The Gorilla asks: “To FTE or not FTE? That is the question.”

Or why I choose to be a full-time coach.Monkey-Yorick

“Explain to me again why we’re going to be renaming projects ‘missions’ and our teams are now ‘squadrons’?”

My boss waved his hand vaguely, “It’s the new consultants we brought in. Bunch awesome hot-shots. Their workshop was totally eye opening. I mean the military has been running fast projects for decades. Why didn’t we think of it sooner?”

‘Because we’re a data processing company with absolutely zero to do with the military’, I thought.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I think we should roll their recommendations out. You’re the coach, what do you think?”

What did I think? I tried to fathom the depths of his question and failing that I went with the obvious. “Well it’s hard for me to say. I didn’t go to the training so all I have is this promotional flyer you just handed me.”

My boss nodded gravely. “Yeah, that was unfortunate. But you’re a contractor so the company can’t send you to training.” He clapped his hands on the desk, and pushed himself to his feet. “Tell you what, spend some time Googling it and give me an assessment tomorrow. I’ve got to get to the strategy planning meeting.”

I started to open my mouth only to have my boss wave me to silence. “I know, I know. It would be so much easier if you could be in the meeting. Confidential company data and all though. I’ll brief you on what you need to know tomorrow.”

And with that he was gone, leaving me in his office staring at the flyer of some consultant, who I didn’t get to talk to, that I was supposed to give my opinion on how to implement. I buried my head in my hands and contemplated becoming a beat farmer.

“Hey,” the voice was deep and earthy “was that your boss I just saw walk into a conference room with those Fly Right Consultants?”

Oh my day couldn’t get any worse. Not only was my own personal gorilla here to torment me, he was telling me even the consultants get to go to the meeting I should be running. “Go away Hogarth, I’m not in the mood.” 

“Yeah well how do you think I feel. You try explaining to the security rhino why you need a security pass when you’re just the figment of a contractor’s imagination. You’d think a fellow hourly guy would have some sympathy for my plight.”

I hadn’t sufficiently tuned out Hogarth and what he said pierced into my brain, jumping me into action. “Holy …., I forgot to put in my time card!” I started to jump from my chair only to be stopped by Hogarth’s massive hand in front of my face.

“Don’t worry, I turned it in for you this morning?”

I blinked. “This morning! It’s 6:00 pm how can you know how many hours I worked today?”

Hogarth gave a dismissive shrug. “It’s not like that matters, you know they’ll only pay you for forty hours no matter how many you actually work.”

Not for the first time I came to the conclusion that being a contractor sucks.


Agile Contractor, Agile Consultant, Agile Coach, the continuum

There are several paths to becoming an agile coach (leader, champion, guru, insert your adjective of choice).  The most common path starts first with being a scrum master and then moving up into being an agile coach. A less common path is doing program management in an agile organization and moving from there into agile coaching.

What about once you are an agile coach? What then? How will you collect your paycheck? What is your place in the organization? As I see it, there are three paths one can take as an agile coach. Coach, Consultant, Contractor. Let’s review how these work, their pros and cons.

Full Time Agile Coach: A full time coach is perhaps the rarest form of agile employee you will find today (2016). While full-time scrum masters are not uncommon, the coach is more often a consultant or contractor with a sharply limited engagement. And I see this as a tragedy. The full-time coach is perhaps the most effective and cost-efficient solution a company will find.  Sure, being a full-time coach does not offer the short-term satisfaction that consulting does. What it does offer is stability, trust and the ability to make real changes.

Benefits of being a Full-Time Coach: Longevity and trust. As a full-time coach you are not under the tight time windows so often imposed on consultants. And being full-time means you have the time and position to build trust with your teams, manager and company. In a good company (life’s to short not to work for good companies) you have the time to get to know your teams and build up relationships and trust before you start getting into the deep work of agile coaching.

