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Project Management for Information Technology

Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Railing Against Project Bureaucrats

Posted by iammarchhare on 3 September 2009

Being a project manager is walking a fine line.  Many mistake project management for doing EVM, making a schedule, filling out a charter, and so on.  These are functions of a PM, but they are not the most important.

TechRepublic posted “Managing innovative projects: Don’t mistake the map for the journey” by Rick Freedman.  Freeman writes about these paper pushers who “manage” projects:

When I teach project management, I often draw a distinction between project managers and project bureaucrats. We’ve all had encounters with project managers who turned into bureaucrats. Project bureaucrats are more interested in ensuring that every step of the methodology is applied and every line of every form is filled in than in what’s actually happening on the ground. On the other hand, it’s common to meet project managers who apply minimal project methodology, yet, through their expert use of relationships and personal interactions, always seem to know exactly where the project stands.

He goes on to give an excellent example of a project failure.  That is, it was a bureaucratic failure.  Yet, the product was an ultimate success.  The product was the film Titanic.

So, how does he view being innovative while still maintaining project discipline?  You’ll need to read his article to find out.

Posted in Agile, Leadership, PM Basics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Manager and Leadership Training, Anyone?

Posted by iammarchhare on 17 August 2009

Last time, I blogged about “I Am Not a Specialist, I Am a Manager” and got some really good feedback.  I want to dig into it a little more and bring it down to a more personal level.

Indeed, why make such a fuss about it at all?  Because, IMO, companies do a poor job of preparing people for management and leadership positions.  Most seem to have the attitude that a good programmer naturally moves up and becomes either a good development manager or a good software architect.  They expect to move the person into these new roles many times without consideration of the additional skills needed.

For example, how many companies really push the people skills necessary for these positions?  Even the architect needs some skills at leadership and influencing, or they just become an overpaid developer.

How many companies really groom their people to move up any more?  Do they introduce junior team members to members in other parts of the organization?  Do they have lunches with managers and executives?  It has been my experience that building cohesion between various people in different departments and different roles tears down the “us vs. them” mentality that predominates in so many corporate cultures.

You know, it doesn’t have to be one of those silly “team building” deals, either.  It could be that a manager steps back on a non-critical portion of a project and lets a senior developer run that portion of the show.  It could be as simple as a sack lunch in a conference room.

If companies won’t look out for themselves, then the least that individuals can do is to take it upon themselves to find a business mentor.  Find someone who will take an interest in you.  Find someone who has been in your shoes.  Find someone who will introduce you to other parts of the organization.  Find someone you whose judgment you respect.  Find someone who is respected by those over, under and at the same level as they are.

One important note is to find someone who is accessible.  This has to be someone who you can contact when the chips are down.

The details will vary, but general areas that technical people really should be looking at are:

Communication: One of the most talked and written about areas and also one of the most neglected is communication.  Writing is obvious for a technical person, but oral communication is also a must.  You need to get used to communicating with a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds in formal and informal settings.  You need the ability to approach a topic on their level of understanding without talking down to them (after all, they are experts in their own areas).

Presentation skills: Closely related are skills standing up in front of a formal group and holding their attention for a predetermined amount of time.  You may need additional skills such as persuasion, logic and building an argument (in a factual manner, not being argumentative!).

Accounting skills: It is difficult to be persuasive if you cannot show the return in value for a given investment.  You don’t need to be a financial wiz, but you may need to rely upon something like net present value (NPV) for some presentations.  It will undoubtedly vary company to company and situation to situation, but you at least need to think “What is the financial benefit to the company?”

Leadership skills: How you motivate people on a daily basis sets managers apart from leaders.

  • Managers may have authority derived from a variety of sources.  Fear and intimidation have been and probably will continue to be used to motivate people to do things they otherwise would not want to do.  However, that is not a long term strategy.  Neither is “because I am the manager/expert and I said so”.  Sooner or later people will rebel, either overtly or in a passive-aggressive manner.  At best, you will wind up with people who are there to do their 40 hours and don’t care much about either the quality or the quantity of their work.
  • Leaders are often able to influence someone to not only do something but give them a positive reason to want to do it.  In fact, the best leader often taps into an individual’s creativity and has them come up with the best solution.

