How to survive as a new engineering manager - a 30/60/90 day plan

by Andrew Murphy


Embarking on the journey as a new engineering manager is akin to setting sail into uncharted waters. It's thrilling to take the helm, but the vast sea of leadership responsibilities can also be overwhelming. How do you know which direction to head in? How do you know how to trim the sails to get you there?

This guide is your navigational chart and operating manual, offering actionable tips and strategies for the crucial first 90 days. It's designed to evolve over time, so revisit often and subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates. Let's dive in.

Week Minus One: The Prelude to Leadership

Before the curtain rises on your new role, there's a critical preparatory phase that can significantly influence your success. This is "Week Minus One," a time when foresight and preparation are your best allies. This step is optional, as not everyone has the time, or access, to get this information before they start their job. Here, your objective is to arm yourself with knowledge, setting the stage for your debut as an engineering manager.

Understand the Company

Immerse yourself in everything about the company. This means going beyond the surface level to understand the intricacies of its culture, the nuances of its products, and the architecture of its technology. This foundational knowledge will be invaluable as you make decisions and lead your team.

Consider these questions:

How do they make money?
Who are their customers?
Who are their competitors?
What does their product actually do?
What compromises does it make?

Learn About Your Role

Clarify your responsibilities and the metrics for success. If possible, have discussions with your predecessor or your new manager to gain firsthand insights into what the role entails and the challenges you might face.

Consider these questions:

What does your boss think your biggest challenge and opportunities are going to be?
How about the outgoing leader that you are replacing?

Identify Key Stakeholders

Recognize who the key players are in your new ecosystem. Knowing who you will need to collaborate with, including peers, superiors, and other departments, will help you navigate the company landscape more smoothly.

Consider these questions:

Who is your team?
Who is your boss?
Who are your peers?
What other departments are you going to be working closely with?

First Week: The Art of Listening

As you embark on your first week, the spotlight turns to you, but your role is to turn it towards your team and the ongoing projects. This period is about tuning into the frequency of your new environment, absorbing the rhythm of the workplace, and understanding the melody of your team's dynamics. Avoid the desire to "make your mark" and, instead, try to encourage your team to resolve problems that crop up.

Observe and Listen

Your mission is to become a master observer, blending into the background while you soak up the atmosphere, dynamics, and workflow. This is a time for active listening and observation, allowing you to capture the essence of your team's current projects, challenges, and successes.

Consider these questions:

What are the ongoing projects, and what stages are they at?
What challenges does the team frequently encounter?
How does the team celebrate successes?

Build Trust

In these early days, resist any urge to make sweeping changes. Show your team that you value their expertise and autonomy. This initial trust-building is crucial for fostering a culture of mutual respect and open communication. Consider small, targeted, technical tasks that demonstrate your competence.

Consider these questions:

How can you demonstrate trust in your team's abilities?
What are some ways to show you're approachable and open to input?
How can you support your team without micromanaging?
How can you demonstrate your own competance without taking over?

Ask Questions

Curiosity is your greatest tool in the first week. By asking thoughtful questions, you not only gather valuable information but also signal to your team that their insights and experiences are valued.

Consider these questions:

What do team members enjoy most about their projects?
Are there any processes or tools that the team finds cumbersome or inefficient?
How does the team prefer to communicate and collaborate?

First Month: Cultivating Relationships

With the initial observations and listening phase behind you, the focus of your first month shifts to deepening the connections you've started to form. This is the time to build a robust network of relationships within your team and across the company.


Initiate personal meetings with each team member to understand their professional landscapes, aspirations, and concerns. These discussions are pivotal in building a foundation of trust and support.

Consider these questions:

What are each team member's career goals and aspirations?
How do they prefer to receive feedback and recognition?
What challenges are they facing, and how can you help?

Meet Your Peers and Superiors

Extend your relationship-building efforts beyond your immediate team. Connecting with your peers and superiors can provide you with broader insights into the company and help you understand how your team fits into the larger picture.

Consider these questions:

What are the main goals and challenges of other departments?
How can your team contribute to cross-departmental objectives?
What expectations do your superiors have for your role and your team?

