Here’s a game. You’ll like this. Listen carefully.
In any organisation there are essentially two groups of people. People who know stuff. People who don’t really know all that much.
In many, many cases the people who don’t know stuff try to find stuff out by getting the people who know stuff to fill in forms or spreadsheets. It makes them feel useful. It makes it look like they are doing work. But in the end, they still don’t know much stuff and they’ve just wasted a lot of time.
“Fill this form in so I can approve…” – does that mean they understand?
So, here’s the game. When you are in work, just walking round the office, or in a meeting maybe, decide which of the two groups people are in. You’ll be surprised by how many people fall into the “gaining information via the medium of forms” gang.
And if you spend all your day getting people to fill in forms then… better not finish that.
Management By Walking About (MBWA) is a much underrated mechanism to keep an eye on what is going on in your project.
As things have evolved technically over the years is becomes all too easy to orchestrate, or attempt to orchestrate, your project form the comfort of your adjustable office-chair. Using eMail, Instant Messaging, Text Messaging, etc. to deliver your guidance and expert opinion.
However, while you may like to think you are some kind of techno-mastermind of all you survey, the chances are you’re missing out on a lot of the crucial information you really should have a firm grasp on.
If you’re only reading the written word, and worse, only spouting it too, you are missing a huge percentage of the other parts that make up that thing we call human communication.
Without getting the real ‘word on the street’, complete with intonation, attitude and accompanying body-language, you’ve only got part of the picture.
Have you ever said to yourself, “I didn’t realise it was that bad” or, “They should have said there was a problem”, then maybe you need a bit more ‘face time’ with your team, customers or co-workers.
So, If you want to keep on top of what’s going on, get off your arse and walk about!
We’ve all seen them, the guys that work all hours, they are always first in and last to leave, they seem to always be in the thick of it, people are always waiting for them to do something before they can move on, they’re always on-call, if they’re not still on-shift.
There’s no doubt that out there there are some of these types, and they will be genuinely good, valuable people who do some really good stuff. Yay them, keep it up guys. You’re keeping it all hanging together, thanks! Just be careful when you’re crossing the road please.
However, there is another side to this genre though, and you’d be well advised in learning to spot them. These are the self-made heroes. They’re not really heroes, they just play a clever game to make people think they are heroes. Really, they are manufacturing a need for themselves, they are making themselves indespensible because no-one eles could possibly do all the stuff they do, know all the things they know or sort all the problems they sort.
Watch out for them, they avoid passing on their knowledge, the learn new stuff and keep it to themselves and, best of all, the real pro’s in this area will manufacture problems that only they can fix. Allowing the yet another opportunity to ride in on the big white charger and save the day.
At the beginning of your project, when nothing’s really happened and you have a vast pot of cash to spend, you can be excused for thinking that you’ve fallen into something Samuel Tayor Coleridge novel depiction of the opulence of Xanadu.
Just remember the money has to do you for the duration of the project, not just to buy toys for the project geeks to play with.
Also, this is a time to watch out for other projects, which are starting to feel cash-strapped, coming to you and asking you to fund something for them. You know, “I’ve been told I need to get some licenses, and we didn’t include them in the budget, could you..”, or, “We’ve got this resource, he’s quite expensive, but he could do some work for you too, as long as you don’t mind footing the bill.”, etc.
It’s time to double-check your sums and put away your slush-fund, because you’re in this for the long-haul.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands of tools, templates, strategies, techniques, approaches and methodologies out there. There are lots of really good ones, in fact most of them probably are, or at least were great at what they were developed to do at the time they were developed to do it.
So, it can be a difficult time for you deciding what to use on your project.
Some things will be a given, taken for granted, others will need to be sourced and decided upon. You can seek opinion from your team, peers or even management about wwhat you should use or what approach you could take. But, as the person tasked with delivering the project, it should ultimately be your decision as to what you go with.
The main thing is to use the right tools for the job. If you’re thinking of adopting a new methodology, it makes sense to read up on it first and then decide if it would be suitable for your project. It’s a big internet out there, there’s lots of people willing to share their experience or opinion about just about anything.
Just because it’s new doesn’t make it good. Similarly, just because it’s been around for a while doesn’t make it any less relevant today.
What you have to do is balance up the options of the team’s experience in the tools/methods the changes in process, the risk of introducing something different.
Use the right thing for the right job, and your life will be significantly less complicated.
