A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
— Liberty Hyde Bailey
Through most of my management career, I have thought of managing Engineering teams as akin to managing a sports team. As I pointed out in my columns on analogies (here and here), sports is one of my two “go to” analogy categories . This comparison works pretty well, as there is an aspect of coaching, an aspect of building the team (which in many sports is the purview of the General Manager) and an aspect of “observe and correct” to both sports and the management of technology teams. There are additional similarities in that the coach in sports is generally not an active player, although most were decent practitioners in the past.
I still think that this is a solid way to think about management, but of late, I have come up with an analogy that I believe is an even better fit. I have decided that managing Engineers is more like the task of managing a garden. Analogies are like theories – the better their explanatory power over a wide range of data, the better they are. I’ll explain below why the gardening analogy is a better one. By the way, I think that the reason that it took many years for me to get to this analogy is that gardening is one of the least satisfying activities for me personally .
So why is gardening a good analogy for management? For me, it’s because flowers know how to do their primary task, which is to grow and look beautiful, but they need nurturing to maximize their impact. The flowers need to be arranged in a way that maximizes their effectiveness, they need fairly constant monitoring and feeding, and they need to be freed of unhealthy impediments (weeds) that hamper their progress. But, at the end of the day, they know how to do “their thing”. In the final result (a beautiful garden), it is the flowers that shine and this is how it should be. However, everyone knows that without the gardener’s care and feeding, the garden wouldn’t be as beautiful. It is a great symbiotic relationship between the talent and their caretakers, which I think is a healthy way to think about managers and Engineers.
I’ll talk more about this later, but in the meantime, I’m hoping you’ll try this on for size and I’m hoping that if you can see yourself as a gardener, you will become a better, more nurturing manager.
This post is based on or excerpted from the upcoming book “De-Engineering the Corporation” by Darryl Ricker
 This is not the first time I have used the term “Go to” in my blog – my technical brethren will understand why I shouldn’t :).
 My grandfather, who was one of my heroes, loved to garden and perhaps I will develop that passion one day, but it hasn’t hit me yet.