In 2000, EDS, a major information technology and business firm took the term “cat herding” and ran with it for this fantastic super bowl commercial, but what does cat herding mean?
The term is used to draw a parallel between cats, who are inherently independent and difficult to control, and IT workers, who are inherently independent and difficult to control. Anyone with a cat of their own probably has a good idea what I’m talking about. In a more broad sense, herding cats refers to getting different people or groups to coordinate on a goal.
Herding cats implies the futility inherent in a position as an IT manager.
In a modern IT shop it is quite literally impossible for a manager to know everything about their employees’ jobs and I believe that is the main cause of this precieved futility. To try to understand and control everything your employees are doing is just as bound to fail as trying to get your cat to come when you call its name. The good IT managers know it, the best ones embrace it.
So what is an IT manager to do? I think effective cat herding boils down to just these three things…
Hire good people
Get them the resources they need to do their jobs
Protect them from the politics and metawork as much as possible
Remember, cat herding (IT management) isn’t about your own goals or job fulfillment, it’s about allowing your employees to reach their full potential.
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Trivial or unnecessary work done to avoid having to perform the real task at hand while simultaneously taking the credit for it.
In the business world, metawork often manifests itself in the form of meetings, mission statements, project planning, or anything else that lets a person become part of the team without actually doing something productive.
I use metawork in a similar sense to refer to work which, though necessary, does not directly result in progress toward project goals. Meetings, project charters, evaluations and timecards all fall into the category of metawork.
Most middle management spends the bulk of their time doing metawork. Ideally this minimizes the amount of metawork their employees must do maximizing the amount of time employees can spend on actual work.
A situation where there are two things, each of which are dependant upon the other in order to exist, thus causing the paradoxical question of which came (or must come) first. Derived from the question “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Example: You need experience to get a job; however you need a job to get experience.
Origin: Jon Graton, Plymouth State University; Plymouth, NH
Pocket Religion n.
A strong belief which arises in a small, isolated group. The strength of this belief is often caused and always enhanced by the isolation. Typically the idea is one which would be proven less significant or even false within a larger scope.
Origin: Ken Kochien, Plymouth State University; Plymouth, NH