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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management


Today, I’ll write something so obvious that I’m almost ashamed of it. I thought if there’s anybody who doesn’t know that, but I still see lots and lots of people who act like they should read below advices. There’s a second reason also – it’s always worth to remind to myself these points.

Micromanagement, that’s what I want to write about today. Why is it bad? There’s a bunch of reasons:

• Manager can’t do everyone’s work. He has in the team 5, 10 or maybe 50 people, so in every case they do more than a single person could. Even if he’s a superhero. Even if there’s only one person in the team. Remember the manager has his own work. Oh, at last he should have some.

• Manager’s competence doesn’t cover all competence in her team. She usually isn’t the best developer, the best tester, the best project manager. She has the best managerial attributes. Oh, at last she should have some. That’s why she’s the boss. I hope that’s the reason, in other case I offer my condolences to you.

• Telling people how exactly they should do their tasks is usually stupid because they usually know better. They are closer to issues, closer to code/functionality/project plan/whatever and they work on that every single day (not only during micromanagement day of the week). Manager is like a driver – he can say if the car looks nice and drives fast. His team is like mechanics – they know what exactly happens in the engine. You’d rather ask the mechanic, not the driver how to fix brakes in you car, wouldn’t you?

• In these several cases when the manager knows better what to do and how to do, telling people how exactly they should do their tasks is stupid, because people don’t learn accountability then. If the manager taught them micromanaging, they won’t take initiative, won’t be creative and won’t look for improvements of their work. Why should they? That’s the manager who tells them exactly how to work. But remember, she doesn’t have the time to micromanage every single person on regular basis. Even if she’s a superhero.

Yeah, stupid indeed. It’s obvious. Why to write about that? I’ll answer with a question: why so there’s still so much micromanaging?

I think reasons are different. When I recall micromanagers I met they’re driven by different demons. There’re two I Know It Better demons – first when the manager really know better how to deal with a task or an issue and second when he thinks he knows. The latter is much more common. There’s Do What I Say demon, when it doesn’t really matters if the solution is right or wrong, it’s all about doing what the manager said just to support his ego. There’s You Don’t Know The Big Picture demon, when micromanaging is justified with lack of wide knowledge about whole situation within the team. Nothing easier but to share the knowledge. There’re of course others, but those are the most common.

You should listen none of them. There’s always a better way to deal with the task or the issue than micromanaging. You can come with your idea in every situation but don’t treat yourself as unmistakable, because you’re not (I bet). Bring discussion and be open to change your mind if someone, especially someone who’ll actually do the work, comes with another idea. And tell people what to do, not how to do that.

in: personal development, team management

5 comments… add one

  • Austin Bob November 17, 2006, 1:48 pm

    Good thoughts. I especially like your “demon” metaphors.

    As a software project manager (and manager of project managers) who was once a very good coder, I am certainly aware of the temptations. It seems to me that the key is to avoide the “Dilbert’s Manager Demon” … the one that says “Everything I don’t understand is easy.”

    It is very easy … especially as a project begins to have real success … to forget that as the PM you may have the best view of the overall direction, but somebody knows more than you do about everything (even if that takes several somebodies).


  • Pawel Brodzinski November 18, 2006, 4:18 am

    Oh, I missed Dilbert’s Manager demon – somehow I assumed that manager is at least trying to be competent and sometimes that’s not true.

    You’re also right about the success which endroses manager’s belief about his infallibility and wide and deep knowledge about everything.

  • Austin Bob November 21, 2006, 9:41 pm

    There was a good article a few years ago in the Harvard Business Review by Jim Collins entitled “The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve” … it is really aimed at CEO-types, but I have adapted it pretty successfully to my “Project Rescue Operations” consulting practice.

    The thing about Dilbert is that while “real” managers are (at least usually) trying to be competent, they sometimes come off looking just as clueless as Dilbert’s manager. And, of course, from a management perspective, it is easy to begin to believe that Wally keeps showing up on your project in different incarnations.

    Oh well … Onward through the fog!


  • Pawel Brodzinski November 22, 2006, 11:22 am

    There’s a simple method to restrain a temptation to look for Wallys in a team/project/whatever: imagine there were no “Wally” and you personally had to do all his work. Would you really do it better?

    If the answer is usually positive you’re either a genius or (most likely) just mistaken.

  • SBL Software Solutions February 16, 2009, 12:14 am

    Severe forms of micromanagement usually completely eliminate trust and can provoke anti-social behavior. They often rely on inducing fear in the employees to achieve more control and can severely affect self-esteem of employees.

    SBL – software development company

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