Becoming an Engineering Manager: Manage Your Client

Becoming an Engineering Manager: Manage Your Client

In our first article on Agile Management Philosophy, we outlined three evaluation criteria:

  • Manage Yourself
  • Manage Your Client
  • Manager Your Team

Now that you’ve created a structure for managing your own time and deliverables, we’ll dive into aspects of managing your client. We use the word “client” broadly here to refer to a boss, product manager/owner, or internal/external client.

Our agenda for this week of training is the following:

  • Review and introspection on previous week
  • Pillar #2: Systems
  • Best Practices of Client Management
  • Emotional IQ with Your Client
  • Role Playing

Best Practices

Making Commitments

There are a number of things your client is going to want to know before and during any type of engagement that you need to be prepared to answer:

  • How long will this take?
  • How much will this cost?
  • How hard will this be? Or how risky will this be? 

Your commitments need to be backed with some type of evidence or experience and you should be confident in what you provide. Exact commitments for software projects are never black and white so communication and transparency are key so clients understand dependencies and assumptions.


You're going to need to keep your client in the loop on projects and deliverables. Every client will have varying levels of detail they care about which you can calibrate over time. Here are some important items you’ll want to be transparent about when they arise:

  • Changes to timeline (delays or improvements)
  • Changes to cost/budget
  • If the project becomes harder or easier than expected, and the implications
  • Changes to critical dependencies

Generally it is good to have weekly or bi-weekly status meetings so that there is dedicated time to address these issues.


Ownership is one of the key pillars we discuss throughout our MIT program. All good managers and leaders take responsibility not only for their work, but also for the success of their team and company. Having an ownership mindset is one of the most valuable things you can offer a client. Here are some behavior differences between those that have it and those that don’t:

Listening to Feedback & Taking Criticism

Listening is one of the most important skills to master on your way to becoming a manager. Your client may offer feedback in a direct manner or indirect manner, but it is up to you to listen and adjust. Often the difference between a mature developer and someone more junior is an ability to listen.

Individuals and teams cannot improve without feedback which is why it is a crucial part of the process. Actively asking for feedback helps us gain the trust of the client and prevents potential setbacks. 

What if your client isn’t offering feedback? It is up to you to be proactive and ask periodically. 

Emotional IQ: With Your Client

The next stage of developing your EIQ is how you recognize and deal with emotions with your Client:

  • Client temperament - Have you identified or noticed patterns of the attitude your client takes with your or other members of the team? How do they usually provide feedback?
  • Client work style - How do your clients prefer to communicate with you or in general? How are they making decisions? How do they absorb information?
  • Are you benefiting from client feedback and criticism? Or immediately getting defensive?
  • Are you demonstrating empathy when your client needs help?

Role Playing

As the program continues, the role playing starts to increase in difficulty putting the manager-in-training in more difficult and conflicting scenarios. Here are some we like to use to evaluate managing your client: 

  • Your client makes an impossible request. How do you say no and offer alternatives?
  • The requirements you were given were poorly written and lacked detail. You’re confused and your client isn’t making time for you. What do you do? 
  • Your client expectedly moves the deadline up one month. How do you react? 
  • Your has been voicing concerns about a developer on team. What do you do?
  • Your client was unhappy with a release. How do you handle it? 


Click to download scorecard to evaluate how well you manage your client.

Now that you’ve successfully managed your time, deliverables, and your client, you are ready to take on a team. The work isn’t done, managing others brings on a new set of challenges. Read our Managing a Team article to learn more. 

Here are links to all posts in this series:

Becoming an Engineering Manager: Manage Yourself
Becoming an Engineering Manager: Manage a Team

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