King Log and King Stork in a 21st century IT company
Well, my dear readers, we may have heard of fables from a distant land a long time ago. This is however not going to be one such tale. This is fable from right here and now. This is the tale of a group of software engineers working together in a small size software company. They were smart, they were hard working and last but not the least - each one of them a team player. They were one of the most productive teams in the company. And as far as the quality of work went – there were never any defects. They listened attentively to every little requirement from the client, sat together and analyzed the impact, identified the dependencies, created robust designs, planned their work, coded and delivered to the client. The client was very happy with the team. What more could a CEO ask for from his team, eh?
One fine day, the happy CEO decided that he wanted to reward the team for their great work. So he called them all to have dinner with him. Over the dinner he greatly appreciated their contributions to the company and asked them if they needed something. The software engineers had never thought about this before. So they though hard. They were happy with the salary, they were happy with the work life balance, they were happy with the quality of work. What else did they need? But then, my dear reader - how much ever people have, who can refuse an offer of something more. So after length deliberations among themselves, they figured they were missing one thing all other teams had – a project manager. So they requested the CEO to assign them a project manager.
The CEO was very surprised at the request. He told them they were doing pretty fine without a project manager. Why not instead they ask for a 10% pay hike or a month of paid vacation in Malaysia or specialized trainings in the latest design methodologies. He was sure any of these would be much more beneficial than a project manager. But then human nature is such that the minute someone says you can't have something, that is precisely what you seem to want the most. So they suddenly began to feel a project manager was what they wanted the most. So they stuck to their demand. The CEO relented and decided to humor them. After all they were the company’s top performing team and he had to keep them happy. They possibly knew best what would make them happy.
The CEO, a wise man, pondered over what kind of project manager would be best for the team. He did not want someone who would upset the team’s rhythm. He preferred someone who would encourage the team and enable them to reach greater heights. His thoughts meandered for a while and got stuck on an elderly gentleman he had met at the airport a couple of months back. The plane had been delayed by 2 hours and they had had a very interesting conversation. He had been a HR manager and he had retired from full time employment. Right now he was working as freelance consultant taking up light assignments on short term basis. The CEO had been very impressed with his ideas on talent management. He had taken his card, hoping to engage his services some time. Probably the time to call him up had come now.
The team was very excited about getting a project manager at last. He was always there to listen whenever a team member had something to say. He arranged cool project parties and some amazing team building sessions in some really exotic locations. He came up with a comprehensive training plan for them and helped them in upgrading their skill. The CEO had earlier believed the team had touched the pinnacle of performance. But the 6 months since the new project manager had taken his position had proven him wrong. The team was now setting new standards. They were using their newly gained skills to proactively create value for the client. The client no longer viewed them as programmers but as consultants for their overall IT strategy.
The CEO was very happy with the results. He had to credit the boys on their wise choice. The idea of getting a project manager had worked really well. It was now time to replicate the model across the rest of the company. He decided to take them on an offsite in Mauritius and discuss with them on the things that worked well for them so that they could carry the best practices across the company. He was however very surprised by what he heard.
Strangely. the software engineers were not too satisfied with the current state of affairs. They complained that their project manager was not a 'real' project manager like the other teams had. He did not understand programming at all. He never got into the details of work. He only talked ‘global gyan’ all the time. And he was too soft. No way could he command respect like a 'true' project manager. They had asked for a project manager to manage them and not a nanny to molly coddle them. The CEO thought for a while and made his decision. They would have a project manager of their choice. Since they had not been happy with the CEO’s choice, this time they themselves could draft the job description for the role.
The boys excitedly put together all the qualities and qualifications based on what they had heard about project managers from the other teams. Isn't that how the human mind works - always wanting everything that the neighbour has irrrespective of whether it really brings happiness or not? Soon they had a nice JD ready. The CEO floated the JD around, interviewed a few candidates and soon a new project manager was found.
The new project manager was just picture perfect. It was as if the CEO had had him made to order based on the job description given by the software engineers. He was an expert in the various paradigms of programming. The software engineers were just awed by his knowledge of the subject matter. And this man knew how to take charge of things unlike the earlier joke of a project manager. He had definitive views on working hours, what constituted good quality code etc. and the authority to enforce the same. He was one who believed in active participation, not passive dead wood like their previous manager. Every hour, he was at their desk asking for updates. For the first time the software engineers felt they were being ‘managed’. Now they could also talk proudly to their friends about having ‘work pressure’. Moreover the work place was also becoming more competitive and challenging. The new manager could call a spade a spade and he did not shy away from openly declaring who were his favorites. So each one had to fiercely compete against the others to attain the coveted position of ‘project manager’s favorite’.
In 6 months time, the software engineers again found themselves in a meeting with the CEO. This time the venue was not a resort or a restaurant but the CEO’s own cabin. They had once again set a company record: this time in the number of client escalations. The CEO had a grim look on his face. The software engineers had their heads down. They looked just shadows of their former selves. Some of them had already put in their papers. The CEO was yet to accept the resignations though. A few of them had been put on performance improvement programs by their new manager. The rest also did not look too good. The CEO could also sense an aura of hostility in their midst. The old camaraderie had disappeared. They were all looking unshaven and with dark circles around their eyes. All of them seemed to have lost their very life spirit.
They had all lost interest in the work. Work was increasingly becoming a burden. The stress was becoming unbearable. No matter how hard they tried they were unable to keep with the quality and timeline requirements. Each failure was further de-motivating them and they were getting sucked down a vicious vortex. The CEO smiled sadly to himself. The results had not been totally unexpected. He had tried his best to avert this situation. But they had insisted on it. Now nothing could be done. Maybe this would be a lesson for other teams.
Coming up next week - The Illusion called Life - A tale from Indian Philosophy