This post is the twenty-ninth part of a ramble-rant about the software business. The current posts in this series are:
- Goodwill, Negative and Positive
- Visions, Quests, Missions
- Right, Wrong, and Style
- Follow Me
- Balance, Part 1
- Balance, Part 2
- Definition of a Great Team
- The 15-Minute Meeting
- Metaproblems: Drama
- The Right Question
- Software is Organic, Part 1
- Metaproblem: Terror
- I Don’t Work On My Car
- A Turning Point
- Human Doings
- Everything Changes
- Getting It Right The First Time
- One-Time Boosts
- Perfection vs. Precision
- Software is Organic, Part 2
- Business Losses and “I Don’t Know”
- T-SQL Tuesday: Personality Clashes, Style Collisions, and Differences of Opinion
- Human Resources Sucks
- The Integrity Challenge
This post is about selling ideas. While the sales pitch often sounds good…
…Sometimes It Ain’t
Ever buy a house? Or a car? Or an idea for a new feature in an application or website? What do these have in common? Sales. Someone explains the benefits of the house, car, or feature; and then they tell you how much better your life will be if you buy.
Sales isn’t a bad thing. Maybe you don’t have a house and want one. Perhaps the engine in your car is dying, the body rusted, the tires so thin you can see the air inside. That new feature may be really useful.
But maybe not. Maybe you can (or even should) continue to rent that apartment, drive that clunker, or simply concentrate on optimizing data layer performance before you bolt on more interface glitz.
Consequences: Intended and Otherwise
No decision occurs in a vacuum. Every decision for Option A is a decision against Options B, C, and D. This is part of the physics of a decision – business or otherwise.
The physics that dictate the consequences of any decision can be thus categorized:
Funny thing is, you rarely hear about unintended consequences in a sales pitch. This bias is at once understandable and disturbing. But it’s also common. So common that we pay for house inspections during the process of buying a home or request a carfax report before purchasing a used car. It’s also why new features for software should be similarly vetted.
Unintended consequences leave a mark. The substance of decisions is unintended consequences – they are merely lacquered with intended consequences. This is why they make such wonderful paving stones for the path to hell.
The Path of Least Resistance…
… is compelling because it’s easy. But easy ain’t always right. I’m suspicious if the first idea for a solution is easy. “Why, Andy?” I’m glad you asked! Because I rarely get things right the first time. The easy first thought is either incomplete, doesn’t address all the need or solve all of the problem, is not elegant, or creates additional problems. The first thought lacks vetting – I haven’t had to consider the unintended consequences. It is therefore suspect.
This happens in managing teams too. When I make a bad decision on a car or house or personal website feature, I’m mostly hurting myself. There’s an added dimension to making a boneheaded management decision: I can hurt someone else. As a manager, I’ve done this. I made bad decisions that cost me and those I serve (management is service… more later…) effort, time, and money. Nothing stings like this. Inevitably, these decisions have been the path of least resistance for me. I got upset at what I saw/heard/read, felt froggy, and jumped all over someone who was actually trying to mitigate the consequences for me and the team.
Bad for me? That I can handle. Bad for members of my team? That just sucks.
Patterns vs. Exceptions
If my mistakes as a manager have any redeeming quality it’s this: They are the exception and not the rule. My pattern is different. But it’s easy to get into an unhealthy pattern of management. We have the perfect excuses: it’s a tough job, team members alternate between expecting too much and too little from us, no one appreciates the 99 things we successfully fend off but everyone notices the 1 thing that gets through. The front-line manager position is not for the thin-skinned or feint-of-heart.
If it was easy, anyone could do it.
In my experience, the best managers sacrifice for their teams. They work hard and smart, refusing to select one over the other. They often put in as many or more hours than those on their team. They rarely perform the work that keeps the machine running, but they protect the environment of those doing the actual work.
Think this is a small task? Here’s a stat for you: It takes something like six support personnel to support each infantry person in an army. Want to fight to win? You can’t do that by running onto the battlefield, firing a couple shots, and then retreating. You have to project power to win a sustainable (and honorable) victory. Projecting power means logistics, supply chain, support… in other words: management. Yes, the infantry are on point. It’s a job for which the protected cannot pay them enough. God bless them. But they can only carry so much ammunition on their person, they need someone to supply more. Their boots wear out. They need to eat. You get the picture – they need someone (or group of people) to facilitate the environment; someone to enable them to do their job.
The idea of being a manager may sound good to you. The dynamics of each role is different. Management sometimes looks easy. And sometimes, management is easy. But it’s never easy by nature, it has to be made easy – and that takes work.