September 25, 2006

Project Leader is a Project Resource

Project leader is often seen as a very special person on the project: like his time and presence are worth more compared to the other team members.

There is no doubt that project needs this one person, and also that people need to know who makes the decisions and helps resolve the problems. But looking from a different angle, project leader is just another person on the project. He has specific tasks. He needs to do his job just like everybody else. Other people should use the resources of the project leader as needed: his skills and influence are just another resource of the project.

People should not blindly report everything to the project leader but only report the things that he can actually resolve or help resolve. Everything else is a waste of time. If the project leader demands reports purely because he “wants to know” and “be in charge”, than he is either:
  • Sick or
  • He doesn’t trust his people
Both things are deadly for the project. :)

To explain this better, here is an example.

I worked on the project which had a project leader who was very resourceful people manager. As a matter of fact, he was sometimes too “sensitive”. When he would see two people having problems, he would immediately interfere and tried to help them (with best intentions). However, everybody knows that sometimes the third person cannot resolve the personal problems between the two – it looks as if they need “adult supervision”. Also, the third person will probably misunderstand something because it is simply too much for him to get a grip of the situation.

So here is what happened. My colleague said something about other person he had problem with to the project leader. The problem was not big but only some job responsibilities were temporarily mixed somehow. The project leader immediately had his view of the problem. He went to the person in question, said that it is not his place to interfere with the work of my colleague. This person was of course offended because he hasn’t done anything wrong: only trying to help! Aggressively, but trying to help.

After that, my colleague had problems because he had harder time getting the help he needed: other colleague was always hesitating to help and my colleague hesitated to ask because he knew that the other colleague was offended.

My colleague didn’t know that such a thing would happen, he only complained to the project leader because he needed to say that to someone. But one should always think in this way:
“What will my project leader do if I say this or that to him? Will he resolve the problem? Will that push project forward or backwards?”
No project leader is perfect. You have to know them well to be able to use them for the benefit of the project.

Use project/team leaders wisely!

September 21, 2006

It's not easy...

... to form a team.

Top 10 Most Stressful Professions

I find the fact that there are professions less stressful, quite comforting.
Top 10 Most Stressful Professions

Clerical professions on number 10, huh?

Even More on Multitasking

I had a sincere intention to move away from the subject of multitasking but today something happened…

As I said in my previous posts, in my company most people are switching between tasks and between two projects. Everybody is aware that it’s not good but still continuing with this practice.
Let’s call these two projects A and B. I work on the project A. Project manager of the project B has a lot of tasks on different projects so she switches between them all the time.
Because she thinks it’s not fair that others should work on only one task, she was always pro project switching. Logic: if I’m suffering, let everybody else suffer too.

Another person who works only on project B was planned to take one task from me (project A). This person reacted to the decision and said it is too complicated for him to switch all the time. Project manager of project B backed him up by saying that she will do all she can to save her project team members from project switching because it’s bad for the project (no kidding?!).

From my (and some other colleagues) point of view, I’m pretty annoyed because:

a) Most other people are working on at least 2 tasks so it is unfair that someone refuses a task like this.
b) Person who refused the task was backed up by someone who is in general pro project switching.
c) I’m actually in a situation where I want someone to suffer just because everybody else (including me) is suffering. And I know it’s a stupid.

It’s a sick game. Avoid project switching.
If the humans are not complicated, I don’t know what is.

September 18, 2006

More on Multitasking

Special case of the multitasking problem (touched in the previous post) is switching tasks between two different projects.
The beauty in it is that not only are you experiencing all the problems mentioned before but also you don't have a feeling that you are a part of any team or of any the two (or even more) projects. If the person does not feel that he or she is part of something, than the risk of lower responsibility and motivation level is really increased.

There are also other things.

In my company there are currently two projects running. There is one colleague, however, who appeared to be working on both projects but when project managers got together, they realized that this person is actually not taking part in any of the two projects.
This is actually the same as it used to happen in high school with kids who were active in sports: at school they would say that they have to train for some big race or other competition – asking for some free days from school. To their trainers they would say that some big school exam will take place so it is impossible for them to come to their training sessions.
After such “preparations”, they would just stay at home having fun with their crosswords (!) and similar interesting stuff.

In a long run, this is of course stupid but for shorter periods it works very well.
The main problem is that, for example in my company, working on two projects is a common practice: almost everybody is switching between projects. If there was only one person doing this, it would be easier to track such a behavior.

To sum up: if you allow a lot of "project switching" in your company, it opens a lot of doors for people who are natural-born non-workers.
Either assign person to only one project, or all project managers need to communicate. And we all know that's impossible!

September 12, 2006


Yesterday I saw this interesting article. It covered something completely different from what I'm going to point out here, but the first few sentences (quoted below) made me think.

“I have three roles. I code about half time. I'm project manager. And I'm team leader.”

