Let’s automate management

Disclaimer: In my career, I’ve worked with smart people that happened to be managers. Awesome people always bring great things to the team, no matter what they do. This is a hate-the-sin-not-the-sinner post.

Managers have a bad rep. It seems they only care about planning, time sheets and estimates. They get together in small groups and make completely wrong decisions with utmost confidence. They “bike shed” on the trivial and don’t decide on the vital.

We all know a David Brent. We’ve met our share of Pointy-Haired Bosses. Mediocre people who just happen to be in a hierarchical position of power. This story is not about them. It’s about the good ones.

The people who try to manage up and assist the team. That guy who defends his team, the woman who tries to help. We see you and we know you mean well.

That said, your job is problematic.

It’s bad for the team

There used to be a time when the boss knew what she was talking about. People started as factory workers and some became line managers throughout their career. With the specialized knowledge work of today, this doesn’t happen. Very few IT departments are run by coders and very few bosses know how the creative process works.

They’ll resort to forcing Agile or the Spotify Model without understanding that these flows grow out of a technical background. They believe they can still apply their 80’s MBA logic to today’s software development.

When we call somebody a “good manager”, we are talking about people who don’t resemble a manager at all.

Here is the honest truth: most teams get work done despite their management. They find ways to fix the wrong decisions and actively sabotage bad ideas. That’s what we pay them for! If your team has to spend 40% of its time finding workarounds for bad management, imagine how productive they could be without.

It’s bad for you

You are smart people stuck in a bad position. Your job consists of enforcing irrelevant rules. You have to plan the coming year, but you can’t predict what will happen next week. You have to report on progress while nobody knows what “done” means. Your boss wants clarity while your team struggles with a chaotic process.

You are told to stay within budget and time but are given no tools to make that happen. The Iron Triangle is hanging around your neck like a heavy rock in a swimming pool. Is it any wonder all your projects are on fire?

You deserve better than that, because you are better than that.

Let’s automate management away

The industry needs leaders, not managers. A leader creates an environment where people can experiment, grow and innovate without being controlled. She makes sure the general direction is clear, everyone has the right tools and then gets out of the way. Leadership is not a hierarchical position. It’s a productivity amplifier.

The robots are coming for managers and we don’t need advanced AI for that. A simple Trello board allows teams to collaborate while circumventing that guy who sets up awful JIRA workflows. Slack and Bitbucket have become the place where the real work gets done, while the suits perform arcane rituals in the Ivory Tower of Sharepoint. Most of these middle management jobs are already irrelevant. We just don’t know it yet.

We’re entering a future where teams collaborate without a babysitter. People will work where, when and how they want. Most of the time I have no idea where my team members are or what they are currently working on. It’s the results that matter.

Google gives their employees a company credit card because it’s cheaper and more productive than OK’ing expense forms. Companies are moving to unlimited holidays for the same reasons. Trust is the fuel that runs the team.

Status meetings are over. Formal analysis and testing phases as well. Planning and estimation are going the way of the Dodo. We’re entering an age of unchained productivity and that requires brave leadership.

So, let’s get rid of those shackles. Let’s automate management away and make room for leadership. We’re counting on you to help create awesome products without being dragged down by a mindset that’s stuck in the 80’s.

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