Saturday, June 23, 2007

Management smells: don't ask

Let's suppose you're not a programmer. Then let's further suppose you've never known a programmer... yet you manage them. Where do you go to figure out what makes them tick and how to work (OK, deal) with them?
Imagine that all you knew about programmers you learned from Joel on Software and the Jargon File. OK, the latter's really a stretch because t-files are, like, so old. Between reading the two, one would get the impression that programmers are some sort of super-genius prima-donnas dropped in from another dimension with its own bizarro set of social mores.
But in-between the auto-hagiography, you'd find them staring gleefully at some gems, like this tidbit taken from the Jargon File's entry on the SNAFU principle.
True communication is possible only between equals, because inferiors are more consistently rewarded for telling their superiors pleasant lies than for telling the truth.
So have you figured out my clinically-developed, painstakingly-researched advice for you? Talk to your people. It shouldn't be that difficult to figure out. As a manager, do you work with people or do you just crack the whip and shit magically appears? I'm guessing you work with people.
No matter how smart or alien they may seem to be (and when you ask them how it's going, you may get an answer in what approaches moon-man), people all generally share the same sort of motivations. Food in the belly, roof over the head, meaningful work.
The meaningful work thing can be a hard sell - at the end of the day, how many people do you know that get PUMPED up for Industry X? You can sell tickets to a rock show, but you have to bribe people into attending that process improvement meeting with the lure of free lunch (and bottomless cups of coffee). But you can become the meaning for them. Ask them how things are going. If there are any problems that they've encountered. What successes they have. Show interest in what they have to show you, even if it's not much.
If you can't find the time in your busy day to show any interest in what they're doing, don't be surprised when they show a concomitant level of care and interest in the product they're creating for you. Huh. Maybe those semantically-challenged scrum maniacs really are on to something with those daily meetings after all?

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