A Historical Perspective
Back in the olden times of the ‘organization man’, well maybe not that far back, but at least before the onslaught of project managers. Corporation would take it brightest and best techies (engineers, programmers, etc.) and promote them to functional manager of techies of the same ilk. The rationale was to put these individuals on a less limiting career path while still being able to benefit from their technical expertise. The success in doing this was less than astounding. In my career, I witnessed the creation of many a dysfunctional manager while at the same time the destruction of an excellent techie. Many were unable to bridge the interpersonal skills gap, yet at the same time their management tasks worked to the detriment of maintaining their technical skills.
Let’s break it down. Where did they go wrong?
- Lack of Interpersonal Skills: Techies typically didn’t have the people and communications skills necessary to manage. In addition, the management education provided by the company was mostly the mechanics of management.
- No Help for Transition: The unstated assumption was, since these are the brightest we have, they will find their own way through the change. Even if they did have a mentor or coach it was another who was still looking to find their own way.
- What is My Real Job: Many were expected to still do the same technical job, while doing the management job on the side (weekends). Yet, the role was that of manager and that is how the performance appraisal played out. To add insult to injury, they typically took a thrashing in the 360-degree appraisals with their subordinates, because they were expecting them to be a manager; not a lead techie.
So for decades, as technology developed, companies transitioned engineers, programmers, etc. into managers; many having reached their level of incompetence with the transition.
So then along came project mangers, did we fair any better?