Ravi Mohan's Blog

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Mack on Management

My last post drew a very articulate comment from Chandrakant .

Chandrakant brought up the idea of being an XP Coach as being the right way to do management .

This is a very intriguing idea . But in my experience the people who were excellent xp coaches formed a distinct set with little overlap with the set of really good managers.

I think Chandrakant is on to a good idea here .It is just that I was unable to articulate where an XP Coach crosses the line and becmes a manager . So i did what i usually do when I'm stuck. Ask someone who knows .

Mack C Adams,who I had the pleasure of working with in TW and is a really good manager, comments on this whole "how to judge a manager" meme . (liberally paraphrased from a yahoo messenger conversation, with Mack's permission )

" Me: ahh just the person I was thinking of .. you got a couple of minutes to spare ?

Mack : shoot - just got back from an hour of military fitness training...so, if things go quiet, then I've passed out in my chair! Me: --- explains what's been happening -- asks mack to look at the comments etc ...

Mack: hmm...both comments (Chandra's comment and your reply) on your post are quite good

Mack: for me, I would definitely distinguish between XP Coach and Project Manager ("manager" is a very vague term). XP Coach is akin to an Iteration Manager - in my view, the best ones are technically competent process tweakers

they spend half their time coding, and half their time tracking though, I suppose a coach doesn't have to be the IM

me: and what does a manager really do ? I have a hard time pinning this down

Mack: Conversely, the whole "manager" thing is tricky - I think you should try to get away from "manager" as a role, and see it more as an activity along with facilitation; planning; communication; organization

For me, as someone who's not technical, I get scared when I'm too close to heavy work, as I'm flying blind - I need to depend on trusted technical people not to screw me over, and so I build an intrinsic desire in the team to succeed - I work on the team first - feeding it, protecting it, directing it, and letting it do its thing

Mack :Once I got myself intro trouble since I'm actually not very good at meticulous planning (Grinding out a project like a good tech pm should do [Ravi's comment :- Don't you believe this. Mack si the most organized person i have ever seen ] ). I'm trying to use the word "orchestration" to describe my skillset - broad base of knowledge, big picture, looking/anticipating for opportunities and enabling (sorry about that word) the team to succeed .I think great managers create high performance teams; good managers try to do the work.

Me : so i guess one way of judging good managers from bad is to look at the sucess or otherwise of their teams ?by success i mean not only project out comes but also things like how happy they are ??

Mack: : ultimately, that's the only baromter.

it should be holistic - a happy team that doesn't deliver is going to get fired; and a delivery team that isn't happy is going to quit "

ok so there you have it from a guy who actually walks the talk . The success criteria for a manager is the same as the success criteria for a team including the happiness of the team in their work.

Now when you are hanging in there, grimly holding on for your green card to come through ,"quitting" isn't really an option i guess, but that arises from an exported desi's chosen response to a bureaucratic rule .

Given that 99 % of IT projects are terrible for the client , the team , or both, I think it is self evident that there aren't that many good managers around .

Also I wonder how much sense this definition of management makes in the "outsourcing == terrible projects" scenario ? A manager is bound to fail if the happiness of the team is a factor . Hmmm . more questions to ask Mack ..

Mack went on to say

" man, I need to get a blog! really have no excuses, as I do have much to say...so lazy...London makes you weak with its vices! "

yeah Mack you should tone down the partying and start a blog !


Anonymous said...

That explains a few points, but only aggravates my pain. Let me tell you the reason behind my original question. I am at a cross road in my career now. Couple of years back,i had cleared the CAT, but could not make it through the IIM interviews. I never joined anyother institute coz i wanted the IIMs only. That was years back when i was in my final at college Engg.I think wisdom has dawned on me oflate and it makes me wonder whether i should be making another push. I am confident of making it to an IIM this time, but several questions haunt me. Question as to whether i have the qualities to be a manager or not. Back in college, just like the JEE days it was all a competition - A measure of your ability to crack the toughest of entrance exams. And i did crack it.
Now iam introspecting...should i go ahead and move on to managerial posts or should i continue in the tech field. How do i know whether i'll be a good manager or not....thats the bottom line. If i have to be one, i should be a very good one and not one among the hordes.

Ravi said...

Sundaresh, I am absolutely the wrong eprsn to give advice on either academics or management as a career.

I have seen bot briliant IIM graduates and also people who had an IIM MBA but i wouldn't trust with running a car showroom.

I guess in the end it comes down to doing what you want and are driven to do.

I have no aspirations to being a manager (an entrepreneur , yes, some day . a manager no , least of all an offshore "Project Manager" ) .

Whatever you choose, Good Luck !

Anonymous said...

I don't want to let go off my Technical skills.I also want to pursue management study from an IIM. My dream would be to come back to the IT industry and be a "Technical Project Manager"..( i just made up that word...i don't know if such a species exists or not.) I hope u understand what iam saying... a manager who understands the Technical intricacies of the project he is handling and at the same time is an adroit manager. Is there anything like that ? The managers i know use just one tool - MS Excel !!

Ravi said...

I think the question you may want to ask yorself is why do you want to be a manger at all ? It is difficult enough to be an excellent techie OR an excellent manager. It would be almost impossible to be excellent at both methinks .Each is a full time job.

Anonymous said...

Thats a lot of "grass roots" talk :-)One of the things I felt would be right to do is trust your isntincts on management. Take my degree when I feel I need it.

Ravi, you gave me a good expression to use when you said "entrepreneur". A visionary at his/her conception, possibly. I always have had a thing against people who end up going to a management institute after their engineering degree. I very strongly feel about it...Ending up in sales, or finance after learning about problems and solutions just makes me think why in the first place...I miss the motivation there...

But its my opinion. Nothing personal.

Now, Ravi, my respect for you went up as soon as I read that you might attempt being an entrepreneur. Something that India misses a huge lot. I would love to see a role-model like that.