IT companies must move at a faster pace than businesses in nearly any other sector. The pressure to keep up with an industry in constant change redefines the way that management works. To more traditional managers, these techniques can seem radical and even risky.
But the truth is, technology is changing the environment that all industries compete in. Big data, social media, mobile audiences, the cloud, and personalization are revolutionizing the way that we do business, and traditional businesses increasingly rely on insights from the tech sector in order to stay relevant.
That’s why we’ve decided to compile three principles of management from the tech sector that are worth looking into, no matter what industry you’re competing in. Let’s take a look.
1. IT Decisions are Urgent
In the tech sector, there is no room for a rigorous approval process or a careful weighing of ROI before IT decisions are made. Technology decisions need to be made rapidly, embracing an urgency that is rarely found elsewhere.
Clearly, this sense of urgency is more lax outside of the tech industry, but there are a number of things we can learn from the way they cope in this type of environment:
- Manage projects and budgets on a quarterly cycle – In order to cope with possible backfires and missteps, tech companies often plan ahead on a quarterly cycle only.
- Make judgment calls – IT decisions are driven less by the math and more by the purpose. The question is whether the technology will help them be the kind of company they intend to be, rather than whether it will result in ROI. This is a deliberate and purposeful decision, because financial projections in technology rarely end up coming true.
- Iterate – Technology companies tend to start with a minimum viable product and iterate on top of it in order to improve functionality. This approach avoids the common problem of faulty planning or going over budget. It allows teams to develop products so that they are functional at all stages of the process, so that they have something to show for their work even when projects are cut short, and so that they can learn from and adapt to the design process.
2. Teams are Participatory
The role of management in the software sector is more hands-off than in many others. While this has very much become a cultural thing, the reality is that it exists for very practical reasons. Top-down planning has proven disastrous whenever it is implemented. Projects spiral out of control, go over budget, and ultimately fail.
This is generally the case for all knowledge work. Managers simply lack the knowledge to plan, in granular detail, the most effective way to complete a project. This is why managers in this sector tend to prefer collaborative alternatives to MS Project, like WorkZone, to avoid getting locked into a top-down approach. Here are a few takeaways from this principle:
- Experimentation and individual projects are often more effective than group brainstorming sessions, and are nearly always a better choice than top-down planning
- Employee crowdsourcing and voting are often a better form of idea selection
- The purpose of management becomes less about issuing orders, and more about setting goals and intervening to improve communication and fluid interaction. The manager becomes a facilitator
- Testing is king. Failure is acceptable and expected when it is used as a learning tool, and untested ideas are given only minimal resources
3. There’s More to Advancement Than Management
Traditionally, there has only been one way to advance in a company: the management track. This view has been going out of style for legitimate reasons. Not only does this discourage managers from empowering their “underlings,” for fear of being replaced, it actually fails to take full advantage of the available skills.
Not everybody is suited for management. Being a brilliant engineer doesn’t imply that you’re going to be any good at facilitating communication or empowering teams.
The tech sector as recognized this more than anybody. Google is a good example of a company that offers “distinguished engineer” and similar titles to people who wish to advance by honing their crafts, rather than taking on more responsibilities as people wranglers.
Companies that incentivize and encourage advancement through craft, as opposed to management roles, will find themselves with more talented people and competitive advantages than would otherwise be possible.
Management in Silicon Valley might not look very familiar to traditional managers, but we can all learn from their innovative, unique approach, even if we don’t embrace everything. Iteration, participation, and alternative opportunities for advancement can empower your team, boost innovation, and speed up results