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How To Use Data to be a More Proactive Engineering Manager 

Madison Unell

By: Madison Unell
September 28, 2021

Team member using Ipad to teach team

A good leader can respond to issues and course correct in the moment, but a great leader is proactive about staying ahead of the curve. With the help of data provided by Engineering Intelligence tools, an Engineering Manager can gain visibility into the development pipeline and stay equipped with the knowledge needed to cut problems off at the pass. No matter where an EM is in their professional lifecycle, a proactive one can prioritize more successfully, strengthen coaching strategies, and boost team effectiveness in the short term, mid-term, and long term.  

Short Term Strategy: Spot Risk and Prevent Blockages 

A lot of dedication goes into keeping sprints on track and software delivery on schedule. With so many moving parts in the development pipeline, an EM may find it tough to determine what needs their attention first, making it challenging to triage risks. However, by using a Software Engineering Intelligence platform — like Code Climate Velocity —  that conveys insights based on aggregated data, an EM can swiftly analyze coding progress and prioritize their task list to focus on what’s most important.   

For example, an EM can assess PR and Commit data to surface at-risk work — work that could benefit from their time and attention. If a Commit has had several days of inactivity and work on the associated PR has seemingly halted, it may indicate that the scope of the task is not clear to ICs, and that they require guidance. Or it may be a sign of task-switching, where too much Work In Progress pulls an IC’s focus and makes it difficult to complete work. 

This is where data from a Software Engineering Intelligence platform is critical, as it can signal to a manager that a specific PR or Issue needs attention. Velocity enables EMs to set Risk Alerts for PRs based on custom criteria, since risk thresholds vary from team to team. From there, the EM can use that information in standups, retros, and other conversations with ICs to help identify the root cause of the blocker and provide coaching where needed. 

Mid-term Strategy: Improve Collaboration 

As a proactive leader, an EM must understand the nuances of collaboration between all parties to ensure ICs and teams are working together effectively and prioritizing issues that are aligned with company goals. If teams fail to work cohesively, roadmaps may be thrown off course, deadlines may be missed, and knowledge silos may be created. Using their Engineering Intelligence tools, an EM can easily surface the quantitative data needed to gain visibility into team collaboration and interdepartmental alignment.  

When it comes to collaboration on their team, an EM might want to look at review metrics, like Review Count. Viewing the number of PRs reviewed by each contributor helps an EM understand how evenly reviews are distributed amongst their team. Using these insights, a manager can see which contributors are carrying out the most reviews, and redistribute if the burden for some is too high. Doing so will not only help keep work in balance, but the redistribution will expose ICs to different parts of the codebase and help prevent knowledge silos. 

To look at collaboration between teams, an EM can rely on quantitative data to help surface signs of misalignment. Looking at coding activity in context with information from Jira can help an EM identify PRs that signal a lack of prioritization, such as untraceable or unplanned PRs. Since these PRs are not linked back to initial project plans, it may indicate possible misalignment.  

Long Term Strategy: Support Professional Growth and Improve Team Health 

A proactive EM also needs to identify struggling IC’s, while simultaneously keeping high performers engaged and challenged to prevent boredom. This starts with understanding where each individual IC excels, where they want to go, and where they need to improve. 

Using quantitative and qualitative data, an EM can gain a clearer understanding of what keeps each IC engaged, surface coaching opportunities, and improve collective team health. Qualitative data on each IC’s coding history — Commits, Pushes, Rework, Review Speed — can help signal where an IC performs well and surface areas where it might be useful for an EM to provide coaching. An EM can then use qualitative data from 1 on 1’s and retros to contextualize their observations, ask questions about particular units of work, or discuss recurring patterns. 

For example, if an EM notes high levels of Rework, this signals an opportunity to open up a meaningful discussion with the IC to surface areas of confusion and help provide clarity. Or, an EM might see that an IC has infrequent code pushes and can coach the IC on good coding hygiene by helping them break work down into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be pushed more frequently. 

Using a combination of both data sets, a manager can initiate valuable dialogue and create a professional development roadmap for each IC that will nurture engagement and minimize frustration. 

Proactivity as an EM – The Long and Short of It 

Proactivity is a skill that can be developed over time and enhanced with the help of data. Once empowered with the proper insights, EMs can more effectively monitor the health of their sprints, meet software delivery deadlines, keep engineers happy, and feel confident that they are well-informed and can make a marked, positive impact. 


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