The Manager Pool

(by Olson, Stimmel; ISBN ...)


— programmers can spend 25 years in the same position, doing the same thing over and over again; would any other industry consider that a success, or a failure?
— “These patterns are about people working together to build software. This book is about the relationships among those people, and more specifically, their relationships with their leaders.” (lxvi)

Psychological and Retentive Patterns

Guiding Hand

You can't control every detail, and you can't force anyone to do anything.

Therefore: Maintain a light touch, intervening here and there minimally, allowing the natural order (the geek's natural order) to move in the direction you've gently indicated. Everyone will be much less stressed, and you'll be able to spend more time cultivating your managerial wisdom.

Connects to: Whole People, Drama, Metaphor

Total Commitment

From: Leviathan, Cultural Competence, Hover Shoes

Not only are expectations of your bosses and the associated pressures hard to live with, you hoped that your life would amount to more than cracking the project-schedule whip in the air. It seems almost impossible to lead your team to successfully implement against insane software deliverable schedules without them growing to abhor your very presence.

Therefore: Commit to discovering and understanding the nature of your team as individuals who are destined to carry forth the ethos of their tribe. Discover what truly motivates them. Dig deep to find the courage to act on what you know and learn about them. Speak their truth to your bosses. Risk intelligent martyrdom for your people.


From: Geek Channeling, Blowhole

Software systems of any real utility are impossible to see in their entirety. Their understanding is bound up in the humans who create. In a human enterprise, not every nuance can be documented and understood. But without good documentation, you know that you will suffer undue losses if you lose staff or you must validate the value of your technology.

Therefore: Apply effort in guiding those areas that are regular and understood by you and your team. Document those in a manner to satisfy the fundamental requirement of the organization to have an understanding of its systems. Avoid meddling in the gray, submerged technical areas that you do not or cannot fully understand. Accept that beauty exists in this marvelous beast as it moves in its mysterious ways. Trust in the natural forces at work, and in your developers in their labors, to arrange themselves with only your gentle intervention.

To: Total Commitment


From: Guiding Hand, Whole People

A sense of drama can greatly motivate a team, and your role as a manager demands that you, at the very least, set the stage and define the possible outcomes. However much of the developers' working hours are, if not exactly drudgery, commonplace, they still wish to be a part of the story.

Therefore: To accomplish your goals, you need developers who, while at work, live vitally upon the stage of your project. You desperately need an alignment between their internal motivation and the greater purpose of the project, and this greater purpose has to be articulated by you. Your team must be both inspired and locked into a common understanding of the super-objective. Every duty that arises must be inextricably bound to the purposes of your super-objective: delivery on your commitments.

To: Metaphor


From: Drama, Guiding Hand

If someone were to ask you what stories informed your style of management, what would you say? Do you have a story that articulates your journey, or have you come from nothing at all? Do you find it difficult to connect powerfully with the desires of your developers?

Therefore: Discover the metaphors, stories, and folktales that inspire you to lead. Think about them and take time to articulate them. They will inform, motivate, and guide you toward understanding how and why you are a leader. Encourage your team to spin yarns about their lives and how they ended up in jobs where they gleefully hack code until midnight. If you haven't quit your job by the end of this exercise, then perhaps you are in the right place after all, otherwise--congratulations!

To: Cultural Competence


From: Drama, Cultural Competence

Your senior leadership may encourage rivalry and struggle among managers as a method of systematizing power agency in their organization. But, taking part in the struggle of colleagues is a dangerous game and one that can cause you to abandon yourself in the process.

Therefore: Treat outside conflict and whispered rumors with a position of neutrality that acknowledges that many of the political battles and wars raging around will ultimately have no impact on the greater good of the organization, your group, and your team. The point is not to dodge responsibility, but to survive the political divisions and consolidations raging around you. A leader must convincingly portray her neutrality by showing complete disinterest in the politics of the organization, never engaging in gossip, and never being an eager recipient of the latest juicy news.

To: Good Service, Hover Shoes

Good Service

From: Switzerland

Sometimes acts of political aggression in the corporate environment can be so reprehensible that it seems equally corrupt not to step in to attempt to stop the behavior. Yet to do so could be destructive to your managerial status and could violate your self-imposed neutrality toward getting involved with objectionable events that do not directly affect you.

