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Software Development Blogs: Programming, Software Testing, Agile Project Management
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Is there room for functional managers, such as development and test managers, in agile organizations? Maybe. It depends on whether they take the role of an agile manager.
If you have organized as a feature teams-based organization, the functional managers (development, test, analysis, whatever) can take these responsibilities:
Functional managers are champions for the team, and shepherds for the process. They are servant leaders.
Here’s what functional managers do not do:
What does this mean? It means that the team members are leaders. Agile pushes responsibility into the teams, and away from traditional management. Agile requires leadership at all levels.
Agile challenges managers to recreate their jobs. An agile transformation requires managers work in an agile way, and work differently than before.
If you want to learn more about the role of leaders and managers in agile, join Gil Broza and me at The Influential Agile Leader, either in San Francisco or London this year. We still have an early bird price until mid-February. Don’t miss this opportunity to help your agile transition and your career.
As I write the program management book, I am struck by how difficult it is to estimate large chunks of work.
What can you do? Here are some options:
Each of these shows your estimation audience you have uncertainty. The larger the project or program, the more you want to show uncertainty.
If you are agile, you may not need to estimate at all. I have managed many projects and programs over the years. No one asked me for a cost or schedule estimate. I received targets. Sometimes, those targets were so optimistic, I had to do a gross estimate to explain why we could not meet that date.
However, I am not convinced anything more than a gross estimate is useful. I am convinced an agile roadmap, building incrementally, seeing progress, and deciding what to do next are good ideas.
With internal releases, everyone can see the project or program progress.
In addition, we have a quarterly external release. Now, your project or program might not be able to release to your customers every quarter. But, that should be a business decision, not a decision you make because you can’t release. If you are not agile, you might not be able to meet a quarterly release. But, I’m assuming you are agile.
You might need to replace MVPs with MIFS,Â Minimum Indispensable Feature Sets, especially at the beginning.
If you always make stories so small that you can count them, instead of estimate them, you will be close. You won’t spend time estimating instead of developing product, especially at the beginning.
You know the least about the risks and gotchas at the beginning of a project or program. You might not even know much about your MIFS or MVPs. However, if you can release something for customer consumption, you can get the feedback you need.
Feedback is what will tell you:
Here’s my experience with estimation. If you provide an estimate, managers won’t believe you. They pressure you to “do more with less,” or some such nonsense. They say things such as, “If we cut out testing, you can go faster, right?” (The answer to that question is, “NO. The less technical debt we have or create, the faster we can go.”)
However, you do need the planning of roadmaps and backlogs. If you don’t have a roadmap that shows people something like what they can expect when, they think you’re faking. You need to replan the roadmap, because what the teams deliver won’t be everything the product owner wanted. That’s okay. Getting feedback about what the teams can do early is great.
There are two questions you want to ask people who ask for estimates:
If you work on the most valuable project/program, why are you estimating it? You need to understand how much the organization wants to invest before you stop. If you’re not working on the most valuable project/program, you still want to know how much the organization wants to invest. Or, you need a target date. With a target date, you can release parts iteratively and incrementally until you meet the target.
This is risk management for estimation and replanning. Yes, I am a fan of #noestimates, because the smaller we make the chunks, the easier it is to see what to plan and replan.
We need planning and replanning. I am not convinced we need detailed estimation if we use iterative and incremental approaches.
I published a new Pragmatic Manager this past weekend. It’s called Discovering Your Leadership.
It has a pointer to the Influential Agile Leader event that Gil Broza and I are leading in San Francisco and then in London. You can still get early bird pricing, until Feb 15. Don’t miss this opportunity—we’re only leading it twice this year.
I have a new column posted at projectmanagement.com. It’s called Does Agile Apply to Your Project? (You might need a free registration.)
the group of people who turn out to be most accurate about predicting how long it will take to complete tasksâ€”and how likely they are to succeedâ€”are the clinically depressed. Optimists underestimate how difficult it will be to succeed. But that self-deception is precisely what makes them willing to take more risks and invest in a better future, while the pessimists slouch toward self-fulfilling failure.Â
Pessimistic people are more accurate with their estimation. Optimists underestimate. Their optimism allows them to take more risks and innovate. Which kind of person are you? (I’m both, in different circumstances.)
