Sunday, March 24, 2013

CTOs Read This!

Does your software engineering department suffer from MILDEW?

MILDEW is Manager Induced Long-term Degradation Error Ware and is an effect seen by numerous companies that don't take care about the hiring and promotion criteria for software project managers.

This is something seen often in larger companies with a pyramid style hierarchy that follows the old-style management procedures of perceived meritocracy. Often they include older, more established companies that have added an IT department to keep up with the times but who have placed that department into the hierarchy in a traditional manner. Here is a scenario that I have seen on many occasions in the companies I have worked for.

A manager, we'll call him Fred, came into the company as an employee ten or fifteen years ago. He was young, dynamic and full of ideas and has his name all over the code. As Fred was loyal and stayed with the company, he found that his tenure was rewarded by little promotions here and there until he eventually became head of his team, often overseeing his own code. As he progressed, his responsibility shifted to other projects and he seemed to excel as a manager and so had a position in the company where he was well known and trusted. Times changed and he worked more on budgets and team oversight, leaving the project management to people who he hired because he liked their style. He saw a steady and satisfying progression in the product and reported his satisfaction to the CTO who thought that it was good.

The sad reality is that Fred is out of touch, he has no clue how the software works now, if he was to look into it then it would be mostly unfamiliar to him and any technical decisions that he takes will be arbitrary at best and probably downright damaging.

The software will have been developed to show "Quick Win" values for project sponsors and a true analysis of the code-base will show fragility and architectural chaos.

Be careful who you promote. It might be better to hire in a manager that has up to date ideas than to promote within the ranks. Above all, make sure your top manager can talk the talk and walk the walk. Don't let your software architect just draw boxes and arrows on a whiteboard and think that's enough.

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