And there can’t be politics. … There is no room for it in a company. …. No bureaucracy. We want this fast-moving, agile company where there are no politics, no agendas. When you do that, things become pretty simple. You don’t have all these distractions. You don’t have all these things that companies generally worry about. You don’t have silos built up where everybody is trying to optimize their silo and figuring out how to grab turf and all these things. It makes all our jobs easier so we’re freed up to focus on the things that truly matter. Tim Cook’s Freshman Year: The Apple CEO Speaks, Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec 10, 2012.
What we often don’t get is how inefficient what we are doing really is. Lean, for example, has become a big thing but if we don’t get rid of the root cause of why we are being so inefficient, such as the silly politics and games we play, then no methodology will keep the inefficiency down for long.
When I took a project, that was woefully under-planned, and just started to factually report the monthly project status for my part of the project, it only took me twenty minutes to update my status and be ready to report it. What were the other project managers doing? They literally took weeks of multi-level reviews and research and tiger teams to put together a dubious “positive” status on a project that would eventually be nine months late and with low quality. If we had used all that management power (up to and including senior VPs) to fix the issues, rather than making it sound like everything was fine and all the problems were someone else’s, we might have saved the project.
What we need to see is that when this is going on that it is a symptom of a bigger problem. It is not “normal” at least in the sense of being the way it has to be. A senior engineer once remarked how we can’t really know when we’ll complete a project, such talk is just noise we produce to make senior management happy. In spite of this, we could and did start to deliver projects when we said we would deliver them. It did not require the thousands of staff hours to plan and manage as it had taken in the past, for projects we inevitably delivered late. It only took some simple ideas being simply applied. But for this talented senior lead engineer, he saw what was going on as not only normal but really the only way it could be done.
See specifically Its The Project Schedule, Stupid!
Too many folks have worked their way up the corporate (or military or government) ladder with this mindset. We have to keep in mind that even when things are not going well, we still inevitably must promote and reward … someone. The problem happens in an organization that is going through a long spell of challenges where in continuing to promote and reward some people we are doing what? Promoting and rewarding … mediocrity … or at least people who know how to look good when things are not going well. They are now in charge and they got to the top doing things that didn’t really make much of a difference except to get them promoted. This dynamic is important to recognize as too often the current situation is seen as normal and can’t really be much different, when in fact it is a distressed organization that can be healed.
For more examples see Successful Managers Without Successful Projects
I once challenged someone for “making it up” when they were caught with not knowing something they should have known. Instead, they just started to make claims of why things were not going right. Needless to say, what I did was not very popular with anyone even though we all knew what the individual was doing. The expected behavior was to simply let them continue, let them save face, to then try and press on including acting on this “new” information that was essentially nonsense. While incredibly inefficient it helped everyone else feel comfortable in this embarrassing situation.
It was, however, terribly detrimental to the project and what we were doing. When we were finally able to move people around and get into a state of just telling things like they were, the project — and particularly the team’s involved, soared as to their productivity and success. Until then everyone was sure that we were doing just about as well as could be expected in our situation. Being willing to challenge, saying the emperor has no clothes, while painful and potentially career limiting in too many organizations had the effect of freeing up everyone to being open to doing things differently.
Too often, what we take for normal politics is nothing more than a symptom for problems that can be solved. While solving these problems can be initially painful, especially if they’ve been in place for years, the increased efficiency by everyone once we get rid of politically driven bad habits will be worth the risk — both in organizational morale and project success.
What politically driven management behavior could benefit from being highlighted and eliminated in your project?