Skip to main content

Author: Jason Scriven

Who Is Driving The Bus? Part 2

The most important thing you will do as a manager is Driving the Bus, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.

Related Article: Who Is Driving the Bus?

I recommend using the following Bus related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  • Where is the bus going?
  • Who should be on the bus?
  • Where should they sit?
  • Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success.

Last month in this column, we reviewed the first three questions. Next up we look around at our passengers and decide Where Should They Sit – which includes their actual physical workspaces and the kind of work they do.

We have now figured out where we are going and picked the passengers on our bus of great expectations, so our next goal is to make sure everyone is sitting in the right seats.

Onboard our bus, sitting in the right seat means each person being in a role that suits their skills and experience and where they can contribute the most to achieving our goals.

So, start the bus rolling toward the target and make adjustments as you go. A team is an organism that changes every day in small ways and your job as the manager is to be observant of the small changes. Performance, of course, is a major indicator, but a team member’s health, their appearance or energy level, and outside stressors can throw someone off track. Too many of those small changes building up can throw enough people off track, and then you get bigger tremors or even major fault lines that cause the bus to go off course.

Most noticeable in the team fishbowl is when internal stressors are causing someone to go off course – their cubby buddy, their chair, their work schedule, their part in the assignment, their perception regarding their contribution to the end goal – can all lead someone to the dark side and sap their motivation.

As a manager, small changes to make someone happy leads to big returns.

Hard-driving, self-reliant tough talking managers may scoff at the guy who needs a place to park his bike or the team member who gets too warm sitting near the window. But solving these problems are the easiest things to do as a manager and almost always get you the best result. Try it. Just say yes the next time someone needs something small (which is likely gigantic to them). People are so used to “no” and their genuine appreciation for your actions to support them will come in handy when you have to ask them for something larger and more complex in half the time.

In the end, even after everyone is sitting in the right seat, they still have to deliver. If they don’t, then it’s time to find them another seat on the bus that fits their skills, experience and energy or it’s time to pull the cord, ring the bell and let them off at the next stop.

But when they do deliver, seeing your team succeed on their own merits is one of the most rewarding parts about being a manager. Successful product launches or sales pitches or service calls benefit everyone – the company, the manager and the team members.

So after you take a moment to revel in the glory, take another moment to think about who is ready to Drive Your Bus. Or Drive their Own Bus.

The best time for a mini promotion within the team is while the juice is still flowing from a recent success. You will have observed who contributed at what stages, who was the most engaged, and who did the most for other team members. So as you gear up for the next project, find a way to let that person drive the bus a little. As a kid, my dad would let me drive on the highway sitting on his lap while he worked the pedals. I was driving but under his guidance. Same idea here.

Here’s an example: If it’s a product launch, ask your star to run your version of the After Action Review, gathering feedback from the team and customers about the positives and negatives from the launch, then providing a verbal briefing to other managers or better yet to executives. This allows you to recognize the star’s contribution in front of the team and in front of your boss and their peers as well – which helps his career and your reputation as someone who develops high performers.

If that goes well, the next natural step is to ask the star to run the requirements gathering phase of the next product launch or a spin-off from the first product, which can be followed by overseeing the build process, then the Beta test, then the roll out. If all goes well, you have a new product manager, who can then help you identify the next person to spotlight.

Greyhound drivers on long trips switch off the driving duties to keep them fresh and focused, same with airline pilots and people like us on cross country trips to Wally World. Managers should do the same.

Jason will be speaking at Project World * Business Analyst World – Vancouver, October 3 – 6, 2016.  Don’t miss his session on October 3.  Register today!

Who Is Driving the Bus?

The most important thing you will do as a manager is “Driving the Bus”, which is a metaphor that I like to use when discussing recruiting and team building.

I recommend using the following bus-related questions to guide your hiring and team building:

  1. Where is the bus going?
  2. Who should be on the bus?
  3. Where should they sit?
  4. Who else can drive?

Each of these questions plays an integral role in building the team you go to battle with, and your long-term success.

