For many engineers, management is a dirty word. Almost every engineer knows about the "Pointy-Haired Manager" and other management stereotypes. The reason these stereotypes persist and are funny because there is an element of truth in them. Furthermore, they often provide a learning opportunity. With line managers responsible for upwards of 40 direct reports, disconnection and distrust are often the result of bad management, thereby reinforcing the stereotypes.
There's sometimes an "us versus them" approach on both sides of the employee-management equation. Most engineering first-line-managers have at least some engineering skills relevant to the task at hand. Oftentimes, it's the entry-level line management that provides opportunities to get things wrong due to lack of experience. Management skills are often gained through making bad decisions that can be corrected without too much loss in terms of time and money. Sadly, many managers are promoted into their positions with, at best, minimal training.
There are a lot of learning materials available today for any engineer who is curious about what it really takes to be a manager. But learning the theory of management comes with a price. For most engineers, learning the theory has to be completed outside work hours. Some companies continue to offer management training opportunities, but many more do not.
Management concepts in use today were promoted by Henri Fayol, a management theorist who lived at the turn of the 19th century. Strangely enough, he was a mining engineer first and a theoretician second.
Fayol proposed five management functions as follows:
Modern texts reduce these functions from five to four, replacing commanding and coordinating with leading. The intention of these four concepts of management is to create a cohesive organization.
A static view of management is flawed because there are no hard-and-fast rules to be followed in applying these functions. Practical management is a real-time decision-making system, and that is where things sometimes start to come apart.
Planning should be the foundation of management. It is the base upon which all other areas of management rest. Planning relies on an assessment of the company's present situation and where it wants to be in the future. Management is then tasked with selecting an appropriate course of action to achieve the desired goals and objectives.
Setting goals and objectives
Goals must be precise and are a precursor to the planning process. This means that the precision of the goals, often stated in the form of numbers, has to be cast in terms of the means necessary to achieve those numbers. Achieving a specific sales amount and making a specific profit must flow from the means to achieve them. Not all goals can be established in quantifiable terms, of course; some goals are subjective and can only be described based on past history. This is true of the effect of "soft" things like motivational programs on the efficiency of employees.
Planning objectives must be realistic; early success often leads to unrealistic expectations by management because the results aren't tempered with reality. Failing to understand the reality of a new product launch can lead to unrealistic and unachievable goals. In his book, Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, Geoffrey Moore deals with the reality of a new product's diffusion into the market. His observation is that you can't cross a chasm in a series of small jumps, because "small" won't get you across. That piece of wisdom applies in reverse to expectations: don't expect that development will occur in a single large jump. In large part, the Agile Development Methodology is based on a series of minimally functional deliveries to avoid the "big bang" approach to product development.
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