Monday, August 11, 2008

Tension Elasticity: A Management Framework for small teams

Not PMP, PRICE II, ITIS. I work with small teams and the most simple framework is something not for managers but to make team members self manage themselves. Hence the idea needs to be in the term and not in an explanation for terms. The framework is simple. Every project and team members goes through 3 phases:
  1. Concern Phase,
  2. Breath Easy phase and
  3. Elongation phase
What you need to do is bring the project to "Breath Easy" phase all the time.
Why is this a framework and what worth is it to say what every one knows. The importance is in the "tension" inherent in the phases. As long as you maintain the "tension" to "breath easy" phase, the project will always be a good place to work giving you lot of experience. Why it does not seem to be worth given a consideration is that the "tension" is never realized.

When the customer raises a concern, we firefight till customer cools down or till the customer forgets "Temporarily" about the project. We never move the project and do things that get us back to "Breath Easy" ways of doing work. Mostly we move into "calm" phase than "easy" phase. The more you breath easy the more sustainable the project team will be and more satisfied your employees would be.

Hmm, how do you know that you "breath easy" and not "calm" phase ? The answer is in delegation. Are you dispensable in whatever your role on the project demands you today ? Can you get a fresh recruit, share the hard coded files, documents, explain the work in a couple of hours and relax googling for the rest of day ? If yes, the project is in "Breath Easy" phase. Which can be judged by the fact that the scalability and bottle necks are non-existent on the project.

When are you in concern phase ? It happens at all stages in project.
  1. Whenever you are sure there is an impending fire that you are allowing to subside with time.
  2. It could be a seemingly simple comment that customer would have made, that you took it lightly.
  3. It could mean a request that potentially, without analysis looks good to deliver, but consumes more time than anticipated,
  4. Could be a feature, you have no experience with that you theoretically think is possible, something the team considers as a value add while the basic needs of the project are still not delivered while you press for delivery of value add first, etc.
  5. You can always feel, that you are in concern phase, if you do not get a systems view of the work, be it lack of information, time, resources, experience, expertise, support, tools, etc.
Elongation phase should then be same as concern phase - rite? Yes, as far as tension is concerned, it is in same league and you need to move in to "Breath Easy" phase fast. However, elongation phase is more painful than mind mapping a concern phase. In Elongation phase you need to manage reality and perception differences as well. In a recent project, I totally believed the customer is taking more time, while we deliver as per the last 3 month old project plan asking for the turnaround time dates. However in last sales interaction, I got the feedback that 'damage is already done'. Well, to bring the project to "Breath Easy" phase, we are trying to complete them to the satisfaction, while another "breath easy" option is to to write off the small amount based on the reality or facts submitted to client.

Fundamentally, elongation phase starts when there is a miss from deadlines and scope. When value add becomes a priority, and many times I falter this principle not to entertain them till the scope is closed.

Any ideas on how to "Breath Easy" often in project teams?

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