Sunday, December 30, 2007

Does your team have "hustle"?

I was reminded recently of a quote from Frederick Brooks' classic The Mythical Man-Month
A baseball manager recognizes a nonphysical telent, hustle, as an essential gift of great players and great teams. It is the characteristic of running faster than necessary, moving sooner than necessary, trying harder than necessary. It is essential for great programming teams, too.

Hustle. You'll know it if you've got it, but if you don't, then how do you get it?

Knowing that you should even be asking this question is I think a good indicator that as a Project Manager you may even be on the road to becoming a great Leader! Peter Drucker wrote "Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant."

The term management has of course been so abused and ridiculed (thanks to Scott Adams et al and untold thousands who have assumed the title but not the competence) that its common usage is a far cry from Drucker's meaning, which I personally define as the nexus of (little-m) management [the science of knowing] and leadership [the art of making things happen].

So back to the question of hustle. Probably the most common problem I've seen in practice is that you have a team of really smart people, but they simply can't fix on what to hustle about. Either they've lost their way (like after a major release), or never found it in the first place (can't pin down some fundamental vision, design or architectural issues). Once you are underway however, a problem common to large projects is that your day-to-day/week-to-week work is just lost in this huge 18-month timeline. You can't hustle for 18-months straight, so why hustle at all?

Now anyone in the business of development will immediately think of a few methods-du-jour for tackling these kind of situations: scrum, prototyping, XP etc.

Common to these methods is the idea breaking problems down into achievable steps or iterations, and importantly emphasising the delivery of something concrete each time.

To generalise, they provide a sense of "where we are", and a series of tangible near-term goals for "where we want to go".

In other words, find a sense of purpose and you're on the way to unleashing some hustle.

Now isn't that what good leadership is all about? Having a clear vision. Understanding the people in your team, how they are motivated, how they are "blocked". And then creating the circumstances under which the team can realise the vision.

As a Project Manager responsible for delivering results, every tool deserves to be questioned and considered as part of your strategy.

Take something as fundamental as your project plan/gantt chart. Based on average software project success rates, there's upwards of a 70% chance your project plan is just lulling upper management into a false sense of security, while also serving as a daily reminder to the team of the impossibility of the task at hand. Why do you even bother?

If you are going to toil over one at all, consider whether it is really doing the job of communicating where we are/where we want to go to the team. Is the team reading it? Does the team even have access to it??

Is it posted up on the wall, and referred to whenever two or more team members are having a conversation? Or is it a crufty bit of detritus that lives in a folder that no-one other than the PM uses (and they don't have MS Project installed anyway)?

Worse yet, is the cryptic, mystical project plan actually contributing to the fuzziness of the team not really knowing exactly where we are or where we are going? And killing any hope of seeing some hustle..

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