The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world
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Back To The Future

A while ago I was asked to take the position of QA manager of a product line that had run into problems. This line consisted of several different products including one that I had worked on for many years and managed for some time. Admittedly I was a bit reluctant to take to take the position, there was another one I was much more interested in that would represent a new direction for my career and use a different set of skills. Plus I did not want to be perceived as taking a step backwards. Upper Management turned on the charm and assured me this was not a backwards step, they really needed my help in straightening out the team. They wanted me to bring the creativity I had demonstrated when I was a team member before (Their words BTW) back and help get things moving again. To make a long story short I agreed to take the position, took a little time to study up on the products and wrote up some ‘creative’ ideas.

It was actually quite an interesting time for several of the products my new teams were working on, new major releases were in the works and everyone was quite, quite busy. Not really a good time to introduce major changes. So I decided to introduce my ideas during group and one-on-one meetings I began to have with my staff to let them know what we were going to, trying to convey a sense of what would be beyond the immediate effort. Much to my surprise I found out that many of the ideas I had thought of were already implemented or tried and discarded. This was a little troubling to me since I thought at least some of the ideas would represent something new for them. What had happened to me over years, had I lost it finally? On the other hand it gave me more confidence in my teams, they were not as static as I had thought. So a little disheartened I decided to press on trying to spin new ideas based what I saw as I re-integrated myself and hopefully I could come up with something.

Then I started to hear something else, positive feedback on my performance. The teams had improved since I returned, keep it up. This caught me by surprise, in the short period I had been in charge I felt like I had not done much. Yet in spite of my efforts to date I was apparently succeeding.

So I decided to quietly make some inquiries to people I had been interfacing with to see what I could discern and it turned out to be something that seemed so basic that I can understand why it can be overlooked: I was listening. In trying to engage the team and set direction I had started a conversation with them on a group and personnel level. I don’t mind talking, I am actually rather notorious for it. I also have a bit of a thick skin which comes in handy during one-on-one meetings (planned and spontaneous) when a team member just needs to blow off steam. To me, letting people express themselves helped them relax plus there are things to garner from most conversations. To them, someone was listening even when they just needed to express some current frustration that really needed no action on my part. Once this had started the team relaxed a bit, became more productive and it showed to others.
Listening. It was simple and overlooked by myself when I started, but I caught on. And listening was only the beginning. Yes, I did have to make some structural changes, enforce some new behaviors and conditions and eventually gave some frank performance reviews. But the way we started made the rest easy. We had already started talking, and listening, to each other.

Thomas De Lora

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