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Errors Inexperienced PMs Make: How to Delegate(Part 2 of 3) March 17, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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You’ve finally decided to delegate something. However, you are still worried about the task. How do you make sure they understand what you are asking? How do you make sure you send things in the right direction? How do you cleanly hand it off to the people that are executing the work?

Thanks to Philo Nordlund @http://www.flickr.com/photos/philon/

Thanks to Philo Nordlund @http://www.flickr.com/photos/philon/

In order to delegate a project, put together a clear written charter with scope, timeline, and authority defined. Nothing is worse than going to the first project review and realizing that the team just got it wrong.

Here are some guidelines:

1. It should be a document, spoken directions are just too easy to misunderstand.

2. Define the Goals.
Goals are the desired end state of the project with time frames. They differ from scope in that they are usually broader. You need to define goals because sometimes your scope is wrong. Your delegates should be closer to the project than you and understanding your goals will allow them to notify you when described scope conflicts with the end goals.

3. Define the Scope.
Scope should define what the team needs to do. This can be as broad or as narrow as you like. The key thing is to make sure the detail matches the skill level of those you are delegating to. A highly skilled team might require only broad strokes. (“Find a way to sell this property for $200K more than we bought it for.”) A more inexperienced team might require additional direction. (“Get a property value assessment. Solicit local realtors to find our how we can improve value cheapest. Suggest the improvements, I will approve. Execute the improvements. Put the property on Sale and execute the sale. Report back to me every two weeks.”) If you use a broad plan, you can also require the persons accepting the responsibility to take the broad goals and break them down into a detailed, actionable plan. This is a good strategy as it reduces your prep time and gives them a stake in the project while maintaining your control.

4. Define a Timeline Timeline is really a part of the scope, but it is important enough that I want to mention it separately. Every person has a weakness that might prevent them from completing the project in a timely manner. Some people just don’t work well without a deadline. Others will procrastinate. Others will freeze seeing the work as monumental unless there is an established end date. I personally like to establish several intermediate goal dates as it lets the team know I will be periodically checking up on the project. One key item here, set the dates then allow the team to talk about them and adjust them. If they agree to the time frames, they are committed to them.

5. Define Project Authority
When you define project authority you will indicate if other designated resources have been assigned to the project and how much control the responsible leaders have over them. You will also describes when the leaders need to come to you for approval. With very inexperienced resources you may only allow them to execute exactly to the charter with no variation. With other resources you may find that allowing them to bring you solutions to approve is more efficient. With your most trusted and experienced team members you may only ask to be informed of decisions, giving them partial or complete decision making power. Knowing the amount of ceded authority gives your delegates the confidence to act. Michael Hyatt talks about The Five Levels of Delegation a good structure for defining delegated authority.

Below is a sample Charter. It’s only a piece of a larger document. It could have been improved by having a clearly and separately stated goal from the scope.

Sample Charter

Sample Charter

OneĀ  thing you will notice, is that all of this charter preparation takes time. I have had initiatives languish for weeks because I just couldn’t carve out the time to put together the charter. Despite this, I would encourage you to stand fast and complete the written charter before trying to delegate a responsibility. The consequences of not doing so are a project that travels in the wrong direction. The wasted effort is bad enough, but the real cost is the frustration of your engaged resources who often have to throw away some or all of what they’ve already done.

Tell me about your experiences delegating.

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Errors Inexperienced PMs Make: When to Delegate (Part 1 of 3) March 13, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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Delegation is a hard skill to learn and most newbie managers do it wrong. They over-delegate or under-delegate. They micromanage or abandon responsibility entirely. Ultimately they lose the most important resource, time. Whats the right way for a new manager to delegate?

Thanks to duex-chi @http://www.flickr.com/people/deux-chi/

Thanks to duex-chi @http://www.flickr.com/people/deux-chi/

So you’re a brand new minted manager. The sword has just left your shoulders and you have been sent into the world to slay dragons. Pint-sized firedrakes are not the only lizards on your hit list. There are also huge ancient beasts that make Tolkein’s Smaug look like a gecko. You need troops to accomplish the tasks before you. However, troops do you no good if you don’t deploy them properly.

Here’s a quick guide in three parts to delegating the fight:

When (and why) to Delegate
I think there are several key reasons to delegate.

1. If someone else can do the job better than you, delegate it to them.

A lot of sources will say if they can do the job 80% as well as you, you should give it up. That’s fine, but if you are short on troops you may have to settle with keeping more of the grunt work.

