When middle-management is screwing it all up – Pivotal Conversations


Whether it’s “DevOps,” “digital transformation,” or even “cloud” and “agile,” middle-management is all too common an issue. They simply won’t budge and help out. This isn’t always the case for sure, but “the frozen middle” is a common problem.

With a big ol’ panel of people (including two folks from RedMonk), we talk about tactics for thawing the frozen middle.

Setting goals is important for DevOps success

For my monthly column over at FierceDevOps I wrote about the importance of setting goals. I was motivated to write this by this point being repeated in Leading the Transformation many times, e.g.:

Management needs to establish strategic objectives that make sense and that can be used to drive plans and track progress at the enterprise level. These should include key deliverables for the business and process changes for improving the effectiveness of the organization.

It made me think that most of the corporate failures I’ve seen over the years were due to management being vague about what they wanted and what the team should be doing. Someone has to set the goals and, at the very least, it’s management’s job to make sure its done (they don’t have to do it, though I tend to think they do: they just need to make sure it happens).

Anyhow, check out the piece!

Team work bringing down the average

The workers were told, essentially, that they were to be rewarded for collective achievement rather than individually. So instead of maximizing individual satisfaction, which often comes through competition with other people, employees considered their impact on colleagues. The theory, which plays out in the results, is that with relative rankings, top performers reduce their effort to avoid hurting their co-workers’ egos and to prevent schisms in the team.

That’s kind of sweet actually. One would also think that the incentives are disconnected from the thing you’re trying to fix: if you had to pay for all that fuel yourself, out of your take of the margin, would you be more efficient or less? That’s probably unreliable as well. Also: you’d think these tricks of fleet management would be long solves, e.g., all that lore about UPS and Fedex trucks. But, there’s probably tons of ongoing change and variability in all that.

Also: notice the Big Data angle, the technology that enabled the study.

Team work bringing down the average

You want people to work as much as possible to push the product and company out of uncertain territory into profitability, right? Wrong. What you will do is push people to the edge of burnout and unhappiness. They’ll eventually leave your company.

From Open (Unlimited) to Minimum Vacation Policy

This is a management point I’ve been thinking about over the years: it turns out well rested employees are better long-term. I don’t think most (American) management believes that, at all.

The subtle point to make explicit here goes the other way: employees are work-gluttons if you let them be. They “over-eat” and can’t help themselves. Part of management’s job, then, is to help employees here.

Both management and employee are at fault, and there’s lots of work to be done.

Most of the hierarchy found in the traditional firm must be eliminated, and the walls between functional staffs must be destroyed. You can’t move fast, no matter how good the systems are, if turf fights among functions are the norm, and if even routine decisions must be processed through numerous layers of bureaucracy.

Tom Peters (via fadingcity)

Over some ribs and brisket the other days a friend of mine called this notion “management debt,” which seems right. The analogistic potential of “technical debt” is limitless!

I’ve gone back and forth on whether managers should code and my opinion is: don’t stop coding. Each week that passes where you don’t share the joy, despair, and discovery of software development is a week when you slowly forget what it means to be a software developer. Over time it means you’ll have a harder time talking to engineers because you’ll forget how they think and how they become bored.

Bored People Quit – makes my head hurt to think on it too long.

However, CEOs often just tell their companies that they “must execute the strategy better.” Clearly this advice isn’t very helpful, as it’s as obvious as saying, “Let’s all just do a better job!” What companies need is to identify specifically what it is that they must execute better. For example, “improve the speed of deliveries” would be a far more helpful instruction, one that could help a company achieve its strategic goal of improving customer service.

I’m okay but not great at managing my time. In addition to being an editor and writer on my radio show, I’m also the boss, and deal with budgets, personnel stuff, revenue and spending questions, and business decisions. My worst habit: when I should be writing something for this week’s show, I’ll procrastinate by looking over some contract or making some business phone call or doing something else that actually isn’t as important as writing. Which is to say: I procrastinate by working. I wonder if that’s common.

Ira Glass

At least us worker-cum-management types aren’t alone.

The interview also has a nice list of stuff he as This American Life us, including lots of Google Docs!