The 'People Challenge: Just Say No'

Delivering Successful Technology Programmes: The “People Challenge: Just Say No”

If you missed the first part of this series you can find it here

This is one for all managers who are responsible for any IT delivery.  Akin to giving bad news this issue deals with people telling you what you want to hear, not wanting to rock the boat. Starting or inheriting a new team is often a challenge and may require you to redefine your management style to suit the new dynamic and get people to trust you.

True life example: A few years ago I joined a new Programme and inherited a team of onshore and offshore resources most of whom were very experienced individuals. I thought this time I’m going to start with a team talk, explain my natural management style and set their expectations.(Communication issues are the root of many failures at all levels of a Programme. In an attempt to avoid such a failure this was my strategy.)

I called a team meeting where I introduced myself and shared a bit about my background and about me personally. I then set out my expectations of them which were fairly realistic, or so I thought.

•    Talk to me
•    Be open
•    Be honest
•    Don’t be afraid to ask for help
•    If you get stuck don’t let it languish…say something so I can help or find someone who can
•    If I assign you a task with a deadline and you tell me you can do it, I will expect it
•    Don’t say “yes” if you are unsure or if you know you cannot do it.Tell me “no” or say you need help and we       can figure it out from there!

Clear? I thought so. Within a week I started assigning tasks with delivery dates and everyone was keen and optimistic. As the delivery dates approached I began sense checking if we were on plan, with no blockers and still everyone was confident in their ability to deliver. The day before the first deliverable was due I approached the Team Lead and said, “All set to start testing tomorrow?” and he looked at me, his eyes went to the floor and very quietly said “It will be a week before we are ready.” I counted to 10 then said “Excuse me I don’t think I heard you correctly”. Silence...I asked what happened since the day before and he said “About 3 days ago we found out that one of the components in the system will not be available until next week.” I counted to 15 and said “Why didn’t you tell me 3 days ago?” Silence again.

Later, after going to the Leadership team with the “bad news” I reflected on the situation trying to figure out how I could have been clearer when I spoke to the team about raising issues early.  In the end I realised it was not about what I said or how I said it. It was the fact that I was still the “new manager” and they did not know how I would react. Would I support them in front of management or would I blame them? They chose to behave like they always had knowing that it might be painful for a short time, and then it would blow over and be forgotten.  

Not this time, I used it as a learning point for them and for me. They saw me go to the Leadership team, acknowledge our error and explain our mitigation. We then went back as a team and re-planned for the new delivery date ensuring we would be able to hit it.

After that what did I do differently? Nothing at all, I realised my strategy was solid, it came down to trust and that was something I had to earn.  

Written by Donna Matthews, Managing Principal at Piccadilly Group