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         Communication Aspects in Software Engineering

23 September 2010

How to deal with your PM

Filed under: Business Analysis,Project Management — Tags: — admin @ 21:44

I sometimes have discussions with people who are facing challenges when dealing with their Project Manager. Here are some tips that one may find useful.

I hear you say:

  • The PM is shallow. He has little knowledge and understanding about what we’re doing.
  • The PM is bossy. She wants to decide about everything.
  • The PM is phony. His thanks are over the top and patronizing.
  • She takes my work and run it around without asking me. It’s not even finished.

Project Managers are drivers per character. This means that they are doers and they want to:

  • be in charge and in control
  • be centre of attention
  • be respected
  • get things done

They are good at:

  • organizing things
  • checking and following-up
  • persisting and pushing
  • getting the job done
  • focusing and delivering
  • quick to get it and quick to make decisions

They are ambitious and competitive. They tend to fight with other drivers. Their worst nightmare is to lose face (e.g. be proven wrong in public). Of all the characters, the drivers are the ones who know themselves and others the less, on average. They have difficulties listening to others. They like and need support. Drivers are usually protective of people who support them.

In the IT industry, Business Analysts and Developers can be perfectionists. This means that they dislike being put under pressure. They like to be given the time to do things properly. They judge people by how much they know.

Project Managers usually aren’t perfectionists and no matter how much they know, they cannot know as much as all the individuals in the team. Drivers judge people by how much they do.

Get to know your PM… In order to help improve the relationship with your PM:

  • You may want to take on yourself to improve his knowledge and provide information in the form of summaries where you can. Team Wikis and/or regular information emails can yield good results.
  • Try to influence her while letting her make the decision. Don’t put yourself in opposition to her decision, especially not in front of other people. Tell her that you will think about it. Then later, without witness, argue your point by providing additional information, and allow her to change her mind while saving face.
  • You will impress him by responding promptly to his requests and volunteer feedback on progress for longer assignments.
  • Keep her informed as to how much work you’ve been doing on a regular basis. It can take the form of daily emails for example.
  • Don’t tell long stories. Get and stay to the point. 

Tips for the PMs:

  • Endeavor to know yourself – you will always be “bossy”, but you can be refined instead of in your face. Read about the different characters.
  • Endeavor to know about the project and what the team is doing. Read and read some more.
  • Trust and empower your team… Refrain from deciding all the time. How do you feel when your Manager wants to decide about everything?
  • Good Managers are flexible and understanding with their team. They know how to avoid hurting the motivation of team members.

19 September 2010

Tips to survive difficult workplaces

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 09:04

I’ve gathered in this article a number of reflections based on experience in difficult workplaces, which may be helpful to someone trying to succeed or simply survive…

  • When someone fiercely criticises others, including yourself, on a regular basis in meetings or when making presentations, this means that this person is lacking in self-confidence and is likely to be under a lot of pressure themselves.
    On the spot, address the criticism. It does not matter if you’re right or wrong. Just don’t let him or her get away with it. Confront them assertively.
    For next time, invite the person officially to contribute feedback in private, before the meeting or the presentation. Give them a lot of importance and the opportunity to comment once for all. Once they’ve been involved officially and their name is on the paper, they will defend it.
  • Kindly doing deeds for a person that is negative towards you, even when you don’t feel like it, will make them feel they owe you in return and is very powerful to make them change their mind towards you.
  • Being loyal to a manager means resolving misunderstandings or conflicts with him direct and in private, always, even when it requires courage. Speak openly. Expose your feelings. Never seek help with his manager or anybody else. In case of a heated argument, it is recommened however to wait until things have cooled down.
  • When a document needs to be reviewed, ask your manager if he/she wants to review it first, even if you think that they are busy or they’re not interested, as they may cope some of the blame if the document is to be criticised.
  • Introduce yourself spontaneously to people you don’t know in the workplace, show interest and make them feel welcome. They will have a lasting good first impression. In the contrary, they might develop uncertain and uncomfortable feelings towards you, especially in a difficult workplace.
  • Be assertive and firm with agressive people. Stand your ground. Respond however to attacks with the same intensity, not weaker nor stronger. It is a difficult equilibium to achieve, but the only one that may yield positive results in the long term.
  • Avoid complacency and look for opportunities to learn and improve all the time. Read, read and read some more.
  • Prefer face to face or even phone to email. In any way, don’t send an email to anyone with your boss or his boss in copy, unless it is a complement or very positive feedback. It will most likely be received as an attack on the other side, whatever your intention was in the first place.
  • If you are to give negative feedback about someone, make sure there is at least one person with some influence that is of a similar opinion. Be also very mindful of people networks. 
  • If you suddenly feel uncomfortable or somewhat embarrassed when having to express yourself or make a decision, it is a sign and one should trust his/her gut-feels. Take the time to understand where the feeling is coming from first, in order to have a clear view.
  • Evaluate the tasks that are given to you conscienciously, using your values in life as a reference. It is OK to decline to do some things based on your values.
  • One needs to have a good relationship with most of the managers above, in oder to have a chance to be promoted one day. This will be consolidated however by the good relationships established with the rest of the staff.
  • Respond to emails… acknowledge reception first if the reply is to take more than a couple of hours. Don’t let them wondering.