Downsides of being a Full-Time Coach:  You’re in the system. When you are inside of a company, reporting into the management structure and working within the politics, you lose a certain amount of authority and power. You can’t call on the “hero for hire” aura to push through your ideas. You may know the exact right thing that needs to be done. That’s great, now you have to convince  your management. It can be a frustratingly teeth gnashing feeling to know and not be able to do. You also have to get used to change moving slower. Your company isn’t losing you at the end of the contract and working hard to push everything through.

Consultant Agile Coach: As a consultant you can feel like one of the Magnificent Seven (either the Samurai or  Western version). You are hired for your specific expertise and when you come into an organization your word carries a voice of authority that can sway the course of CEOs much less the rank and file employee. You need to speak that authority fast though and you need to make it stick because you won’t be around for long.

Benefits to being an Agile Consultant: The “Expert” aura. Companies pay good money to hire consultants. Something about investing lot’s of money in you means you’re listened to; given access to people, meetings, and information; even given a certain amount of authority to make changes.  It’s a really big advantage. It is however pretty much your only advantage.  Yes, it is common for consultants to know a lot and have a deeper set of experiences than your average Full-Time or Contract Coach. This is not a benefit though, it’s just a recognition that currently the consultant space draws a high percentage of the top tier coaches. The other advantage of being a consultant is shared with contractors, that being “control of destiny”. A consultant, particularly the independent consultant, gets to pick and choose their clients and can choose to work or not work. A full time coach doesn’t get to say “I don’t like this team, I’m not working with them.” A consultant can do this (though if they do it too often they find their phone stops ringing).

Downside of being an Agile Consultant: The agile consultants are heroes, therefore they are expected to work miracles. The miracle they are usually expected to work is to make a difference in a vanishingly short time window. Ninety days in not an uncommon duration for a consulting engagement. Ninety days is a brutally short time window to get anything done in. In, The Ninety Day Gorilla, I talk about how a full time employee should practice the mantra “Do no harm” in their first ninety days. For a consultant the money often runs out by the time ninety days are up and if they haven’t made some kind of impact, they won’t be asked to come back again. Worse yet, the client will talk to their friends and those friends are no longer potential clients. If you can’t hit the ground running, cure world hunger, make the client happy, all in three months, consulting may not be for you.

Consultants also come in two major flavors, Independent and “Firm”.

The independent contractor is the ultimate in self-determination. They hang out their shingle on the power of their name alone. You hire that one person and bring them in for their expertise. If you’re lucky and wildly successful (Jeff Sutherland, Joe Justice, Mike Cohn) you can afford a staff to help you. Otherwise you are coach, bizdev, bookkeeper, scheduler and receptionist all in one.  You’re also always chasing the next paycheck. Even while helping profitable client A, you’re actively working to land client B, D and C.

“Firm” consultants work for a larger organization. In agile some of the big names are SolutionsIQ, Leading Agile, and Thoughtworks). Agency consultants have some more security than the independent and much more than the contractor. If you’re good, the firm will take care of you. You will probably get benefits, bonuses and a certain amount of immunity from the “what’s my next gig?” panic. You might even end up on “bench time” where you are being paid to do mostly nothing (write training, blogs, help with BizDev).

Contractor Agile Coach: Where as the Consultant is hired “hero”, a contractor can often feel like they were picked up at the local “Henchmens ‘r Us” outlet. A contractor is hired as an hourly employee that works within a company’s normal organizational structure. They are contracted through an outside agency who issues their paycheck and benefits (if applicable). They report to a manager within the company they are contracted to. Thanks to past legal cases, contracts are always for a fixed term so as to not ever imply the contractor is an actual employee. Depending on the company the max term usually ranges from twelve months to two years. Since this is not a fixed law, smaller companies tend to pay less attention to this and I’ve seen five plus year contractors at post startup, pre-IPO companies.

Benefits to being an Agile Coach Contractor: Honestly, not a lot. Like an independent consultant, the greatest benefit is you are in total control of your destiny. You interview with a “client” on your own merits. You decide when to work and when not to work. The advantage over independent consultant is that the contracting agency handles all the pesky paperwork for getting paid, benefits and the like. If you’re not ready to hang out your own shingle and don’t want to work for an established consulting firm, this is the greatest path of independence you can find.

