Sunday, May 20, 2012

Top 3 Worst Ways to Manage a Team

Five years ago, I wrote a short post about the worst possible ways to manage people. These are still popular techniques that managers often fall back to.

So what are these common management traps you should avoid?

#3 - The Ostrich Mentality

People fighting? Project running eight weeks behind schedule? New technical challenges are making success look unfeasible?

No problem! Carry on, business as usual. No need for change. Let's just keep doing things the way we've always done them.

This is what I call the Ostrich Mentality. Just stick your head in the sand and hope everything turns out alright.

What do to instead?

Admit problems frankly, have a discussion, and take action to change things.

Not tomorrow, but today!

#2 - The Ditch Digging Theory

This is when a manager believes that every task in a complex business process is equivalent to simple manual labor.

When a project is running behind schedule, they simply add more people.

This concept works fine -- if you are indeed digging a ditch. If you're doing anything more complicated, it fails miserably.

Adding more people to a project that is already late can actually make it take longer! I discussed the details in my post about keeping your teams small.

What to do instead?

Realize that business and information technology projects are complex beasts, involving specialized knowledge, and lots of communication.

If a project is running late, resist the urge to add more people to speed it up.

Instead, focus on trimming the scope to the bare essentials, and getting a solid deliverable out there. Then, create a follow-up project for the remaining lower priority pieces.

#1 - The Warm Body Theory

This one bothers me personally the most, probably because it is so prevalent and so toxic.

When managers have "warm bodies" (ie. people sitting in an office or meeting room) in their field of view, they equate this to productivity.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

If your employees are physically present at the office 10-12 hours a day, how many of those hours do you think they are mentally present, and actively contributing to the project?

Pulling five people into a two-hour meeting to "discuss the schedule" might burn $1,000-$2,000 of budget, and accomplish next to nothing.

What to do instead?

Make the schedule (the real schedule) and task commitments public and accountable.

Track everything in a live, accurate system that the manager, workers, and clients can access and update in real time.

Embrace flexible working hours and telecommuting. Let people balance their work and life commitments.

Once you've clearly defined what needs to be done, and who is responsible for doing it, you won't need to chase people down every five minutes for a status update!

Summary

To briefly summarize, here are the top 3 management "techniques" to avoid, and how:
  • The Ostrich Mentality: Keep your head above the sand and take action!
  • The Ditch Digging Theory: Don't add more people to a late project!
  • The Warm Body Theory: Track accountability, and let people take responsibility!


About the author: has owned a software consulting company for 9 years, and is the founder of PMRobot.