I'm a Bad Manager

I am manager of a software team of 14 SW Engineers, this puts me smack dab in Middle Management, a position I have accepted for about 20 years.

So yesterday I was counseled by the Project Manager. It turns out I’m too nice.
The team is behind schedule, I blame this on an insane development schedule to meet an unrealistic date. So I have people working late, coming in early, giving up their week-ends, and taking work home with them. This has been going on for about a month and will continue for at least another month. People are getting tired and cranky.

Back to the counseling, I was told to be more of an asshole.:eek: That is the exact wording.

Later HIS boss came to see me to let me know I should be micro-managing.:eek::eek: He believes my people are getting away with too much, TOO MUCH? They are working their collective asses off.

If I had to list two rules of managing I would have to say, Don’t Micro-manage and Don’t be an Asshole.

So, how do I fake these things, because I really don’t think I can do them.

Talk to some of your employees and tell them to talk about how you are an asshole in the breakroom so other people can hear them?

You can interpret this in two ways:

  • They are, literally, telling you to pursue bad management practices.

  • They are trying to tell you that on the “too soft/high-level” to “too harsh/detail-oriented” spectrum, you are too far on the Soft side. I often have to work with managers of departments that report to me to get them to tighten up their project management process and reporting. This is simply because the scale of what we are working on has increased, and if you don’t tighten things down, you can’t handle the increased scope.

You can interpret what they are saying negatively and set up a barrier between you and these supervisors, or you can get back to them and say something like “from your comments, it sounds like we need to tighten down the project management screws - what specifically should we change?” and engage them further. If they stick with their hyperbolic language, think twice. But if they start saying things like “you should layout a clearer plan” or “ensure status meetings are more productive and everyone knows exactly what they are accountable for by when” etc., then maybe they are trying to tell you something…

Your call.

Not bad.

I take it you’re saying your a bad manager meant to be tongue-in-cheek, in the sense that your management feel you’re a bad manager for not micro-managing and being an asshole. But if the above (your words) are true, you may be a bad manager for not pushing back on the original unrealistic schedule, and then your team suffers by losing their nights, mornings and weekends.

Unfortunately it’s probable that these employees don’t get any kind of overtime, so the cost to the company for poor scheduling is minimal, particularly in a bad economy where it’s tough to move jobs - usually you’d have some cost in attrition of talent.

I’d probably go back to my team and level with them: my boss wants me to be tougher on you guys; I know you already have it tough. Let’s see if we can come up with some ways to get back on (or closer to) schedule that doesn’t make it worse for you than it is now.

Maybe if schedule is more important than cost, you can add some resources? Isn’t the equation time, money and quality? So if you can make your management understand that, ask which one they want to sacrifice - although in my experience the guys just above you never quite “get” that.

You might be right, I’m thinking I am not involving my manager in my day to day interactions with the team and he is getting nervous. He is not technical and is always telling me to tell them to work “smarter not harder” and things like that.

We are having status meetings daily now and I have started walking around with a clipboard a lot more.

I am quite a bit more mellow than the PM or his boss and I think they believe I should be charging around and expressing my ire more publicly. I have never raised my voice in a meeting and this is something they both do with increasing frequency.

My pushing back on the schedule resulted in a 4 month extension, I asked for 6. Half the guys are contractors and get overtime pay, the regular employees don’t, this has created a lopsided happiness factor.

You’re telling us that there are hard choices being made to move the project forward and your supervisors are uncomfortable - they are concerned about a lack of rigor and coordination.

This is an opportunity for you to engage them. Step in, clarify what the do-ability issues are that you are bumping up against - e.g., scope creep, progress tracking, keeping the supervisors looped in so they have a clearer understanding, etc. - and tackle them head on.

They are looking for more adult supervision in managing the project. Happens all the time. This can be a good thing for you if you step up.

Look past the extreme language - that is merely a (not-so-great) way to make a point. Hear what they are really saying and ask them specifically about it - or spell out exactly what you are prepared to do in order to be responsive and see if they like what they hear…

Well you’re missing something but not what your PM and manager have told you.

You are on the right track with giving them more communication but there is still more to do.

Step one is to detail what needs to be done, the expected time it will take and what gets accomplished on whatever timeline is appropriate without unduly increasing your teams reporting time. Probably weekly.

Step two is to take the PM/Manager a problem to solve. Your team is being unequally rewarded and therefore is unequally motivated and it’s up to you and the two of them to find a solution. Either a)budget for bonuses for the full time employees (it likely won’t cover the extra hours they’re working but it’s a huge gesture and they’ll appreciate it) Set parameters for paying out the bonus, ie meeting certain milestones. or b) Set up an end of project week off with pay kind of reward. Again it’s not going to cover the time they’ve put in but it’s something to look forward to. Contractors can hold down the fort while they’re away.

