Monday, April 27, 2015

The People Store

An excellent essay from Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister's marvelous book - Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams.

In a production environment, it's convenient to think of people as parts of the machine. When a part wears out, you get another. The replacement part is interchangeable with the original. You order a new one, more or less, by number.

Many development managers adopt the same attitude. They go to great lengths to convince themselves that no one is irreplaceable. Because they fear that a key person will leave, they force themselves to believe that there is no such thing as a key person. Isn't that the essence of management, after all, to make sure the work goes on whether the individuals stay or not? They act as though there were a magical People Store they could call up and say, "Send me a new George Gandenhyer, but make him a little less uppity."

One of clients brought splendid employee into a salary review and was just amazed that the fellow wanted something other than money. He said that he often had good ideas at home but that his slow dial-up terminal was a real bother to use. Couldn't the company install a new line into his house and buy him a high-performance terminal? The company could. In subsequent years, it even built and furnished a small home office for the fellow. But my client is an unusual case. I wonder what a less perceptive manager would have done. Too many managers are threatened by anything their workers do to assert their individuality.

One example of just such a less perceptive manager was a boss who showed extreme signs of being threatened by his people's individuality: He said one very talented worker on the road for much of the year visiting client sites and as a result living on expense account. An analysis of the man's expense reports showed that his expenditures on food were way out of line with those other travelers. He spent fifty percent more on food than the others did. In an indignant public memo, the boss branded the worker a "food criminal." Now, the worker's total expenditures weren't out of line; whatever extra he spent on food, he saved on something else. The man was not more expensive, he was just different.

The uniqueness of every worker is a continued annoyance to the manager who has blindly adopted a management style from the production world. The natural people manager, on the other hand, realizes that uniqueness is what makes project chemistry vital and effective. It's something to be cultivated.

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