Downside of being an Agile Coach Contractor: You’re getting the short end of the FTE and Consultant sticks. Contractors are considered “Staff Augmentation”, so they are treated as part of the organization they work for. They report to a company employee and are almost always the “junior” person in any department. Staff Augmentation means you don’t have the aura of being a hired “expert”.

And as a contractor you have the same fixed time window of a consultant. Last year I interviewed with one of the old enterprise players in Silicon Valley (you know the companies that were the big guns until Google and Facebook came along and Apple started their “i” wave of products). They were trying to engineer an end-to-end agile transformation of a core business unit. Only they were looking to hire an agile coach on a three month contract and expecting significant results in that three months.

So without the mantle of “expert” given to a consultant, a contractor has a doubly hard time being successful in the short time window given. That company I interviewed with last year is on something like their seventh agile coach contractor and no closer to real change than they were two years ago.
So… (Conclusion)

I’ve worked as a contractor, a consultant and a full time employee. While few would support contractor as the preferred way to earn a paycheck, the “Consultant or Full-Time” question is common.

For me the answer has become clear. I find it much more fulfilling to be a full-time coach. I’m not saying I won’t consult again in the future. What I am saying is that being a full-time coach I believe is the best combination of pros and cons of all the options.

Of course an even bigger question is what should companies hire?

You’ll have to wait until the next blog for that answer.

This blogs is a prequel to my upcoming Agile Coaches Playbook series. This blog is specifically inspired by my session at Agile Open Northern California on Oct 9 and 10. Special thanks to Mike Register, Sam Lipson, Ravi Tadlwaker, Arielle Mali, Eric Johnson, and Gautam Ramamurthy for their great contributions.

Gorillas don’t need authority to lead

“What do you mean you’ve got to go? We’re three weeks behind schedule we need all hands on deck.” I was gripping the phone so hard I was sure I was leaving finger prints in the plastic. “No, no, no. We went over this. If we can just get through this release, we can all take some time off. We’ll even get comp time.. Uh huh… yeah. Okay I’ll talk to you when you get back.”

I slumped back into my chair and stared at the ceiling. My half hearted attempt to get the phone back on its receiver without looking only resulted in the phone falling to the desk. I left it there and continued to stare up at the ceiling. This was the third person on the project to take a vacation this month. The project was already an aggressive one and I’d under estimated resources so every day was critical. At this rate we’d be red and slipping by the end of the week.

I heard the distinctive click of the phone being placed back on the receiver. Great, just what I needed. “Go away Hogarth.” I didn’t hear anything. Of course I don’t think he made any noise when he didn’t want to. Still I knew he was still there. He was staring at me right now. He was probably thinking about how much this conversation sounded like my last project. He was staring at me now. He was just waiting for the right moment.

“Augh!” I threw my hands up as I sat up in my chair. Coming up right my eyes fell on my gorilla. Hogarth just sat in the chair across the desk and stared at me. I hate it when he does that. “Okay, okay, so I didn’t get them the time off after the last launch. We had that special project pop up and we needed everyone on it right away. And we couldn’t have a party because we were in the third quarter belt tightening season.”

Hogarth nodded. “Uh huh…”

“Hey don’t you start!” I snapped. “It shouldn’t even matter, I’m in charge of the project and I said it needs to be done. They just need to pony up and buckle down.”

It’s easy to forget that the arm span of a gorilla is considerably greater than we humans. I was reminded when a leathery palm reached from across the desk and smacked me upside the head.

“Ow.. Hey!” Hogarth was still sitting calmly in the chair opposite me. Had I not just witnessed (and felt) his hit to my cranium it would have been hard to imagine he had ever moved. “What was that for!?”

I think Hogarth may have actually rolled his eyes. It was hard to tell with the bushy eyebrows. “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you?”

I blinked. “Seriously?” I said. “You’re going to start spouting old English proverbs at me now? What’s next?”

“Joan of Arc.” he said.

Okay, now he was just playing with me. Just trying to put me off balance before he gave me the real message. Right? Suddenly the same leathery palm that had so recently reached out and touched me came up again. I started to flinched, until he turned the hand towards him and gave his chest one sharp beat.

