The Poor Management Epidemic

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I’ve noticed a bit of talk lately about poor management such as this piece from Dare and this one from Mini-Microsoft.

While they focus on poor management at Microsoft, Microsoft does not have a monopoly on poor management. Indeed, it is rampant in the industry.

In general, I see one two main afflictions that affects corporate thinking in America. It is from these two items that all other problems seem to sprout from.

  • Placing short-sighted goals above all strategic and long-term planning.
  • Making decisions based on hopes rather than analysis and objective data.

A typical scenario might look like this. A company is starting a software project and ask their tech team (or consultants), “Hey, how long will it take to build this?” A reasonable question, but surprisingly difficult to answer because as we know, business types often don’t really know what they want.

After spending some time gathering requirements, the whole time being pressured by the business team, the tech team delivers a rushed estimate. Unfortunately for the tech team, the business types have already promised delivery of the product in half the time of the estimate.

So what happens now? Perhaps the company offers some token incentive and a pep talk about pulling together and taking one for the team by entering crunch mode from the start. Maybe they’ll even hire a few more developers attempting to prove that nine women can indeed have a baby in one month.

Perhaps the tech team understands the principle of the project triangle.

There are three goals of every project: Good, Fast, Cheap. You can pick two.

But try telling that to management. You ask them if they will prioritize features, and they come back with a list where every feature is priority #1.

At this point, the company is managing by hopes and fairy tales. They hoped the time they promised was reasonable. They hope the tech team can complete the project done in time. The tech team wants to put in place a longer design and planning phase, but management want them to get coding because they hope there won’t be any coding problems. The management team does’t keep a list of risks because they hope nothing bad will happen.

Invariably, by putting these shortsighted goals above the long term success of the project, they manage to make the project progress even slower than had they allocated the correct amount of time. Certainly it is possible they will get a deliverable on time. But a deliverable that is very much a house of cards.

To see the epidemic nature of this scenario, you only need to read the paper. The recent classic example is the Virtual Case File project. After more than three years and $170 million spent, the entire project was scrapped. That is $170 million in taxpayer money down the drain because of complete ineptitude, poor management by both the client (the FBI) and their vendor.

We can probably create a hughe catalog of business failures due to short sightedness and management through hopes.

UPDATE: Jon Galloway turned me on to Johanna Rothman’s blog. She has a great example of how managers can be “penny-wise and pound-foolish”. Just another example of being short-sighted.

[Listening to: Circuit Breaker - Röyksopp - The Understanding (5:25)]

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6 responses

  1. Avatar for Jeff Atwood
    Jeff Atwood October 10th, 2005

    > [Listening to: Circuit Breaker - Röyksopp - The Understanding (5:25)]

    Not to be a stick in the mud, but -- in the spirit of your entry criticizing blog titles with code -- is this really necessary? I don't mean to single you out, because I've seen this elsewhere as well.. but I need to get it off my chest.

    Why does the reader care that I was rockin' Air Supply's "Lost in Love" at the time I wrote the blog entry*?

    It's trivia, man!

    * But purely for the record, I have, and I am right now.

  2. Avatar for Marty Thompson
    Marty Thompson October 10th, 2005

    It's amazing to me how standard this crappy behavior is from "business people". Reading your entry was like reading a description of one of my previous jobs. Thankfully my current company has much more intelligent members of management.

    And for the record, both of you guys have crappy taste in music.

    [Listening to: Barry Manilow - Seven More Years- Let's Take Some Time To Say Goodbye [2:52]]

  3. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked October 10th, 2005

    First of all, my taste in music completely rocks! Objectively.

    Now having said that, the point of telling you what music was playing is so you get insight into the influences that affect a post. Try reading that post while reading Röyksopp. Now try reading it while listening to Rage Against The Machine. Different effect, eh?

  4. Avatar for Jack's WebLog
    Jack's WebLog October 10th, 2005

    I've been experiencing this lately where I work, and I think

    I am starting to suffer some burnout...

  5. Avatar for Rhonda
    Rhonda December 12th, 2006

    Jerome Alexander has written a good book about how this epidemic gets its start, incubates, and then infests the entire organization. He has lots of real live examples and stories from his own experience plus some pretty advice. I would recommend it to people both below and above the middle manager level. That's where the problem is. "160 Dgrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic." Read it!

  6. Avatar for Annatar
    Annatar July 18th, 2007

    Our managers here are poster children for the examples given.