Four Steps to Avoid Micromanaging and Get Good Work Results
Back when I was a director of many things at one company, we had an urgent patch to go to a customer. I gathered my continuing engineering team and explained our situation.
“Everyone wants this patch right away, but the customer is truly upset. I want to know we have a fix that works. While you are working on it, I will need to know updates every morning and every afternoon. I will run interference for you as well as I can.”
Everyone groaned. They knew what this meant. We had a small company. The corporate management was just down the hall from our offices. Even though I said I would run interference, nothing would prevent the VP of engineering, the CEO, or the CTO from popping their heads in “to see what’s going on.” Everyone wanted to make the customer happy right now.
I had four people working on this fix. I knew what they were all doing, and so did they. Every day they gathered in my office so I would have the most up-to-date status.
On behalf of the team, I explained to management how they narrowed down the problem and identified it. Then I explained how they were debugging the problem. Then I explained how they were testing the fixes they proposed. Then I explained how they were packaging the fix they had decided on.
Notice what I did:
- I told the team the results I wanted: as quickly as possible, but it had to be right. Right trumped shoddy.
- I said what information I needed and how often I needed it.
- I ran interference and kept the rest of the management team informed daily. My goal was no surprises.
- I explained things on behalf of the team so that they got the credit. I was doing my management job, not technical work.
The customer was not happy during this month, but because management and I could share the interim results with them, they at least knew we were working on the fix. By the time they got the patch, they were very pleased.
I did not micromanage my people. I understood their state. There is a big difference. If I had stood over their shoulders asking “Is it done yet?” I suspect I would have had different results.
My team understood that I was doing my management job. I didn’t prevent all other senior management interference, but I prevented most of it. In return, the employees were free to work together to accomplish their goal: a fix that didn’t upset the rest of the system and solved the customer’s problem.
It’s easy to fall into micromanagement. We technical people are terrific problem solvers. We excel at it. We want to help other people solve their problems. Micromanagement is inflicting help on other people, and it’s not helpful. It’s irritating and prevents other people from doing their jobs.
Have you caught yourself micromanaging? If so, what made you stop?