Manager...Am I?


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An article I wrote in 2009 when I had just started to feel the challenge and fun of project management; having done few small technical and organizational projects. It focuses primarily on the softer aspects of managing a team.

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Manager...Am I?

  1. 1. SEP 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I? By Uday Shankar AB
  2. 2. Sep 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I? PREFACE In this article, I would like to talk about few of those many things, which, one as a manager comes across in his/her work life, things that are done implicitly and unknowingly, planned and unplanned, things that could have been done better and a few other aspects. As a relatively younger lad, I would like to try shedding light on some of the things which I believe many, very often, ignore to realize or say no to accept. I do understand, this is one such subject that can never be fully described, understood and mastered and as I believe we are (if not should be) continuous learners and should always try to better ourselves. So, the onus is upon us, to keep doing that and never stop learning. And to all the non-manager’s, just don’t STOP, do not think that this is not for us, I am sure you will make an equally good read out of this. Hope while you read through, you discuss and argue on my views and opinions and try to find an answer for your question/confusion, if you are in. And en-route, may probably also help others, to find an answer by rightly guiding them and also help them realize their strengths and weaknesses, there by aligning ourselves/them to our goal. Page 1
  3. 3. Sep 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I? Manager, the word makes me remember of my earlier notion, an assumption I had of it during my college days, as “the one who does nothing but mostly read/send emails and the one who is the BOSS in the team”. Well, as I said, it was my earlier assumption, which now has totally changed. A Manager, now I believe, in a nutshell description, is the one who gets to take decisions, by virtue of his experience, in terms of years and in terms of the knowledge he/she has. It comprises of everything about his/her team ranging from a trivial decision (what it just seems) like approving a team member’s leave, sending a status report to client or the upper management, conveying upcoming holidays to client, managing resources, schedule/cost overruns, sharing project metrics, ensuring people and client satisfaction, timely deliverables and many others. We have all seen managers, a lot of them. Manager, in a sports team, in a bank you have your account with, in the restaurant you go to, a petrol station you fuel your vehicle with…, they are everywhere. So, the fact is, a manager is an essential part of any eco-system, the one who drives the team, steers it in the right direction and makes sure that the team as a whole achieves its target. We often see people complaining about their managers, about how task oriented he is, how a micromanager he is, how bad a task master he is, how insensitive he is….well the list goes on. But, how often have we thought about how it would be for us when we are in his shoes? I guess, NOT very often. May be, we feel we don’t have to. On the flip side, how often the managers do really appreciate a team member for their efforts, care them as a mentor, guide and support them at hard times, have a personal rapport with them? How often? We all do know that not everything works perfectly as planned and designed, if it was, things wouldn’t have to get this complex. There are times where things just halt, you were thinking that this was the most perfect thing to do, but then you lately realize that it was a BIG wrong step. What do you do at those times? If you happen to be a manager, I am sure you would have come across one or more such situations. I had some colleagues who used to often say, “they are not satisfied with their appraisal comments, their rating, their salary, their role, their designation and what not”. Well, what was the problem here, what was missing? I believe they never tried to find out the reason for their worries and work towards solving them, they spent their time cripping about it and not address it, they expected things to happen by itself. So what could they have done? What do you think they could have (or you could have) done? Here below, I try to talk about few of such things, things that will help you to (re)consider, look back and evaluate what you did or what you would have done on few of the many people management aspects. And as I earlier mentioned, no one can fully describe this topic and this is not an exhaustive list, but I believe it will definitely serve as a reckoner.  Communication - Keep it Clear and Open Make the team realize the importance of having clear and open communication, and ensure and strive to maintain such environment I strongly believe that “OVER Communication is better than NO communication”, a virtue I have always emphasized in all my teams. We often have seen teams falter due to lack of understanding, a direct result of lack of communication. So, is it so difficult to realize this? Page 2
