Seven Actions This Program Manager Took
Below is an email I received this month from a program manager in Australia. She graciously granted me permission to reprint her email in its entirety, however I thought it best to leave her name off. It is my pleasure to share it with you in hopes you will find a take-away from one of her seven actions.
I just wanted to take the time to thank you for writing the "Handbook of Program Management". I have been a program manager in software for the past 4 years, and a project manager for several years before that. I read your Handbook for the first time last year, and was very impressed with both your writing tone and the sensible content. I have even incorporated some of your points in the internal project management training I run routinely at my company (with full citation references, of course).
Last week the large program I'm running (definitely not NASA-scale large, but sizable for us) ran into an unusual patch of trouble. We have had issues before, but most of them were foreseeable and mitigation plans were in place. The current problems we're seeing fall into the "wow that was unexpected" and "we're definitely new at this business model" categories, and a few people on the program were starting to panic.
This was a new reaction in my experience (possibly because the teams at my current company are way above average in terms of dedication and passion). I did my best to reassure them about the direction we're taking (and those we're choosing not to take), then spent a few hours over the weekend re-reading your Handbook to see if there were some things I was missing that might get the program back on track faster and/or help the team feel more at ease.
I thought you might like to know the tips that I found the most relevant in this tricky stage, and how I'm going to try them out:
1. Focus the team on positive outcomes - at this week's status meeting I'm going to walk through the key milestones (past & future) again, slowly, and explain why each of these is key to the big picture
2. Clarity - I'm going to go round the table to ask each person (i) what's their chief concern and (ii) what's the "ugly" thing (where they're feeling a lack of clarity)
3. Based on the results of 2. I'll be asking the core program team to come to a brainstorming meeting next week with 3 ideas for <x>
4. Praise - I'm going to ask each project leader "Who would you like to praise & recognise this week?" (in place of the question I normally ask: "What's your team frustrated about this week?")
5. Lessons learned - I'm going to review one lesson learned and one followup action from our recent mid-flight retrospective in each status meeting from now on
6. Simplicity - I'm going to remind the project leaders to always look for the simplest solution
7. Risks - I'm going to make more time to be available and listen, especially to the extended program team members. It's easy to rely on the project leaders to escalate risks, but I'm finding that my random appearances at standup meetings and in team areas are a much better source of what's going on at the coalface. This seems absurdly obvious as I type it, but I needed the reminder just the same.
So thank you again for sharing your experiences and advice in such an inspiring and accessible form. If you ever find yourself in beautiful Sydney, Australia I would love to know so I can thank you in person!
Personally I like point number 7. Not because of the importance of showing up randomly where the action is.... that cannot be over emphasized... but because of her last sentence:
"This seems absurdly obvious as I type it, but I needed the reminder just the same."
As a speaker and trainer I spend a lot of time and energy trying to find new ways to effectively communicate the absurdly obvious. As leader of people you should too... often the absurdly obvious can get lost in the "ball of confusion" that surrounds projects and programs and it is your job to bring it to the forefront.
Dr. James T. Brown, Author, The Handbook of Program Management, McGraw-Hill
Copyright 2011 SEBA Solutions Inc.