Joel’s summary for management

August 11th, 2006
The famous writer, Joel Spolsky, recently posted three articles about methodologies of managing a software company on his blog. They are Command and Control, Econ 101, and Identity. The first two are quite interesting, while the last one was disappointing. Apparently Joel was managed by the first two methods in his career before, and he can analyze the two methods with great insight. However, be aware of that his points in the Identity methods are somehow biased. He is the boss and he claims his method is very successful. In a word what he tries to sell you is that: “hey dude, FogCreek is the best company and we have the best management, so come on in and send me your resume.” 

I can’t deny that Joel is a good salesman/recruiter and he’s doing his job well. Let me tell you my experiences of being managed by Identity method and how things can go wrong.

The key of Identity method is to make people feel like they are in a family and they work for the family. The problem is, when the number of people grows big enough, the head of household can not take care of everyone. If you have more than three children, you know what I am saying. The method is easily defeated when the company grows. Once people are not that cared of by the head-of-household, or they felt that they have to have their own family, they quit.

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “Big families can exist, also, we can assign several head-of-household’s and operating several sub-families.” Great, you hit my second point. A company will never be a family because the company is bounded by money, not blood. I haven’t brought up something like resource contention and power, have I? No matter how good inter-person skills your team members have, these skills take time. Time is the most precious limited resource and eventually your teams will be competing with that.

If your scope is to operate a small team or a startup company, yes, Identity is a nice cozy method of management. Companies with 50+ employees need to think of something else to keep rolling (Econ 101) and discipline (C&C).

There’s no single method that can magically manage a team well by the method alone. As an employee being managed, my advice will be lowering your expectation. Everyone gets pissed off at some points at some circumstances. Good higher-ups care about people and do their best not to piss their team members off, however, I guarantee you that they always care Wall Street and the stock price more. A company is created to profit, and that’s the rule of real world.

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