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Letters to a Young Manager

Time, Process and People, #8
LTYM > Leadership and Values

Dear Sophie,
As a new manager, many years ago I attended the management training week at a Chase Manhattan retreat in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. It was a beautiful setting--at a lodge in the midst of New England ski country in the late spring. And the food was fabulous.

One of the things we learned was how important it was to pay attention to process and to ask how people felt about it. There was a role playing exercise for completing a project where we simulated front-line, middle and senior management. We had ample time. And we needed it. Communicating among the levels and within the project team meant a myriad of connection points. Recapping how the process went and how we felt about it took even more time.

Then we ran the same exercise with a 45 minute time limit. Everyone became focused on the project task. Process concerns were the first thing to go out the window. When someone asked, "shouldn't we be talking about the process?;" someone else snapped, "we don't have the time." We met the objective and completed the task on time. But we had a fair number of frazzled nerves during the process and crossed arms following. People didn't buy-in to what just happened.

So what's the lesson here? First, tight time frames and unrealistic schedules run roughshod over people. There's no learning or building the relationships that make for a solid, high-performing team. There's only the project and the deadline.

Second, a good process means paying attention to people; and this takes more time than you think. That's time we don't always have. But if people don't feel good about what they are doing, you won't be able to ask them to respond to the true emergency and go the extra-mile in half the time. If you win with the project, but lose the team, you won't have the team you need to win when you really need to.


The tighter the time frame the less concern for process and people

Discussion Questions:

1) Can you point to examples where tight deadlines lost the team?
2) How can more iterations, as in Agile or Extreme programming methods, mitigate not having enough time for paying attention to people concerns?
3) What do you think of Brooks Law: that the time taken to complete a project is inversely proportional to the people you add to the team? How does this relate to a "perpetual beta" world?

For Further Reading:

Frederick Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition), Addison Wesley, 1995. Note especially the Chief Surgical Team.
See the discussion of Perpetual Beta on Wikipedia, here:

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