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The Mumbling Manager

By Shannon Kalvar ·
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Monday Trades and Tribulations

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p>Monday and I have a longstanding disagreement going back some twenty-five years now. Monday wants me to focus, get things done, and pay attention. Personally, I want to continue on with my Sunday routine of pondering my navel, doing chores, and maybe playing around. As a kid this match mostly consisted of me goofing off in class. As an individual contributor, it resulted in many a Monday of not being quite as productive as I possibly could be. Now that I'm a manager, though, the disagreement can lead to others being just as unfocused as I can be.</p>
<p>These days I spend Monday morning reconnecting with my team and attending to scheduling. The reconnecting part, if not easy for an introvert like me, mostly involves following up on conversation threads I started earlier. Scheduling, though, takes a lot out of me. It's not that I don't like to manage time. In fact, it probably says something not entirely good about me that I find it fun. However, scheduling time for a team involves more than just time management. It's a weird intersection between politics, time management, incident assessment, and mentoring that I find a constant effort to juggle. Worse, I have to redo it every week just to keep up.</p>
<p>What, exactly, do I mean by that? Well...it goes something like this.</p>
<p>When I do time management for myself, I focus in on my priorities, the urgency applied to specific tasks by the environment, and whatever communications or political needs seem pressing at the moment. This allows me to build and sustain momentum within a limited context. It also gives me the tools to see projects though to rapid completion.</p>
<p>Scheduling for a team takes a great deal more work though. The basic of time management (priority, urgency, and control over the schedule) become a great deal more problematic. For example, I often have to sacrifice control over the schedule as part of a horse-trade for more resources or to get a particularly noxious function taken out of a project scope. Each time I trade something, though, I lose more and more control over the schedule; yet if I don't perform the trades then the team as a whole gets stuck without the resources they need or trying to pull together projects with impossible scopes.</p>
<p>So, politics and the associated horse-trading take up a huge portion of my scheduling time. Once I get that arranged, I might be able to apply some basic time-boxing to my team's tasks. Or not; just as often we have to deal with a random array of incidents related to our various applications. Whether it makes sense to strap your highly paid, highly skilled technical teams to answering file and print questions isn't really an issue; we have to do it so we try to do it as professionally as possible. Sometimes those incidents also include the elements of patterns we need to pay attention to; teasing those out falls to us leader-types, assuming we get the time between meetings.</p>
<p>Incidents bump project work aside; current problems seem to have higher priority than even the most important future plan. When it looks like we will not hit a date I have to go back into horse-trading, but this time in the opposite direction. I take on new functions or shed resources in an attempt to get more time to account for the failure to build wiggle room into the project plans.</p>
<p>None of that, though, accounts for the biggest variable of them all ? team mentoring. Now, I'm blessed with a team that is more technically astute than I am. They work hard to keep ahead, sharpen their skills, and really enjoy the mixture of creative and effort driven work associated with technical jobs. That's all to the good. However, like most technical teams they do not like to communicate with others. They do not always pay attention to the negotiations and horse-trading, nor do they really care about the constant ebb and flow of office politics. Combine that with an environment which deliberately foreshortens their time horizons (they work in about a 3 month window) and you've got a recipe for constant disaster. </p>
<p>At the end of a good week we've done enough to pull ahead a bit though trading, creativity, and effort. Bad weeks, though, see us fall further and further behind as we surrender control over our time to others in exchange for things we need to, ironically, get work done for them. I'm still debating whether to be amused or confused about that last point.</p>
<p>So, today I wrestled with time. I'll let you know which of us won on Friday.</p>

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Current Score - Time 0, Planning 0, Panic 1

