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painless software management?

I have just inherited a team of 6 programmers through promotion and am struggling in the face of some of the worst morale I have ever seen.

They've pretty much had the lot, products cancelled at the last minute and without explanation,  pointless reorganisations, colleagues laid off while extra directors and senior managers were recruited, promised pay rises not delivered and if that weren't enough they've been micromanaged half to death by produxt management.

Given the state of the UK job market at the moment and the fact that I believe the company still has potential, I am intending to try to improve things, and was wondering if any of the sages who hang out on this forum had any suggestions.

Newbie manager
Thursday, July 4, 2002

Err,  I was writing a lengthy response, but, you know what? Buy Peopleware  and read it.

Leonardo Herrera
Thursday, July 4, 2002

For your own sanity,
1). find out the bounding conditions of your role[if it's narrow band, ditch!!]
2). is your marketing/biz dev. department accountable?[ if the response is no, ditch!!]
3). Get the vision directive from the people that count[if one is lacking, punch the exit now button!!!].

In other words, choose battles you can win, and avoid obvious setups for failure.  If you're being denyed access to instruments for success, then you will probably flame-out.

By The Numbers
Thursday, July 4, 2002

I had a similar situation once. The main problem turned out to be a "consultant" hired by the business manager ( and who was the business manager's brother.) I got the development team to give me a list of the "contributions" made by the BM's brother, and their outcomes, and then packaged these into a memo straight to the CEO.

Until then, the only written stuff the CEO saw was from the consultant and the business manager. Before the end of the day, the CEO had sought legal advice and terminated the BM's brother. Things improved after that.

Hugh Wells
Thursday, July 4, 2002

I should add the the "consultant" was not working in the development team; he had been hired by the business manager to snipe at the development team. He was a - wait for it - multimedia programmer - and he was hired to advise on a large C++ development project.

Hugh Wells
Thursday, July 4, 2002

The title is an oxymoron. There is no such thing as "painless software management".


James Ladd
Thursday, July 4, 2002

Newbie manager - if you'd posted a few months ago I'd think you were my boss...

First off with the UK jobs market as is, the only thing keeping those guys there is lack of opportunity to move somewhere else. I guarantee you most of them are depressed both because of the crap job but also because of lack of luck finding anything else.

None of them are going to want to stay once the job market picks up unless things change in a spectacular manner - and even then that may not be enough. Cancelling near-finished projects is incredibly demoralising - I know because I've had almost two years of working on projects that got cancelled within days of completion. It shows such total incompetence in management higher above you that the only thing you want to do is get out and leave them to it.

In the face of such idiocy I doubt there's much you can do to improve things, but you can at the very least make the office environment a pleasant one. Mine is frankly awful, and as a result I can count on the fingers of one foot the number of people round here who care any more about the job they are doing. If your employer doesn't care that the office is too hot and cramped and therefore you are suffering... well then why should you care about the employer, or the task at hand?

Friday, July 5, 2002

If possible start with small things that can have a direct impact on day to day working conditions. A new desk arrangement, better screens and chairs, new airco ... . At least it shows the team that no matter how little, the vector of change is pointing up again.
If your team is that down it will not be easy, and there might be a lot of cynicism. But still, start making things better for them. Do not start with grand schemes that will pay of in the long run, but something with a limited but immediate impact. Timing is the most important thing here.
The advantage of making a change the can be physically felt is that the experience is undeniable. Your team will be in a negative state of mind, and the change might be mentally minimized, but can not be denied. Anything that is not physical has a big chance of being swept away in negativism at this stage.
Good luck.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, July 5, 2002

Buying the team things, certainly will not change the morale situation.  The core of the problem is that they don't feel empowered, to effect positive change within the context of the projects/company.

No one likes feeling like a slave[we humans value diginity above all else]!!!

XP Man
Friday, July 5, 2002

Really, all that matters is that you gain their trust over a period of time.  Your coworkers are the ones who will have the difficult job, of learning how to program correctly again in a healthy environment.

As long as any mistakes you make are understandable and quickly discarded, you should be fine.

Tayssir J.
Friday, July 5, 2002

"I have just inherited a team of 6 programmers through promotion"

I wouldn't concider it as a promotion, more of a lateral move to a different career path.

I had the same oportunity handed to me a year ago.  I took the position, "tried" it for a year, and decided to move "back".

One suggestion is to treat each team member as an individual, not cookie cutter developers.

Try reading "Herding Cats" by J.Rainwater. 

Managing is the art of being in control without making your people feel like they are controlled.

If you measure your sucess by the sucess of the team and not your personal achievement, then you are heading in the right direction.

Friday, July 5, 2002

Hm... to the person who said that buying things will not improve the morale, I agree, but it helps a LOT.

My first step would be trying to become a "shield" for my reports against pointy haired management. If any manager has any urge to talk to my reports, I would jump right before him/her and ask "Hi there! what do you want? Maybe I can help".

