Musings About Management Debt

I'm editing the project portfolio book. Yes, I'm trying to get ready for beta. No, I have no idea when I will be ready. I'll have more information before Wednesday, if you want to know.

I realized that when managers don't make ranking decisions about the project portfolio, when they don't fully commit to a project, when they don't collaborate across the organization to make sure everyone is working for the good of the organization, the managers incur management debt. And, these actions all create technical debt.

I suspect that these managers don't know they are supposed to do these things–they've never seen good management before.

You can see management debt in these ways:

  • Managers revisit decisions again and again and again and again…
  • People stay blocked on problems because they need management input
  • No one removes obstacles for the team
  • Many emergency projects
  • Everyone feels as if they are slogging through the day, even though managers are rushing around like crazy, using their smart phones and pagers and email.

What do you think? Do you like the term management debt? Did I miss any other symptoms of management debt (I'm sure I did!)?

7 thoughts on “Musings About Management Debt”

  1. As projects are not prioritized, everything has equal priority, which keeps changing every time the manager’s phone rings.

    The organization is run in crisis mode, as the staff all piles on the “Crisis of the moment,” which is quickly forgotten when the next crisis emerges.

  2. The term is nice. If you need some more symptoms:
    – Project managers fights with each other for the crucial resources (especially the best specialists)
    – A lot of unnecessary context switching which hurts everyone but especially developers
    – Different assingments comes from different managers and people are confused
    – There are managers from different departments (e.g. sales) telling people what to do

    And one more thing form the other side of a barricade. A manager who is responsible for project management, software development etc asks decision-makers which project is the most important and the answer is “all of them.” I used to reply “it does actually mean all our projets are equally unimportant” and risked “not a team player” label. Anyway, that’s the early harbinger of management debt. The symptoms seen by the team appear usually a bit later.

  3. Technical Debt is a term I am using more and more to help highlight to people the hidden cost of hacking/poor design etc.
    Extending its use into Management to highlight the hidden costs of indecision, flip-flopping etc. is a great idea. Pawel’s additions are spot on.

  4. How about “Failure to achieve target benefits” or even “No benefits tracking.”

    After all this environment probably starts a ltr of projects and finishes few or even none.


  5. Why not just call a spade a spade? The real term here is “incompetence.”

    A manager has one role: to make decisions. Good managers can make decisions, aren’t afraid of making them. Bad managers are afraid, and either don’t/won’t make decision, or continually re-decide based upon the fear du jour.

    Project managers fighting over resources? Management hasn’t prioritized projects. Workers confused as to which manager to listen to? The group manager hasn’t established a viable organization (management hierarchy). Frequent context-switching? Again, group manager either hasn’t prioritized AND hasn’t established a viable organization, or he keeps re-deciding because he is afraid he was wrong with his last decision. It all reduces to lack of competence at the primary responsibility of decision-making.

    Maybe the real problem is how we choose managers. Often the best manager may not be the most technically astute person on the team, yet that’s how we usually choose managers (by promoting the individuals with the best skills in a particular function).

    Hopefully, the cultural paradigm inspired by Agile will force us to revisit how we choose managers, and what we expect from them.

  6. excellent terminology “management debt” which i guess is visible very much in most of the well structured organisation this is due to the lack of skilled managers/ organisers

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