5 deadly sins of management overhead

Will Kelly
4 min readDec 21, 2021
Photo by Razvan Chisu on Unsplash

I coined the term management overhead when I was working in a highly politicized environment. VP level management became obstructions to productivity. In some cases, I was on project teams where VPs and directors outnumbered the people who could do the work. Here’s what I like to call the 5 deadly sins of management overhead:

1. Me before thee and project success

One of the deadliest sins of management overhead is a manager putting themselves ahead of the team and their projects to further themselves in the eyes of the out-of-touch executives above them.

Years ago, I worked with a retired United States Army drill instructor. He was all about the mission (the project), the team (our project team), and then the individual (the project team member). The man lived and breathed the United States Army ethos well into his retirement. Unfortunately, as I saw too many times in my technical writer career, the working world rarely went that way.

When managers put themselves before projects, it usually starts with self-created drama and crises they cause to portray themselves as indispensable to the executives above them. They commit random acts of project sabotage, then tell tales to the executives above them about their bravado as a leader and firefighter.

2. Micromanagement

There’s not much new that I can add about micromanagement — one of the deadlier sins of management overhead — except that I have to monitor my behavior closely and what I say back to the micromanager.

There are those non-writing managers who want to micromanage content creation. God loves them. They lumber into content work to put their stamp on them to hell with conciseness and proper grammar. Creating content should be a crisp straight line. Micromanagers make it a sloppy circle drawn in crayon.

My respect drops precipitously for micromanagers. It’s hard for me to take them seriously because their insecurity gets in the way of team productivity and my penchant for getting things done. Yup, while the rest of the world has to deal with micromanagers damaging their self-esteem, they just make me cranky. I also tend to tune them out, which, of course, never serves me well politically.

I’ve read all the articles about micromanagement. The business world needs more information about micromanagement that targets the managers of those micromanagers. There has to be some way to screen them out during the interview process.

3. Kudzu, as a school of management thought

Kudzu is an invasive weed that gets into everything. Some managers can be as invasive as this weed out there. Like micromanagement, management kudzu shows up in places where the typical manager would never think to go, such as content creation. They want to prove their relevance to the people above them.

Nobody can be talented at everything; management kudzu ends up tangling up entire projects and teams where the manager might be best left to clearing away blockers for the project team, but unfortunately, ego, hubris, and incompetence can be the worst blockers of all. There’s nothing like having to edit a manager’s edits because they’ve introduced more mistakes than value as they bulldozed through a document review.

4. The not so gentle sounds of sucking up

Yet another sin of management overhead is the people who suck up to the micromanagers. Some do it out of a survival instinct. Some do it because they don’t know any better. Whether these people are suffering from dysfunctional workplace Stockholm Syndrome or are just trying to unlock their next level in the Peter Principle.

The suck-ups aim to become management overhead: the next generation mimics the poor excuses above them. I had a former coworker once who became one of these suck-ups. This person was OK to work with, but a little needy. They were somebody who always had to ask for help on their projects when we were both at the same level. Their new job title went to their head. I was supposed to work for this person after a corporate re-org. As an individual contributor — with few dependencies on others — I just kept my mouth shut when this person had questions. This person burnt bridges with me and some others for no better reason than their ego. Organizations lose when knowledgeable individual contributors (ICs) stop going the extra step to help their coworkers.

I, Me, and My become the corporate voice

The pursuit of a corporate voice or POV seems to bring out the worst of management overhead. Inside every PowerPoint Ranger of a manager is a would-be yet bloviating storyteller screaming to get out.

Managers who toss out I, me, and my so liberally are usually the last to document corporate voice and other content decisions or so I’ve seen over the years. I like to ask them to document the decision for future reference. Not surprisingly, none of them have ever followed through.

Management: Remove the blocker. Don’t be the blocker!

Will Kelly is a content and product marketer. His career includes time spent as a technical writer working on client projects for commercial and public sector clients. Will’s articles about DevOps and cloud have been published by TechTarget, InfoQ, InfoWorld, and Opensource.com. Follow him on Twitter: @willkelly.