Peopleware: Aren't we missing it?

I am sure most of the IT guys, especially managers are familiar with the word Peopleware. For those who don’t, it originated from a popular book called Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. It actually underlines the constant conflicts between individual work and corporate ideologies, something most of the software developers face, but hardly speak about. Its a concept which if understood and followed by managers, can result in great work culture, lesser employee turnovers and higher productivity. If you intend to know just what the heck I have scribbled here, then jump to the conclusion below, although please read the book if you haven’t.

I have been a full time employee in India and later in US, which has inspired me a lot to write this post. An important factor which affects the productivity of a developer is the attiture of their manager towards them in day to day activities. There is a startling difference between the companies based in India and those in US (Well other countries too but I have had experience of US only). I would quote a statement from the book mentioned above,

“Managers are not supposed to make people work, but make it possible for them to work.”.

This statement has such a deep meaning in its own sense. I could expand on this giving my own experience at work. While in India, I constantly had a feeling that the manager to whom I was reporting, was really difficult to approach to. The extremely vertical structure of the Indian software industry results in the developers being less communicating and more bullied by the managers. If you imagine a organization structure chart, the white spaces between these levels signify the place where learning should occur. But in most of the Indian firms I feel this space is void or close to void. The result is the manager thinks of the developers as nothing more than replaceable parts of a working machine. When such a feeling is in the air, developers have a depressing attitude towards their work and company. In this case, either the developer’s performance degrades and they eventually leave. Most of the managers would get on with that by hiring a new developer in that place and life moves on. Only good managers realize that this will cost the company much more than spending some on the efforts for retaining that developer. The main theme of the book is quoted as,

“ The major problems at our work are not so much technological in nature than they are sociological in nature”.

Nature of an outsourced job in India

Honestly I feel there is heck of a difference in the kind of job done in majority of software firms in US and in India. The Indian office of an US counterpart is an offshore development place wherein the work is “supposed” to be done quicker and cheaper. This is the mantra of a global service firm. Although, the offshore office is not an exact counterpart of its western office since things are dealt slightly different here. A developer has to manage his/her everyday tasks along with maintaining communication with the manager. At the end of 8 hours of code crunching, he/she might have to attend a phone or video conference with the client since it is day time at the client, the client needs to talk personally what is going on in the codeville. So you see, typically in a IT service firm in India, a developer has much longer day than usual. Most of the developers have put this in their routine but they know it unknowingly, that they are losing precious amount of time of their life which is just one per person. Overtimes, late night drops are a real common thing among the IT firms here. Well the sad thing is, its the nature of the job which seem to demand it.

Go Startup

Frankly, many people have seen this dieffrence between big fat companies and startups. Most startups or small companies are more open cultured, flat due to its size with a well managed office and the meat of the dicussion, the managers have a closer relation with the team members. For me atleast, if the job does not give me the joy of work I need, the salary ain't worth sqaut. I do not say that all startups and small companies are better to work for than big companies, but as a budding developer I feel more interesting and challenging to be in a small pond rather than an ocean. Talking about startups, people interested in starting a new business, may be in IT or something else must read the blog post about The Art of Bootstrapping by Guy Kawasaki.

Conclusion

IT managers in India have to realize that developers are real asset to a project and not replaceable parts. Low quality software product, delayed projects, scrapped out projects are a result of sociological problems in a team rather than a technical one. The book mentioned above openly explains the mistakes manager have been doing until now, some still do. Good managers spend time and money in hiring good people and trust their capabilities rather than telling them what is to be done at each point of time.

Developers need to realize that the reason you intend to work hard is because you like it and evetually wanna have a better life. But what is the point of that life if you spend your twenties and thirties in a cubicle or an office doing overtime crunching millions of lines of code. Most of us do realize this fact and just keep going, but when you eventually feel like stopping its all over.

Slow down you crazy child,

And take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while.

Its all right, you can afford to lose a day or two,

When will you realize … Vienna waits for you?

-- Billy Joel.

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