Monday, October 31, 2005

Look ma(nager), no hands

Picture a team working on a technology project. Given the proliferation of the Indian IT industry, this is a fairly common scenario. The team organisation structure is usually broken into lead, module lead and software engineers. Then there is a manager. How it works is that the sofware engineers and the module leads are expected to be the most competent in technology.

The lead may or may not be technologically competent, but the lead will surely not be technologically incompetent. what is asked of the manager is either technical competence or domain competence. What happens if the the manager is neither?

Manager to Lead: Can you send me the status reports?
Lead: I just sent it to you.
Manager: Can you come over and explain it to me?
Lead: (Duh! You are a manager arent you?) Ok.

Manager: Have you made any process changes (read, innovative practices etc.)in the last few weeks?
Developer: (You never gave me any ideas, so how do you expect me to keep innovating myself?)

The role of these team members is interpreted as, the module lead takes care of delivery of individual modules. The lead is expected to take care of overall delivery. The manager is expected to take care of processes and perhaps the deliveries of all the leads who report to him or her. What happens because of this is that the manager spends his time asking for and receiving status reports, does a bit of planning and little else.

The manager has to be a catalyst in the team. Asking the right questions, giving the right direction, coming up with innovative work practices. The lead has to be the fulcrum of the execution of these practices apart from working with the manager with his problems and arriving at solutions. All this should free up the developer in doing his work best. But what happens is that the developer is trapped.

The manager may or may not be a stud in technology or domain, but what he has to have is the interest in dirtying his hands, atleast occassionally. The lead necessarily has to dirty his hands. If every problem reported by the team is dismissed with a wave of the hand, saying it doesnt exist or worse, with some off the cuff solution, it prevents the team from actively working towards solutions for the betterment of the team. Well, you dont dirty your hands, so you dont know it. The lead can very well perform the role of a manager, if he is sufficiently well connected to the roots, not otherwise. The manager has to be more than just a mail id to which status reports have to be sent.

If both play hands off, it is a recipe for disaster.