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MIME Doesn’t Pay – The Beginning of the End of Middle Management?
There are memories galore of middle management gesturing (mime-ing) and articulating reasons for lateness of their projects. Most likely they never developed soft skills to do the job properly.
This article is about speaking up at meetings and sharing thoughts. I bet you thought it was just a way to trick you into reading me.
Once upon a time I was a computer programmer happily coding away in an ancient language called assembly language. If there are any ancient programmers out there that have worked on a Digital PDP-11 you probably remember that a 12737 instruction was a jump unconditional to another location. But I digress.
I was invited to attend a meeting one day where a concern was raised about the progress of the company’s latest product scheduled to be released. Somehow control had been lost over who said what to who and who needed to deliver what and when. This was in the days before Microsoft Project was around. After a lengthy discussion I raised my hand and mentioned the concept of Critical Path Method (CPM) as a means of tracking dependencies and measuring progress to make the development cycle more visible. So began my downfall.
I was assigned the task to subject the product development cycle to CPM while being unassigned my programming duties for which I had a passion. After a couple of more meetings and having started the CPM tracking of the project my boss approached me and suggested that I might consider doing away with my sweater and wear a tie when I made presentations. Done - reluctantly. From that day forward I looked like the rest of the people at the meeting. The CPM trick worked beyond my expectations and that’s when things went south on me. I got promoted.
I would have to admit that the increase in pay kind of felt good but now I had 3 managers reporting to me with a total of 25 people in my Engineering Support Department. So began my career in management. Now let’s jump forward in time when things started to go bad in the computer industry. As I stood in line at the unemployment bureau I recognized several other people that I had worked with over the years all of whom were in management. I never ran into any of the techies I worked with who remained in their technical positions. The hard skillers retained a bastion of employability while the soft skillers did not (in my case anyway) even though the CPM scenario helped to get things back on track.
At a subsequent company I went to work for, upper management recognized this conundrum and created the title of Professional Engineer (PE) where one of the requirements to become a PE was possession of soft skills. The PE basically continued to develop product while heavily involved in the technical aspects but at the same time was responsible at staff meeting for accurate reporting of their projects issues and status with full authority to marshal resources to correct any red flags that were raised. So the blending of hard skills with soft skills worked to provide the consummate development cycle.
Next step? Perhaps the demise of middle management.
Learn more about the author, Arne Antos.
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- soft skills
- hard skills