Networking: How well do you know who reports to whom in Marketing?  I have had this difficulty, and it caused pain on a particular project!  Do you know what they do there?  I mean, do you know any specific campaigns going on?  What about infrastructure (if you are a developer) or about development (if you are in infrastructure)?  What’s going on in those departments?

Business about the business:  How much do you, as a technical person, know about the business side of things?  IT does not exist in a vacuum.  If you are working for a manufacturing plant, how well do you know the products your company produces?  If you are working in healthcare, how well do you know the services your company or division supplies?

There are many other areas I could list: Emotional Intelligence, Federal Regulations and ISO just to name a few.  All of these will vary in importance from individual to individual, company to company and industry to industry.

On the one hand, I hope this all seems like common sense.  However, I am often surprised at how little effort is made by individuals who have been at companies for years to reach outside of their comfort zone.  Yet, this points to one of the most distinguishing characteristics of leadership: Initiative.  You cannot wait for others to give you “what you deserve”.  You’ll be setting yourself up for failure if you do that.

Posted in Leadership, Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Manager and Leadership Training, Anyone?

Management By Walking Around By Any Other Name…

Posted by iammarchhare on 24 July 2009

I have posted before about “’Hands On’ Project Management”.  This fits in real well with this topic.

Jon Emmons of Life After Coffee shared his thoughts on “Management By Walking Around”.  Basically, Management By Walking Around (MBWA) is a technique for managing people by going around, observing, chatting, etc.

What it really means to me is that you cannot manage by sitting around in your office.  You have to get your butt out of the chair occasionally and go see what is going on.  It can be tempting to just sit in the chair and shoot off the occasional email and call it “managing”, but that just isn’t particularly effective.  Get up, breathe the air, see the sights and make yourself available to your team!

One caveat: Don’t run around micromanaging everything.  If you are using this time to run around with a checklist asking, "Are you done yet?  Are you done yet?" then it will be counterproductive.  Save that for the status meetings.  The purpose of this tour is different.

The question, though, is what do you do if the team is remote?  If you can visit them, you should.  Obviously, distance will make the intervals longer, but face-to-face time can be crucial.

What you cannot do with face-to-face, you try to make up for by regular telephone conversations, video conferencing and other means of communications.

Yet, as I try to step back and view what it all really means, I realize what we are talking about in essence is something that just plain is lost on most businesses today: relationships.  People are socially geared, and they need relationships.  By constantly communicating, observing, etc, you are building a relationship.  Hopefully, you are building one of mutual respect and trust.

Posted in Leadership, People Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Keys to Successful IT Projects

Posted by iammarchhare on 9 July 2009

On 26 March 2009, TechRepublic’s Patrick Gray wrote “Five keys to successful IT projects”.  Most of these keys involve methods for grounding the project to the business side of things.

For example, under the heading “IT projects don’t exist in a vacuum”, Gray talks about how “most IT projects are awash in details.”  By keeping business objectives the main focus, however, it makes it much more likely that people will guide the project to the desired conclusion.

The section I really liked was “Decide already!”  Yesterday, I pointed out in “Seth Godin and One Thing” that you need to be able to identify the one or two things that are key to a project.  Fewer than that, and you will stagnate.  More than that, and you will run yourself and your team ragged.  The answer is to set priorities.

Of course, that means that decisions have to be made.  I’m sure that I’m not alone in that I’ve sat in meetings where no one was willing to make a decision.  The person “in charge” was too lame to either state what was really important to enable the team to actually set some priorities or too timid to champion a particular set of projects over another set and rally people to their view.  It’s the type of meeting where you contemplate whether or not slitting your wrists would be a better form of entertainment.

Gray wrote:

Nothing saps energy from a project like a drawn out decision-making process. When fifteen layers of management must be consulted, countless meetings held and a bevy of naysayers brought in whose only function is to quip why “that will never work,” you are destined to failure. Before starting a project, define how critical decisions will be resolved, who has decision-making authority and what the timeframe is for critical decisions. It is better to make an imperfect decision that moves the project forward today than to spend months vacillating and pontificating while time and money fly out the door.