I also recommend the book Coping with Difficult People.

Finally and in general, it is recommended to stand on the side of over-communicating with kind and polite manners all the time.

17 January 2010

Successful Project Management

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: , — admin @ 09:22

One may notice that everyone, in every area of life but more so in project management, claims to be successful and, more often than not, successful only…
How good someone really is, who has never experienced failure, I ask?

We all have strengths and weaknesses, and this means we perform better in some situations than others.

Have you ever noticed that when their is a problem (and there’s always one), most consider self as being outside of the problem, while everybody else considers you as being part of it?

Successful people take ownership of the problem at hand…

20 June 2009

Effective Thinking

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: — admin @ 10:56

In order to think effectively, one needs to avoid rules of thumb and short-cuts.

Heuristics for effective thinking:

  • Availability heuristics: Recall most vivid memories
  • Representiveness heuristics: Judge something with something else it looks like
  • Anchoring heuristics: Judge something with its distance from the anchor

Thinking traps:

  • Selective perseption
  • Contrast effect
  • Rationalisation effect

Short cuts:

  • Cognitive laziness => Need to gather more information, concrete facts and figures, short-term and long-term consequences.

Biases and Assumptions:

  • Consistency bias => Examine your motives regarding the problem
  • Confirmation bias => List possible causes of past outcomes. Purposefully focus on contradictory evidence. Seek input from impartial 3rd party
  • Hindsight bias
  • Attribution biases (self-serving bias, egocentric bias or fundamental attribution error)

Problem Solving Mindsets:

  • Apathetic mindset
  • Adaptive mindset
  • Analitical mindset

Decision making styles:

  • Despote
  • Judge
  • Waffler
  • Safety blanket

Obtain a wide range of experiences and maintain a learning log.

17 June 2009

Staff Development

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: — admin @ 16:36

When it comes to staff development, one wants to start by identifying the Leaders. Here are a number of theories that can help in identifying Leaders:

  • Trait theory: Charism, Intelligence, Confidence, Influence, Business knowledge
  • Equity theory: Efforts rewarded fairly
  • Behavioral theory: Combine reaching specific goals and building relationships
  • Contingency theory: How leaders adjust under different circunstances
  • Situational theory: Strong leaders adjust to the needs of employees

Transactional leadership sets expectations and reward system, and manages by exception.
Tranformational leadership builds relationships, leads by example, and endeavours to make positive changes.

Developing staff through Organisational Development:

  • Change management
  • Knowledge management
  • Learning organisations

Organisational Development Interventions:

  • Total Quality Management: Eliminating defects in processes.
  • Six Sigma: Client orientation and management focused methodology for improving quality.
  • High-involvement Organisations: Entrust employees at all levels as decision makers.

Human Process Interventions:

  • Leadership development
  • Team building
  • Conflict resolution
  • Emotional Intelligence

Human Resource Development Interventions:

  • Performance management
  • Diversity programs

16 June 2009

Personnal Accountability

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: — admin @ 16:19

“I’m holding you accountable for the outcome.”

Lack of Personal Accountability may show through Negativity:

  • Emphasis on blame or deflecting fault
  • Complaining tone
  • Expression of frustration or fear
  • No real productive answer
  • No suggested action
  • Judgemental tone

Positivity, on the other hand, is usually partnered with Personal Accountability:

  • Emphasis on helping or solving the problem
  • Willingness to take positive action
  • No accusation
  • None-judgemental tone
  • Emphasis on being open-minded and taking responsibility

Choose your attitude. Play. Make their day. Be present. Be world class!