Step three is to talk to your team. Explain what you’re working on for them and the reasons why this project being delivered by this date is important. Find out what non project work (reporting, admin, etc) can be taken off their plates. Hiring an admin or a jr level programmer to clear the decks of some reporting or grunt work leaves your more expensive (and valuable) resources more efficient and happier.

FYI, this is all coming from the perspective of an IT project manager. I know making management understand reality is an ongoing battle, and projects are rarely planned correctly from the bottom up but your job is not only to manage the people below you, but to manage those above you as well. Good luck!

I did mention I have been doing this for over 20 years? Your suggestions are all perectly valid and I hope I’m not being too cocky but I really believe the pressure from the top is not being handled well by my PM. It is a government contract and Mgt thinks the contract will be canceled if we ask for more time or resources. The company has only recently moved into this arena and I don’t think they were ready for the transistion. Until now they were primarily a HW manufacturing company. It is also a private company and they are not taking my suggestions well although they hired me due to my experience in bring in tough SW projects.

a-HA. Time to frame your understanding of the business objectives you/your team are expected to achieve, your recommended actions for changes that must be addressed in order to acheive those objectives, and a discussion of the Hard and Soft barriers keeping you from implementing your recommendations.

Time to talk straight, focused on acheiving business objectives…

First of all cheer up.

Remember even if it were true and you were a bad manger, that DOES NOT MEAN, you’re a bad PERSON.

Being able to manage people is a hard job, that is why there are so few good ones. I can only think of three people in 30 years of working I’d call excellent managers. Most have been average or below average.

Let’s think this over

Do you need to be an asshole? The person who told you this IS an asshole. Would you want to be like him? So the answer is no. You may need to correct your style or your behaviours but being a jerk is never the answer.

Start with this

Are your goals unrealistic or impossible? If it’s impossible, you need to find out what happens when you fail, because you will and mitigate the failure. If they are unrealistic you need to do things, like enquire about overtime. I found when I could document an unrealistic goal, to wit, the only answer was overtime, that somehow the goal got changed.

We have a horrible economy with too many people out of work. This leads many to believe they can simply fire any deadwood. In some cases this is so. But most often this doesn’t help, unless people are deadwood.

Now ask yourself, are you people not being productive enough?

If so you need to be assertive, not a jerk to encourage them to work at their capacity.

So people rebel at this. I recall when I ran a call center the employees were complaining the guidlines were too unrealistc. So I stepped in, in front of them and announced since the guidelines were too unrealistic, I’d do it and I did. Once I showed the guidelines were do-able, the others fell in line.

Of course you may not be able to do that if the tasks are too specific, but you get the idea

Some upper management never gets the idea of having a staff.

When I hired on to a start up company in the late 90s, one of the two owners looked at Bill the other owner and said, “Why do we need him as a manager, if your staff would do as they were told we wouldn’t need to waste money on his salary to watch over them.”

OK he had a very GENERAL point, but not a realistic one.

Again, realize even if you are at fault, your not a bad person, just a person who’s management skills need to be corrected.

Start at worse case senerios and work back.

You get fired, the company loses contract, you get demoted…

Seek out a case and find an answer.

Bullying does work to a degree. Your boss bullied you and you got worried and posted the question. But while bullying may work for a few workers, it doesn’t lead to long term answers

Well thought out, Thanks.

Just one clarification - you’ve got 20 years experience in this type of position, but how long in this particular one?

You’re probably right about the PM not handling the pressure correctly, but given the answers to the suggestion I would say you’ve got a bigger problem.

Management, whether due to the change in projects or a more ongoing attitude isn’t supportive of their workers and they aren’t backing you even though you were hired for your expertise in these situations. If it’s not fixed it’s toxic on a long term basis and you’re either going to suffer from high turnover OR you’re going to leave yourself.

You know, as a former software project manager, it always amazes me that the answer to a slipping schedule is almost *always *overtime. This kind of makes sense in one way since, as ShibbOleth pointed out, it’s usually at no extra cost for salaried employees, and, hey, you should be able to produce twice as much work in 16 hours as you would in 8 hours, right? It’s a no-brainer, and usually the first impulse for most managers.

The problem is that software development is inherently a creative process, and you get diminishing returns with overtime. After a certain point, all 16-hour days get you are tired, cranky, burned out programmers and buggy software.

Lanzy, I feel for you. Nope, I don’t miss the job at all.

Came to this company with high hope and great expectations 14 months ago. Kinda losing the good feelings now.

Yep, just came from another meeting where I was told, “You have to deliver by the 15th of April.”

Me: "But I told you I needed until May 3rd.

Them: Nope, the 15th is our date now.

Me: Can’t be done.

Them: Work smarter not harder.

Me: :smack:

Oh well, I was looking for a job when I found this one. :frowning: