Freedman was a forceful manager who insisted on maintaining complete control over all aspects of his projects. This approach proved disastrous for the LCD, because it alienated personnel whose support was needed to nurture the emerging technology. Freedman refused to allow collaboration between the LCD facility in Raritan and the semiconductor division in Somerville. “We were told explicitly, ‘You may not talk to anybody in integrated circuits ….’” How RCA Lost the LCD, IEEE Spectrum, November 2012 .
I was the new CIO. My staff told me that I was the only one who could talk with another government organization. Being a multinational military organization, I was not surprised by the possibility of such a restriction. I asked my folks if they knew what written policy or regulation said that only I could talk with these other folks. They said it was not a written rule only that my predecessor had established the policy that only she could talk with anyone outside of our own organization.
I discontinued that policy and told them they were free to talk with anyone they needed to talk to get their job done. Eliminating this restrictive policy freed my staff to work more efficiently with the myriad government and military organizations we relied upon. This was one of many management restrictions I got rid of where it seemed to hinder rather than help my staff to do their jobs. One of our customers later told me that in our first 11 months they had had better customer service than they had in the previous 11 years of my predecessor’s reign.
I was to be the new project manager. The current project manger had me join him at a customer site where we were installing a product upgrade. We had maybe a half dozen engineers with us. The current project manager had decided to bring everyone with us because previous product upgrades had gone poorly. He figured if he had everyone on site, then if any problem came up we would have who we needed to fix it. Well, it was chaos. Nothing was going right when the customer tried to install the new system. Having all these engineers with us didn’t seem to be helping. The delivery did not go well.
Some months later we had another upgrade to deliver to the same customer. I was the only person I allowed at the customer site. Everyone else was remote back at our site. The customer installed the new system and after a few missteps it was up and running without any issues. Prior to this delivery I had doubled down on improving the quality of our instructions and on ensuring that the system really was ready to be delivered (e.g., the engineers were complaining about the number of reviews I had called).
Every project is a balancing act and is different depending upon the project and the environment. In most cases we will need to focus on eliminating restrictions and barriers to our staff. In other cases we may need to be adding restrictions and controls. In either case we are working to optimize how well our teams perform. The trick, of course, is to know what is appropriate for each project. From the above RCA experience, maybe approaches that made assembly lines work well might not have been appropriate on bleeding edge research.
I find as a general rule of thumb that if we are doing creative exploratory work — things we haven’t done before — then we need to prune the number of restrictions and barriers. We let our teams try things that may sound a bit wild or unusual or at least not very conventional. These projects will also often have the characteristics of being something we can’t know will ever work or how long it will take. This can feel scary and out of control but I find it is essential for breaking new ground and for being successful when working with a lot of unknowns.
If we are doing something that we regularly do over and over again, I find that identifying rules and approaches that we strictly adhere to, are very useful. We still look to remove barriers and we want to continue to incrementally improve, but what we do needs to be very disciplined and consistent. These “restrictions” allow us to maximize efficiency and predictability (such as delivering projects on time with good quality).
See also: This Is Fundamental To Your Success
Successfully managing a project (or anything) is very situational. Paying attention to the situation and applying the most appropriate techniques is a project management tool that works.
Are you applying the most appropriate controls to your project?