Tech Management: Clean The Refrigerator From The Top Down, Not The Bottom Up

I rarely clean the entire refrigerator.  Sometimes I will pull a bunch of stuff out and clean a particular row, and sometimes I will go as far as get a sponge out and clean up a little more or so.  But the refrigerator was looking quite sad and there was all kinds of sap and gook at the bottom, so I decided on the spur of the moment to just start cleaning.  Of course at the bottom, if it is real dirty, that is that is the worst part.  I got through the entire bottom level, got the entire area white and glossy.  That’s when I realized, of boy, I should have started cleaning the refrigerator from the top down, not the bottom up.  As I would clean the next levels, dirt would run down into the bottom.  I thought, wow, this is analogous to fixing technology and technology management in particular.

Start At The Top

If you want to fix a major problem in a technology company or technology division, you have to start at the top.  I am talking about a structural problem. Structural problems can be hard or soft.   By hard I mean it is a real technology problem.   This can be that the entire division uses outdated technology or bug-filled code.  By soft I mean a management issue, where something is wrong and it is a people problem.  Often division leaders or executives get together and discuss a problem, and then they of course send out their minions to go fix the problem, but quite often the management does not fix themselves.  They usually ask others to go and fix the biggest problem, but sometimes that problem is more about leadership than a technical fix.  Let’s face it, most management are quite frankly the least likely to change, because they are not new to issues, they have been around a while and their experience can be what got them where they are, but experience quite often can hold them back (we don’t know what we don’t know).  But sometimes to fix a serious problem they have to have the will to change, and if they don’t they could be technically damaging the company, because very few companies will quickly remove management.  They will move people at the bottom around, middle managers around to try to solve an issue, but having an executive change, that is a difficult task.

Rocks Vs. Boulders

Every technology project has its small issues to accomplish and its large issues.  Early on big issues and big software are easier to write.  As the company, especially an Internet company, gets bigger it becomes more and more difficult to abandon systems for newer ones.  Every app that has been written becomes obsolete, but many technology people don’t want to let go.  Why should they?  That is the issue.  What is good for the company/business/organization, is not always what is good for the individual.   And I could be wrong about certain situations where the management is terrific and the bottom half is where there is a problem, but honestly the top is where you should start and look hard first in solving a hard or soft issue.

Stay Below The Radar

What all technology people want is for things to go smoothly.  Change of course is not easy, so staying out of sight is often the best strategy.  So, back to the concept of cleaning from the top of the refrigerator…  If you want an entire organization to change their attitude, not only does it have to start at the top, but the top must take his own medicine.   Much easier to lead by doing than by just being a talking head.

Clean Often, And Learn

Now, will I ever clean the refrigerator again, who knows?  It is like a brand new refrigerator now.  Will I get the inertia to do this next time it gets to the point of no return.  I can’t say?  What I can say is next time you look at your refrigerator, if you work in technology, hopefully you will remember this analogy, and instead of working on all these small pieces at the bottom of the technology, you will take a look at the higher level first.