It is tremendously challenging to manage people. People are necessarily complex. Unlike code, you can’t just make a few changes and fix them. And organizations employing people have to comply with both complex laws and invariably silly internal procedures when confronted with people problems. It’s a mess at times.
When I worked at the line level, I had interests that I wanted to explore. I recall the disappointment of being directed to other work that was not as rewarding or interesting; it was called paying my dues. This was in general a poor management style, as I excelled in the things that interested me and was not good at what I found tiresome and dull. However, there were times when I was engaged by the work, and relished the opportunity to prove my abilities.
Now that I am managing a team, I have put the lessons of experience into action. It is always important to me that the people on my team find the work stimulating; this is not just because I am a compassionate person, but rather more that when I create a situation where the employee enjoys the work and learns, the quality of the finished product improves. Fortunately this has been a successful experiment.
As much as I joke about my staff, I do like all the crazy characters. I could provide details, but instead I want to write a little bit about my management philosophy and then solicit from anyone who might read this the things that they did which were successful. It’s all a learning process.
People want to be respected. In any relationship, whether at work or in our personal lives, the partners must be respectful of one another. Without this respect, the parties feel unappreciated, and this is dangerous. In a marriage, it is a danger to the stability of the relationship, and at work it threatens the project. I like to respect my team members by recognizing the importance of their contribution to the project, and to acknowledge that the project – whether large or small – is important. Profit-oriented organizations don’t undertake work without understanding the financial benefit, so this is a simple point to convey.
People want enough information. Time is not always my friend at work, but I do the best I can to gather as much accurate information as possible about projects as well as organizational changes when they occur, so that I can be forthcoming with team members. Managing projects involves ensuring that the people performing the work are provided not only with the information required but the motivation necessary to finish the work. There is a saying to the effect that the last 10% of the project is the most difficult to complete, and this is so true – I have observed this! My hidden agendas are pet projects or long-term goals, which are shared with staff whenever possible. My underlying motivation is to gather co-conspirators who will help me to make the department work better and produce higher-quality, easily maintained code.
Managing means helping people be successful. I make mistakes sometimes and assign a project to someone carelessly, forgetting that their strengths lie in a different area. In fact, I have no problem swallowing my pride and admitting to these mistakes, and I’ve done so with my team members on occasion – judiciously, of course. I learn from these mistakes, and from looking at the project outcome. If the developer was not successful, I have to make the judgment as to whether it is worthwhile to return the project for corrections or reassign the work to someone else whose technical strengths are better suited for the required work. Most frequently the work is returned for changes, but there are times when it is best to cut your losses and move the project to someone else. At first, this might seem rather insulting, almost demoralyzing, but I have recently learned that if this is done well the outcome is that both parties appreciate that their strengths are understood and their weaknesses not exposed to the company.
If you love something, set it free. OK, I do not love any of my staff (though I like then quite well). However, the same principle from romance applies to a degree in management: when someone wants to move on to something else, I have to let them go. This is important to me because I have observed people being held back from doing the work they wanted, and they were very discouraged. For some, productivity suffered. In some cases, people remained productive but felt persecuted. In extreme cases attitude changes poisoned the team.