Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Top 10 Management Myths

"Leadership is nature's way of removing morons from the productive flow" Dilbert, February 5, 1995.

The above quote is satirical observation of the Peter Principle from Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams.  The Peter Principle was published in the 1969 book by the same name and states:  “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”.  The general idea is that people who do well at their current role will get promoted until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent and there they will stay.  The Dilbert Principle is much the opposite and states that companies tend to systematically promote under-qualified employees into management in order the limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing.  Speaking for those of us individual contributors who were promoted into management, I certainly hope this isn’t true J

Now back to the purpose of this post which wasn’t just a comical history lesson.  I wanted to have a discussion on some misconceptions regarding what it takes to be a manager and how you get there.  You may be thinking it’s silly to be writing about what is management.  After all doesn’t everyone know what a manager is?  And if you don’t, can’t you just look it up on Wikipedia?  (Actually I encourage you to read Wikipedia’s overview on the basic functions of management)  

Well, I am not trying to create my own definition what management is.  Nor am I going to write a big list of all the characteristics that make up a good manager.  That’s been done too many times before as well.  This is not to downplay the importance of recognizing those characteristics and how well you align to them.  However in this post I want to clear up some common myths about management that I continue to see time and time again.  Myths have a way of sticking around, for example “does a duck’s quack echo?”, and with many bad managers come many management myths.  So let’s clear the air on some of the biggest ones in my eyes.  After all, what kind of self claimed management guru could I be without putting together at least one top 10 list?  (Maybe a good one)

So without further adieu here are my top 10 management myths:

Myth 1: Management is the natural ascension of individual contributors

Reality:  The skills needed to be a successful individual contributor (IC) are quite different from those needed to be a manager.  As I mentioned in my Introductions post, excellent engineers are generally mired in deep technical knowledge and lack focus on personal leadership.  Management is not the only path up the corporate ladder.

Myth 2:  Managers make more money than individual contributors

Reality: Managers don’t have to make more than their employees.  People often assume management is the only path to the big bucks.  This may be true sometimes, but not as much as you’d think.  Going back to Myth 1, if someone is an excellent performer who is not interested in going into management, why would they be expected to make less than their manager?  Ultimately people should be rewarded based on their value and contributions to the company.  As upper level managers have an increasing stake in the business and influence over company profitability, they should certainly be compensated well.  However an IC can operate at any level of the organization and also have a big impact on company profitability. 

Myth 3: A manager is a leader

Reality: A good manager is also a leader, but a manager is not necessarily a leader.  One day I will devote a whole posting to the leadership versus management distinction.  In the meantime I like to use the following reference: Consider Jesus Christ.  Regardless of your religious beliefs I’m sure you can recognize that he was a successful leader, but he was not a manager and did not have an org chart.

Myth 4: A manager’s primary responsibility is the project(s)/product(s)

Reality: The primary responsibility of the manager is the people, not the project.  If you are in charge of a printing press you may be accountable for printing pages, but your primary responsibility is really about keeping that machine operational.  Keep your team working efficiently and effectively and the project will follow.

Myth 5:  Managers should make the final call on technical decisions

Reality: Managers make decisions, but they are not experts in everything.  A manager is not always the best qualified person on the team to be making technical decisions.  A good manager should not be able to do the jobs of all of their direct reports better than they do.  While you’ll certainly be involved in technical issues and often making critical decisions on your own, sometimes you also need to recognize the strengths of your team and just trust your directs judgment. 

Myth 6:  Management is easy

Reality:  Being a good manager is hard work.  Often an IC assumes that their manager doesn’t have to do any “real work”; they simply direct others to do the work and delegate.  Sadly this is probably true of some managers, but not in the majority of cases.  A manager has many responsibilities on a personal and technical level to fulfill.  Even delegation isn’t easy as we’ll discuss in future postings.  At the end of the day managers aren’t judged on their individual work as much as they are on the collective work of their team.  And any time your success is tied to the success of others it’s not an easy task.