15 June 2009

Empower and Motivate Employees

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: — admin @ 11:43

Of all the areas of project Management, people have the greatest potential to shorten software schedules across a variaty of projects. In order to be highly successful, Project Managers want to foster a motivating and energizing culture within their teams.
Motivation can make or break projects. It is undoubtedly the single greatest influence on how well people perform. Research studies have demonstrated that motivated Developers can produce up to 10 times more than their unmotivated counterpart.
Many common management practices however are penny-wise and pound foolish, trading huge losses in morale for minor methodology improvements or dubious budget savings.
Although motivation is a soft factor, the knowledge of how to motivate Software Developers is not a total mystery.
For most people, motivation comes through empowerment, autonomy and trust. The major motivation inhibitor on the other hand is fear.

Providing the best environment to promote motivation:

  • Give interesting job and challenging work
  • Provide personal development and flexible policies
  • Eliminate fear
  • Make eye contact and smile
  • Take responsibility – don’t pass the buck
  • Be honest, loyal and work hard
  • Get inside the other person frame of reference
  • Solicit suggestions and act on them
  • Expect people to succeed
  • Be teachable – commit to learning
  • Inspire – touch their heart
  • Handle every single transaction with each and every person, no matter who that person is, as if you will have to live with that person in a small room for the rest of your life

In his book “Rapid Development” Steve McConnel describes the following:

“Compared to their Managers, Developers are somewhat more motivated by possibility for growth, personal life, opportunity for technical supervision. Developers are much less motivated by responsibility, recognition and interpersonal relationships with subordinates.”

Developers and Managers are motivated by different factors, and this may contribute to miscommunication.
In order to motivate a Developer, it is recommended to emphasize technical challenges, autonomy, the chance to learn and use new skills, and career planning.
Let Developers focus on what they like doing most: developing software. Provide opportunities to learn and expand skills. Avoid excessive pressure.
Allow Developers to experience meaning in their work, responsibility for the outcome of their work, and know the actual results of their work activities. Avoid interuptions and distractions. Respect the need for time off.
Developers grow tired of working for unappreciative companies and rewards are therefore important to long-term motivation. Giving certificates of appreciation for example has proved efficient.
Endeavour to catch people doing something right or great, and give them a sincere praise:

I noticed you did [something great] on [that date] .
I appreciated it because [its effect].

Celebrate special events. Provide T-shirts or mugs personalised with the project’s or team’s name.

Proper execution of a performance review can significantly increase or decrease motivation. Take the time to prepare and make sure your performance reviews increase motivation.
Some performance management system are so complicated and bureaucratic however that the simplicity and ease of coaching has gotten lost. Coaching is a simple conversation and one can use the following structure:

  • Opening statement: “I want to talk to you about [general area of performance].”
  • Observation: I’ve observed [behavior].”
  • Impact: “The impact is [impact on the job].”
  • Request: “From now on, I’d like you to [improved behavior].”

Morale Killers:

  • Developers are sensitive to being manipulated by management. They want management to deal with them in a straightforward manner.
  • One of the quickest ways to drop the motivation to zero is to present Developers with an impossible deadline.
  • Lack of appreciation for efforts
  • Inappropriate involvement of technically inept management
  • Not involving Developers in decisions that affect them
  • Productivity barriers and road blocks
  • Low quality and short-cuts
  • Heavy handed motivation campaigns

Finally, competition can get people to stretch themselves beyond what they even thought possible, while having fun. Most people will go a long way to try to win a fair competition.
Encourage team spirit by organising competitions between teams (not individuals). Make sure every team gets to win at some point or another. Recognise the teams for their strength anyway.
Make sure these competitions are about work (no dress or photo competition), and they are about productivity and fun (not just fun and not just productivity).

9 June 2009

Coping with Difficult People

Filed under: Book Review — Tags: — admin @ 10:55

Robert M. Bramson has identified several patterns of behavior exhibited by difficult people, in his book Coping with Difficult People.
These patterns of behavior are:

  • Hostile-Agressive : Pushy and uses intimidation. Arbitrary and arrogant.
  • Complainer : Gripe without offering a solution. Seldom takes action to rectify a situation.
  • Silent-and-Non-Responsive : Not very communicative. Relies on others to share their feelings and thoughts.
  • Super-Agreeable : Never commit themselves. Fear rejection.
  • Negativist : Are fatalists. Often nay sayers.
  • Know-It-All : Self-appointed experts. Condescending.
  • Indecisive : Delays making decisions. Fear of hurting or alienating someone.

Project Managers will improve their skills significantly by having a good understanding of Bramson’s work, as he provides a good insight on dealing with several types of difficult people.
Failure to deal with difficult people at meetings, for example, may result in achieving nothing. It also creates atmospheres of negativism that last long after these sessions are dusted.

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