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Managing Up: What It Is and How to Do It

Managing up is a concept that is thrown around a bit in the office. I didn’t know what it was until someone explained it to me, so I’ll explain it to you here and provide some tips on how to do it.

What Is Managing Up?

First of all, let’s define the term “managing up”.

Managing up means ensuring that your manager, and even their managers, are comfortable and satisfied with the work you’re doing.

While “regular” management can often be seen as referring to your own work, and the people you work with, managing up refers to working with your manager.

Why do we need it?

  • To make sure your boss is up to date with what you’re doing and how it’s going
  • To make sure there are no surprises with your project
  • So your boss can explain the status of your work to their managers

Basically, it’s to manage expectations and keep everyone comfortable with the work that you’re doing.

So, how do you do it?

There are three tips that I can provide to help you with this “managing up” concept.

Think About It From Your Manager’s POV

When you’re working on something, you’re often doing it for someone else’s purpose. You’re often writing code for a project that someone else has asked for. You’re often debugging and issue that a customer has found and wants fixed.

In any case, your manager’s role is to monitor the work you’re doing and report on it.

One tip for managing up is to think about the work from your manager’s point of view.

What kind of information would they need? What do they need to communicate to others?

When I think of this, I try to keep three things in mind:

  • Don’t provide unnecessary detail
  • Timeframes are useful
  • Risks need to be highlighted

I don’t often tell my manager the exact steps I took to do something when they asked for it – I give them a summary. They don’t often need the detail, especially when you’re trying to explain complicated topics.

Also, giving them a time frame is useful, especially if the work isn’t done yet. Tell them how long the work may take, and how long the effects of it may last, for example.

Finally, if there are any risks associated with the work you’re doing, let them know as well. For example, if there’s a risk that the weekend outage may cause a configuration change on the server which would mean some re-work, then highlight that to them. It’s better to keep everyone informed.

Regular Communication

Another tip for managing up is to provide regular communication.

Managers (both your manager and their manager) are most effective when they have the right information, and when it’s up to date.

Keep your manager up to date with what you’re working on, and any issues you face.

This is where the daily stand-up for Agile teams really helps. A daily, short meeting to highlight what you’re working on and any blockers or issues you face can be helpful to everyone involved.

Your manager can then go and provide information to their manager or make arrangements to fix whatever issues you’re having.

Find Out the Bigger Picture

The final tip I can provide is to understand the bigger picture.

As software developers, we’re often writing code based on requirements documents or user stories. These don’t often have a “why” associated with them. Well, user stories have a “so that” clause, which explains the “why” for that story, but many requirements documents don’t.

It can be helpful to find out the bigger picture, so you can make better decisions and provide better information to your manager.

Why is the project being requested? Why is the software being built? Why is this change being asked for?

Ask your manager about this – they should know.

Keep an ear out for conversations about the work you’re doing, as it can help to pick up bits of information here and there.