I’m new to Engineering Management, what books should I read?

There are so many great books that I could recommend for a new manager. Narrowing down the list has been challenging!

We’re fortunate that much is written on the practice of management. In addition to that, many Engineering Managers have detailed the specifics of working with technology teams. However, this makes it difficult to know what to focus on first.

I’ve picked the first 10 I would recommend to a new manager. These are all books I’ve read and have influenced how I think out management and leadership. As ever, if you disagree or want to add your recommendation then please let me know!

Moving to a management role

The Manager’s Path
Camille Fournier
I wish that this book had been available earlier in my career. What’s so great about it is that it covers all levels of the Engineering career path, so there’s something in it for everyone. For those starting on their management career, there’s detailed information on how to mentor others, how to manage projects and how to start managing people. The content is actionable, so the book becomes a useful reference as your career grows and responsibilities change.

Behind Closed Doors
Johanna Rothman, Esther Derby
This book is another good one for “getting started” with management. The book is in the style of a business novel and follows the journey of Sam as he joins a company as an Engineering Manager. Using this context, the reader learns about the core principles and practices of managing people, teams and projects. For new managers, the book accelerates them through many of the challenges they are likely to encounter as they make their career change.

First, Break All the Rules
Marcus Buckingham, Curt Coffman
Unlike the first two books in this list, this text covers a broader perspective of management – not only that of Engineering Managers. In it, the authors have bought together many years of research from Gallup on what makes exceptional managers and workplaces. For new managers, it’s a source of inspiration for developing a style of management which promotes the development of traits seen in good mangers and teams covered by the research.

Motivation and Empowerment

Drive
Daniel Pink
This book has probably been one of the most impactful on how I think about working with people and teams. I read it when I took my first Engineering Management role and the details on how intrinsic motivation is an indicator of performance alongside the information of how to nurture this kind of motivation in people has greatly influenced how I manage teams.

Turn the Ship Around
David Marquet
A story of leadership from a military setting (the U.S Navy) that has a surprising amount of overlap with leading engineering teams. Naval Captain David Marquet took over command of a struggling submarine, and the book tells of how he engaged the crew to such an extent that it became the best performing ship in the fleet. Key to the story is the idea of empowerment and intentional leadership, showing that in your new management role, there’s an alternative to top-down management to getting things done.

Communication

Crucial Conversations
Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
There are many exciting challenges when it comes to moving to management, and for me, one of the essential skills to develop is a way to communicate effectively. It is especially true when it comes to those high-stakes conversations – performance reviews, feedback, negotiation – where our emotional responses often cause us to be less effective. This book helped me deal with those situations more positively. It’s something I suggest that new managers read early in their career so that they’re aware of the challenges and techniques to overcome them before that crucial conversation comes up.

Radical Candor
Kim Scott
Alongside Crucial Conversations, Radical Candor helped me develop techniques to have better, more impactful conversations, with my teams. Perhaps the most cited aspect of the book is the quadrants describing the styles of feedback conversations. You can probably pick this up from a blog post, but by reading the full text, you’ll get more depth into the different styles and advice on how to have more productive feedback conversations.

The Coaching Habit
Michael Bungay Stainer
For most, by the time you become an Engineering Manager, you’ve likely developed a considerable amount of experience you can share. One of the hard aspects of your new Engineering Manager role can be resisting the temptations to provide all the answers when someone is struggling. The Coaching Habit sets out seven questions which you can use in your conversations with your direct reports to support them in realising their potential. There is more to being an effective coach than is covered in this book, so think of it as a way to kickstart coaching skills.

Project Delivery

The Goal
Eliyahu Goldratt
Another business novel, where we shadow a manufacturing plant manager trying to improve the performance of his factory. Which might get you thinking, “what has this got to do with Engineering Management?” As well as looking after people in your organisation, you could also be responsible for the delivery of projects. This is where this book helps. The Goal shows us how to discover the true nature of our business and then goes on to explain how we can improve the way we produce outcomes. The factory in the book is manufacturing parts, but the ideas of the Theory of Constraints are directly applicable to software delivery.

Accelerate
Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble, Gene Kim
If you’re not already managing a team practising Continuous Delivery, or even if you are, this book provides the science behind why these practices are so valuable to building well-performing teams. You might not learn any new techniques of how to make the change from this book (I’d recommend Continuous Delivery, The DevOps Handbook or Site Reliability Engineering for that), however, you will leave with an understanding of the benefits that can be gained from taking such approaches. You’ll also learn about some useful starter metrics for measuring the performance of the teams you work with.

You can find more of the series at https://stevebennett.co/2020/04/21/im-new-to-this-what-do-you-recommend/

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