Managing Without Managers

Anarchy - I don't think that word means what you think it means.

Managing Without Managers

A highly misunderstood word in the political lexicon is the word 'anarchy'. Of course it brings to mind precisely the image above.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchy is the absence of rulers, not the absence of rules, not even the absence of heirarchy. And it can be peaceful, joyful and productive. Don't believe me? Just take a look at Open Source. Rules, no rulers, peaceful, joyful, productive.

Open Source is anarchic in design. Yes projects have leaders but that's not the defining feature of anarchy. The defining feature of anarchy is freedom from coercion. In Open Source this is provided via the freedome to 'fork' the project and run it your way.

As we saw in our Politics For Nerds series, our workplaces are inherently coercive. And this coercion is mostly delivered via the keepers of the order – the managers. And so envisioning an org without managers is akin to envisioning an anarchy. It can be scary when the principles are not well understood.

I have often told new managers that there is no such thing as engineering management. There is merely the work to be done and the leverage provided by a team. Everything else — Scrum, 1:1, cadence, etc —  is Scripture, in that it points to a truth but is not the truth itself.

In this short series I'll be talking about various approaches to reducing management overhead in your orgs so that engineering management can be just engineering.