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How Engineering Directors Should Think and Communicate

This post lists the key insights from this article, from Justin Carmony, senior director of engineering at KSL.

The author is following up on the article he wrote when he was an engineering manager. His first rule for managers was the phrase “My expectation is…” In summary, it’s his rule where he can’t be upset with an employee about something unless the words “my expectation is [insert clear expectation]” have come out of his mouth. He found that clearly and directly communicating those expectations solved many, if not most, of problems he ran into managing a team.

Now being a manager of managers, he has spent a great deal of effort trying to pull himself out of the implementation details and focus on the bigger picture. As he’s done this, he’s noticed the phrase “my expectation is” doesn’t come out of his mouth nearly as often when communicating with his managers or teams. He has replaced it with two phrases:

  • “My desired outcome is…”
  • “The outcome I want to avoid is…”

Why talking about expectations goes too far

  1. He was unintentionally thinking for his teams instead of letting his teams determine solutions. He was taking away autonomy, not empowering them.
  2. The more severe problem, he spent all of his time talking about the “what” and not the “why.” He could spell out a dozen expectations but then still not get his desired results. It’s frustrating to feel like you’ve been clear with your teams, only to have them not understand what you’re really trying to communicate.

Whose fault was that? His.

Let’s use a math example: take the equation “A+B=C.” He needed to say I want C. The team should figure out the solution to get to C

Why this is better

Switching to clearly stating the outcomes had several significant advantages:

  1. It communicated what he was going to measure success for his people and teams.
  2. It empowered his managers and teams.
  3. It surfaced the actual areas his managers and teams need help with solving. If they don’t see a clear path to meeting the outcomes he is looking for, they ask specific questions that will help them. Those conversations are way more helpful and illuminating.

He highly recommends identifying both the outcomes you want and the outcomes you want to avoid. In short, you’re saying, “this is what would make me happy and what would disappoint me.”

Can you go into the weeds?

Absolutely! There is just one condition: you need an invitation. If your team comes to you with a particular problem they could use some help with, you’re welcome to dive deep with them. Your team is still responsible for solving the problem; you’re just there to provide advice.

2 min​ read

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