This has been a tough week. Not only was it busy, it felt like I was spending a lot of time chasing my tail. Unfortunately, it wasn’t isolated to a single client or project. It seemed across the board, I struggled to keep a handle on what was going on. The one consistent point is that neither the client nor the internal project team felt “I was on there side.”
A project manager or customer success manager for technical products are usually smack in the middle between the demanding customer and the product or project team. So, why then did this week bother me so much? I think it was because I am seemingly able to do a better job balancing everyone’s interests. I’m using today’s post to try and figure out what happened and what I can do better next time.
- Don’t take it personal – First, I really do need to remind myself not to take it personal. As I tell my kids, “I am only responsible for my own behavior.” On the side of the customer, I am the representative of the company. It is my job to hear their issues and feel their pain. Sometimes that escalates if resolutions aren’t found quickly enough for their liking. On the side of the company, it’s my job to be the advocate for the customer. As a company, we need to realize that it’s not personal. We are each doing our job.
- It’s all about the communication – This leads me to the second critical point. Everybody needs to communicate. The adage “no news is good news” doesn’t apply in project management. No news usually means that nothing has been done. As the advocate for the customer, it’s my job to follow up and get resolutions. At a minimum, at least tell when I can expect a response. This gives me something to tell the customer.
- We are all on the same team – Lastly, we all need to realize we are on the same team. No matter how well a company “eats their own dog food”, the customers will always be the experts of the products. Just because they are using the system in a way that we didn’t anticipate doesn’t make what they are doing wrong. They are giving us feedback and making it better. Every time they uncover an issue or ask for something, they are driving us forward. Let’s embrace that. Let’s not assume that the customer is doing something wrong. The onus is on us to understand the use case and solve the customer problem.
I think this week’s lesson is pretty clear. I’m glad it’s friday as I need to regroup this weekend to tackle the open issues head on next week. Hopefully I will be able align everyone towards solving the problems. But as for the question I posed, we are all on the same team: product, services, and customers.
You can get so confused
that you start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
-Dr. Seuss “Oh, the Places You’ll Go“
As a project manager who works on complex implementation projects, I find that I spend a lot of time waiting…
- waiting for developers to finish their work
- waiting for approval or feedback
- waiting for resource availability
It isn’t the inherent waiting associated with regular project management that’s frustrating, it’s the “hurry up and wait” syndrome that bogs me down. These are scenarios where you have completed some component of work, are have been waiting for some time for feedback. When the feedback is finally provided, the expectation is that you will turn around a response or resolution immediately. If not managed correctly, this becomes an ugly cycle.
I have to remind myself that this isn’t happening to make my life difficult. There are underlying motivations that I don’t necessarily understand. Ron Ashkenas’s 2014 article in the Harvard Business Review “Two Ways to Reduce “Hurry Up and Wait” Syndrome” suggests that this is a byproduct of the “dramatic acceleration of today’s business culture.” Mr. Ashkenas provides two suggestions for how to minimize the impact by 1) putting a premium on removing low value work so there is more bandwidth for handling urgent issues and 2) do a better job prioritizing new requests as they come in, specifically making decisions on urgency.
I’m a huge supporter of both of these suggestions, but I think the minimize the partnership aspect of working with clients. As a value added partner you should remember these 3 things when faced with the “hurry up and wait” syndrome:
- You don’t know what the other person is going through – Yes, you are feeling the stress of the other person’s action, but who knows what they are going through. Maybe this is worse for them.
- It is critical you communicate – You need to be able to have a conversation. Tell your customer when you are going to deliver (within reason of course) and deliver. This may not be the requested tomorrow or noon today deadline, but people will generally be reasonable if you set and meet expectations.
- Don’t let yourself fall into the “hurry up and wait” syndrome – If you aren’t careful you can find yourself in a situation where you are constantly fighting fires and always reacting to situations. You need to be able to look at all you have to do, across all clients and make legitimate decisions about priority and urgency. By introducing process, you can bring peace to the chaos. It’s this step of building system and process that will allow you to grow and develop smarter as an organization.
When asked what I do, I usually say that I’m a very technical project manager. There have been times over my career where I was underestimated because I was “just the project manager.” More often, my technical knowledge allows me to excel as I have the skill to step in as the “cardboard batman” to developers as they work through issues, or assist with data validation or even do some of the heavy lifting around requirements analysis before having to involve the technical team. And while I don’t consider myself a developer, I have demonstrated that I can learn and adapt and assist in a variety of languages or frameworks.
We’ve tried to convince Cayla that these are just building blocks of things she’ll do in the future. That it is less to do with the languages she is learning, and more about building the foundation of computer science, and technical confidence she needs to be able to learn the languages of tomorrow, or 5 years from now when she is graduating from college.
Unfortunately, this attitude and behavior is more common than it should be. There have been several studies that show men apply for jobs based on potential while women lean towards applying for jobs based on what they have actually done. This is absolutely counter to how quickly skills, technologies and organizations change. We need to change the mindset on how we think about our own skills, so we are better suited for developments as change happens. I’m not in any way suggesting you lie, but I am suggesting you think about what you have done and learned, and figure out if that will give you the potential to take on the next technical challenge, programming language, or framework.