That got me thinking about why agile works.
Agile and lean (I’m using agile as shorthand for both) help us make progress in small chunks. That creates hope and optimism in the project team. When the project team demos or releases to other people, they trust the team and a become hopeful and optimistic.
We know from The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work that the more we make progress with small wins, the better we feel and the more likely we are to make more progress. That leads to hope and optimism.
Is this why agile works? Because we can make progress daily?
It’s not the only reason. We also need feedback. When we provide demos to other people, as often as possible, we build trust. With trust comes the possibility of better connection and feedback.
We get feature-itis because we’re no longer in requirements hell. Other people can see that a project team can deliver. That leads to optimism and hope in the organization. (I’m differentiating the two, because they are different. See my review of Seligman’s book.) With hope, people can rise to many occasions. Without hope? I bet you’ve been there on a project. It isn’t pretty.
Agile is not for everyone. Agile approaches? Yes. Completing small chunks of work and showing it to other people? You can do that with deliverable-based planning, building incrementally, and iterative approaches to replanning. If you want a name for that approach, it’s called staged delivery or design to schedule.
If you’re doing agile well, you’re delivering new small features into the code base every day or every other day. That helps you feel as if you’re making progress. When you feel as if you’re making progress, you can be more optimistic or hopeful. That helps you see new possibilities.
I would rather work in a hopeful way, making progress on a project, than feel as if I’m dragging.Â What about you?
So, agile might increase optimism, which allows us to make more progress and innovate. Agile done well brings joy to our work.
People are always asking my why agile works, or to prove it works. I can’t prove anything.
I have said that in my experience, when people work in an agile way, they are more productive and more effective. NowÂ I wonder if this is because they are optimistic and hopeful about their work.
Years ago,Â I was the expert for twoÂ specific products in a small development organization. When it came time for my manager toÂ divide up the work, I always got those productsÂ to add features to, or maintain. That was fine for a while, until I got bored. I went to my boss with a request for different work.
“Who will do the work if you don’t?” My boss was concerned.
“Steve or Dave will. They’re good. They can take over for me.” I knew my colleagues. They could do the work.
“But, they’ll have to learn what you do.”
“I know. I can take a few days to explain, if you want. I don’t think it will take a few days to explain. They’re smart. I’m still available if they have questions.”
“I don’t know. You’re indispensable where you are.”
I faced my boss and stood up. “No one is indispensable. And, if I am, you should replace me on those systems anyway. What are you going to do if I leave?”
My boss paled, and asked, “Are you planning to leave?”
“I don’t know. I’m bored. I want new work. I told you that. I don’t see why I can’t have new work. You need developers on these projects.” I named three of them. “Why do I have to stay doing work on the old stuff when I want to do new things. I don’t see why I should. Just because I’ve been doing it for a year is no reason to pigeon-hole me. No. I want new work. I’m not indispensable. You can hire someone and I can train that person if you want.”
My boss reluctantly agreed to let me stop working on the old systems and work on the new projects. I was no longer indispensable.
The problem with being an indispensable employee is that your options are limited. Your boss wants you to keep doing the same thing you’ve always done. Maybe you want that, too for now. The problem is that one day, you realize no one needs what you do. You have become such an expert that you are quite dispensable. You have the same year of experience for several years.
Instead of being indispensable, consider how to help other people learn your work. What do you want to learn next? You need to plan your career development.
What do you do if you’re a manager, and you have indispensable employees? “Fire” them.
I’m serious. When you have people who are indispensable, they are experts. They create bottlenecks and a cost of delay. If you need flexibility in your organization, you need people who know more than one area. You need teams who are adaptable and can learn quickly. A narrow expert is not what you need.
When I say “fire” people, I mean don’t let them work on their area of expertise alone. Create a transition plan and help the expert discover new skills.
Why should you do this? Because if not, people and projects across the organization decide they need that person. Sometimes with quite bad results.
