Thursday Nov 16, 2006

Golden Rules for Program Managers: #5

Be Neutral

It's been said that a software development project is like a rubber band and all the functional representatives (development engineers, QE engineers, tech pubs writers, localization managers, support team, etc.) are holding the rubber band and standing in a circle. Your job as the program manager is to make sure the rubber band stays in the shape of a circle. If anyone starts to pull too hard on their part and the shape goes out of whack, you have to either bring them back into line or give the others a chance to pull on their parts equally hard so that your band regains its shape.

You don't want to ship a product that's egg-shaped or oblong. Round is good.

The only way to achieve this is if you, the program manager, are neutral on all fronts. When a contentious issue comes up you can't show a bias for one solution or another - you have to investigate the issue and weigh all the options with a single-minded focus: what's the best thing for the product?

Thursday Jun 01, 2006

Golden Rules for Program Managers: #4

Make Things Easy for People

Program managers are often the hunters and gatherers of information. We have to run to several sources to collect information and then package\*\* it all up in a way that will make sense to our audience. As you're doing this, your goal should be to make things as easy for others as possible. Here's an example.

Imagine you have a form that requires input from an engineering manager, a tech lead, and a product marketing manager. You could send an email to all 3 of them, attach the form and say "please fill in your part and send it back to me."

However if you want to make it easier for these folks you can send an individual email to each one of them. (I've found people are much more likely to answer an email that's sent only to them, rather than one that's sent to a large group or an alias.) Cut and paste just the questions that you need them to answer into the email, and ask them to supply the data in an email response. This saves them the time of opening the attachment and figuring out which questions they need to answer.

This approach might take a little bit more of your time but your team members will appreciate it, and you'll get what you want faster in the end.

\*\*Note that during this packaging process you need to be sure you're adding value. If you find you're just compiling people's input into one email or onto one wiki site then you're probably not adding much value. And you're probably bored too... Time to either start throwing yourself into your current job more or else start looking for a new one.

Wednesday Apr 26, 2006

Golden Rules for Program Managers: #3

Create clarity out of confusion.

I learned this skill from Master PM Pat Hill.

Quite often people take a simple matter and convolute it beyond recognition. A good program manager can recognize when this has happened, untangle it all, and achieve clarity for the whole team. It can be surprisingly hard!

Here a few tactics that are helpful when trying to untangle almost any situation:
- Distinguish between relevant and irrelevant data.
- Ask questions, lots of questions.
- Paraphrase what you've understood to make sure you're on track.
- Speak in simple English (or whatever language you're using). People around you will follow suit.
- Question assumptions.
- When you think you've untangled the issue be sure to check with others to make sure you really have.

Tuesday Apr 25, 2006

Golden Rules for Program Managers: Rule #2

Falling Intonation is Your Friend

When you're leading a team, people look to you to set the tone. Falling intonation at the end of a sentence indicates that you're sure of yourself and what you're saying. It tells people that you're in charge and they'll most likely appreciate you for it because they believe you're a knowledgeable and confidant leader.

On the flipside, while you might be completely confident of yourself and your message if you raise your voice at the end of your sentences or habitually say "ok?", you give a very different subliminal message to your team.

Think about the way T.V. anchors talk when they give the news, they take full advantage of falling intonation - they want to inspire confidence and appear knowledgeable. You can achieve the same effect, and without all the pancake makeup.

Note that if your rising intonation stems from the fact that you really aren't sure of what you're doing or saying, falling intonation can't help you. In this case I recommend you admit to your team that you don't have good answers and ask them to help you find the answers. But that's another blog...

Golden Rules for Program Managers: Rule #1

Strive for people's respect, not their affection.

When people hear that I've been assigned to a project I want their first reaction to be "OK, that one is in good hands." Not, "Oh, she's such a nice person."

That's my guiding principle whenever I realize I'm about to send one of those "fire-in-the-hole" emails. You might risk ticking someone off but if it's the best thing for your project, your customer or your company, you have to do it. If your supplier is impacting your ability to deliver to your customer you have to fix it.

Some people are master diplomats and can deliver the most unpleasant message in a way that doesn't even hurt. Most of us can pull that off sometimes but not all the time. And if your counterpart is a true professional they'll understand why you did what you did, and they'll know that if they were in your position they would have done the same thing. And they'll respect you for it.

And if they hear you've been assigned to their project, they'll be relieved that it's in good hands.


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