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Managing The UnManageable: Excerpt of Discussion With Co-Authors

Excerpt of Discussion With Ron Lichty and Mickey Mantle, Co-Authors, Managing The UnManageable
By Cindy F. Solomon, CPM, CPMM

Ron Lichty and Mickey Mantle, Co-authors, Managing The Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, And Insights for Managing Software People and Teams, were recently on the Global Product Management Talk. This is an excerpt of some highlights of our discussion. Listen to the full episode:

There are very few companies these days that are not relying on software, software developers, software development in some way to drive and underpin their businesses, and yet, as we point out in the book, software development is a mystery and we try to unravel that mystery and make it more understandable.

The essence of the relationship between product managers and software development managers should be collaboration: pairing as product leaders. I’ve seen too many strained relationships. But I’ve also seen and experience the sparks of synergy that result from close collaboration – working relationships that have enhanced the product, professional and personal lives of everyone in the product organization and through the company.
The primary job of a product manager is to get a set of requirements codified in such a way that they can be communicated sufficiently with enough detail that the technical team can take it and run with it. That should entail saying what it is you want, NOT how to do it. A product manager who is too technical will veer off into “how” to do it, as opposed to what he wants done.
The communication skills of a software manager are essential – the ability to communicate the team’s work to the rest of the company, the ability to translate the rest of the company to the team, and the ability to listen in all of those venues, whether they’re managing down, whether they’re managing up, whether they’re managing out to understand all of what’s going on to be able to do that translation.
A challenge for sure, because it requires speaking different languages – not specifically software languages, as much as cultural languages of the C-suite, of the customer, end-user, market, the salesteam, as well as the developers.
It is, it’s like they’re different domains and they are entirely different languages. Similarly, a great software development manager is going to be seeking to collaborate both in managing up, down and out.
What does a great software developer manager look like?
Its someone who is doing that collaboration in all directions and who is listening in all directions.
We go into why some of this is important in one of the chapters on managing out. For example, one wouldn’t think its important to have allies in your finance department, but it often is critical. Finance is typically so far removed from programming even though they deliver your paychecks, what else do you need from them? You forget that they also help justify new hires and adding people to your teams, and lots of other things that you need allies in that group as well. You do need to create alliances throughout the organization if you’re going to be effective.
Similarly is creating alliances with HR and with staffing. A lot of programming managers, when they move from being programmers to being programming managers, think, “Oh”. They have a distaste for HR and for staffing. But in fact, one of our favorite rules of thumb is that “Programming Managers are always recruiting.” Always recruiting means you need to make the staffing person in your organization your best friend and making HR who puts together the offers and is your collaboration partner in hiring staff your best friend. Hiring is a critical activity for good software development managers.
Probably the most important one – hire the right people. Job descriptions have to relate to performance reviews you do and typically they’re not aligned in any way. We provided a holistic set of job descriptions and performance reviews – things that can help align those two. Personally, I think its a very important part because people really do want feedback, even if its negative feedback – they love feedback especially if it can be done in a way that is positive instead of negative.
Then the next step beyond that is a good software development manager needs to develop almost a psychologist’s understanding of the programmers on their team. It starts from job descriptions, it starts from abilities – but it moves into what motivates the programmers – what motivates each of the individual programmers on the team. Watching how good programming managers motivate their teams is a fascinating activity all by itself.
How do good programming managers motivate their teams?

This is one of those kinds of transitional challenges for software managers. As programmers, we don’t think a lot about what motivates us and then suddenly we become a manager and you have to think about what motivates your team. The tradition, maybe in the world, certainly in the United States, is to throw money at problems. One of the real insights, and it took me a number of years managing, before I ran across it, and in of all places – the Harvard Business Review, (any manager in any other field other than software programming would say, “of course you found it in the Harvard Business Review”, but no programmer would ever have read the Harvard Business Review.)

It was an HBR article that pointed out that the things that motivate people and the things that de-motivate people are different. And that was such an incredible “Aha” for me that money is not one of the things that motivate people and in fact, this goes in spades for programmers. Its once you pay people enough, then what motivates them is something entirely different. If you don’t pay them enough, it will de-motivate them, but if you pay them enough, then incremental amounts of it really don’t motivate much behavior. You can reward people with money – you have to be careful about that – there’s a whole psychology around motivating with money and not de-motivating with money even though you’re giving people money.

