Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Broken Telephone

A Project Manager spends a lot of time finding out what people are doing and what is preventing them from progressing.


Removing impediments is one of the undocumented roles of a Project Manager; maybe it's time to change that.


Impediments come in a variety of flavors:


Sometimes it's a missing piece from a 3rd party. If the Project Manager can follow up with the 3rd party, then the engineer can  continue doing what she does best, while the Project Manager "wastes his time" chasing the culprit.


Sometimes a lot of non-engineering work needs to be done, like entering a lot of data or editing a lot of existing data. Once again, if the Project Manager can take care of it, the engineer can go back to doing real work. The Project Manager can either do the work or outsource it to somebody who is available; a visiting child or a bored QA member waiting for the project to progress.


Sometimes the Project Manager will discover that the engineer is waiting for a component or information from another engineer. It's best practice to go to that other engineer and double check that they realize that somebody is waiting for them to deliver something.
Find out if it's on the top of their list of things to do; you do not want an engineer waiting for something that  may take a long time to arrive, since it's not on the list of things to be done in the immediate future.
If there's a conflict of scheduling (one fellow needs it now, the other fellow has no intention delivering it this week) then it needs to be escalated.
It can be brought up the the daily update meeting, if they happen. More efficient is to simply approach the head of engineering and ask her to intervene and solve the conflict. She may decide a meeting should be called, or she may decide to change priorities on the spot.


Sometimes a Project Manager will discover that one person is expecting something to be delivered and the other party claims they already delivered it.
One solution  is to go back and discover where it was delivered to and how come it never arrived.


Better yet, is to get the 2 engineers to talk to each other - else you may spend considerable time playing broken telephone. Besides, it's important to teach the engineers that they can talk to each other. :-)
The best tactic is to ask the one engineer to accompany you - the Project Manager - to the other engineer, and to have a impromptu meeting.
Listen carefully to how they solve this; it may give you valuable insight into the personalities and work habits of the engineers. This is information that will help you preempt future similar issues.
And make sure to follow up to ensure that the solution actually worked. There's often a gap between the theory and the facts on the ground.


As a rule, you do not want to be spending time as a go-between - the broken telephone - between people. A quick stand up often solves the problems.


- Danny Schoemann








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