Thursday, June 28, 2007

June 28, 2007 – Authorized to Manage – Positional Authority

This is the second in a series looking at Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert types of authority, their use, abuse and challenges.

Authority extends only as far as those under you allow it
and only as long as those over you support it.

Positional Authority.
Positional Authority is based on where you sit in the organizational chart. Also known as Formal Authority, it is bestowed on you by some entity. CEOs get their position from the board and are subject to their vote. Project managers receive their right to manage from an approved charter, statement of work or other defining document. The extent of their power is defined by the bounds of the project scope.

Although culture plays a role in determining which type of authority is strongest, positional is the easiest to gain and loose. Since it is given it can also quickly be taken away. If the project is cancelled your role disappears. It is also in jeopardy if the entity that granted it changes. This becomes painfully obvious if your company is purchased and you are in an upper management position.

Appropriate Uses
During the normal course of managing a project, positional authority is a great starting point. Using it as a basis to push the purpose of the project forward, treat your team with respect and they will generally adhere to it.

You can also use positional authority of others. I have started many emails by referencing the project Sponsor or VP of something or other. The higher the title, the quicker the response tends to be.

Abusive Uses
This is the most often abused authority. Misuses include your standard harassment problems and basic dictatorships but also encompass more subtle ones. One example is to push work onto subordinates. One manager I mentored complained because her manager had her creating status reports for projects she wasn’t even managing.

Challenges come from many different directions on this one. If people don’t believe you have what it takes to fill the role they will be reluctant to follow. One individual I managed used age as his criteria. He was fine with me leading until he found out I was 6 months younger.

Another challenge will come from those outside the context of your project or organization. From the project side resources are always an issue. Portfolio Management is the key for that (come back for the Matrix Organization discussion). Organizationally, if your Sponsor is a VP there is always another VP that may try to trump her power.

The biggest challenge, though, usually comes from the person who thinks they should have gotten your position. One of the questions to ask as you step in is who else was considered or had eyes on the role. Your formal claim to it won’t appease them. One way to get them turned around is to include them in more of the management activity. This is especially useful with junior people looking to move up. By giving them opportunities to grow and be mentored you will actually be using Reward Authority, but that is a topic for another day.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June 27, 2007 – Authorized to Manage - Introduction

My first experience with management responsibilities was as an account manager for the consulting company where I was working. For my group of consultants this meant making sure their timesheets were in on time and compiling their annual review documents. In the grand scheme of management it was pretty low level. What was interesting, though, was the way some people treated me when they found out I was their manager. It was as if that tiny step gave me control of their entire career. I, on the other hand, pictured it as simply a means for the company to handle basic logistics that upper management didn’t have time to do.

Looking back I realize that the reality of the role encompassed both ends of the spectrum. It was a necessary, tedious part of management that someone had to pick up, but by contributing to someone’s annual review and permanent record it also impacted their career, too. I had Authority.

So, what do we mean by authority? A Webster definition of authority is “the right and power to command and be obeyed or to do something.” I like this definition because it covers both pieces. The right to do something without the power to get it done is futile. The power to do it without the right leads to tyranny.

The Project Management Institute defines authority as “the right to apply project resources, expend funds, make decisions, or give approvals.” This is a little too restrictive for the subject at hand.

A better definition is “the responsibility to manage resources (people, products and funds) to the full extent of your influence.” The use of the work responsibility implies an expectation to treat your resources properly. Substituting influence for the term power more accurately reflects reality as a project manager. Power implies force. Influence covers more options.

There are four main types of authority: Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert. Over the next several entries we will look at each of these authority levels and then discuss how they work in both Matrix and Projectized organizations. I’ll even define Matrix and Projectized, too.

One key point to remember is that the purpose of authority is to accomplish the goals of a project or an organization. The purpose of authority is not to make you look important, control others or for self gain. There are numerous examples of authority being used to take advantage of others including hostile contract negotiations and sexual harassment. For each authority levels we will examine ways it should be used appropriately, how it can be abused and the types of challenges you are likely to face from others.

Monday, June 25, 2007

June 25, 2007 – Just Another Day at the Beach

Yesterday was a beautiful day at the beach. Living 20 miles from the sunny shores of southern California you would expect us to go there more often than we do. After yesterday it may be a while before I go back. We were there with our Church to baptize* my youngest daughter. We jumped waves, body surfed, swallowed a bunch of salt water and ate hotdogs.