Okay, maybe he wasn’t’ playing…

“We can agree she saved France from destruction?” He asked.

I nodded.

“And we can agree that at the time, the thought of a woman, much less a girl leading an army is pretty absurd?”

Again I nodded.

“And when she started, did she have any authority?”

I shook my head.

Hogarth nodded. “That’s right. What did she have. Why did people follow her?”

“They had faith in her. They thought she was sent by god.”

Hogarth nodded. “And what underlies a belief like faith?”

Hogarth knew I didn’t know the answer. He wouldn’t have asked the question if he thought I knew it. So I just waited.



It doesn’t matter if you’re the president of a nation or the janitor cleaning the offices. Without trust you can have all the authority in the world and people won’t go that extra mile for you. Without trust you won’t be given the opportunity to excel and grow. You might get them to do what you tell them to do. Will you get them to do it with passion? You might have your job, will you keep it and grow?

And with trust, you can lead a nation’s armies when you are nothing more than a slip of a girl.

You’ve got to ask yourself, what do you want to work on improving? Authority or Trust?

Which is going to go farther with your team?

The Gorilla Manager’s Survival Guide to Going Agile

“What do you mean I have to wait until the end of the sprint for a report?”

John gave a nod. “Uh huh, when we do the Sprint Review we’ll be have the Feature burn down charts, as well as demos of what’s been built and a report on any technical impediments.”

“But that’s not until the end of next week, I need to brief the VP on where Project Myrmidon stands.”

John looked truly apologetic. “I don’t have anything to report until the sprint is over. You’ve got the reports for the last two sprints and you know what we committed to for this sprint. Until we’re done, I can’t compile the external report. I’d just being making up a report right now, is that what you want?”

I sighed. “No, of course not.” In reality I did want him to make something up. I didn’t want to tell the VP he had to wait another week and a half to get his status report. The VP was scary and I didn’t like explaining to him why he had to wait for anything, even if it was the way the process worked. He was the kind of guy who didn’t want to wait for anything. He would say jump and expected you to phone him from orbit to ask if that was a high enough jump.

“Need anything else?” John’s question cut into my self misery. He was standing patiently in front of my desk. When I looked up at him he said, “Remember, I need to leave early today?”

I waved at him, “Oh, right. Go ahead.” John left me alone with my thoughts. This was the fourth time in two weeks he’s left early. I wondered if anything is wrong.

“He’s taking a Community Emergency Response training class. He wants to be more active in the community.” Hogarth’s deep voice cut through my thoughts and derailed the train I’d been on. The gorilla lumbered into the room, pausing only briefly to snap a branch off my fichus before he continued on to perch in the sun drenched window ledge.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

Hogarth shook his head, “Gorilla secret. Besides you’d know to if you were paying as much attention to your team as you do to your precious status reports.”

I glared at Hogarth. “What do you mean? I see my people every day. I know what’s going on with every project and where all the risks are. How can you say I’m not paying attention?” I waved out the door, “Heck the real problem is this damned agile roll out. Ever since it got going I have no idea what’s going on. Jake and I were just complaining about it over lunch. We don’t have the same control we used to, it’s driving us mad.”

“And yet you don’t know that Molly is engaged, Max at war with IT and John was taking CERT training.”

I blinked at Hogarth. “You mean I, like, have to talk to them ?” I felt a cold shudder run down my spine at the very thought of it.

Hogarth pointed the denuded fichus branch in my direction. “Let me ask you this. What reports to you, projects or people ?”

I stared at him like he’d just grown a second head. “What kind of question is that? Of course I have people reporting to me…” I closed my mouth with a snap.



Good Managers make for Good Agile

Management has been the butt of jokes, derision and scorn pretty much since some Mesopotamian chieftain delegated a cattle raid to his incompetent son while briefing his best warrior to keep his son out of danger and really get the job done. For the butt of all the jokes it has been, Management has also been where many of the worlds greatest leaders have risen from. The Duke of Marlborough, the Duke of Wellington, General/ President Charles de Gaulle and General/President Dwight Eisenhower all came out of “middle management” positions and went on to help change the face of the world for their time.

