Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management

Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great ManagementBehind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management

New and exciting: Esther and I collaborated to create online workshops for this book. See for all the courses and details.

From the preface (this is copyright 2005 Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby):

The first questions you might ask yourself when thumbing through a book on management are, “Who are these people? Are they for real? Or are they just a couple of consultants without a clue?”

We most definitely are for real. In fact, your authors have more than forty years' experience in management roles, across a wide variety of environments. We have managed or coached a variety of product development teams, functional teams, cross-functional teams, Agile teams, and operational teams. And over the years, we've noticed something important: most managers in technical organizations start the same way we did–as technical people.

Some people tell us that management doesn't matter–good technical people will produce results regardless of the quality of management. That has not been our experience. Poor managers create the illusion of productivity through busy-ness. Average managers finish work (but not always the right work). Great managers accomplish goals and develop people. As a result, we believe the quality of management makes a huge difference in bottom-line results and quality of work life.

Yet we've noticed that while there's lots of emphasis on technical training, there isn't much attention paid to training managers in technical organizations.

In a tiny minority of companies, newly minted managers receive management training and coaching to help them make a successful transition into a management role. More often, new managers receive a basic orientation and a high-level introduction on what to do–but don't receive much information on how to do it.

Sadly, many new managers receive no training at all–they are on their own to learn how to manage by observation, trial, and error. This method may save money in the training budget, but those savings are more than offset by lower productivity for the organization and personal stress for the manager and the group.

We believe that most new managers (and managers who have been in their positions for a while) want to do a good job but don't always know how to do a good job. Some of them have never seen good management—so how could they possibly be ready to be effective managers?

It doesn't have to be this way.

We decided to turn our experience and observations into a book to help managers see how to become great.

We've deliberately created a short timeline for this book. One of our reviewers asked, “Is this timeline science fiction?” It's not. A manager who knows how to apply a handful of management practices effectively can accomplish a great deal in a relatively short time. What we're showing in this book follows how we have organized our work as managers whether we were employees, contract managers, or management coaches: make contact with the people, learn what work people are doing, prioritize the work, and develop people through feedback and coaching.

If you don't know what people are doing, you can't organize the project portfolio. And if you can't organize the project portfolio, you can't know whether the work is being done well and on time, whether your group can take on more work, or whether you need more people. You just don't know. And that's just not acceptable for a manager.

We've written this book from the perspective of a talented mid-level manager, Sam. (Why show a bad example? We have enough of those!) We want to show you, our readers, how to coach people into performing management jobs, as well as show what a management job might look like. Some first-level managers may have more strategic work than Sam has; some mid-level managers may have less. Either way, every management role is unique, and the boundaries depend on the individual and the organization. But all managers have similar operational work; we want to show both first- and mid-level managers performing that work.

We've chosen to show a functional organization, one where each manager has responsibility for a layer of the product and where it's necessary to organize across groups to deliver product—a common structure for a development organization. You may work as part of a matrixed group of managers (where each function has a manager, and people from each function are assigned on a project basis). Or you may work in an organization that's using self-organizing teams and Agile methods. Every organization has its own spin on how to organize, but much of the management work remains the same.

If you're not sure of that, ask yourself who's responsible for the coaching and career development and for the feedback to the technical staff in your organization. And, ask yourself who monitors the development team as a system . The person who performs that work has a management role. We have a bias toward Agile project teams, because the team manages its own work–assigning responsibility for tasks, monitoring progress, solving problems–and frees the manager to work on removing obstacles that impede the team and solving broader problems. But we've seen many functional teams and matrixed teams be successful when they have effective managers. And we believe that the practices described and shown in this book can be adapted and applied to most situations.

You may notice one topic that often comes up in management books is missing in our book: leadership. To be honest, we don't buy the argument that leadership is different from management. We believe effective management and leadership are inextricable–and that great managers leave room for many people to exhibit leadership, rather than accreting leadership into one role. And on one level, leadership is a moot point: people who are not operationally savvy–who can't get things done–are neither managers nor leaders.

You can buy the book from the Pragmatic Bookshelf both in print or in DRM-free electronic versions (which includes pdf, mobi and Kindle ebook)

Prefer to buy from Amazon? No problem. You should also be able to buy it anywhere fine books are sold.

Behind Closed Doors has been translated into Arabic (Abu-Ghazaleh International Translation (AGIT)), Chinese (Turing Book (Posts and Telecom Press)), Indian Reprint (Shroff), and Korean (Wikibooks).

2 thoughts on “Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management”

  1. Pingback: No STEM Crisis, No War for Talent? | Hiring Technical People

  2. Pingback: Podcast Ep. 116: Modern Management Made Easy with Johanna Rothman | AgileThought

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