It always happened. Now that we are getting close to the project launch, we start to get “help.” Instead of having technical leads or technicians reporting, for example the status of defects, we would get VPs showing up and providing a status. What is this all about? How can they afford to do this?
We get caught up in the notion that senior management needs to know a lot of the details. It shows how “involved” they are in the project. When we have a new startup and the founders, who did the original development are now the COO and CEO, yes of course we expect them to still know a lot about what is going on. They put it all together after all.
What goes wrong is when we want to “appear” to be on top of the details that rightfully our folks are responsible for being on top of. In the particular case I refer to, the VPs would be surrounded by a cadre of “feeders” that would provide them the information they need to “sound” like they are one of the original founders of the company, and hence know all things. I found it is almost always a waste of time and nothing more than effectively another layer of bureaucracy.
Absolutely, we need to refresh our insights as senior managers. I’ve talked about these techniques before — where we spend time with the troops and get a feel for what is really going on. This helps build our gut and allows us a better chance of making good decisions the first time. But we still need our VPs to do what they should be doing — the strategic long term health of the organization. When our VPs are trying to be technical experts, they have to be spending less time on overall organizational issues, and it readily shows.
Strangely in these situations, as a project manager, I knew for example more about how the engineering department performed than the engineering VP did. I knew this because I constantly looked at their overall performance numbers (and I mined them from the available data systems), while the VPs instead tried to understand defects that came in a dozen at a time and were fixed just as fast. They were lucky to memorize them long enough to comment on each, just in time to memorize the next dozen and do the same. But, did they know how their organization performed? Nope. They were always shocked (or went into denial) when hearing how long their teams were taking to fix defects, or how long to estimate new requirements, or the average number of weeks their teams were late at delivering those requirements. How could they plan, improve and commit resources when they didn’t know how their organizations performed?
The humorous part was that I didn’t memorize, or pretend to know, all those details when I was the project manager. Instead, folks knew I kept a database (which was a technical feat in itself) of all the issues. I could pull up the information on any issue within a few seconds. (Note, yes — most folks can pull up defect information from a defect tracking database, but do they also get all the related e-mails, status slides and reports? I could, in seconds.). The VPs needed a dozen folks giving them information, and they often had them on the conference calls with them to answer any questions. I, instead, had just set up a database, that pulled the same data from the same sources the individuals were feeding to the VPs. (See a better use for long hours for how we did it.)
Yes, senior managers, find ways to renew our gut and to understand what is going on so as to make good decisions. Don’t try and pretend to be the technical expert as we have experts that are experts to be our experts. Focus on the overall strategy, health, training and direction of our team. Give our project managers the resources and support to do their job,and we won’t need to be the expert!
Have you seen senior managers attempting to manage details that would be better managed by team members or the project manager?