  4. 4. Sep 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I? The various platforms of communication as one could see are team discussions – design discussions or even a friendly chat, emails, phone calls, conference calls, important announcements and many others. So how do we ensure that all these communication forms remain good and conform to our clear and open philosophy? Here are some of the things I think are, o Keeping all the respective stake holders - team members and leads cc’ed on an email you send out to anyone else. o Encouraging design discussions and reviews to HAPPEN (Many don’t even do this!), and also encourage the entire team to join. I believe every individual has his/her own way of thinking and so each member is a potential candidate to propose something better. Keep it open and let interested people join, instead of closing the door right before. This is also a way through which you get to build inclusion in the team. So never lose this opportunity! o Ensure that before any discussion people know about what the discussion is about. This way they can be prepared, instead of gazing or sitting dumb during the discussions. o Encourage people to reach out in need, you don’t have to always setup a meeting for discussing anything or wait for a daily or weekly meeting to get things clarified. But as an individual remember to respect others time – Do not always pester someone, you don’t want to come back some day and say “I don’t know” even when he knows. These are at least some of the things which one needs to start doing or ensuring, START DOING, if you already aren’t.  Challenges - Identify and work towards them Know, try to know - the weaknesses and risks beforehand and create a game plan on how you could tackle them. In this ever competitive world, it is very important that you know your weaknesses and work towards resolving them. No one individual in this world is perfect in all aspects. There is something or the other, which he/she will not be perfect at. But, a lot more important aspect to be emphasized here is, your initiative to identify these and creating a plan to bridge the gap. Similarly, as a manager, it is very imperative for one to identify the challenges he/she thinks they have in the successful execution of a project. Few of the innumerable challenges one could face are – people conflicts, new or unclear processes, too many or redundant processes, lack of proper communication channels, Improper planning leading to shortage of time, resources and budget, unclear goals, new technologies, at times –bad history, insufficient support from the client or from management, cross geography multi-team model, time zone differences, lack of proper tools, improper leadership and many others. It is absolutely impossible for anyone team to have no challenges. So it is high time you recognize them and work towards solving them. If you haven’t already done this, DO this NOW. Page 3
  5. 5. Sep 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I?  Feedback – Provide and Seek, from and to, your clients and the team I am sure we all believe that feedback is a very very important and necessary step. As I see it, we have nothing to lose in this process, what we may, is gain and it’s upon us, to WANT or NOT WANT it. For feedback, I would talk to my manager, not just after my appraisal discussion, but at any intervals, whenever I feel have a concern towards something. I would say a formal discussion at times will all help us steer/realign oneself with what my manager expects and what I think that I should deliver. It is usually this communication or expectation gap which widens and creates such concerns. As I like to quote, “the only thing that is CONSTANT is CHANGE”. So let’s remember an important point here, CONTINOUS FEEDBACK is a very necessary step to your successful career. So, as a manager, do not, never ever, hesitate to give feedback to your team and as a team member - always be ready to take or seek feedback. I do not say take all your manager says, make it a DISCUSSION and NOT a session. May be there are many things your manager doesn’t know about you, and you can utilize this discussion to explain why you HAD to do things that your manager felt as inappropriate or incorrect or also tell him your achievements. As I see it, MOST managers do provide feedback, but, on a task by task basis. So what more is it exactly? The issue is, with such feedbacks you only tend to identify mistakes and as human nature goes no one likes people point fingers at them. So, establish a free flow of open and informal discussions and do not always wait for an individual to make a mistake. If you think that someone is doing a great job, appreciate him about his doings, Yes – This is important! But remember, feedback discussions can go haywire. You need to ensure that you know enough about the achievements and, if any, mistakes, of whom you are talking to. If you yourself aren’t fully aware of the individual’s potential and achievements, there is no point in giving feedback –Then, it’s the worst thing you can ever do. So use this as a platform to motivate, correct, appreciate and understand your team members. If you aren’t already doing this, START doing this NOW.  Building Inclusion – Making everyone realize the importance of their efforts On this context, few words worth mentioning from the book, “Team Building” by Robert D Maddox, “Many supervisors spend too much time solving problems that could be better handled by individuals. When supervisors feel responsible for all problems, production is slowed, employees are frustrated and personal development is limited. The supervisor ends up with less time to plan, organize, motivate and control. Team effectiveness is more easily achieved when the supervisor simply participates in problem solving rather than dominating it”. It is very important for a manager to make his team realize the criticality of each of their tasks and the underlying dependencies. Only when one realizes these, will they feel the importance of their efforts and how it makes a difference. The immediate effect – The team takes full ownership of their tasks, they take Page 4
