Managing Up: 14 Strategies for Working with Upper Management More Efficiently

by | Leaders Lunch, Software Development

Having a healthy and effective relationship with upper management is one of the most important factors in your work life. A good relationship with your manager can positively impact your job satisfaction, productivity and career. A poor working relationship can do the opposite.

Managing up” refers to strategies for working effectively with upper management, and was the topic of our latest Leaders Lunch on February 20, 2019.

Moderated by John Boone, ProFocus President, we were joined by Portland-based software development leaders for a roundtable discussion exploring tactics for managing up.

Best Practices for Managing Up

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the valuable advice, lessons and resources shared during the one-hour discussion:

1. Consider where information is coming from.

Remember that upper level managers receive information from not only you, but all your peers and others in the organization. Ensure that your messaging takes this into consideration, and try to influence this larger number of inputs to the management levels.

2. Use storytelling.

Help executives understand the value you are proposing. However, it’s important to know your audience — stay away from highly technical discussions.

3. Understand how your company makes money.

It’s easy to focus on the ins-and-outs of your own department, but IT doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Don’t forget about the bottom line — make an effort to understand how your organization drives revenue.

4. Remember that business drives IT.

Frame your proposals in terms that make it clear the business is driving IT, not the other way around. Tie your proposals back to business goals such as revenue.

5. Focus on the business goals.

Ensure that IT is aligned with the goals of the business. One good strategy is to ask executives to give the technical teams a business goal, and let the teams work to achieve it.

6. Get involved early in acquisitions.

This helps to ensure the costs of integrating a purchased company are considered in the offer price.

7. Adopt SAFe and PI Planning.

SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) and PI Planning (Program Increment) offer a great opportunity for business leaders to present what they need and for the executive team to see all the complexity and the number of competing projects that are underway.

8. Use the MVP concept to communicate with leadership.

The Minimum Viable Product concept helps to set expectations clearly for all stakeholders.

9. Ask: What’s the desired outcome?

When business execs request a feature, ask them what outcome they want. This gives teams the ability to solve the problem in different ways. The feature originally requested is probably not the best way.

10. Solicit input ahead of making a proposal.

This will help you find and address any negative opinions before the meeting.

11. You can’t have it all.

If (or when) executives want too much or too many things, insist on a tradeoff discussion. Communicate the fact that your team cannot do it all and that you’ll need to decide together what is not going to get done.

12. Have empathy for those at the top.

Remember they have limited information and many demands on them.

13. Use metrics to get what you want.

If the team below you wants something from the executive team, ask them to gather metrics to convince the exec of their point of view. Ask them to put their argument in terms of company-wide objectives.

14. Don’t hide the real problems.

Trying to conceal problems from the execs will always come back to bite you.

Recommended Resources

Want to learn more? Here’s some of the resources recommended by our attendees for further reading.

If you are a leader in Software Development and Engineering, and would like to be involved in future roundtable discussions like the one above, please send an email to [email protected] with a request to be invited to upcoming Leaders Lunches.

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