A human-centric guide to solving complex problems in engineering management, from sizing teams to handling technical debt.
There’s a saying that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Management is a key part of any organization, yet the discipline is often self-taught and unstructured. Getting to the good solutions for complex management challenges can make the difference between fulfillment and frustration for teams—and, ultimately, between the success and failure of companies.
Will Larson’s An Elegant Puzzle focuses on the particular challenges of engineering management—from sizing teams to handling technical debt to performing succession planning—and provides a path to the good solutions. Drawing from his experience at Digg, Uber, and Stripe, Larson has developed a thoughtful approach to engineering management for leaders of all levels at companies of all sizes. An Elegant Puzzle balances structured principles and human-centric thinking to help any leader create more effective and rewarding organizations for engineers to thrive in.
2 Organizations 2.1 Sizing teams 2.2 Staying on the path to high-performing teams 2.3 A case against top-down global optimization 2.4 Productivity in the age of hypergrowth 2.5 Where to stash your organizational risk? 2.6 Succession planning
3 Tools 3.1 Introduction to systems thinking 3.2 Product management: exploration, selection, validation 3.3 Visions and strategies 3.4 Metrics and baselines 3.5 Guiding broad organizational change with metrics 3.6 Migrations: the sole scalable fix to tech debt 3.7 Running an engineering reorg 3.8 Identify your controls 3.9 Career narratives 3.10 The briefest of media trainings 3.11 Model, document, and share 3.12 Scaling consistency: designing centralized decision-making groups 3.13 Presenting to senior leadership 3.14 Time management 3.15 Communities of learning
4 Approaches 4.1 Work the policy, not the exceptions 4.2 Saying no 4.3 Your philosophy of management 4.4 Managing in the growth plates 4.5 Ways engineering managers get stuck 4.6 Partnering with your manager 4.7 Finding managerial scope 4.8 Setting organizational direction 4.9 Close out, solve, or delegate
5 Culture 5.1 Opportunity and membership 5.2 Select project leads 5.3 Make your peers your first team 5.4 Consider the team you have for senior positions 5.5 Company culture and managing freedoms 5.6 Kill your heroes, stop doing it harder
6 Careers 6.1 Roles over rocket ships, and why hypergrowth is a weak 6.2 Running a humane interview process 6.3 Cold sourcing: hire someone you don’t know 6.4 Hiring funnel 6.5 Performance management systems 6.6 Career levels, designation momentum, level splits, etc. 6.7 Creating specialized roles, like SRE or TPM 6.8 Designing an interview loop
7 Appendix 7.1 Tools for operating a growing organization 7.2 Books I’ve found very useful 7.3 Papers I’ve found very useful
Will Larson has been an engineering leader and software engineer at technology companies of many shapes and sizes, including Yahoo!, Digg, SocialCode, Uber, and Stripe. He grew up in North Carolina, studied computer science at Centre College in Kentucky, and spent a year in Japan teaching English through the JET Programme. An Elegant Puzzle draws from the writing in his blog, Irrational Exuberance!, which he has been updating since graduating from college. It is currently, and will always be, a work in progress. Larson lives in San Francisco.