I came home extremely tired and chilled…with a 103 degree fever. It was a long, painful night of tossing and turning.

Which explains why I didn’t issue a blog today. Tune in tomorrow as I start a new series on Authority Levels in preparation for a new podcast for The PM Podcast.

*Baptism in the Christian Protestant faith is a public announcement of your decision to allow Jesus to save you from the penalty of your sins and help you live your life for Him.

Monday, June 18, 2007

June 19, 2007 - Where's the Finish Line?

One summer at camp we had a big foot race. It went from the archery range down to the beach and up a steep trail before ending on the main lawn. Knowing the finish was at the top of the hill I sprinted and was in first place coming off the trail. Having reached the summit I fell to the ground, glad to be done. Looking up I saw the finish line another 50 feet in front of me. Needless to say, I didn’t finish anywhere near first.

Fewer things are more frustrating than getting to the end and finding the finish line isn’t where you thought it was. As a project manager, if you don’t reach the goal it can result in having to seek employment elsewhere. To finish strong you need to know who is holding the tape at the end of the race. Usually we think of the project sponsor and forget others like the corporate architects, security, Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) auditors and the project office. Since these groups can bring your project to a halt it is important to seek them out up front. It puts a new twist on the old saying “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know.”

Architecture Committee. My project was going quite well. We were cloning an existing concept and the company stood to make a bunch of money selling the new product. You can imagine my surprise when I presented the project to the Architecture Committee prior to implementation and they said it didn’t meet the new technology direction. It didn’t matter that the requirements were never published, I just should have known.

Take the time to present your project’s concept to the architecture group early on. In addition to keeping you from going down the wrong path they can suggest improvements and point out design flaws.

Head of Security. Security is a thankless job. Protect the company for years but have one little laptop disappear or a couple thousand account numbers go missing and everyone is breathing down your neck. It is no wonder they say “NO” so often. Get them to help you design the system security in right from the Business Requirements phase. Too often we try to tack it on at the end and it doesn’t meet company standards.

Security funds are a great place to find additional funding for your projects, too. When the safety of the company is at risk money can be found. If there is an aspect to your project that enhances the security of the company you may be able to utilize a separate budget.

SOX Auditors. Auditors are generally avoided at all costs. Rather than hiding anxiously in your cube, go introduce yourself. Find out what the latest killer audit questions are and make sure your project is covered. Understand the rules and then consult with them before deviating from them. They may be able to help you find the path of least resistance to compliance. If you really want to blow their minds, ask them to perform a review of your project early on. This gives you a first hand look at what they are looking for and allows you to start off on track.

Project Office. The Project Office is the compliance police for development and management policies. Their directives may come from either the Program Management Office in charge of the enterprise or the Project Management Office set up for a specific endeavor. Like the SOX Auditors, they know the standards and can either be your source of information or source of pain. Many of them were project managers before they turned to the dark side and may be able to mentor you through the processes.

Starting off right with these people will allow your project to get the finish line without collapsing 50 feet from the end.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

June 12, 2007 - Project Gamble: Hold or Fold?

One of my co-workers is an avid Blackjack player…and he is good at it. On any given evening he can make several hundred dollars playing. The casinos he visits have started changing decks and dealers more often when he is in the house. One of his secrets is to know when to stop. He tells me about other players that start to loose and then start up their bets in an attempt to make it back. Unfortunately they tend to squander it faster instead.

Some projects end up like that. The company doesn’t know when to stop throwing time, resources and money at a project that isn’t going to pay out. But how do you know when to fold and walk away from a loosing project?

Forget the Sunken Costs. Whatever has already been spent on a project should not be a major factor in continuing it. Like our bad gamblers the business thinks “We’ve lost so much, we can’t give up now.” You can’t recoup the budget used to date but you can stop the flow.

Calculate the Cost to Complete. Realistically, how much will it take from this point to finish the project? Is it an acceptable amount? If the budget isn’t there, try again next year.

