Category Archives: C

C is for… Channeller

Reading through the entries in this A-Z, you may form an opinion that the authors are a little harsh on project managers as a race.Obviously, we’re not saying that all managers are bad, but here are very many that drag everyone else down into a pit of despair.

One such group of these managers are the channellers. As ever, this is another subset of managers who come under the broad category of “Can add no value so scramble about trying to find ways to appear to add value.”

Channelling is all about control of information flow. Collecting information from those who know and communicate it upwards and they are seen to be on top of the situation. Get a decision from higher management and pass it down as they’re own and they are in control, reactive, happening.

This is particularly obvious when there is really good or really bad news about. The channellers are easy to spot. Volunteering to send emails, organising calls, saying things like “I’ll take that to Darren, he should hear this from me.” I guarantee that you have already thought of someone you know who does this.

Obviously, the game here is a spot a channeller and make sure you do the communication and watch them seethe at first; then slope off just in case someone asks them to do something.

C is for… Competency Mask

Sometimes all is not what it seems. And this is where your powers of observation have to be at their sharpest. Some arses have a competency mask. It can take many forms but what it can do is give the impression to the untrained eye that they might be “OK” or “capable”.

Image courtesy of George Imrie on
Surely you’re jesting…

Here are a few things to watch out for:

Yes, as unbelieveable as it seems. Someone well presented can sometimes fool you into thinking they are not an arse. Suit, dress, good looks, tan, whatever it is, might give the appearance of ‘sharpness’. Don’t be fooled, don’t make any judgement until they speak. After all, when they turn round they might have a sticker that says ‘elbow’ on the buttock of their delightfully pressed suit trouser.

Probably the most prevalent of all aspects of the Competency Mask, the language people use can often be a thin veil over an empty head. Modern business language has developed into a bizarre concoction of phrases and cliches that anyone can trot out and, if you are not paying attention, can make you think they sound plausible. Listen again. And, crucially, listen for content. Ask a difficult question and watch as the Competency Mask descends to cover the rapidly appearing glaze over the eyes.

Doing the Easy Stuff Well
Comfort zones are very handy. Especially when you need something to cover up the fact that you never actually contribute. Its simple to spot. Watch for people who quickly and repeatedly volunteer to do the easy stuff (before all the tricky actions are handed out). They sit back “well, I have contributed, I’m going to book the meeting room for the follow-up meeting, maybe I’ll arrange the lunch too, why not, no harm in over-delivering“. They are just doing stuff that anyone could do but getting paid far too much for it.
You see this in document reviews quite a bit, unable to stay quiet, the Competency Mask allows the person to make such massive contributions as suggesting a different font, pointing out problems in the page numbering/footer or suggesting a whole new pagination strategy. Arse.

C is for… Change Control

Change Control is the Project Manager’s friend. It’s more than a friend, it’s your best friend. Without Change Control, your project is out of control.”

Here beginneth the simple lesson:

At the start of your project, before you do anything else, create a Change Control Note. Make sure it contains ‘effort required’ and ‘cost’ sections.

As part of your initial planning of the project, hand a blank copy to your opposite number – your customer or PM counterpart. “This is to make sure we can keep everything under control”, you will say.

The first few weeks of the project, find as many opportunities to raise a Change Control Note for changes to the spec, deliverables or anything really. Make these indicate small effort required and most definitely zero cost. Make sure your oppo signs this and make sure they know that you’re a good-guy. See ‘good-guys’.

Then, when the time is right, stiff them with a costed up one. Make sure you estimate this one accurately and have plenty of back up to prove it.

This is a good way to buy yourself some time, by moving out the deadlines, or be able to afford to get your team-size increased.

Later on you can graduate to the school of ‘comfortable’ estimation to allow you a bit of extra cash in the budget for other things, like the things you forget about. See ‘slush-fund’.

C is for… Consultant

It’s no accident that a simple transposition turns this particular species into conslutant. Consultants are in it for the money; and the bigger the company providing the consultancy, the bigger the money.

We have a healthy disrespect of consultants. Many of the big consultancies give this job title to their most junior staff. They then send them out to companies to advise them

Be careful when your company ‘calls in the consultants’. It can mean one of a number of things:

  • They are genuinely clueless as to what to do and need someone to point them in the right direction.If this is the case, why don’t they have a clue – it’s their business after all.
  • You have a board member that has a vested interest (see ‘Vested-Interest’) in the proposed consultancy company.In this case, they are spending your company’s money and boosting their position on various boards.
  • They have no confidence in their workforce.In this case, what does that say about you

Advice? Interview your would-be consultants as if you were going to recruit them for your own company. Many companies either don’t realise or forget that you can knock-back individuals from your consultancy firm. In this way you can avoid having a bunch of numptys running the show in your area.

If you don’t have the authority to make the decision on whether the allocated ‘consultant’ should be retained or not, don’t worry. Interview them anyway, then you can label them as competent.

C is for … Common Sense

Bizarrely enough, contrary to what almost every IT training establishment and ‘Big Consultancy’ firm will try to tell you, Project Management is not difficult.

You need a very basic set of skills: To be able to write, basic arithmetic, a rudimentary ability to interact with people. If you don’t have these basic capabilities, you should probably be asking yourself how you managed to get the job you have now.

There’s no magic wand for delivering software projects, no black art or burning of effigies, it’s all to do with commonsense. If it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do, no question.

Plan ahead as much as you can. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, don’t panic or fret, just think about what will put you back on track, then do it. If people question your intentions or
strategy, question them back – things like ‘Do you want to take the responsibility for the delivery of the project?’ are always good. You can keep the ‘I didn’t think so’, for a theatrical aside.

Always remember that you know better than anyone else about your project – after all, it’s your project, you should know it better then anyone else. So, you decide what is required and then take responsibility for making it so. Remember, over 85% of people in senior IT positions don’t know what they’re doing.