Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Inverse Peter Principle?

We all know the developer hero who works for 30 or more hours straight when a crisis comes up and walks away solving the problem. The classic firefighter mentality of software development.  But what kind of manager does this hero make?

Star developers often rise to management because of their ability to program under pressure and, in many cases, their software fire fighting ability, not necessarily the ability to plan, track, motivate, and manage a project.

If the corporate culture rewards a hacker mentality - time savings and emergencies over strategy and planning, developers who rise to management may never be exposed to long term thinking and may not even be told that management is all about planning, managing risks, monitoring, and most importantly reflecting on the future. Do star firefighters have the key ability to plan, see strategy, and organize large groups of people - I would say not always.

So what do we do about this problem? How about promoting people to management for their tendency to over design, over plan, and not necessarily just hack? This is an inverse of the peter principle. Imagine programmers who are mediocre by firefighting standards being promoted to management. We might just be better off in the industry.

Then companies could proudly proclaim “we promote the mediocre” – ah, maybe not.

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