Sunday, March 9, 2008

Manager Tools

When I assumed my management role I had up until then acted as a lead or senior developer, leading small teams of programmers.

In those positions I did not do performance reviews, except to provide feedback to managers when requested. I did not actively participate in recruiting efforts, outside of being asked to speak to candidates. My need to convey status was relatively simple, targeted towards what the group and I were working on. It was relatively manageable to keep an eye on what was being developed, to help out with coding issues and to guide the programming efforts.

Any other aspect of management was handled by my manager. I had taken organizational behavior courses at university, plus some psychology courses and had a general idea of how you should interact with people if you wanted them to not react adversely to suggestions or direction. To a great extent, though, people were still baffling, but I did not have to really deal with people issues very much. Those issues would be kicked up to the manager.

Previous experience in administration rotated around worrying about office details at a startup, and being seconded into helping make certain projects happen. The paperwork load as a senior / lead developer was not onerous, though at times annoying. Again, the manager had to handle all that, but that was his/her job.

When I started "managing" I suddenly found myself thrust into needing to deal with people issues, continual requests for status (a friend termed me the "answer monkey" - i.e., when someone wanted an answer they would rattle my cage) and administrative overhead to accomplish tasks like recruiting, setting up training, etc. I thought "OK, I've seen this done before. It can't be difficult."

After trying what I thought were the correct approaches I realized that I needed to learn some new techniques. I read some pieces on management (helped a bit), went to some seminars (helped more) and tried out different approaches. Some things worked, and I kept doing them. Others did not, and I stopped doing them.

I seem to be handling most management items acceptably well, hiring people in and my direct reports are getting things done. I still find myself snowed under with minutiae, and struggle to control a lot of the things that demand my time (I will go on in another post about "Getting Things Done"). As an attempt to squeeze more learning into a day without adversely impacting my existing personal and professional obligations I started listening to learning CDs in the car on the way into work. These helped also, squeezing a little more learning in.

However, listening to CDs was a bit too limiting as I also have time to listen when I'm walking or at the gym, so I transferred them to my iPod. That helped somewhat too, but some of the courses on CD are six or more hours long, and I found it hard to squeeze effective learning into the half-hour fragments I tend to have. I had been subscribing to some music podcasts, and recently had added a Spanish language and a legal issues podcast. I cast about for other podcasts to add and came across Manager Tools.

Ah ha!

I started listening to their podcasts from somewhere in the early 2007 time frame and was hooked. Here was a reasonably short podcast (in the 20 to 30 minute range) with specific actionable items that I could use immediately. The presenters provided all kinds of context and information about why to take the action, but the takeaway was the thing that you should do, or other nugget of good information. Rather than trying to make a single, monolithic work that covers every last aspect of management they have taken the approach of presenting bite-sized pieces of useful knowledge.

If you are interested in management at all, you need to go listen to these podcasts.
I have other resources that I use to try and divine some insight into management and will cover them in other posts.

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