Sunday, April 10, 2005
management is usability for organizations
The raw ingredients of these firms is part of the problem. They are composed of people with backgrounds in design, programming, and academic research, all fields notorious for bad management, all fields which privilged ideas and things, rather than people. Another problem is how young many managers are: generally under 35, sometimes under 30. Managers are made, not born. It is the classic case of tacit knowledge, gained through experience and socialization. Unfortunately, not only have many managers in the field had little experience, what experience they have had has been at other disfunctional places, so the opportunities to see examples of good management have been few. Coming from university or hopping between new media firms doesn't prepare one to manage well.
But another problem is the false ideas people entertain about what management is. Some false ideas include:
- Management is just project management. But getting things done on time is not the same as getting them done sanely.
- Management is about team building. Teams are groups formed to complete specific projects. Management is about attending to an organization that does many projects and activities. The team concept means no one takes formal responsibility, everything is supposed to happen spontaneously as long as everyone has the right attitude.
- Management is about business plans. Business plans are just milestones, mostly to impress your investors. Meeting sales or hiring targets doesn't mean you are managing well -- it may mean you are making things crazier. The big problem I see over and over is managers being perpetually in the reactive mode.
- Management is about being a family. Okay, few people actually say this one, but they imply it. Everyone is supposed to be friendly and think the same and socialize together, and by magic, everything runs smoothly. Again, it is a case of avoiding formal roles and responsibilities.
The problem is basic: people running companies don't take responsibility for attending to people and processes as a activity deserving attention in their own right. It gets dismissed as an overhead activity, or as a low priority given the current workload, or worse still, not a management problem, since employees are expected to make things happen on their own. Because of this contempt, chaos rules, which is rationalized as being a reflection of market conditions or tough clients. Yet other professions, far more stressful, don't rely on "need it yesterday" or "just make it happen" to guide them. Imagine a usability manager trying to run an air traffic control tower.
What to do? Read Peter Drucker. Not just one book by him, but everything one can. If you do, you may find him old fashion, and wonder how discussions of corporate history can possibly apply to today's nanosecond business world. Stay with that tension. Drucker is old fashioned, talking about management responsibilities. What a brilliant antidote to the narcissistic sloganeering of Tom Peters.