The number of direct reports for an engineering manager is a recurring debate among tech managers. I’ve heard many different versions of it, and I’ve witnessed many implementations, which led me to have strong battle-tested opinions on the topic.
So, how many reports should an engineering manager have?
I’m a fervent fan of High Output Management by Andy Grove, and in that book, he shares that “A manager whose work is largely supervisory should have six to eight subordinates; three or four are too few and ten are too many […] this ensures half a day per week for each subordinate.”
And the keyword here is “supervisory” which means the manager has a medium amount of individual responsibility, however, that level of responsibility will depend on how your organization and yourself want to define the role of engineering manager.
A lot has also been written about managerial archetype, but it all feels either subjective or generic to me, and the rationale is often not clear. Things are actually more complex than just following a rule of thumb, and I hope to shed some light as to how I think of it with this article.