banner-649x60

LEADER’S PULSE: MANAGING THE KNOWLEDGE WORKER

For leaders and managers in the post Agile development world there has been a fundamental shift in how staff are managed, directed and supported. This shift is catching up with the modern management theory that has been around for the last 50 years which was only really theorized for many people and not actually implemented.

BY MICHAEL HACKETT, SENIOR VP AT LOGIGEAR CORPORATION

In this article, I want to lay out the theories that brought about this change, discuss what the new role of leads and managers is and present how these can be implemented in your organization.

It’s a lot to think about, I know. So this will be a 2-part series to begin the New Year, especially in our first trends issue. Part 2 will detail how to begin implementing these practices with your team in our March Testing Essentials issue.

First, the theories

It is important to note, up until the post industrial age, all management theory and thinking up to that point was about managing factory workers and military using motivation, and reward. “Command and Control” management comes from military and factory management. However, Peter Drucker changed all that in 1959 with the introduction of the term Knowledge Workers.

Knowledge Workers

A term first used by Peter Drucker in his 1959 book, Landmarks of Tomorrow, the knowledge worker includes those in the information technology fields, such as programmers, systems analysts, technical writers, academic professionals, researchers, and so forth.

Knowledge workers are, clearly, different to manage than factory workers.

To quickly distinguish, in both the military and factories, there was no or very limited job mobility. Contrasted to today’s worker, there is great job mobility.  It is common for a techie to move jobs three or four times in the beginning of their career before finding a place to stay for perhaps five years. Lifetime employment is long, long gone. Rapid job mobility fully differentiates knowledge workers, meaning we must manage them differently. Factory or Military managers make a decision. The staff has to do it. Staff motivation could be salary, avoiding punishment or promotion/rank. If a tech manager makes a decision, the staff “decides” for themselves if they want to do it based on different motivation such as team approval, technology interest, convenience and if they do not want to do it, they can go find another job, often, very quickly, for more money.

Command and Control does not work with knowledge workers.

The Impact of Agile/Scrum Teams

How has Agile turned us on its heads? Most Agile teams have a Scrum Master and Product Owner that assign daily work, take any measurements, manage day-to-day tasks, argue and agree to bug fixes, implement features, decide on being Done accepting  technical debt, and more. These are all the things Project managers, Test Leads and Dev Leads used to argue over.

So, what is the need or use of these leads and managers?

What people commonly refer to as Agile  has been implemented in so many ways at different organizations, hence the name ScrumButs…  But that is a future article…

Many organizations have done away with the lead and manager role for silos, thus  The Team now takes the lead in management responsibilities.

Some other organizations have kept the old structure melded with the new. There are Scrum Teams as well as Dev Teams, Test Teams, UI/UX teams, etc.

The impact of Lean Software Development Principles

Lean, my favorite disruptor, is a set of principles published in 1988 about Toyota production called: “Triumph of the Lean Production System.” Even in software, LSD (Lean software development) has been around for a while.  We all know at this point, the primary attribute/principle of Lean is to cut waste. Of the 7 principles, the very powerful practice of “Empower the Team” is profound for leaders today. Empowering the team is practice implemented by letting the team make the decisions, albeit with the help of the Product Owner. The silo leaders may not even be involved in the day-to-day decision making. However, to be comfortable enough to let your team take the lead, you need to hire competent staff who you trust, take responsibility for amplified learning and ensure the Team understands the whole product.

How these lean practices impact software development so swiftly is primarily through having decision making be a bottom up process: decisions are made from the lowest level, it doesn’t implement top-down command and control. With knowledge of the users, the people who are fully immersed in the product, the bugs, and the systems, make the decisions and prioritize and shift work and add or cut coverage.. If you have smart people and you have prepared them for their job- why not? If they are not prepared, this is yours to fix.  It may also be your job to alert other leaders and managers of how day-to-day management has already changed and how you are participating in it. If they have not already, they may need to join in the new thinking to retain, motivate and support their staff.

Putting it together

Putting together these mega-trends of Command and Control – factory and military style, vs managing Knowledge workers, Agile/Scrum Teams and Lean Management- is leaving leaders and managers  scrambling to catch up with this new paradigm. In reality, this has been in place for a while, fully in some places, while still many organizations may need help to nudge them into the new direction. To some other organizations, these are still foreign concepts.

An interesting aspect of this new landscape is that it is driven from the bottom-up by staff. Today’s employees are demanding more flexibility and choice in their work. They are not afraid to change jobs frequently and be decision-makers and individually valued by the team.

Many leaders, leads and managers, struggle to retain staff, motivate staff, engage them, push them, pull them, attempt to control them, and simply to keep them productive!

To overgeneralize and simplify, today’s leaders will be supportive coaches, trainers, emotional leaders and doing more traditional HR-type tasks than project, product, technical tasks.

For example, some people think having a corporate mission, values or a team vision is fluff. A key part of a leader’s job is enrolling staff in their vision. Communicating and discussing high-level corporate, or low-level product goals fully to the staff so that when put in important decision making positions, they can be trusted to be guided in their decision by where the organization wants to go.

Summary

The not-so-new theories of managing knowledge workers have been implemented at increasing speed primarily due to Agile practices pushing decision making down to the lowest level of staff.

These theories are being put into practice rapidly across all industries, therefore understanding these management ideas and practices is important and I encourage you to read in greater detail these foundation principles.

To summarize the new management paradigm- leaders support staff. We do not attempt to control staff.  That is a lot for some people to swallow. And it is more complicated- that support includes empowerment, training, coaching and listening.

There is a lot more to explore here. Part 2 of this article, in the March LogiGear Magazine issue, will discuss the lower level details of what the new paradigm can look like, and how to begin the practices.

Michael_Hackett.20150723

Michael is a co-founder of LogiGear Corporation, and has over two decades of experience in software engineering in banking, securities, healthcare and consumer electronics. Michael is a Certified Scrum Master and has co-authored two books on software testing. Testing Applications on the Web: Test Planning for Mobile and Internet-Based Systems (Wiley, 2nd ed. 2003), and Global Software Test Automation (Happy About Publishing, 2006).

Subscribe