Management & Leadership Psychobabble

I’m weary of management & leadership psychobabble (e.g., The manager does this, while the leader does that).

While not bullet-proof, two tenets that hold true more often than not in my day-to-day life as a knowledge worker:

  1. Command and Control Management is almost always unnecessary and irrelevant. 
  2. Leadership is often over-rated (see Dancing Guy video in Leaders Yes, Managers No).

Where’s my management & leadership psychobabble?

The Manager asks for the report, but The Leader gets his own damn report.

It’s a Marriage, Not a Stew

I’ll use a horse racing analogy to illustrate a common Agile software #fail scenario:

  • The developers are thoroughbred horses, with rapid metabolisms, who are impatiently cantering.
  • The owners & the trainers over-value the necessity of their contribution. They stumble out of the gates while arguing about the fat and fiber content of the feed.

Some owners & trainers would be better off keeping draft horses. Those needing to stay in the race might consider some of the causes of this churn:

  1. Owners & trainers haven’t a clue how to prioritize races.
  2. Owners & trainers involve champion horses in a swirl of the inconsequential.
  3. Owners & trainers segregate their horses into costly horse barns.

Prioritize Races

Much has been written about prioritizing stories for iterations that doesn’t bear repeating. Suffice it to say, if you’re a business owner who’s unable to queue up what needs to be built, please spare us the absurd sauntering by finding another line of work.

Developers sniff out incompetence in a single ill-prepared meeting. They sense when you are in over your head – often before you do.

If you can’t establish credibility out of the gate as someone who has a systems view, and who understands how to set priorities, you’re toast.

Shelter From the Swirl

Why do managers embark into Agile without bothering to comprehend the principles?

The mechanics of Agile become a weapon when the principles of Agile are disregarded.

When managers are in over their heads, they rope potentially productive developers in invariably unproductive meetings. In those meetings, managers unintentionally expose their shallow understanding of the problem space (what) and their lack of vision (why) about the product. This is near fatal.

IT pros always and without fail, quietly self-organize around those who make the work easier, while shunning those who make the work harder, independent of the organizational chart.
~Jeff Ello

Once developers sense you’re a shallow paper horse, all bets are off.

Don’t conduct story mapping, iteration planning, daily stand-ups, or retrospectives until you understand their purpose, their necessity, and how they apply to your situation.

Segregation of Expertise

Don’t do it. Segregate software expertise at your peril.

Everyone is, or has the potential to be, a soup-to-nuts developer. Good developers are much more than programmers. A good developer can be craftsman-like. I have worked with developers who care as much about test-driven development as user experience.

There is scant justification for separating people into expertise bins. There is scant justification for fire-walling user experience considerations, or data design considerations, from the development team.

If you’re a technical person, but not on the development team, you’re an outsider with an opinion.

Fahgettaboudit. Forget your data architects. Forget your user interface bozos. Forget your user experience schlubs. Your application deserves the attention of all of those considerations, but not in the form of extra-team “experts” with no skin in the iteration.

Everyone is a developer with varying degrees of exposure to the aforementioned skills.

Do find and nurture well-rounded developers. Better to find and nurture well-rounded developers, multi-faceted people, than to stable a bunch of experts with no skin in your iterations.

This is a marriage, not a stew
~Alan Cooper

No One Likes to be Managed – What’s Next?

Management is destined to be skewered by the shish kabob of self-starting, self-organization.

That no one likes to be managed isn’t a notion, rather it is a thesis supported by data. To test this assertion, take note of the search phrases Google suggests when you enter the phrase

my manager is a

Bully, idiot, jerk, and control freak are what Google suggests. Google’s suggestions are tallied and ranked based on the terms most commonly searched by your co-workers (and your direct reports).

From the flaming grill of my corporate-vagabond experience, my unsubstantiated notions are:

  • Humans are largely a self-organizing species;
  • Some humans are doers;
  • Some humans are controllers;
  • Doers get stuff done;
  • Controllers are counter-productive; and it’s
  • Better to be a facilitator or coach than a controller

The groups I work with day-to-day (i.e., independent contractors, employees, and consultants) cringe at the first sniff of scripted ceremony, retrospective platitudes, or condescending praise. Scripted ceremony, retrospective platitudes, and condescending praise are deep-seated in the DNA of the controller’s marbled fat.

If my livelihood was based on controlling rather than doing, I would be concerned about my economic viability. If you’re a facilitator, road-block clearer, or a coach, you’ve nothing to worry about. But, pure controllers are the excess fat to be trimmed in coming years.

What’s Next?

Year’s end, predictably, fertilizes scads of predictions. I take all predictions with a grain of salt. That said, I can’t stop from making some forecasting about the workplace.

The groundhog is like most other prophets; it delivers its prediction and then disappears. ~Bill Vaughn

Following are my predictions for the decade of the 2010s

  • The 2010s are for self-starters, self-organizers, and the self-employed. 
  • The 2010s will see the growth of online professional communities. Professional communities will replace labor unions, providing economies of scale for group services and rates (collective bargaining) heretofore available only to large organizations. These communities will be networks of people brought together online and focused on professional interests (e.g.,  I moderate two professional groups on LinkedIn, Twin Cities Software Consultants and Agile .Net Practitioners. These groups have grown steadily in 2009 to 615 local members for Twin Cities Software Consultants  and 1,626 worldwide members for Agile .Net Practitioners).
  • Economic growth in the 2010s will be fueled by bands of small communities (1-100) in professional partnerships that will compete head-to-head with corporate behemoths. Success, big or small, will be measured by how fast your community can adapt.
  • Myopic corporations will be blind-sided by the open source movement in the 2010s.