About being a (software development) manager ... and managing energy!!!

2018-01-20 Software-Engineering Management Culture

A lot has been written and said about what you need to do as a manager or more specifically as a manager of a software development team/group/organisation.

You need to understand people and the business and technology (software engineering processes and practices, tools and frameworks, programming languages, …).

You need to be a manager and a leader. You need to be a friend and a dad (or mother) and a boss.

You need to be a center of gravity that allows everybody to get into a safe orbit around the mission.

And sometimes in the evening you go home and you feel exhausted (physically and/or mentally) and you do not know why, because when you look back you cannot really point to something that you did that day.

So … why is that? Why is being a manager hard? At least sometimes/somedays?

In my case, I am (sometimes) exhausted, because to be a good manager (I believe) during the day you need to be(come) the missing puzzle piece. What I mean by that is that in general every human interaction (meeting, 1:1, lunch gathering, …) is missing something to make it better (or even great). Remember that meeting last week, when everybody was a little bit down, because the site went down. Then the meeting started and the person running the meeting was trying to up the mood by being upbeat and cheerful and that made you feel even worse? And then somebody stepped in and suggested that before we start to talk about the way forward we first recognize/call-out that we f…up and that it had a real negative impact on the company and that that was not good and asked what people think about it … and suddenly people where able to get the anger and the disappointment out of their system and bring that energy to the table?

That is (one thing) that managers do. They manage energy. They manage their own energy level and the energy of the individuals, teams, groups, meetings, … that they influence. They take energy out of situations (e.g. a crisis situation with too much noise and finger-pointing) or (if needed) they put energy into situations (by challenging groups of people and occasionally don’t do the nice thing, but the right thing (aka delivering a kick in the bud :)). If he or she is doing that well, then the entire group will always operate on a high and healthy energy level (without burning themselves out).

In the situation that I described above they need to detect and feel that the meeting is going into the wrong direction. They need to detect that there is a puzzle piece missing and they need to feel how that puzzle piece looks like and then they need to be(come) that missing puzzle piece. Morphing yourself into what’s missing, sometimes becoming three different things in in a span of 20 minutes is what is hard.

Another example where managers need to be able to switching from one “mode” to another is the leadership style. Most of the time you probably want to be an emotional leader and lead with “Why do we need to do this”. But then occasionally some situations and/or individuals actually look for you to be more prescriptive on “What needs to get done”. And last but not least, if the situation requires it you also want to be able to switch to micro management mode and be clear on “How to do it”.

Again switching from one mode to the other (within minutes) can be hard.

PS: BTW, my opinion is that being a Software Engineer is as hard as being Software Development Manager. The jobs and challenges in these jobs/roles are different and (hopefully) complementary. For me Software Engineering is mainly a test of intelligence. Software Development Management is mainly a test of personality and character. And these traits are obviously not mutually exclusive (means it helps to have managers that are intelligent and engineers that have a good balanced character/personality :)).