Why programmers cannot be managed

Interaction design guru Alan Cooper gave a presentation recently entitled An Insurgency of Quality. As part of his talk, he explains why programmers cannot be managed. Traditional management has an industrial age mindset, while software development is a post-industrial craft. That mismatch explains a great deal. For example, industrial workers respect authority, but programmers respect competence.

According to Cooper, the leader of a group of programmers should be a facilitator, not a manager. Johanna Rothman in her interview on the Pragmatic Programmer podcast elaborates on this same view. The manager’s job is to remove obstacles to productivity — acquire resources, provide protection from interruptions and distractions, etc. — rather than to manage in the industrial sense.

Enterprising software

Cyndi Mitchell in a talk from Rails Conf points out how “enterprise” in the phrase “enterprise software” has taken on the opposite of its customary meaning.

If you call a person enterprising, you have in mind someone who takes risks and accomplishes things.  And “Enterprise” has been the name numerous ships, real and fictional, based on the bold, adventurous overtones of the name. But Cyndi Mitchell says when she thinks about enterprise software, the first words that come to mind are bloatware, incompetence, and corruption. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but words like “bureaucratic” and “rigid” would certainly be on my list. In any case, “enterprise” has a completely different connotation in “enterprise software” than in “USS Enterprise.”

Related posts

How to avoid being outsourced or open sourced

Kevin Kelly has a post entitled Better than Free that lists eight things people will pay a premium for, even while closely related things are free or cheap:

  • Immediacy
  • Personalization
  • Interpretation
  • Authenticity
  • Accessibility
  • Embodiment
  • Patronage
  • Findability

Daniel Pink has a related list in his book A Whole New Mind. Pink says the skills that will be increasingly valued over time, and difficult to outsource, are:

  • Design
  • Story
  • Symphony
  • Empathy
  • Play
  • Meaning

In The World Is Flat, Thomas Friedman says four kinds of people are “untouchable,” that is, immune to losing their job due to outsourcing. These are people who are

  • Special
  • Specialized
  • Anchored
  • Really adaptable

In Friedman’s terminology, “special” means world-class talent, someone like Michael Jordan or Yo-Yo Ma. Anchored means geographically anchored, like a barber. For most of us, our best options are to be specialized or really adaptable.

How do these three lists fit together? You could see Kelly’s and Pink’s lists as ways to specialize and adapt your product or service per Friedman’s advice.

  • Meet your customer’s emotional needs (design, authenticity, patronage, empathy).
  • Make things convenient (immediacy, accessibility, findability).
  • Bring the pieces together, both literally (personalization, symphony) and figuratively (interpretation, story, meaning).
  • Be human (embodiment, play).

Faith, hope, love, and marketing

Seth Godin has a post this morning about what he calls the three key marketing levers: fear, hope, and love. He concludes

The easiest way to build a brand is to sell fear. The best way, though, may be to deliver on hope while aiming for love …

People don’t want fear, they want faith. They want to buy something they can place their trust in to alleviate their fears. Replacing the term “fear” with “faith” makes the three levers more parallel, stating each in terms of positive aspiration. With this edit you could summarize Seth Godin’s marketing advice as follows.

Now abide faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I think I’ve read that somewhere before.

Interesting is better than perfect

Seth Godin has an interesting blog post today called The problem with perfect. Companies with a reputation for perfect service are only remarkable when they disappoint. Being interesting is a more viable business strategy than being perfect.

Coping with exponential growth

Everything is supposedly growing exponentially. But when most people say “exponential,” they don’t mean what they say. They mean “fast.” Exponential growth can indeed be fast. Or it can be slow. Excruciatingly slow.

If you earn a million dollars a day, your wealth is growing quickly, but not exponentially. And if you have $100 in the bank earning 3% compound interest, your money is growing slowly, but it is growing exponentially.

Linear growth is a constant amount of increase per unit of time. Exponential growth is a constant percentage increase per unit of time. If you buy a pack of baseball cards every Friday, the size of your baseball card collection will grow linearly. But if you breed rabbits with no restriction, the size of your bunny heard will grow exponentially.

It matters a great deal whether you’re growing linearly or exponentially.

When you start a new venture it may truly grow exponentially. Growth may be determined by word of mouth, which is exponential (at first). The number of new people who hear each month depends on the number people who talk, and hearers become talkers. But that process can be infuriatingly slow when it’s just getting started. If the number of visitors to your website is growing 5% per month, that’s great in the long term, but disappointing at first when it means going from 40 visitors one month to 42 the next.

How do you live on an exponential curve? You need extraordinary patience. While any exponential curve will eventually pass any linear curve, it may take a long time. If you’re making barely perceptible but compounding progress, be encouraged that you’re on the right curve. Eventually you’ll have all the growth you can handle. Realize that you may be having a harder time initially because you’re on the exponential curve rather than the linear curve.

How do you know whether you’re on an exponential curve? This is not as easy as it sounds. Because of random noise, it may be hard to tell from a small amount of data whether growth is linear or exponential, or even to tell growth from stagnation. Eventually the numbers will tell you. But until enough data come in to reveal what’s going on, look at the root causes of your growth. If you’re growing because customers are referring customers, that’s a recipe for exponential growth. If you’re growing because you’re working more hours, that’s linear growth.

Nothing grows exponentially forever. Word of mouth slows down when the message reaches saturation, when the talkers run into fewer people who haven’t heard. Rabbit farms slow down when they can’t feed all the rabbits. Most of the things we call exponential growth are more accurately logistic growth: exponential growth slows to linear growth, then linear growth begins to plateau.

How do you live on a logistic curve? Realize that initial exponential growth doesn’t last. Watch the numbers. They’ll tell you when you’ve gone from approximately exponential to approximately linear. Understand the mechanisms that turn exponential into logic growth in your context.