Sunday, October 07, 2007

What is management?

Sounds like a complex question, right? In fact, on close inspection, it appears to have a surprisingly well-defined answer.

Management is the elimination of diseconomies of scale - ways in which Just Doing Stuff doesn't work when said Stuff gets too large.

Imagine one solitary person working on one monolithic project. She has clear objectives and all the resources she wants. Does she need management? I'd say no - she might require coaching or training, but nothing that could be described primarily as management.

Now add another ten people. Instantly, new issues start to arise. People argue about the best way to do stuff. They trip over each other. They get angry with each other. A thousand little turf wars spring up. Left to themselves, what you have isn't a project; it's a battlefield.

People Management is intended to handle this problem. Throw a good manager into the room and he will settle things down, make decisions, organise workloads and so on.

Now add another five projects, to be worked on simultaneously. Suddenly people need to split their time up, and they probably don't do it well. Left to their own devices, they're likely to focus on whichever project they're feeling most happy about, which is likely not to be the one that needs their attention.

Time Management is intended to handle this problem. Throw a good manager into the room and he will start throwing Gantt charts and flow diagrams and so on around. As has been pointed out in endless Dilbert cartoons, those things are no substitute for Just Doing Stuff - but, if there's a lot of Stuff to Just Do, they can make your work substantially more efficient.

Now let's say there's another three teams in the same company, and they're arguing over who gets the most highlighter pens. Bingo, Resource Management comes in. And the team is probably working for customers, who may or may not have explained their requirements clearly. In steps Marketing. The team is most likely not able to choose how their environment will behave in future, so up pops Strategic Management.

Each additional bit of complexity has the potential to generate its own bit of turbulence. Management smooths that down, reducing the "viscosity" of the organisation.

What does all this mean in practice? Not a damn thing. I just like to get concepts clear in my head. Since I have my Open University exam on the 19th, it's probably a good thing that I'm at least clear on what Management is.

Now I just need to revise 16 textbooks of material, and do a few past papers. In 12 days.


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