Related Article: From Doing to Managing to Leading

Hiring is the perfect time for a reality check on Where the Bus is Going. Hiring is an opportunity for rebirth – out with the old and in with the new, or in with more new because we need additional resources. A little blue sky thinking before you get into the recruiting process could lead to the kind of radical change that makes a big difference, or lead to a subtle change in an existing dynamic that creates a much more harmonized team. You are not Carnac and cannot see into the future to evaluate how a new hire will impact the business, but before your start, you can ask yourself:

How can a new hire change our business for the better?

Asking this question gives you permission to dream big.

So once you’ve thought about the impact hiring has on your project team, now it’s time to think about Who Should Be on the Bus, which covers both existing staff and new hires.

Not many project managers are fortunate enough to be able to form their team from scratch. In those cases, you can skip right to hiring after you decide Where the Bus is Going. On the other hand, most of us inherit a team when we become a project manager and then are expected to add and subtract members from that team as the company goals and team performance change to ensure the best possible results.

So before you start hiring, take a look at your existing team and decide who should NOT be on the bus.

There are many reasons for showing someone the door, including obvious ones like poor performance (even after coaching) and destructive or criminal behaviour. Not as obvious, but just as important, is when the company goals, focus or business model changes and team member’s motivation, skills and attitude do not change with the times.

I was lucky enough to work at a company for 11 years that grew very quickly and at every stage long term, high performing team members found their way out of the company because the fit between their skills and the kind of company they wanted to work for changed as the company became larger. I made it through several changes in service and product focus, an acquisition by a larger, public company and finally a venture-supported return to a private company before the fit wasn’t right for me.

I wasn’t asked to leave, but the role the new organization had for me was not a good fit. And that’s how it will work with your team – you won’t be able to find a fit for a good person, and hopefully, they will recognize that they can find what they are looking for somewhere else. If they hang in there, then you either:

  • Live with it and let them limp along riding on the glory of their former self while in a lesser role, or you
  • Invest in re-training to help that person find the new motivation that will help them become truly engaged at work, or
  • You have to cut them loose. Respectfully, honourably and honestly while recognizing that firing someone is an extremely personal act

Deciding who’s on your bus not only means asking some people to step off, but also involves inviting new people to jump on.

What an exciting time! Bringing new people into an organization or onto a small team can send a shock of energy through the building. Look what just happened with the Toronto Blue Jays. Against 10 years of history, they made significant trades for better players to help them win in 2015 and the jolt was felt right through the organization. Their Monday game after the big trade was sold out, with an electric atmosphere at the ballpark which carried on through the end of the season and into the playoffs. Contrast that to the year before, when the Jays were in it and did not make a move. The fans howled, the media questioned and the players grumbled – and then started losing and missed the playoffs.

What the lesson for a PM – don’t miss the playoffs! When you have a chance to strengthen your team through the hiring process, spend time on it and get it right. But where do you start? Certainly not with a help wanted ad or a hiring ad on Monster. Yes, you will post the ad internally and send it out online as part of the hiring process but your best prospects will not likely come from a stack of resumes. They will come from your own personal list of superstars you want to hire, who do the same job with better results, better attitude and a new outlook at their existing company.

Do you keep a list of superstars?

If you don’t, I would suggest that you start. Start with your competitors locally, then nationally and find the person that kicks your butt at every pitch or who designs a product two upgrades more advanced than yours, year in and year out. In baseball, one phrase you hear a lot is “Glad he’s on our side” – because you’d rather not face them with the game on the line. Hire that person.

I would also suggest that you don’t limit your superstar list to your own industry. Good sales people, CSR’s, coders and project managers work right down the street from you. Identify the best companies around from their local press, awards for results, venture capital funding announcements, workplace awards, and target the people you need who have proven results.

There is no better way for you to shine as a project manager than to hire a superstar – both in the short term jolt the company gets when the hire is announced but also when the results start improving as a result of that hire.

Next month’s article will focus on the last two Bus questions:

3. Where should they sit
4. Who else can drive

3 Friends a New Project Manager Should Make

There is plenty of advice in the project manager’s secret handbook about managing your team, your clients, and managing up – and almost nothing is written about managing sideways. Likely because a sideways relationship within your organization is not about managing a project – it’s about rallying your colleagues to a common cause – even if that common cause is you.