A firm favourite, the Yellow Stickies tend to get pulled out at workshops as a way of capturing opinion from the assembled workshopees.
While workshops, if they are run properly, are a good thing, the widespread use of the yelow sticky as a means for “getting all the issues out in the open” or “having a stab prioritising the workload” is often badly over/mis-used by people that don’t know how to run a workshop properly.
How many times have you seen the “facilitator” scurrying away after the meeting, with a huge pile of flipchart sheets covered in stickies rolled under his arm. Odds-on that’s the last you will see of them.
Yellow Stickies in a workshop is an example of a Horses for Courses item; if you cant use it effectively, then don’t use it.
** You know what Yellow Stickies are. The A-Z isn’t sponsored, so wouldn’t want to fall foul of promoting a particular brand, like Post-It from 3M, do we now?
While you may find some interesting techniques in the A-Z that will help you navigate through the stormy waters of Software Delivery, be careful not to flounder on the rocks of the Island of Lame Excuses.
Always remember, first and foremost that you, as the Project Manager, are wholly responsible for the delivery of the project. It’s up to you to mobilise the resources, plan accordingly and steer your project carefully to the Land of Success.
Never, ever resort to, “A big boy did it and ran away”, or somesuch nonsense. Poeple will not react kindly to that kind of excuse and will almost certainly think less of you and your delivery ability.
If you have made a mistake, judgement of error, or otherwise hit upon a problem, then stand up and admit it. Take your kicking and move on; consider it an educational exercise, and make sure you put the necessary things in place to afoid falling over that particular problem in the future.
One thing though: Before you admit the problem and take your kicking, best to have the solution to the problem already implemented or, at least, up your sleeve. Otherwise you’ll look a real idiot.
So, you’re at the end of your project and it’s finally gone live and, best of all, it’s working! Well done you, it’s a good feeling isn’t it?
You’ll probably have a bit of a euphoric feeling. Like some other analogies in this guide, it’s a bit like winning a battle against all the odds, despite other people and projects. Yes, it is a victorious time; lap it up, the next one is undoubtedly just around the corner. Maybe, like the Red Baron, you can slap a little silhouette on the side of your metaphorical triplane; another one down, now who’s next?
Ensure you remember it wasn’t just you that made this a success. Make a point of thanking your people, your team, they need to know you are grateful for all the hard work they have undoubtedly put in. Take the time to thank them personally because then they know you appreciated their contribution and that you’re not all taking the credit for the success yourself. It will also make it easier when the time comes to recruit a team for your next project; people who feel appreciated will want to work for you again.
This is also a good time to position yourself, with those who have influence, as the go-to guy/gal if you want your projects delivered successfully. that way, you should hopefully have more choice on your next assignment, or maybe just that they will listen more carefully when you make your demands at project start-up time.
Sometimes you are stuck with people on your project that you could, quite frankly, do without. They may just not be up to the job, or there may be something else they bring to the party that detracts from the team’s ability to deliver.
This can happen for a number of different reasons; Perhaps you inherited them when you took over the project. Perhaps they have been foisted on you as a result of a management decision. Perhaps they were sold to you as a guru, or the best person for the job.
The assumption here is that you cannot simply remove them from the project, because you would have by now and you wouldn’t have a problem. So you need another way out. One option is to minimise the effect of these people, but sometimes Vapourisation is the only way.
One thing to bear in mind is that whining about your resources is never a good thing. People will think you’re just making early excuses for your future lack of delivery, or label you as a whiney project manager. But, more importantly, always remember that it’s your team that will deliver the project, under your excellent guidance of course, so it’s probably best not to alienate them. So removal by stealth is the key.
One approach is to give them responsibility for the delivery of something, ideally not too critical, and let them prove their obsession with their chosen speciality subject gets in the way of delivering, effectively letting them fall on their over zealous sword. Now, you’ve proved they’re no good, they should be ripe for removal…
Sometimes you get people on your project that are a danger to themselves, let alone anyone else or your project. On occasion, they are actually OK in terms of their knowledge of the subject matter, but you wouldn’t trust them to deliver newspapers.
If this is the case, you may wish to assing them an ‘advisory’ or ‘consulting’ role without any real delivery responsibility. They could maybe coach some of the more junior people in your team in their area of expertise. If you sell it correctly, there’s a good chance they will be happy in the respect you have in their knowledge.
That way you get the benefit of their knowledge without the associated failure to deliver; just make sure you give them some boundaries and keep a close eye on them.