Random Acts of IT Project Management

Project Management for Information Technology

Posts Tagged ‘Management’

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.

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

I Am Not a Specialist, I Am a Manager

Posted by iammarchhare on 14 August 2009

There is a rank in the Army called “Specialist”.  There used to be about 3 levels: Specialist 4th Class, Specialist 5th Class, Specialist 6th Class (pretty rare), but by the time I entered, they were phasing out all but the “Spec 4” class.  The numbers, if you didn’t catch it, reflected the paygrade, so that’s why they don’t start with “1”.  Therefore, a Spec 4 and a Corporal are both “E-4” paygrade and make roughly the same amount of money (with some variation for years of service, etc.).

In many ways, it parallels the business world.  You go to “boot camp” or “basic training” (high school) to learn general things, then you go on to “advanced individual training” (college) to learn your craft.  However, when you come out, you are still basically a generalist.  Sure, your job title is well defined, but you are only expected to have a general level of proficiency in all tasks.  As you evolve, you learn more about your particular function and become a “specialist” or “Specialist”.

So, why was the Army doing away with most of the Specialist ranks?  For one thing, a “Specialist” is not a noncommissioned officer (NCO).  Therefore, in many enlisted members’ eyes, the Specialist had no real authority (even though that wasn’t strictly true, but the attitude was still prevalent).  However, an even more disturbing factor was that the Specialist concentrated so much on honing their skills for their particular job specialty that they often, intentionally or unintentionally, neglected their leadership skills.

I used to joke that I was a jack of all trades and master of none.  There is a particular truth to that statement, though.  I have a broad range of experience, even within IT.  That means I know only so much about many different areas.  I am not a specialist.

However, that’s not really a bad thing.  I do know a little about a lot of things.  That makes me a better manager.  I can talk to a network guy about IP addresses.  I can talk to the tester about user interface issues.  I can talk to the developer about classes.  I have setup LANs in computer labs and businesses.  I have assisted with testing.  I have done quite a bit of programming.  I no longer am, if indeed I ever was, an expert in any of these.  To be a manager, though, I don’t have to be.  That is why I have the specialists, the subject matter experts, to help advise on technical matters.

I think people have a tendency to pigeon-hole others.  I have a certificate that says I am a “project management professional”.  Does that make me a specialist?  I hope not.  I would argue that there are unique skills for being a project manager, yet any “manager”, if they are to be effective, must be much more of a generalist than a specialist.  In spite of what some people seem to think (and, sadly some are PMPs), it takes no real talent or ability to plug an EVM formula into a spreadsheet and update it weekly.  It’s what you do with that information that’s important.  It’s whether or not the project is successful that’s important, and that may take many different skills and may even be different for every project.

Posted in Management, PMP | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Which Relationships Really Matter?

Posted by iammarchhare on 8 April 2009

Let’s not overlook the obvious

I was reading a TechRepublic article “Everyone matters a little but not everyone matters a lot” in the IT Leadership section by Benny Sisko today with some interest.  His main point was overcoming his desire to be liked by everyone around him.  Some relationships matter more than others.  To sum up, he had learned to prioritize those relationships, and he shared his reasoning behind the prioritization.

So, I wrote an article on Associated Content called “Prioritizing Relationships in a Rocky Economy“.  Are you concentrating on the ones that really matter?

Posted in Economy, Employment | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Which Relationships Really Matter?

Why I am Still a Geek

Posted by iammarchhare on 3 April 2009

Why Being a Techie is a Positive Thing

The other day, I posted about how I’m a Geek! out of frustration with receiving spam emails for all sorts of “opportunities” that have nothing to do with IT or project management.  Yesterday, I posted in the article Don’t Try to Get a Job which included a blurb about how IT project managers are rather independent, which is likely due to being tried by difficult circumstances.

Is this contradictory?  I think not.

If you have read my post about The Most Important Project Management Skill, then you realize, IT or not, a project manager must first of all be a good manager.  Often, the project manager requires even more skills because the people working on the project do not report directly to the PM.

Geeks are not nerds.  Some people are very smart, very bright but socially don’t express themselves well and do not wish to.  Nerds are sometimes inclined technically.  Geeks, however, are technically inclined but also know how to communicate their ideas and vision to others.  Geeks may or may not make good managers, but nerds do not.

