技术人员学管理谨记──别当坏老板!

上网时间: 2014年05月21日? 作者:Henry Davis? 我来评论 【字号: ? ?小】

关键字:管理学? 坏老板? 工程师?

Management for Engineers: Don't Be a 'Pointy-Haired Manager'

Henry Davis, Independent Contractor

For many engineers, management is a dirty word. Almost every engineer knows about the "Pointy-Haired Manager" and other management stereotypes. The reason these stereotypes persist and are funny because there is an element of truth in them. Furthermore, they often provide a learning opportunity. With line managers responsible for upwards of 40 direct reports, disconnection and distrust are often the result of bad management, thereby reinforcing the stereotypes.

There's sometimes an "us versus them" approach on both sides of the employee-management equation. Most engineering first-line-managers have at least some engineering skills relevant to the task at hand. Oftentimes, it's the entry-level line management that provides opportunities to get things wrong due to lack of experience. Management skills are often gained through making bad decisions that can be corrected without too much loss in terms of time and money. Sadly, many managers are promoted into their positions with, at best, minimal training.

There are a lot of learning materials available today for any engineer who is curious about what it really takes to be a manager. But learning the theory of management comes with a price. For most engineers, learning the theory has to be completed outside work hours. Some companies continue to offer management training opportunities, but many more do not.

Management concepts in use today were promoted by Henri Fayol, a management theorist who lived at the turn of the 19th century. Strangely enough, he was a mining engineer first and a theoretician second.

Fayol proposed five management functions as follows:

? Planning

? Organizing

? Commanding

? Coordinating

? Controlling

Modern texts reduce these functions from five to four, replacing commanding and coordinating with leading. The intention of these four concepts of management is to create a cohesive organization.

A static view of management is flawed because there are no hard-and-fast rules to be followed in applying these functions. Practical management is a real-time decision-making system, and that is where things sometimes start to come apart.

Planning should be the foundation of management. It is the base upon which all other areas of management rest. Planning relies on an assessment of the company's present situation and where it wants to be in the future. Management is then tasked with selecting an appropriate course of action to achieve the desired goals and objectives.

Setting goals and objectives

Goals must be precise and are a precursor to the planning process. This means that the precision of the goals, often stated in the form of numbers, has to be cast in terms of the means necessary to achieve those numbers. Achieving a specific sales amount and making a specific profit must flow from the means to achieve them. Not all goals can be established in quantifiable terms, of course; some goals are subjective and can only be described based on past history. This is true of the effect of "soft" things like motivational programs on the efficiency of employees.

Planning objectives must be realistic; early success often leads to unrealistic expectations by management because the results aren't tempered with reality. Failing to understand the reality of a new product launch can lead to unrealistic and unachievable goals. In his book, Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, Geoffrey Moore deals with the reality of a new product's diffusion into the market. His observation is that you can't cross a chasm in a series of small jumps, because "small" won't get you across. That piece of wisdom applies in reverse to expectations: don't expect that development will occur in a single large jump. In large part, the Agile Development Methodology is based on a series of minimally functional deliveries to avoid the "big bang" approach to product development.

Management's responsibility is to organize resources and follow the course of action decided during the planning process. For most managers in most companies, the company's structure is a given, but deploying resources within a project team is generally within their control. They try to decide on the best way to assign the critical tasks and reduce unnecessary expenditure (time, money, physical assets, etc). Management determines the division of work to meet the project's needs.

Directing (leading) is the third function of management. This is where many of the Dilbert comics get their funniest material. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, says that the situations he lampoons come from real life examples. We can all think of examples of leadership failure, but it often is not funny. Management controls and supervises the actions of the staff. It takes a skillful manager to lead a team without real-world experience in doing the job of the team. The idea is to enable management to help employees by guiding them in the right direction to achieve the company's goals. Depending on the company, managers are to aid employees to achieve their personal or career goals. This requires motivation, communication, team dynamics, and leadership.

Control includes establishing performance standards, evaluation, and reporting of job performance. There are a great many approaches to employee evaluation, but the real determination is how the company performs rating and ranking. Some companies have a single "focal point" review process, while others perform reviews on anniversary dates. Both can work, but both can be subverted. For example, assume that you have an employee rating that says you perform above average. For most people, this would suggest that -- barring really bad corporate news -- their employment is secure. But that isn't always the case. For companies that rank employees, managers often have to develop a comprehensive list of employees according to their value to the company (rank). In this case, it is entirely possible for an above average performing employee to find themselves out of a job because their position wasn't sufficiently important to the company. Even worse, if you work for a weak or ineffective manager, you may find yourself a victim of the ranking process.

In contrast to planning, the controlling process is continuous. All levels of management take part in this function. Control is dynamic in nature. The idea is that management can anticipate future problems, adopt preventive measures, and make policy changes in a timely fashion.

At the end of the day, management can be a fun and exciting career path. Just don't be, or become, that "pointy-haired" guy!

Last but not least, in my previous column, I posed the following trivia question: "Long distance telephone calls were measured in minutes. How much did the first three minutes of a call cost between New York and London in 1927?" Several people wrote me to say, correctly, that the long distance call to London cost $75 for three minutes. Want a shocker? Convert that number to 2014 dollars.

Here's another trivia question for you. What was produced when sewing machines were first set up in a French factory in 1841?


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