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Almost all organizations will have onboarding plans for software engineers, but what about engineering managers?

Onboarding plans for engineers have become a golden standard in most organizations, and with good reason. An effective onboarding plan prepares new hires for their role, connects them to the organization’s culture and values, and clarifies what is expected from them.

But what about onboarding engineering managers? 

I recently ran a survey with over 1,100 engineering managers and found that although 100% of respondents believe there is real value in a dedicated onboarding plan for managers, less than 33% of companies actually have one in place. These are companies of all domains and sizes, from small startups to big tech. 

There are several reasons why this might be the case. Perhaps, it’s due to there being fewer new managers than engineers. Or it may have something to do with the fact that managers usually come from different backgrounds (e.g., different management roles, business verticals, technical expertise, etc.,) and therefore have unique onboarding needs. Or maybe, it’s a case of them, generally, being expected to be independent and just “get by”.

But that doesn’t mean the managers should be overlooked. Finding your place starting at a new company or being transferred internally is difficult, even as a manager. The right onboarding plan to make this transition as smooth as possible is therefore paramount.

The importance of an onboarding plan 

When I first joined my company, there wasn’t a dedicated onboarding program for managers. As this was the case, I went through the same induction plan as all new engineers, which primarily focused on technical aspects, hands-on work, and company values

Consequently, I finished onboarding without a clear understanding of what was expected of me and unprepared for my day-to-day work. I had a lot of unanswered questions, but, luckily, I also had great colleagues, managers, and a wonderful team, who were able to answer them and support me as I developed in the role.

A year later, I became a director of engineering at the same company, where the onboarding of new managers became my responsibility. In that period, we were expecting several individuals to step into managerial positions, and there was still no dedicated onboarding plan for engineering managers.

Wanting to ensure that we provided a better integration experience for new engineering managers and having learned a lot from my own experience, I set out to build a plan that could support and guide engineering managers in their first days. 

Building an onboarding plan for engineering managers 

An onboarding plan for new engineering managers should provide them with the foundation to effectively support their teams and act as leaders in the organization. 

To be successful in this endeavor, you should center your plan around two key success factors: a feeling of belonging and a sense of accomplishment (Quartz).

  1. Belonging: The feeling that you’re a part of something – the team, the engineering organization, and the company.
  2. Accomplishment: Gives the new hire confidence and a feeling that they’ve contributed something meaningful to the group.

The four building blocks for an onboarding plan 

To equip engineering managers for success, our onboarding plan is built upon four foundational pillars. These building blocks serve as the cornerstones of a seamless and effective transition into the role, providing clarity, empowerment, practicality, and adaptability. Let's delve into each of these essential elements.

1. Have an end date  

Providing a set end date establishes a clear sense of completion for the manager and gives them something to work towards.

At my company, we didn’t want to stretch the plan longer than four weeks to be efficient and support the organization’s business needs. We also wanted to allow the new managers to get to work relatively quickly and start gaining a sense of accomplishment. 

Only once a manager has completed the requirements of the onboarding plan can they officially enter their new role. If these four weeks aren’t enough time to complete everything they need to, new managers receive a 60- or 90-day extension, with checkpoints throughout. 

2. Engineering manager ownership 

The plan is overseen by the engineering managers being onboarded to root the concepts of ownership and accountability. We provide a checklist for them to go through, alongside all the materials they may need, to help them stay focused.

But this process should not be done in isolation. Each engineering manager should also be assigned a buddy – a peer engineering manager – to whom they can consult on smaller questions that they might feel are too insignificant to ask around about. This way, newer members have a solid support system, increasing efficiency and providing a feeling of belonging.  

3. Theoretical sessions and hands-on experiences 

This onboarding plan consists of two forms of training:

  • Theoretical sessions
  • Hands-on experiences 

Theoretical sessions are simply discussions and presentations about the different parts of the manager’s role. They are the common way of transferring knowledge in onboarding plans. However, in many cases, they are not enough, missing the element of practical exercises. This is where “experiences” come into play. 

Experiences allow the managers who are onboarding to put theory into practice, ensuring that they get to experience hands-on, day-to-day elements of the role, with live feedback from their line manager or buddy. 

Given that starting a new position is basically a series of firsts – the first 1:1, the first sprint retro, and the first team standup meeting – experiences can help reduce those firsts, combat imposter syndrome, and provide a sense of accomplishment

Well-executed experiences provide an excellent opportunity to publicly recognize and celebrate the achievements of new managers in front of their teams, to build confidence, create momentum, and help the manager gauge their development.   