This month’s management myth is based on a true story. The organization wanted an expert to change teams and move. All because of his expertise. That’s nuts. Go readÂ Management Myth 36: You Have an Indispensable Employee.
I have posted my most recent Pragmatic Manager newsletter on my site. Read Johanna’s 2014 New Years Tips.
I have a question for you. I send the newsletter to my subscribers the last week of the year. I call them “this-year” tips. Some people ask me if I meanÂ “the next year”. I don’t because it’s this year. Is this confusing? Should I rename my end-of-the-year tips? Thanks for your feedback.
A recent coaching clientÂ was concerned about the progress his team was making—or really, the lack of progress his team was making. We spoke about the obstacles he had noticed.
“The team doesn’t have time to write automated tests. As soon as they finishÂ developing or testing a feature, peopleÂ get yanked to another project.”
“Are people, developers and testers, working together on features?” I wanted to know.
“No, first a developer works on a feature for a few days, then a tester takes it. We don’t have enough testers to pair them with developers. What would a tester do for three or four days, while a developer worked on a story?”
“So, to your managers, it looks as if the testers are hanging around, waiting on developers, right?” I wanted to make sure I understood at least one of his problems.
“Yes, that’s exactly the problem! But the testers aren’t hanging around. They’re still working on test automation for stories we said were done. We have more technical debt than ever.” He actually moaned.
“Would you like some ideas? It sounds as if you are out of ideas here.” I checked with him.
“Yes, I would!” He sounded grateful.
These were the ideas I suggested:
I asked him if he could do these things for the team. He said he was sure he could. I’d been coaching him for a while. He was pretty sure he could coach his team.
Now I asked him the big question. Could he influence the project portfolio work at the level above him? His managers were too involved in who was doing what on the teams, and were not ranking the projects in the project portfolio. He needed to influence the managers to flow work through the team, and not move people like chess pieces. Could he do that?
He and I started to workÂ through how and who he could influence.
Technical leads, first- and middle-managers may find influence more challenging. You have to build rapport and have a relationship before you influence people. Had he done that yet? No, not yet.
You often need to serve your organization at several levels. It doesn’t matter if you are a technical leader, or someone with manager in your title. Rarely can you limit your problem-solving to just your team.
If theseÂ challenges soundÂ like yours, you should consider joining Gil Broza and me in the Influential Agile Leader in either San Francisco or London next year. It’s an experiential event, where you bring your concerns. We teach a little, and then help you with guided practice. It’s a way to build your servant leadership and learn how to coach up, down, and sideways. It’s a way to learn who and how to influence. We have more sessions, so you can bring your issues and address them, with us and the other participants.
Our early bird pricing expires Dec 31, 2014. Please join us atÂ Influential Agile Leader.
Andy Hunt, the Pragmatic Bookshelf publisher, just sent me an email telling me that Manage Your Project Portfolio is featured inÂ La RepĂşblica, Columbia’s “first and most important business newspaper.” That’s because getabstract liked it!Â Â
And, I have to say, I’m still pretty excited.
If your organization can’t decide which projects come first, second, third, whatever, or which features come first, second, third, whatever, you should get Manage Your Project Portfolio.
I once worked in an organization where the senior managers thought they should motivate us, the team members. They decided to have a team competition, complete with prizes.
I was working on a difficult software problem with a colleague on another team. We both needed to jointly design our pieces of the product to make the entire product work.
After management announced the competition, he didn’t want to work with me. Why? There was prize money, worth hundreds of dollars to each person. He had a mortgage and three kids. That money made a big difference to him. I was still single. I would have stuck that money into either my savings or retirement fund, after buying something nice for myself.
Management motivated us, alright. But not to collaborate. They motivated us to stop working together. They motivated us to compete.
Our progress stopped.
My boss wanted to know what happened. I explained. I couldn’t fault my colleague. He wanted the money. It made a big difference for him. I would have appreciated the money, but not nearly as much as he would have. (Later, when I was paying for childcare, I understood how much of a difference that money made.)
I then had this conversation with my boss, ranting and raving the entire time:
“Look, do you want the best product or the best competition?”
