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Adventures in Corporate Whining

WARNING: This is probably a very boring blog. You will probably enjoy this more:

WARNING: I have no formal training whatsoever in project management.

Corporate IT is probably not so different from other areas of the corporate world. One of the most frustrating components, for me, is project management. Everybody has different ideas and opinions about how to do things, what follows is my philosophy, based on my experiences.

In general, managers and executives want good project plans so they can report progress metrics to THEIR superiors. They see the project plan as a tool to make them look good, but fear the power it has to make them look bad. I understand and appreciate that this kind of information is important, and can be very helpful on all levels of the food chain.

Ideally, a good project manager is well-organized, comfortable delegating, and NOT close to the project implementation. That last part may seem backwards, but it’s important that the project manager keep a good eye on the “big picture” and avoid the devil-in-the-details, sees the forest through the trees, etc, etc.

Unfortunately, the person managing the project is often SO FAR removed from the details of the implementation that they are simply unaware of tasks, milestones, resources, etc. So they rely on the worker bees to supply this information. There’s nothing wrong with consulting the people who have the knowledge – just don’t ask them to do a project manager’s tasks. IMO, a LOT of worker bees would benefit from a completely transparent project plan. Supply them with a list of tasks, and ask them for a progress report at the end of the week. The end.

Of course, that won’t work in all cases, and usually isn’t the best model. Many people are very capable of managing their own time well, and they should be allowed to do so. In that case, let them have the project plan. Make sure you agree on the priorities, and just let them work. Don’t ask them to fill out hours and keep track of every minute of their work day. Let them do their jobs for 39.5 hours a week, and IF you must have metrics, take no more than a few minutes of their week.

Furthermore, asking people to report on their time will inevitably create a sense of implied expectation. Managers ask employees to track their hours so that they can keep track of the progress of the project. But employees often feel that it’s a tool being used to monitor their productivity. So what happens? People stress over their hours and end up inflating their time – providing invalid metric data to the people trying to manage resources. Instead of doing actual work, they’re staring at their timesheet trying to figure out where the day went. Pointless.

It’s also pointless to ask people to estimate hours BEFORE doing a task – especially when it’s work that they’ve never done before and/or with a product or software package they’ve never used before. I’ve never been part of a project where somebody didn’t say, “oh, we’ll just pad the time. Just in case.” “It’s always better to overestimate than underestimate,” they’ll argue. I completely disagree. What’s the point in estimating AT ALL if you accept that your estimate is not only inaccurate, but INTENTIONALLY so. If you’re not going to adopt and follow SOME time cost estimation convention (there are several!), then don’t bother at all.

SO, here are some key points of my project management philosophy (which is still being developed):

If you’re a project manager, DON’T ask your employees to manage a project. At all. Ask them for what they KNOW and take as LITTLE of their time for that as possible. Unless they’ve actually done a task in the past, don’t ask them to estimate hours. People are terrible at it, so there is no point. If you don’t know, and they don’t know, just put down 16 hours and move on with your life. Yeah, I know it’s wrong, but it doesn’t matter what you put down, it’ll be wrong too. Get over that, and just move on with your life.

Don’t ask employees to track their time. The only purpose it serves is to give YOU (or your superiors) some false sense of progress. Unless one is being compensated hourly, I see NO POINT, whatsoever, in filling out a timesheet. Ask your employees for progress, and keep them connected to the big picture. Trust that your employees are diligent people, and if you’re worried about accountability and deadlines, just make sure you’ve got a GOOD channel for communication. Make sure everybody understands what the priorities are, and just let them do their jobs! If you NEED numbers, then take what they say and make up your own numbers. You may as well – the estimated hours were made up in the first place and most of their tracked time would be made up too!

The past few weeks have been very frustrating. I have absolutely no interest in meta-work (like project management), but I’ve been seriously thinking about looking into certifications (such as PMP). If I’m going to have to do project management, I may as well learn how to do it correctly.


Sorry for the rant.

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Comments (4)

  1. Dom, I made it about halfway through the post but then started playing tetris ;P

  2. Audrey

    I made it through the entire thing but I still played Tetris ;)

    You’re allowed to rant [especially when you have good points]. And yeah, if done properly it’s pretty healthy for one to externalize such things.
    Anyways, I think looking into project management certification would be worth your time [especially if they’ll pay for it for ya].

    I hope work becomes more enjoyable and less frustrating soon! :]

  3. My favorites are:
    1. When you post status in all channels they request, but they don’t read them, and still ask you your status in person the next day. You are then given a choice to give them a spoken status that will probably leave out details, or to open up your sent email (or wherever you posted status/progress) and seem like a jerk for pointing it out or reading from it. Honestly, I’m not trying to rub in the fact that you overlooked the email, I’m just a note-taker, and I want to make sure I’m consistent with my reports!

    2. When the list of locations on which you post status grows as more people get involved. Eventually, they need an email each day (usually one for your manager, then another that a team of people is CC’d on), an update on whatever database entry they have for the task, and an update in the “actual results” in the testing suite we use. And if you’re really lucky, someone will be involved that decides they need to set up their own ThreeQ service on top of all that. None of these pull from the same database, and enough of these people pull their metrics or monitoring info differently that you’ll hear about it if you forget one of them, or if you haven’t updated theirs in time for their meeting (usually b/c you’re updating the 5 other places with the same status). And forget writing a script or GUI to streamline this, as you could be dealing with 3 different web front-ends already (usually using a variety of internal login un/pw), on top of 2+ different email lists.

    Don’t get me wrong, I find a way to deal… and in the end, I end up laughing at the whole situation. Irony somehow makes it all the more tolerable.

    Wow. Wall of text… I guess I wanted the comment to fit the post in presentation as well as content :D