Management Myth 26: It’s Fine to Micromanage

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Summary:

Johanna Rothman explains the challenges and pitfalls of micromanagement. Sometimes, managers micromanage when they need information. In that case, it’s easier to create an information radiator rather than have the manager come running to you every thirty minutes.

Sharon poked her head into Heath’s cubicle. “Hey, Heath, are you done yet with that fix?”

Heath turned around. “Sharon, you asked me that less than an hour ago. I’m not done yet.”

“Well, I need to know when you will be done. Oh, and I need to know if you’re using the design we discussed.”

Heath started to turn red. “We didn’t discuss any design at all. You told me a design to use. Because you used that design back in the day, back when you were a developer. So you want me to use it now. Are you delegating this fix to me or not? Do you want to do it?”

Damon tapped Sharon on the shoulder before she could reply. “Sharon, it sounds as if you need information. It also sounds as if Heath needs time to finish that fix. How about I help?”

Sharon looked relieved. So did Heath. “That would be great,” she replied. “I have another Ops meeting in fifteen minutes where everyone is going to ask me when the fix will be done. I’d really like to know the answer.” She took off down the hall, texting on her phone as she went.

Damon sat down next to Heath. “OK, tell me what’s going on. You sound as if you’re at the end of your rope.”

“I know this is a critical fix. But Sharon won’t let me do my job,” Heath said. “It’s not just this fix; it’s anything. She wants to design this fix for me. She’s come over here five times this morning, and its not even noon. OK, she has that meeting, and I know they’re going to rake her over the coals. I got that part. But interrupting me isn’t going to help. I need time to think.”

Damon prodded. “You said it’s not just this fix? What do you mean?”

“I’ve taken over Sharon’s subject matter expertise areas, right? I want to share them. I don’t want to be the only person who knows them. That’s crazy. Every time I ask for help she says things like, ‘I didn’t need help when I was the developer,’ or crazy things like that. This is a big fix. I said I want to pair with another developer or a developer and a tester, too. She told me I didn’t need to. How could she possibly know what I need to do? Is she a mind reader now?

“And for my regular work, when we estimate as a team, she’s there. She’s not supposed to be there, but our supposed ScrumMaster won’t kick her out of the room, so she screws up our estimates. You haven’t seen this, because you’re a tech lead on another team. She tells us our estimates are too big, so she bullies us into making them smaller. But we can’t make them smaller. They are what they are. It’s crazy.

“Then she tells us how to design. She doesn’t know the code anymore. She’s in meetings all the time. But she thinks she does. This is really bad. I don’t think I can take it anymore. Maybe I’ll quit today. That would serve her right.”

“Whoa,” Damon said. “Managers are people, too. I suspect Sharon doesn’t know what to do in her new role. She has not learned how to delegate or what an agile manager does, so she’s insinuating herself into the team. Has anyone provided her with feedback?”

“No. We’re just putting up with things.”

“OK. You folks have to learn how to give Sharon feedback. For now, I’ll talk to her. Would you like me to work with you so you have someone to talk with, just on this fix?”

“Yes, please,” Heath replied. “This is harder than it looks.”

“OK. I’ll timebox our work to ten minutes so I have something to say to Sharon. I’ll run interference for you and give her a status. Then I’ll come back to you, OK?”

Managers Have to Learn to Delegate
If you were one of the best technical people and you were promoted to a manager, you may have to learn how to delegate. If people are clamoring for information and you’re not sure what to tell them, you might want to push the current technical staff aside and do it yourself. You might be right—it might be faster. But unless the technical staff ask you for help, that’s wrong.

People want to feel accountable for their own work. People need to both succeed and fail on their own. They are adults—so they should be treated as if they are adults.

If you explain to people the results you want and the boundaries of what the acceptable deliverables are, people will deliver. And, as in this case, if you explain that you need information in a timely manner, they will deliver that, too.

User Comments

1 comment
Madhava Verma Dantuluri's picture

Very good topic and i totally agree. I being transformed from tech to managerial now, its really tough to delegate to the team. Thats the challenge am working on and your tips are very good. Will have to follow them.

February 13, 2014 - 11:25am

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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