Whether you love or hate management, whether you think agile/ lean will do away with management, the reality is right now management is still a pervasive part of our world. This means some fairly important things.

– Adoption of new ways of doing business is going to be a lot more successful with management support.
– Managers need to learn how to work in the agile/lean world.
– The previous two bullets are inexorably linked together.

In short, managers need to learn how to work with their people again. It is through helping the team that we will all succeed. Stop focusing on the work and focus on the people doing the work. Through this can managers become a key to making a better world.

Psst… That was the passionate call to action part.

Okay, great speech. Rah, rah, rah. But speeches don’t make change.

No, no they don’t. Which means you actually have to do something.

And now for the practical tools to rise to the call.

Enter Manager Tools
Manger Tools is a website, a series of podcasts and a very dedicated group of people. When I look back on how I made the shift from drone worker to change agent and leader I can point to two defining moments. One was taking a CSM course and finally “getting” agile. The other was discovering the Manager Tools podcasts.

Focused on the principles of being effective and giving actionable advice, the Manager Tools podcasts have helped me put my career on track, to be a better manager and I think to be a better person. The principles and lessons of Manager Tools helped to form my own personal belief that if you help individuals be more effective, they will help make a better team. A better team makes for a better project and a better project makes for a better product. Better products will lead to better businesses and I businesses built on these foundations will help lead us to a better world.

Now with over 500 podcasts, years of blog posts, and a huge community forum it can be daunting to know where to start. Fortunately, Manager Tools has this covered. I also have some additional MT podcasts that I highly recommend as critical must listens.

The Manager Tools Trinity:
In true Douglas Adams fashion, the trinity is made up of four components. It really did start out as a trinity at one time. Coaching became part of the mix a few years back and I think these days the people at Manager Tools tend to refer to this as the “basics.” One thing basic about them, is how basic it is to pick them up and start using them. For ease of listening, Manager Tools has bundled around 20 podcasts into a special “Manager Tools Basic” feed. It contains their core starting points, including the Trinity (all four parts).


One on Ones: Two key secrets sauces at play here. 1- Meeting with your directs once a week, like clockwork. If there is a conflict, reschedule. Do everything you can to hold it. 2- The format is ten, ten, ten. The first ten minutes is the direct talking about whatever they want. The second ten is the manager asking questions he wants answers to. The last ten minutes are to future development. Project Managers- You can use O3s as well. It just takes a couple of minor changes to make it a perfect meeting for working with your project team.

The Feedback Model: The Manager Tool’s Feedback is a lot like a one shot agile retrospective. It allows the manager to identify behaviors (good and bad) and provide a response to that behaviors impact. The most powerful part of the Feedback Model is it doesn’t look to correct what has happened. Like a good retrospective, feedback is looking forward to how things can be done better in the future. Encouragement, not punishment. Project Managers- There is a modified version of this that can work with your project team.

Delegating: We’re terrible at delegating. We don’t do it well. We often delegate the wrong things. We often (very often) don’t let go when we delegate. In short, we end up strung out over a massive string of responsibilities and create all sorts of problems, not the least of which is being a single point of failure. Let us not forget the great Dilbert wisdom of “If you make yourself irreplaceable you will never get promoted.”

Coaching: Yes, that’s right, managers should be coaches to the people on their teams. Mark Hortsman, of Manager Tools, says that one of the greatest signs of a successful manager is that he gets his people promoted. Helping your team grow, learn and prosper is a vital part to being a good manager. And like good coaches, the goal is not to lead or drive them there, it is to make the possibilities possible.

Jump Starting Internal Customer Relationships : This two part podcast is a must listen for anyone joining a new company, new department or new project. This is one of my first go to actions when brought in on a failing project. Few would argue against syncing up with your stakeholders. The Internal Customer Interview process takes this to the next level by giving you a standardized format and set of questions to ask all your stakeholders. Through the repetition of the same questions you create quantitative view of the situation.