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">I started the week with some fine intentions. Get ahead, keep on the plan, and let people have their victories so I could get what I wanted as well. Win/Win isn't just a principle; it's a trading strategy for those of us who wield little influence, power, or authority to get what we need to protect those that we serve.<?xml:namespace prefix =" o" ns =" "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"" /></font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Unfortunately my plan did not survive first contact with the week. By the end of a very late Tuesday I found myself wrestling with a very different sort of logistical problem. We had a system down, a system we think is fairly important to the business. It was, in all likelihood, going to stay down for some time. Not only did we have technical problems with it, which we did and probably still do to some extent, but it's not well liked at the site where it went down. Given its history there I can hardly blame the site; I've met more stable things gibbering to themselves in the late night corners of really bad conventions.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">So, what to do? By the time I found out about the problem we were six hours into troubleshooting it. I could tell it would consume my entire team if I let it. If that happened, though, all of our projects for the next six weeks would fall out of wack. We've got a lot going on. However, it was also obvious to me that we needed both more information and, frankly, more hands. The problem here is, though, that I'm not the leader. I'm a leader, certainly. I'm even, in theory, the technical leader responsible for the line of service overall. But I'm young in the company, unknown to most of the players, and note the previous comment about Win/Win trading strategies.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">In a management textbook or one of those fun guides to how to be a better manager I would have known exactly what to do. In reality, though, I did what everyone else does: made a snap decision, somewhat half-baked, and adjusted as I went along. The eventual results remain a complete mystery to me. How much of my minor amounts of influence did I expend? How many enemies did I make? We'll see...</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Anyway, I sacrificed planning and trading for listening, suggesting, and watching as events unfolded. I provided resources, such as I had. I argued against descending into activity for the sake of activity, though it strikes me that it was only at the end that I clearly laid out that argument. A team of people, maybe the right people but sometimes not, swirled in and out of the picture. The actual leader stepped out in front to coordinate activity and try to find a real answer. Whether his approach worked or not I cannot say; we did eventually get to the root cause and resolve it though.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Resolving the root cause didn't clear everything up, though. In fact, we didn't trace though the system as well as we should have. When we brought it back up, there were errors in the data caused by the original problems that brought the system down. Now, we don't have a lot of people in house who know a lot about the system. However, I do know enough to question the vendors about tracing things end to end. Why didn't I, then?</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">By that time, I had decided to fade back and just provide support. One of the hardest lessons I've learned over the years is that it's more dangerous to split leadership than it is to follow a leader into a place you are not entirely sure is right. I might have been able to use charisma and force of will to pull part of the team in another direction. It would have split our efforts, though, and almost certainly would permanently alienate an ally that I both need and respect.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Should I have played the councilor instead? Should I have fought, tooth and nail, for more time to pull together information? Should I have brought in additional resources and be damned with the decisions being made by the various important players? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm sure I'll wake up some night in the near future with the perfect gameplan.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">As it is, at the end of the third day my team had, in professional form, gone on their merry way without me. They knew what needed doing and did it, professionally and well. We restored the system to a functional state though we have some process pieces to work out. I even managed to give way enough to get the things that I really wanted, even if I don't have the resources to deliver on them just yet.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">I'll work on that second bit next week.</font></font></span></p>

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Current Score - Time 0, Planning 0, Panic 1

by SriramNA In reply to Current Score - Time 0, P ...

<p>Your strategy IMO is as good as any if you have a competent and motivated team.  I have found under the circumstances that you sometimes need to nudge things in the right direction, or resolve an impasse, and the trick is to identify and act on these situations.</p>

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Current Score - Time 0, Planning 0, Panic 1

by tonyschramm In reply to Current Score - Time 0, P ...

<p>Amen to the strategy employed, and the results showed it to be very effective! In my career, I have seen so many managers who feel compelled to minutely control every aspect, to the point where everyone is afraid to act on their professional instincts, and progress (resolution) ceases. To me, the true professional manager is the one who recognizes and relies on the skill sets of the technical talent that he or she employs, and who allows them to utilize those skills, adding gentle nudges and minor course corrections along the way.</p>

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Current Score - Time 0, Planning 0, Panic 1

by Jcritch In reply to Current Score - Time 0, P ...

<p>Awesome job, the system was down and you controlled the events.  We always have a post event meeting to discuss what needs to occur if this ever happens again, what down time procedures should be tweaked, or put in place, and most of all what support the vendor can provide upfront, during and after the event.  Now is a great time to champion the end users around your team to help develop a clear game plan the next time a event similliar to this occurs..</p>

