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Ratio of good managers to bad

In another topic there is an ongoing discussion of managers pay scales and perks versus developers. During the course of discussion, one person stated that in thirteen years of working in software development he had never worked for a good manager.

I find this hard to believe but am curious in general, if you had to state a simple ratio of good managers to bad managers for immediate supervisors over the course of your career, what would the ratio be?

For me it would likely be 75/25 for good managers versus bad. I tend to quit when confronted with bad management and find someplace better to work, so my ratio might be high.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

2/5 on the good/bad ratio for me

However, a good manager for the company may be a bad for me!

Heston Holtmann
Thursday, April 17, 2003

Excellent question.  In my opinion, managerial skills are relatively portable.  Our current head of R&D had no technical or development experience coming in.  But, she has a good feel for who to trust, how to delegate, how to monitor progress, how to take bad news and setbacks, and accept what developers tell her.  Our team is fairly successful.  On the other hand, we have mainly seasoned, mid-career developers.

Sometimes, I think tech-heads can make for inferior managers, since project management is full of inexactitude, compromise, and cost-benefit tradeoffs.  Many engineers don't have these abilities.  Not to mention the people skills.

Being non-technical doesn't imply pretending to know technical things.  It's not about reading an article about CORBA on a plane and coming back and saying "hey, we gotta do this".  It's about assessing the competencies of your team and trusting accordingly.

Anyway, back on topic, I can't fathom a guess as to the good/bad ratio.  To some extent, it depends on what your definition of "is" is.

Bill Carlson
Thursday, April 17, 2003

At the large investment bank I work for, I've been 3 for 3 on having extremely good managers.  I guess the cliche "Your mileage may vary" really does hold true.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

I think its hard to be a good manager for everybody, especially since there are a wide number of personality types in software development.  I've had 3 bosses all at my current place of employment, and they all had a different number of people they could interact well with, and those they didn't.  We have two foreign programmers with a distinctivly different style from mine, a couple young kids such as myself, a few highly educated  and experienced developesr, and a couple "developers" who can kinda cut and paste the small stuff together but always find a way to help out.  Thats a pretty wide range of skills, and I don't envy the person that has to manage all of them at once.

Vincent Marquez
Thursday, April 17, 2003

For those who like to read search Google Groups for:

"Bad managers are costing the IT industry billions of dollars"

You will find a 4 page post in newsgroup:

Date: 1996/04/24

Good vs. bad is always a matter of perception, however, I would have to say that I have only worked with a handful of PMs throughout my career that I thought were competent or who were only "good enough" to work for their current employer.

IMO, many of the problems in the IT world in which I work (business software development and maintenance) can be traced back to the fact that every employer is allowed to define IT job titles, responsibilities, and roles in whatever manner they please.

A couple of years ago, I read Steve McConnell's book "After the Gold Rush: Creating a True Profession of Software Engineering". I have to say that I was very disappointed with the content of this book.

A snippet from the Editorial Review from

"Steve McConnell argues that the methodical abuse of programmers causes bad code, unhappy people, and reduced profitability in the long run. In place of the existing system of crazy deadlines, clueless marketing, and scattershot programming strategies, McConnell proposes making software engineering into a "true profession." Such a profession would have a well-defined body of core knowledge, a system of professional certifications, and a code of professional ethics."

IMO, he is taking a very simplistic view of how to improve the IT industry. If the only thing IT managers were required to do is hire a certified Software Engineer they would simply continue to make same old "stupid decisions" they currently make and then when things go wrong place the blame on the engineer(s). Yes, civil engineers might be held accountable or responsible if a bridge falls over, but so is the company they work for! Professional certifications, and a code of professional ethics means nothing -- what counts is being able to hold the decision makers accountable for their actions. This  is what empowers a civil engineer and allows him/her to say "no we can't do that" without having to worry about getting fired.

One Programmer's Opinion
Thursday, April 17, 2003

As Gerald mentioned, on another thread I stated that, in ten tries, I've never found a good manager.  That doesn't mean that I've had ten bad managers - it just means none added value to the project.  Breakdown:

5 were harmless.  Pretty much stayed out of the way, went to meetings, and approved my hours (I'm a consultant.)

2 were mostly harmless.  Same as above, but with bureaucratic nonsense like weekly status reports broken down by the hour, or insisting that I attend goofy meetings designed to give the attendees the privilege of hearing the manager speak. 

3 were malignant.  These guys knew enough to be incredibly dangerous.  One knew enough about Oracle to know that tables looked like spreadsheets to him.  Since he hadn't a clue about normal forms, or joins, or views, he insisted that each table look like a spreadsheet.  In other words, if a particular mixture contained three chemicals, he insisted that I have columns like MIXTURE_ID, CHEM_1, CHEM_2, CHEM_3, ...  Another insisted that no error handling was allowed because all possible errors should thought of in advance and disallowed.

Depending, I suppose, on whether or not you are a cynic, my experience has been 0/10 or 7/3 good to bad.  I tend to see it as 0/10 because even when the management did no harm, they still collected nice paychecks.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

"Another insisted that no error handling was allowed because all possible errors should thought of in advance and disallowed. "

Did that include throwing your own exceptions?  You have to be kidding....

Vincent Marquez
Thursday, April 17, 2003

About 50 percent. I've had a manager who would sit down and do data entry to help us meet deadlines. I had an older manager who knew exactly when to go along with what I said or commisserate when I was complaining, and how to deflect things that weren't such good ideas.

Then I've had ones who override experienced advice then come back when it goes wrong for them, bullies, schemers who blatantly took all the credit for successful projects that weren't even in their departments, and naive ones screwed by deceitful salesmen.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

I've picked up the pieces a couple of times in places where the previous manager/Tech. Director had been a bully.  Putting them back together can take a very long time, management aren't trusted and every initiative is treated with scorn.

In that situation being a 'good' manager becomes even more of a Janus act than it usually is.  (Note to self 'The Janus Act' a non existent management skills textbook).  As someone has rightfully said, a good manager for the organisation might be fatal for an individual.

In the spirit of 'the management takes care of the furniture' a manager needs to empower the people they manage to do what they need to do.  Detail decisions should be taken at the detail level, which may or may not involve the manager, but they certainly can't be made exclusively by management.

Bad managers themselves may be bad because they can't rationalise the Janus act.  Or they may be bad because they are insecure, insecure in that they don't understand what the people they manage actually do, or the problems they have to overcome; insecure because they've promised something they don't even understand if they can fullfil.

It can be a win for a development group if the manager is non-technical, so long as that is realised and no one is pretending otherwise.  A mature and sensible manager will take advice and present that advice in ways which senior management can understand, whether they present it as their own well found advice doesn't really matter, though the good manager will always acknowledge the work and expertise of those they manage.

Probably the worst kind of manager is the one that believes they understand both development and senior management when in reality they don't.  That's when you get bullies.

Simon Lucy
Friday, April 18, 2003

I'm with anon; only once have I ever had a truly *bad* manager, and she was just an OK person who had no idea how to be serious about business.  We took on all sorts of little jobs in all sorts of areas that appealed to this manager at the time, and as a result we never got known for being good at any one thing, so we couldn't get bigger contracts.  And she once called me on the carpet because of my personal coding habits, which struck me as silly, but otherwise she was fine.

Most of my managers have been merely okay; they had their foibles but weren't serious productivity drains.

About a third of my managers have been "good."  One of them was outstanding; literally the best technical manager I could conceive of having.

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, April 18, 2003

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