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What Managers Need From Direct Report Managers

This document is written for organisations that are essentially “professional”: that is the staff are well educated, work in areas that laypersons know little about and largely work from SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). Such organisations frequently have budgets dominated by headcounts and salaries implying that financial performance is not fine enough to be useful for day-to-day management. Nor is most of the work “project oriented” where the projects have controllable budgets.

Key issues for managers are Achievement and Accountability and this applies at all levels.

Alignment to Corporate Strategy

All managers are focussed on achieving the targets clearly stated in the corporate strategy.

For Software Development our contribution is covered in the “Our One Goal” document.

The company is a team and as team players we must perfect the set plays, allow for flair and provide support and cover for other parts of the company.

Co-operation and co-ordination is essential and the key is communication.

Your role must be documented clearly in terms of goals and processes.

Your role is to achieve these agreed goals.

There is no room for politics and internal competition. TOC


The key to effective communication is to be “open” – that is to tell anyone who may need to know what is happening on your patch. Using email having well-maintained email lists helps address this issue.

Alert your senior manager to what they probably need to know and make the detail available to them if they choose to look further. If in doubt about their need to know tell them anyway.

It is best to discuss what will be happening – then all can be comfortable about the direction you are moving in before resource is spent.

[Email: Take care to use “To:” for persons who you expect to act on the email and “Cc:” for those who just need to be kept informed. Do not use “Bcc:” as this will lead to an atmosphere of mistrust.] TOC


Once a senior manager has confidence that all is planned and is happening to plan then they can relax feeling assured that their goals which are an amalgamation of your goals will be met.

Confidence arises from a demonstrated track record – a history of reliable delivery. TOC


Communication is critical if hands-off management is to flourish. Everyone should feel that they know all that they need to know.

Care must be taken when there is “dotted line” reporting or when internal service functions are carried out. In these cases it is even more critical that SOPs exist and are followed.

Broken communications lead to lack of confidence, then mistrust and then micro-management. TOC

No Surprises

A corollary of giving managers professional freedom is the doctrine of “No Surprises”. The senior manger should be apprised in advance of any significant risks so that if failures arise there was adequate warning.

“No Surprises” is normally addressed by simply keeping the senior manager informed by “cc:” on emails; by including items in agendas of regular meetings; and by responding openly to non-specific verbal requests such as “Anything else we need to discuss?” particularly at “StandUp” (informal) meetings.

Failure to meet a No Surprises standard of communication will result in more scrutiny and consequently accusations of “micro-management”. TOC


A key issue is for a manager to monitor all normal tasks so that if anything unusual happens it is noticed as early as possible.

This implies that monitoring processes are built into SOPs (or associated SOPs) and exceptions are reported.

Where possible SOPs should have auditability built in – otherwise a separate audit process must be available.

Statements such as “The Build never fails” must be validated by reporting the build failures until it is clear that the Build does fail only very infrequently (and then by ensuring a person able to respond is automatically advised of any now known-to-be-infrequent failures). TOC


All key performance indicators and at risk activities must be measured regularly as part of normal SOPs.

Thus SLAs (Service Level Agreements) adopted by the company must have measurement and reporting. If the incidence of failure is significant then analysis is required to find out why the problems arise with a view to changing resourcing or process and hence SOPs so that the failure incidence is greatly reduced or even that the opportunity for failure is removed altogether.

Alternatively a tool is implemented so that issues can be addressed before they lead to pain.

A key point of measurement is to track “Continuous Improvement” – that a series of changes, maybe only “tweaks”, show our performance is getting better and better – from “As Is”, to “Should Be” and to “Best In Class”. TOC


All activities except modest housekeeping tasks are to be planned.

The plan should be visible to all relevant parties particularly the senior manager who will then expect regular reporting against the plan.

The Plan should always be a distinct document (possibly of 1 page only). Any such planned item should have enough detail that it is clear what the Outcome is intended to be and what the Outputs will be. The Outcome and Purpose (and in particular the Scope) must be agreed before significant resource is committed. This document (sometimes called a Charter) always requires approval by the senior manager unless driven by a standard customer service strategy. A special case is Proof-Of-Concept activities which may be constrained by resource and for which “scope” is removing uncertainty, risk or ambiguity.

Outputs or Deliverables are to be measured for Effectiveness (was it what was asked for?), Efficiency (did it use only the planned resources?), Timeliness (was it delivered on time?) and Quality.

Plans should indicate the resource requirements and a consolidation of all such plans will be required to show overall resource utilisation.

Plans at one level of management are to be amalgamated to the next level and hence must be “passed up”. TOC


In this environment meetings can be primarily communication sessions or design/thinking sessions.

Meetings should be advised by timely creation in the OutLook Calendar.

The senior manager should always be invited although frequently “Optional”.

The meeting should have an agenda document (or a list of relevant documents).

The discussion in the meeting should always be documented and copied (or made visible) to attendees and the senior manager. TOC

SOPs need Agreement and Monitoring

SOPs document “best practice”. As such they need to be discussed widely and agreed.

It must always be possible to “prove” that staff followed SOPs. SOPs must be auditable (or a separate audit procedure implemented).

This is best done by having many of the roles in the processes visible to or actually shared by other team members. TOC

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