“You can’t have both. You can have a great product or you can have a great competition. Choose. Because once you put money on the table, where only one team gets the money, we won’t collaborate anymore.”
My boss got that “aha” look on his face. “Hold that thought,” he said.
The next day, management changed the competition. Now, it was about the teams who worked together to create the best product, not the one team who had the best idea. Still not so good, because all the teams on the program needed to collaborate. But better.
When I had my one-on-one with my boss, I explained that all the teams needed to collaborate. Were they really going to pay everyone a bonus?
My boss paled. They had not thought this through. “I’d better make sure we have the funds, right?”
People don’t work just for money. You need to pay people a reasonable salary. Remember what Dan Pink says in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. People work for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you exchange the social contract of working for autonomy, mastery, and purpose for money, you’d better pay enough money. You also better repeat that money the next time. And, the next time. And, the next time.
That’s the topic of this month’s management myth:Â Management Myth 35: Friendly Competition Is Constructive.
Software product development is a team activity, full of learning. As soon as you make it a competition, you lose on the teamwork. You lose the learning. Nobody wins. There is no such thing as “friendly” competition.
Instead, if you go for collaboration, you can win.
I’m writing part of the program management book, talking about how you need to keep everything small to maintain momentum. Sometimes, to keep your work small, teams move from iterations to flow.
Here are times when you might consider moving from iteration to flow:
This came home to me when I was coaching a program manager working on a geographically distributed program in 2009. One of the feature teams was responsible for the database that “fed” all the other feature teams. They had their own features, but the access and what the database could do was centralized in one database team. That team tried to work in iterations. They had small, one- or two-day stories. They did a great job meeting their iteration commitments. And, they always felt as if they were behind.
Why? Because they had requests backed up. The rank of the requests into that team changed faster than the iteration duration.
When they changed to flow, they were able to respond to requests for the different reports, access, whatever the database needed to do much faster. They were no longer a bottleneck on the program. Of course, they used continuous integration for each feature. Every day, or every other day, they updated the access into the database, or what the database was capable of doing.
The entire program regained momentum.
When you work in flow, you have a board with a fixed set of Ready items (the team’s backlog), and the team always works on the top-ranked item first. Depending on the work in progress limits, the team might take more than one item off the Ready column at a time.
The Product Owner has the capability to change any of the items in the Ready column at any time. If the item is large, the team will spend more time working on that item. It is in the Product Owner’s and the team’s interest to learn how to make small stories. That way, work moves across the board fast.
If you use a board something like this, combined with an agile roadmap, the team still has the big picture of what the product looks like. Many of us like to know what the big picture is. And, we see from the board, what we are working on in the small. However, we don’t need to do iteration planning. We take the next item off the top of the Ready list.
There is no One Right Answer as to whether you should move from iteration to flow. It depends on your circumstances. Your Product Owner needs to write stories that are small enough that the team can complete them and move on to another story. Agile is about the ability to change, right? If the team is stuck on a too-large story, it’s just as bad as being stuck in an iteration, waiting for the iteration to end.
However, if you discover, especially if you are a feature team working in a program, that you need to change what you do, or the order of what you do more often than your iterations allow, consider moving to flow. You may decide that iterations are too confining for what you need.
In self-organizing teams, teams remove their own obstacles. It’s a good idea. It can be difficult in practice.
In Scrum, the Scrum Master is supposed to facilitate removing the team’s obstacles that the team can’t remove. It’s a good idea. It can be difficult in practice.
And, what if you aren’t doing Scrum, or you’re transitioning to agile and you don’t yet have a self-organizing team? Maybe you have an agile project manager. Maybe you have a team facilitator. Not every team needs a titled manager-type, you know. (Even I don’t think that, and I come from project management.)
Maybe the team bumps up against an obstacle they can’t remove, even if they try. Why? Because the obstacles the team can’t remove tend to fall in these categories:
Oh boy. Someone who either used to be technical or used to be a first-line manager is supposed to talk to a VP of Support or Sales or the CIO or the CTO or “the Founder of the Company” and ask for help removing an impediment. Unless the entire organization is already agile, can you see that this is a problem or a potential problem?
