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Friday Philosophy – The Secret to Being a Good IT Manager June 3, 2011

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Management.
Tags: , ,

If you go into a book shop there will probably be a section on business and, if there is, there will almost certainly be a load of books on how to be a manager. Shelves and shelves of them. There is also a large and vibrant market in selling courses on management and aspects of management. I’ve been on a couple of such course and, if you can manage to be open minded whilst keeping a cynical edge, I think they can be useful.

However, I think I most of them are missing the key points and that if you can but hold on to the following extensive list of guiding principles you will be a good IT manager. Maybe even an excellent one :-):

  1. Your top priority, at all times, is to see to the best interests of your people.
  2. Whatever you develop, be it code, databases, network, a team of support staff – User Acceptance is paramount.
  3. You must find ways to deal with other teams and your own management hierarchy in such a way as to be allowed to do (1) and (2).
  4. That’s it.
  5. OK, if pushed, I’d say Never Lie. Maybe that’s just personal though, it’s because I don’t have the memory, audacity or swiftness of mind to pull it off. By not lying I don’t have to try and construct what I said to who and why.

I’m sure people could cite some other hard rules like “you must be within budget” or “you need to get buy-in to your vision” but I don’t agree. Budgets can be negotiated and the difference between those deemed visionaries and those deemed fantasists seems to be to me down to success and luck. Luck is luck and for success I refer you to points 1 through 5.

OK, maybe a final rule is:

  • Never ask for or aim for something that is not realistic.

So, I am now able to develop my team and my application and not expect to be able to spend half the company profit on the fastest box out there, as it is not realistic.

There are a shed load of other things that I think are important to helping you be a good manager, you know, techniques and methods for improving things, but nothing else that is key.

And it’s such a simple, small list even I can aim for it.

The shame of it is that I don’t think it’s enough to be developed into a book or a course so I can’t sell the idea. That and I’ve gone and given it away in this blog. Also, though I feel I can give points 1,2 and 5 a good shot, point 3 is way beyond me…possibly because of point 5… So I am not a great manager.

I’m going to hide behind this stout wall now, with my hard hat on, and wait to be told how naive I am…

Update – A couple of weeks later, Kellyn on her DBA Kevlar blog put similar sentiments to looking after your guys, more from the employee’s perspective and far better covered

Why given so many of us feel this way and want things to be this way…are they not?


1. Mark W. Farnham - June 3, 2011

I think you’ve got that about right. There are probably a few books in there about tips for executing those key points, such as how to plan to protect your team from insane commitments. But that fits in your short list – a short list that requires a viewpoint that the manager should enable the team and remove roadblocks before the team reaches that point in the journey whenever possible. That will make you a good manager.

To be successful as a manager it helps to be a good manager, but it is even more important to have good people working for you and a company executive structure that understands the same ideas on your short list.

mwidlake - June 3, 2011

Thanks Mark, I really like that idea of removing roadblocks before the team hits them. Manager as a snow plough maybe?

>but it is even more important to have good people working for you…
Spot on, you get the best people you can. I also strongly believe that you can make almost anyone in your team better too, so you can take average people and help them be good. It does not always work but I’d say 90% of the time it does and that is where some of those management courses can help.

>and a company executive structure that understands the same ideas on your short list
Unfortunatlety I think this is rare and, unlike the above, I think is only 10% within your (well, my) capability to alter. It’s worth a try though.
There is a concept of an organisation having a personality. The closer your personality to that of your compant the more likely that it is going to be a healthy and happy relationship. If the personality difference is huge, just accept it is the wrong place for you and leave as gracefully as possible. I wish someone had beaten that into my head about 18 years ago…. πŸ™‚

2. Dom Brooks - June 3, 2011

>Your top priority, at all times, is to see to the best interests of your people
In an ideal world, exactly. And 99% fall at that first hurdle.

But these days, IT is largely a commodity effectively to be outsourced to the cheapest supplier. Team happiness is effectively not important. At the team level, it might seem important. But at some level up above, ultimately all that matters is the bottom line. Bean counting. Providing tactical IT at the cheapest price. Deliver or die….

mwidlake - June 3, 2011

Hi Dom,

I would call you bitter and cynical but I agree with you, many organisations are now like that. I refer you to my point 3… And also to my response to Mark. If the organisation personality is so far from your own, look to move. The big problem with that is some of us have skills only large companies need, and large companies tend towards a personality type…

3. Mark W. Farnham - June 3, 2011

Nods on your reaction to my comment as well. My point about employees was that being a good manager is useful in its own right but does not guaranteed success as a manager. Just as a sports team with a great manager but sub par talent or an unhelpful owner may not win the championship, they probably do better than with a lousy manager. And a good manager makes it easier to get good employees and once in a while inspires upper management to also be better.

A company President, in my view, is first a servant of the employees and customers. But what of the fiduciary responsibility to the owners or stockholders? Part of maximizing long term value is being the servant of the employees and customers, so there is no conflict.

mwidlake - June 3, 2011

Nods also.
Nice second point. I had to look up “Fiduciary” though πŸ™‚
“A fiduciary duty (from Latin fiduciarius, meaning “(holding) in trust”; from fides, meaning “faith”, and fiducia, meaning “trust”)”

I could digress into my thoughts about this conflict between employee duty and shareholder duty being significant to the free market economy being bull but I won’t. I start getting so left wing I wrap all the way back to something terribly right-wing…

4. Kellyn Pot'Vin - June 3, 2011

How often do companies lose excellent people due to one poor manager who doesn’t comprehend these valuable rules? How important it is for hiring and promoting managers to understand the difference between true leadership skills who will embrace these rules and those that simply manage through contol issues..

mwidlake - June 15, 2011

Hi Kellyn, I must apologise for your comment having been in limbo for a while – I am on holiday and unplugged from the wired world – I just nipped into a town for an email fix πŸ™‚
I’m nodding and agreeing. I have seen many people leave a job because their management has been so poor. Maybe worse, I have seen plenty stay and just become disruptive and even harder to manage.
I really struggle with the fact that, tarring all of us with the same brush, people in IT tend to be very happy about getting technical training and see management training as utter rubbish. I’ve come to the conclusion there is a truism – Those who are strongest in rubbishing management {and general social} training are those most in need of it!

5. Friday Philosophy – Tainted by the Team « Martin Widlake's Yet Another Oracle Blog - August 26, 2011

[…] did not deal with that manager. He obviously did not believe that rule one of a good manager is to look after the best interests of your team. It was to protect his own […]

6. Friday Philosophy – Tainted by the Team « Ukrainian Oracle User Group - August 28, 2011

[…] did not deal with that manager. He obviously did not believe that rule one of a good manager is to look after the best interests of your team. It was to protect his own […]

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