Thursday, February 8, 2007

When processes were my passion

It's interesting what others will say when you start something new or describe who you are and what you do. I have really appreciated the support so far and thank those that have mentioned this blog. One of them (who shall remain nameless) referred to this blog being more about processes than people. Actually, as you will discover as we go along, while processes are talked about the emphasis will be more about what is around those processes. In other words, processes will not be the core of the discussion.

However, there was a time when I was a process junkie. As I have found with many managers in my industry, I came up the ranks. I started as a programmer, and my manager saw some leadership qualities in me and was looking for a manager to handle daily operations while he spent time focusing on future initiatives. One thing led to another, and I began my journey from the programming world into management.

I didn't know how to be a manager at first, so like I did with programming I looked to others for advice. I didn't go to school and learn about management. So, I looked at what others were using as "tools" in the industry. As I had done with programming, I had assumed that if I just find a framework it will get me much faster to becoming a good manager. So, I went looking for a framework.

After some searching, I found some frameworks out there that seemed to be prominent at the time (this was in the late 90s). In particular, I found SEI's Capability Maturity Model (now CMMI) for software development and PMI's Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK). These were THICK books full of processes. I had thought I had died and went to heaven! I couldn't wait to take this framework and apply it right away. And I did just that.

In later posts, I will get into more details of how I think about these frameworks now. For now, let's just say it didn't go well. I quickly learned that you can't just push process on people, especially if you don't really understand the concepts, values, and principles behind those processes. I was looking for process as a short-cut as well as a way to have better control of things as a young manager establishing myself. Instead, I came off as a young, cocky manager who had no idea of what he was doing and in the process making life miserable for those around him. People who used to like me as a programmer thought that the manager job had gone to my head. And you know what? I started believing it myself.

I know there are other managers who believe that if you put heavy formal processes, procedures, policies, etc. that you will be considered a great manager and that things are so structured and disciplined that anybody can do that job. These are the managers who talk in terms of subordinates. I quickly learned that I didn't want to become that kind of manager. It really wasn't my style, and I needed to find "tools" that supported what my strengths were as a manager. While at the same time, allowing those that I manage to play to their particular strengths. Also realizing that whatever was to be in place for processes needed some flexibility for the unpredictability that the future brings and would provide an environment that would not stifle creativity and innovation.

So, am I the "process guy"? Not anymore, I'm proud to say. If you could put any label on me, I guess you could call me the "enabler guy". I figure out how teams and individuals can become better. If they are better, my job is easier. If they are better, the company is more successful. Now why wouldn't I want those things as a manager?

1 comment:

Pietro said...

Hi, thanks for this post. I really appreciated it.
I'm a psychologist who did a human resource manager and now i'm trying to work as a consultant. I've studied and learned so many models and theory, but I know I'll not be able to apply them as I studied them.
I think the most important things are the people you work with. Understanding them, their competencies, their potential. Leaving them free to do the best they can do while creating the conditions the make this possible.
Recently I analyzed organizational health in a couple of hotels and I found that people like to talk about their job and want to do more than what their controlling boss let them do.
I know I'll do a lot of mistakes anyway, at the beginning. That's the way things go and that's the way you can really learn something. But I'll try to keep that idea sticked in my mind.
Here ( a beatyful manifesto on adding meaning to your and your coworkers job.