Monthly Archives: October 2009

Greyface Management

no no no“On arrival we will stay in dock for a seventy-two hour refit, and no one’s to leave the ship during that time. I repeat, all planet leave is cancelled. I’ve just had an unhappy love affair, so I don’t see why anybody else should have a good time. Message ends.”
(Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

Grey is not just a color — it’s an attitude. There is a management style that I refer to as “Greyface Management”. The term is loosely based on the “Curse of Greyface“, an important concept of Discordianism.

Greyface Management is characterized by a total absence of fun. Everything is prohibited: free speech, sarcasm and parties. And there is no praise for good work, either. Never. In fact, a Greyface Manager’s motto is: “Praise is the absence of punishment”. A Greyface Manager typically wears a grey suit (mentally, at least) and an annoyed look on his face — he is a humorless bureaucrat, akin to a member of the Vogon race.

The presence of Greyface Management is not just unpleasant — it is a sign of serious trouble. A manager who uses this kind of management style in a software shop openly confesses that he doesn’t have a clue about software development in general and “Peopleware” (that is, developers) in particular. Now, it is a well-known fact that most software managers can’t manage (a subject well-worth exploring; I will certainly revisit this topic in future posts) but many software managers are aware of their limitations and successfully use techniques such that productive work is still possible under their reign. A Greyface Manager, on the other hand, hasn’t reached that level of sophistication and uses the worst-possible approach: oppression.

Humor is very important for software developers, especially “creative” humor that requires “out-of-the-box” thinking — that’s the very reason why programmers usually love Monty Python and Dilbert. Sarcasm and inside jokes help keeping the team knit together, so it’s not always a bad sign if developers make jokes about testers and sales people (and vice versa). And, dear Greyface Manager, what use are conforming “yes-sayers” that work to the rule, anyway?