February 25, 2010
If You Want Things Done Right, Manage YourselvesHello, there. Are you one of those people? You know the ones I'm talking about. They sit around in meetings all day. They have Blackberrys. They take 6 weeks to respond to an email, despite spending most of their time checking their inbox, and especially if it's from someobody unimportant, like a programmer.
That's right. I'm talking about managers. We need managers, right? Our project would go off the rails without a firm hand to guide it. I mean, how will the programmers know what code to write? How will the customer know what features to ask for? How will the testers know what scenarios to scrutinize? How will the software get deployed? How will new programmers get hired?
Underlying the need for managers on software teams is a set of assumptions that there are things that won't happen unless someone is there to manage them, and that there are important things only a manager can do.
Talk to customers? You need a manager for that. Schedule work? You need a manager for that. Hire a programmer? Yes, that's management business alright.
It's true that projects need accounting and budgeting and stuff like that. I have an accountant. He's called Geoff. He does my books and tells me off when I lose a receipt. Guess what, though? He's not the boss of me. He doesn't go out and speak to clients on my behalf. He doesn't win business for me. He doesn't decide what days I work. He doesn't have any say in when I take my holidays, or which graphic designer I should use for the Boffoonery programme (I did it myself in the end, by the way, because I'm cheap). I do all of this myself. He just balances the books at the end of the year and tells me how much tax Her Majesty's bloodsuckers will have to prise from my cold, dead hands.
I'm a programmer. No, seriously. And I can pick up a phone and speak to a recruitment consultant about sending us some CVs for a programmer role on my team. I can run a stand-up meeting and I can run a planning session with both hands tied behind my back. I can order stationary. I can put up whiteboards. I can tie my own shoelaces and wipe my own arse. Because I'm a grown-up. Well, maybe.
Having had one foot firmly in the UML and use cases camp for well over a decade I can certainly handle requirements, and can talk directly with the customer - who is also a human - and help them articulate what they need from the software without the need for a translator.
I understand business. I run one. I get invites to join the Institute of Directors and everything. And you say "oh, but that's rare among programmers". No. No it isn't. I've met a few programmers in my time, and despite a handful of very interesting characters who wouldn't function in any social situtaion - including working with other programmers - I'm confidently calling bullshit on that myth. Programmers understand business every bit as well as their managers. Possibly even better, since their managers haven't had to describe how their business works in bloody C++ or whatever. If you really want to test your understanding of something, try explaining it to a computer.
Projects need administators, just like my business does. I'm not a qualified accountant, and I need someone who really knows their stuff to make sure my books are tickety-boo and Mr Tax Bastard is fed the correct number of pounds of flesh. But I run my business. And hundreds of thousands of freelance programmers are in the same boat. They have to understand business, because they are one. And we spend our lives immersed in the customer's business to a level of detail the customer themselves probably doesn't go into.
I believe in self-managing teams of professional programmers. They can do the hiring and firing. They can work with the customer on requirements, testing and planning/tracking. They can order the stationary they need. And, very much an upside for them, they can decide things like how much refactoring is really needed, how much time can be invested in learning and practice each week, what documentation is really needed, and all manner of things that really are best left to the people who are actually doing the work.
And when they're too busy doing code and stuff (bearing in mind how much of their time would be freed up not having to persue pointless management agendas), they can send their Project Gimp to do it for them. Leadership can and often does come from within the team. A leader can be a programmer. And we can all be leaders at some point, when we're best placed to make certain decisions or provide a certain kind of direction.
And for those programmers among you who are thinking "but I don't want to do all this stuff"; maybe you don't, but if that's the case then stop complaining when your managers waste your time doing dumb shit (as they are wont to do). If you want a job doing properly...
Posted 8 years, 5 months ago on February 25, 2010