Confessions of a First Time Manager

Many months ago I wrote a letter to upper management about principles of software development and the ways in which should build software.  Since that time my role has changed within the company and for the first time in my career I’m managing a significant number of people (at a previous company I was an R&D Manager but the team was much smaller).

Below are a few observances/realizations I’ve had in the months since I’ve made the transition that I want to share with you:

  1. Just cause you’re the manager doesn’t mean you know everything – Just because someone has tapped you to lead the team doesn’t mean “you’ve arrived”.  You don’t automatically go from individual contributor to all-knowing edict maker.
  2. Don’t Relax/Stay involved – Too many managers think because they’ve “arrived” they no longer need to keep pushing themselves. They think they are afforded some special privileges or don’t have to abide by the same rules others are held to. Not wise.
  3. Rely on your team – This one is often hard.  It was likely your contributions as in individual contributor that got you noticed for the management position and it’s often hard for an individual contributor accept the role change and not want to tackle challenges individually or continue to contribute.  As a manager you’ll have to rely on your team to see the same level of success as a manager as you presumably did as an individual contributor.  You’re no longer measured on what you do but rather how your entire team performs. This one is admittedly hard for me and I’m growing into this more and more every day.
  4. Build your team – As an individual contributor you were primarily responsible for just one person, yourself. As project lead or a team lead you’ll have more responsibility but likely you won’t have people reporting directly to you. As a manager you’re now responsible for everyone on your team and giving them the opportunity to be the best they can. Give people the freedom they need to do great things.
  5. Be honest - Don’t lie, shade the truth, or embellish. When you mess up, fess up, I believe the team will respect you more for it. ‘nuff said.
  6. Never ask your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself – Managers who require/ask team members to do something they wouldn’t do themselves are being unfair.  Asking your team to work late while you get to leave every day at 5:00 is an amateur move. Asking the team to give up the weekend might be a necessity at times.  Just make sure if you ask, you’re right there alongside of them.
  7. Don’t be a bottleneck to change – The team shouldn’t always move at the speed of the manager. In general just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be adopted. If you cut your teeth on VSS and were a ninja in VB.NET but now your team wants to move all projects to C# and this new thing called Git, don’t blindly say no. Technology moves fast, if you have a trustworthy team, you’re going to have to let go a bit and rely on the team (#3).  Remember, you don’t know everything (#1) and you need build your team (#4), sometimes that may mean doing or trying something you don’t quite understand.
  8. Don’t be afraid to push for change – While you shouldn’t be a bottleneck to change you shouldn’t be afraid to push for it either. As a manager you typically have a greater visibility to the team or the process and if you see something that could be improved you shouldn’t necessarily wait for someone on your team to bring it forward. You’re still part of the team
  9. Hiring/Firing Sucks – Movies make firing seem like an easy thing to do and an ego-boosting power-trip. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The days I’ve had to let people go I’ve rarely slept the night before. There’s nothing enjoyable about the process of taking away someone’s livelihood. Hiring can be fun, but most often it’s time consuming and all the time you spend interviewing is wasted except on the one person you hire.

You’ll notice that many are intertwined and I think at the heart of many of these is pride.  Pride is a dangerous beast, avoid it at all costs. Whether it means you have a trusted friend or colleague keep you in-check or you do frequent self-assessments, don’t let pride seep it.

Please note that these are my personal observances that I’ve taken mental note of while on this journey. Your mileage may vary.


Posted 12-12-2009 10:10 PM by Tim Barcz
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Comments

Arnis L. wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 12-13-2009 10:21 AM

Management is damn hard. And being responsible for everything sometimes seems a bit unfair. I've faced every point you mentioned (as a team member, not manager) and can't agree more about pride.

Remembered old joke => 1 american code like 10 chinese; 10 chinese code like 100 americans. :)

ZacHarlan wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 12-13-2009 10:37 AM

Thanks for putting yourself out there.  That is what is going to keep you good over the years.

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on 12-13-2009 11:42 AM

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Anthony Licari wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 12-13-2009 1:00 PM

Managing a team sucks.  As you suggested I arrived at the position because of my individual efforts.  I would never do it again unless it involved an insane amount of money.

I can work together with others to achieve something but when it comes to leading, coaching and teaching people who don't have the inner drive to learn it on their own... not for me.

Tim Barcz wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 12-13-2009 2:56 PM

@Anthony

It doesn't have to suck.  If you feel that way you're probably more comfortable as an individual contributor and there is nothing wrong with that.

As for the "insane amount of money" ... no (common misconception)

Toran Billups wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 12-13-2009 8:24 PM

I  couldn't agree more with all your comments but one in particular jumped out at me.  #7

If you hold true to this point you will find that your team will be more open and honest.  You will also retain your most talented team members and in time you might just be the development shop everyone wants to work for.

Keep up the great work!

Tim Barcz wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 12-13-2009 8:48 PM

@Toran,

In general another thought is to create a workplace/environment you yourself would like to work for.

Tim

AviK wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 12-14-2009 3:00 PM

Excellent points, but isn't section 1 missing something? The sentence is "The move to management" - and it just seems to stop there. Or am I missing something?

Love the captcha system :)

Pawel Brodzinski wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 12-15-2009 5:40 AM

I would add:

Delegate. Resist the urge of doing it by yourself even if you're sure you'd do it better. First, you don't scale up that well so you'll fail to keep your commitments. Second, you don't allow people to learn when you keep some tasks just for yourself. Delegation is one of the most difficult things to learn when you become a manager.

<a href="blog.brodzinski.com/.../micromanagement.html">Don& micromanage</a>. This is one huge hit on people morale. This just can't be done right.

Anonymous Manager wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 03-04-2010 7:30 PM

Thanks for sharing. Yesterday I fired a colleague who didn't fit into the job, but otherwise worked hard and faithfully. Wasn't only the night before for me: this is the 3rd in a row, 1:30am CET and still awake. Helps to know I'm not the only sissy who feels bad about this.

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yoyoooyoy wrote re: Confessions of a First Time Manager
on 04-25-2011 4:58 AM

Great catcha, i was tired of failing Voight-Kampff tests ;)

I find managment quite unfair, team colleagues act as if problems were only yours (instead of ours), your enterprise demands results but don't offer the necessary resources, the customers treat you as a liar and a thief... and I agree it's not enough paid. A huge ammount of energy and time it's needed to change your team, enterprise and custormers mind, and then you leave to start again.

Finally, it's hard to let people go, but it's harder to be responsable for some unresponsable people.

Thanks for sharing this.

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