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Communicating Decisions February 1, 2009

Posted by Tariq Ahmed in Communication.
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When making decisions, managers need to make sure their subordinates understand the decision. They don’t have to agree with the manager, but they need to understand why it was made. As Lord Vader, I don’t have to explain my decisions to subordinates but I’ve found that keeping the men in the dark can cause many problems.

When you don’t explain, subordinates can feel shut out of the decision making process and feel they aren’t on the same “team”. They stop caring about the job and feel the “boss knows best, so why think?” This creates a negative energy and the employee stops being creative. If the employees disagree with the decision being made and aren’t explained the “why” they may think the manger is “ignorant” or worse. Also when left to their own devices to come up with a reason they may think the real reason is a nefarious one and that will only create paranoia and rumors in the department.

If the reason is nefarious (which is fine by me!) or needs to be kept secret, you can still make up a fake reason or simply tell them that an explanation will be forth coming and patience is simply needed.

darthvader

Cost of Changes vs. Risk and Uncertainty January 23, 2009

Posted by Darth Sidious in Project Management.
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Now and then I keep an eye on some interesting management/leadership/project mgmt blogs.

This interesting post came up on an aspect covered in the upcoming PMBOK V4 (Project Management Book of Knowledge).

In the article they related how Cost of Changes, Stakeholder Influence, and Risk/Uncertainty change throughout the life of the project. They compare how in traditional approaches a project starts off with a high degree of stakeholder influence and low cost of changes – but as the project matures, cost of changes sky rocket, and stakeholder influence drops off quickly.

The stakeholder influence drops off quickly in such scenarios, because in all-or-nothing super-size projects, once the snowball starts rolling you invest so much that you’re unlikely to abandon the work.

So they’re saying the cost of changes can be flattened out, and the risk/uncertainty reduced by using agile/iterative development, while at the same time stakeholder influence can remain relatively high by being able to constantly adjust priorities.

I also liked the thought of this:
“Iterative methods deliberately pull high risk elements of projects forward in the timeline to tackle them early and reduce their impacts. By undertaking the risky work sooner we have more options, time and money at our disposal to solve them or find work-arounds.”

read the full article…

Darth Sidious

Crusader or Pragmatist… January 21, 2009

Posted by Darth Sidious in Business Management.
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When it comes to selling an idea, concept, technology, etc… especially one that you are emotionally driven by, it’s easy for your passion to over do it.

Initially it may work as people are drawn to those who can paint a powerful positive vision of the future. But overtime what’ll happen is you’ve positioned yourself as someone who is on one end of an extreme, and upper management in particular doesn’t like that.

They won’t like it because they view you as an unbalanced crusader not able or willing to constantly re-evaluate business conditions and realities. Nor can your words have weight as you’re not (from their perspective) giving that balanced view of what you’re crusading for (i.e. the pros AND the cons).

It gets more tricky when you’re campaigning for something that’s negative by nature (e.g. layoffs, getting rid of Galactic Empire stock options, feeding high ranking officers to the Panna Monster for doubting the power of the Force, etc…).

In any case, you want to present a balanced fact based angle that doesn’t exaggerate  the pros or the cons. It’s the less exciting route to take (because you’re restricting the amount of passion that’s emoted), but it’s the path that will work in the long run.

Exaggeration is a technique that works for a short term buy in, but the problem is you’ll quickly lose creditability when the real results come in.

You don’t need to win with fireworks, guns blazing, or landslides… You just need to win.

Darth Sidious

Could one person lower productivity? January 19, 2009

Posted by Darth Sidious in Employee Types.
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I was recently listening to an Earth podcast from a public radio show called This American Life, and the subject was regarding a study of how one person could lower productivity (the full podcast can be heard here).

Standard management theory says that groups are powerful. Individuals (at the same level) tend to conform to the group’s values and norms, vs. the other way around. Especially to the point of lowering everyone’s productivity.

They found that to be true, but 3 character traits have the potential ability to buck that trend:

  • Someone who insults/attacks/embarrasses others
  • Makes statements that work performed by others is inadequate, but offers no constructive alternatives.
  • Declares that everyone should listen to them.
  • Slackers (those that don’t deliver on their end of the bargain)
  • Makes statements of: “Whatever”, “I really don’t care”, “Let’s just get this over with”
  • Depressive Pessimists
  • Perpetually negative people, everything is wrong.
  • Makes statements that they don’t like what they’re doing/un-enjoyable.
  • Makes statements doubting the group’s ability to succeed

The study found that groups with such people performed 30%-40% worse (on the exact same project) compared to groups that didn’t. Changes occurred in the way people treated each other:

  • Team members argued and fought more often; not just the bad apple but to each other.
  • Not share relevant information, hoard/control information.
  • Communicated less.

The team tended to take on their characteristics of those people. It wouldn’t be just in response to those people, but also to become like them. If that one bad apple believed that the work was unenjoyable, the others started thinking that too.

But teams with the exact same task that didn’t have the bad apple found the work to be challenging and interesting.

Initial theory was that the best predictor of how successful a team will be is based on good the best people in the team were. It turns out that it’s based on how bad the worst person in the team is.

Darth Sidious

Leadership lesson from Tony Soprano November 26, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Leadership.
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In my spare time I like to watch some 2 dimensional video feeds from the planet of Earth, and I was watching this documentary about this Sopranos family. It’s incredibly candid how the family allows almost all their actions to be recorded.

Anyways, there’s one episode where Tony (the Sith lord of this clan) has survived a gun shot wound and is out of the hospital. And being in a weakened state his clan begins to push limits and boundaries – beginning to treat Tony as a peer instead of a superior.

