Managing Developers...Part 1

Let's pretend you are a development staff manager. Are you a good manager? Do you know how to manage me, a common developer? Does your team respect you? Do you know if your people are on your side, or will they backstab you? This series of posts is something I've shared often with managers. Read it with an open mind. This isn't your typical "How to be a Manager" Guide. This post is me being brutally honest.

I can count on one hand how many good development managers I've seen during my career. Most managers just don't "get it". I've seen (and have been) bold developers tell managers right to their face that they don''t "get it". All managers will react differently to this. When this happens it invariably is coming from a very strong developer on a very high-functioning team.

If the manager has any grasp on reality he will realize that he needs to change his ways. He'll start by reading lots of books about how to manage developers. These books invariably spew a bunch of stereotypes that say something like developers are all egomaniacal, antisocial, cry-babies that don't (want to) understand the underlying business. These books then mention various ways to modify developer behavior.

Or, the manager/organization, in an effort to rein in these stereotyped developers will try to implement some hot new buzzword-laden process du jour. "Our development teams are failing, let's implement agile/scrum." Or Kanban, or XP. Or let's gather metrics and see where we fall on a CMMI scale and manage to that. And, of course, this will require special training and lots of money for high-priced consultants to teach the developers how this new method will cure all of their ills.

What you as the manager/organization really needs to do is understand why the developers are exhibiting these stereotypical behaviors and then modify the organization/management style such that these behaviors cease to be displayed. Let me state that differently, if you understand why your developers are acting like primadonnas you'll understand that they don't want to act this way, but are forced to because of how the organization/you behaves. Change your behavior and mine will naturally want to change.

In the next few posts will go over each of the common behaviors I've seen displayed. I'll then cover how I've fixed each of them to make a better team.