How Far Can You Go Without Engineering Managers? 👑
And do tools make engineering management any easier?
A couple of months ago, Aditya Agarwal, former CTO at Dropbox, made a splash on Twitter with his take on engineering management 👇
Aditya argues that modern tooling like Asana or Slack have made management drastically easier.
Today, teams of 100 can stay in sync at the same level as a team of 10, and you need way fewer managers than in the past — if any.
In my experience, you can have roughly 30-35 engineers without formal management. You will likely want some Tech Leads before then but that is way simpler than a management layer
This take is clearly controversial and, unsurprisingly, has spawned a hot debate both on social media and on the Refactoring community.
Do you really need managers anymore? Or, how far can you go without them?
This week I tried to break this down in a way that is more nuanced than a Twitter thread. We will cover:
3️⃣ Management is three things (+1) — 10,000 feet view of what a manager does.
🔨 How tools are helping — are they?
👑 Formal managers vs management — do you need full-time, formal managers?
🔄 Distributed management — can you replace managers with processes?
Let’s dive in 👇
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Management is three things (+1)
Paraphrasing Aditya himself, engineering managers’ responsibilities can be organized into three main areas (plus one):
🗺️ Planning — organizing work into OKRs, sprints, weeks, or whatever process you use. It includes scoping, prioritizing, allocating resources, and negotiating with stakeholders.
🔀 Alignment — keeping people coordinated on what needs to be done. Removing obstacles. Adding what’s missing at any given time.
❤️ Health & Growth — managing people and the overall team’s health. Taking care of feedback, careers, and recruiting.
✨ Bonus: Tech Leadership — this is largely a separate responsibility than EM, but let’s face it, many companies don’t have the headcount to separate the two, so these roles may conflate on the same person.
How are tools helping with these areas? Well, it’s complicated.
Let’s see them one by one.