engineer + builder + leader
Good Looks Like
August 01, 2023

Early on in an engineer’s career, it’s generally pretty clear what good work looks like. Are you writing beautiful code, that achieves what it sets out to achieve, and doesn’t have too many bugs? Are you better at doing that today than you were yesterday?

But as you take on more leadership tasks - whether that is as a staff engineer or a people leader - measuring your impact becomes murkier. This is doubly true because generally your manager wants to delegate tasks that are amorphous by their very nature.

One potential source of frustration and feelings of micromanagement is when you and your manager have a different understanding of the priority or definition of a task. If your manager is often getting very involved at the end of a project (or if you are that manager in question), consider whether this is an issue you’re dealing with (of course there are lots of other reasons that a manager might have a tendency to micromanage)

One tool that I use with my direct reports is to have a meeting, roughly quarterly, where I ask them to bring a list of their top 5 priorities. I do the same with what I think their top priorities are. We then create a synthesis of the two lists so that there is an agreement on the priorities. Crucially, for each item, we then agree on what Good Looks Like. This forces both of us to create clarity in thinking on how each person is driving success, and gives us a good artifact to check in on over the quarter. An example below:

Q3 Priorities

  1. Team performance management
    • Good looks like: Identify the 10% tails of the team, with an action plan for career growth and performance management
  2. Get all important engineering metrics into Looker
    • Good looks like: Jessica has everything on her P0 wishlist
  3. Broader vision for engineering metrics
    • Good looks like: Clear answer to the question of what we’re tracking, why, and in what order we should collect those metrics
  4. Deliver 3 publicly celebrated wins
    • Good looks like: Ship 3 base-hits requested by stakeholders and share them in #wins
  5. Find leverage for yourself
    • Good looks like: Drop or delegate 15% of your current tasks to your team