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Joel on Software

Three Management Methods (Introduction)

by Joel Spolsky
Monday, August 07, 2006

If you want to lead a team, a company, an army, or a country, the primary problem you face is getting everyone moving in the same direction, which is really just a polite way of saying “getting people to do what you want.”

Think of it this way. As soon as your team consists of more than one person, you’re going to have different people with different agendas. They want different things than you want. If you’re a startup founder, you might want to make a lot of money quickly so you can retire early and spend the next couple of decades going to conferences for women bloggers. So you might spend most of your time driving around Sand Hill Road talking to VCs who might buy the company and flip it to Yahoo!. But Janice the Programmer, one of your employees, doesn’t care about selling out to Yahoo!, because she’s not going to make any money that way. What she cares about is writing code in the latest coolest new programming language, because it’s fun to learn a new thing. Meanwhile your CFO is entirely driven by the need to get out of the same cubicle he has been sharing with the system administrator, Trekkie Monster, and so he’s working up a new budget proposal that shows just how much money you would save by moving to larger office space that’s two minutes from his house, what a coincidence!

The problem of getting people to move in your direction (or, at least, the same direction) is not unique to startups, of course. It’s the same fundamental problem that a political leader faces when they get elected after promising to eliminate waste, corruption, and fraud in government. The mayor wants to make sure that it’s easy to get city approval of a new building project. The city building inspectors want to keep getting the bribes they have grown accustomed to.

And it’s the same problem that a military leader faces. They might want a team of soldiers to charge at the enemy, even when every individual soldier would really just rather cower behind a rock and let the others do the charging.

Here are three common approaches you might take:

  • The Command and Control Method
  • The Econ 101 Method
  • The Identity Method

You will certainly find other methods of management in the wild (there’s the exotic “Devil Wears Prada” Method, the Jihad Method, the Charismatic Cult Method, and the Lurch From One Method To Another Method) but over the next three days, I’m going to examine these three popular methods and explore their pros and cons.


Have you been wondering about Distributed Version Control? It has been a huge productivity boon for us, so I wrote Hg Init, a Mercurial tutorial—check it out!

Next:

The Command and Control Management Method



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