Chances are good that during an organization’s transition to agile, the team’s facilitator (regardless of the title) will need help from a more senior manager to remove obstacles. Not for the team. For the rest of the organization.
Now, I would love it if the person who is supposed to remove obstacles was that designated facilitator (Scrum Master, agile project manager, whomever). And, that designated facilitator had the personal power to do it all by him or herself. But, I’m a realist. In my clients, that doesn’t happen without management support.
Is it a problem if a manager removes obstacles?
I don’t think so, as long as the manager supports the team, and doesn’t prevent the team from solving its own problems.
Here are examples I would expect the team to solve on its own:
Here are obstacles mid-level managers or more senior managers might help with:
This is a form of management as servant leadership, where the manager serves the team.
Do you see how certain problems are inside-the-team problems and the team can solve them? Other problems are not inside-the-team problems, and are part of the organization’s system. The organization needs to decide, “How committed to agile are we?” and address these issues.
We talk a lot in agile about generalizing specialists. Scott Ambler has a terrific essay on what a generalizing specialist is:
(From Scott Ambler’s essay, http://www.agilemodeling.com/essays/generalizingSpecialists.htm)
How do you hire one of these mythical people?
First, they are not mythical. They are real. Second, you do a job analysis, just as you would for any job. Third, you would look at how they have acquired skills throughout their careers.
What does this mean for the hiring manager and/or recruiter?
Remember, you want generalizing specialists. True specialists introduce a cost of delay into your projects. They end up with a queue of work and they introduce a delay, or they multitask.
If you read my Three Alternatives to Making Smaller Stories, you noticed one thing. In each of these examples, the problem was in the teams’ ability to show progress and create interim steps. But, what about when you have a “wicked” problem, when you don’t know if you can create the answer?
If you are a project manager, you might be familiar with the idea of “wicked” problems fromÂ Â from the book Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions: A Catalog of Modern Engineering Paradigms. If you are a designer/architect/developer, you might be familiar with the term from Rebecca Wirfs-Brock’s book, Object Design: Roles, Responsibilities, and Collaborations.
You see problems like this in new product development, in research, and in design engineering. You see it when you have to do exploratory design, where no one has ever done something like this before.
Your problem requires innovation. Maybe your problem requires discussion with your customer or your fellow designers. You need consensus on what is a proper design.
When I taught agile to a group of analog chip designers, they created landing zones, where they kept making tradeoffs to fit the timebox they had for the entire project, to make sure they made the best possible design in the time they had available.
If you have a wicked problem, you have plenty of risks. What do you do with a risky project?
Now, in return, the team solving this wicked problem owes the organization an update every week, or, at the most, every two weeks about what they are doing. That update needs to be a demo. If it’s not a demo, they need to show something. If they can’t in an agile project, I would want to know why.
Sometimes, they can’t show a demo. Why? Because they encountered a Big Hairy Problem.
Here’s an example. I suffer from vertigo due to loss of (at least) one semi-circular canal in my inner ear. My otoneurologist is one of the top guys in the world. He’s working on an implantable gyroscope. When I started seeing him four years ago, he said the device would be available in “five more years.”
Every year he said that. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. Two years ago, I said, “I’m a project manager. If you really want to make progress, start asking questions each week, not each year. You won’t like the fact that it will make your project look like it’s taking longer, but you’ll make more progress.” He admitted last year that he took my advice. He thinks they are down to four years and they are making more rapid progress.
I understand if a team learns that they don’t receive the answers they expect during a given week. What I want to see from a given week is some form of a deliverable: a demo, answers to a question or set of questions, or the fact that we learned something and we have generated more questions. If I, as a project manager/program manager, don’t see one of those three outcomes, I wonder if the team is running open loop.
I’m fine with any one of those three outcomes. They provide me value. We can decide what to do with any of those three outcomes. The team still has my trust. I can provide information to management, because we are still either delivering or learning. Either of those outcomes provides value. (Do you see how a demo, answers or more questions provides those outcomes? Sometimes, you even get production-quality code.)