Revisit the ROI. Has the Return on Investment changed at all? ROI is always difficult for infrastructure type projects where the return is not necessarily found in this specific project. Add to the ROI the things you won’t be able to accomplish if the technical pieces aren’t in place. After recalculating the anticipated return compare it against the Cost to Complete. Since the sunken costs have already been spent, they don’t play a big part in this decision. It is like driving three quarters of the way to an amusement part and encountering a monsoon. It doesn’t matter how far you drove, if you aren’t going to have fun when you get there why drive any further.

Check the Requirements. If the requirements have changed drastically from the beginning of the project is isn’t the same project. It may be better to kill this one and start something completely new. Dragging the old baggage to the new requirements is counterproductive.

Directional Change. There are several things that can result in the company taking a new direction. New management may decide to drop a particular production line. Technology leaps may out pace the current project making it obsolete before completion. The market may not exist any more. Any of these factors can crumble the foundational purpose of the project.

Resource Wasteland. When you no longer have resources working on a project it is dead. I’ve mentored project managers who are issuing status reports on a project with no activity for months. The status report is easy to produce, if not a little redundant, but funds are being tied up that might better be used elsewhere. Unless the business reprioritizes the projects you can revisit this one when the resources show back up.

It may not be easy to walk away, but sometimes it is the right thing to do.

Monday, June 4, 2007

June 4, 2007 – Under New Management

In the restaurant business the sign “Under New Management” is like a clean slate. It is as if they are saying, “All those bad meals and lousy service you had before are a thing of the past.” When you are part of the staff it leaves a lot of questions. “What kind of manager will this new guy be? Will he keep all of us old timers or replace us with younger and cheaper waitresses? How can I show my worth to her?” As a consultant I face these questions more often than others. Well, maybe not the waitress part, but you understand. Some days your world takes a turn.

Today marked such a day for me. My current client makes a point of rotating their management teams on a regular basis. The rational is that it give them experience in multiple areas within the company and allows ideas to flow from group to group. When this happens everyone has to re-acclimate to the new management style. Throughout your career you will likely work with many different types of managers and each time you will begin fresh. That clean slate is both good and bad. On one hand the poor performance of the past can be wiped out. On the other your new manager doesn’t know all the extra effort you have put in, your skill level or the promises that were made.

Let’s take a look at some of the “new boss blues” and actions to take to keep them from bringing you down.

Past Bad Behavior. To some extent this is your second chance at your job. This is true even if the previous manager gave the newbie your rap sheet. New managers are optimistic that things will be different under their watch. With this in mind there is no need to announce that you are “the one who did that think that caused the you-know-what to hit the you-know-where.”

Since managers generally have access to your records be prepared for any questions that might arise. Think through the situation and have an answer ready. Don’t directly deny anything that is in your record. Instead talk about what you learned from the experience, what you might have done differently then and how you are better because of it.

Abilities and Strengths. It takes time for managers to learn who the go-to people are and who is dependable. It took me nearly three months after my move to Syracuse, NY before I felt that I was connecting with the branch manager. Then they combined offices and shipped him off to Maine. I was back to square one.

You need to communicate your abilities to your new manager. Update your resume and trim it down to one page. Highlight the pieces that play to the strengths you want to promote. Send her a copy and request a fifteen minute meeting to walk through it. Unless she is anxious to do it sooner, schedule it for the second week. This will give her a chance to settle in and begin to see how things fit. Before the meeting plan out what you want to convey using the resume as the basis. Unless she is technically savvy, explain what you do in non-technical, business terms.

Promised Advancement. This is probably the most frustrating aspect of the whole deal and it just happened to one of my direct reports. I had started the promotion process for him just before the Area Manager resigned. If at all possible, get the exiting manager to complete the process or at least put the intent in writing for you.

If that fails, don’t hit the new manager with it within the first 2 weeks. When you do, first ask if her predecessor had mentioned the possibility to her. If not, explain your understanding of the situation, make your pitch and ask her to consider it. Demanding it will not likely obtain your objective.

More Reports. Here is an opportunity to be proactive. Meet with your new manager and walk her through the reports you are currently producing. Explain what information is available from which report and help her interpret what she is looking at. If she has a different set of reports take the time to compare them against the current ones. Point out any overlap and ask if you can stop producing the data in the old format to avoid double work. In the event that the current reports are company standards, ask her to consider switching to the existing forms where possible.

Getting a new manager is going to push you out of your comfort zone. Rather than letting your concerns fester, take action and meet the challenge head on.