General management

The inevitability of management

Photo by World Bank Photo CollectionLayers of management may be inevitable. Many of us would like to believe otherwise, and a lack of managers is certainly an attractive prospect. But this may be wishful thinking.

In software development we have found that imposed planning tends to fail, and the more flexible and responsive approach of Agile has been successful. Scrum in particular advocates “self-organising teams” which might deliver on the wish of no managers.

Unfortunately Scrum also says a team of more that eight is problematic. Many advocates of this way of working don’t like working with multiple teams because it creates a drag, and seems to inevitably lead to layers of management, which itself seems to be anathema to Agile advocates. But Scrum itself has no inherent objection to multiple teams, and sometimes if you need to achieve big things you need lots of people.

The ultimate nimble organisation is perhaps al-Qaida, with its network of independent cells. Their lesson for us can be found in a memo of Mohammed Atef, declassified in 2008, writing to another member, Abu Khabab, to bring him into line for various organisational failings. Atef reminds Khabab about regulations of furniture ownership and about good manners to his peers: “I learned that you did not submit a voucher to the accountant […] So I hope you will meet with the accountant and give him a copy of the tickets as well as the remaining amount. […] If you believe you were treated unjustly, all you have to do is to tell your official brothers about your feelings.” If bureaucracy and management layers are deemed necessary for that organisation then perhaps they are inevitable for the rest of us.

Atef ends with “I would like to remind you that […] you and I are subject to punishment for any violation.” We should at least hope that punishment in our own organisations is less severe.

Photo by World Bank Photo Collection

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