This article is an adaptation of the talk I gave at the EIT Climate KIC Community Summit in Hamburg (July 2019)
Here’s a parable you’ve probably heard:
In the 1890s New York City had a daunting horse manure problem. Transporting people and goods around the city resulted in so much manure that officials worried that the streets would soon be buried deep in it. Apparently in 1898 there was a conference to address the problem in which they essentially gave up.
Continue reading “Let’s Get Real about Disruption”
In our modern tech world, the holy grail is to come up with a new idea or develop new technology that is such a game-changer that it “disrupts” an existing industry. If you want attention, success, and respect in this industry, disruption is the way to go.
But what if you’re in tech management? There’s a temptation to feel like you need to disrupt there too — come up with a game-changing playbook — in order to be on the cutting edge. But while our ever-changing tech landscape naturally leaves doors wide open for new ideas, there’s less reason to imagine that the task of organising a team of engineers to construct something should change dramatically from one decade to the next. So maybe we should consider trying out some old-school ideas.
One of the key components of Scrum and other modern management playbooks is the idea that the team should manage itself. As I explained in my previous article, the tech industry has a huge problem with undervaluing management skills — indeed treating management as though it’s not even a task and doesn’t require skill and expertise. I think the idea of “self-managing teams” is the fruit of that misconception.
If your company needs a custom internal app, you’re not going to make a committee of the accountant, the communications director, and the lawyer, give them a weekend course in design patterns, and tell them to go to it — even if they’re the ones who are going to use the app. You would hire an engineer. Even for a task that requires less specific training than programming an app (say, writing the content of your company’s brochure), you would give that task to someone who is qualified to do it.
Now, if you take a team of engineers — all of whom were hired specifically for their engineering skills — there is no particular reason to believe anyone on that team is qualified to manage it. Chances are that there’s at least one person on the team who is not qualified to be managing other people and projects — so making them all manage together as a committee doesn’t really help. The only way this idea makes any sense is if you believe that management does not require any skills.