The Role Of Management


Managers are in a unique and paradoxical position with respect to organizational effectiveness. On the one hand, they have little or no direct impact on the product being developed. Manager roles are support roles, rather than ProducerRoles. The only way managers can contribute value to the corporation is through the producers they manage. Management is limited to changing policies and organizational structure in order to influence the behaviors of individuals and groups. They are particularly powerless.

Furthermore, it may be the case that great managers are the product of the great organizations they head as much as organizations are the product of their own talents. Kroeber (see PatternsInAnthropology) talks about the role of genius in culture. We think of Aristotle and Plato as exemplifying the greatness of Greek philosophy, and we think of them as having produced the philosophy ([BibRef-Kroeber1948], p. 145). But it is more likely that it is the culture that produced the philosophers, and that the philosophers articulated latent structures and concepts that the culture was primed to deliver. Aristotle and Plato are therefore remembered as great leaders, while the masses fade into collective obscurity.

Along similar lines of reasoning, Kroeber argues that great inventions such as the telescope, logarithms, the calculus, photography, the telephone, and exploration of the North Pole are products of culture and not the individuals usually associated with them. As evidence, he notes that each of these landmarks were achieved by at least two discoverers in the same era, and in almost all cases by individuals whose efforts were unknown to each other. The telescope was independently invented by Jansen, Lippershey, and Metius in 1608; logarithms, by Napier in 1614 and Burgi in 1620; the calculus, by Newton in 1671 and Leibnitz in 1676; photography by Daguerre and Niepce, and Talbot, in 1839; the telephone, by Bell and Gray, both in 1876. He lists about 20 other such coincidences known to history ([BibRef-Kroeber1948], p. 140).

By similar reasoning, great corporate managers--and even great line management supervisors--might be as much a product of the culture of their groups and corporations as the groups and corporations are products of their excellence. It is the patterns and the culture that lead an organization to excellence; the manager is the figurehead, mouthpiece, or icon that serves as the catalyst for the process towards excellence. (This same reasoning has sobering repercussions for common American interpretations of CompensateSuccess.)

Therefore, we feel that the best thing a manager can do is to lead a culture where it wants to go. It is true that this role wields a great deal of power in shaping the organization, and helping both individuals and the organization be effective. They can instill vision, they can sponsor the organization, and they can protect the organization from distractions. Although their contributions are indirect, they can be sizeable.

Many of our patterns are best applied by managers. This should come as no surprise, since the creation, care and feeding of organizations tends to be responsibilities of management. Even those applied by individual developers are usually influenced in some way by nearby manager roles.

Managers can use some of our patterns by themselves, or on themselves. For example, managers should protect developers from distractions by becoming FireWalls. They might be an advocate of the group and the project as a PatronRole. They can mold roles in their organization with OwnerPerDeliverable, TeamPerTask, and SizeTheOrganization. To a certain extent, they may be able to effectively CompensateSuccess, although some reward policies are dictated from stratospheric levels in the corporation.

Note that most of these activities can be viewed as keeping the organization in its own element, focused on what makes it good, rather than as activities that attempt to bring good or guidance to the organization. That is a guiding principle in these patterns. A corollary for managers is that a great manager probably cannot save a dysfunctional culture, but a poor manager might be able to keep an otherwise viable culture from thriving. We view these patterns as tools that help the manager help the organization to find its way, at the system level, partly by moving the manager away from practices that would stunt organizational growth.

Managers can nurture such critical roles as MatronRole, PublicCharacter, LegendRole, and WiseFool, which are outside their own sphere. They cannot force these or other patterns to be adopted by the team, but they might encourage it. Often, a team is primed to make a change and just needs a light to show the way to what then becomes obvious to the team, and one might argue that if major changes aren't already in the soul of the organization, they can't happen, anyhow. Dick Gabriel made copies of an early copy of the patterns in this book and left them by the printer. He encouraged the team to pick them up and read them, and they did so. Then they applied the patterns themselves; Dick didn't (and couldn't) force-feed the patterns to the group.

One key idea is that managers realize the limitations of their influence--exercise that influence when appropriate, but don't try to do more than is possible. We might remember the example of Oscar Hammerstein, collaborator with Richard Rodgers on many Broadway musicals. Once when a friend asked Hammerstein what it was like to work with Rodgers, he said, "I just hand him a lyric and jump out of the way." [BibRef-Linkletter1968] An internal AT&T management publication once featured a cartoon with a manager standing at the podium of an orchestra, clearly having been called to do something above his station and outside his experience, where we find he has opened the score to find the words: "Wave the baton until the music stops, and turn around and bow."