  6. 6. Sep 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I? the responsibility and you need less supervision. By doing so, team will also start realizing that they can take ownership of things and can achieve things without or with less supervision.  Personal Rapport It’s a team of individuals, who work towards a common goal. It’s a family and you are the HEAD! You need to know the pulse of the people who you are working with – If your team doesn’t like you then its sure that you have problems in achieving your goal. As a manager, you have to deal with people, every day, every moment. Remember, they are the most critical resource for the team to succeed and ultimately for your success. Ensure that you render support to your team at all hard times, support in emotional, personal and technical terms, whenever they need. Failing to do so, you lose an opportunity to build a batter team. This is an art, which not everyone can or is good at. So keep trying and put some conscious efforts – sure you will see the efforts helping you out. • Exceed Expectations – Motivate the team to deliver MORE “Anyone would like to get more or something better than what they expected” – This is a UNIVERSAL FACT. This is an attribute of a High Performing Team (HPT) where each individual knows his/her responsibilities and strives to achieve them, meanwhile trying their best to deliver more and go beyond expectations - as commonly called as ABCD (Above and Beyond the Call of Duty) As a manger it is important to make people realize this and the benefits of doing this. But even before that, people need to know what the expectations are. How could you expect people to deliver more when they do not know what is expected out of them? Take opportunity to set these objectives and expectations straight and ensure that all your team knows what is expected from each of them. As many companies do, this should be done during the objective setting phase usually at the start of an appraisal year. Each individual has different strengths and weaknesses, so ensure that you identify what they are good at and make them do that, make best use of their talent. It makes me remember of a sentence someone said to his manager, before he quit his company, “I am not USELESS, you just USED ME LESS” But be careful, an important thing to keep in mind is that there are people whom you cannot PUSH for more, they are self-contented and can’t take anything more. So deal with them appropriately and know how much to expect from each of them. You cannot have same yardstick for all measures.  Give chances for self-correction People do mistakes and no one is perfect – So give them opportunities to identify it and correct themselves. Do not always try to jump on each and every small thing you feel is incorrect. You may have to at times, Page 5
  7. 7. Sep 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I? forgive mistakes and let one realize it. This is important because that gives one an opportunity to correct himself and realize how important it is for him to not repeat this again and how much you as a manager believe in him/her and also that, you have not tried to take this as an opportunity to sabotage him or to prove that you are better. But depending on the criticality of the issue you may have to take corrective actions at times, right at the first instance, where you do not have a second chance. So, in such cases talk to your team and explain them how dangerous this mistake was and how vital it is to not have such issues crop up again. Give a Chance!  Learn, Share and Collaborate – And do it CONTINOUSLY Information is a constantly growing and intangible asset, you will always feel lack of it! It is very important, as an individual and as a team, to stay abreast with the new technologies along with building expertise and knowledge in many existing ones - The world is fast and constantly changing. In such an environment it is important to ensure that knowledge is captured and grown at every possible step. SO, encourage your team to learn new things, to share their learning’s. To ensure that these happen - build platforms that create equal opportunity and sustainable momentum forums, come up with initiatives that help one achieve this, at times create incentive based programmes so that, in lieu of getting the incentives, team members get immaterialist benefits too. Never Stop Learning and as a manager ensure that you have an environment that helps sustain this philosophy.  Team Building – It’s a Team of members and NOT just a group of individuals! As any team starts, it is first a group of differently focused individuals with varied strengths and capabilities, it is then, later, once everyone realize their goal, they form a TEAM, a single achieving entity As a team working towards a common goal, it is very important that everyone supports the cause, it is vital that the team realizes that they always WIN as a team and the failure of one is the failure of everyone else. To build such an environment, the group should become a team, all the people should gel with each other, irrespective of their personal differences, seniority or knowledge. And as a manager, you need to ensure that you create and sustain such environment, some of the ways could be - by organizing team outings, celebrating member birthdays, celebrating a team achievement’s and recognizing people efforts. Ensuring a good atmosphere in the team will also ensure many other important parameters like people satisfaction, free and open communication, team work, sharing and caring for other team members and many others.  Time management Time is invaluable and you cannot ask for more – Once wasted its GONE, So MAKE BEST USE of it. A manager usually gets to do or is supposed to do more activities than his fellow team members – creating reports, replying to emails, understanding and keeping abreast of all his teams’ needs and many Page 6
  8. 8. Sep 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I? more - Juggling activities all the day. So I say, a manager should be a good MULTI TASKER, should be able to handle multiple aspects efficiently. As the concept behind multi-threaded processors – the requirement is to be more efficient, handle multiple tasks and requests concurrently!!! So to become a good, if not the BEST, time manager, it’s essential that you need to PLAN in advance and schedule your time. Personally, I have exploited outlook to the best of my knowledge – The follow-up flags and calendar has been something that I have extensively used in planning my day to day activities and juggle multiple activities. I have many times, blocked my calendar for the coding I have to do, for the preparations I have to do before I attend a meeting and many other things. My suggestion is, find ways to efficiently manage your time, use tools and methods that you are most comfortable with. So PLAN YOUR TIME! And if you are not already doing this, START DOING this NOW.  