Why do questions work? The questions work like tests. They help you see where you need to go. Because you, my readers, work in software, you can use code and tests to explore much more rapidly than my otoneurologist can. He has to develop a prototype, test in the lab and then work with animals, which makes everything take longer.
Even if you have hardware or mechanical devices or firmware, I bet you simulate first. You can ask the questions you need answers to each week. Then, you answer those questions.
Here are some projects I’ve worked on in the past like this:
The questions are like your tests. You take a scientific approach, asking yourself, “What questions do I need to answer this week?” You have a big question. You break that question down into smaller questions, one or two that you can answer (you hope) this week. You explore like crazy, using the people who can help you explore.
Exploratory design is tricky. You can make it agile, also. Don’t assume that the rest of your project can wait for your big breakthrough.Â Use questions like your tests. Make progress every day.
I thank Rebecca Wirfs-Brock for her review of this post. Any remaining mistakes are mine.
When I was in Israel a couple of weeks ago teaching workshops, one of the big problems people had was large stories. Why was this a problem? If your stories are large, you can’t show progress, and more importantly, you can’t change.
For me, the point of agile is the transparency—hey, look at what we’ve done!—and the ability to change. You can change the items in the backlog for the next iteration if you are working in iterations. You can change the project portfolio. You can change the features. But, you can’t change anything if you continue to drag on and on and on for a give feature. You’re not transparent if you keep developing a feature. You become a black hole.
Managers start to ask, “What you guys doing? When will you be done? How much will this feature cost?” Do you see where you need to estimate more if the feature is large? Of course, the larger the feature, the more you need to estimate and the more difficult it is to estimate well.
The reason Pawel and I and many other people like very small stories—size of 1—means that you deliver something every day or more often. You have transparency. You don’t invest a ton of work without getting feedback on the work.
The people I met a couple of weeks ago felt (and were) stuck. One guy was doing intricate SQL queries. He thought that there was no value until the entire query was done. Nope, that’s where he is incorrect. There is value in interim results. Why? How else would you debug the query? How else would you discover if you had the database set up correctly for product performance?
I suggested that every single atomic transaction was a valuable piece. That the way to build small stories was to separate this hairy SQL statement was at the atomic transaction. I bet there are other ways, but that was a good start. He got that aha look, so I am sure he will think of other ways.
Another guy was doing algorithm development. Now, I know one issue with algorithm development is you have to keep testing performance or reliability or something else when you do the development. Otherwise, you fall off the deep end. You have an algorithm tuned for one aspect of the system, but not another one. The way I’ve done this in the past is to support algorithm development with a variety of tests.
This is the testing continuum from Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. See the unit and component testing parts? If you do algorithm development, you need to test each piece of the algorithm—the inner loop, the next outer loop, repeat for each loop—with some sort of unit test, then component test, then as a feature. And, you can do system level testing for the algorithm itself.
Back when I tested machine vision systems, I was the system tester for an algorithm we wanted to go “faster.” I created the golden master tests and measured the performance. I gave my tests to the developers. Then, as they changed the inner loops, they created their own unit tests. (No, we were not smart enough to do test-driven development. You can be.) I helped create the component-level tests for the next-level-up tests. We could run each new potential algorithm against the golden master and see if the new algorithm was better or not.
I realize that you don’t have a product until everything works. This is like saying in math that you don’t have an answer until you have the finished the entire calculation. And, you are allowed—in fact, I encourage you—to show your interim work. How else can you know if you are making progress?
Another participant said that he was special. (Each and every one of you is special. Don’t you know that by now??) He was doing firmware development. I asked if he simulated the firmware before he downloaded to the device. “Of course!” he said. “So, simulate in smaller batches,” I suggested. He got that far-off look. You know that look, the one that says, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
He didn’t think of it because it requires changes to their simulator. He’s not an idiot. Their simulator is built for an entire system, not small batches. The simulator assumes waterfall, not agile. They have some technical debt there.
Here are the three ways, in case you weren’t clear:
You want to deliver value in your projects. Short stories allow you to do this. Long stories stop your momentum. The longer your project, and the more teams (if you work on a program), the more you need to keep your stories short. Try these alternatives.
