Don't throw spreadsheets at people issues

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Don’t Throw Spreadsheets At People Issues

Anupam Kundu New York, New York, USA

Have you ever been shown a spreadsheet with lists of activities to explain your work on a project? Many experienced managers try to use spreadsheet lists as a “silver bullet*” for managing and monitoring projects.

Tom is an Information Technology (IT) development architect in the Online Division of a large organization. He serves four or more different stakeholder groups. Since he has a poor ability to prioritize the deliverables for different stakeholders, he ends up annoying, or disappointing, someone every week. With too many commitments to fulfill, and too few resources on-hand, he is always at the center of the resulting conflicts between the groups.

Tim and his team are talented IT architects, yet their lack of time and the skill sets necessary to manage stakeholder expectations creates problems for everyone in the Online group. The solution? Get a trained software project manager (PM) to prioritize and list the deliverables for Tom and his team every week, month, or quarter.

The (PM) can facilitate discussions with the various stakeholders to prioritize the deliverables. Then, the priorities are evaluated across all the internal customers. This way, not only do the stakeholders have their expectation set correctly, but Tim and his team get a frequently refreshed list of tasks. They can stay focused on developing the most important items on that week’s agenda, across all projects.

The secret to making this plan effective is not to stop with a spreadsheet list of deliverables for each project. Instead, the PM sets the expectations of the stakeholders by involving them in prioritizing what features or functionalities are the most important/valuable/or revenue producing, given the amount of resources (time, money, and people) at Tom’s disposal. Then each group gets feedback regarding how much work they can expect that week, given the needs of other parts of the Online Division. Communication is the most effective component in planning out the work for Tom’s team, especially when the priorities of multiple projects must be ranked.

Perhaps, Tom and his team have had an unfortunate experience with one of the stakeholder groups on a past project. With this approach, the “blacklisted” team can continue to get their work completed until time, or a more pro-active intervention, helps heal the wounds from the previous interaction.

In the end, software project management is about managing people and managing the processes in which they are involved. Interpersonal conflicts within a team and between vying organizational groups are very common. Diversity in ideas, goals, values, beliefs, and needs are the primary strength of teams, not weaknesses. However, they inevitably lead to conflict. Personal conflicts and conflicts regarding the prioritization of the work flow through the team.

Most conflicts are a threat to productivity and efficiency; and resolving conflicts satisfactorily can actually strengthen relationships, foster creative change, and improve results. All conflict resolution tactics depend on proactive communication, active listening, compassionate understanding, and some effective negotiation and/or arbitration. Skilled software project managers are needed, because you can’t solve people issues with spreadsheets.

  • Silver bullet – In folklore, a silver bullet was the only kind of ammunition that would be effective in killing a werewolf, vampire, witch, or other variety of monster. The metaphor now can mean a new software or technology that will magically solve all major organizational problems. It can be any solution that is perceived to have far-reaching effectiveness.
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