'Managing Up' for Frustrated Development Teams

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Selling Agile to the CFO: A Guide for Development Teams

Seven tips to get your CFO on board for agile development.

One of the most complicated relationships within organizations is the one between software developers and their management. If you're looking for an easy bet, you could wager that the two groups will never be fluent in each other's languages, no matter how hard they try. However, for those developers who want to make the effort to speak management's language in order to further their own goals, or just get something done, there is no shortage of advice.

 

Based on his experience with the "suits," Christopher Duncan's book, "The Career Programmer: Guerilla Tactics for an Imperfect World," tackles the details of "managing up" for programmers who are inundated with upper managers, middle managers, team leads and project managers getting in the way of some really cool code. Duncan's chapter on Managing Your Management, available for free download to IT Business Edge users in the IT Downloads library, breaks down years of frustrating experience into usable advice for developers who are willing to work from the inside to gain control of project direction, all while making management happy.

 

Most programmers are familiar with the advice that they need to learn to "speak the language of business" to get anywhere with management. But, Duncan writes, there are at least two layers here. First, it is true that upper management, especially, will only respond to facts and figures that demonstrate how a proposal would or wouldn't improve the bottom line. There's really no mystery here; it's a matter of gathering the metrics and presenting them in the manner that the organization's management requires. Not necessarily easy, but not mysterious.

 


At the same time, though, programmers who can explain a course of action that they feel will get the project completed in a more orderly, faster and less expensive or risky fashion in terms that address the manager's career will get even better results.

Although it's typically a source of frustration, in this case it's to our advantage that decisions in the corporate world are not made based on merit but rather on what advances the career of the decision maker. We can use this to our advantage. If the individuals in management can be shown that their current model of development is costing them money and prominence in the marketplace and that our approach will both boost profits and further the corporate goal of market dominance, they will be much more motivated to listen. That's because the manager who makes the company more successful has a better shot at improving his personal career path.

Think of it as a king maker approach: If you are in a position that you feel doesn't allow you to institute change, or the kind of change that you envision would make your day a whole lot easier and further the goals of the company at the same time, train your focus on changing the perspective of those who can make those changes, or even someone else who is pretty much as powerless as you are, but who has good access to the folks you want to influence. Accomplish this by becoming an ally (not a brown-noser):

 

  • Become a trusted lieutenant and confidant of the person who can help you make changes.
  • Become a source of hard-to-get information.
  • Be aware of their problems, and offer strategies and solutions that they can use and take credit for.
  • Act as a mentor in weak areas, especially for those new to their position.

 

Use the power and knowledge that you do have, advises Duncan, along with a little finesse and shrewdness, and you'll be speaking management's language.



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