As a manager of a team of IT engineers, one of the toughest challenges is getting a handle on not only what everyone is working on, but what are all the seemingly unpredictable requests for work coming at your team. Thus whether you find yourself managing a new team or have been managing a team for some time but you are constantly being surprised with new requests out of left field, you may want to consider constructing a logical approach similar to what is being outlined in this series of articles to stop the surprises.
In the first article in this series, we identified the work request attributes of your team and built a list of sources of those requests. In the previous article, we finalized our Gantt chart listing all the external and internal work requests. We also added “HR-ish” activities and other categories of work that can impact delivery. This article will offer considerations on how to keep the data from becoming stale and how the plan benefits you as a manager.
Avoid Going Stale
Like any resource plan, it is only as accurate as the last time it was updated. You have put plenty of work up till this point in building your resource plan; don’t let it get stale. Consider making reviewing and updating the report a fixed agenda item for all one on ones and possibly some full team meetings. By sharing together with your full team you help team members get a sense of what others are working on. You never know one when team member will notice what someone else is working on and be able to offer some advice or alternative points to consider. If you are managing towards fostering a more self-organizing, self-directed team, which I’ve written about prior, this technique of sharing the resource plan with the entire team helps to communicate the broader workload. By encouraging team members to offer opinions and share perspectives on what others are working on organically moves your team towards more self-direction.
When it comes to updating your plan, to reduce the burden of taking notes then going back and updating the chart, consider updating the chart in real time with each of your team members. The real time update not only saves the burden of taking good notes and having good memory recall, it allows for immediate feedback and verification during your one on ones. Placing a copy of the report in a shared location for your team to view and update is great, but the additional value of making and talking through updates in real time can be exceedingly more valuable. Again, this is another opportunity to increase team member engagement through actively discussing what they are working on and capturing it in the plan.
Depending on your management style, the frequent real time update of the chart during one on ones could replace the classic weekly status report.
Management Perception Benefits
Now that you have an accurate and professional looking report of what work your team is doing, start to carry a paper copy around with you every where you go. Try and print out a copy of your most recent update on a large, single sheet of paper. Print a new copy after every major revision and discard the old copy. If it doesn’t appear clearly on the report, write the date of the latest revision. Consider setting a date range for the report of:
- Go back about one calendar week from the present date or the date you are printing.
This helps you answer questions pertaining to what transpired last week that impacts future projections. This is handy to be able to quickly respond to queries with: “Last week Sally was sick for two days and that is why her deliverable carried over into this week.”
- Report out a few months. Consider three months maximum.
Depending on the level of priority changes and work request adds/changes, you will probably discover that reporting out into the distant future isn’t all that helpful. Consider starting with three months and see how often you are discussing work requests that far in the future. The smaller your organization, more than likely, the shorter the future can be predicted. In truth, the level of maturity in work prioritization and forecasting in your organization will impact the frequency of report changes and the ability to project far into the future. The more mature the more consistent data available to reduce the frequency of changes to your plan. The less mature and more prone to “IT Instant Gratification” the more frequently you will be forced to re-juggle your resource plan.
By carrying around your plan and frequently referencing it in meetings, discussions, etc. you should notice a significant up tick in your external perceived management capabilities. Really? How so?
- Increase in perception of knowing what is going on
Sure, you might be able to keep everything you and your team is involved in at any given moment in time in your head. What is more likely the reality is:
As more and more work is being dump on you and your team, your brain is bound to get overwhelmed and loose details.
Thus, having a detailed report at your fingertips helps jog your memory reducing the chance you might miss something important in a discussion. Plus, when pressured to commit to deliverable dates, and what project manager doesn’t want you to commit to a magic date on the spot, you now have a legitimate excuse to pause, look at your plan, and then offer a more thought out response. Sometimes just the ability to inject a break in the pressure of the commitment exchange permits avoiding that hastily, in the moment, less than optimal reply.
- Increase in the credibility of your resource communications
Without report: “Bob is working on X now and should be done by Friday.”
With Report: Reviewing report prior to responding “Bob is working on X now and should be done by Friday.”
You are sharing the same message and very well could be using the exact same words in both cases. But, when you visibly reference some data prior to making your statement, your words are augmented with an increased incredibility. I attribute that increase to the external perception of being on top of what is going on and having data to support your statements that your resource plan gives you. Others don’t have any competing data, thus you have the more authoritative position in the conversation. The folks at Thinkshift Communications have developed a Credibility Quotient as a formal criteria for determining the level of credibility in one’s communications. As a factor in their ranking system, they specifically call out “Providing support for claims is the most important single contributor to credibility”. Sure, the corporate bureaucrats and smooth talking management pundits are able to talk circles around why something should be or needs to be delivered by a certain date. You can challenge back with equally crafted responses alone or remove the emotion and let data in your plan drive the discussion.
- Benefit of your responses having higher “stickiness”
The increase in the perception of you knowing what is going on and the resulting credibility in your responses nets you the benefit of having high “stickiness” in your responses. You will notice, especially in people that challenge your resource assignment or contention concerns, that over time you will see a dramatic drop off in the frequency and aggressiveness of challenges to your message. I directly attribute this increase in people taking you at what you say (rather than immediately challenging you) to the resource plan’s increase in your credibility.
At this point, you should have an accurate team resource plan that you have incorporated into your management work delivery commitment interaction discussions. In the next article, I’ll describe the additional power your resource plan possesses through it’s “what if” capabilities.