The DISC Model in action: DISC is a quadrant based behavioral model. Having used it for several years now I can attest to it being a model that actually works as opposed to being a money maker for “specialists” who come in to “fix” your organization. You can get a full assessment online for about $30. Manager Tools has over thirty podcasts devoted to interacting with people based on the DISC system. Hands down this has been one of the most valuable tools I’ve picked up from Manager-Tools.


In conclusion, this is one series of podcasts that is worth going back to episode one and listening to them all. It didn’t just help my career, it gave it purpose.

Better people, better projects, better world.

Pothole Project Management, a Gorilla PM philosophy

Or- How to solve a problem you lack the authority/resources to solve.
Ever have a day where you feel utterly powerless? Where your every act carries as much power as a waterlogged facial tissue holding back a runaway train? Okay, okay, I know, that that’s the normal state of being for a project manager. But I mean really and truly feeling like you have no more influence then a viagra spam email. Ever had one of those days?
I was.
Jake, the development manager,  had just declared his team had no plans to fix the fatal crash& corruption bug in the database load scripts. “It’s a fringe case, no one is ever going to hit it.”
Carlos was less than inclined to accept the answer. “Fringe case? A good twenty percent of our user base uses the Whippoorwill chip. What are my customer support reps supposed to say, ‘Oh sorry, sir, but that’s a fringe case. Can you please reinstall your system from a backup? You don’t have a backup, oh well.”
I sat in the middle, doing my best to stay the unbiased facilitator. Carlos could be a very reactionary customer service person and had a tendency to exaggeration, but I’d seen his data on this, and it was accurate. Over in the other corner, Jake’s team had been working for six months solid and had juggled a mountain of scope creep, introduced by the product manager. He was under a lot of pressure to deliver the product and just plain worn out by it.
So I looked to the product manager. “Bob, it’s your product, what do you want to do.”
Bob looked up from his Blackberry prayer. He glanced at the fiery tempered CS manager and then at the stoic development manager. “We’re a month late already, we can’t afford any more delays.”
Carlos nearly jumped across the table, “Delays? We wouldn’t be a month behind schedule if you hadn’t added a dozen features at the last minute and we wouldn’t have this bug if you hadn’t insisted on changing the DB schema!”
Two size-twenty, hairy feet levered themselves up onto the table next to me. Leaning back in his chair Hogarth folded his arms behind his head and turned to me. “You know this isn’t going to be any different from the last time customer support went toe to toe with the product manager?”
I glared at Hogarth, willing him to disappear in a puff of smoke. He didn’t and I was faced with the lopsided grin of my personal gorilla. I wanted to snap at him, that this would be different, but I couldn’t because I knew very well it wouldn’t be. Just like weather in LA, if yesterday was sunny, then odds were damn good tomorrow would be as well. The needs of the schedule would outweigh the needs of the product quality and customer support would be stuck supporting the bug. It would also impact our company. We were already starting to get a poor reputation for having great ideas, but horrible implementations.
Hogarth yawned, exposing a mouth full of pointed teeth, each gleaming like a reminder of things gone wrong. He said, “if you don’t do something, then it will be the same thing all over again.”
Now I was angry. It was one thing for Hogarth to state the blindingly obvious. But to imply I could change fate was quite the other. “Hogarth, I don’t have that kind of authority. My job is to move the project, not decide what it is!”