Best way to lead - To Lead by example DO NOT use your role as an AUTHORITY - use it more like a leadership – to lead people, to help them achieve their goals. It’s an art of LEADING! The best way, I have realized in my experience, to lead a team is to lead by example. You cannot expect your team to do things which you yourself do not agree or do - Do not expect this at all! Establish a guideline for your team – I would not like to quote it as a rule because rules often tend to become more stringent and people often feel suffocated when they hear about it. Guidelines should be followed by everyone in the team – no exclusion based on position, knowledge or seniority. Things you do as Manager, often gets considered as a code of conduct for the team. So at times, you will have to do things which you personally were adamant and against to, but realize this is for your team, for the team’s success i.e. your SUCCESS.  Don’t Get Lost – Innovate All of us, the Managers and the team members, often get bogged down by the processes we are already in to, and in the process - forget to THINK and INNOVATE! Let me quote two of the very famous and some of my very liked quotes, “Think there must be a better way” “When you are sure it’s good enough, IMPROVE it” As we work, it is important that we always have our thinker cap on, and find out better way of doing things. As the above saying goes, there is always a better way and once you find it, improve it, so that you can make it still better and don’t stop, continue doing it. Page 7
  9. 9. Sep 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I?  You do not know everything Admitting that you do not know something or that you are wrong, is the modest of way saying, You’ve grown a little wiser A manager is a human being too! He too, would not know many things, just like any of us. So it’s perfectly OK, as a manager or as any individual to say no if you don’t know. But what will you do then, you cannot just stop there! “Yes, I do not know, BUT I WILL FIND IT OUT”, Yes this is what that counts. DO NOT make the mistake of trying to answer something for a question that you have no idea about, do not try to fill up the blanks. By doing so, you are openly sabotaging your reputation (I believe you wouldn’t do so of you have a reputation!)  Appreciation Make people, the team, realize their contributions and how it made or will make a difference. Appreciation is one such thing that any individual will crave for, and as a manager you need to ensure that people are appreciated for their efforts and they get due recognition for their accomplishments. This is also a way through which you get to motivate an individual and also the team. So never lose this opportunity! But, a word of caution before you get this firm on your mind - DO NOT OVERUSE and DEVALUE APPRECIATION, it is a very important thing and do not over use it and make people lose its significance. It’s like a wish you have been blessed as a manager, use it carefully.  Motivate the Team Inspire and Stimulate - There are many people unaware of their strengths and capabilities! Motivation is a very important driving force, and once created and sustained is like a self kick- starting process that never, fails. The motivation factor varies from one individual to another and it is very important as a manager to realize and understand what motivates your team. A motivated team can deliver much better results in terms of timely deliverables and self-satisfaction then a demotivated or a normal team. No single technique works for all teams or all individuals, just like setting expectations, so you need to figure out the SUPERSET that will make your team motivated to deliver, to deliver better.  Build leaders – Share leadership Create and groom leaders, provide/create opportunities, that way you grow far higher and become a far better leader. Why do some people try not to share their knowledge? I guess there are two reasons, One, they think that by doing so their position/job is under threat and later he/she can outperform him Two, they like to take the pride of knowing it, boast about their knowledge I say, both of this, are nothing but pure display of unprofessionalism. If you see anyone doing so, or you Page 8
  10. 10. Sep 2009 PROJECT MANAGEMENT: MANAGER…..AM I? yourself in to this, COME OUT OF IT. Think! Are you gaining anything at all? If he/she is better than you, has better potential than you, it is definite that they will reach their goal. You doing so may just create some turbulence in their goal, but sooner or later they will achieve it. Well, here are some definite reasons why I urge everyone should believe in this. By sharing your knowledge, You get to offload yourself from some responsibility. Now when any one needs to know about the same thing, they don’t have to always come to you again, you can ask them to reach out to whom you already shared your knowledge with. You also have ensured that you can move on to a bigger role as moving from this will not create any knowledge holes. On this aspect, I believe the organization plays an important role too, it should identify such strong leaders and help them move on and provide more and more opportunities for them to build such eco system. So, if you think you have not been doing some of the above things START DOING it. We are all learners and I am sure there will always be something or the other we miss to notice and realize. And as I mentioned earlier, this not the exhaustive list and is just to help us serve as a reckoner. There may be many other things which you are doing in your own right and I have not mentioned here, let’s continue doing those, but along with those let’s spend some more time, make a list of all these things and revaluate them, may be you will derive something more or something better…. Let’s think, Let’s realize, Let’s plan, Let’s act. [Uday Shankar AB is a senior software engineer currently working in an Indian software MNC, MindTree Ltd. He is and has been leading and contributing to many activities in his organization like Knowledge Management, Learning Initiatives, JOY Initiatives and many others. Some of his keen interests are people management, effective thought based leadership and Innovation.] Page 9