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The Mumbling Manager

By Shannon Kalvar ·
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Putting them away

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p>My team and I got to explore the joys
of chaos in action this week. On one side we had a brand new system
slowly spinning apart. On another, a project suffering from one of
those cursed implementations we all like to talk about over beer as
the ?worst installation I ever worked on?. Meanwhile several
other problems dogged our heels until we finally got rid of them.
All in all, a normal week at the office.</p>

<p>Of interest to me, though, was my own
reaction to the whole mess. My thoughts always turn inward in times
of stress; I learned a long time ago that I cannot control others
actions or reactions, only my own. It's wisdom of a sort, though not
always terribly useful.</p>

<p>The question of where to put my focus
dominated the first part of every day. What, exactly, did I need to
focus on to produce the right tactical outcome? Which of the many
things spinning out of control did I want to get hold of first, which
could wait, and which would just have to go on without me? How would
I choose and what measures would I use to determine when I needed to

<p>This was, I'll admit, a fairly
cold-blooded way to go about it. Getting flustered, though it would
convince some of my erstwhile allies of my sincerity, wouldn't
accomplish everything that needed done. Additionally I have a highly
trained resistance to wasteful motion. I'd rather wait, watch, and
then take the shortest path to where I want to go rather than be seen
to move, especially to little purpose.</p>

<p>Anyway, I decided to sacrifice some
tactical outcomes for purely strategic goals. A less airy way of
saying that reads as I divided the work among my team members, worked
with them to keep them focused and get them resources or answers, and
kept my fumbling hands to myself. That last bit took a good deal of
self control; it was tempting to jump in and try to help even when I
had no clue what needed to be done.</p>

<p>This approach meant some things didn't
happen on time. Other times, I wasn't involved with on-the-spot
decisions that I wanted to have a say in. Heck, a few things fell
though the cracks and I may have accidentally thrown someone I
respect under a bus. If I did, I'll have to go beg forgiveness next

<p>You know what though? The things that
got done late were done very well; the issues with their completion
were logistical rather than technical. That means they land squarely
back on my plate. The team member who made the decision made it
EXACTLY as I would have, for the same reasons, and using the same
principles of engagement. In other words, I succeeded as a leader
even if my personal desire for control nibbled away at my heart.</p>

<p>And those things falling though the
cracks? They are, uniformly, things I've kept on my own plate for
too long. Things where I wanted to prove my use and worth by helping
the process along. Things I assessed and planned but failed to pass
on to my team for review and implementation. In other words, things
I tried to individually contribute rather than create though a team.</p>

<p>I know better. In many cases the key
to successful leadership lies in letting go. Grandstands and heroic
actions mean less than creating a balanced environment for the team
to thrive. But, darn it, I'm like almost everyone else. I entered
leadership by proving how much I could accomplish on my own. Letting
go of things, even when its time, hurts more than I want to admit

<p>So, here I sit, with a plate full of
slightly spoiled process pieces. Do I let them go? Clean them up?
Just kind of spruce them up a bit and serve them for lunch next week?</p>

<p>I'll have to figure out what to do
later. For now, I'm tired but reasonably satisfied. The team did
well. Individually they acted with integrity and wisdom. As a group
we accomplished, if not everything we wanted to accomplish, then what
was needful given the tactical circumstances we encountered.</p>

<p>My own reaction to all of these
circumstances continues to amuse me. You see, I'm still. At the end
of every day I feel tired but quiet.</p>

<p>This week the chaos didn't touch me;
we'll have to see how that goes next week.</p>

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Putting them away

by ricklw In reply to Putting them away

Great reflection on leadership. Congratulations! Thanks for the word of encouragement. Good training material here. Hope you don't mind if I use some of it.

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Putting them away

by catshev In reply to Putting them away

<p>Its funny how as techs, the toughest thing for many of us is NOT doing something. I had a boss once who ordered me to write down 3 things I did regularly, create a plan to train, and prove that I ACTUALLY delegated those 3 things. It was hard, particularly in places where I "invented" the procedure. I felt such a sense of ownership, it was hard to let go. Still, many years later, something I struggle with! It is a battle worth fighting with ourselves, for the growth of our teams, and our own sanity!</p>

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Putting them away

by Economic_Dinosaur In reply to Putting them away

A primer on leadership.  The tendency to want to keep the "I invented this" jobs is a real hair raiser.  Great work in avoiding that trap.  I'd work for you in a new york minute, however, I think my boss is learning those lessons. Good for him--Good for me.

