Entire generation of IT managers set to lose jobs as frugal companies embrace automation(?)

IT managers need to upskill to survive.

Last week a good friend of mine wrote to me –
“Shiv, I see an article in today’s ET about management roles being made redundant – pl refer the link – can a PMP in any way tackle this? http://bit.ly/1o7l2XL”

It had an interesting headline:
Entire generation of IT managers set to lose jobs as frugal companies embrace automation

My first reaction was that of surprise. That was a pretty strong title I thought, but represented entire decade of Indian IT scenario in one single sentence.

(Hence the exact same title for this article.)

That news article talked about the latest trend in Indian IT companies. These companies are automating most of manual jobs that IT managers are doing and then letting the managers go.

This immediately raises three questions if you are a manager in IT company –

  1. What kind of manual jobs are these managers doing
  2. What is the main reason behind this move
  3. Whether this affects me, if so what is the way out?

Here’s an attempt to find out the answers.

First, the genesis of the problem

Let us rewind few years, may be a decade or so, and look at the Indian IT scenario.

Most of the Indian IT companies were doing pretty low level work, which a decade earlier had continued with data entry, Y2K, legacy system porting and that sort of work. Few companies saw the need to move up the value chain and slowly started getting into ‘product development services’, Research and Development (even captive units) and such.

They were in the minority though.

Lower end work was still available easily, other low-cost Asian countries still weren’t ahead on the curve with their English speaking workforce so the business model was still working.

Add to this the size of some of these companies. 50K, 60K and much more employees (mostly Engineers) were recruited by the hoards. 3 months of training and make them ‘billable’ – was the mantra.

This meant that the low level of work force pyramid needed supervisors, or Leads. Many of them. What was the easiest way?

The Halo effect.

Get smart techies and move them up the hierarchy, make them Leads. Sure, this meant they had to spend as much as 50-70% of their time training, helping, assisting and mentoring juniors on technical front (and in some cases end up doing their work) AND do some of administrative work to help project managers (billing, excel sheet planning, status reporting), assist in client calls for technical topics AND do with their part of technical work with whatever time was remaining.

The topping? There were hardly formally trained to do their job effectively and efficiently.

As this work schedule soon became the norm, these people soon found themselves at a fork.

Either go ahead and become project managers (grow up in the hierarchy) or branch out and get ahead in technical stream.

This, mind you, was at a time when growth potential in pure techncial stream was relatively lesser than in managerial stream (one technical architect can manage multiple projects, right?)

Now to be fair to them, some of these Leads found that they liked ‘managing’ better than technical work. So naturally when promotion came along they were glad to be Project Managers. And for some it was a choice to move into management stream as it had more potential for quicker growth. And for some, they had come so far in the Lead role that although they’d liked technical stream, going back to it now seemed like a step backwards compared to their peers getting promoted to be managers.

Whatever the reason was, we started having more managers than senior technical people. Well, industry demanded it, right?

Now, as company grows the only way to manage it is to have policies and tools and systems that bring in some predictability into the system.

At what cost?

At the cost of losing the ability to take and implement quick decisions, do quicker course correction and be nimble on their feet.

Well, many people (few that I know personally) moved away at this juncture in their career and joined smaller companies or start-ups, where they could spend majority of their time in technical work that they liked and still get some exposure to management role.

They, whether they realized or not, made a choice back then that in today’s scenario is protecting them.

They moved ahead as techo-managers, technical heads, or product managers in their career.

In many big companies IT managers are reduced to playing with in-house intranet based tools essentially doing jobs that does not demand much of grey cells. Work allocation and reallocation, leave approvals, quarterly/half-yearly/yearly performance related ratings, reviews and discussions, innumerable authorization cycles and follow-ups, policy discussions – endless hours spent in these activities leave little time for real work that adds value to company’s or customer’s bottom-line.

The fact that most of the people in bigger cities have 2-5 hrs of work commute every day, does not help the cause.

The final nail – customers usually do not agree to pay for manager’s work/efforts.

This kind of work can be automated easily, and companies don’t need a high paying project manager to do them.

This ‘automation’ is exactly targeted for these managers, and this fact is evident from the following sentences from the report –
“..automation is beginning to replace monitoring roles,…”
“..Earlier this year, his company automated the entire process of deploying staff across different customer projects using a single dashboard.”

What is the way ahead for IT Managers?

As one can imagine, a project manager’s job is much more than “people allocation” or attending mindless meetings.

A seasoned project manager can help avoid many mistakes that new customers are making in their effort to build software product, or IT infrastructure, or whatever else the project is about – by their sheer experience gathered over the years.

They can be part of product development effort, bring in predictability into the management process with proven estimation practices, tracking processes, providing technical oversight, being able to weigh in project success factors using latest technologies versus proven stable technologies, and also being responsible for constant course correction to project, thereby increasing the chances of its success.

And nothing can prepare people in a well-rounded aspects of project management than a professional course such as PMP (or other similar ones).

If you are already a PMP certified professional, or preparing to be one – these are probably most exciting times.

If you are still on the fence about PMP (or PMI-ACP) or any certification course that helps you hone your skills on the job, now you know what is possible! So, take action now and make a positive change in your career.

Image courtesy: h-k-d

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