This post is a response to “Duality of Project Management: objective vs subjective factors”: https://blog.inf.ed.ac.uk/sapm/2014/02/14/duality-of-project-management-objective-vs-subjective-factors/
The point I got from the original article is that management is more than telling people what to do; it is also nurturing the team one is in charge of. I completely agree with this idea.
In this post I will provide my own arguments as to why I believe a manager is more than someone that tells programmers what to do. Most of these opinions are based on my experience as an intern in a large software company and observing the interaction between managers and engineers.
In my opinion, managers are not dictators – they should not be telling people what to do; they should be both a leader for their team and a liaison between the team they are running other parties involved. I will clarify my understanding of what a leader is in a lower section.
Managers don’t dictate
Managers should not decide, programmers should. As much as I believe agile development is the best approach to developing a project, I understand that sketching out a plan in the beginning is very helpful for all the parties involved to have a broad idea of how implementation is going to be approached and how resources should be allocated. In some companies, the manager is responsible for planning the project and its implementation. What I suggest, is that managers involve the entire team in this process, since the team will be the one to write the code. I believe each programmer knows their limitations and are more qualified to give estimates on their own work. In addition, the whole team (that including the manager) should brainstorm a solution; that way they don’t miss out on any good ideas. In , Susan Cain proposes that introverts make better managers because they better allow their teams to express themselves. What I want to extract from here is not that introverts are great managers, but that good managers listen to what team members have to say.
However, the manager does have the final word. Some discussions will go on forever if allowed, and this is not my intention when I suggest sharing decision making with the team. If team members cannot reach a consensus, the meeting should not be prolonged and the manager should make a decision based on the arguments he/she has heard until that point. It will be the programmer’s job to persuade his/her colleagues of the effectiveness of their solution.
In my previous team, all decisions were taken together with the team – when brainstorming new ideas everyone (including interns) would come with their own and then the team would vote on which would actually get implemented. Of course, it is not feasible to make every decision as a team so each engineer had the freedom of choosing how to implement the feature they were responsible for, but other team members had the opportunity to make their own suggestions during the daily update meetings. The manager never forced any decisions on the team.
Managers are leaders
Managers should be leaders for their teams. There are many definitions out there of what a leader is , but I don’t want to make this too confusing so I will give my definition: a leader is a person that inspires people around him/her, they lead by being a good role model and they nurture their team members. As the original article proposes, managers should ensure their team members are are happy with their work. They should remember each member is an individual with personal and professional development goals and they should try to ensure the work they do is in line the individual’s goals as much as possible. For example, if they know someone is trying to get better at writing tests or is trying to work on their presentation skills, the manager should try to give that person the opportunity to work on those skills – as much as possible.
Moreover, managers should ensure the team works well together, and they help each other. The best suggestion I can make is to have occasional team outings – optionally these outing can involve some form of team building exercises. For example, these outings can be as simple as having dinner together or as crazy as a day at a trapeze school with the entire team. During my previous internship our team would always have lunch together, sometimes even having a picnic for lunch. When I left the company they were preparing a team offsite
Managers are liaisons
Finally, managers are a liaison between their team and other teams in the company as well as their team and company leaders or customers.
Managers are responsible with communication between stakeholders and the development team. To be more precise, they are the ones to pass on the stakeholders’ requirements to the team and to communicates the team requirements (necessary time and resources) to the stakeholders. One could see project planning as a negotiation between the two parties: stakeholders give time and money and in return the team may deliver a piece of software. The more time and money the team gets the better the software is. However, more money and more time don’t guarantee project success.
In some cases the team might depend on a product developed by another team within the same company and being in good relations with other teams means the other team might be more helpful and more willing to develop a new feature even if it is not on the critical path for other projects they are working on. To give an example, during my last internship my project depended on other products of the company but required some changes to be made on their side as well. For my final presentation I wanted to give a live demo of my work, but that required that the other team releasing their new version a few days earlier than scheduled. To my surprise, they were very understanding and did push the release ahead of time.
To sum up, I have talked about how managers should make decisions together with their team, how they should be leaders and support their team members, and how they are a liaison between their team and stakeholders and other teams; thus showing that there’s more to management than planning and following the development of a project.
- Susan Cain (2012). The Power of Introverts.03/2012. TED [online]. [Accessed 01 Mar 2014]. Available from: <http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts>.
- Wikipedia (2014). Leadership [online]. Available from: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadership>. [Accessed 1 Mar 2014].