Friday, January 2, 2009

Response to "Amateurs talk Strategy; Professionals talk Logistics "

My colleague Sudhir Prabhu responded in detail to my article "Amateurs talk Strategy; Professionals talk Logistics".  

I have given an edited version of his mail and also given below what i wrote in response.

--quote--

I agree strongly with the article. Some aspects that I consider important  are listed… maybe you have some opinion on these?

What is Important:

1.     Fluid Team Communication – Exchange of Information – often inhibited by excuses like ‘I can’t login’ / ‘I don’t have phone’ / ‘I don’t want to talk to him’ etc

2.     Documentation of work done – not necessarily articulate & good looking – but should record facts, signoffs, concerns – and in time.

3.     Time Management – it is typical for work to be done on 80-20 ratio – most people tend to rush their 80% of work in last 20% of time putting quality in question and probably ending up others sharing the work load to achieve time lines.

4.     Resource Preparation  - This is slightly different from Team motivation – preparing a resource for failure (!). When you know you have a person, who is likely to face censure (for say poor AL), it is important to prepare him to face his failure – lest you have a backlash and outright quitter in the middle of the project. (Hope you read about Chanda-Kochar’s race to CEO news of ICICI today). Another example – when you know your team has been slogging and somehow one person gets to have a break, it is important to prep the guy leaving to be discreet; and others to look at the brighter side. While motivation works for performing better, resource preparation prepares them for known storms round the corner that they will face.

5.     Emphasis on Working Smart – very few do this. Training to identify time-wasters disguised as ‘Work’; misplaced priorities on work – marking everything as “Urgent” or “Priority”

What is not:

1.     Myriad lengths of meetings – attempting to set unrealistic goals. Meetings without a definite agenda and time frame are ‘criminally’ planned.

2.     The illusionary Perfect Job – Perfection is an illusion, effectiveness is pragmatic. Aiming to strike a balance is important.

I particularly strongly agree on your point of “Setting and Managing Client, Senior Management and Team  expectation”.  One especially needs to prep their client’s expectations realistically. Ability to define and put in place a realistic SLA goes a long way in defining the thin line between being “on time” or  “delayed”.

--end quote--

My response to the mail…

Fluid Team Communication: I fully agree with you on this and also want to bring in another perspective to fluid team communication.

Ensuring that information is democratized ( everyone has got access to information) is a very important aspect. People may question this idea and bring in points about data/information security and they may also be right to some extent. But information about project without getting into the financials and complying with data security restriction can definitely be shared.

I personally believe that sharing information about project hierarchy, communication structure, roles and responsibilities, project progress, performance, bouquets and brick bats in a common location, accessible to everyone, ensures that some people don’t become powerful because they possess more information about the project than others. This 'some people' doesn't mean people who are bound to know about the project because of their roles. This can be done through a wiki or blog on the project. You also ensure that the politics that arises due to information pockets never happens.

Once you have achieved democratizing the information in a project, you are well on your way to achieving fluid communication in the team. 

Documentation of work done: This is a very interesting point. This is something that needs to be practiced and perfected. The trick lies in documenting the right stuff that will really be useful for people who come after us. Most of the time, people fall prey to the curse of knowledge or don’t know what to document.

Let me give an example on getting the important points documented from my college days. Our practical exams were once an year and unless a person was unfortunate enough to repeat an experiment, he/she got only one chance to do an particular experiment. The next time, it could be very well in the pre university/university exam. The bad part was that instruction manual used for the lab session always missed out on the important steps. if you have to use it to revise an experiment after 8 months, you can be sure that you will not complete the lab session. so what some of us used to do was to sit after the regular lab session and recollect certain important steps and document them. This hardly covered both sides of an A4 size paper for all the experiments, but was of great use for the whole batch.

Time Management: I can’t agree less on this, but would like to point that how well organized a PM or PL actually impacts the way the team works too. The issue that you have raised could be due to poor work allocation by PL/TL or multi tasking on part of the employee, Student syndrome ( where people tend to put off the work till the last hour and then work like mad to complete the work) or lack of proper planning on the part of the person who actually does the work.

Preparing people for facing bad news is a very valid point. Thanks for brining this up. 

Team Gelling: This is another point. Ensuring that the team works as a team and not a bunch of individuals. When this happens, team output is always greater than the sum of the output of the individual members.  Ensuring that the members assigned to a project works as a team is a very important deliverable for a PM. Again a very good addition to the professional list.

Working smart: Planning is not only for project managers. Anyone who is assigned a task has to do some amount of planning. From my experience, I can say that very few people actually do this. Most of the time, people just jump in to a task only to find later that they are missing something important.

The illusionary perfect job: again a very valid point. As I mentioned in my previous response, defining what done/completed means at the project level and at the task level unambiguously and quantitatively is very important for the overall project success.

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