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How to Build a Better Management Structure

Alright, I don't now anything about business, but I do sense that technical people tend to dislike management.  On this forum alone, there must be dozens and dozen of threads about what's wrong with power structures in modern businesses - but I rarely hear suggestions about what can be done.  It's seems to me that people just accept the architecture of modern business hierarchies because that's the way things have been done since the industrial revolution.  Okay, so here's just some random thoughts about bringing power structures into the twenty-first century.  (But remember, I know nothing about business!) 

Managers and executives can get away with anything because they run the show and there are no checks and balances.  So create some.  In the US we have branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial.  Could we run a company the same way?  Perhaps three branches of management?  Maybe the Operations branch, the Strategic branch and the Financial branch. 

A lot of the problems I see in the companies that I've been at seem to stem from managers attempting to perform two or more of these functions.  The good operations guys I've seen don't necessarily have any ability whatsoever to form a coherent vision, and the visionaries surely don't seem to have a clue how to manage people.  And certainly management and executives get paid insanely high salaries because they're the ones in charge of assigning pay rates!  With a Financial branch in charge of the purse strings, perhaps we could return to some sanity with regard to executive pay in this country.

Good idea?  Stupid, naive idea?  Comments?  Suggestions on what checks and balances could be put into place in such a model?

Adam N
Thursday, April 01, 2004

You mean like a CEO & Board of Directors acting as President and Congress with the stockholders voting them in?

Creating a complete 3 party management system on every level seems amazingly redundant and we'll get cries of management heavy organizations.

Also, changes in our government tend to be slow, new laws and changes to the constitution, major upheavals in any two of the three branches being rare. Corporations, at least smaller ones, really need to react much faster than we could if we had to get a simple or 2/3 majority on everything before it was approved.

Someone here recently summed up the management dilemma nicely.

"Line staff (coders/developers/programmers, in this case) are a demanding lot. They want more resources, more freedom, more pay, lesser questioning, lesser working hours and lesser work vis-a-vis the Management. Management (Directors, Boards, VPs, Presidents) want to lesser resources, lesser freedom, lesser pay, more justifications, more hours and of course a lot more work vis-a-vis the line staff. "

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=127928

You're also forgetting one major factor. Corporations exist to make money for their stockholders, not to make their employees happy.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, April 01, 2004

Just hire good people that enjoy working together. Honest.

Tapiwa
Thursday, April 01, 2004

>> "Creating a complete 3 party management system on every level seems amazingly redundant and we'll get cries of management heavy organizations."

Hmmm...  Interesting thoughts, but I don't see how this model implies redundancy...  It's really a division of labor kind of thing that I envision.  Visionaries wouldn't be burdened with day-to-day people issues.  Line managers wouldn't have to worry about anything other than leading their teams.

>> "You're also forgetting one major factor. Corporations exist to make money for their stockholders, not to make their employees happy"

Cutting down on the executive pay insanity would make me a happy investor!  And also, having the checks and balances seems like an effective, non-governmental solution to some of the corporate scandals we've seen.  If power is concentrated in one group of people, seems like it's really easy to get away with stuff.  Less chance of corruption might equal happier, more secure investors.

>> "Also, changes in our government tend to be slow"

Maybe you're right about this, but maybe not.  Maybe the efficiencies gained by having a division of labor will offset bureaucratic inefficiencies.  I don't know.

Adam N
Thursday, April 01, 2004

“On this forum alone, there must be dozens and dozen of threads about what's wrong with power structures in modern businesses - but I rarely hear suggestions about what can be done.”

A small rectification though:  people complain  about management “atrocities” and  serial-stupidity  in THIS industry and not all the other industrial areas ( civil engineering for example). Right ?
Most of the common complains I’ve heard  here ( and totally subscribe to) are  targeting the mid-layer of  the hierarchy and I’d say this is rooted in the unnatural way management  is  “implanted” vs. “grown” …
A medical doctor will grow and build his credentials via professional achievements in order to become a “Chief” of any sort.  A shift-manager at a …. forge for example, will get to hold that position by building experience, not by being hired after failing to be a decent baseball couch at the local high school ; - )
Know what I mean ?