What really motivates programmers, we think, is the opportunity to make a difference in the world, and a great programming manager is going to be motivating their people by connecting what it is that programmers do with the mission of the company and the mission of the company with making a difference in the world.
Even in some small way – I mean not everybody can change the world like Steve Jobs set out to do with Apple, but almost every company I’ve been involved with is trying to change the world in some way, in some small way, and I’ve used that as an incredible lever to help motivate my teams.
I see that people who choose to accept the challenge of product management have that in common – they care about the excellence, the quality of the product because the finished product will make a difference in the world and that’s what the motivation is. (I want to make a note that we got through 30 minutes before we mentioned Apple!)
Cindy, you have really called out one of the places that product managers and programming managers should find common ground to work and collaborate because making a difference in the world is key to both of those people.
It explains why people would spend all night and get so focused on getting that product out, completing what needs to happen for the launch, QA, all the different pieces to guarantee that the product is going to get to the end user and be functional and be exceptional.
There’s probably nothing, nothing that more frustrates a programmer than having poured their soul into a product and not have it ship.
Or have it poorly received.
What are programming managers bedeviled by?
Management. Often, by design, the tension between product managers and software development managers – they often have quite different agendas. Clearly being completely customer driven, which many product managers are and which is quite different than being technology driven, which is how many software development managers are, and trying to find the common ground there is a challenge.
But I would also say, both Ron and I have spent a large amount of time and energy not only managing our teams, but managing to protect our teams from the currents that swirl around the Executive Teams. When I said management, I really meant management on a general sense, and then product management as well.
I think that is a shared perspective – people who come out of more of a technical perspective into product management is because of that frustration where they saw that their technical projects got thwarted by misunderstanding of the managers- so they come into product management to work across functions to guarantee that their projects will see the light of day and also to guarantee the quality of the products. I agree with you, look, its very difficult to be a manager, to be a product manager…
One of the reasons we wrote this book is that was that there must be a thousand books for project management, there’s scores of books on each of the methodologies for project management, there are lots and lots of books on managing people, but the number of books that provide any insight for new programming managers in how to manage programmers and how to manage programming teams numbers less than the fingers on two hands. There are five or six or seven books like that and we value each one of them. And we felt that we could make a contribution that those five or six that hadn’t made already so that was part of what drove our writing this. There’s just very little out there.
One of the answers to the general question, of What are Software product managers are bedeviled by? is what I think is the same answer for product managers, and that’s lack of respect from Senior Management – its not across the board, its by far not every company,- there are lots of companies where Senior Management respects their programming organizations and their product managers, but there are organizations that neither one gets respects for what it knows. Senior Management ignores the research that product managers do with customers to find out what it is that customers want, and say “Well we already know” and similarly ignores the realities of programming and software development to say, “Well, you know, we should be able to do five times as much without changing the schedule, or we can make this change and it doesn’t make any difference.”

Learn More:
AIPMM Webinar Series December 7: From Chaos To Clarity: Managing The Unmanageable with Ron Lichty A drawing will be held at the end for participants to win a copy of the book!

About The Book:
Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams published by Addison Wesley

Mickey Mantle and Ron Lichty, two software industry veterans with over 70 years of combined experience, have crafted a book that will help any software manager be more successful. Having spent their careers developing software, leading software development projects, and managing programmers and teams, they have now distilled their experience into a book that every beginning programming manager should read and have on their bookshelves for reference.

It’s a book that will also help executives who struggle sponsoring projects dependent upon software success – CEOs, COOs, CTOs, and others – understand the craft of software development and the intricacies of how to manage software people and teams to deliver software projects successfully.
This book will help any software manager get a handle on their own unmanageable challenges. Highly recommended for anyone who works or lives with software developers!

About Ron Lichty
Ron Lichty has been transforming chaos to clarity and making software development “hum” for most of his 20 years managing software development and product organizations. He has repeatedly been brought in as a “VPE of Fix-It” to solve problems like painfully slow product development, past-due estimates with no delivery in sight, challenges arising from geographically dispersed teams, scalability stymied by sluggish data integration, productivity bridled by uncertainty, an “order-taking mentality” from teams that should be eagerly proactive, and teams unable to break out of research and move on to development and delivery. Having managed a product marketing group at Apple Computer early in his career, Ron is especially attuned to the challenges product managers face. As an engineering VP since then, he highly values the partnerships he has formed with product managers. @RonLichty
About Mickey W. Mantle
Mickey W. Mantle has been developing software for over 40 years, creating hardware and software products and managing development teams for companies that include Evans & Sutherland, Pixar, Broderbund and Gracenote. He’s co-author, Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams and currently develops mobile/tablet applications, writes and consults. @MWMantleCA
About The Author
Cindy F. Solomon, CPM, CPMM is the voice of product professionals! Listen weekly to Global Product Management Talk at Solomon hosts StartUPTalk Radio, produces Startup Product events, and created the ProdMgmtTalk mobile application. She is an innovator, early adopter, serial entrepreneur, product management evangelist, content marketing & social media strategist, and contributing author to several books, including “42 Rules of Product Marketing”. Solomon brings over 15 years of web development, services, and software product marketing and management at Apple, Vadem, NetObjects and start-ups in Silicon Valley. She holds CPM/CPMM certification. @CindyFSolomon

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