go through all the aspects of engineering management which should be adopted by every engineering manager regardless of the technical stack and functional area of their products.
Some core areas we will cover include hiring developers, managing them efficiently, quality assurance, design and architecture, project management techniques and some tips for budding engineering managers.
Let’s start with the hiring process.
Hiring Software Engineers
Hiring the best software engineers for your company is critical. After all, the team is ultimately responsible for making the project a success, so hiring the most skilled developers is critical. Ineffective recruiting can lead to a lack of diversity, excessive staff turnover and a decrease in team efficiency. Let’s discuss the important aspects of hiring software developers.
Defining Your Hiring Process
If you want to hire top talent, all steps of the hiring process must be efficient. A clear job description, an automated screening process, effective coding challenges, live coding sessions, take-home projects, an assessment of soft skills, avoiding bias in candidate selection, and continual improvement are all part of this. Check out this article on how to streamline all the stages of the technical hiring process.
Using Recruitment Tools
Once you have defined and cleaned your process, technical recruiting tools become vital. These includes applicant tracking systems, coding interview tools and other technology to streamline every aspect of your hiring journey.
Automation and AI in Candidate Selection
Take advantage of the tools that automate the initial screening and technical assessment of candidates. That includes sending links of pre-interview assessment exercises to candidates, recording their responses and grading the candidates based on their answers.
Figure 1 – Tools like CodeInterview allow pre-organized questions sets for candidates to help with initial online screening.
After you have improved the recruiting process, you must consider other factors that may affect hiring efficiency. A strong employer brand, for example, attracts excellent software engineers. Other aspects include referral schemes, strong industry networking, mentorship programs, technical training and preserving a solid business culture.
Managing Software Engineers
Managing software engineers is more than just overseeing their day-to-day activities. It’s about creating an environment where developers feel supported, valued and motivated to do their best.
Note that modern software development methodologies like agile shun the concept of “Management”; instead, the aim should be to mentor and support the team for increased productivity. If you remove any impediments in their way, protect them from unnecessary pressure and support them, it can lead to increased productivity, higher retention rates, better collaboration and, ultimately, the delivery of high-quality software products.
Let’s discuss some of the key factors engineering managers should take care of to manage their teams successfully.
Recognizing and celebrating successes, big and small, can increase team morale. Appreciating teamwork boosts the pride of the overall team. The famous book on motivation “Drive” by Daniel Pink states that true motivation comes from recognition of your work and providing autonomy to the engineers. A small pat on the back can do wonders.
According to Glassdoor’s Employee Appreciation Survey, 81% of the employees reported that they feel motivated to work harder when their bosses appreciate them. Similarly, continuous learning, training, and development programs are crucial for professional advancement.
Team growth depends on performance appraisals and feedback because continuous improvement is a key to success. Track progress, give critical comments and set clear goals with regular performance reviews.
Give positive and constructive feedback to assist team members in improving. A 360-degree feedback system encourages peer feedback and continual growth. Do not wait for the salary review to provide feedback. Instead, this should be done frequently, ideally every quarter.
Positive Work Environment
Positive work environments keep teams engaged and productive. Create an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing ideas, addressing issues and asking for support. Set limits, respect personal time and encourage flexible work schedules to promote work-life balance.
Empowering Your Team
Team success depends on empowerment. Delegate jobs and allow them to make judgments and take ownership. Provide them the growth opportunities to excel in their field. For example, do not hesitate to promote a software developer to the technical team lead role if he/she deserves it.
Finally, leading a software engineering team requires effective conflict resolution. It is perfectly natural for conflicts to happen in cross-functional teams. Actively communicate and listen to resolve conflicts and discover team-wide solutions. Make sure everyone knows and follows the conflict resolution process.
Software Design Management
Effective software design is the foundation for success in your project. You need careful planning here because the whole development process will be based on the architecture and design of the system decided at the start. You can optimize the design along the way but not revert it. Below we have shortlisted some key factors regarding design that engineering managers should consider.
Select the Optimal Architecture
You must choose an architecture that meets the business and technical requirements of the system. You must also consider the capabilities of your developers. Microservices as the default architecture may not be the best option for your application, despite how tempting it is. Consider adopting options such as SOA, event-driven or monolithic application architecture. Consider performance, scalability and maintenance when selecting the architecture.
Modularize Your Software
Break the system into self-contained, functional components. This technique simplifies development, improves maintainability and simplifies scaling and modification as requirements change.
Promote Code Readability and Consistency
Ensure your team uses consistent coding styles and best practices. Encourage descriptive variable names, documentation and coding standards to improve code readability and maintainability.
Promote Design Patterns and Principles
Familiarize yourself and your team with SOLID, DRY and KISS. These patterns and principles provide a standard vocabulary and best practices to improve software design.
Involve the Team In Architectural Decisions
Involve your team in software architecture and design decisions. This collaborative approach fosters ownership, tapping into your team’s knowledge and experience.
Validate and Improve the Architecture
Software architecture should evolve with the passage of time. For example, it is quite possible that initially, the application does not require a need for caching. However, it can be adopted later if the need arises. Check your architecture against new requirements and fresh insights.
Document the Design
Document your software architecture clearly and concisely for technical and non-technical stakeholders. Architecture diagrams, network diagrams and flowcharts help team members grasp the design.
Techniques for Software Project Management
In the past, the waterfall methodology was the most common, along with other methodologies like spiral, RAD and so on. Modern software development is mostly based on fast-paced techniques like Scrum and Kanban. Let’s review some of the aspects and common methodologies that every engineering manager should consider when starting a software project.
Which Methodology to Choose
Although there is no hard and fast rule to select a particular development technique, and it takes experience and skills to evaluate that, here is a short overview of the most popular methodologies to help you choose.