Myth 7:  You must be charismatic to be a good manager

Reality: While I believe that charisma is a top-tier quality in a good manager, the reality is that many of the world’s most successful managers are not “people-people”.  A good manager treats people fairly and sets up their employees to be happy and successful. Doing this will inspire devotion even without charisma.  And if you are someone that does not have charisma, you can always Fake It Till You Make It

Myth 8:  Time spent managing is time taken from everything else that must be done

Reality:  Time spent properly managing people enables them to be more productive and relieve the burdens of your own deliverables.  Managers often feel like they have their own deliverables to worry about and don’t have enough time to focus on coaching their team.  But when your team isn’t properly managed they are not operating as efficiently as they could.  They could be producing better quality work in less time and be able to accept more delegation from you.  And worse, you end up having to devote a lot of extra time in dealing with all the things that go wrong in a poorly managed team.  By taking the time to position your people properly, they will be more productive and help you out more.  It all comes back to you being successful only when your team is successful.

Myth 9:  An MBA makes a better manager

Reality: An MBA is an excellent tool for those aspiring to senior management and looking to be more involved in the business strategy and financial aspects of the company.  However the art of management is not generally taught in MBA programs.  An MBA teaches analysis and business techniques, but not the skills on talking to people, motivating and bringing true leadership to a team.  While degrees are important, skills and experience trump. 

Myth 10:  Managers must treat everyone equally

Reality:  Managers must treat everyone fairly.  Employees should be treated fairly without discrimination for any reason.  But when it comes time to reward people (and there are many types of reward), performance matters.  If an employee does an excellent job they should be rewarded for it.  And an employee should be reprimanded if necessary.  When it comes time to hand out money, everyone should not be treated equally but instead judged on their performance and their value to the business.  Treat your team as you would wish to be treated. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Failing organizations are usually over-managed and under-led” - Warren G. Bennis

Have you ever had a bad manager?  It seems that’s like asking, “Have you ever woken up in the morning?”  There’s the micro-manager, the mean-manager, the missing-manager, Bill Lumbergh and more.  Most of us have been in situations where we’ve been unhappy with our boss.  It’s often easy for an employee to berate the faults of their manager.  But what if you are the manager?  How often do you ask yourself “Have I ever been a bad manager?” 

One of the biggest problems I see across industries is that managers don’t spend enough time focusing on leadership and management skills. They are always too busy worrying about deadlines, budgets, deliverables and the enforcement of procedures like time sheets, expenses reports and project status updates.   They don’t study management in the same way they would study a technical challenge.  Managers lose sight of the personal leadership aspect of their job which should actually be their foremost concern.  This blog aims to help address that problem.

I remember when I was young and naive I thought to myself “Managing is easy … you don’t have to do any of the actual work!”  Boy was I wrong.   As I took on more management responsibilities in my career I realized just how difficult it can be.  Many engineers that transition from an individual contributor role to management find themselves in this position.  They have a technical degree and a long career of hands-on engineering work and are then somehow often assumed to be the ideal candidates for management.  That’s not to say engineers can’t be great managers (eh hem), but many are at least initially lacking the training and skills to be effective managers.   If managers can take the time to purposefully study their new craft, their team will thrive and the manager will share in their success.  

When I reached the point in my career when I transitioned from an individual contributor to a manger I was determined not to be a stereotypical technical manager without people skills.  I dedicated myself to exceeding in this role and to constantly be learning and open to change. So I set out to absorb all the information I could through reading, classes, observation and of course lots of practical experience (often involving trial and adaptation).  And so this blog was born out of two purposes:

1)      To share my findings with the world so others may learn and help the development of themselves and their teams
2)     To be a better manager myself by writing and teaching 

This blog will answer many of the questions I had as I was becoming a self taught manager such as:  How do I keep employees motivated?  How do I hire the right people?  How do I keep people properly positioned for success?   How do I determine promotions and raises?  How do I ensure quality?   I will also discuss concerns that I have in my career that I am still working through as my own self training continues.     

Some future topics for this blog include:   Hiring, Orienting, Types of Power, Delegation, Transparency, Risk Management, Agile, Scrum, Interviewing, Salary Negotiation, Promoting, Quality, Documentation, Off-shoring, Remote Teams and much more.

I’ve learned that while many management techniques are universal, there are some attributes to software development that warrant some unique approaches.  The world of software development with its ever changing requirements, technologies and timelines doesn’t make for any less pressure on a new manager.  Most of the topics we cover here will be applicable to most management positions; however the focus will be on software engineering teams and often on transitioning from engineering.

I have no management degree, no books to my name, but I do have a proven track record in building and managing successful software engineering teams and a strong desire to learn and to teach.  I hope you’ll find this blog useful and I encourage your comments to keep this effort collaborative. 

Now back to my TPS reports …