Twelve Tips for Managing Geeks: Page 3

Posted February 8, 2007

Rob England

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9) Estimating
Everything looks like “a couple of days” to a geek. They are always 90% done. It is the last bug. How anybody who spends their life immersed in technology (the home range of Murphy’s Law) can be so optimistic seems mystifying until one recalls that process and action and time are off their radar. Double everything and get the project managers to look under the hood.

10) Hoarding Knowledge
To geeks, knowledge is personal power, not a group asset. Technical cleverness and indispensability are their antlers, their tusks, their dominance display. Once they return from conferences or training courses, any intellectual property to be disseminated into the rest of the organization will need to be surgically extracted. Systems of Byzantine complexity will be constructed and nobody else will know how to operate or fix them. Make sure you reward people who share knowledge (“of course she’s going to the conference again this year – look at all the good training she ran for us after the last one”). Assign young apprentices to study at the feet of the master. Decline transfers and promotions citing undocumented systems that will fail without them.

11) Greed and Envy
My old boss, Charles Wang of CA, spoke of how most business decision-makers are driven by the old Fear Uncertainty and Doubt, but technical decision-makers (or recommenders) are driven by Greed and Envy. FUDGE. Geeks are technophiles. Watch out for the vendor-crafted business case that conceals the only real driver being that somebody wants one because everyone else has one.

12) Starting with Stuff
There is a wonderful IT implementation model: People Process Technology, in that order. Geeks implement Technology, in that order. Get business analysts, architects and other damage controllers involved in any project, especially one that is a geek’s idea. Find the stakeholders (the geek won’t have) and see what they think. Don’t let the geeks rush off and talk to vendors until the people and process aspects are sufficiently advanced that the organization can specify what it needs from the technology.

In Closing…

Geeks are sensitive, delicate creatures, easily ruffled, in many ways helpless. They can also be infuriating, petulant, stubborn and seemingly thick-headed, sometimes destructive. But if you take the time to understand them, know their priorities, and find their motivators, they can be effectively managed to give them personal satisfaction while returning great value. Perhaps we can explore that more another day. For now you can use these 12 watch points to keep them behind the fence, to move breakable objects out of the way, and to minimize damage to the business.

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