It can be stressing and certainly not an easy task, but I've done it and it's just great for your team, because they feel that you care about them.

Of course, there is a risk of being fired... but if you're not, probably your team would improve productivity, and you will be able to brag about it :-) (that last part is important sometimes... self promoting is a basic rule of management)

Leonardo Herrera
Friday, July 5, 2002

Other posters hit the issue on the head when they mentioned shielding you programmers form management and empowering them.

I suggest that you also try some type of team building adventure to improve their morale and help them pull together.

Try taking the afternoon off and taking the whole team sailing, or to the pub for lunch and a few beers. The main thing is to do something for them that management would never consider doing.

Friday, July 5, 2002

Attacking a "morale problem" directly is always a waste of time.  Attacking any "effect" directly is always a waste of time.

If you can buy your programmer's morale... what good are they?

Joe AA.
Friday, July 5, 2002

Joe AA:< Attacking a "morale problem" directly is always a waste of time. Attacking any "effect" directly is always a waste of time.

If you can buy your programmer's morale... what good are they? />

Joe, you're not 'buying' their morale.  Just feeling less shit upon.  I know I don't like being shit upon so anything that management does to make me feel worthwhile doesn't go unnoticed.  After all they don't HAVE to.

Greg Kellerman
Friday, July 5, 2002

Greg Kellerman:

Actually they have to, no developers equals no product, equals zero revenue, equals no cushy job for the "MANAGEMENT"

Developing quality software isn't quite like having 6/7yo's in Calcutta, weaving rugs until their fingers get too large.
<Well at least not yet!!>.

[I know I don't like being shit upon so anything that management does to make me feel worthwhile doesn't go unnoticed. After all they don't HAVE to.

Greg Kellerman


Amitabh Bachan
Friday, July 5, 2002

I've been programmer most of my life, and let me tell you, I'm very good at it. And yet I have no problem with my manager "buying" morale for me. After all, I'm a human being, I like being reasurred from time on time. I like to just hang around with my coworkers sometimes, I like when my manager just pop up and throw some doodad to me -a new monitor, the latest Intellimouse, a new keyboard, faster processors, whatever. I know perfectly that they're not actually _giving_ anything to me; but I feel better, and when I feel better, I work better. Better for me, better for them. A win-win.

Programmers are smart. They know you are bribing them; but they will appreciate it.

Please note that the "bribe" scheme just work _after_ the team feels good about their manager, not before (after all, we were told not to accept gifts from strangers.)

Leonardo Herrera
Friday, July 5, 2002

Newbie Manager...

Make a bold statement to your group:  Set a strict 8-hour day/40-hour work-week schedule.  Kick every single one of them out the door at 5:00.

The bottom line in all industries:  Happy people = productive people.

Jeff MacDonald
Saturday, July 6, 2002

People are happy because they are productive.  "Making" people happy in hopes that they will then be productive is confusing cause and effect.

Joe AA.
Saturday, July 6, 2002

Joe AA,

I disagree.  In my experience, increased productivity is a benefit of a pleasant work environment.  I've seen it in myself, as well as quite a few co-workers over the years.

One of the worst feelings in the world is waking up in the morning and dreading going to work.  Creating an environment where people are eager to get to work and contribute is tantamount to a positive, productive environment.

Jeff MacDonald
Saturday, July 6, 2002

The thing is that the orignal poster didn't have control over the people he supervises.  So it's not clear what he should exactly do.

But if he has good people, he just doesn't have to gratuitously make them unhappy.  I mean, his job is just supplying the preconditions to doing a good job.  If the people are good, they will succeed.

red meyer
Saturday, July 6, 2002

And if they succeed, they will then be happy.  Willing to get up in the morning and go to work, to be productive, to increase their happiness.

But please Jeff, continue to insert an artificial happyness into your environment.  Continue to believe you can achieve the effect without cause.  You are in plenty of company.

Joe AA.
Sunday, July 7, 2002

I agree with Joe AA on this one.  The number one thing that brings me job satisfaction is being productive.  The number two thing is to have my manager actively moving the obstacles out of my path, shielding me from the (frequently) unreasonable expectations of Higher Up.

Yeah, it would be nice if he or she brought donuts in the office every once in a while or took us to the new Star Wars opening, but in the grand scheme of things, these aren't necessary to make me happy.

Sunday, July 7, 2002

I never suggested the toys should be the end all of getting the teams spirits up, just the start. A new machine is not ment to be the solution to the bigger problems, but just an undeniable fact of improvement to get morale up a little notch away from full negative cynisism.
Try it Joe. Waltz into the dev. room and give a lenghty speech about how things will change now that you are the new mini-PHB, and stare into the face of indifference.
Now walk in with nice new 21" TFT's for everyone, and save your speech for the next day. Feel the difference.

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, July 8, 2002

Decide whether you believe that it can be a good place to work (factor in your bias to being newly promoted). Then take each developer out to lunch at least.

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, July 9, 2002

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