Scalable managers

Evolve the tech lead, and use software to scale your managers, build a happy organization.

In the tech world, as technical people grow in their careers they start to wonder how to get more money and responsibility. This is normally somewhat compensation motivated, but also part of human nature to want to continue growing and being challenged, and playing a more important role at a company. Often this leads people to consider the management track, which can be great - but is usually the wrong conclusion.

The canonical example is when you have a senior engineer, whose been with you for years, they write great code, they facilitate a cultural environment that is friendly to less experienced engineers, they mentor and they ask great and well informed questions. They get to this inflection point in their career as a senior engineer, and you don’t have a well defined “upward” technical track - so they start talking about management. You don’t want them to leave, so you give them the engineering manager title and a team of 4 intermediate engineers — everyone thinks its great because they have lead the team to great things before. At first this feels great for everyone, that person schedules some 1:1’s, are granted access see their teams compensation, they formulate some big ideas about “changing things” and off they go - game on!

After a while, this person has 6 reports, they spend most of their time in HR / product / planning / 1:1 meetings and eventually realize that they haven’t written code in a long time, and that they are even mentoring less because they are tired of interacting with the human psyche. Then just as they start to question their happiness and reality, you task them with doing a performance review cycle - which leads them to either request to revert their standing to individual contributor, or quitting the company stating “burnout”.

So let’s break the tasks involved, and then see if we can’t re-organize to handle them better / differently.

Engineering Lead

* Mentor
* Review code
* Integrate technical reality into product planning
* Inform product of team technical ability for resource planning
* Have design discussions
* Write great code
* Technical interviews
* Be a technical expert
* Feel appreciated

Engineering Manager

* Everything above AND
* 1:1 every two weeks, with every team member
* Everything compensation
* Approve expenses and vacation
* Performance reviews
* Monitor contributions and happiness
* Scrum rituals
* Hire and fire
* Personal development goal setting

You may notice, that the definition of an engineering lead is anchored in technical competence that they worked very hard to come by, combined with institutional and cultural depth. You’ll notice that the engineering management role, feels a lot more operational and is anchored in routine and ritual with a focus on being somewhat of a motivator or “enforcer”. These two roles can often be at odds, and this is why it is a very hard job to do well for very long.

We can re-assign some of these tasks to bring the role back in line with someone actually appealing to a “senior” or “lead” engineer, by offloading some of the operational challenge to the activecove philosophy and mission control application.

Compensation and 1:1 meetings

When consistently paying everyone market rate with automatic adjustments, this becomes much less of a burden. And although 1:1 meetings do need to happen it can MUCH less frequent state if you use the activecove “assistant manager” - which means an operationally focused manager can handle a larger number of people.

Performance Reviews

These no longer exist, because you now use activecove “continuous feedback”, enabling performance conversations only to happen when really needed for an individual.

Approvals, Monitoring Happiness, Firing

This can now all be offloaded to a dedicated manager with a much larger set of people to oversee, or to a member of the HR department.


This can either be a dedicated scrum master, project manager or owned by the product team, the actual implementation and technical planning stays with the lead and other seniors on the team.


In short, ammend the “lead” role adding “personal development and goal setting” (which can be done from a mentor perspective) and maybe “final hire/nohire” responsibilities, create an official level with an amazing title, tell the company, promote that person and move on with life! You can scale and properly utilize your managers as the operational force they were meant to be by giving them the right tools that allow them to load balance for your leads so they can keep doing an amazing job.

Happy managing.

Posted by: Archimedes