A colleague who is also a Facebook friend posted something about The Management Myth recently. My comment I think sums up my opinion of management books and management in general as concisely as I’ve done to date.
Comment #1: I had an epiphany as a young programmer that the best programmers were people who had liberal arts degrees rather than computer science or software engineering degrees. Programmers are supposed to make useful models of the world, and the hardest part turns out not to be the modeling part, but the understanding the world part. When I transitioned into management, I learned the same was true of MBAs.
That said, just like you can get in way over your head in software development if you don’t get some pure engineering training, there really is something to be said for management as an abstract discipline. My gripe with the literature is not so much that it’s all complete hooey, but the books have a very low ratio of valuable insights to hooey, and are very repetitive and information-sparse.
Comment #2: (when I said “the hard part turns out not to be the modeling part” what I mean is that the tools of modeling, the computer languages, the hardware, the infrastructure– those things have reached a state of maturity such that you really don’t have to spend years studying computer science to be able to use them properly).
There’s also one of those great New Yorker reviews-that-is-almost-as-meaty-as-the-book-reviewed here. Which is a pretty interesting history of management consulting going wayyy back to the 19th century.
I put enough thought into my response to this excellent post that I’m stealing it to publish on my own blog.
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It’s just a hunch, but historically, I think the rise of the PHB stereotype coincided with the rise of the post WWII military industrial complex. Friends and relatives who have worked in engineering for defense contractors have had a far more Dilbertian experience than I have programming in the purely private sector. If you think about the Manhattan Project or the space race, the engineers in question were more pure scientists– even farther down the spectrum from the PHB stereotype than a typical engineer. And yet the bureaucrats and generals who commissioned their work didn’t understand the science itself. As much of this became privatized, this division of labor continued.
This is mostly conjecture, but it sounds plausible to me.
And I suppose my mileage has varied from the typical programmer here, but I came fairly early in my career to not only believe that good management exists, but to value it. Perhaps it’s because the manager in question was truly a foreman, by your definition, but he understood enough about the work itself to fight for the time and resources to do it properly, but to also keep the team grounded enough to actually *ship*. Maybe it makes me an odd duck, but I find the most satisfaction in finding the simplest solution to a problem– and actually getting my work in front of users. I’ve always felt my fellow programmers if left to their own devices would rather write beautiful or clever code that impressed each other rather than shipping something real.
That’s another reason I too feel little for Dilbert– on one hand the strip seems to suggest that if only the world could be rid of PHBs, workers would magically organize themselves to… to do what exactly? Dilbert gives lip service to wanting to do useful work, but he rarely demostrates much love of craft, certainly not enough to pick up and move to a company where he could exercise it– they do exist. I think it’s in this fatalism where Adams shows his true colors: if Dilbert were a real engineer, he’d figure out that this is a problem to be solved and get himself out of the situation rather than suffer the PHBs idiocy merely to collect a paycheck.