Book Review: Managing the Unmanageable

Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and TeamsManaging the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams by Mickey W. Mantle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are new to managing a team this is a must read for you. While the book is intended for managers of programmers (developers, software engineers, etc…) I believe this book applies to just about any sort of creative. Obviously, some sections will be less applicable to architects like the agile sections, but in general, creatives are creatives. The authors, to some extent, recognize this by continually comparing software developers to musicians. Arguing, in fact, that the best programmers are typically fantastic musicians. There’s a similarity in the way the brain works between musicians and developers. I think this applies to other artists as well, especially ones that under went rigorous training to be an artist. There are processes you need to follow to enact your vision.

Anyway, the book itself offers very candid advice on everything hiring, firing, building local and remote teams, coaching, rewarding, and having fun.

The authors argue that hiring is the most important job of any manager. I think this is true from my experience interviewing people and managing people. Whenever you hire someone the work environment shifts. So you need to make sure that whatever change the person brings is a net positive for the team. To ensure that you get the right combination of fit and skill you must have a rigorous process for finding potential candidates, screening candidates, and interviewing candidates. If you do not you will pay for it later by losing your best people or being required to fire that hire in the future for lack of performance.

All this and templates are laid out in the book. The tools and rules of thumb are fantastic for first time managers and managers that have struggled to hire the right team.

The authors argue the most important functions of a manager are Hiring/Firing, Coaching, Developing individuals and teams. I think this is right. The manager should be technical enough to help with the team as needed, but shouldn’t be expected to roll up their sleeves too much. Their skill is more important in investigating logical approaches than the specifics of coding. However, there are a lot of people that believe their manager should be able to do their job. Which i think has a lot of merit.

This book also has some great ideas of how to convert traditional managers into agile managers. Ironically, if you follow their advice through most of the book, you’ll be well positioned to be an excelled agile manager positions to remove impediments.

I highly recommend this book for any one managing programmers, engineers, or creatives in general.

View all my reviews

On Leadership

I love to read about innovation, but there aren’t a lot of books specifically about innovation, so I also read about management theories and best practices. Any book on management and most books on innovation will inevitably talk about leadership. As good management doesn’t really mean leadership. However, bad management always mean bad leadership or a lack of leadership.

A few things stick out in my mind when I think about leadership. The first is a clear vision. Where a vision directs the team on where the organization is going and what it is trying to be. This vision is something that the members of that organization can look to whenever there are questions of right/wrong or priorities. It allows people to move beyond the typical office politics, because those never help with achieving the vision.

The second is clear transparent communication. In some cases this is communicating the vision, but in more important cases this is communicating how and why things are going side ways. For example, when I was working at AMD, there was clear communication about our current financial positioning requiring lay-offs to “right size” the business. Now, the execution of those lay-offs and the fact that there were more than one, wasn’t exactly the best leadership. However, the executive team took ownership of the bad situation and ensured the entire team knew what was happening. Furthermore, the executive team was able to point to a vision of what AMD was and use that to rally the team around. In fact, later that year I used the organization’s vision to lead a number of strategic planning meetings to shift where people were focusing work.

The third item that great leaders drive is a culture and taking ownership of their organizations culture. In Ben Horowitz’s book, Who are What You Do he discusses how a manager’s promotion decisions can impact the culture of the organization. In the book, he specifically talks about a sales executive that, apparently, had a habit of telling lies. Some of them small, but some of them were told to his managers and customers. This resulted in unhappy customers. Unfortunately, this sales exec was promoted, which then lead to an understanding to that lying is acceptable for people to get ahead.

In organizations that have poor leadership, typically the three above items are all missing. The members of the organization will fill the lack of communication with their imaginations and spend a great deal of time discussing what could or is going to happen.This leads to disgruntlement within the organization and loss of productivity. It will lead to your best people leaving.

One of the people in the agile community I’m apart of on Linked In would say that this is a dysfunctional organization. In those cases you have two options, either figure out a way to fix the organization from the inside or leave. In the case of AMD and me, I ultimately left, but partially was for personal reasons and partially because the organization wasn’t in the best of shape after the lay-offs. I’m really happy that AMD has righted its ship and is doing much better now.

I think that every person of an organization should reflect on how their management team is behaving. Do they have a vision? Are they following that vision and actively trying to meet it? Are they forthright with their communication? Do they obfuscate when they communicate and allow employees to fester and stew about things? Do they promote a culture that you believe is a healthy culture that you are proud to work in? Do you have a good group of people you work with in spite of the culture the management has put in place? Finally, do you think that you have the ability to address the dysfunction in the organization if you think that you do, in fact, have bad leaders?