2. If you can’t get enough concentrated time to execute the tasks of a project, delegate them.

I often find that my day is consumed by meetings. Even the time I do have is in 30 minute to 1 hour spots. This often makes it impossible for me to progress on efforts that require concentrated 2 or 4 hour segments of work. I usually have to turn these items over to subordinates even though I might be able to do them better. Their schedules tend to be more free than mine and they can execute these longer tasks because they can fit them in. The nice thing about this is that you can still review the finished work. This ensures quality and in the end increases your subordinates skill if you coach them properly.

3. If you consistently, despite your best efforts, fail to achieve a task, consider delegating it.

The most likely reason for this failure is lack of priority. You may think it is lack of skill (in which case see item A) or lack of time (in which case see item B), but the most likely reality is that you have the skill and time, you simply cannot get it high enough up the priority list to do it properly. If this is the case you need to first consider how important it is. You have three options: Decide not to do it, Decide it is important enough to do this instead of other things, or delegate it.

My organization does time tracking and one item I have consistently not done well is open new “buckets” for projects. It only takes a few minutes, but I rarely go into the application that does this. It’s only a priority when it hasn’t been done. But it’s ultimately critical to our financials. When I didn’t do it, my people felt neglected. At one time, I asked them to remind me if I didn’t get it done, but that felt wrong. I would certainly be upset with them if they didn’t do what I asked unless I reminded them. So in the end I trained several of my leads to do the work so that if I got tied up I could simply send the work out to them.

A note to servant leaders: Do not confuse delegating with not serving.

I am a proponent of servant leadership. Often times servant leaders want to help their followers so much they won’t delegate. Remember, delegation frees you up to serve more effectively. It gives your subordinates the chance to learn. It prepares the organization to operate without you when you move up to the next level or “win the lottery”. A servant leader serves his people and organization best when he learns to delegate.

When and why do you delegate?

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Sexy Intro’s: How to Get the Wrong Reaction March 11, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Communication.

Sometimes when we write we try to make the intro, or email subject line, or title, “sexy.” We want it to be a real attention getter. The problem with this is that it often causes confusion, anger, or other unconsidered problems. How do we maximize the impact of our intro while minimizing confusion?

Thanks to Mick Amato @http://www.flickr.com/photos/mickamato/

Thanks to Mick Amato @http://www.flickr.com/photos/mickamato/

The other day, U.S.A. Today had the headline “What do surgeons leave behind?” What does that make you think about? My Mom is a surgeon so I thought about all the sacrifice doctors make. The cost in family time, energy, and emotional stress. My wife assumed that the story was about the medical waste created by modern medicine. What was the article about? It discussed the ongoing and preventable problem of surgeons leaving sponges and other medical implements inside a patient when doing surgery. Imagine my disappointment in finding, not a piece hailing the wonderful work and sacrifices made by my Mom, but instead a piece disparaging the carelessness of the medical profession.

We often cause the same issue. The very title of this piece is a good example. “Sexy Intro’s” makes you think I’m going to be giving out pick up lines. “How to Get the Wrong Reaction” makes it sound like bad pick up lines. Of course this topic is a bit different; I hope that the readers aren’t too disappointed.

Email subjects exhibit some of the worst cases of this behavior. “Emergency!” will certainly get you some attention. So will “Catastrophic Loss” or “Major Error”. However, such email titles are rarely accurate. At best, you get a boy-who-cried-wolf affect, where your credibility is hurt. At worst, you’ve got an angry executive who dug up your boss to explain this “Major Error”.

