Management Myth 29: I Can Concentrate on the Run

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Janet emerged from the restroom. “That’s what I tried to tell you earlier this week, Bill. You’re allowed to sit down and have divergent discussions and then come to convergent decisions. Standups are for micro-commitments to each other. Not for decisions about projects and programs.

“I’m your program manager and this is a strategic issue. You need to devote time and energy to solving this problem with me. I can solve this problem without you, but the last time I did, you said, ‘You don’t have the authority to commit money on behalf of the organization.’

“Well, I’m waiting for you. I’ve been waiting for you for two days now. You can snark at me and tell me I don't have the authority.” Janet rolled her eyes. “Or, you can sit down with me and decide what to do about this customer and this problem. But you can’t run away or make good decisions standing up or on the run. You have to concentrate and think this problem through.”

“Oh boy,” Bill said. “I knew those words would come back to bite me. OK, let me have it. What do you suggest?”

“Let’s have a revolution and tell them how to make decisions!”

Lauren laughed, “Well, I like the revolution part, but maybe we won’t tell them. Maybe we can sell them.”

Janet and Bill both laughed at that.

“OK,” Bill said. “Let’s explain what standups are for and why they aren’t for major decisions. Then, let’s discuss other solutions for this problem.”

Are You Allowing Yourself to Concentrate?
I see many managers trying to make decisions while they run from one meeting to another. I also see managers make decisions when they stand up. Now, there is nothing wrong with standing or walking. I’m a fan of walking to clear your head or walking with a colleague to discuss a problem.

The problem I see is when people throw problems at you—often several problems simultaneously—and you try to solve them without being able to concentrate on any of them.

If you aren’t able to separate the problems from one another—or even properly learn about each problem—you can’t solve them.

Managers provide the most value to the organization when they use their position to remove obstacles for other people. That means solving problems. It also means that you have to pay attention to what problems you solve and how you solve them.

When Are You Deciding?
If you’ve worked anywhere for any length of time, I bet you’ve seen managers try to make decisions while standing up. You can certainly make some decisions while standing up: where to have lunch is one of those decisions; especially, if it’s just before lunch!

But, if you are trying to decide on the value of projects or interview candidates or provide feedback to people—unless you are walking with someone, consider creating an environment that allows you to concentrate.

You can concentrate when you focus on the problem at hand, which means you create an agenda. You have an environment that fosters discussion. You have the people you need. I’ve seen these environments be: meeting rooms with whiteboards, on a walk if it’s just two people, and across a visitor’s table in someone’s office. You need to be able to see the problem statement and the related data. As long as you can do that, you’re OK.

How Do You Concentrate?
Everyone concentrates differently. Maybe you pace while you concentrate. You are standing up, walking. In that case, have an agenda of the problem on the whiteboard.

About the author

Johanna Rothman's picture Johanna Rothman

Johanna Rothman, known as the “Pragmatic Manager,” helps organizational leaders see problems and risks in their product development. She helps them recognize potential “gotchas,” seize opportunities, and remove impediments. Johanna was the Agile 2009 conference chair. She is the technical editor for Agile Connection and the author of these books:

  • Manage Your Job Search
  • Hiring Geeks That Fit
  • Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects
  • The 2008 Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management
  • Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management
  • Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People

Johanna is working on a book about agile program management. She writes columns for Stickyminds.com and projectmanagementcom and blogs on her website, jrothman.com, as well on createadaptablelife.com.

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