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On the Road Again

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Another day, another trip.  Another week potentially out of touch with the horse-trading and politics of home base.  <?xml:namespace prefix =" o" ns =" "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"" /></font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Travel is a regular part of the job for any IT person in a multi-site organization.  Sure, we say we want to avoid it.  I have a 22 month old son who I delight in seeing every day, so I really do.  But the truth of the matter is that we cannot do everything remotely.  Sure, we want to.  It would be nice to sit in our cubes all day, every day, and never be bothered by the ugly realities of field work.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">If we choose that, though, we lose track of important things.  Things like what our clients actually do all day or why we do our jobs in the first place.  We lose track of the drivers motivating the site IT groups needs, of the pressures they work under, and of the urgencies they face.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Losing track of these things makes us less effective.  Just to start off with, it makes us forget that our job isn't bits and bytes; it?s the delivery of services (if not customer service) to the people who face the customers.  Just as importantly, though, it also hamstrings us when it comes to negotiating.  If I don't know what my counterpart really wants, what capabilities he has, and what timeframes he needs to respond in then I cannot create a winning transaction for him.  If I cannot create a win for him, then he has almost no reason at all to give way on the things I really need.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">I'll natter on a bit more tomorrow about this week's plan.  For now, I have an upgrade to interfere with.</font></font></span></p>

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On the Road Again, Part II

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">In theory I'm on vacation right now.  I say in theory, as I've got a heck of a lot to get done this weekend for business and for a house I no longer live in.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm paying kharma off at a vastly accelerated rate.<?xml:namespace prefix =" o" ns =" "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"" /></font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Anyway, today I wanted to talk about the events of the week.  Well, that's not entirely true; I want to talk about the emotions, causes, and situations underlying those events.  If I talk about the event's themselves I'll probably say too much about things people would rather I not say in public.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">The week started out as well as any week of travel does.  My senior and I went out to a site to do an install.  We hooked up with the functional support, the on-site IT, and the consultant hired in to do the application migration.  We had a plan.  We had the tools.  We had the talent.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Unfortunately we also had a complete disaster.  Okay, that's an overstatement.  The users experienced an unrelated downtime in the middle of the second day of our 4 hour install.  We managed, though a lot of hard work, to prevent them from feeling any of the heat we encountered.  However, by the end of it all we were worn out.  Three days straight of work without sleep will do that to you.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Looking back over it, I have to ask myself why I allowed it to happen.  Individually each of the decisions was the right one.  At the moment we made each choice, it was the most logical step forward.  Looking back over my notes I can honestly say I would make the same decisions all over again, given the same information and team skill set.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">The overall result even turned out okay, though we have a number of follow-up items to resolve.  The system is up, patient safety was not compromised, and the users like most of the new features.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">However, I have a nagging feeling that I pushed my team to hard.  We didn't have to stay up for two days; this system frankly isn't that important.  If it didn't get upgraded, we could have just rescheduled.  Similarly, we didn't HAVE to kill ourselves that second night trying to get the preferred software distribution method to work.  We could have fallen back and punted with the old method, which is what we ended up doing at 3:30am.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">So...did I drive the team to hard?  Maybe.  I wanted to get it done, yes, because my team needs to do 5 FTEs of work with 4 bodies, not including the 2 FTEs of management and operations we need.  When a schedule slips it hits everything, hard.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">I also wanted to prove a point to someone in our organization.  This person constantly complains that we do not meet our deadlines and that we don't give work associated with his group sufficient priority.  So, I wanted to prove that we do care, even about little things like this application.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">There's also the issue of the political acceptance of the new software distribution solution.  It's not well liked, even though it's worked well for just about everything we've tried it on.  No one, including us, has a choice in the matter anyway; with the desktop image in the shape it's in we absolutely need a medium-term virtualization solution while we get the desktops back into shape.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">I suspect it's the lack of options which makes it so unpopular.  People like to think they have options; executives and would-be executives like to think they have control.  To manage yourself into a satiation where the environment dictates direction rather than you dictating the environment doesn't make anyone happy.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">In the end we got it done.  We got the protection we needed, for the most part, and I stifled the attacks on my team in a meeting.  I'll pay for that; using interaction tricks to control a situation did not make the person being controlled any happier.  I lack the political influence or authority to stop her from chewing me up eventually.  It's just a matter of time and hopefully pulling enough together before that day comes.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">On a happier note I did get to two days working with our field staff.  With luck, I proved myself enough to be invited back.  Connecting with the field staff and their executive management can only help me in the long run; fundamentally they sit closer to the client than I do.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Last, and certainly not least, I realized something about healthcare IT.  Generally in IT we are pretty close to the only reality in the business.  We do things with discrete beginnings, middles, and ends.  We actually get motion and results, which leads to some very strange warping of the political landscape.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">In healthcare, though, we do the least "real" activity imaginable.  Or at least we did, until our tools started to show up at patient bedsides.  Now we suddenly find ourselves in the patient care business, rather than taking care of the back office.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">I'm going to have to think about that some more.  It's possible, even likely, that I can wring something useful from it.</font></font></span></p>
<p><span lang="EN"><font size="3"><font face="Times New Roman">Back to weeding.  It's going to be a long weekend.</font></font></span></p>
<p> </p>

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On the Road Again, Part II

by sleepless in WA In reply to On the Road Again, Part I ...