Oh yes, the multitasking. The reason why this intrigued me so much is that I'm currently in a very similar situation. Recently I have been working simultaneously on at least three tasks: system analyst, team leader and project manager. It’s better to put it like this:
  • System analyst = concentrate
  • Team leader = care for people
  • Project manager = do politics
It would be nice if I was working on system analysis on Mondays and Tuesdays and for the rest of the week on these “sociological” tasks, but of course: with management it’s clear that every 10 minutes someone will interrupt me. That means that maximum time to concentrate is approximately 10 minutes and it is not hard to imagine how deep I get into the matter in that time…

The other important thing is that team leading really is a full time job. Everything else you do is taking the time away from people management and issues that arise during project execution.
The project can survive without my analysis but without team leader (not necessarily me) – it’s doubtful.

Anyway, multitasking is bad idea per se, but a task that requires concentration on one single thing in combination with management is a horrible idea.
Now when I think about it, it’s not clear how am I able to get any work done. It’s a mystery.

September 10, 2006

Smart Managers

I am sure everyone has had a chance to meet at least one bad manager. This is a person who has no talent or interest to manage people effectively in such a way that they are satisfied with their work. On the other hand, not everyone had a chance to work with a good manager.
I happen to know one good manager. On his example I will try to explain how complicated is to manage people and their needs.
The person I am talking about has the following qualities:
  • Sensitivity to people’s emotions and changes of mood
  • Good intuition to influence people in a positive way
  • Intelligence – so he gains respect of smart people easily
  • Openness – so people can talk to him as soon as some problem arises
  • Good communication skills
  • Energy and will to manage people and spread good atmosphere
  • And what’s most important: invests a lot of time to improve team dynamics
All things mentioned above are very useful and help motivate most individuals in the team. The results are visible on everyday basis. So what’s the problem?
Looking from my perspective, I was very satisfied and thought all other team members are more or less of the same opinion. When I had a few private talks with some of them, I learned that they had problems with some management techniques used and also some problems with other employees. No one was at the point of leaving the company but the situation was far worse then I expected. I realized that the equation of satisfied team has so many variables that no matter what efforts you invest in your team satisfaction – it’s not enough.

Now, if you have a lousy manager, what can you expect?

September 08, 2006

Motivation, Part 2

I have noticed that significant amount of people who work on software projects are frustrated most of the time they spend working and thinking about their jobs. This is true for me also. The reason is, mostly without exception, the conflict with other people: their superiors or peers.

Sometimes it happens that the frustration is present because of some technical problem which is difficult to solve, but this is a sweet worry. It can be a good thing because such problem can be a theme for a constructive debate with your colleagues. It can make people work closely together, exchange ideas and feel good when the problem is solved.

The “sociological” source of frustration, however, usually leads to ugly comments and talks among peers (and behind their back). Such talks can also be continued at home, with your spouses and/or friends. These talks help people feel a little bit easier about the situation but, in essence, it’s destructive practice because it doesn’t solve anything, it doesn’t lead to a conclusion.

The problem with frustration is that it doesn’t disappear as soon as you go home at 5 p.m. but you take it home with you and you hang out together for some hours more, or even until you go to sleep. This means - it ruins your entire day.

Even though I have just said that lamenting and complaining to others about your workplace problems doesn’t help you in a long run, there is an obvious reason why people do it.
If you are unsatisfied with your workplace you have two options:
a) find another job
b) complain to everybody who would listen

Wouldn’t we all like to quit our jobs as soon we encounter problems? I know I would. But we can’t change it every 5 seconds. If for no other reason, then because it would look bad in our resume. ;) Our dissatisfaction grows until it is impossible to endure it and then we leave the company. In the meanwhile, we have to talk about it; otherwise we would go insane…
For me, putting my problems in written form like this, helps a lot and makes a problem real. When I read other people’s blogs and articles elaborating such issues, it has special therapeutic value for me. I hope that someone someday will read my blog post after having frustrating day at work, and that it will help him/her calm down.

September 06, 2006

Motivation, Part 1

My motivation for starting this blog comes from the fact that in my relatively short professional career in software industry I have already experienced so many managerial mistakes as if the software team management classic Peopleware was never written in the first place.

It is normal that people make mistakes. Mistakes are made if you work in any industry, on any job position. If you go to a supermarket or brush your teeth, you can also make a mistake. I have no problem with that. However, in software companies it seems to me that those mistakes and errors in judgment happen far more often. And they happen in many, many interesting variations. Situations happen that would be great jokes if you weren’t actually working in that company and spending at least 40 hours of your life every week. That is why it is not funny.

All the theory is available in Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco, Timothy Lister. I have read and heard a lot of people referencing it and I am sure many more articles are covering the same subjects. That is why it is pretty unclear to me, why are there so many mistakes made in that field.

I have read this book both last summer and this summer again, in the meanwhile I have changed the company I work in, but both times I was shocked with the same thing: it is unbelievable how many things have already happen to me and are mentioned in this book. I would say 90% of all problems mentioned (one day I will count them, just for curiosity). Next summer I will read it again just to check the score in 2007 ;)