Chapter 3. Avoiding Traps in Manager READMEs

Camille Fournier

Manager READMEs are a popular idea in engineering management circles. The concept is roughly that you, the manager, are writing a README similar to one that you might find attached to a codebase—a “user guide” for your team. That README can contain everything from the deeply personal, such as a manager’s stated values and personality quirks, to the more mundane, such as expectations for one-on-one meetings, communication standards for the team, and ways to contact them.

Insofar as they stick to the mundane, manager READMEs are somewhat useful. Writing down how and when you expect your team to communicate with you can be great, especially for managers running distributed teams where there isn’t the obvious in-office synchronization. If you can be explicit about your expectations for a new employee’s first 90 days, or how you prefer to be contacted outside of work hours, when you want status updates, and how you run your meetings, that is all useful information to have written down.

But writer beware! If you decide to stray into the personal, the personality quirks, and core values, you are entering dangerous territory. Although you might be writing these down in the hopes of building trust between you and your team, you are just as likely to erode and undermine trust with these writings as you are to build it.

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