Break free or be broken: Escape from management hell

One by one, the developers slip away at a company where the execs mismanage employees, funds, and customer relationships

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You have to wonder how any C-level exec would think that micromanaging employees, mismanaging funds, and allowing confusion to reign is an effective way to run a business. But as I found out for myself, delusions persist.

Having never tried a developer job in health care, I accepted a position at a small departmental offshoot. The location was many states away from headquarters -- as it turned out, far enough away from corporate oversight that mismanagement was allowed to run amok.

I arrived my first day excited about the possibilities, looking forward to the job, and ready to make a difference. Well, the honeymoon ended as I soon became acquainted with the micromanaging and mismanaging from the location's Head Honchos.

A war of attrition

Within eight months of my hire, the original team of four began to disintegrate. First, my manager left -- or, rather, was pushed out by the Head Honchos for reasons undisclosed. I was sorry to see him go, as he was quite experienced and good to work for. Two weeks after, the other experienced developer quit, leaving a junior developer and myself.

We were maintaining a claims processing application that had a million lines of code -- very poorly written, at that. The two of us were essentially doing at least five jobs: developer, infrastructure, operations, build and deployment, and at times business analyst. Gone were my dreams of making a huge difference. Now I was putting in long hours to cover as many of the basics as possible.

But it wasn't the vast amount of work expected of us that took its toll; it was also the lack of strategic decision-making and planning and the utter disregard for our time and efforts.

For example, I attended a meeting with three of the company's business analysts to discuss a new initiative. They were supposed to be very knowledgeable about the given topic, but they argued and disagreed on how it was supposed to work and frequently gave conflicting answers, causing even more chaos and confusion than usual. The VP chairing the meeting didn't seem to know how to get anything accomplished or keep the discussion on track, and hours were wasted. We left the meeting no farther along with the proposed initiative than when we began.

Troubleshooting the troubleshooting

Then there was the approach to troubleshooting. Inevitably, the application we maintained would have problems, as would the procedures to deal with it. The Head Honchos' reaction was initially of the sky-is-falling variety. But raising the alarm and calling a meeting seemed to be the extent of their solution.

No production monitoring was in place, and nobody understood why features would fail. When the junior developer and I would meet with the required parties, we discussed what the Head Honchos and analysts thought went wrong -- but the facts spoke otherwise. Emergency changes we proposed were shot down, and we left the meeting with no resolutions, over and over again.

In case we didn't already want to scream and run for the exit, the micromanagement reached levels I'd never before seen. We felt like marionettes with a deranged puppeteer at the helm, pulled from one direction to the next with no rhyme or reason and no say at all.

The Head Honchos had absolutely no idea about technology but wanted to be involved at all levels. They would throw out buzzwords left and right with mixed messages about their use. Then they'd demand, "Is it done?" We'd ask, "What are you talking about -- is what done?"

The rest of the conversation always felt something like this: "You know, the thing we didn't ask you to work on, or state when we wanted it deployed." "Oh, that thing. No, we never got the message that you failed to send us."

Not one lesson learned

I'd already started on an exit plan from the company when a colleague overheard that annual merit increases were on hold due to overpayment of SLA breeches. The Head Honchos confirmed this and made the announcement that people would need to work even more hours every week with no increase in pay for at least two years.

When I handed in my resignation, the Head Honchos called me in to discuss it. I told them the overall reason was the level of micromanagement. They then asked me if I knew of anyone who didn't have a problem with that kind of management and who could replace me. Seriously?

The surprising part of it all was that the Head Honchos didn't seem to think there was anything wrong. Employee retention was poor, the products were subpar, and money was so tight the business didn't always pay its utility bills on time. Still they had the attitude that it was all business as usual.

During my final two weeks, the junior developer had already had three interviews and was considering quitting even without another job lined up. Walking through the exit for the last time felt like I was waking from a nightmare. And waking up was bliss.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.