Bob had been developing software for a long time. He was the technical lead on a small development team. He really liked his manager Stacey. While his development skills were top-notch, she had really challenged him grow and develop his leadership skills. She made sure that he received opportunities to present potential technical initiatives to the leadership team. She made sure he received exposure for his vast technical expertise. She was also an incredible technologist, and had been able to guide and direct his career in a way that had helped him grow significantly both as a leader and as a technical expert.
However, he had an uncomfortable feeling his life was going to become chaotic again. For the last three months his team had been incredibly busy! On yet another death march. His manager Stacey had committed to a very aggressive timeline for a high-profile project. Stacey had been receiving pressure from her leaders to get it done sooner. Once again, business leaders felt it was extremely urgent. It seemed to be a common theme around here. Bob had been adamant that the timeline was too aggressive. However, while Stacey had voiced the concerns of her team, she’d buckled under pressure from her boss. She’d committed to getting the project done sooner.
Knowing that it was an incredibly tight schedule, the team had burned the midnight oil for weeks. They managed to deliver by the deadline. While not perfect, the product was workable. The business leaders were ecstatic. However, there was a small problem. This was the third that time this had happened in the past year. The team provided a timeline, and each time Stacey had buckled under the pressure, and the team had been left to clean up the mess. And it was about to happen yet again.
Just two days prior, Bob and his team had provided an estimate for a new project. Just this afternoon Stacey had once again committed to a shorter timeline. She’d mentioned that they’d been able to beat their estimates on the last three projects. Bob had explained each time that it was not a healthy way to run a project. The team was getting burned out.
It was Friday. Bob was tired. He left work early for the first time in months. He went home and dusted off his resume….
The inability of a manager to ‘manage up’ is a common frustration for development team members. It is not uncommon for managers to buckle in to the pressure of leaders to get work done faster. While in the short-term, you may get more work out of your team, eventually you’ll burn them out. Often leadership has come up with a date by which certain functionality needs to be ready, and then the development teams are forced to scramble to make those dates. This creates a stressful environment for the development teams, and the trust breaks down between the manager and the team. It is extremely important that managers are able to push back on their leaders when they start making unreasonable requests of their team. Team members are not robots, and they will find other opportunities if they are continually squeezed by unnecessary pressure. While putting pressure on teams to produce more may increase productivity in the short term, the long term effects are counter-productive. Managers who value input, opinions, and timelines of their team are much more likely to sustain success over long periods of time.