Although Tony was still weak and recovering from his injury he knew he had to do something quickly. He picks an arbitrary fight with the youngest and strongest in his crew to set an example, and re-establish his dominance. Which was risky, considering he could have lost in his weakened state, and that weakness would have only degraded his status.

This was a necessary move on Tony’s part, so here’s the take away… Subordinates will notice weakness, and take advantage of it (even if unconsciously). It’ll come in the way of pushing limits and boundaries, seeing what they can get away with (coming in later, leaving earlier, delivering less, etc…).

Subordinates respect strength. Hold your ground, you’ll get more results that way.

Darth Sidious

The management opportunity of Business Intelligence November 13, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Business Intelligence.
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Like with many technology projects, everyone wants a piece of the action. It’s the latest and greatest, something potentially better than what you have now, and all that good stuff. When we launched our latest VaderSoft Office edition, we had Storm Troopers tripping over themselves to get their hands on it (one of the big productivity boosters is the RebelScum plugin).

But, when it comes to implementing Business Intelligence look beyond just the tooling, technology, and infrastructure. The problem with your current organically grown B.I is that all these disparate reports float across your organization where the requirements came from different levels of management, different aspects of the business, etc… and they don’t necessarily align up to the top. It’s just data that someone wanted.

If you’re launching a new B.I initiative, drive it from the top. Start small with just the top level executives to define the data management needs, definitions, the information that’s needed to drive the business, and the key performance indicators (KPIs) that the executive staff feel are the leading indicators of the business.

Then use that as a tool in itself to train your management as the B.I initiative works its way down each management level. C Level executives will want their Sr VPs to know how the C Level folks are monitoring the business, the numbers they’re looking at, where the numbers are coming from and so on… The Sr VPs in turn will want B.I that extends from those numbers that adds the granularity they need. This process continues all the way down, but the idea is everyone is on the same page with:

  • what information is tagged as important,
  • what information is being used to drive decisions,
  • what information is used for performance tracking,
  • what information is used to drive  corporate goals

Sure… top level management looks at things from a strategic view, where as line-level management is operationally focused on a specific aspect of the business. But it’s all about going back to nested objectives, and in this case the nested B.I that goes along with that.

The big take away here is if you’re kicking off a new B.I initiative it’s an opportunity to coach your management all the way down.

Darth Sidious

Is Your Project Charter Still Valid? November 2, 2008

Posted by Tariq Ahmed in Project Management.
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A Project Charter is a document that states the reasons for doing the project, objectives of the project (scope), and identifies the stakeholders.  I don’t want to discuss the details of a Project Charter, but rather the importance of making sure it is still valid as you work through a large project.  The bigger the project, the longer it will take and the more resources it will consume.  Time is your enemy in these cases, as time can cause drastic changes in the company, economy, management and competition, which can cause your project charter to become out of touch.  When this happens, the project runs the risk of being cancelled completely.

A sound Project will have an ROI analysis, which should have justified the project to start with.  This should include assumptions such as:

–    We have resources allocated for the project.
–    Other projects are not taking our resources.
–    Future projects aren’t threatening our resources.
–    Competition hasn’t pressured us in a different direction.
–    Top management still wants the project completed.
–    Management is comfortable and aware of the timelines.
–    The company’s financial situation hasn’t changed.
–    Economic conditions are stable.
–    The company is still in X business.
–    Our initial ROI analysis is still valid.
–    Etc.

These assumptions should be checked on a regular basis with the stakeholders, including top management.  Many stakeholders may be squeamish to bring this up, as the questions create doubt and may sound negative.  The PM and stakeholders may be so absorbed and emotionally attached to their “pet project”, that challenging the assumptions and ROI is treasonous and will get you executed or the very least shunned upon.

In order to combat this, as a PM or stakeholder, this Project Charter Revalidation process should be part of the project plan, per company policy so everyone is aware that these tough questions will be asked on a scheduled basis.

Guest Post @ Slacker Manager October 27, 2008

Posted by Darth Sidious in Communication.
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We recently did a guest post at SlackerManager.com as part of our improving relations with the planet Earth initiative (aka IRWTPEI for short). The post is regarding how to improve your communications by using what we call a leading sentence.

Slacker Manager is a good site – there’s a management philosophy that if you’re successful as a manager, there’s not much left for you to do (since you’ve put the right processes in place that allow people to keep the business moving along that doesn’t require tons of upward delegation, you’ve empowered people to make decisions on their own, and grew a staff around you that supports all your weaknesses).

Personally, I can’t relate to having weaknesses (I am the Emperor afterall). But for you mortals, you definitely want to check out SlackerManager.com.

Successful Projects October 23, 2008

Posted by Tariq Ahmed in Project Management.
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PMI, Six Sigma(?) and similar institutions will teach you the basics of Project Management.  They’ll discuss concepts like: project scope, tasks, work breakdown structure, dependencies, resources, costs and project plans.  Theory is great, and all of those things will help your project.  But what happens when the 800 pound gorilla rears it’s ugly head?  I’m talking about politics.  Politics can destroy a project faster than I can electrocute someone.  In the coming weeks we’ll discuss the ugly side of projects.  The things they don’t teach you in school.

Vendors September 30, 2008

Posted by Tariq Ahmed in Inspirational Quotes.
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Today I was dealing with a vendor about meeting a tight deadline for a delivery of tie fighters.  When discussing the time line, I was highly impressed with his attitude:

“Your deadlines are our deadlines”.

It brought a tear to my eye.