Do you work in an organization with bad leaders? What are you planning on doing?

Book Review: Why So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: (And How to Fix It)Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book does a fantastic job outlining all the ways men fail as leaders. Let me back up. This book isn’t a man hating book. Its goal is to ensure better leadership at any company. The way to do this, isn’t to just promote women, any woman. The way to do this, is to scrutinize everyone the way that women are scrutinized. Because, the data, and this book brings receipts, shows that women are better leaders.

So why are women better leaders? Well, in general women are less narcissistic in fact men are 30% more likely to be a narcissist than women. Second, men are more likely to be psychopaths, about 50% more likely, in fact. Furthermore, while in the general population about 1% of people are psychopaths, 1 in 5! Senior leaders are psychopaths and 1 in 3! Are narcissists.

Most of this book goes on to outline the failings of male leadership, because of the ways that narcissists are horrible leaders. Similarly for psychopaths. The more interesting part, though, is where the author talks about the benefits of women leadership and how that is associated with higher EQ (emotional intelligence). Both narcissists and psychopaths have very low EQ which results in poorer performance. What the author argues for, are leaders with high IQ and EQ. Women are more likely to have higher EQ than men (by about 20%). There are no significant differences between the genders for IQ, which means on the whole women are better for leadership roles because of their higher EQ.

There are a lot of reasons why we don’t pick for high EQ and one of those reasons is “confidence” really perceived confidence. Another is charisma, where male charisma is desirable and often female charisma is ignored or misunderstood.

The book, sadly, doesn’t offer as much in the way of how to fix it as it claims in the title. There are a few sections. First ask questions that can identify if someone is a narcissist. Ask questions to figure out if someone is a psychopath. Then don’t hire them. The other major innovation the book offers is using structured scored interview questions. This will create a mechanism to compare apples to apples rather than wildly different interview questions.

So, I’m disappointed on the “how to fix it” portion. Hopefully the author will include a section at the end with specific links to questions. I know there are reference and end notes, but putting together a rubric that can more easily be applied would be a great way to improve this and allow people to really see what Manpower uses to fix this problem.

View all my reviews

Is There a Disconnect Between Knowledge Workers and Business Leaders?

The past two weeks I’ve read a number of articles about the End of Agile and subsequent rebuttals. Yesterday I read an excellent article asking “Whatever Happened to Six Sigma?” Both of these articles are fascinating. The rebuttals to the first are incredibly enlightening. I don’t think these are the last of these sorts of articles. I expect to read “The End of Lean” down the road as well.

I think there are a few reasons, one of them is common between Six Sigma and Agile. Snake Oil Salespeople. Basically, what has happened with all methodologies (except for PMI’s Waterfall approach – which I’ll get to) there reaches a point in time where it becomes impossible to determine the quality of credentials for a given certification. At that point, the certification is valueless even if the training, like you dear reader received, was actually the top of the top. Because there’s no actual way to determine if the quality is any good or not.

I experienced this first hand while I was teaching Lean Six Sigma at AMD. I had some fantastic mentors when I was working there, that lived and breathed Six Sigma for their entire careers. They knew this stuff inside and out. Which made me gain a much deeper appreciation for the methodology. However, there was another small company in Austin that also taught Six Sigma to their employees, Dell. Whenever we hired people from Dell with a certification in Six Sigma, a Green Belt or even a Black Belt, we essentially had to retrain them. Many of them, did not truly internalize what they were taught, or the material was less rigorous. This was likely a trade off the Six Sigma training team had to make to ensure their team remained relevant to Dell.

However, whenever you cannot trust the training from an organization like Dell, it makes it a lot more difficult to trust training for any other organization. You just don’t know the standards. Agile’s currently experiencing the exact same issue. There’s been a huge influx of organizations giving certifications. Not all of them have the same level of quality.

I think as a reaction to this, the software development industry has created DevOps and DevSecOps. Which doesn’t have a certification process, but a general set of ideas, such as Trunk development, rigorous testing, continuous integration, and on the extreme continuous deployment.

I think all this goes back to a basic premise though. Knowledge workers, like engineers and software developers look at problems very differently than business leaders. I first experienced this while I was in college. I was studying Industrial Engineering (which pulls in elements from Six Sigma, Lean, Network Theory, Simulation, Human Factors, etc…) while a good friend was studying Business. We had a few conversations about how businesses should be run and it was very obvious to me, that we were talking about two completely different views of how a firm should be run.