I particularly like the idea that part of managing a project is to manage how decisions are made.  Often, the tendency of a PM is to view major decisions as “out there”.  The view can be that a decision must be made by “the customer”, “the sponsor”, “the CIO” or someone else outside of the core engineering team.  In all honesty, though, even if that is true, these people are stakeholders and really are not separate from the extended team.  It should be part of the change management process to determine who makes what types of decisions.

Of course, a PM must be flexible enough to provide some prodding of the process as well.  There will be times when you will just have to offer up a recommended solution and make them knock it down or approve it.  At best, the recommendation will be approved and the project can move forward.  At worst, you’ll end up with one less choice to make.  Therefore, even if they don’t like the recommendation, you’ll be one step further along.  Hopefully, by telling you why they aren’t approving the recommendation, they will provide enough insight into what they really want to come up with a better one.

In my experience, not being able to make a decision is at the root cause of most analysis paralysis.  More often than not, fear is a factor in this, and that is one of the items we’ll look at tomorrow.

Posted in Leadership, People Management, PM Basics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Seth Godin and One Thing

Posted by iammarchhare on 8 July 2009

Seth Godin had a couple of good posts last month that are worth a read.  Both are about concentrating on one or two things that make a difference.   First, you must identify the key thing you should be focused on.  Second, you must ensure you aren’t spreading yourself too thin.  The second is particularly relevant for job seekers in this economy, but there is a larger principle as well.

One post was “Ruby slippers”.  Do you know what the one thing even is that you should be concentrating on?

If you could make one thing come true that would change everything for your project, do you know what the one thing would be?

There are a lot of companies that don’t know what they want, so they inevitably fail.  Been there, done that, and it ain’t no fun!

The other post is a little longer and is about “How big is your farm?”  This one particularly hit home because of all of the “experts” that want you to get out and network here, network there, be on this social site, be on that social site and run yourself ragged for some pretty iffy payback.  Double that if you are looking for full time employment and not consulting gigs.

The number of media channels available to you keeps growing. The number of places you can spend time and money is almost endless. Yet your budget isn’t. Your time certainly isn’t.

Some people would have you spend a little time on each social network, run ads in ten or fifteen media, focus on one hundred major markets and spend time on PR and publicity in every publication willing to listen to you.

You know, it never ceases to amaze me how people react when I give them simple answers to what they perceive to be complex questions.  They are making it hard.  What do you do when customer Z wants something, but you are working on customer A’s project?  That’s easy!  Which one has the priority?  Pick one and do your best on that endeavor.  You cannot do your best work by juggling 26 different projects.  You cannot even do acceptable work by juggling 26 different projects.

I used to have a product manager that had the philosophy that you should not be afraid to fire a customer.  If the customer required too many resources, made unreasonable demands or just wasn’t living up the ROI, it’s probably time to fire that customer.  Spend your time and your money on the customers that matter.  Make sure catering to that customer brings you something you need.

Usually, it’s about this time that people get flustered and start on, “Well, how do you choose which customers don’t get what they want?”  When I respond with, “Well, what is your business strategy?”, about 90% of the time it turns out they don’t really have one.  They don’t know the ROI because they don’t know what R they want for their I.  Is it prestige?  Cash?  Other goods and services?  What return do you really need from this customer to keep from firing them?

Each of us has 24 hours in a day.  The rich don’t get more, and the poor don’t get less.  How you spend that time says a lot about your priorities.  What are your priorities?  Do you know?  Are you following through on them?

Posted in Business Strategy, Leadership | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Pet Peeve About Leadership

Posted by iammarchhare on 2 June 2009

What is a leader?  “The Army defines leadership as influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization” (AR 600-100, p1).   With over 200 years of experience, you would think the Army would know what leadership is.  What is not said is just as important as what is said.  In the Army, you are influencing people to risk their very lives to accomplish a mission.

Leadership means influence – by definition!  Please!  I don’t want to read another article about how influencing is “part of” leadership, or how “leadership” and “influencing” are both skills, or how influencing is a “sign of” leadership!

Leadership without influence is like a cake without flour.  It doesn’t exist.

Posted in Leadership | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »