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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Don’t Ask For Permission

Don’t Ask For Permission post image

“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”

~ Grace Hopper

As a leader of more than a hundred people I often get asked questions that I don’t really know how to answer. Well, I probably could answer pretty easily, although I don’t think “who, the hell, even asks such questions” or “maybe I could come up with some random piece of advice if you really need one” are really the type of answers they are looking for.

On such occasions my default answer is Grace Hopper’s famous quotation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of total anarchy. I do appreciate some order and asking for permission is an integral part of most of orders I know, if not all of them. However, when in doubt just take the advice from Grace Hopper.

You may wonder whether this approach backfires on me sometimes. Oh yes, it does. I guarantee you this. Not very often, but pretty regularly. On such occasions, for a brief moment I wish that guy had asked what to do and had not simply done as he liked. But then I realize how much of a bottleneck I’d be with this attitude.

Heck, not only would I be a bottleneck but also I’d restrain many of the great initiatives my teams pursue. I would tell them over and over again how much they’re begging for failure. Or even better – I’d keep them from failing. Except, eventually, they don’t fail. Damn those guys, they just don’t want to fail even though I predicted that.

Actually, even when they fail, it is still better. After all, a failure is the best teacher and, as a bonus, I can use my clairvoyant hat: “Told you, but you wouldn’t listen.”

When you think about it, the worst thing which can happen is that you might need to explain to a few very important guys why your team did what they did. And believe me, it doesn’t happen very often. It’s a pretty low price for all the great initiatives people pursue, the results they achieve, and the culture you all help to create.

On a side note: when we are on the subject of culture, it probably is a cultural thing, but I find it interesting that we actually need to encourage people to go beyond hierarchies, procedures and rules. Otherwise many of them are naturally inclined to preserve the status quo.

Status quo is likely nothing you’d like to preserve.

So next time you have any doubts, just do the goddamn thing and ask for forgiveness. If you even need to do this after the fact, that is.

Yes, I am well aware that quite a bunch of people from my team are going to read it.

Yes, I know that some of them will take the advice to heart.

Yes, I am pretty sure that they will use it in a way that (on occasions) will kick me in my butt. Hard.

And yes, I am still happy with that. This is a tiny price for what I get in exchange.

After all, if your butt isn’t kicked at all, you’re likely failing as a leader.

in: team management

1 comment… add one

  • PJ September 27, 2012, 10:44 pm

    Can’t agree with this post enough. Project managers who are willing to give their team that much freedom AND cover their team’s collective butts when exec management comes-a-callin’ are increasingly rare. I’ve encountered many PMs who would rather throw the programmer under the bus for doing something wrong than take the flak themselves.

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