The “managers”  in IT have chosen to do the job, they were not promoted  via a natural  promotion process. This way, people in charge with “decision” face the job with no previous “execution” experience. Put on top of this the IT opportunistic landscape of the last decade and you get the perfect mix for “guaranteed failure” or “pathetic struggle”.  Huh ?

P.S. Imagine a QA manager or “Director” in a  fairly pretentious software dev. shop whose previous experience was QA work in a slaughter-house ;-) Hm ?  This is real …

Demotivator
Thursday, April 01, 2004

If you want to build a 'better' management structure, you'd better start by defining what you mean by better.

The structure of corporate governance is pretty much defined, at least in the UK, by the legislation that permits companies to enjoy a legal existence separate from the people who own (shares in) them. This separate legal person is the fundamental that underpins limited liability, and without limited liability the nature of the business world today would be radically different. The basic law says that a company is owned by its shareholders, but run by directors who are appointed by the shareholders and must abide by the rules of management set out by them (the Memorandum and Articles of Association and any specific resolutions passed by the shareholders at a general meeting).

If you want to change the way in which _a_ company is run then there is a very straightforward mechanism: buy a share, be an corporate activist. I can guarantee that if you stand up in a general meeting and say that, speaking as both a shareholder and an employee, X sucks because middle management is inept/ inefficient/ incompetent/ corrupt and as a result the company is loosing money/ the product quality stinks/ the competition is better etc. etc., you _will_ get the full and undivided of both senior management and other shareholders. If you have a specific proposition, you only need to convince your fellow shareholders, no one else.

If, on the other hand, you want to change the way in which companies _in general_ work: become a politician.

Good luck.

Gaius
Thursday, April 01, 2004

>> Alright, I don't now anything about business, but I do sense that technical people tend to dislike management

No. They dislike working in a highly technical area while being managed by people who don't have the technical expertise to understand their troops, thus often underestimating the amount of time/effort required to achieve goals.

>> but I rarely hear suggestions about what can be done

What are you, a communist? ;-)

>> It's seems to me that people just accept the architecture of modern business hierarchies

Because unless you're rich, you have to bow down to the powers that be so as to get a pay check that enables you to eat and pay the rent.

Just write them a check with lots of zero's, and see how long people stick to their current job :-)

Fred
Thursday, April 01, 2004

People complain about management in  every field of endeavour. In some fields mangament impinges on your work less tnan in others, that's all.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, April 01, 2004

"Corporations exist to make money for their stockholders, not to make their employees happy."

Absolutely. And the best way to create the innovative products that customers want to buy is to have a staff of demoralized, unhappy, overworked, exhausted employees. Everyone knows that.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, April 02, 2004

There is no law of nature that says that the only reason for a company to exist is to make money for its shareholders. Common sense would say that it also exists to provide things that its customers want, and to provide its employees with fulfilling work and enough money to live on. *Our* laws (as they stand at present) may effectively say that all a publicly traded company is allowed to consider when making decisions is how much money it will make for the shareholders: so much the worse for those laws.

Gareth McCaughan
Friday, April 02, 2004

Corporations exist to make a profit, because without that, none of the other things you mention--products for customers, fulfilling employees, etc--can happen.

Justin Johnson
Friday, April 02, 2004

>> "Corporations exist to make a profit..."

Corporations DON'T necessarily exist to make a profit.  Corporations, in our reality, exist to make money for their stockholders; this certainly can be done without making one cent of profit.

888

anon
Friday, April 02, 2004

The fundamental problem isn't in management structures per se (except when there is no structure at all). It's in the principles used to manage, and the individuals who are actually in the positions.

For example, how often do you observe that the most productive employee is the most rewarded employee? Or even more important, that the most competent person is put in charge instead of the most "agreeable" person? Or that a pseudo-technical person is put into a position where he's deciding on technical approach?

I worked at a company that had the ridiculous premise that the manager of developers ought to be a "people" person who fills out paperwork, not a highly-skilled developer himself. This was the source of all sorts of problems (hidden to them of course). One was that I was reluctant to buck the trend and take a management role (I took it, and turned it into something sensible--I had a lesser-skilled person do the paperwork part while I focused on the key technical issues).

To be sure, it is done right sometimes, but not nearly as often as it should be.

Shayne Wissler
Saturday, April 03, 2004

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