The project manager’s challenge

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What makes a good project manager?

Pause momentarily and capture your first thought to answer that question. Most of us answer the question with attributes like setting proper priorities, keeping command of a group, effectively communicating, showing domain expertise, or resolving conflict. It would be rare to hear someone answer the question in terms of keeping tasks and a schedule. Yet this is one the most fundamental skills an IT project manager needs to have; the ability to drive a team to define and set a schedule. Why do task status and schedules encounter the most resistance in the life of the project? I think it’s because team members don’t like to give estimates and to be held accountable for meeting a specific schedule. To be fair estimating working duration isn’t easy and it’s not uncommon in IT to have partial requirements. 

“I’m not going to win any popularity contests”

An employee assigned to manage projects told me that a few years ago. Without missing a beat I replied “You aren’t paid to win popularity contests. But you are asked to be persistent to deliver results.” The context of the comment was about trying to get current status from team members so that the project could adhere to the schedule and deliver results. If you’ve ever served as an IT project manager, you know that feeling when team members are evasive and try to avoid contact.

The intangibles build the foundation for making a solid project manager.

All the intangible characteristics and traits that you thought of that make a good project manager are the very things that earn them the respect to gather task and schedule information more easily. When team members respect the PM for their domain knowledge, communication style, and demeanor they are more likely to provide better task and schedule data. That’s the opposite of how project management is taught in a classroom setting where core skills about documenting project scope and timeline are first. So I would suggest that to be a more effective project manager one should work on their business acumen and relational skills first. Then applying fundamental PM skills around scope, risk, and execution will become much easier.

Onward and upward!

(Photo credit: Generation Bass – https://flic.kr/p/8mxGWu)

Push-ups to Push-downs.

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Push-ups are for treats!pushup

One of my most memorable childhood treats was orange sherbet push-ups. I can still envision those pops with the plastic push sticks and the plastic bottom. Of course the plastic bottom was good for licking at the end! A paper covering with colored circles surrounded the orange sherbet that made for the tasty sweet treat.  Today, I’ve replaced Push-up pops with the push-up exercise, but I never lost my taste for orange sherbert.

Push-downs are for opportunity and growth.

At work, I prefer push-downs. I prefer to push decision making down to employees that are valued not only for their knowledge and skills but for their customer service and relationship skills as well. These are the employees closest to producing tangible output and closest to direct customer interactions. I use the word ‘prefer’ because I know there are pros and cons of decentralized versus centralized decision making. Decentralization doesn’t work best for all things (i.e. culture, philosophy, values). But a decentralized approach allows employees the opportunity to own the customer experience. That means opportunity for employee growth and a closer relationship to the company’s customers.

So push-up for strength and conditioning. But push-down for opportunity and growth.

Onward and upward!

What does the business require of me?

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The question every IT professional should ask.

I think through this question quite a bit. It has significance in the equation of work satisfaction and success. It is fundamental in how every IT professional should approach their career.

What do my customers require of the Information Technology group?

Typically, we try to answer this question in terms of running the business and growing the business. I have lived the tug-of-war between providing stable systems that run the business and new systems that grow the business. It means being risk averse and cutting costs but yet taking risks and investing in new technologies. Can IT provide both and do both of them really well?

The irresistible force is growing the top line revenue of the company or finding new sources of revenue in an ever changing world.  But the immovable object is the need to keep existing systems running and to satisfy an ever growing list of compliance requirements. These two forces will compete for technology dollars and mindshare. .

But maybe I’m thinking about the answer in the wrong terms.

One of my guiding principles is that I want IT to be known for products and solutions over processes. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in processes. But I believe that customers don’t care about the ActJustlyprocesses we use unless they receive the products and solutions that solve their needs. The discussion about processes and procedures is much easier when the customer sees that IT is acting as a true partner and bringing solutions to the table.

In the Old Testament book of Micah there is a well known verse that says:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

In context, this verse teaches that relationship comes before sacrifices. But it could easily be applied to the question “what does the business require of IT”? To act first in the interest of the customer not in the interest of IT (act justly). To act with kindness in those relationships with customers and business associates outside of IT (love mercy). To value partnership over arrogance and be more interested in a solution with compromise than ‘being right’(walk humbly).

When these pieces are in place then the conversation of what the business requires of IT changes. The relationship is described with terms like partnership, joint, and mutual. The approach to problem solving becomes enjoyable for both parties. I believe Micah’s teaching transcends time and places. The business requires IT to be in relationship with them first. Then work to solve for running the business and growing the business.

Onward and upward!