Do you have other scenarios I haven’t discussed? Ask away in the comments.
This turned into a two-parter. Read Make Stories Small When You Have “Wicked” Problems.
Do you know about the Conscious Software Development Telesummit? Michael Smith is interviewing more than 20 experts about all aspects of software development, project management, and project portfolio management. He’s releasing the interviews in chunks, so you canÂ listen and not lose work time. Isn’t that smart of him?
If you haven’t signed up yet, do it now. You get access to all of the interviews, recordings, and transcripts for all the speakers. That’s the Conscious Software Development Telesummit. Because you should make conscious decisions about what to do for your software projects.
Sometimes, you just need to get on with the work. You need to give yourself some breathing room so you can think for a while. Here are some tips that will help you tackle the day-to-day management work:
Okay, there are your five tips. Happy management.
Long ago, I was a project manager and senior engineer for a company undergoing a Change Transformation. You know the kind, where the culture changes, along with the process. The senior managers had bought into the changes. The middle managers were muddling through, implementing the changes as best they could.
Us project managers and the technical staff, we were the ones doing the bulk of the changes. The changes weren’t as significant as an agile transformation, but they were big.
One day, the Big Bosses, the CEO and the VP Engineering spoke at an all-hands meeting. “You are empowered,” they said. No, they didn’t say it as a duet. They each said it separately. They had choreographed speeches, with great slide shows, eight by ten color glossies, and pictures. They had a vision. They just knew what the future would hold.
I managed to keep my big mouth shut.
The company was not doing well. We had too many managers for not enough engineers or contracts. If you could count, you could see that.
I was traveling back and forth to a client in the midwest. At one point, the company owed me four weeks of travel expenses. I quietly explained that no, I was not going to book any more airline travel or hotel nights until I was paid in full for my previous travel.
“I’m empowered. I can refuse to get on a plane.”
That did not go over well with anyone except my boss, who was in hysterics. He thought it was quite funny. My boss agreed I should be reimbursed before I racked up more charges.
Somehow, they did manage to reimburse me. I explained that from now on, I was not going to float the company more than a week’s worth of expenses. If they wanted me to travel, I expected to be reimbursed within a week of travel. I got my expenses in the following Monday. They could reimburse me four days later, on Friday.
“But that’s too fast for us,” explained one of the people in Accounting.
“Then I don’t have to travel every other week,” I explained. “You see, I’m empowered. I’ll travel after I get the money for the previous trip. I won’t make a new reservation until I receive all the money I spent for all my previous trips. It’s fine with me. You’ll just have to decide how important this project is. It’s okay.”
The VP came to me and tried to talk me out of it. I didn’t budge. (Imagine that!) I told him that I didn’t need to float the company money. I was empowered.
“Do you like that word?”
“Sure I do.”
“Do you feel empowered?”
“Not at all. I have no power at all, except over my actions. I have plenty of power over what I choose to do. I am exercising that power. I realized that during your dog and pony show.
“You’re not changing our culture. You’re making it more difficult for me to do my job. That’s fine. I’m explaining how I will work.”
The company didn’t get a contract it had expected. It had a layoff. Guess who got laid off? Yes, I did. It was a good thing. I got a better job for more money. And, I didn’t have to travel every other week.
Change can be great for an organization. But telling people the culture is one thing and then living up to that thing can be difficult. That’s why this month’s management myth is Myth 34: Youâ€™re Empowered Because I Say You Are.
I picked on empowerment. I could have chosen “open door.” Or “employees are our greatest asset.” (Just read that sentence. Asset???)
How you talk about culture says a lot about what the culture is. Remember, culture is how you treat people, what you reward, and what is okay to talk about.
Cesar Abeid interviewed me, Project Management for You with Johanna Rothman. We talked about my tools for project management, whether you are managing a project for yourself or managing projects for others.
We talked about how to use timeboxes in the large and small, project charters, influence, servant leadership, a whole ton of topics.
I hope you listen. Also, check out Cesar’s kickstarter campaign, Project Management for You.