So as a first-time project manager, make three sideways friends immediately – one friend from Human Resources, one from Accounting and one from Systems (or IT, Computing Services, etc.). These new friends will save you hours of additional work, grief, and embarrassment and allow you to stay focused on hitting your milestones and keeping your clients happy.

Related Article: From the Sponsor’s Desk: A Great Project Manager – The Sponsor’s Best Friend

Making friends is easy when you are a new PM, and it’s the perfect time to start building relationships with your Big Three. They likely know that you are new to the role and will welcome an opportunity to connect, even if it’s for their own selfish reasons. Each of their areas, Accounting, HR and Systems are largely rule-based and protecting the organization, it’s data, and employees is one of their main responsibilities. They see you, as a new project manager, as someone they can influence to do things their way. The right way. Take this opportunity then, to do just that, and you will establish a reputation as a PM that respects and works with the support teams within your company.

Your relationship with these friends should be built like any relationship within your project team itself, through a regular series of business specific meetings mixed with more personal interactions to allow each of them to know, like, and trust you. The business meetings should be conducive to their style, at their convenience, and on their home turf. It is respect that support units often don’t receive, and it will make you stand out in a positive way.

If your friend in Accounting likes a written agenda ahead of time to allow them to prepare, make it so. When the systems manager only wants a quick meeting, pare down your items to the critical few and save on the stories and embellishments. If you have to schedule a little extra time with HR, because they want to chat about the team – then do it. Allowing each of them to work with you in a style that suits them will make them want to work with you more.

While the business oriented meetings are important to allow the Big Three to get to know you, it’s in the more personal interactions where they will actually start to like you. As long as you listen; we are hard-wired to like people who like the same things we do and the best way to demonstrate that is to listen, carefully. You don’t have to have the same passion for classic cars, beanie babies or baseball that they do, but listening while they talk about their passions, their hobbies, and their kids will create a relationship that is more than “just business”. That’s the kind of relationship that comes in handy when you need a special favour, a little extra time or maybe some forgiveness for an error in process.

Most days, however, you won’t need your Big Three resources for anything special, but you can still make them feel like superstars. One of the great joys of being a project manager is giving other members of your team a chance to shine in their area of expertise. Sideways managers or their staff are definitely part of your team and like anyone else they want to be recognized for doing good work.

Your friends in Systems can make or break the success of project because they control communications. Respect that. Don’t try to Control, Alt, Delete your way out of a software, hardware, network, Slack, Skype or conference calling mess. In fact, get ahead of the curve by reviewing your specific needs ahead of time and asking for recommendations on what hardware, software, apps, and connections are best. Respect their knowledge of the organization’s capabilities and limitations and play within the guidelines they give you.

Accounting staff spend their days, by choice, knee deep in spreadsheets, debits, credits and invoices. Some problem that seems complex and foreign to you, the new project manager, is likely right in their wheelhouse and can be banged out in no time. I’m sure you can spend time tracking receivables, calculating FTE’s and reviewing each item on the project budget, but why would you? That is not the important work of a Project Manager. Not the work that finishes a project on time. Not the work that receives recognition when they are handing out medals and promotions. Leave it to the experts, even if you think you are the expert.

Your HR friend is the same, spending their days with vacation policies, dress codes, workplace standards, terminations, disciplinary meetings, and FTE planning. Since building a high-performing, cohesive team is the most important work that you will do as a manager, having a partner in HR is crucial to your long-term success. It’s likely that none of your team members will report to you directly, which makes having an HR partner even more important. They can identify the performers from the malcontents and prevent a toxic person from poisoning the team and the project.

Since each of these groups is rules oriented, the biggest thing you can do to earn their trust is to support them – in front of your team and your clients. Don’t allow an end run around the technology because a member of your project team thinks they know better because they used to be a developer. Don’t try to sneak in another FTE. Keep your receipts and make your team do the same. Without this public support, your new Friends won’t trust you and will see you as someone that is “all hat and no cattle.”
When the project is done, make sure that your Big Three and their staff receive the same waves of praise that your team does. The first wave should be in public, verbally, and in front of the project team. A second wave of verbal praise should be in person to your friend specifically, over a one-to-one celebratory lunch or coffee. And the final wave should be in writing to the boss of each of your friends, formally praising their support and the part they played in making your project succeed.

