Top 5 Challenges Engineering Managers Face (and How to Overcome Them)


Top 5 Challenges Engineering Managers Face

What to Expect as an Engineering Manager Nowadays

Finally, you are in management, and it wasn’t easy. As a new engineering manager, you will find yourself in a strange land. After spending a long time as an engineer, you have been used to working under someone’s leadership to deliver projects on time and on budget.

Those days are over, and these uncharted waters aren’t as calm as they seem to be from a mile away either. You are expected to hire the right talent. Whether it’s by ensuring you get the best coders for your business by testing python coding skills or gauging their mechanical skills on how they can maintain machines.

Furthermore, as part of your very important responsibility concerning hiring a stellar engineering team, you have to create an effective hiring strategy using the best applicant tracking systems. Thankfully, there’s more than one way to streamline your application tracking today and hire the best talent without creating unwieldy spreadsheets.

Besides the pressures of hiring the right team, there is a bevy of the challenges that engineering managers face. We are going to discuss some of them, as well as how to overcome them.

Challenges engineering managers face and how to overcome them

After assembling a team with great talent, everything might seem to be falling apart. After years of being a star developer, and leading a team of well-selected engineers, something just doesn’t seem to click.  Everything is going haywire.

Let us look at some of the possible challenges that you might be facing as an engineering manager and ways to overcome them.

Lack of motivation

Motivation is a very important ingredient for a team of engineers when working on tasks. There is a direct relationship between the team of engineers’ lack of mojo and the quality of their throughput. A team of engineers with members who are losing motivation towards the tasks being worked on will experience a decrease in collaboration and overall productivity.

Lack of motivation in engineers can stem from several reasons:

  • Lack of recognition when they have successfully completed a tough task. Everyone likes to feel like they are making a difference. They like to know they are contributing to something bigger, especially if these engineers value their visibility in the company.
  • Being stuck with a task for a long time. You have been there before. Getting stuck on an engineering problem for a long time with no solution in sight can be frustrating.
  • Getting assigned to least important tasks only. Nobody wants to be the weakest link in a team. Engineers being treated as the least valuable members of the team tend to trail in performance.

Solution: The following will help you overcome those motivational issues:

Management of productivity and burnout

The amount of workload in a business varies from time to time, especially for startups. There are times when engineers are required to work excessive hours because of the heavy workload assigned. There are also times with a light workload.

As a manager you will meet the challenges of balancing productivity and burnout when:

  • You have to meet targets and deadlines but the workload is still heavy. Managers tend to assign more tasks to engineers with short datelines when they have to achieve goals quickly.
  • You will struggle to incorporate the engineers’ life into this work environment. Creating a workplace environment that puts the engineers in their comfort zone is very challenging.

Solution: The challenges discussed above can be overcome by:

  • Manage the distribution of the workload across varying periods of activity. Impromptu tasks, multitasking, and interruptions will also make it harder to keep a healthy pace for optimal productivity.
  • Balance the work of the engineers and life. Engineers have a life out of their offices and workstations. Engineers, especially in startups, experience a lot of pressure from the marathon nature of their jobs.

Setting expected goals and milestones

The setting of goals is not like making wishes. You have to set goals and expected milestones for the team to accomplish, not just to make an attempt. It is easy to write down goals, but achieving them is another story.

Areas, where setting goals can be a hustle, are:

  • Setting too many goals at a time. Too many goals can be overwhelming for the engineers, and achieving every goal in time becomes unattainable.
  • Setting unrealistic duration approximates for tasks to be done towards a goal.
  • Lack of confidence in your team. You may refrain from setting some goals because of fear of failure. Lack of confidence in your engineers will limit the goals you set for them. You may not have enough faith in your team to have the capacity to achieve certain tasks. This leads to omitting specific goals that would have been easy to attain.

 Solution: To overcome the problems of setting expected goals and milestones, you should:

  • Set a goal for each task that engineers can attain. Do not overstretch the engineers with a lot of goals
  • Set realistic timelines for tasks. Use the historic data available to know the duration tasks will take. Engineering tasks have different levels of difficulty. Some goals are easy to attain, others are hard.
  • Trust your team. After going through the recruitment phase, you should trust that you hired the right talent. Help develop more trust between you and your employees

Conflict resolution

Conflicts in a team can be something as simple as two engineers arguing over a solution to a problem. It can also be about two engineers who have different personal opinions on non-work-related matters. Unresolved conflicts erode the cohesion of teams. As a manager, you may not be prepared to resolve these issues with professionalism.

Some of the ways a manager may have challenges in conflict resolution in their team are:

  • Ignoring having to resolve personal conflicts between team members. Perhaps you would rather focus on your feelings of discomfort, risking the possibility of long-running disputes
  • Failure to address a conflict. An important skill needed in conflict resolution, as a manager, is to resolve conflicts before they worsen. If a conflict is not noticed early, the conflict will not go away on its own. Failure to address a conflict will be signalling to your team that you are not aware of what is happening, don’t care, or can’t resolve the conflict effectively.

 Solution: The problems of conflicts existing in an engineering team can be mitigated by:

  • Do not ignore any sign of a conflict. Failure to address a conflict will be signalling to your team that you are not aware of what is happening, don’t care, or can’t resolve the conflict effectively.
  • An important skill needed in conflict resolution, as a manager, is to resolve conflicts before they worsen. If a conflict is not noticed early or left to linger, the conflict will not go away on its own.

Feeling Disconnected

Having been engineers before, we want to know how things work and we like to build stuff. You may feel that you have lost touch with the actual engineering work and worry that you may lose the respect of your team.

Solution: Here are a few ways in which you can overcome the problem challenge of feeling disconnected:

  • Take a step back, and determine whether you need to be in every meeting and every piece of communication.
  • If your engineers can do a job well, all the more reason for giving it to them. The aim is to make your team more efficient, and effective and to give others opportunities to use their skills and develop.
  • Avoid micromanaging the engineers. Do not hover over projects, second-guess your engineers’ decisions, and reluctantly release responsibility.

Getting to the bottom of the problems engineering managers face

These five challenges discussed are what most engineer managers face in their day-to-day business undertakings. If the challenges are not noticed and the solutions implemented in time, engineer managers will have a hard time building a cohesive team. That will in turn affect the team’s performance and productivity.

Being an engineering manager is no small feat, but it’s one worth overcoming any challenge over. After all, it is your job to deliver a project on time and within budget, and a good job will surely boost your company’s bottom line.

While there are more problems that engineering managers face, we felt that overcoming the five mentioned above could make the road ahead much smoother.

See also, the challenges of managing remote employees


Author Bio:
Li-Anne Mcgregor van Aardt is a wordsmith who has written everything from editorials, blogs, and press releases, to poetry and rap songs, to a South African travel book, which she magically knocked out in 24 hours. Painting the world with her words is something Li-Anne has been doing for the past 16-plus years. Expect deep hues and careening colors of various vibrancy when traipsing her cascade of words.