Imagine a situation. You’re an engineering manager leading a capable development team. You feel you have well-planned the project with clear milestones. However, some things are not going smoothly.
Your team seems unsure about priorities and what they should work on next. They keep switching between tasks without making real progress. In status meetings, you get vague updates about some “almost done” areas but see no tangible outcomes.
Users who have requested features months ago are starting to complain about the lack of updates. Some even try to escalate issues when they don’t see progress soon. You try reassuring them but don’t have concrete details to share. The stakeholders are also asking pointed questions about where things stand.
The issues above are an indicator that you have an underlying communication problem. The team, users, and management are all frustrated by the lack of transparency into what’s happening and why things aren’t progressing faster.
Communicating the Roadmap to Your Team
A clear roadmap is the secret weapon of an engineering manager. It maps out where you’re going and when you’ll get there. But keeping that valuable insight to yourself creates a huge risk of misalignment. The key is bringing your whole team along on the journey.
Start by laying out the vision. Paint a picture of the destination you’re aiming for. Get creative with charts and graphics if that helps, or keep to the bullet-point list. Make your goal crystal clear and get buy-in to align with broader objectives.
Next, pull your team together and walk them down the roadmap mile by mile. Explain the thinking behind each phase and milestone. Be open to questions so you can resolve confusion early. You want the “why” behind the plan as clear as the “what.”
Don’t stop there, either. Share the roadmap with stakeholders, too. You need to get all key players on the bus, keeping them updated on timelines, roles, and responsibilities.
Finally, keep that roadmap visible. Refer to it whenever it makes sense during the meetings, or send a weekly newsletter. When choices come up, consult your map. Is this shifting off-route? As changes happen, revise the map and update everyone on the changes.
Sharing Development Team Progress
A roadmap is one thing, but keeping everyone updated on progress is also key. Sending progress reports can feel tedious when you’re deep in design docs and code, but making an effort pays off in the long run by avoiding surprises and frustrations.
The best way to share progress is to make regular check-ins. Have a standing calendar invite — maybe Fridays at 11am — for a quick video update with stakeholders that join. Jot down 3–4 highlights since last week — new pages designed, bugs stomped, milestones reached, etc. Demo if you have something visual ready, even bare-bones prototypes.
It’s human nature not to speak up when things are unclear, so always end with an open call for questions or concerns. If needed, dig deeper into what people need to be clarified. Don’t worry about not having every detail finalized; just capture feedback to incorporate.
We have a million things competing for your attention, but consistent updates make people feel valued and involved, even if they’re short. Send brief emails and share hard metrics on progress made. Links to a dashboard or a report with all the details for those who want to dig into the details (giving them this ability and approval, as a result, will boost your confidence a lot)
In general, be transparent if something is steering off track. The earlier you flag issues, the more options you have to tackle them. People understand road bumps are part of creating amazing products. Just don’t surprise about them at the last minute.
Setting up regular touch points upfront might feel like one more thing on your plate, but it pays back huge dividends down the road. Keeping everyone looped in makes you look organized, helps nip problems before they balloon, and most importantly, builds trust that you’ve got this covered.
Handling User Requests Like a Pro
You know user requests can make or break your carefully crafted plans. Handling them properly keeps people happy and your project on track.
First, log each request that comes your way — whether from an email, something mentioned during the meeting, or a WhatsApp message. Put them all in one master list with key details like who asked, when, and how important it is. This mindset should be that no request gets lost in the shuffle.
Next, channel imagine yourself as a gatekeeper. Before automatically saying yes, examine how the request might impact your scope, timeline, and workload. Then, you can prioritize critical fixes and must-have features to get top billing.
Tell users how you plan to handle their requests so there’s crystal clarity. If you approve a request, explain when and how it’ll get done. It’s okay to deny requests, too, but there should be a predictable decision-making process.
Finally, provide progress updates as you tackle requests and features to prevent stakeholders from feeling in the dark. If plans change unexpectedly, give everyone a heads-up ASAP.
With some organization, prioritizing, communicating, and updating along the way, you can take those user requests from chaos to calm.
Communicating Time Allocation and Focus Areas
Handling user requests with finesse is an art every manager needs to master. When done right, it keeps your project on track and users happy.
Have a friendly interrogation first to tackle priority requests to see how they might impact your scope, timeline, and workload. Then, you can rank the requests to prioritize the critical stuff. This prevents tossing urgent fixes and important features to the bottom of the pile.
The next crucial step is clearly communicating how you plan to tackle the requests. If a request is approved, explain the timeline to set expectations. If you deny a request or just log it without taking any action, share the method in your madness so there’s no bad blood.
And don’t go radio silent once requests are submitted. Provide regular progress so users know you’re on it.
It’s all about communicating correctly and updating along the way. Do that well, and you can skillfully surf any wave of requests that come your way! No more panic when someone asks, “What’s up with that new feature?” You’ll have a system that works.
Strong communication skills are essential for engineering managers. Keeping all the stakeholders — from your team to management to users — aligned and informed takes work, but it’s worth it, and so is keeping the engineers. Effective, regular communication leads to better project outcomes and more satisfied teammates and users.
Be real about development progress. Being straightforward about setbacks helps stakeholders understand on-the-ground realities. And highlighting successes builds momentum. Stay on top of user requests and questions, too. Set realistic expectations on what can get built and when.
Originally published on Medium.com