I never liked the word “Manager”.
On one side, you feel like someone will tell you what to do, like you cannot think. On another, the manager seems randomly appointed to ensure activities continue “business-as-usual”.
The managers required to continuously deliver Quality at Speed are much more different. In a context of accelerated competition, innovation, and uncertainty, their role is not to micromanage routine activities.
I want to share my perspective of what valuable managers do in Quality Engineering. You probably feel my frustration for the manager sitting in his chair operating day-to-day activities.
That irritates me probably due to the waste of resources in contradiction with the Lean mindset of value optimization. In fact, the first goal of a valuable manager is to execute the fundamental management practices efficiently.
The management practices are the basic foundations
A shared frame of reference is essential for a mutual understanding. The perception of management is the first point to clarify. We can then describe what the basic management foundations are.
The definition of manager from various sources is “a person responsible for controlling or administering an organization or group of staff.”. That was probably enough during our industrial revolution.
The activities of that definition are of the passive manager: affecting activities, doing team meetings, cascading information, performing one on ones, etc. These tasks must be efficiently organized because there is so much to do.
Looking at Strategic Management, you will come up with strategic planning, leadership, influence – in the end – transformational capabilities. That’s where I believe a true manager should dedicate 80% of his time.
Valuable managers lead the vision through a shared mission
Building a cathedral requires a clear vision, a purpose and inspiration. We need the same in Quality Engineering to continuously deliver Quality at Speed to our stakeholders. Managers must act with the board in mind.
A manager must be able to envision, draw and share an inspirational vision. Talented people have no time to lose in meaningless routine activities with no end. Traditional management is therefore a mere consequence of the vision implementation.
The vision is also necessary to foster the actors’ collaboration. In a world where the expertise is becoming more specialized and narrowed, the shared purpose is a counter-force for horizontal collaboration.
A valuable manager is therefore able to see the big picture, aligning the priorities on the company vision, mission, and values. This systematic approach is a requirement to then drive the implementation within the organization.
Valuable managers get investments and remove roadblocks
Having a vision is not sufficient for its implementation. A valuable manager must be able to architect the delivery of the vision, while acting on the field to remove the blockers the team can encounter.
Organizational design drives the organigram, resources and in the end, the power to act. One key responsibility of a valuable manager is to obtain the necessary investments by argumentation, influence, and organizational change if needed.
The initiative’s implementation will also have its set of issues: delays will appear, the team can change, the reality is different from the initial assumptions. A strong manager is able to anticipate most of them and tackle them.
We already start to see that a manager is far from only dealing with its own team scope. The vision comes from looking at the big picture, and transiting to implementation requires acting out of his scope of responsibility.
Valuable managers animate the actors horizontally
Siloed organizations slow down organizations with a limited perspective. In reality, the silos end up creating negative local optimizations not from bad intentions but bad management.
It is normal to have silos in organizations: everyone cannot work with everyone. While organizational design defines the structure, the managers must then continuously manage the system to keep creating company-wide value.
The managers are therefore ambassadors of the company and the customer in the first place. They have to ensure the methodologies picked aim for global value creation, push people out of silos to find better solutions, work on the right priorities.
Bringing life to the vision requires keeping the transformation alive. Giving the rhythm through clear objectives and explicit milestones is necessary for the animation of the actors. This push is also supporting the growth of its collaborators.
Valuable managers enable motivational self-development
The management fundamentals enable a manager to develop an understanding of someone’s goals, expectations and personality. His valuable task is to align a win-win collaboration plan for the company and the collaborator.
The previous work of creating a relationship and having a shared purpose creates an environment where people contribute to something bigger than themselves. It is a prerequisite for them to invest more in their self-development.
Self-development is not only about identifying an annual training part of the annual performance review. A valuable manager is able to find regular opportunities and creative ways to develop what the collaborator is ambitioning.
A manager can delegate specific tasks, find side-projects, or even outside activities like being part of a workgroup, an expert community, etc. There are a lot of solutions for those who are committed and driven, not only “sitting there”.
Valuable managers are definitely not only managers
Managers of Quality Engineering are expected to create value leveraging the entire practices of strategy, leadership, delivery. The basic management activities are trivial for them and so, already streamlined and optimized.
Delivering Quality at Speed therefore requires actors at the high standard. The valuable managers drive the organizational value creation, while the operational actors deliver continuous value to the users.
Skilled actors do not need micromanaging; they need direction, inspiration and motivation from their management. This is why I believe strong Quality Engineering managers are overall leaders with recognized competencies and expertise.
So, only tolerate valuable managers.