PMs are banned from the Ivory Tower

by Curt 29. March 2010 21:50

As a technical PM, you’re not allowed in the ivory tower. (You know there’re too many people there anyway.)

It’s NOT your sole mission to simply bestow coding guidelines, check-in procedures, documentation structure, and continue to ask ‘Are you done yet?’.  Your project will be crushed if you take this disconnected approach and you'll end up with a turnover rate that rivals that of a fast food franchise.


Stay involved… …frequently


You have to avoid ‘ivory tower’ thinking and understand that delivering successful projects is about involvement throughout each person, level, and aspect of your project.  Unlike you, ivory tower mangers will never be found trudging through the weeds with their staff.

Despite having ‘manager’ or ‘lead’ in your title, you still need to have frequent participation in the low level stuff.  You do this, not by trying to do everyone’s work, but by going through a bit of a context shift from what you did as a developer.


Interactions are key


The primary way you stay involved in your project is through interactions with your team members. You use these interactions to shape how you pitch-in and add value to your project.


Tips to stay involved


To help you understand how to do this here are some suggestions to avoid thinking like an ivory tower manager.


Have one-on-ones

In order to make appropriate decisions you need to hear the state-of-the-state from each member of your team.  One way to do this is through weekly half-hour meetings with each of your staff, known as one-on-ones.  This is their chance to convey status, issues, and solicit your advice.

I hear you scoffing that you have 10 team members and there’s no way you could devote 5 hours a week.  Trust me, you do.  You’ll likely spend more time on adhoc communication in the form of interruptions that will negatively impact your productivity.


Wash the dishes

Your job as a technical PM is more like a restaurant owner, doing what it takes to keep the operation moving along.  If, say the dishwasher calls in sick.  Guess whose scrubbing marinara sauce off the dishes?  Yup, you.

My point is that you have to ‘pitch-in’ from time to time.  Do the build, fix a bug, write a User Acceptance Test (UAT), write a spec., etc.  Although I’ve tried my hardest to avoid this cliché it really is about ‘leading by example’.


Be transparent

Managers in the ivory tower don’t like to share.  They keep corporate information within the confines of the tower’s walls.  You, on the other hand, must strive to be different.  Your team relies on you to disseminate information, both project and organizational.

Being transparent with your team pushes decision making downward.  If your team members have the necessary insight they are better equipped to independently take appropriate action.  This can also reduce the burden on you, so that you’re not making every minute decision on the project.


Being too busy is not an excuse

The ivory tower is full of busy managers creating PowerPoint slides, tweaking the budget, and infecting personnel with dubious corporate initiatives.

Without a doubt, you have similar management-type exercises.  Some of which are a big time suck.  However, unlike those managers, you cannot use ‘busy work’ as an excuse for not helping a team member.

The consequence to avoidance is increased thrashing on your project, a work slowdown, and likely a work stoppage.  Next time a team member interrupts you while you’re engaged in reworking the project plan, help them out.


The most valued team member

Despite their detachment from projects, ivory tower managers somehow think they’re the most important influence of success.  At executive briefing, when they’re taking credit for your project successes, you can only chuckle as they continually utter the wrong project codename.

As a technical PM you know that the most important role on your project is YOU.  …and the developers…  …and the testers…  …and the business analysts…   …and anyone else on your project.

Ironically, everyone on your project IS the most critical role.  Treating your team members any other way will result in dissention in your staff.  Value team members’ input and hear them out when they have a problem.


Management | Techie Manager Tips

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