When you find a friend, or Three, you give yourself and your project the best chance to have the biggest impact on your organization.

From Doing to Managing to Leading

The comparison of leader vs. manager has popped up a couple of times in my LinkedIn feed, usually through a quote that implies that it’s better to be a leader than a manager. Here is one as an example, from someone whose ideas I admire:

Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing. –Tom Peters

While I am hoping that Tom intended to demonstrate the different skills inherent in managing and leading, it is likely taken by most people as an either or statement. If you are a manager, all you do is arrange and tell, but when you are a leader, the choirs sing and the heavens part as you nurture and enhance your team. Most readers would also take those attributes and assign them by proxy to managers and leaders – because surely it’s better to be a leader than a manager.

Related Article: Project Leadership Remains #1 Key to Success

The good news is that like most project managers, you already do both.

Leadership and management are skill sets, not titles.

Unfortunately, many executives expect a project manager to be a leader right from the start without considering their experience and skill set. Most PMs experience a progression from doing to managing to leading, and at different stages in their career will employ different combinations of all three.

Your early career as a project manager is likely more focused on the doing part of your job and not the managing, with leading not even being in the picture yet. You are focused on the basics of project management and what a PM is expected to be minimally competent at – tracking the progress of a project and reporting that progress to the stakeholders. This includes becoming familiar with the tools of the PM trade such as the software, apps and SharePoint sites that your company employs for tracking progress, milestones, and resources. It should also include frequent meetings with the executive sponsor of the project and hopefully a more senior PM. In Situational Leadership, this phase is often described as “you don’t know what you don’t know” and a PM new to their position or new to the company, or both, cannot be expected to have mastered the nuances of the organization. More experienced people in an organization can guide a new PM through the tricky issues, leaving them free to focus on the basics of project management. At this stage in your career, it’s all about growing your skill set and making yourself better.

As you master the doing part of their job and your career progresses, you will be able to start managing more, and the most important part of this managing work will be people work. People on the project team. Their bosses. The executive sponsors. The stakeholders. The customer. Mastering the people part of project management differentiates a good PM from a bad one and sets the stage for you to play a larger leadership role.

This starts with getting members of the project team – and getting them to know, like, and trust you. This is the hard, hairy work of being a good PM where every little thing builds your rapport with your team members, person by person. Observe them closely to understand better their communication style and then adapt your style to theirs so that they may better understand you. This mutually ability to hear and connect with someone achieves the KNOW.

Listen and be emotionally present and engaged when a team member is talking. Don’t talk over top, mansplain or dismiss their thoughts or ideas. Care about them and their ideas. People LIKE others who are like themselves and we are trained to like other people who listen to and respect our ideas.

Build trust one small thing at a time – order the yellow post-its if that’s what makes them happy. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Take their side, always. Protect their flank in meetings with executives, stakeholders, and customers.
Regardless of who they report to in their respective units, team members that know, like, and trust their PM will be more likely to make their deadlines and deliverables and keep the project on-track. Unlike early in your career when the focus was on growing yourself, now it’s on growing others.

Pretty soon, team members will want to work on a project because you are the PM, which is going to give you more options when it comes to building the project team. Now your time spent managing is going to include choosing which team members should be part of the project, which ones need to leave the project, what roles they all play and which ones could lead this project better than you. You will likely also have input into which projects are given resources and how they are prioritized.

That sounds an awful lot like being a leader.

The more you refine your skills and gain responsibility, the more the balance tips toward leading rather than managing and doing.

So, back to Tom Peters. It’s not better to be a leader than a manager. It’s just different. Good project managers demonstrate leadership skills every day and not at the expense of “arranging and telling”. Most projects wouldn’t get off the ground without PM that sets the timelines, plans the meetings and reports to the stakeholders while creating an environment where team members are motivated and engaged. And companies would cease to innovate and grow if c-suite “leaders” weren’t still spending portions of their day on doing and managing things such as analyzing budgets, conducting performance reviews, and leading meetings.

So yes, there is a difference between being a project manager and the executive that is your primary stakeholder, and one does tend to do more leadership type work than the other. But both are valuable to the organization – precisely because they do the right amount of doing, managing and leading.