Behind Closed Doors

According to the Dilbert’s rule everyone gets promoted to his/her highest level of incompetence. In the computer programming field this is dramatically true: brilliant programmers, after few years or less are turned into management. First they are promoted to lead programmer roles and, if they have the double DNA, they could grow in the management career. Why is required a double DNA? Because programming has to do with machines, while management has to do with people. And people tend to get upset when treated like machines.
Moreover programming is about reaching a goal worrying about the smallest detail, while management is about setting goals for other people letting them sort out the minutiae.
When I became a lead programmer I hadn’t a clue about this and no one cared about telling. I just was asked about when my team would complete the application.
The project was rather successful, but it could have been far better. That’s why, with the next job I started reading books about management.
This book is the first I read about the next level: it is about managing lead programmers. The book is simple, easy reading and well structured. It is not as brief as “One minute manager”, but is very concise; you can read it in a couple of days. More than once I wished that my boss had read it.

The authors use a fictional character to make their points and providing a running example. This character is a just hired manager to which six lead programmers are reporting and who has the goal of reducing costs and increasing the value of his departments work.
Authors propose a number of techniques for managing proficiently. As implied in many parts the job of the manager is to facilitate the work of people reporting to him/her, removing obstacles and providing support.
One-to-one is a meeting held weekly during which the manager meets just one lead face to face. The meeting lasts about one hour and the manager gathers information, provides supports, sets skill development goals and coaches the lead.
Team meetings are held weekly too and the goal is to provide integration between teams, exploit synergies, and prevent inefficiencies.
Coaching is to help leads to develop skills that are beneficial both to the company and to the lead herself.
The manager is encouraged in:

  • Assess attitudes and interests of the lead teamers. It doesn’t make sense to force someone to do something that she’s not interested in;
  • Managing by walking around, that is taking some time just to wander around in the teams to taste the mood of teams and the rhythm of work;
  • Enabling the lead team jelling;
  • Give feedback immediately. Do not wait to the next event (end of week, yearly review or the like), people need to know if they’re doing right or wrong immediately.
  • Delegate
  • Acknowledge good work

The book also instructs the reader on influencing and resolving contrast. Influencing is for the best of the influenced one, it can’t work in the long term otherwise. Resolving contrast is much sticking with facts and trying to put in the other one shoes.
The planning is dealt with a weekly resolution for a couple of month. It is defined by leads and their teams and can be arranged in terms of priorities or delegation by the lead meetings. Beyond two month the planning is very rough. Also the planning is suggested to be kept is a meeting room in the form of a panel with sticky notes so that it is clear for everyone that it isn’t carved in stone.
Problem solving techniques to employ in meetings are proposed. Many of them relies on the brain storming techniques with some modification to ensure that everyone (even shy people) could participate.
The book contains a great deal of tips and aids to do management things. Usually there is an example, the motivation, a ‘to-do’ list for the technique and then there is a recap frame at the end of the book.
I highly recommend this book to all those managing lead programmers or the likes. I still recommend this book to lead programmers since many of the presented techniques are still applicable in the smaller context and can be helpful to back-coach the manger in a more sound behavior.

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