All sessions and experiences are divided into three tracks: 

  1. Interpersonal skills: Team members’ well-being, professional growth, performance, and team dynamics.
  2. Delivery management: The team’s execution and process. From kickoff to deployment, project management, and measuring velocity and impact.
  3. Technical leadership: Setting the standard for code quality and reviewing architectural decisions. 

The table below showcases examples of sessions where managers can learn about the theory behind practices at your org. Alongside the sessions are learning experiences, which are the exercises that managers can complete to practice or build on theories learned. This will help them fortify existing skills or gain knowledge on ones that they do not possess.





Interpersonal skills

The performance review process

Go over an employee's past performance review and think of future goals for them

Engineering career levels and individual contributor growth path

Conduct a survey in the team, with a focus on people-related metrics

Giving feedback

Review your 1:1 format with your line manager, perhaps with an example of how you provide feedback

Delivery management 

Team and group rituals

Run a daily stand-up meeting

The OKR process

Lead a sprint retrospective meeting

The development cycle and release flow

Analyze the team’s delivery metrics

Technical leadership 

Architecture and design principles

Take part in a feature tech design review

Observability – monitoring, logging, and alerting

Perform code reviews together with the buddy or line manager

The incident management process

Lead an incident postmortem


It’s important to note that when it comes to interpersonal skills, it can be challenging to find opportunities for experiences. These matters are usually sensitive, personal, and require a certain amount of shared mileage.

4. Adapt to fit any manager’s background 

Depending on whether you are hiring someone externally or transferring someone internally, your onboarding plan should reflect each manager’s needs. Addressing differences in expertise could help prevent overload for a novel manager. Conversely, this will also eliminate the chance of seasoned managers overdoing exercises they are already comfortable with. 

External-hired managers usually already know the basics of interpersonal management, meaning they’re probably quite familiar with how to deliver feedback and run a 1:1 meeting. 

For these individuals, it is more prudent to focus on delivery management and technical leadership, alongside showing them specifically how things are done at the organization.

Internal transfers to management often have more experience in internal technical processes within the organization. They have the technical know-how, the ownership mindset, and a good understanding of the development flow. However, they can sometimes lack project management skills. Therefore, they’ll need to focus more on interpersonal skills and delivery management. 

To help make sure newly-appointed managers don’t feel like they have too much on their plate, make sure the sessions and experiences are divided into levels of priority: required, recommended, and optional. It is the line manager’s decision which recommended and optional content they want to keep in the plan, based on the new manager’s background.

“Don’t worry abouts”

Like any onboarding process, the goal is to prepare managers for their new roles. New managers shouldn’t be worrying about delivering business-critical features or trying to show their value by making groundbreaking changes during this time. This phase should be dedicated to learning and gaining the tools to become an effective leader within the organization. 

At my company, we came up with a list of “don’t-worry-abouts”, i.e., things managers shouldn’t be concerned with during onboarding. This was done to make sure the plan didn't feel overwhelming.  

Below are a few examples of “don’t-worry-abouts”:

  • Interviewing or taking an active part in the recruiting process.
  • Hands-on coding and feature delivery.
  • The team’s performance metrics.
  • The bugs backlog.
  • Production incidents.

The line manager’s role

It is crucial for line managers to be involved throughout onboarding. 

According to Gallup, when the line manager takes an active role in the onboarding, employees are over three times more likely to feel that their onboarding was successful. And, according to SilkRoad, 37% of employees didn’t think their manager played a critical role in supporting their onboarding experience. 

But the onus isn’t solely on managers. A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that new employees who are proactive about their own onboarding will likely receive more attention and support from managers. These employees were also more likely to succeed. 

Given this, we need to encourage managers to make time for regular formal check-ins during onboarding, in addition to informal interactions. At the same time, we need to encourage new employees to be engaged and take control of their onboarding.

Final thoughts  

A good plan should incorporate practical hands-on experiences to build confidence and prepare new managers for their day-to-day work. It should also be adaptable and tailored to fit each new manager’s background. And lastly, the line manager’s buy-in is critical. 

A dedicated onboarding plan for engineering managers is worth the investment and your organization could really benefit from one. Given the current tech climate, with companies downsizing and hiring fewer managers, having an effective onboarding experience is critical for success.

Learnings from my first 90 days as an engineering manager
Learnings from my first 90 days as an engineering manager
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