Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Methodology: Too Little, To Much, or 'Just Right'?

When Goldilocks sampled the three bears’ porridge, she found one too hot, another too cold, and the third 'just right'. Similarly, when she tried out their beds, she found one too hard, another too soft, and the third 'just right'.  Project or program methodologies are similar. They can be created with too little process, with too much process, or with the 'just right' amount of process. The key is finding out what is 'just right' for your organization. You’ll find that what’s 'just right' for your organization is unique and different from other, even very similar, organizations.

In small organizations, the tendency is toward too little methodology – often very little or none.  In large organizations, the tendency is toward too much methodology – a very formal, highly detailed process with very little flexibility. In medium-sized organizations, it is generally somewhere in between. Striking the proper balance is a difficult, but critical task that will determine the success an organization finds in effectively developing new products or programs.

What are some characteristics of too little methodology?
Too little methodology often leads to bedlam, anarchy, and a free-for-all atmosphere. There is no uniformity of direction; everyone is moving fast, but often in different directions (Brownian motion) (see Poor Company Vision Clouds Everyone’s View). People all feel they know what’s really best, and do their own thing independently of others. There is a 'cowboy mentality'. No one effectively leads (or everyone tries to lead), and few want to follow. Milestones are not effectively set, and schedules are for losers (see Poor Product Vision Blinds Development, and A Poor Product Roadmap Gets Everyone Lost). This can actually seem exciting and even intoxicating initially, but after a short time, people begin to get frustrated because the goals are not clear and little meaningful work is really being accomplished. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Embarrassment Rules the World?

When I worked at Bell Labs (lo those many years ago), I had an Executive Director whose governing management philosophy was that 'embarrassment rules the world'. That is, he felt that people achieved goals, met their commitments, and made all of their critical decisions based primarily on doing whatever was necessary to avoid being embarrassed. This Executive Director was also a person who inspired trepidation and trembling among many subordinates because of his forceful personality and this underlying philosophy. When he would hold meetings, or go around the organization to visit and check up on things, if he felt that people were not delivering to his expectations (which were often not made clear), he would publicly embarrass them in front of many others. The result was that people would make sure that they were doing enough to avoid such public embarrassment and humiliation, but most often just enough. They would often not work to exceed expectations or to excel, due to the chances of being embarrassed in front of others by this domineering executive.  

Such a management approach may ensure a level of performance just a notch above mediocrity, but certainly not a level of excellence. When a level of excellence was achieved, it was virtually always due to the natural desire of the person or people in the organization to excel, and not to satisfy the perverse philosophy of this manager. I learned a lot from this Executive Director, on how not to manage people (see Learn from Good Role Models; Learn More from Bad!, Mis-Managers: How Bad Managers Can Poison The WellMis-Managers 2: Janus & Old YellerMis-Managers 3: Builder-Upper & Tearer-DownerMis-Managers 4: Micro-Managers - People, Design & ProcessMis-Managers 5: Power Tripper & Turf Builder, Mis-Managers 6: Mentor, Tactician & Strategist, and Mis-Managers 7: Hands-Off, Wheeler-Dealer, Credit Taker/Thief & A$$hole).

I strongly disagree with 'embarrassment rules the world' as a governing management philosophy and believe it is destructive. However, avoiding embarrassment does often serve as a strong motivator in people’s lives. For those witnessing the embarrassment being handed out, it is strange, but some people seem to take perverse pleasure at seeing others being publicly embarrassed. As an example, American Idol is one of the top rated shows on television, largely, until this most recent season, due to the embarrassment and disparagement handed out weekly by Simon Cowell to contestants who don’t live up to his expectations. Taking pleasure in another’s misfortune is a sad but unfortunately real observation on some people’s behavior that tends to reinforce the 'embarrassment rules the world' philosophy. In this blog post, I’d like to explore what an 'embarrassment rules the world' approach means, problems it can cause, and what I believe is a far more beneficial management philosophy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

If You Want It Bad, You'll Get It ... Bad!

You and your team are working as hard as possible to deliver on your commitments by the agreed to deadline, and you want to be sure that what you deliver is of high quality. However, unforeseen problems have arisen that make it questionable that you will be able to deliver everything with the quality you want on time. The pressure is incredible. Your boss is saying things like, “I don’t care how you do it, but get me something by Friday!”, or, “I don’t care if it’s complete or fully ready; I need something now!”, or, “Don’t confuse me with the facts; just get me what I want, now!” [see Don't Confuse Me With the Facts!] Your boss has promised this to his boss, and your boss’s boss has promised this to his boss. No one wants to be embarrassed in front of their boss. However, you know that if what you deliver isn't everything that was promised, or isn’t really complete or fully ready, or isn’t of high quality, despite what your boss may say now, you will be crucified. You are stuck with the dilemma that if you want it bad, you’ll get it . . . bad!

Clearly, the world is moving faster and faster. Competitors are selling products and services which can quickly take away your company’s market share . If your product or service isn’t released to market within a certain timeframe, the company may face dire circumstances. Pressures to deliver more faster are very real, and demands to do so are made all of the time.  

What can be done to endure in a chaotic world? First and foremost, it comes to doing the basics right.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Don't Confuse Me With the Facts!

You’re boss asks you to investigate a possible problem that has the potential to seriously derail a critical project or program. Work has been underway for some time now, and the release of this product (or service) is expected to have a substantial impact on the company. The problem, if indeed a serious one, could set back delivery and/or severely damage the image and reputation of the company. 

As you begin your investigation, it becomes ever more evident that the problem is real and is, indeed, serious. You know you’ve got much more work to do to fully understand the details and the consequences, but you want to give your boss an early heads up on your investigation. You don’t expect your boss to be happy about the news, but you do expect him to appreciate learning early in the investigation that there are real danger signs ahead. Instead, he starts yelling at you, saying that you simply don’t understand what your doing, and that you’ve simply got to reach the conclusion that everything is really alright (see Mis-Managers 2: Old Yeller). He is essentially saying, when the facts don’t provide the answer he wants, “Don’t confuse me with the facts!”

What’s the mentatlity at work here? Your boss asked you to find out if the problem is true, and when you find out it is, he refuses to believe you. He trusted you enough to ask you to independently investigate, but won’t accept your answer when you learn and present the facts (see No Good Deed Goes Unpunished!).

When facts don’t match assumptions, a common first reaction is that the facts are wrong, not that the assumptions are wrong. Often, the assumptions have been around so long that they are considered common wisdom. When facts betray that common wisdom, the boss may view this as an insult to his/her intelligence, and blame the messenger. Changing the boss’ perspective, even with conclusive proof, is often hard, and can lead to negative perceptions of the person providing the ‘contrary’ facts. Unfortunately, this negative view of the bearer of bad news can linger beyond the current instance and on into the future. [In older and darker times the bearer of bad news was often killed!]