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Putting them away

by Mihnea D. Mironescu In reply to Putting them away

<p>Nice post, I really enjoyed reading it!</p>
<p>Well, like the previous posters, I went exactly the same road from technical excellence to management / leadership. And although what you're telling is the way to go, I wonder where do you extract your satisfaction from once you let go of the things you loved the most? Sure, you may answer from leadership, or from people management or even from performance management of individual team members -- working with each and every one of them and helping them kick ***. Paving their road to performance and accomplishment.</p>
<p>Sure, this sounds trully nice. But what about your OWN satisfaction? What about those things that made you tick, for which you woke up in the morning and hurried to work even on Mondays?</p>
<p>I think we all have to go through a serious and sometimes painful transition. And for me at least this proved to be anything but a simple task. </p>

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Putting them away

by robin_conway In reply to Putting them away

<p>Reading this made me smile.  You're moving from being a manager to being a leader.  Taking your hands off a project and providing guidance, knocking down barriers, and sorting out the "need vs. want" that come with every project is a sign that you understand what you personally need to do to make your team successful.  That is what managing and leading are about.  </p>
<p>Releasing the inner geek and filling the role of guru is no easy matter.  The question I ask at the end of every project is not whether the project ran on time, or delivered each and every piece as planned but "did we make a difference and are things better now than they were before?"  Certainly there are absolute things that need to be done from a business perspective - making sure money is coming in, making sure that parts pieces and services are aligned, and making sure people are safe - but personal satisfaction and actualization come when you know you've made a difference and the business results show up in improved performance, market share, and satisfaction.  Knowing what needs to be done to achieve each of those is what distinguishes managers from leaders.  You've made the first great leap into the chasm and now understand that you aren't going to plummet into the bowels of project **** as long as you are doing the things you need to do to build and coach a team or teams that are able to fill the basic business needs and understand that there is more to project life than a schedule, features, and release - it is about making things better - be that measured in market share, revenue, lower cost or simply being recognized as the place to beat (and work!) in your industry segment. </p>

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Putting them away

by michael In reply to Putting them away

<p>Two quick thoughts:<br />1) Winston Churchill may have said it best - "Perfectionism spells Paralysis."

<p>2) Perhaps even a greater philosophy that relates to this excellent post is the following:  Success is figuring out how to do more with less.</p>
<p> </p>

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Putting them away

by wrlang In reply to Putting them away

<p>In most cases your team will mimic your reaction to a situation to give that situation its proper priority and attention.  So you can affect your teams reaction by controlling your own reaction.  In most cases you want your team to react as you do, with calm controlled actions and the appropriate amount of urgency.</p>
<p>There are a tremendous number of task masters and project managers out there who also have people working for them.  With maturity comes the ability to let your people put their creativity to work taking over the processes you've created and enhancing those processes.  Providing guidance is advising an employee what may go wrong and why, and then letting them use their creativity to find the answers.  If you continure to hold onto the process and tell employees how they should do things, you will lose the most important ones - the ones with creativity.  </p>
<p>Few employees are zombies that need to be told what to do and how to do it every minute of every day.  If you find that you have a pack of zombies, you need to seriously consider yourself as the possible problem and review your maturity level and management style.</p>
<p>Too many managers/people fail to understand that there is more than one way to get something done.  Not doing things your way doesn't mean its not getting done the right way.</p>
<p>For what its worth.</p>

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Something doesn't feel quite right

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p>I remember a
distant time when I used Mondays for planning purposes. In that
golden age I spent the morning working on my plans, visited with my
various colleagues, and got ahead of the situation. Sometimes we
even took some moments for levity before things went spiraling out of

<p>Ah, those halcyon
days of youth, all of four weeks ago.

<p>Today got consumed
not with useful work but with sitting in meetings watching yet
another train wreck play out. People got amped up with heroics this
weekend; always a bad way to start out the ?beginning? of the
work week. I got drawn into it as well. I didn't do well, honestly,
since the first I heard of it involved taking my best analyst and
sitting him doing a procedure job best suited to a temporary
technical resource. The conversations went downhill from there.</p>

<p>I spent the time
between meetings working on a variety of little process pieces which
fell though the cracks over the last few months. Some of it I'm
happy with. Some of it will need reworking tomorrow or the next day
as time allows. Quite a bit of it I didn't get a chance to explore
to any depth at all, but getting it moving seems more important than
getting it all right at the moment.</p>

<p>The lines between
activity, transformation, and work always seem a bit unclear. They
become even more unclear as life, politics, and that annoying thing
called relationship management meander into the puzzle. Once you
start layering on the complexities caused by technical
troubleshooting, the reinforcement of bad or maladaptive behaviors by
organizational foolishness, and the desire to maintain the status quo
it becomes almost impossible to sort out which is what.</p>

<p>All that said,
though, the blurry terms I allude to above do help me to organize my
day. Each category provides me with a ?bucket? into which to
initially lump the activity headed towards my team.</p>

