Square dancing

Jun 09 2006 by René Da Costa Print This Article

There are few visions as pitiful as watching middle-aged men trying to dance; two steps forward, two steps back, two steps to the left and two steps to the right, repeat ad nauseam. It appears to be a legitimate dance step, but after all that exertion; they end up where they started. It's hard to be impressed.

Yet, too many of us are guilty of doing the Management Square Dance. Are you one of them?

To be a truly exceptional manager you must join the party with three things; the first two are as found in every management book - a short-term plan and a long-term plan.

However, the third and by far most valuable thing is a Prevailing Management Philosophy - for when things don't follow the plan. And they won't.

Without a Prevailing Management Philosophy you have random actions leading to unknown destinations.

Without a Prevailing Management Philosophy you have random actions leading to unknown destinations
In your short-term and long-term plans you will include the usual suspects, risk, resources, budgets, change, milestones, quality, deployment, etc. All vital and necessary to any good plan, but a plan is just a guess – an educated guess, but still a guess.

The problem is when guessing leads to square dancing. Inevitably, an issue will arise that is unexpected, be it a technical, budgetary or political one. It is how well you deal with the unexpected that will mark you as one to watch.

Whether people watch you fall or rise is down to your Prevailing Management Philosophy.

So, what is the PMP's purpose? What does it look like? How do you get one?

The PMP is needed to help you make quick and useful decisions based on your chosen management style and to act as a rudder towards fulfilling your ambitions. It will ensure that you are always in control when the unexpected happens.

We have already discussed what common management practice dictates you need to manage your project and your team, but how will that ensure you stand out from the crowd? What will you do to shine when and if any of the following happen?

  • Your boss makes a mistake and takes a political decision to cast you as the fall guy/girl?
  • Your company has a bad quarter and threatens redundancies that might affect the team's morale?
  • A key client takes a dislike to you and wants you off the project?
  • You have a death in the family that requires you to take a leave of absence?
  • You become bored with your project?
  • You are offered a new job?
  • Three of your technical gurus - vital to the project - hand in their resignations in the same week?
  • You realise that you don't have the experience to do this project justice?
  • Your wife/husband asks for a divorce?
  • You get laryngitis right before the biggest presentation of your life?

I am willing to bet a sizeable amount of my money that your project plan – short, medium or long – does not make any mention or provision for any of the above. There are thousands or millions of unexpected circumstances that could happen in the next week. If you are rushing to Microsoft Project to make some late additions… don't bother.

There is no way you could anticipate what the next day, week or month will bring, let alone the next year. So when something unexpected happens don't start doing the square dance!

If I'm not sure or prepared to deal with the unexpected I run around changing strategies every five minutes, hoping it will look like I know what I'm doing.

But no one will be fooled by this. Project plans are focussed on the micro-management of the known, but what you need is a mechanism of macro-management for the unknown. Enter your PMP.

Think of your PMP like a management religion. It is an arc that covers all possibilities, with a specific start and end point not written in specifics but in philosophy. You can't anticipate a divorce, but you can have a rationale that deals with what is more important, work or family.

The advantage is that whatever your rationale you are not left square dancing, spending valuable working hours wondering what you should do. You can act decisively and confidently because you see how to fit this blip into the fabric of your PMP arc.

An arc by its very nature keeps you on a specific trajectory so you don't have to go looking for a direction each time there is a problem you just need to check your position in respect of your arc and adjust accordingly.

How do you get your PMP? The time to think about what you would do if you found yourself confronted by a Grizzly is now, not when it happens.

Think of your PMP like your 10 Commandments. Something that aids decision making in a few short easily remembered phrases. However, this religion is just about what you want, your strengths and your ambitions - your personal management morality handbook. Its purpose is to serve you in times of doubt to act decisively and confidently.

Just 10-15 minutes every day spent considering and committing to memory or paper you PMP will stand you in good stead with all the people that count; your employer, employees, family and yourself. In a few weeks you should have a solid PMP that will begin proving itself invaluable almost immediately.

But don't stop there - spend 10-15 minutes each day refining and updating your PMP, because as your experience, values and goals change… so must your PMP.

No more square dancing for you – just the balletic moves of the management equivalent of Rudolf Nurevev. Cue the applause.

About The Author

René Da Costa
René Da Costa

René Da Costa is an author and consultant.