June 15, 2005

Losing Patience

I’m losing patience with people who seem to think that arguing about minutia contributes to the development process when in reality, it helps people not to be productive.

When a project makes its bed, it has to lie in it. So, if you adopt a very loose method of defining requirements, there comes a point when you have to produce something and then the interpretation of requirements is in the hands of the developers and testers. I know “producing something” is a very loose phrase. I don’t mean “produce anything” I mean “produce what you have told your developers (through whatever requirements process you use) that you want them to build.”

But, even aside from that, what is beginning to annoy me in an ongoing situation, is someone who can turn anything into a hellish downward spiral email time-sink Land of the Lost.

For some people, control is a huge issue. They spend inordinate amounts of time trying to exert control over others. And when those others turn out to be unproductive because they have lapsed into despair or get bogged down in useless detail and email hell, they complain about a lack of productivity.

Worse, when there is productivity they switch into a mode of “Uh-oh, this situation is a runaway train! I must not be exerting enough control.” This shows personal psychological problems. Not happy when people are nonproductive and not happy when people are productive. When are you happy? You’re happy when people follow every little thing you say to the letter, no matter how trivial. You’re happy when smart people act like stupid robots.

Good managers realize that when you hire smart people and drop them in a challenging situation, they will pleasantly surprise you with minimum constraints and a lot of leash. Your concern as a manager, at that point, should be whether they are productive. More specifically, you have a responsibility:

  1. To make sure they have everything they need to be productive
  2. To give them leeway in their methods if they can show you they will be productive
  3. To get out of the way and let them work
  4. To see if the accomplishments are not just false productivity, but are bringing the project sufficiently closer to a successful resolution
  5. To provide workers with access to the bigger picture when needed, not as a hammer, but as a reference for how what they’re doing today fits into that bigger picture and how the next thing they are assigned fits in as well. For context and motivation.

What you need to not provide as a manager are:

  1. Distractions
  2. Bullshit that has nothing to do with the job or being productive
    1. I don’t mean doing away with social stuff. I mean unwelcome harassing stuff and your own personal baggage that you should have left behind years ago.
  3. Obstacles
  4. Micro management
    1. If it really doesn’t matter at this stage of the game whether something is red or green, don’t bother the developer with endless discussions where you insist it needs to be green when he’s already made it red. Don’t insist on this just because it makes you feel like you’re productive if you enforce your will on someone else. This is part of the idea of producing something. Red vs. green is definitely one of those things that can be discussed AFTER you’ve produced something.

I could go on. Maybe later.

But I have to finish some stuff here and then go see Batman Begins with a bunch of people.

Posted by James at June 15, 2005 4:40 PM
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That's pretty much exactly what my two years at Seattle U were like. Managers who knew nothing about technology doing everything they could to micromanage and sabotage the work of their employees because they were worried about becoming "too dependent" on someone (i.e. not being able to fire them easily).

I think more work situations are like that than are not... hence the popularity of Dilbert. It only strengthens my belief in anarchism, in the idea that giving people power over others will almost always corrupt and always make things less efficient, not moreso.

Posted by: David Grenier at June 17, 2005 10:41 AM

I was in management once. No fun. It's a tough to go from doer to coordinator.

I'm glad to be a doer again. I wouldn't want to piss off people working on my projects. Well, anymore than I already DO. ;-)

Posted by: Chuck S. at June 17, 2005 11:24 AM

There is a learning curve with every transition, true. But a smart person will either adjust or figure out that it's not for him and get another job.

My problem is with peope who don't realize they suck.

And, my real complaint are about things that are actually much worse than poor management, but that's for another post sometime.

Posted by: James at June 17, 2005 11:36 AM

Jeebus, remind me not to post comments when I am in the middle of something else.

Duuurrrr. I sound like an idiot.

Posted by: James at June 17, 2005 11:15 PM

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