Managing Developers – How not to suck
I’ve been a development manager for 15 years. I have had the privilege to manage some great people – many of whom have become lifelong friends. I’ve also managed people I never want to hear from again. I’ve had some good mentors along the way and I’ve worked for some great mangers, a couple of crummy mangers, and one psychopath. It’s been both a rewarding and challenging experience. People who have worked for me tell me I’m a pretty good development manger.
Along the way, I’ve gotten to know many other development mangers. I’ve seen a few really good ones, and many bad ones. I have enjoyed working for a world class manger at Microsoft. I’ve also seen a couple of mangers who have been fired for how badly they manage people.
Managing developers is really hard. Why? Because software development is fundamentally a creative activity, like music, art, architecture, math and writing: Yes, yes yes…. there are strong engineering and scientific aspects to software development. Good engineering, and sometimes a scientific approach makes good developers better. But at the end of the day writing good software is a creative exercise and managing creative people is simply hard.
We pay developers to do two things: think and be creative. Good thinking and being creative cannot be mandated, both must be enabled. 80% of a development mangers job is enabling people to do their best thinking, and be creative, with good continuity over time. Its is impossible to plan, manage or schedule thinking and creativity.
The other 80% of our collective job is shipping stuff. At some point in time we need to ship our software to the people who will use it. Shipping can be engineered, planned, scheduled and managed. The challenge is that enabling people to think and be creative is requires a very different skill set than shipping.
If you want to be a good development manger, then your first task is to simply not suck. Sucking at some management aspect is like a golfer who can’t putt. A golfer can have a miracle drive, long and straight, a great approach game, but if they can’t putt – their drunk buddies who can putt will beat them.
This series of posts is my advice on how not to suck as a development manager.
I hope you enjoy this series as much as I enjoy writing it.