<p>Insert comment text here </p>
<p>Wow, deja vu all over again.  You probably wouldn't be an IT professional if you weren't trying to do too much with too little.  It's life in the world of IT.  Of course there will be those out there who say, just plan better.  Yes, planning always helps, but in my experience, stuf happens.  It's always nice to have a good mix of people, with different skills, who can work together well in stressful situations.</p>
<p>Having folks outside of IT watching you is always fun (well sometimes fun).  They can get a glimpse of what you go through, how you need to be an expert in what you do, but also almost be an expert in what They Do.  A good IT person is a rare breed.  Probably smart enough to do almost anything, but humble and with a servant's mentality to do what they do.  When folks have their computer doing exactly what it should be, they are just satisfied.  When it doesn't do exactly what they want, they are extremely disgruntled (and often you are the source of their disgruntability).  When's the last time someone called to say, "you're doing one heck of a job!"  Hopefully once in a while.</p>
<p>Anyway, go back to your weeding.  You love it man, don't ever change.  God bless, Another IT Maniac.</p>

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On the Road Again, Part II

by junk83501 In reply to On the Road Again, Part I ...

The main thing that pulls me thru a murphy's project, is doing what you did look back at the good and take comfort form that. I work a little in the medical aspect of the medical IT(Run and maintaine a medical center that uses electronic filing system) When it up and running you hear nothing, when every one else is down with a virus and they don't even know it (because they are proteced) BUT you know why and it makes you feel GOOD :) :). And some times people need to complain and pick on people to make them self feel better. I bet you a dollar to your donut they did not say anything or if they did they complain about running your crew hard spending to much money etc etc. WHAT I do with people like that is give them something small to complain about (make it real simple for them to see it) Make them happy and keeps them off your back. Hopefully after your vacation you will feel better and, You will wring something good :) out of it.<br /><br />Have a good day Daniel

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Picking up the pieces...

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p class="MsoNormal"><span>Well, I'm back in the apartment.  I would say "back home", given that my wife and son live here but it still doesn't feel quite like home.  The house I worked on all weekend, the house where I brought my son home from the hospital and wrote my last book, still feels like home to me.  Maybe someday I'll feel the same about this place.<br /><br />My view on my new job fits right in with the feeling of "almost but not quite home".  People are, for the most part, friendly enough.  My team and I do good work.  Heck, I even managed to assist the team working on bringing back up one of our major systems - that they wanted to do the work I had already scheduled for this week just made it easier to give them the victory.<br /><br />Feelings of confusion and newness aside, though, we loaded this week with enough activity to drown a small horse.  I have team members working on upgrading servers, building document sharing Sharepoint sites, coordinating the department support queue, and producing a cluster-frack load of documentation.  That later falls mostly on my plate; I'd rather spend my "productive" time writing about what we will need to do in the future than mucking up things in the present.<br /><br />I suspect the production of documents doesn't help anything.  Our organization sits squarely in the "rapport-based" category, even though its far too large to actually support direct one-to-one communication in any useful form.  The people with power, authority, and/or influence have little use for clear process documentation.  They would rather fly from one situation to another, trading favors and reinforcing influence networks.  It feels a bit like working for the government, only without a clear chain of command or anyone willing to put their foot down long enough to get things done.<br /><br />Though, frankly, that later comment's not fair.  People do put their feet down.  All the time, in fact.  The problem is we, collectively, do it on whatever hot button topic occupies our attention at the moment.  Over the years the organization developed some rather remarkable incident response methods - some good, some not so good.  However, the really important change from a chaotic small shop to a working process-based midsized shop will require more from us than just good incident control.<br /><br />Now, if I were a capable man I would trade and trade and trade until I finally got enough markers pulled together to get a champion for process change.  Were I a thoughtful man I might try to introduce artifacts and tools from various operational methods, seeing what I can get to stick and what I need to let go of for now.  Were I a diligent man I might try to show how information-based capacity planning give us the ability to predict or even prevent operational problems.<br /><br />My team will have a couple of good opportunities to do all three this week.  Hopefully they can make some headway.</span></p>

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