Just as Les was about to answer Anna, his desk phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID, looked up at Anna, and said, "It's him again. Should I answer?" He knew what she would say.
"Yeah," she said. "He probably knows we're here."
Les picked up the handset. "Yeah," he said. Nobody used Hello for internal calls anymore.
Anna couldn't hear much, but she didn't need to. The caller was their boss, and he was probably asking for yet another briefing before the review the next afternoon. The conversation went on for a while, until Les looked up at Anna.
"Three PM OK with you?"
Anna nodded. Les said "OK" into the phone and put the handset back in its cradle. Hello was already gone, and Good-Bye was well on its way.
He turned to Anna. "That's lucky," he said sarcastically. "We're just so bored here sitting around doing nothing."
They both laughed, but it wasn't funny.
When projects falter,
demands for status
escalateWhen projects falter, demands for status and explanations escalate. Sometimes satisfying these requests interferes with the work, but at least we can understand why people worry. What's more puzzling is how this happens to projects that aren't in trouble.
Perceptions of an absence of progress usually drive such concerns. Here's Part I of a catalog of strategies for managing pressure by enhancing perceptions of progress. See "Managing Pressure: The Unexpected," Point Lookout for December 20, 2006, and "Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries," Point Lookout for December 27, 2006, for more.
- Choose names carefully
- If a particular task encountered serious trouble in a previous project, re-using its name in a current project invites people to use their past experiences in assessing current risks.
- Ironically, we often do better the second time around. Choose names that are relatively free of negative baggage.
- When in trouble, don't talk — deliver
- When there's little new to demonstrate, project leaders sometimes resort to words to convey a sense of progress. But during extended intervals between demonstrations of new capability, words interfere with perceptions of progress.
- Because demonstrating new capability frequently does help, reschedule to provide something useful as soon as possible.
- Short schedules help perceptions
- Long schedules undermine perceptions of progress. This phenomenon appears to be psychological in origin, and it applies wherever customers have to wait for what they really want.
- Schedule projects to complete as fast as possible. If necessary, decompose a large project into a sequence (or a partially parallel set) of smaller projects. The effectiveness of this approach might be one reason why agile methods are so popular, because they call for frequent deliveries of useful functionality.
Managing perceptions isn't just politics. Since pressure is usually counterproductive, these strategies can truly benefit your projects. I'll say more next time, but I'll pause here because I want to send this part to you as soon as possible. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
Micromanagement is a common source of pressure. For insights on micromanagers and micromanaging, see "When Your Boss Is a Micromanager," Point Lookout for December 5, 2001; "There Are No Micromanagers," Point Lookout for January 7, 2004; "Are You Micromanaging Yourself?," Point Lookout for November 24, 2004; and "How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager," Point Lookout for March 7, 2007.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.