Entries Tagged 'Management' ↓

I could never be a manager because…

I’ve written about this subject before, but it’s a common topic that never really goes away. As someone who started technical and moved into management, who keeps close to friends and colleagues who stayed technical, I often hear the line: “I could never be a manager, because…”.

About a year go, our group went through some difficult changes and we had to let some people go — a substantial percentage of our project team lost their jobs. I traveled to a remote office and laid off several highly qualified engineers in one of the toughest days of my career, and then returned to corporate headquarters and watched all my peers do the same thing.

Commiserating with colleagues (and ex-colleagues) after the fact, I heard someone tell a story of a friend who had abandoned his role as a manager rather than have to tell someone they had lost their job.  At the time I just nodded, but the story has come back to me over and over in the year since. And while I would not begrudge anyone a personal choice like that, I know I would never make it.

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Staying friends with your team

I had a conversation recently with a colleague about the challenges of having certain types of management conversations with a team that you’re socially close to. To put it another way, is it possible to deliver difficult messages to your friends? More broadly: does staying friends with your team compromise your managerial effectiveness?

When I started in management, the team I was given was the same team where I had been an individual contributor. In a situation like that, there are certainly some pitfalls: others on the team might be resentful they were passed over for the role, a close friendship with a colleague may be viewed as favoritism in the new team structure, and so on. That’s a difficult (but common) situation and makes the transition to management even harder than it is normally.

But let’s step past that scenario and into the “steady state” of management. You’re working closely with your team, have shared values and culture, and develop a strong working relationship. You eat lunch with them, invite them to social gatherings, give them holiday gifts, and so on. Some of them will undoubtedly be the people you are more likely to be friends with than others. In some ways, it’s not a question of whether you’ll become friends with individuals on your team, it’s what the impact of that will be.  From what I’ve seen, there are three main areas of concern:

  1. Delivering difficult messages
  2. Fairness (and the perception of fairness)
  3. Your own upward mobility.

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Development Manager vs. Engineering Manager

My title at EMC is “Software Development Manager,” but my job is definitely “Software Engineering Manager.”

Usually in a software engineering organization, at some level there is a split between the Development team and the Quality team.  The Development team, in theory, is evaluated on its ability to Develop software.  The Quality team likewise is evaluated on its ability to Qualify that software.  While nobody wants the Development team to produce a buggy product, in the end it’s the Quality team who makes the decision on whether the software is bug-free enough to ship to customers.  You don’t trust the Development team to make that decision.  It’s a system of checks and balances.

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New manager?

I recently got a message from a colleague and friend who was embarking on a bit of a career adventure, going from a strictly technical role to one where some formal management was going to be required.  After (tongue-in-cheek) offering my condolences, I shared the story of the first real lesson I remember learning as a manager.

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Areas of concern

Early in my career as a manager, I attended a discussion where the question was raised: are we people managers or business managers?  Is it more important to be good with people, or to know the business side of your product?  Over time I have realized it’s much more than just those two – and I’ve begun calling them the axes of concern.

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Iterative development of performance reviews

If you’re in software, you’ve heard of iterative development.  Simplified, its intent is to rapidly create a working piece of software and then continue on small cycles of improvement on that software, until the stakeholders want it released.

This isn’t a post about software development, though.  Instead, I’m sharing how iterative development has changed my approach to performance reviews.

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Why managers matter

I am a technical manager, and work with many others.  We’re people who “grew up” in the industry with our arms elbow-deep in source code.  It’s not unusual for me to hear my peers complaining about “overhead” work and wishing they could do “real” work.  But what they might wish for as work isn’t necessarily what their teams need them to be doing.

So what is it that we as managers do that matters?

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Management as a practice

Working at EMC, I often run into highly technical people in management roles.  Almost every manager I interact with could tell a story of transition from technical contributor to manager.  It’s not unusual to have senior managers directly contributing to a product, and recently my senior director recently called in an individual contributor to discuss coding practices after he stumbled onto some things while reviewing the code quality dashboard.

With this in mind, I am not surprised when I walk into a manager’s office (or cube) and see a bookshelf with books about programming languages, software design, code quality, and so-on.  I think it’s healthy, actually.  In the role we’re expected to play, it’s important we be able to speak the same language, be able to detect poor practice from early signs, and so on.

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Becoming a manager – fear of politics

Last time I wrote on this subject, I covered only a third of the equation of the decision to become a manager.  There were still some open questions, including figuring out what skills and talents I could bring to the management table, and how to deal with the vague “ugly stuff” that most technical contributors seem to fear hides behind the manager’s job title.

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In praise of deadlines

A pressing deadline is a powerful thing.  Without a deadline, ideas can drown each other competing for supremacy in a sea of data.  People use and abuse their own value functions to find fault with any possible approach.  But faced with a deadline, thinkers break out of analysis paralysis and become doers.  Of course, an unrealistic deadline just causes panic and sloppy work as people scramble to meet impossible goals and push themselves deep into technical debt.
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