In the world of business, you can look at required tasks several different ways. At the largest scale, you can look at how a company’s stock price fluctuates with organizational decisions, ROI, Resource management and supplier/customer relations. Each area you turn to, there are many different components which aggregate into the whole. You can keep going further down until you finally hit those workers who are doing the seemingly menial tasks that must be accomplished in order to get the answers you (the manager) need to have in order to perform your job satisfactorily.
In come the engineers. People ready to work, excited about new projects, and yet seemingly oblivious to the larger picture on which you are focused. The interesting thing is that, unless you were an engineer before you began your life in management, you likely have very little idea as to the mindset of those employees who create your product to be sold. After all, management is about big picture ideas, not the humdrum of daily activity in your organization.
The thought process of a manager
I’m going to overly simplify this section for ease of understanding. This is not to discount, in any way, the work of product managers, sales and marketing, accounting, etc.
Management is focused on what the customer wants and needs. You must weigh the requirements against your capability of producing the design requested (sometimes with the help of those who are going to do the product creation). If you feel that your team can complete the project in an acceptable time-frame, you likely promise the product to the customer and push it into the engineering system to create and finalize.
If the project is completed on time, everyone is praised, the project is done, the customer is happy and you can now move on to the next project for the next customer. If it is done late, now there are issues with customer, manager, and engineer satisfaction. This usually results in you, or your superior, being yelled at by customers, engineers being yelled at (or other subtler methods of discipline) by you, and engineers having nowhere to turn but their own cohorts to discuss why the organization is trying to push them down and why they’re not respected.
This thought process is not held exclusively by management, but can be readily adopted by any with the oversight of a team of creative individuals. Many times, the big picture view of a product’s value chain omits the necessity of detailed views of the sub-processes and individuals who are tasked with creating the product. The real question is: how can the big picture be relayed down through the management hierarchy (you included) and converted into something to engage and motivate engineers, rather than to dictate to those who need to complete the menial tasks? I will aim to put an answer to this over time, through my future posts.
What are some areas in which YOU feel you have little to no power to change in how to communicate with those logically/analytically minded engineers you oversee? Or, if you’re an engineer, what are some issues you see with regard to managers communicating with you?