You may deserve a promotion to management, but are you prepared for the challenges that next level may bring? Find out how practicing managerial skills on your technical tasks can help ease the transition.
When we talk to new managers, we ask them, "how many of you received management training?" Fewer than 50% raise their hands. As an industry, we don’t do a great job of grooming managers. Sure there are exceptions—bosses who mentor and develop the people in their groups to move into management, and companies with strong management development programs. But many new managers feel like they've been tossed overboard to sink or swim—without the benefits of swimming lessons. If you're a brand-new manager, or you're thinking you might want to become a manager, what can you do to get ready for management? Do what you're already doing, but practice doing it like a manager.
Use Strategic Goals To Prioritize Work
If you're like many of the technical people we know, you have several high-priority tasks. You know you can't work on all of them at the same time; you have to choose which tasks to work on when.
For instance, suppose you're responsible for designing and implementing a series of features for ProductA (Task1). In addition, you have some bug fixes to complete on ProductB (Task2), and you're helping to refine the requirements on ProductC (Task3).
You could just work on the tasks in the order they were assigned to you, Task1, Task2, and then Task3. Or, you could simply ask your boss to tell you which order to do them in (assuming your boss understands that all your tasks cannot be #1 priority). If you want to start thinking like a manager, though, you need to understand the strategic priority of each task. Managers need to be able to understand the work their group performs, as well as the priorities within their company and department. Armed with that information, managers can plan and organize that work so that they successfully follow strategic goals.
So you have a chat with your manager. You ask her how Tasks 1, 2, & 3 fit in with the goals of the department. Your manager tells you that the company really wants to release ProductB, because they believe it will increase revenue by 10% this year. ProductC is in the feasibility stages—top management is gathering information to see if the product is worth building. Your task related to ProductC is to help refine the requirements so the architects can estimate the work. Then the business people can look at the costs and benefits and decide whether to move forward.
After you talk to your manager, you realize that the bug fixes on ProductB are the most important because the company wants to release ProductB in two months. Marketing is hoping to decide on ProductC in the next month. Your work on ProductA is not on the critical path, so it’s okay if you spend time over the next two weeks to work on ProductB and ProductC. That means Task2 is your highest priority, followed by Task3, with Task1 bringing up the rear. You were assigned tasks in a certain order, but you won't complete them that way because the assignment order doesn’t support the strategic goals of the department.
As a techie, you looked at all the work on your plate and understood the priorities among your tasks. As a manager, you will need to look at the overall goals of the group and how each person's work supports those goals. You may decide that some work should be phased out because it doesn't support the long-term goals of the department.
Plan And Organize Your Own Work
Once you know what work you need to focus on, you can break the work down into manageable