Dear software manager, working in the open for the very first time? Face the challenges (II)

This post is the continuation of the previous one, titled Dear software manager, working in the open for the very first time? Face the challenges (I)

Focus shift

I understand the transition that a front line manager needs to go through when moving to work in the open as a personal journey, mostly because the challenges described in the first post of this series, specially those related with personal values, have had a significant impact on who I am today.

I believe that working in the open long enough will charge not just the way you understand your work but other aspects like your personal relations, your view as a professional… you mindset. The key question to me is how to drive that change in a way that you do not use trial-error as the number one technique to learn, knowing that, unlike in the case of most developers, as a manager your mistakes have a significant impact on those around you.

I strongly believe that habits change mindsets, not the other way around. Which translated to a job means that in order to adapt to a new way of thinking it is required to work in a different way.

So in my opinion, in order to succeed faster as a front line project manager in the open you will need to embrace new habits as a manager. And I know by experience that the transformation process is faster when you realise that it is not just about changing the mechanics of your work but also about shifting your focus.

This is the core idea I want readers to take away. It is not just about adapting what you were doing already within your company, but also shifting the focus of your work to make a meaningful impact in a different area.

From autonomy to alignment

I created a model that helped me to understand where I was, what I needed to focus on in order to succeed as a manager, as a team, as an organization or project. I will provide some information about this model since so I can use it to describe that focus shits I mentioned before.

My personal model can be summarised in a cycle with four stages. I have written about this before, by the way:

toscalix management model
toscalix management model

I came to this model through a bottom-up approach, as a result of my experience working in open organizations. The structure in these four stages came from two key popular references:

  • The motivation model described by Daniel Pink in his famous book Drive.
  • The challenges described by Nilofer Merchant in her book The New How, when moving from strategy to execution in order to innovate. Those challenges many organizations go through led Nilofer to the description of the air sandwitch problem and how to approach it: alignment.

You can find references to both books in the Reads section of this site.

In corporate/in-house projects, front line managers mostly focus on what in the model refers to autonomy. They are perceived as successful when the people they manage are efficient which build trust on development teams, who get more room to work their way. Managers can then focus on effectiveness, risk evaluation, and mitigation activities, etc. increasing their impact and allowing them to help the engineering teams to a greater extend.

In my experience, the initial focus of most front line managers when working in the open is learning the new mechanics that would allow them to increase efficiency first and effectiveness later on of those around them. That might not be a bad approach since sometimes in Open Source projects, efficiency is a significant issue. At the very end, we all want to add value since day one, right?

But often this approach lead those managers to become the project escribe, doing  non-technical work with lower impact they are used to: driving meetings, documenting, etc. I have seen many people in Open Source, even other managers who went through the same process, justifying this approach as necessary to learn the new culture while adapting to the new environment. In other words, you play the role of a junior instead of a newcomer, living in first person a tough contrast when comparing the role you play in the open with the one you play within their companies.

When working in the open, I strongly believe that the key point to significantly shorten the time frame required for a front line manager to add real value to the project is to put emphasis from day one in alignment.

In most companies, this is the focus of more senior managers, so front line managers partially lack the skills and experience required to make a positive impact in alignment early on. At the same time, working in the open represents a unique opportunity to develop those skills and experience without many of the constrains and responsibilities associated to a senior management role.

Execution alignment based on the project goals (shared vision) represents one of the outstanding challenges in Open Source projects, so the main opportunity for a front line manager to add real value.

pjm_role_closed_vs_open_projects

Back to the personal journey approach, there are several habits that managers will need to change in order to get the right mindset to succeed. I will focus on the two I think are more important, and tough at the same time.

Key habits to change

Back to the personal journey approach, there are several habits that managers will need to change in order to get the right mindset to succeed. I will focus on the two I think are more important, and tough at the same time.

The first one is the management style. As a manager you will need to transit towards coaching as the main style. If directive is the default one in your organization, your journey will be longer and tougher than if your style can be identified already as affiliative. There is plenty of literature about management styles but sadly not much (for this context) about the next habit.

The second one is transparency, which has different requirements and implications for a manager than for a developer working in the open, since they hold a different responsibility within their organizations compared than in the Open Source projects towards their managees.

Let me clarify an interesting aspect of transparency.

There are restaurants where the kitchen is exposed to the customers. We all can see if it is clean, if there is a good working atmosphere, who is the chef and who clean the dishes, etc. Many people feel better in those restaurants because for them, selecting a restaurant is not just about getting tasty food at a reasonable price from a good service.

But is it exposing your kitchen being transparent?

Out of what the experience as a customer, an accountant can tell more meaningful information about that restaurant by looking at the numbers that somebody like me can tell by looking at the kitchen, since I have no clue about cooking. Transparency and exposure are not the same thing.

A key goal as a manager working in the open is to figure out how to drive a symbiotic relation between the organization the team belongs to and the Open Source project and their participants. Transparency at a personal, team and organization level is so important that should be practised since day one. Again, transparency and exposure are not synonyms.

Conclusion

Working in the open involve new challenges that requires a different mindset to be successfully faced by front line managers moving from corporate to Open Source projects. They will need to develop new habits and the most effective way to do so, in my view, is understanding since day one that your focus will need to move towards alignment instead of insisting in autonomy, according to my mental model. With that in mind, my advice is to pay special attention to those habits that will lead you to become a servant for your managees, promoting transparency by example…

…together with a good doses of patience and tolerance to public criticism. 🙂

3 thoughts on “Dear software manager, working in the open for the very first time? Face the challenges (II)

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