Here are some suggestions on how to get the attention you need without getting the wrong attention:
1. Be Specific.
Most misinterpretations occur due to too little information. “Loss of Data” is quite different than “Recoverable Loss of Data from drive D on Server X. Anticipated recovery 4 hours.” Most execs are going to read the title and decide whether to dig deeper. The first item forces them to search (probably on the blackberry) for the real issue. The second gives it all to them in a sound bite and they can intelligently decide to dig deeper or not. “The things doctors leave behind in patients after surgery” would have clarified the meaning of the newspaper article for me.
2.Leave out unspecific adverbs
Catastrophic, Bad, Horrible, Faster, Slower, are all weak choices of words in a subject. Adverbs are words that describe the degree of a verb or adjective (or adverb). It is hard to make clear and specific value statements in a subject line. Each person interprets them differently. (What does faster mean to you?)Leave out the adverbs. Your English teacher will remember you fondly and you won’t be making arbitrary value statements.
3.Be Careful with Department Specific Jargon.
One department in my company has “RED MEETINGS! MANDATORY!” This just irritates me. First of all what is a “RED MEETING”. Second, it’s not mandatory for me, we don’t even report to the same person till we get to the Senior Executive VP of a 35,000 employee company. It always makes me think, do I have something important to do at that time, like lunch.
4.Do not bold, !!!!!, or otherwise emphasize your message
If your reader cares enough to read your email or piece, they will at least glance at the subject/title. Unless you have a pre-established system, Bold, Underlined, or emphasized!!!!! text is very annoying. It is probably not a good idea to get your audience in a bad mood before they’ve read your important email. They will be mad at you, not the problem.
5.Think about audience context before sending stuff out.
As in my example with the newspaper story, my context totally changed my interpretation. Take a second to consider your reader’s context. How will they take your message? You will still get occasional confusion, but taking a moment to consider the receiver should help.

Have you ever sent an email who’s subject was confusing or read something that turned out to not be what you expected?

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Find your voice at work March 4, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Uncategorized.

How do you find that unique quality that will take you to the next level? Writers, singers, and speakers often talk about finding your voice. Voice is that special thing that differentiates you. One of the judges on the hit TV show The Voice once said, “I am listening for something unique.” He means someone who has skills and talent, but has found something defining. In professions we also have a defining quality, a Voice. But how do you find it?


Thanks to Grant@http://www.flickr.com/people/visual_dichotomy/

Professionals tend to develop along a predictable course. They start as novices. Then they gain skills and expose talents. As these skills and talents develop they slowly move from apprentice to journeyman skill level. As journeymen, they start to specialize. These specialities are what I would call their professional Voice.

To develop your Voice you need to experience. There is no shortcut to development. Shortcuts are invariably routes that lead only back to the beginning. Here are some suggestions to help you find you profession Voice:

1. Go with the flow
Chase whatever your boss puts in front of you as hard as you can. A good boss is invaluable to developing your Voice for three reasons:
A. It is their job to make the best use of you.
Their broader experience and different perspective helps them identify where your skills are maximized. You may say that he gives you difficult stuff to do. What you don’t know is that others find that task impossible. Over time, that impossible task becomes easy to you, and bang, you have a specialization.
B. It is their job to broaden you.
A good boss is always looking for additional skills and options for their people. Thus, they will have you try new things and see where you excel.
C. It is their job to keep you engaged.
Ultimately keeping a good employee is priority number one. Yes, your boss may stretch you with new experiences. He may use you to achieve the tasks you are good at. But what he’s really looking for is what do you love. If he can find something that you are good at and love, he’s found something special.
2. Ask for responsibility
The biggest mistake young employees make is in pursuing money. Money always follows responsibility. Bosses who don’t take care of their highly responsible employees have problems because they cannot retain them. I won’t go as far as to say that you should never ask for money, but it’s very close to never.
Ask for responsibility. It changes your manager’s focus from managing you to developing you. It increases their trust. Additional responsibility of any type can help develop your personal skill-set.
3. Self Examine and create a strategy for weaknesses
In the end, you have to assess your own experiences. Your boss can be a great sounding board, but you really need to look at yourself. What is the personal skill set you bring to the table? Where are you weak? How do you deal with those weaknesses. Can you train them? Can you avoid them? What work roles fit you best? If you are strong in leadership but poor in details, you may be more suited for a managerial position. If you hate politics but love to see results you may find the individual contributor roles more to your liking. Keep in mind, that manager or contributor, highly skilled people are well paid and can lead. Don’t take the manager path, if your Voice is in contribution.

4. Self Examine and seek experiences that sharpen your key skills and broaden your skill base.
Ultimately your Voice is more about what you are strong in than what you are weak in. That is what will define your career. Once you’ve determined your strengths, make them stronger. You can do this through experience and training in strength areas. Don’t just do the work. That is easy and will not let you grow. You need to analyze it and figure out what you can do better.
Also, broaden your skill sets on the edges. If one part of your professional voice is you are great at keeping disgruntled clients from escalating. The next step may be to become great at turning them around and making them happy. Perhaps, it’s about how to keep disgruntled peers from blowing up. Search the edges of your skill-set for other things you can develop.

As your Voice develops you will find that senior staff and your managers rely on you more and give you more leeway in your specialty. That is the reward of finding your special Voice. Freedom.

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