I was arguing against (in 2003) off-shoring, because it decreased the efficiency of engineering and collaboration between manufacturing and engineering. Both Agile and Lean argue against off-shoring due to these reasons. Given the change in the approach, the salary savings, overall, didn’t make the effort worth it, because of the reasons I listed. My friend thought lowering cost was the right thing to do.

This isn’t just an anecdotal thing though. If you read books about Agile, Theory of Constraints, or Innovation, they all make the same arguments. The ideas taught in business school are causing business leaders to make bad ideas. Theory of Constraints was popularized in the book The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt and came out in 1984. The ideas he espoused in that book were considered counter intuitive. If you read the Phoenix Project by Gene Kim which came out in 2013, which is written to model The Goal, you’ll find the characters running into, literally, the exact same type of thinking by managers and other team members. To me, this means there are other cultural organizations that are pushing back against the approaches technical leaders find work best and what our business leaders find work best for their goals.

The two most obvious cases for this are Accounting (which The Goal sets up as something of an antagonist) and Executives. Accounting has the weight of Law on its side, which is problematic, because Accounting organizations has their own reason for maintaining a status quo. They have their own certification process to become a CPA. From the executives standpoint, in many cases these folks are presented as having an MBA and excellent business training.

Despite that, they are still making poor business decisions for the technical team, poor decisions about how to structure their organization, and poor decisions about how to run projects. Most projects are run using a Waterfall approach, because that is the defacto approach we’re all taught throughout school. We manage to dates and push to get things done. The Project Management Institute has managed to corner the market on this approach, because most people can “do waterfall” without needing a certification. You learn through osmosis, by doing. The certification certainly elevates some PMs in some organizations. However, I don’t really think that having a PMP matters to most hiring managers.

So, where does this leave us? It leaves us with Knowledge Workers using ideas like Six Sigma, Lean, DevOps, Agile, and more to dress up their structured problem solving approaches to add structure and credibility. They need structure to compete with the Date Managed Waterfall approach. They need credibility of a methodology to put their approach on the same level as a PMP certification. In the case of Six Sigma, I’d argue its biggest success was internalizing the cost saving analysis. This helped translated the output in terms of money, which executives understand.

Every other approach tries to create an alternative measure. Elimination of Waste or “Working Software is the Measure of Progress” are nice alternatives to reducing costs or meeting due dates.

However, most share holders don’t care about that. They only care about what’s going to make them more money. Ethics and approach be damned. Until that is resolved. We’ll continue to have more fads or business fashions, as Knowledge Workers push back against Business Leaders.

The Innovation machine – This is a “how to” guide for Innovation management

As many of my blog readers know I’m an innovation reading junky. I’ve read many of the books on how to manage, from a individual’s perspective, creating an innovation or even at a high level how to run an innovation project. However, this if the first book that looks at things in a very systematic manner utilizing a lot of case studies. The Innovation Machine by Rolf-Christian Wentz is a fantastic introduction into a series of case studies of the most innovative companies in the world.

Books like the Innovator’s Dilemma are a lot more prescriptive in what a business should do or how a given business has been disrupted. Typically they focus on the smaller entrants that enter a market and beat the incumbents. The Innovation Machine on the other hand looks at the incumbents and analyzes what the organization did culturally to enable innovation. I believe books like Innovator’s Method and the Lean Startup address a different need: how to take an innovative idea to market. This book touches on those things, but looks at how the whole organization can enable those Lean startups within the organization and use it’s size to maximize the results.

The Innovation Machine also touches on the portfolio management aspect as well as some of the best ways to fund projects, staff projects (2 is best, a small room is next, anything else is doomed to fail), and finally how to integrate the project teams back into the larger business as a whole. No book that I’ve read has really discussed how to do this. All these topics are covered with clear case studies of some of the most innovative companies. He includes discussions of Google, Toyota, GE, P&G, SC Johnson, BMW, Microsoft, Whirlpool, and a litany of others. The stories are referenced as he details the concepts that were leveraged by the companies in his case study.

I believe that this book is a must read for a CEO or a leader that values innovation. Especially since he calls out the massive differences between managing Incremental Innovation and Disruptive Innovation – he gives very clear practical examples and methods for managing them separately. I believe these are powerful and will help me identify projects I work on more easily as disruptive or incremental.