Therefore: When you witness behavior from anyone at any time that is degrading to another, you are morally compelled to address it. Approach the offender quietly and personally, if appropriate, and explain why his actions are unacceptable. Suggest more effective ways to handle frustration. In extreme cases, step in and instigate official action.

To: Hover Shoes

Whole People

From: Guiding Hand

Understanding what makes each individual tick, apart from the team and apart from the technology, is the key to motivating individuals. Furthermore, developers are more likely to respond with enthusiasm when your calls for their additional help are framed in the understanding of their greater lives. Sincerity is a continuous process, and it does not serve you if your concern for their home life creeps up only whenever you ask them for yet more overtime.

Therefore: Take concrete steps to learn about and acknowledge the aspirations of your employees. In doing so, you will come to recognize their personal priorities, and they will know that you regard them as people rather than as just "heads" in your staffing profile. You will help to create personal networks of individuals and thereby stronger companies by treating your developers as whole people.

Closely related to Living Space, Private Space, Public Space. Even though we amuse ourselves with patterns like Geek Channeling, we will fail without Total Commitment.

To: Drama, Cultural Competence, Geek Channeling

Cultural Competence

From: Whole People, Metaphor

In the global, modern, high-tech workplace, equal opportunity and legislation have allowed many people the chance to contribute. Yet, even the operational enforcement of equal opportunity is based on assumptions about certain groups of people. Only true diversity will allow all of us to contribute to our fullest ability.

Therefore: Understand what your own values are, and most especially your limitations and prejudices. When you react strongly to another person, understand why you might be having this reaction. Engage those who are different from you and those who irritate you most profoundly with a sincere desire to learn and see from a different point of view, if only for the moment. Open the dialogue in your teams about your differences and end the unhelpful silence.

To: Switzerland, Total Commitment

Hover Shoes

From: Switzerland, Good Service

Many managers in technology, whether in large corporations or edgy startups, are faced with varying degrees of disorder and discord. From one week to the next, leadership changes, or even when leadership doesn't change the chain of decision-making can be complete nonsense. Protecting yourself and your team members from the accompanying condition of corporate vertigo is difficult.

Therefore: Stay a few feet about the wreckage by taking time to evaluate which problems require your attention now, which can wait until later, and which are completely absurd.

Closely associated with Inoculation in helping you decide which concerns deserve priority.

To: Total Commitment


From: Geek Channeling

Managing clients and a team of software developers can make one feel an awful lot like a human blowhole. Constantly trying to fill the empty spaces as your corporate leadership, clients and team blow hot and cold can make one feel absolutely breathless. Yet, not maintaining equilibrium between your customers and developers will allow an imbalance that releases with such a force that you will either be sucked into the chasm of failure or blown into the ozone of irrelevance.

Therefore: When you understand the facets of the problem, make a decision, and follow through to establish equilibrium among the competing interests. Equalize the pressure. This may require giving a little here, a little there, absorbing a little yourself, and finding the point where the pressures balance. Being a Blowhole is what can prevent the need for Direct Action, where you might have to get intrusive on the one hand, or jumping to Fall On The Grenades, where you might have to suck up all the injury yourself.

Means understanding how to Push The Customer, and position yourself as Switzerland with a pair of Hover Shoes strapped on.

To: Leviathan

Geek Channeling

From: Whole People

You are responsible for keeping your team in the corporate loop and from spinning into random directions. Everybody's busy.

Therefore: Think Geek! Your developers are lifting your 193-pound nut-and-bolt, and the only way you are going to reach them now is with a 193-pound nut-and-bolt wrench swinging from your belt. Devise ways to communicate with your engineers that are on their terms and within their comfort zone.

Best supported by clear understanding of the use of Tribal Language and Leviathan within the subculture of your geek team. You can't fake effective Geek Channeling nor should it be attempted by the faint of heart.

To: Blowhole, Leviathan

Behavioral and Expulsive Patterns


From: Forty Whacks, Social Jester

You are sincere in your Total Commitment to your team. Conveying this commitment to them, however, is a puzzling and difficult endeavor.

