If you've ever been the victim of a trendy, totally ineffective management style, you know how silly and arbitrary those techniques can be. Justin James has seen his share of goofy management philosophies -- so he decided to invent a few of his own.
We all know people who have tried a fad diet to lose some weight. They end up following the diet for a few days or weeks and then relax a bit since they are seeing some results. Before long, they stop the diet entirely. Not too long after that, they gain back all of the weight, plus a few more pounds to boot.
Management methodology trends are pretty similar, especially in the IT world. Some author puts out a book about how his or her management style was used at some startup company that made billions or that rescued a large, failing company. Next thing you know, every manager who ever read the back of the book in an airport claims to be following its methods. But to you and everyone else, it looks like the same old chaos is still reigning.
Since management loves to follow goofy trends (does anyone remember the 80s, when managers were forcing their teams to do calisthenics in the mornings because Japanese companies did?), why not get them to follow some goofy trends that we made up instead? Here are 10 management techniques we would love to see.
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1: Pro Wrestling Project Management
Much like the world of professional wrestling, the world of project management can be filled with empty threats, posturing, feuds, rivalries, and unusual alliances. But what if the similarities were made an official part of project management? Let's face it, I think we have all (at least once) dreamed of putting stubborn clients into a headlock until their faces turned purple, or maybe seeing the project manager spend 20 minutes in a steel cage with the operations manager. To really make it an authentic experience, managers would be required to enter conference rooms to music and perform a variety of poses designed to intimidate any other managers.
2: The Rolling Stones Development Model
During their extensive career, The Rolling Stones have produced a song for every occasion -- and nearly everyone is familiar with their most popular tunes. So it seems like a perfectly logical jump that instead of "standard communications," one could run an entire development project using sound clips from various Stones songs. Is the client demanding an impossible timeline? "You Can't Always get what You Want." Is their favorite feature impossible to code up in a way that makes them happy? "I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)." Is the project in deep trouble? "19th Nervous Breakdown."
#3: Bug Bounties/Penalties
Ever feel like half your day is spent cleaning up someone else's mistakes? It's even worse when you find out that the person who is making you feel like your job has been reduced to "clean up on aisle two" is earning as much (or more) money than you are. Imagine for a moment that any problem that could be definitively pinned on a co-worker's poor quality of work would have a financial penalty attached to it, and that the person who fixed it would get that same amount of money. Would that co-worker's mistakes be such a headache then? Probably not. I suspect many of us would look forward to them!
#4: Jargon-free Communications
Sometimes, listening to a manager (or worse, a salesperson) feels like you're reading a Tom Clancy novel, with all of the acronyms, industry-specific slang, and other incomprehensible jargon. It seems like every other sentence requires more time to decipher than it took to say it. I think we can all agree that if management started using real, standard English (or your local language of choice) instead of these marketer-speak filled, incomprehensible messes, the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, we are probably more likely to see a wrestling ring put into the lunchroom (see #1) before that happens.
#5: Geek Games for Performance Reviews
Most of management's existing techniques for measuring performance simply look at the wrong factors. Ever notice that they count the times you were late to arrive but ignore all the times you were in the office at 11 PM patching servers or writing critical pieces of code? What is really needed is a metric for overall geekiness. A much more effective review would be a pentathlon challenge, testing each employee in the following critical areas:
- Knowledge of sci-fi and fantasy movies and books
- Ability to stay in-character over a five-hour role playing session
- Modern video game skills (FPS death match)
- Classic video game skills (Super Mario Brothers speed completion)
- Ability to identify ancient computer hardware and make it work
I think with this kind of review, it would be easy to ensure that raises and promotions went only to those who have what it takes to be top-flight technologists.
#6: Charging for Dumb Questions
Remember when you were in school, and the teacher told you, "The only dumb question is the one you don't ask?" Well, from what I can tell, that rule goes out the window the moment you become an IT worker. Your day is now filled with giving answers to dumb questions from people who won't understand the answers anyway. Management loves to bandy about the saying, "Time is money." Let's put these two ideas together. If management wants us to spend our time answering questions, that's fine; we'll simply charge them for it. Under this new policy, all IT employees will be given a mobile device that allows them to time any useless interactions with management and record the manager's name. At the end of the month, their department will be charged at "standard consulting fees" (say, $250/hour), which is then put into the IT department's budget, earmarked for perks like new PCs, raises, and other niceties.
#7: No Degree? No Problem!
Most of those who are in the know in the IT industry realize that college degrees and even many industry certifications don't directly translate into real world IT experience, let alone the ability to do the job. Try telling that to the HR department, though. Sure, many roles within IT can benefit from formal, academic-style training (people writing compilers and device drivers come to mind), but those positions are fairly uncommon. However, for the typical IT worker, dropping the college degree or certifications from the "mandatory" list would be a wonderful thing. Not likely to happen in our lifetimes, but one can dream.
#8: Siskel & Ebert 360 Reviews
The 360 review is a model in which everyone on the team reviews everyone else. Of course, this promises that the workers get to review management. Wouldn't it be sweet if this was done in a "thumbs up/thumbs down" format, complete with bickering over things like the manager's handling of weekly meetings, the quality of his or her memos, and the tone in which the team is addressed? I can picture it now: "Well Bob, to be honest, Sally is really lacking in the leadership department. When she tries to give constructive criticism it sounds like she is really phoning in the performance. A thumbs down from me!"
#9: Relevant Manager Dashboards
At one job I had, I created a number of "manager dashboard" reports. I think we are all familiar with these. They're supposed to show the manager's world at a glance. The more it tries to look like the instrument panel of a car or airplane, the less likely it is to show any information that actually relates to the project at hand. To make matters worse, IT projects are pretty difficult to quantify, so you end up with dashboards that don't really mean much of anything at all.
I propose that we put together some dashboards for our bosses that show what we think the bosses need to know at a glance. We could have a thermometer indicating the team's frustration level and a tachometer for hours worked per week... with anything over 40 being the "red zone." We could also put in some idiots lights. But instead of saying "check engine" or "change oil," they will indicate "team nearing mutiny" and "Jim needs a vacation."
#10: Better Project and Team Names
Okay, we're going to violate #4 here. We recognize that management is going to insist on keeping codenames and acronyms for projects and teams. So why not have codenames that make us feel like we are part of something interesting, at the very least? In other words, if the project is about to be named "Project Happy Kitty Cats" it needs to be named something better. Like "Operation Cthulhu" or possibly "Project Thor's Wrath." Likewise, instead of boring team names, such as "QA" or "Network Operations," we should have much more colorful names. I'm not suggesting that the development team be renamed "Cobra" (and the supervisor be known as "Cobra Commander"), but how about renaming Tech Support to "Really Trying to Fix Mistakes", aka "RTFM?"
Other management techniques
If you're feeling inspired by these made-up methodologies, maybe you can come up with a few of your own. What sort of management regime would improve your working environment -- or at least be fun to think about?
Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.