“We’re not going to have the responsibility argument again, are we?” he said. Before I could tell him this was different he waved towards the conference room’s big, picture window. “Remember that pot hole in the north parking lot, the one you used to hit every day?”
I nodded, “Yes, and I tried to get it fixed for six months. Facilities only finally got around to doing it last week. So?”
Hogarth shook his head, “Yeah facilities fixed it, but it wasn’t anything you did. The construction project on the south wing meant they had to drop a bunch of equipment at the head of the south lot, including in the CEO’s parking spot.” Flipping his feat down, Hogarth turned to point out at the north parking lot. “So they gave him a temp spot right next to the north entrance. See there’s his Mascarpone right there.”
“Maserati” I corrected.
He waved a massive paw-hand, “Whatever. The point is last Monday he drove into the north lot and took out his muffler on that pothole. Want to guess how fast it was fixed?”
I shook my head, “No, I want to know what your point is.”
“My point,” he said, “is sometimes the solution to the problem is to steer the right person into the pothole. Who do you think is really going to care is there is a crash bug on  the Whippoorwill chip?”
And the light dawned on me. “Massive Computing, probably our largest client. And Walter, their account rep is in town. I make sure Walter knows about the problem and he’ll get Bob to change Jake’s mind!”
My gorilla smiled. “You are learning, young Jedi.”
I call it “Pothole Project Management” and it’s one of the core tenants of Gorilla Project Management. It is something of the flip side to what I discussed in Blog 21, The Responsible Authority Gorilla. In Responsible I talked about how I, as the Project Manager, worked process and standardization into the team using Gorilla PM rule #1 “First thing is to get it done, then find out who should do it.” Pothole PM is the tool I bring out when my own authority (real or relationship) is insufficient to solve a problem. By steering someone with the authority into the issue, you can get the needed result.
Important point: This is not “I’m going to go tell dad!” This isn’t the school of tattle-tale project management. Relationships and subtlety are still very important. A project manager who gets a reputation for always going over people’s heads is a project manager who will soon have his team working to get rid of him.
Let’s take the example from above. I wouldn’t pick up the phone and tell Walter “Oh my god, do you know what they are doing?” My first approach would be to talk to Carlos, the Customer Service Manager. Carlos is the one who is most invested in the problem and he and Walter share a common interface point, that being the customer. Guiding Carl to go talk to Walter about “how we can ensure Massive Computer will be impacted minimally” will not only make Walter aware of the bug, but worst case will also start the risk mitigation planning if the bug does ship.
If I had to handle it directly, I’d do it in two ways, face-to-face and the power of status reports. Face-to-face is the trickiest, as it can all to easily come off as tattle-tale PM and that’s bad. You have to steer the conversation and get Walter to ask for the data. Power of the status report is the least risky, but you have to make sure people read your status reports (and that is a whole other blog, but there are tips for this). You make sure you have a history of factual reporting that includes issues and risks. If Walter is reading your reports, he’ll know about the issue gets involved that way.
Being an effective project manager is not about doing the work yourself, it is about making sure the right resource is applied to the right problem.
Joel BC
Veteran, the project management wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

