Sunday, April 10, 2005


management is usability for organizations

I am constantly struck, both through direct experience and stories I hear from others, how poorly managed many firms involved in the usability business are. How ironic that firms that make it their business to get things right, have so much trouble doing it themselves. And very often, they aren't even aware how badly they are at managing themselves.

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:

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.

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