Business Management is a new field that evolved in the 20th century – that, for the most part, has a jump on software development by about fifty years.
This weekend, I borrowed my late father-in-law’s very old, very dog-eared copy of Harvard Business Review on Management. The book is a collection of essays on business management; I’d like to reproduce part of the first page of the first essay here:
The upper reaches of management are a land of mystery and intrigue. Very few people have been there, and the present inhabitants frequently send messages that are incoherent both to other layers of management and to the world in general. This may account for the myths, illusions, and caricatures that permeate the literature of management- for example, such widely held notions are these:
– Life gets less complicated as a manager reaches the top of the pyramid.
– The manager at the top level knows everything that’s going on in the organization, can command whatever resources he may need, and therefore can be more decisive.
– The general manager’s day is taken up with making broad policy decisions and formulating precise objectives.
– The top executive’s primary activity is conceptualizing long-range plans.
– In a large company, the top executive can be seen meditating about the role of his organization in society.
I suggest that none of these versions alone, or in combination, is an accurate portrayal of what a general manager does. Perhaps students of the management process have been overly eager to developer a theory and a discipline. As one executive I know puts it “I guess I do some of the things described in the books and articles, but the descriptions are lifeless, and my job isn’t”
Does any of that sound familiar?
An industry over-eager to develop a theory and “professional discipline” around it’s work. Books that talk about a form of the profession yet lack the substance. “Experts”, mythology, and a second look at what it means to be a leader.
That second look, by the way, took a long time in coming. My father-in-laws edition of On Management was initially published in 1975, but that article was originally published in 1967. (HBR re-published it in 1984, and the 1984 edition is available on-line for free. Thanks, Harvard!)
In fact, one could argue that corporate America today is still in the grip of Command and Control management that this author was arguing against.
However, I can add that he had influence. A number of companies, even in manufacturing, are embracing lean and empowing the workforce in a meaningful, non-buzzword way. Slowly those companies are becoming more competitive and beating their competition.
Today, arguably, software testing is about where business management was in 1967. We have a few voices crying out in the wilderness, a good bit of myth and legend, gurus and opinions.
That means we have plenty of work to do.
Fifty years ago, Edward Wrapp wrote a essay that took him to the top of his field — and is still read today. Our field is wide open; you could very well be the next Edward Wrapp.
Let’s seize the day.
UPDATE: Someone is going to read this and say “but I’ve never heard of Alfred Wrapp.” Well, ok. So he didn’t give the big speeches and collect the alcollades and honors and sit at the head table. His work was instrumental in changing the perception of American Business. He was what C.S. Lewis refers to as The Sound Craftsman. That’s good enough for me.
Still to come: Meaningful alternatives to certification for people who don’t want to write or speak, and also, my take on the terms “Maturity” and “Discipline” in software development. Don’t miss it!