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The Officers vs. Sergeants Syndrome

Filed Under Human Factors

Army Soldier

Many managers do not have the needed “ground-level” project visibility to make good command decisions.

I would argue that most managers do not recognize this fact, and consequently bark ridiculous orders that do not make common sense. More pragmatic managers [aware of their detachment] consult lead developers and just end up echoing their opinions. This is what I call the Officers vs. Sergeants Syndrome.

While in the military, one social anti-pattern I regularly recognized was a divide between the two parallel sets of leaders – officers and sergeants.

Officers were often miles away from the fight, unable to have necessary “ground-level” eyes on the battlefield. However, officers understood the larger view of the battlefield. They coordinated between other companies and strike forces, and made decisions at a different level.

Sergeants, on the other hand, were in the trenches. They were handing out beans and bullets to the boys that fought. More importantly, they had a narrow but focused “eyes-on” view of the battlefield. The sergeant had the hardest job of the military – decipher the larger orders of officers, but make practical decisions that fit the current battlefield.

So imagine this, an officer barks over the radio “Attack the SW hill – ASAP”. What is the objective of doing so? What if we know in 30 seconds it will be a better time to attack? What if doing so would be suicide?

Pulling back into an office world, your Project Manager (an officer) barks an order “I need the demo project done in 2 weeks”. It is the responsibility of the Lead Developer (a sergeant) to fully understand the larger objective of this request and act appropriately for both the business and the team.

Each software team’s leadership roles needs to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Officers will probably not be able to make quality team decisions because of lack of visibility. Sergeants are better equipped to make team decisions, but do not have the visibility to make decisions which determine larger business factors. In short – know your role – and you can attack each role’s weaknesses with teamwork and new processes.

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4 Responses to “The Officers vs. Sergeants Syndrome”

  1. clipfiles » The Officers vs. Sergeants Syndrome on November 19th, 2007 3:59 am

    […] more here […]

  2. Jeremy N on November 20th, 2007 8:03 am

    Someone once told me “the sum of the whole is greater then the sum of the parts.” This is a great quote talking about playing off of each others strengths and filling in others weaknesses. If you have great officers and sergeants the amount of quality output far surpasses a team with an important missing link.

  3. on November 20th, 2007 1:00 pm

    The Officers vs. Sergeants Syndrome

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  4. » Blog Archive » The Officers vs. Sergeants Syndrome on December 28th, 2008 6:11 am

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