#communication

How To Make an Enemy of Your Project Manager

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Worst Nightmare

So you’ve decided to make an enemy of your project manager.  You’ll be surprised at how little effort will be required on your part to achieve your goal.  Here are four easy steps to quickly reduce your value to your team and your PM: 

  1. Silence: Never let your project manager know if you see any risk in making a deliverable date (particularly if your deliverable is on the critical or one of the controlling paths).  Things might clear up on their own and let’s face it, the project manager will just get mad if you tell her.  Also, don’t bother yourself with informing the owners of any predecessor or successor tasks of the risk as this will only make you look bad.  The less you say, the better.
  2. Task Information: If you break radio silence, don’t let your project manager know which task or deliverables will be impacted.  If you’re using a project plan, don’t provide task IDs or any other information that might help the project manager track the risk back to specific work-streams in the plan.  Giving your PM this information will only result in his going off to model the potential impact of the delay and start taking mitigation actions.  Better to be vague and maybe tell a few other team members and let things “trickle up” to the project manager on their own (PMs know everything, anyway).
  3. Estimates: If you go soft on providing task information, avoid providing estimates of how significant the delay might be.  This will only allow the project manager to model the impact, set expectations with project sponsors and take mitigation steps to keep the project on track.  And let’s face it, you’ll be held accountable for your estimates.  This smacks of the injustice of team members getting blamed for everything they do.
  4. Thought Leadership: Ultimately, the key to making an enemy out of your project manager is to provide absolutely zero thought leadership on mitigating or avoiding any impact to the project plan.  Don’t get creative and provide ideas.  Try “thinking for management” by filtering out any idea that you are “absolutely certain will be rejected” or that might make you look bad by appearing to question management.  As with estimates, your idea might be implemented and if it doesn’t work out, you could be held accountable.  The smart move is to sit tight and wait for someone to tell you what to do. Remember – inaction is action when it comes to making enemies on your project.

By following these four easy steps, you will not only alienate your project manager but also position your team for failure.  Communication, accountability and planning can be stressful and who knows – you may even prove to be an example for other who want to avoid this type of stress.  Only by failing to lead can you ever hope to lead others to failure.  Good luck!

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

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ATTENTION “TALKERS”: Learn How To “Fence With Control”

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As an executive, being able to communicate effectively at all levels is important.  Equally important is the ability to effectively listen.  If you’re a Talker like me (and anyone who knows me will tell you that I am definitely a Talker!), you have to find a good technique to balance the two and be an effective “bi-directional” communicator.

I was talking about this very topic with Mark Hall, a friend and mentor of mine.  Mark likens communication to the sport fencing, knowing when to lunge, parry, feint, attack, etc.  I think it’s a good analogy.  Depending on the type of communication, the various aspects of the analogy have merit.  For example, in a negotiation there is a time to listen but there may well be a time to cut your “opponent” off with a lunge.  On the other hand, in a coaching session, one is far more likely to “disengage.”  Different techniques for different scenarios.

As a Talker, I want to share a few effective techniques that I’ve learned that help me keep my mouth shut and “off the attack” when attacking isn’t helpful.  The goal of these techniques is to avoid cutting someone off when they’re talking, which sends the dual message that 1) you’re not listening; and 2) that you’re not interested:

  • Smoke Detector: We talkers are intimately familiar with that overpowering urge to just cut off the other speaker and SAY SOMETHING!!  I refer to this as the “Smoke Detector”.  Use this urge as a signal NOT to talk.  The few times when this may be the wrong approach will be far outweighed by those times where this technique will benefit you.  Don’t overthink it – when you “hear the alarm” get out of the building!
  • Count To Three: When the urge strikes you, first wait for the other person to STOP speaking and then deliberately and slowly count to three….and THEN speak.  I learned this technique from a former boss/colleague of mine, Ann Weaver and it is extremely effective.
  • Finger Tap: An alternative to ‘Count to Three’ is the Finger Tap.  It’s basically the same approach but you make the physical effort of tapping your finger three times on your knee.  This technique came from Mark Hall.
  • Remember The Goal: Remember the goal of your conversation and ask yourself, “is what I am about to say REALLY going to help me get to my goal?”  (and you have to ask it exactly like that, by the way).
  • Reflect: If you’re not familiar with reflective listening techniques, Google and learn them.  It’s standard “communications stuff” with which most of us are familiar but if applied diligently, these techniques work.  It’s a good way to make sure you are RESPONDING to the other person and not just talking about their question or concern.

We Talkers need to be on a constant vigil to keep ourselves in check and strike a balance between effective speaking and listening.  Only by doing so can we be the effective communicators that our executive roles require of us on both a personal and professional basis.  Whether communicating up, down or laterally, the ability to “fence” with style and grace will allow you to not only be successful in your own right but to be a strong example to your teams and colleagues.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese

Transparency – Applying the ‘Price Tag Approach’

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A valuable guiding principle in business (particularly in technology) is to never “protect” your business partners from the consequences of their decisions.

I’m a big believer in what I’ll call the “price tag” approach and it goes something like this.  Suppose you’re a sales associate at the local Jaguar dealership.  If your customer is a first-time Jaguar buyer, it’s probably a good idea to explain that purchasing a Jaguar loaded up with options is also a purchase of more expensive service calls, oil changes, repairs and of course an increased risk that some kid will snap the cat off your hood.  This way, 3,000 miles later, you don’t have an angry customer complaining about the $100 oil change he just paid for.  All you’re doing is setting expectations by helping your customer understand the consequences of his decision – something he may not know and may not ask.

Too often we assume that upper management already knows and understands all the implications of their decisions and requests.  After all, they ARE management.  However, this is almost never the case.  Management relies on the thought leadership of their teams to ensure that they have every opportunity to never make a bad business decision.  Therefore, consider applying the principles below in establishing your own strong brand of transparency within your firm:

  • Understand The Request: Fully understanding the request itself isn’t enough.  More important is understanding the desired business outcome of the request.  Your CIO wants X, but for what purpose?  WHY does she want X?  Understand the business problem that needs to be solved and not just the specifics of the tactical request.
  • Understand and Surface ALL Costs: This includes not simply the financial costs but also the impacts to other initiatives and stakeholders.  While the request may come from your CIO, there may be implications that span a broader area than the CIO’s scope of responsibility.  Think in terms of impact to the business, holistically and not simply within your silo.
  • Identify Risks: Make sure you identify and clearly communicate any risks associated with fulfilling the request, providing mitigation or avoidance options where available.
  • Document & Deliver Options: With the desired business outcome in mind, communicate what options are available, listing pros and cons for each and documenting them in a brief but clear email with all appropriate stakeholders cc’d.  Include risks and mitigation/avoidance strategies.
  • Make A Recommendation: Always deliver such information with a recommendation by you and your team.  Dumping a problem on the bosses desk is bad.  Delivering a problem with options is better.  Informing your boss of the options and making a recommendation is optimal.  What do you recommend your boss do and why?  Help make her successful.
  • Follow Up: Respectfully and reasonably follow up to ensure a decision is made, that the “full price tag” is understood and accepted, DOCUMENT THE FINAL DECISION and then execute.

Transparency is a great buzz word that we all like to use – me included.  However, transparency is a two-way street.  Applying the ‘price tag’ approach to transparency will help ensure that you and your teams provide your boss and your business partners the valuable opportunity to never make a bad decision.

© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese