It’s not hard to find jokes online about management not getting software. There has long been a perception that those making key business decisions don’t actually understand the technology and software that is at the foundation of just about every organization’s operations. Now, research has confirmed that the management and engineering divide is real.
In this year’s Skill Up survey that we ran among 8000 developers, we found that more than 60% of developers believe they know more about technology than their manager.
Source: Packtpub Skill Up Survey 2018
Developer perceptions on the topic aren’t simply a question of ego; they’re symptomatic of some a barriers to business success. 42% of the respondents listed management’s lack of technical knowledge as a barrier to success. It also appears as one of the top 3 organizational barriers to achieving business goals.
Source: Packtpub Skill Up Survey 2018
To dissect the technical challenges faced by organizations, we also asked respondents to pick the top technical barriers to success. As can be seen from the below graph, a lot of the barriers directly or indirectly relate to management’s understanding of technology. Take for example management’s decisions to continue with legacy systems, or investment or divestment from certain projects, choice of training programs and vendors etc.
Source: Packtpub Skill Up Survey 2018
Management tends to weigh decisions based on the magnitude of investment against returns in immediate or medium term. Also, unless there is hard evidence of performance benefits or cost savings, management is generally wary of approving new projects or spending more on existing ones. This approach is generally robust and has saved business precious dollars by curbing pet projects and unruly experiments and research.
However, with technology, things are always so straightforward. One day some tool is the talk of the town (think Adobe Flash) and everyone seems to be learning it or buying it and then in a few months or a couple of years down the line, it has gone completely off radar. Conversely, something that didn’t exist yesterday or was present in some obscure research lab (think self-driving tech, gene-editing, robotics etc), is now changing the rules of the game and businesses whose leadership teams have had their ears on the ground topple everyone else, including time tested veterans.
Early adopters and early jumpers make the most of tech trends. This requires one (in the position to make decisions within organizations) to be aware of the changing tech landscape to the extent that one can predict what’s going to replace the current reigning tech and in what timeframe. It requires that management is aware of what’s happening in adjacent industries or even in seemingly unrelated ones. Who knew Unity (game platform), Nvidia (chipmaker), Google (search engine), would enter the auto industry, (all thanks to self driving tech)?
While these are some over the top factors, let us look at each one of them in detail.
Why do developers believe there is a management knowledge gap?
Few reasons listed to justify the response:
Rapid pace of technology change:
The rapid rate of technology change is significantly impacting IT strategy. Not only are there plenty of emerging technology trends, from AI to cloud, they’re all coming at the same time, and even affecting each other.
It’s clear that keeping up with the rate of digital advancement – for example automation, harnessing big data, emerging technologies and cyber security – will pose significant challenge for leaders and senior management. Adding a whole new layer of complexity as they try to stay ahead of competition and innovate.
Balancing strategic priorities while complying to changing regulations:
Another major challenge for senior management is to balance strategic priorities with the regulatory demands of the industry. In 2018, GDPR has been setting a new benchmark for the protection of consumer data rights by making organisations more accountable. Governed by GDPR, organisations and senior management will now be responsible for guarding every piece of information connected to an individual.
In order to be GDPR compliant, management will begin introducing the correct security protocols in their business processes. This will include encryption, two-factor authentication and key management strategies to avoid severe legal, financial and reputational consequences.To make the right decisions, they will need to be technically competent enough to understand the strengths and limitations of the tools and techniques involved in the compliance process
Finding right IT talent:
Identifying the right talent with the skill sets that you need is a big challenge for senior management. They are constantly trying to find and hire IT talent, such as skilled data scientists and app developers, to accommodate and capitalize on emerging trends in cloud and the API economy. The team has to take care to bring in the right people and let them create magic with their development skills. Alongside this they also need to reinvent how they manage, retract, retain, motivate, and compensate these folks.
Responses to this quora question highlight that it can be a difficult process for managers to go through a lengthy recruitment cycle. And the worst feeling is when after all the effort the candidate declines the offer for another lucrative one.
So much promising technology, so little time:
Time is tight in business and tech. Keeping pace with how quickly innovative and promising technologies crop up is easier said than done. There are so many interesting technologies out there, and there’s so little time to implement them fast enough. Before anyone can choose a technology that might work for the company, a new product appears to be on the horizon. Once you see something you like, there’s always something else popping up.
While managers are working on a particular project to make all the parts work together for an outstanding customer experience, it requires time to do so and implement these technologies. When juggling with all of these moving parts, managers are always looking for technologies and ways to implement great things faster.
That’s the major reason behind companies having a CTO, VP of engineering and CEO separately to function at their own levels and departments.
Murphy’s law of unforeseen IT problems:
One of the biggest problems when you’re working in tech is Murphy’s Law. This is the law that states “Anything that can go wrong, will — at the worst possible moment.” It doesn’t matter how hard we have worked, how strong the plan is, or how many times things are tested. You get to doing the project and if something has to go wrong, it will. There are times we face IT problems that we don’t see coming. It doesn’t matter how much you try to plan — stuff happens.
When management doesn’t properly understand technology it’s often hard for them to appreciate how problems arise and how long it can take to solve them. That puts pressure on engineers and developers which can make managing projects even harder.
Overcoming perfectionism with an agile mindset:
Senior management often wants things done yesterday, and they want it done perfectly. Of course, this is impossible. While Agile can help improve efficiency in the development process, perfectionism is anathema to Agile. It’s about delivering quickly and consistently, not building something perfect and then deploying it. Getting management to understand this is a challenge for engineers – good management teams will understand Agile and what the trade offs are. At the forefront of everyone’s mind should be what the customer needs and what is going to benefit the business.
Concluding with Dilbert comic for a lighter note.
With purpose, process, and changing technologies, managers need to change in the way they function and manage. People don’t leave companies, they leave bad managers and the same could be said true for technical workers. They don’t leave bad companies they leave non-technical managers who make bad technical decisions.
Also published on Medium.