As part of a very successful and growing company it has been interesting to observe and be part of the changes that have taken place.
When I first became Software Development Manager I had responsibility for all aspects of our software – designing, writing, testing, deploying and supporting it. This was ok for a while, but we grew to a point where we had that many installs and customer requests that our deployment team and support team grew to a size that required more direct management. At that point I handed over installation and support responsibility to an Operations Manager so that I could focus on the software development again.
This was the first change of manager and was an uncomfortable time for me. It felt a bit like I had failed, I felt I should have been capable of still managing the software development and operations and that by bringing someone else in it was an indication that I wasn’t good enough. It was hard to watch someone else take over the roles I had been doing, especially when the team responded so well to the change. Everyone was full of fresh enthusiasm and delighted in the small improvements in process and definition of responsibilities. Not only had the board given me a vote of no confidence in bringing someone else in, my old team also seemed pleased to see me gone.
I’ve since got over this feeling, as the job really was too big for one person, and my skills (and passion) are in software development not managing installs and running customer support. After the change, the initial enthusiasm didn’t last and the cracks started to show. It eventually got to the point where the Operations manager was so disliked that his ability to manage was severely compromised.
We’ve recently changed Operations Manager again and again the change seems a good one. The team are enthusiastic and the small changes to process and responsibility seem well received, but will it last? I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let me digress.
One of my favourite websites “The boy from brazil” follows the fortunes of Bradford City football club. As with most football clubs Bradford City have had their share of management changes. Those changes have been debated on BfB with a level of intelligence not seen elsewhere in footballing circles. In particular there have been two significant changes in recent times and the chances of a third are rapidly increasing so the arguments for and against changing managers are again being aired.
The first change came after Bradford City had slumped from a Premier League outfit to a mid-table team in League One. Colin Todd had got the team stable, everyone knew their job and did it effectively, but it was uninspiring (see BfB talking about Managing Failure in relation to Colin Todd). He was working on a shoe-string budget and most people now think he did a good job bringing some stability to a club in turmoil after 2 relegations and 2 administrations. However, as they say “football is a results business” and the results that Colin brought were not seen as good enough and he left the club. The change of manager back-fired and saw the club slip from mid-table safety to relegation at the end of the season. A dire warning to all those who continue to suggest a change of manager is the answer to all footballing problems.
The second significant change happened when club legend Stuart McCall left as manager. The critics had suggested that Stuart was too inexperienced and too close to the club to make the tough choices needed to get us promoted (see BfB describing Stuart’s last match in charge. An experienced and proven manager was needed – such a manager would virtually guarantee promotion with such a large ground and fan base. Many argued that stability is what brings success and that changing managers does no good and can even do harm (Colin Todd being the prime example). However, failing for a second time to gain promotion from the bottom tier of English football was the end of Stuart’s reign and Peter Taylor was brought in as his replacement. Here was a manager with an outstanding CV. He had achieved repeated success with getting teams promoted, but had also reached the heights of England manager. Surely, Peter couldn’t fail?
Well, here we are most of the way through the season and Bradford are again some way adrift of their aims for promotion. It seems that the change of manager has had no effect on the fortunes of the club. We are still struggling in the mid-table, able to win some unexpected games, but inconsistent and losing games we should be winning. (Again I refer you to the excellent BfB website)
Is football management the same as other management? Well some of it is: Can you get the best from your staff? Can you inspire and lead and get the team all pulling in the same direction? Can you balance the needs of yourself and those of your team? Can you identify the weaknesses and address them? Can you make best use of your strengths?
A football manager can change the day to day details of the team – what they do in training (fitness, ball work, set pieces etc), how they talk to each other (calling the players by nicknames or referring to the manager as sir), what they wear on match days (training clothes or suits). A football manager also has a huge influence on who they have to work with – most players can be sold and replacements found. They also choose the 11 players (plus subs) to put in the team, the rest of the players will simply watch and play for the reserves.
As a software manager, you can also tweak the day to day stuff (how projects are run, who runs the projects), you can drive improvements to process, practice and tools (code reviews, documentation, source control etc). Over a longer period, you can influence the hiring process. You are unlikely to be able to “sell” any of your team members, but you can certainly decide whether to put them in the “starting 11” for a project – you can’t leave them with nothing to do, but you can keep them away from the really important projects (they can play for the reserves). If the team expands or people leave, you can identify what sort of person the team needs most to improve (a big man upfront to score goals, a loud midfielder to boss the game, a safe pair of hands in goal etc).
So for Bradford City, changing managers has had no effect. The players in the team have certainly changed, the way they play has changed, the day to day training, the clothing, everything a manager can do has changed, but the results stay the same. So maybe there is a bigger problem at the club that a manager simply cannot solve.
As we saw from the first change of Operations Manager, people and process changed, but the results eventually returned to being “not good enough” and another change was required. Our new Operations Manager is again achieving with new people, better defined roles and responsibilities and the results so far are good. Let’s hope they last, or as with Bradford City, we may be looking at issues outside of what a manager can solve.
Disclaimer: Whilst speculation is rife amongst Bradford City fans as to what the “bigger issue” is, that isn’t the conclusion I’m trying make here. I don’t believe there is a bigger issue at work. If there is anything that would cause a need for change it would be that ambition had over taken reality – a good job was no longer good enough (see Colin Todd as an example). This could be considered outside of the managers influence (although being able to “manage up” is a skill a manager should also have).