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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

My Micromanagement Experience

I’ve already written about micromanagement in general. Thing I haven’t yet shared is my own experience with learning how to live without micromanagement.

When I started having any impact on my colleagues (I wasn’t their formal boss, it was just an informal leader role) I also got some responsibility for a part of development process – it was planning and running functional testing against an application. Because people I worked with were all newbies I decided (surprise, surprise) that I’ll do the most responsible part leaving “my” team the rest. It looked so natural. Hey, who’s the most experienced person here? Who’s the hero?

There were only five of us, including me, so it worked well that way – the final release was hard earned, but despite 3-week slip I still consider it as a success. I earned my very own team then. It soon grew up as we took over also responsibility for support. And then the model collapsed. I could no longer take every important issue on me. I could no longer check everyone’s work. I could no longer say how to do every tiny detail of our work. More people – more managerish work and less time for the rest. Bigger responsibility – more important tasks to control.

I was lucky to have quite a good team then with several persons which had already earned my trust, so my lesson didn’t have a big impact on our general performance, but with other people I wouldn’t be so sure if I’d be there, where I am now.

Later on, my boss asked me who’d be my successor as a manager. I didn’t know, but I told him I’d come with some plan on that. I thought about that: “Hey, I’m the one who know the job – the team is only executor of my will. How they’d know what to do without me?” The Red Light of Micromanagement would blink then if there were any. This was another lesson to learn – the team has to do all the tasks, even most important ones (maybe except of some managerial crappy things no one wants to deal with). “What-ifs” came to support the lesson. What if I went to holidays and something serious would happen? What if a car hit me? What if I changed the job? Oh, wrong example, who’d care than? What if I was promoted than? The answer was always: it would be a problem.

I found a couple of people and delegate (what a nice word) important tasks to them. Not every single case was delegated, but at least every type of task. I found my successor too. And when I was promoted half a year later, my leaving was totally smooth.

There’s another lesson I still learn. I work with project managers these days and I’m often tempted to say: do this and that. Act like this. Send the darn e-mail to the darn subcontractor with the darn escalation of the darn issue. To be honest I don’t always restrain the temptation (in other case it wouldn’t be the lesson I still learn). With experienced PMs it’s easier because I know they’ll discuss it with me if they have another idea. It’s harder with those who are still learning the job. I keep reminding myself, like a mantra: “let them decide, let them decide, let them decide, let them…” I know they’ll screw some tasks. However, that way their learning curve will be narrower and they’ll progress to a level when they’ll be tough partners in discussion. Especially when I’ll try to micromanage.

I think the last thing is the most important one – let people learn. Even when you know they’ll fall, don’t take them through the obstacles on your own back. Let them fall and give them a hand then. Most of people learn on their own mistakes, only some very smart ones learn on others’ mistakes. I prefer to have first two project done with some issues and another ten done well (without my help) than to have first to project done well and another ten facing serious issues, because I can no longer make decisions and PM hasn’t had a chance to learn how to do it himself.

in: personal development, team management

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