Scrum is one of the flavors of agile and probably the most famous of all agile techniques. Scrum works on time-boxed, short intervals of development called sprints. Each sprint consists of around 1-4 weeks. Once decided, you do not change the interval of the sprint.
It is both iterative and incremental in nature. It is best for fast-changing requirements. Scrum is so successful in modern, fast-paced software development that it claims to do twice the work in half the time compared to traditional software techniques. This legendary book on Scrum is a must-read for engineering managers to apply Scrum efficiently.
Tip: Go for Scrum if your software will have a steady stream of new features to be developed.
Kanban is another flavor of agile. It came from car manufacturing companies that wanted to reduce waste and improve the efficiency of their manufacturing process.
Kanban is successfully applied in software where you have a steady flow of production bugs or most of the work is about SLA and support. It does not use sprints like Scrum does; however, it uses the lean concepts of removing waste from your processes and making them efficient.
Tip: Go for Kanban if you have fast-paced, uneven workflow like support and maintenance tasks.
The Waterfall methodology is the best option if you have the scope of work already decided and you do not expect many changes. It does support changes, but the change management process goes through many stages, which takes time. It is best when you are sure that market dynamics will not have any impact on the scope of your work. It is also suitable where you know there will not be any active feedback from the stakeholders during the project’s development.
Tip: Go for Waterfall if you have the scope of work frozen and you do not expect many changes.
Scaled Agile (SAFe)
Scaled agile is actually an extension of the Scrum methodology. Scrum is typically used when the team size is between 2-10 team members. If you want to apply Scrum to hundreds or even thousands of employees,Scaled Agile is the best option.
Scaled Agile breaks down teams into sizes of 2-10 team members and then applies the concept of Scrum of Scrums (SoS) – using Scrum to coordinate the work of multiple teams in a large organization. Note that Scaled Agile brings some additional artifacts on top of Scrum such as a Program backlog.
Tip: Go for Scaled Agile if you want to use Agile on an enterprise level.
These are just some of the more popular methodologies. If you wan to learn more, check out this article on agile roadmapping.
The role of quality assurance is vital in any software engineering organization. Just like developers are good at developing products, QA engineers are proficient at testing the application and finding bugs. Some of the QA techniques which engineering managers should follow are listed below:
Involve QA from the Start of the Project
The QA team should be involved in the project from the planning phase so that QA engineers know the context of all development and have a complete vision of the project and product roadmap. Involving QA engineers at the end of the software development life cycle or even at the end of a sprint is not productive.
Incorporate Automation Testing
Modern, fast-paced software development requires equally fast QA activities. While manual testing of the application has its own importance, it is not scalable and does not work effectively for large applications. This is where automation testing comes into play.
Automation testing automates the testing of different use cases. Instead of a human being manually testing each feature, your automation testing suite performs tests on all the use cases written by a QA test automation engineer. It not only saves time but improves the efficiency as well.
Do Not Underestimate Other Testing Paradigms
Testing features of a business application is just one aspect of the quality assurance process. An engineering manager should perform other forms of testing as well. These include:
- Stress testing to mimic large amounts of concurrent users trying to crash the application.
- Security testing, including pen testing, to verify if the application is secure.
- API testing for products with lots of integrations.
- Mobile app testing.
Software & Tools for Better Software Management
Choosing the right tools during software development is of central importance. Tools can automate a lot of the effort and can save valuable time. Below we have compiled a list of some of the best tools and software which veterans of software engineering use.
Tools for Hiring
- CodeInterview for online coding interviews
- SmartRecruiters for application tracking and candidate sourcing
Tools for Team Management
- Slack for team collaboration
- Udemy for continuous learning
Tools for Software Design and Architecture
- LucidChart for UML modeling
- Draw.io for architecture diagrams
Tools for Software Methodology
- Jira for Scrum
- Trello for Kanban
Tools for QA
- Katalon for automation testing
- Postman for API testing
Resources for Better Software Management
Here are some of the resources which can help engineering managers succeed in their roles.
- The manager’s path
- Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation
You should also check out our blog article with the top ten books for engineering managers.
Common Mistakes by New Software Engineering Managers
New engineering managers often face challenges when they transition into this role. Below we have tried to summarize the most frequent mistakes made by new engineering managers. If you are a tech lead growing into the role of CTO or engineering manager, you should have a look at those.
Poor Time Management
New engineering managers often struggle with too many responsibilities and burnout. The key to effective time management is efficient prioritization. Remember, not all tasks are equally important. Give more time and focus on top-priority tasks to make your life easier.
Focusing On Technical Tasks
While it is perfectly natural for an engineering manager to provide guidance on the technical aspects, they sometimes struggle to let go of their technical roles. Finding a balance is something you need to learn over time.
Not Enough Communication
Remember, you now need to manage more stakeholders and their expectations so it’s better to overcommunicate rather than assume people know what’s coming next.
If your team is facing an issue, it might be very tempting to jump right in and help them solve it, but that is often a mistake. You need to let your team members grow into their roles so that they are self-organized and they can resolve issues on their own.
In this guide to software engineering management, we covered best practices for hiring software engineers, optimizing the recruitment process and using automation and AI for candidate selection. We also went through management aspects like team motivation, performance reviews and conflict resolution. The section of software design management covered architectural decisions, modularization and documentation.
We explained different software methodologies like Waterfall, Scrum, Kanban and Scaled Agile project management, as well as the benefits of these techniques. We also presented various QA techniques of early involvement, automation testing and testing methodologies.
For the resources helpful to technical managers, we shortlisted some books, courses, and online communities which can benefit new and existing managerrs.
In the end, we highlighted new software engineering managers’ mistakes and how to avoid them for success. We hope that this guide will bring a positive change to how engineering managers work.