Project management is so much more than running the latest earned value calculations or updating MS Project.

This brings me to a topic that people often disagree on.  Should a project manager be an expert in the field they are working in?  Usually, PMs will move up through the ranks, so it isn’t a question.  However, I have seen a construction PM oversee an IT project.  The skills are transferable.  However, is it desirable?

I would at least think it would be desirable that a PM overseeing an IT project have a technical background.  Likewise, I would not feel comfortable overseeing a construction project.  However, should that stop me from overseeing a wireless communications project?  Honestly, I don’t think it should.

The PM relies upon the subject matter experts (SMEs) to get the work done.  If they don’t know their job, it will fail unless they can be swapped out for others who know it better.  SMEs know how to get it done and how long it takes.  That’s why they are the experts.

It will take some extra effort for the PM to reorient themselves, but if the project manager has been in technology for a while, he or she should be used to changes by now.  How fast do operating systems change?  How long does hardware really last?  Anyone in a technical field should be used to constant change.

If you are stuck in a rut, consider branching out.  If you haven’t programmed in a while, blow the dust off of Visual Studio.  If you already know .NET, open up Eclipse and take it for a drive.  Expand your horizons.  If you came up doing software, volunteer for a small infrastructure project.  Building your skill set not only helps your team and company, but it makes you more valued by the company and by the project teams you work with.

Let’s face it: In today’s job environment, every little bit helps.

Posted in PM Basics, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Why I am Still a Geek

The Most Important Project Management Skill

Posted by iammarchhare on 30 March 2009

The often overlooked skill that every PM needs

What skill is essential for project managers?  Is it EVM?  Is it using MS Project?  Is it creating a WBS?  No, it is none of these.

Many people have a misconception of what a project manager does.  Unfortunately, many of these may themselves be project managers.  If you believe that playing with spreadsheets and MS Project schedules are all that is required, then it is time to sit up and take notice.  If your idea of project management is running around with a notepad checking up on people’s tasks every couple of hours, then perhaps you need to step back and give that some reconsideration.

A project manager is responsible for quite a few things.  Since many came up through the technical ranks, some of these activities may be new when promoted to a project lead or project manager.  Let’s look at a few of the things a project manager is responsible for:

1. The completion of the product the project was intended to produce.  In other words, you must meet the needs and expectations of the user.  In order to do this, you must be able to communicate and build a solid understanding with the user and sponsor.

2. The completion of the project on time, on budget and in scope.  In order to do this, you must be able to talk to the subject matter experts (SMEs), understand their estimates and concerns.  You must be able to tell the user what is and is not in scope for the project.  You must be able to communicate the schedule and the budget to the sponsor.  You must be able to influence resource managers to give up resources for your project.

3. The tracking and communicating of changes throughout the life of the project.  You will likely have to negotiate and renegotiate scope throughout the life of the project.

4. Motivating the team to complete the project.  You must do this, even though in many organizations the team does not report to you.  You must sell them on the project and motivate them to put out a quality product.

5. Clearing obstacles to getting work done.  This can be anything from people who interfere with the team’s work to access to a particular piece of equipment.

6. Ensure that risks and issues are dealt with in an effective and timely manner.

I could go on, but I think this is sufficient to point out some skills that aren’t necessarily found in a book on PM: Communication, ability to influence, negotiation, ability to motivate, sales, obstacle removal and resolution of risks and issues.

What do these have in common?

A project manager is put in charge of a project to help ensure the success of a project.  How do you ensure the success of anything?  Don’t you influence people, motivate people, lead people, collect and organize resources?  If so, you are managing them.

Yes, the one skill that is often overlooked in project management, believe it or not, is management.  You, not the resource manager, have to influence and motivate the team.  You, not the sponsor, have to lead the team.  You have to manage them.  Fortunately, people usually do want to do a good job, and that makes the job easier.  Yet, too many times PMs can get in their own way and affect how the team performs if they are not conscious of their leadership role on the team.

Manage – To direct the affairs or interests of.  To succeed in accomplishing or achieving, especially with difficulty.

It is time to put the “management” aspect back into project management.

Posted in PM Basics | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »