Sunday, March 13, 2016

Theories of Management

I have often griped privately about various theories of management, especially such excessive models as the CMM (especially popular among government contractors), but I have not written much about them as they seem to have little political application. However, one aspect of this topic recently struck me as rather characteristic of our age, and so I decided to have a brief say.

Now, there is lots to complain about in these theories, especially those related to software development. For example, the obsession with making things predictable and repeatable. This sounds fine, and, if you are doing something routine, it may even be worthwhile. But often this theory is applied to creative work, development of entirely novel products, and in that case it seems misguided. Is it really important to do "the same thing the same way" when you are treading novel ground? How? When doing something new, it seems you want to do something different, not routine, and thus these models seem more of a hindrance than benefit.

Another issue is the tremendous amount of excess effort expended on management. Under the CCM, for example, a small shop would probably spend three or four times as many hours in meetings as actually working. Which is probably why it is most popular among bloated, overstaffed government departments and government contractors.

But the one things that truly strikes me as important in understanding these theories, and their shortcomings, is the claim I often heard that they were trying to eliminate "reliance on heroic efforts, or heroic employees." In other words, they were under the illusion a job could be divorced from the quality of the worker. And, int he end, that is a delusional position. It may be a bad idea to rely upon the efforts of one super-efficient person, but then again, if you have one, why not use him tot he fullest? But, beyond that, there is simply no system that can make a bad employee good. It may be possible to make good employees, bad -- I argue many of these systems encourage just that -- but no system can eliminate the need for quality employees, or make a task independent of the skill of the workers.

And that is why I say these theories are in some way characteristic of our era. It is bizarre for an age which revels in "individual expression", but our era does so love to denigrate individual skill. I discussed this before in "The Era of the Cocky Know It All" and "The Tragedy of the Creative Commons", but for all our encouragement of individuals to feel self-important we simultaneously believe no one is real worth more than anyone else. And these theories seem to rest on that same idea. Add to that their absurdly positivist idea that with enough system you can ignore individual ability and make regular and predictable even creative work, even the development of novel products, and you end up with the ludicrous embodiment of all our era's shortcomings.

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