We may be creatures of habit—adhering to and promoting processes we know well—but we also habitually look to other work environments that appear capable of nurturing our ideas once an old environment becomes depleted. Ed Weller believes that searching for greener pastures is unnecessary. You just need to learn how to cultivate your managers in order to create an environment that will harbor your ideas. Ed explains why you'll end up grazing fruitlessly if you can't plant your ideas with management.
How many times have you heard someone say: "I just showed my boss how to [pick one] a) save the project, b) improve productivity, or c) improve quality, and he blew me off. What an idiot! I'm quitting this place to find a company that appreciates my good ideas."
This is one of those "The grass is greener on the other side of the fence" situations. While the grass may be greener, often it's AstroTurf®, and all you get is rug burn. The goats in these stories are always managers, most of whom are the equivalent of the pointy-haired manager (PHM) in the "Dilbert" cartoon strip. So off you go to find that the next company isn't any more receptive to your bright ideas, all the while avoiding any mirrors that happen to be around that would tell you the fault may be yours.
I've been working as a change agent for most of the thirty-plus years I've been in hardware, systems, and software development. I have a few rug burns, but I've begun to figure out what makes management buy into a change or a new idea, and what to do when speaking to management to facilitate the change I want. Understanding managers' needs, how to influence them, and how they make decisions are all part of being successful in getting their support (or getting them out of the way if that's what it takes).
Let's take a look at a hypothetical Six-Sigma distribution for managers. Rarely will we run into managers who initiate continuous improvement on their own. Fortunately, this isn't as rare as it used to be, because executives try to emulate Jack Welch and others who have been successful with Six Sigma.
There really aren't as many PHMs floating around as we think on our grimmer days. If that were the case, companies would never stay in business or develop products as successfully as they do. It just seems like there are more of them than we'd like. In reality, the distribution is biased toward the right side of the distribution. Of the twenty-plus managers for whom I've worked, three or four fall into the far left, and the rest have at least been "trainable" with three in the "initiate change" category.
So what have my rug burns taught me? First, you must understand what is important to your company and to your boss. Proposing changes that threaten their goals won't work. Second, you need to understand your boss's management style. Is it a hands-on, detail-oriented, need-to-be-involved-in-every-decision approach, or a hands-off, bring-me-a-solution-with-results style? How much time do you need to spend educating your boss? How rigid or flexible (need I say wishy-washy) is he?
If on-time delivery is the paramount measure of success in your company, you can bet your boss is measured almost exclusively on that goal. Even if post-ship product quality is abysmal, trying to sell a change to improve quality would have as much chance as a snowball in Phoenix in July. (It was 118 degrees a few days ago.) If low cost development is the primary goal, any suggestion that is seen as adding cost will not be accepted. Unfortunately, your view of adding cost may not the same as your boss's view. Promises of future savings that offset a current addition may fall on deaf ears.
The Optimist Versus the Pragmatist
A wise senior manager once taught me that management gets lots of bright ideas from very smart technical people, all with some element of risk. If the organization is working reasonably well at handling the typical problems, there is a