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Don't Blame the Engineers

Several recent spectacular management failures call into doubt the ability of nontechnical managers to supervise the complex engineered systems for which they are increasingly responsible. However, the author of this article believes effective generalist managers in technical fields need to understand the risks faced and must sufficiently grasp the technology to effectively "talk the talk" with their staff and colleagues.

To accomplish this, he contends that managers should focus relentlessly on key corporate priorities, continuously measuring employee performance to emphasize these crucial metrics. The author also recommends establishing official and unofficial pathways for collecting unfiltered and accurate information -- in particular, by developing a "back channel" of direct personal contact with one or two trusted technical staff with real insight into the unvarnished truth. In the end, the author contends, an insistence on facts rigorously applied, along with a cultivation of a "push back" culture that encourages people to raise concerns must underlie the commitments a technical organization makes. In this way, the author insists, a healthy organization can effectively handle both routine activities and serious crises regardless of who's in charge.

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