Engage with Stakeholders

Identifying and engaging with key stakeholders early on is crucial for aligning your team's efforts with the company's strategic goals. These relationships will be key to navigating the company landscape effectively. These might be people such as your boss's boss, your boss's peers, etc.

Consider these questions:

What are the priorities of your key stakeholders?
How does your team's work impact these stakeholders?
What can you do to ensure your team's efforts are aligned with stakeholder expectations?

Second Month: Delivering Value Sustainably

As you move into your second month, the emphasis shifts towards ensuring that your team is not just productive, but also working on projects that deliver real value in a sustainable manner (Props to Ben Meneses-Sosa for introducing me to this concept). This phase is about understanding and addressing obstacles, aligning work with company goals, and fostering a healthy team environment.

Identify Obstacles

Work collaboratively with your team to identify barriers to productivity and satisfaction. Understanding these obstacles is the first step towards mitigating them.

Consider these questions:

What technical or process-related challenges are slowing the team down?
Are there any gaps in skills or resources that need to be addressed?
How can you facilitate a more efficient and enjoyable work environment?

Prioritize Value

Ensure that the projects your team is working on are genuinely valuable to the users and company. This involves aligning with stakeholders to confirm that your team's efforts contribute meaningfully to the company's objectives.

Consider these questions:

How do each of your team's projects align with the company's strategic goals?
Are there projects that need to be reprioritized or reevaluated based on their value contribution?
How can you ensure that your team's work remains aligned with evolving company objectives?

Promote Sustainable Practices

Champion practices that ensure your team's well-being and prevent burnout. This includes advocating for a healthy work-life balance, encouraging continuous learning, and ensuring the team feels supported and valued.

Consider these questions:

What measures can you put in place to prevent overwork and burnout?
How can you foster a culture of continuous improvement and learning?
What can you do to make your team feel more valued and supported?

Third Month: Strategic Planning

By your third month, you should have a solid understanding of your team, the company, and the value you aim to deliver. Now it's time to put together a strategic plan that sets clear goals, prioritizes initiatives, and develops a roadmap for achieving your objectives.

Set Clear Goals

Define specific, measurable goals that encapsulate what delivering value sustainably means for your team. These should align with broader company objectives and provide clear direction for your team's efforts.

Consider these questions:

What are the short-term and long-term goals for your team?
How do these goals align with the company's strategic objectives?
What metrics will you use to measure success?

Identify Urgent vs. Important

Distinguish between tasks that require immediate attention and those that are crucial for long-term success. This will help you effectively allocate your team's resources and focus on initiatives that offer the greatest impact.

Consider these questions:

How can you balance immediate needs with long-term strategic goals?
What criteria will you use to prioritize tasks and projects?
How can you ensure that important, not just urgent, tasks receive the attention they deserve?

Develop a Roadmap

Create a detailed plan that outlines how your team will achieve its goals. I don't mean a product roadmap, but an improvement and strategic roadmap for your team. This roadmap should include both short-term actions and long-term strategies, ensuring everyone is aligned and understands their role in the journey ahead.

Consider these questions:

What are the key milestones and deliverables for achieving your goals?
How will you communicate and track progress towards these goals?
What adjustments might you need to make along the way to stay on course?


As you wrap up your first 90 days as an engineering manager, reflect on the journey you've embarked upon. The initial phase of stepping into a leadership role is fraught with challenges, learning opportunities, and moments of self-discovery. By following the structured 30/60/90 day plan, you've laid a solid foundation for your leadership path.

You've moved from gathering insights and building relationships to focusing on delivering value and setting strategic directions. Remember, the journey doesn't end here. Leadership is an ongoing process of growth, adaptation, and striving to bring out the best in your team and yourself. Keep seeking feedback, learning, and evolving. Your role as an engineering manager is pivotal not just in driving projects to success but in shaping the careers and lives of those you lead. Embrace this responsibility with empathy, clarity, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Here's to the many successes and challenges ahead. Welcome to leadership, and may your journey be as rewarding as it is transformative.


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