<p>Activity, for
example, includes all those actions we undertake for the sole purpose
of creating the appearance of motion. A classic example, one I'm
sure most people can relate to, is the overly detailed work breakdown
structure masquerading as a project plan. Yes, its possible to
create incredibly complicated WBSs for nearly any activity. However,
people rarely follow such detailed plans. Instead they build a
simple critical path, execute it, then move on with their lives. The
act of creating the plan is activity; it may be activity in response
to a corporate mandate but its still time spent creating an illusion
of motion rather than doing something.</p>

transformation involves seemingly fruitless time spent working with
others to get them involved, interested in, and eventually a part of
a completely different way of working. Transformation, or at least
the work of it, involves as much transformation of yourself as it
does others. You have to let go of your conception of what should be
and instead become it...a strange way of saying, I suppose, that you
have to believe in and create the environment you want to live in.
Your own actions, though, cannot change the world. You have to get
others to believe as well, a particularly thankless task which often
ends in disaster.</p>

<p>Finally we get to
work, one of my favorite subjects. It always seems so simple at
first. You do X and get Y result. Unfortunately most tasks in the
IT world don't fall into that simple pattern. In fact, if you spend
a little time looking at it, you can find five work patterns (or
?queues?), making the measurement of work particularly
problematic. Or just down right annoying, when you want to
distinguish say reactive work from activity undertaken to meet an
assigned but not meaningful deadline.</p>

<p>Fortunately I
managed to help the team organize for the week before getting dragged
down into chaos and activity. We have the usual list of tasks on our
plate, none of them ?save the world? important but some valuable
enough to mean something. If I've done my job the team will be up to
it's eyebrows in work before Tuesday morning comes; if not we'll get
bogged down again in activity.</p>

<p>More later. I
have some thoughts on transformation to chase down.</p>

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Counting and Recounting

by Shannon Kalvar In reply to The Mumbling Manager

<p>Another week down.
I've barely managed to keep my head above the waves of meetings.
The team accomplished a fair number of important tasks; for the most
part they did it with only minimal direction from me. That's a good
thing, mostly, though I suspect my not knowing whether I would be in
the office on any given day didn't make things any easier.</p>

<p>I'm pondering
changing the way I plan things out, at least in the short term. As a
general rule I use sliding logistical windows, critical paths, and
the assumption that each individual can accomplish his goals within
the time frame he gives me. I communicate what seem like appropriate
details (success/failure, milestones achieved/missed, and change data
mostly) in a timely fashion. I do not always go into all of the
details of what piece is where, when, and why unless it seems

<p>Some environments
rely on role-based communications in which each role produces
communications output in a specific format for use by the next role.
Others rely entirely on individual rapport, built up over a number of
years, in which each person formats his communication and approach
not based on what he does but rather on his relationship with each
person. Most organizations work somewhere between the two extremes,
allowing you to build rapport with your peers and immediate superiors
and using role-based (formal) communications with others.</p>

<p>My planning
tactics pretty much rely on an organization sitting between the two
extremes. I'm open with everyone, about everything, but I do not
always fill in all the details. I'm used to the idea that an
executive wants decision-making information, a manager wants metric
information, and a leader wants to have a chat. I look forward to
interacting with my peers to build rapport across the organization
and to smoothing out confusion within the formal communications
structure via proper processing of procedural artifacts.</p>

<p>The further
towards one extreme or the other the organization falls, the less
effective my approaches become. When an organization's executives
hold meetings to decide the technical details of a project and make
their decisions along rapport lines rather than role-based
discussions, I have little to contribute. More importantly, what I
can contribute doesn't really resonate with the people making
decisions, since it doesn't fit into the world they created.</p>

<p>It also leaves me
a bit adrift. Frankly I like sliding logistical windows; I enjoy the
give and take of working with my peers to guide our teams towards the
solution to knotty technical problems. I get a thrill out of working
with a diverse team of people to create solutions meeting both a
company's strategic goals and the end users' various needs.</p>

<p>My current work,
though, tends more towards heroics and brute force than the kind of
high-speed chess matches I favor. People of all ranks go charging
up their hills, ignoring the huge amount of incredibly dull but
important work waiting for someone to pick it up. The environment
goes untuned because, frankly, tuning and spending months tweaking
small values for an isolated marginal gain (no matter that the
overall effect of several hundred such tweaks is huge) does not
interest them.</p>

<p>Now I'm getting
maudlin, I suppose. I've seen this all before. About half of the
organizations I've assisted tend towards the individual hero model.
Most even inculcate it in their processes, lauding or at least
rewarding those who create additional chaos just so they can prove
their worth. Personally I'd rather fade away into the background,
quietly making things better one tweak at a time. The chaos of my
current environment comes from too much of the former and far to
little of the later.</p>

<p>Sometimes I wonder
if people really understand just how much we make the world we live
in. I doubt it; imagining ourselves as the creators of our world
implies a responsibility both for how it works and for its future
people rarely want to take on.</p>

<p>But, once you see
it, how can you turn away?</p>

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