Therefore: When forced or duped into leading pointless exercises that are really just a box some executive wants to check in a long list of objectives, check your pulse. That's right--put your hand against your chest, feel for your heart, see if it's still beating. If you find yourself running around the office looking for a defibrillator, then we've got the electric shock for you: it's time to come clean; it's time to tell the truth and to become an exhibitionist of sincerity. If you suspect it's nonsense, then it's time to call it nonsense. It's a near guarantee that your developers will certainly smell it. We're pretty short of offering religion or words to live by, but we can tell you that if you can dig down and serve up some real stuff, your resolve and strength to become an effective leader will harden.

Shameless Ignoramus

From: Tribal Language

Developers seem to speak in a vernacular that is completely foreign to you, and, as to the deeper technical details of things, you are lost. Even though you were once a whizbang engineer yourself, back in the days of 8-bit CPUs, the speed of change has left you with an almost total lack of comprehension of the technology. You must understand the scope of the project to fulfill its goals successfully.

Therefore: Give up the attempt to know it all. Become a Shameless Ignoramus when it comes to detailed technical matters. Even when you happen to grasp what is going on technically, you stand to learn even more by not overpowering your developers simply by virtue of your position rather than by your comprehension. Ask questions when you need clarification and shamelessly leave behind the details when they are not required for you to function successfully.

You may avoid the pitfalls of being Too Clever By Half. This is going to take a little faith and the ability to Get A Guru. Truly yielding to the Leviathan and understanding Tribal Language may actually be a great relief for you. You can become to Social Tester to frame a declaration of technical vacancy, as opposed to just looking lost and drooling a little bit.

To: Too Clever By Half, Social Jester

Too Clever By Half

From: Tribal Language, Shameless Ignoramus

One burden of leadership is the feeling that you must always be a step ahead of everyone you manage and that you must create the impression of being the smartest of the bunch, whether or not this is actually true.

Therefore: Apply your cleverness and wit to those areas in which the developers don't contribute and in which your mental dexterity will benefit them, not question or diminish them. Use your intellectual horsepower to get them what they need and to shield them from what they don't need. Downplay your expertise even when it really does exist, unless called upon by the team for specific help.

To: Social Jester, Forty Whacks

Forty Whacks

From: Tribal Language, Too Clever By Half

You may find yourself unwilling to trust your developers or to turn your back on them even for a moment. You fear them talking about you to people outside the team. It's especially difficult for you to understand this dynamic when you feel that you honestly try to do what's best for them. Why are they such ungrateful children?

Therefore: If you can somehow cut the paternalistic act and relate to your engineers as peers--yes, as adults--then they will be much more inclined to treat you with the respect that your performance, not your position, deserves. And don't adults make better engineers than children? At least they can drive themselves home.

To: Exhibitionism

Tribal Language

Developers contrive and use vernacular that can be cryptic and even evasive at times, yet if you are to really feel the pulse of the project, you must have some insight into what is actually being parlayed.

Therefore: Become a casual student of the dialect. Employ the help of one of your developers so that you can get at least a conversational knowledge of the current Geek Speak equivalent to learning how to say "please," "thank you," and "Where is the rest room?"--like you do when you visit countries in whose language you are not adept. To allay suspicions that you are trying to intrude too deeply, remember to remain a Shameless Ignoramus. Finally, enjoy the feeling of being the Social Jester when you flub the usage or when you hopelessly screw up the terminology. Naturally, you'll have to be a decent punster or at least minimally clever with words, but it can earn you a lot of points to use even a few fragments of foreign speech in a clever manner. Just don't be Too Clever By Half.

To: Forty Whacks, Too Clever By Half, Shameless Ignoramus

Social Jester

As a manager, you feel you must remain somewhat aloof from your team members; yet, as a person with mortal needs, you still feel the need to have some sort of connection with your team. Despite the ever-present notions of hierarchical management and overbearing human resources directors who demand robot-like adherence to the mandated codes of behavior, this mode of behavior breaks down trust between leaders and their teams.

Therefore: Don't be afraid to be a little goofy, if it's in your nature. Don't always try to be right or believe that you should be. At social occasions, do something odd--tell a joke, or even better, be the joke. A little self-deprecation goes a long way toward breaking the ice.

Strategic Patterns

Tactical Patterns

Environmental Patterns

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Last modified 06 April 2022