Sunday, 4 January 2009

How I knew my management philosophy was wrong

The dashboard of the new style Volkswagen Beetle has a glass test tube attached. People like to put a flower in it. Me? I’d like to pull the silly bit of plasti-glass off that shiny, smooth, well proportioned interior, and smash it into bits. I’ll explain.

I’m mid thirties, worked in tech companies and teams since ’95 and thought I knew a thing or two about building software and managing teams. I’m organised, logical, determined, and hard working. What more could I need to lead a team to the work nirvana of on-time developments, flawless process and bug free software? Turns out, I need a test-tube shaped flower holder.

Any clearer yet? No I guess not. Ok, I’m like a machine right. I get a task, I break it into bits, I work out how it’s going to get done, allocate the work, monitor time and effort, keep track of issues, punish a bit here, praise a bit there, etc. Out the end of this I get results. Do I get the perfection I’m after? Well no, of course not. Who could? There’s always something you could do better, right? You just need to keep on fixing the problems as you find them and not make the same mistake again. Keep fixing and you’ll get fewer and fewer problems, closer and closer to perfection. Or at least, that’s what I’ve been thinking all these years.

Oh how sweet the ignorance. I could have happily carried on. Fix here, tweak there. Get some new software… yes that’d help, maybe promote someone to err… something higher. Keep going and you’ll get to the end. Everything would have been fine.

Then my mid-tech-life crisis hit and I thought I’d better keep up to date with what the “kidz” were doing on the interweb. I installed twitter, signed up to facebook, updated my status every now and again, and life was good. Well, it was, until I stupidly started reading blogs from enlightened managers like Joel Spolsky and Alexander Kjerulf. Then the walls came tumbling down.

You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

What did I find? Oh, nothing much. Just that nirvana, or at least as I saw it, doesn’t exist. There is no perfect process, and aiming for it will leave me perpetually dissatisfied, and stressed. I can tweak all I like, it won’t help. I’m aiming for the wrong target. I saw efficiency and accuracy as my goals, and I was using my teams like machines to achieve them. Pushing them, measuring them, and stressing them.

What I needed to do was to set goals that I really wanted to achieve. Not cold, numeric goals, but real, tangible, human goals. Let’s make sure that all my teams are happy. Let’s resolve conflict swiftly and positively. Let’s see my teams as people, with faces, goals, pride. Ok, now it’s starting to sound like a manifesto for the green party. I’ll stop there. I haven’t turned into a hippy… I’ve turned into a happy (sorry I couldn’t resist). I truly believe that the bloggers are right. A happy team can achieve more, and I’m going to prove it in 2009, and use this blog to keep track of my progress and what I learn from the experience.

So, why the flower holder? Well it’s because it represents the type of thinking that I’ve always reacted against. Superficially it seems illogical, superfluous and, well, a bit lame. The fact that it was the first thing most buyers talked about when they described their Beetle was just something I chose to ignore. Only now, I can see that they talked about it because it made them happy, and no computer can tell me why it worked. My new way of managing has to be able to accept and actually encourage that kind of thing. Can I do it? There’s only one way to find out.


  1. By Jove, I think he's got it...finally.

  2. You weren't visited by three spirits on the night before Christmas by any chance?

  3. lol. It kinda looks like that doesn't it and it wouldn't have been the first time I'd been called scrooge either. The spirits were two bloggers; Joel Spolsky and Alexander Kjerulf.

    Where's Tiny Tim? I've got a turkey for him.

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