I had already read Staff Engineer by Will Larson, and now it’s turn for his bestselling An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management.
I’ve enjoyed this book from the first word to the very last. I usually take notes (and dump them here), but in this case I felt it was pointless: the content is so interesting, concise and dense, that the notes would inflict many copyright laws :)
Most (all?) of the content is available in his blog, but the book is compact and well-structured, it doesn’t feel like a collection of blogposts. You can still find the internal consistency of a disciplined writer, with the same structure at the innermost sections: problem definition, suboptimal approaches (bad experiences, reactions off the top of your head), approach summary, approach details, final words.
The articles are grouped into 5 major topics: organizations, tools, approaches, culture and careers.
Organizations start with sizing and, most interestingly, analyzing the state a team is at: falling behind, treading water, repaying debt and innovation. He defines each state and provide suggestions on how to move forward. This is also interesting later, as for example he suggests against hiring in an innovating team. Most of the rest is about changing organization structure.
The first topic at tools section is systems thinking, which is implicitly present through the whole book. It’s not just about drawing fancy diagrams. It’s about tools for analyzing and acting. After that meta, you’ll find tools for the Engineering Manager toolbox: metrics, controls…
Approaches is probably the most heterogeneous chapter, a collection of transversal suggestions, from exceptions at policies to manager relationships.
Culture contains all that slow wisdom that you see when there’s time or distance to a company: all those decisions and approaches that shape teams.
Finally, careers encompasses how engineering management impacts the professional life of people, from hiring to performanced management. This covers from interview detail to new roles definitions.
There’s a last appendix section with “tools for operating a growing organization” (that I would’ve placed somewhere else), books, papers and links.
The book is beautifully edited. I started with the digital version, but I couldn’t resist and switched to the paper one.
I can’t stop recommending the book (or the blog!). Will Larson has written in a crisp language a huge amount of experience, backed by precise analysis, and delivered it in terms of specific tools and actions. It’s not only about opinions but about actionable guidelines and frameworks.