this team was part of a bigger organization and platform where multiple teams had to work together to something done, e.g. agree on interfaces with other teams. And in the absence of clear joint goals that didn’t happen.
I have seen this happen also in a small team. Two or three guys started building each his own part independently, then it turned out those parts could not be put together; each of them insisted that others change their code to fit his API, and refused to make the smallest change in his API. It became a status fight that took a few days. (I don’t remember how it was resolved.)
In another company, there was a department that took care of everyone’s servers. Our test server crashed almost every day and had to be restarted manually; we had to file a ticket and wait (if it was after 4PM, the server was restarted only the next morning) because we did not have the permission to reset the server ourselves. It was driving us crazy; we had a dedicated team of testers, and half of the time they were just waiting for the server to be restarted; then the week before delivery we all worked overtime… that is, until the moment the server crashed again, then we filed the ticket and went home. We begged our manager to let us pool two hundred bucks and buy a notebook that we could turn into an alternative testing environment under our control, but of course that would be completely against company policy. Their manager refused to do anything about it; from their perspective, it meant they had every day one support ticket successfully closed by merely clicking a button; wonderful metric! From the perspective of our manager’s manager, it was a word against a word, one word coming from the team with great metrics and therefore more trustworthy. (The situation never got solved, as far as I know.)
...I should probably write a book one day. Except that no one would ever hire me afterwards. So maybe after I get retired...
So, yes, there are situations that require to be solved by greater power. In long term it might even make sense to fire a few people, but the problem is that these often seem to be the most productive ones, because other people are slowed down by the problems they cause.
Where did the project you did implement in your first case come from? Somebody figure out that it would provide value to the company. Otherwise, you might have built a beautiful project that didn’t actually provide value. I think we agree that the company you worked in did have some management that provided value (I hope it was no moral maze).
Yeah, but we have two different meanings of the word “management” here. Someone who decides which project to do—this is useful and necessary. Or someone who interrupts you every day while you are trying to work on that project—I can imagine that in some teams this may also be necessary, but arguably then your problem is the team you have (at least some parts of it). Motte and bailey of management, sort of.
From epistemic perspective, I guess the problem is that if you keep micro-managing people all the time, you can never learn whether your activity actually adds or removes value, simply because there is nothing to compare to. (I guess the usual null hypothesis is “nobody ever does anything”, which of course make any management seem useful; but is it true?) Looking at the incentives and power relations, the employee at the bottom doesn’t have an opportunity to prove they could work just as well without the micro-management, and the manager doesn’t have an incentive to allow the experiment. There is also the “heads I win, tail you lose” aspect where bad employee performance is interpreted as necessity of more management, but good employee performance is interpreted as good management, so either way management is perceived as needed.
This is really not a secret art. The principles are well-known (for a funny summary see e.g. Leadersheep).
Yep. That’s a very good summary. Heh, I fail hard at step 1 (creating, or rather communicating a strong vision).
But it turns out that building a big organization is hard. Politics is real and professional management is still mostly a craft. It rarely approaches something you can call engineering much less hard science.
Seems analogical to social sciences: in theory, they are much more difficult than math or physics, so it would make sense if smarter people studied them; in practice, it’s the other way round, because if something is too difficult to do properly, it becomes easy to bullshit your way to the top, and intelligent people switch to something where being intelligent gives you a clear comparative advantage.
Good luck to you! I suppose your chances will depend on how much autonomy you get; it is hard to do things right, if the sources of problem are beyond your control. However, if you become a great manager and your people will like you, perhaps in the future you can start your own company and give them a call whether they would like to work for you again.
Thank you. I agree with your view. Motte and bailey of management yep. I especially liked this: