Joe Mosby's blog

Good management is measured in years

Excellent management is measured in years, not days or weeks.

A few years back, the Journal of Managerial Science released a study outlining how video game Civilization could be a useful predictor of management ability. The researchers called attention to the game's ability to predict an individual's skill in organizing and planning and problem-solving, two of the key dimensions in solid management. I think there's even more to it than that.

It's pretty tough to know if you're a good manager based on a single week. Most performance in a single week is just tied to the individual contributors reporting up to you, the ones actually shipping code. If it's a vacation week, performance goes down. If it's a random week of February where everyone's in the office because the weather sucks, then performance goes up. These things are not representative of management ability - they're just statistical fluctuations.

Real management ability is demonstrated over time. Are you consistently organized to hit goals, and you do so month after month? Are your people excited to work with you, or are they churning out? Do you hire great people who work well with the rest of the team? It's impossible to know these in a single week or month.

And there's also the question of how you deal with curveballs. What happens when upper management totally shifts the roadmap, or a major service provider goes bankrupt? How do you adapt? Were you prepared to adapt?

I think this is why Civilization is such a good predictor of performance. It's a broad, open world where you have to plan, you have to influence the terrain, and you also have to deal with curveballs. The choices you make in the early game influence your ability to compete in the late game. You have to take risks. Sometimes those risks don't pan out. You won't get feedback on your choices until long, long after you've made them.

The only way to know is to try, and wait, and learn, and adapt, and keep trying again.