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A light hearted look at some management styles ….

…. that I have come across in my time previously working in the IT industry. Of course whilst we may all laugh about these people there is a deadly serious side to it all and I’m sure may of the readers will have encountered, and confronted, people like these.

Read on and see if you recognize anyone.

The Canute Manager

King Canute

One approach to management that you may come across is what I term the Canute approach. Some of you, especially the English readers will know that Canute was an English King from the first millennium who is reputed to have tried to order the tide to turn back. Predictably, he failed.

We’ve all come across the Canute manager at some time or other. This is the guy who tries to use his authority to defy the inevitable. For example, when faced with a project that is slipping out of control, he tries to prevent, or even turn back slippage by giving out orders and ultimatums to meet unachievable deadlines. ‘It will not slip because I say so’ or ‘the milestone will be complete by date x or heads will roll’ and so on. We’ve all heard these kinds of statement at sometime or other. The Canute makes no attempt to find out the real issues and manage the situation. He simply he thinks that if he shouts loud enough he can stop the inevitable.

Canute managers usually have senior positions and have reached those positions, not by ability, but by sheer force of personality. They usually get their own way by shouting and bullying people.

The best way to deal with a Canute manager is to ignore him. Acknowledge what he says and agree with his statements and then get on with your job whatever that may be. Clearly you will do whatever you can to avoid further slippages but in all projects a point is reached where everything possible has been done and, like King Canute’s tide, there is nothing that can be done to prevent the slippage advancing. Instead of devoting the project team’s energies to trying to prevent the inevitable you are better off directing them at contingency plans.

Canute managers such as this rarely do any damage provided that you ignore them. In the main, they are simply noise generators. They will have minimal effect on a project either way, positive or negative.

Good management is all about managing the possible not trying to defy the inevitable.

The Conduit

Another manager that you should be aware of is what I term the Conduit Manager. I’m sure most people will have encountered him at some time or other. He’s to be found in abundance in large corporations, particularly those that have been established for some time. I use the word conduit because it is usually used to describe a pipe or channel that has something passing through it. In the case of the Conduit Manager the something is information.

The Conduit Manager can usually be found in a middle management position on a project. A Programme Manager for example. He will be seen to do all the right things. He will follow the processes to the letter, attend all the meetings, particularly those where he can be visible, and religiously sends progress reports on time. A manager skilled in the Conduit approach will appear to his superiors as performing well.

In reality, the Conduit is ineffective. He passes all work straight down to his reports. To him, this is called delegating. He sees himself as an effective delegator and, by extrapolation, an effective manager. In reality he’s nothing of the kind. Invariably, he knows little or nothing about the projects he’s supposedly managing. In his eyes he’s taking a hand-off approach. In reality it’s a not just hands-off but a brain-off approach as well.

Conversely, the Conduit collects progress information from his subordinates, usually by written report, and then, after a certain amount of reformatting, passes this on to his superiors in the guise of his own work.

The usual form of Conduit is the guy who has been around the company for years. His career has plateaued some time ago. He sees himself as a “senior manager”, hence the hands-off approach. To get involved in detail would be beneath him. In reality, he’s seeing out his time until he can get his pension. So he won’t rock the boat. He will keep his head down and not take risks. This means not taking decisions because a decision that turns out wrong would go against him.

Conduits of this kind can be managed easily by simply working around them. If you find yourself working underneath one, copy their boss on every communication. Get yourself invited to all the meetings. This is easy because, other than what you tell him, the Conduit doesn’t know what’s happening in your area. You can get yourself invited under the guise of filling in the details.

The Guru

Guru This beast is someone who will usually be wheeled out to you during one of you first set of meetings with the supplier. He will present the company’s “grand technical vision”. You will get to see lots of slides with box diagrams and flow charts. He will talk about “architecture” and use words like “strategy” and “paradigm”. He will probably wave his arms around a lot and will have answers to all your questions. At the end of the presentation, you will be impressed how well thought out it appears to be.

If the Guru is successful in his mission, and subsequent meetings with the salesman suitably lubricated with food and drink work as well, you will be sold on the supplier and ready to sign the contract. Or will you? Don’t be fooled.

A few years ago I worked for large US IT multinational. This particular company was a technologyled organisation and as such had more than it’s fair share of Gurus. The Gurus controlled all aspects of the company’s technical developments. This meant that, as a Software Development Manager responsible for delivering products, I had to be treated periodically to presentations on the latest ‘wonder-strategy’ from the Gurus. These presentations were very well delivered and totally believable. The problem was that the next presentation, a couple of months later, was again totally believable but completely different from the previous one.

The point here is, do not be taken in by a presentation on strategy particularly if the person delivering it is positioned to you as a Guru. Guru’s are well practised in spinning the latest “gospel”. They can virtually make it up as they go along and, if you’re not astute, you can easily be taken in.

How do you spot a Guru? His presentation will be about futures with very little about today’s products. As I’ve already said, buzzwords will be in abundance. What you as a customer need to do is to look behind the strategy and concentrate on what the supplier has to offer you today.

Don’t get into discussions or arguments with the Guru either. It’s futile. The Guru is well practised at arguing his corner. Anyway, his “strategy” will be completely different a couple of months down the line so arguing is a total waste of time and irrelevant.

In Conclusion

Spot anyone you recognize in all this? Perhaps you’ve got a few of your own that you can talk about. If you willing to share, mail me I would be glad to hear from you.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say it but you may even recognize yourself in this article!