The Responsible Authority Gorilla

The project meeting was moving forward very well. We were tracking on everything and it looked like we’d actually have the release out on time, and with everything we wanted in it. We had just gotten to the issues with the flux capacitor redesign work and I asked Paul, the engineer, when he would be able to give an updated report on completion.
Paul shifted in his seat, stealing a glance at Jake but said nothing. Jake, the development manager,  leaned forward and spoke, “I’m taking Paul off this project, I need him to rebuild the prototype simulator. It’s running 10% slow and I don’t like that.”
I did my best to keep my mouth from gaping open. Without the flux capacitor redesigns, this maintenance release would be all but pointless. Nodding my head I said, “all right, then let’s look at the next item on the agenda…”
After the meeting I slipped back to my cube, looking forward to ensconcing myself behind the safety of my monitor. The fury black form reclined on my desk told me I wasn’t going to get that opportunity.
“May as well cancel that maintenance release, huh?” Hogarth said, casually peeling a banana.
I shrugged, “Not my call, I just track the projects. I don’t have the authority to change resources.” I shoved aside Hogarth’s feet and flopped into my chair. “Jake thinks work on the simulator is more important, Paul works for him.”
“I didn’t think the simulator was even gonna be used until next year.”
Resisting the urge to complain about Hogarth’s banana breath I gave another shrug. “It’s not, but I have no authority to change things.”
“So what? That doesn’t mean you don’t have a responsibility!”
The Authority vs. Responsibility Gorilla. I think we are all familiar with the lack of authority gorilla . I’ve yet to meet a project manager who never had to run a project in which he had little or no real authority.  But how many of us think about, the responsibility gorilla?
Authority- defines authority as
The power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.
“The Power”
I get all tingly when I read that. Reminds me of the 1980’s cartoon, He-Man, and his magical transformation (work safe video) from medieval geek to super hero. There is a small problem with this. At least in Silicon Valley high tech power is practically a fundamental myth. Mark Horstman, of Manager Tools, maintains there are three kinds of workplace power. Role Power, Expertise Power and Relationship Power. Role power is the power a boss has, the power to hire and fire, to make decisions that will affect everything in his organization.
Role power in the 21st century is a myth. Anyone who tries to operate exclusively on role power will ultimately fail. Without a healthy measure of expertise and, especially, relationship power that manager is headed for a short career.
Still the concept of authority does exist and all to often a project manager has limited or no authority on their projects. So what do we do? Do we throw up our hands in despair and give up?
Like bloody hell we don’t.
We are project management professionals.
What does this mean? Great question! A web search for the definition of “project manger” returns back thousands of answers. Some of these answers are contradictory to one another, but there is one theme that pops up over and over.
“The person responsible for the project”
Responsible. The word makes me feel all grown up and mature, but it is the key to this concept. In fact, let’s take the grown up analogy a little further. When Tommy gets suspended from school, for throwing spit wads, his reaction is “But the other guys were doing it!” And if you grew up in the United States you are probably familiar with the stereotypical parental answer, “And if all the other boys jumped off a cliff, would you?”
PMI members reading this should be familiar with the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. This code is mandatory for all PMPs and I personally think is part of what can set apart a PMP from other structured project management certifications. If you look with in the code you will see two key points.
1.1 Vision and Purpose
As practitioners of project management, we are committed to doing what is right and honorable. We set high standards for ourselves and we aspire to meet these standards in all aspects of our lives
2.1 Description of Responsibility
Responsibility is our duty to take ownership for the decisions we make or fail to make, the actions we take or fail to take, and the consequences that result.
There it is again, responsibility. And the big kicker in all that “and the consequences that result.” If we don’t take responsibility then we have to be prepared for the consequences.
This is where the professional part comes in. As professionals we are under an obligation to be responsible.
Quick and Dirty Example:
In the United States, citizens have the right to vote. It is not a requirement but a civic right. And with this has become an often repeated concept. “If you don’t like how the country is being run, then vote. If you don’t vote, then be quit complaining.”
A real world example:
One of my project management jobs was in a global support organization. The job had two key components; ensure the support organization was ready for each software release, and feedback into future projects support’s experiences from supporting previous releases. This later responsibility was a constant challenge. We ran into roadblocks, barriers and just plain confusion. Some projects didn’t have a way to roll in lessons learned, others didn’t want any outside input, and so on. It made for many a long and stressful day.
So what did the support planning group do? We decided to be the most professional and helpful group humanly possible. We made sure our house was in order. We made our processes transparent, we published our templates, we communicated constantly in all directions and we adopted one of the most powerful tools in communication.
We stopped saying “no” and we started “yes, and”. It’s a trick I first learned in improvisational theater and one that made perfect sense when my boss suggested it. We no longer said “No, you can’t ship this it’s not stable” and instead said “Yes, you can ship and here is what we expect the call volume will be and how much those calls will cost.”
These two changes, openness and “Yes, and” made a dramatic change. In a few short months we had addressed more critical support issues than we had in years of prior work. And the more fascinating thing we saw, was how other groups started to change their own processes and procedures. It’s a bit thrilling when you see another department using a document that is clearly based on a template you designed.
We didn’t have real authority. We couldn’t change the products being built, we didn’t have the power of the purse that sales can wield so well. But we did know we were responsible for support being able to do its job and we took that responsibility to heart, being the best and most professional we could.
No matter what our authority level, project managers can never surrender their responsibility. It is our job to help a project from point A to point B. We may be the CEO anointed leader, fully empowered to hire and fire at will, or we may have little more authority than updating the Gantt chart. In either case though, we have the power of influence, the power of experience and the responsibility to, at the very least, be the most professional and helpful person we can be.
We are the glue.
Joel BC
Veteran, the Project Manager wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP
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