Project Manglement: a few leadership anti-patterns

Note: these are a selection of things I’ve seen and heard from a number of people in a number of companies, and some mistakes I’ve made. Any similarity to your situation is entirely coincidence.

(If you like this, I’d definitely recommend PeopleWare by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister, as that’s got a lot of good stories and science about what makes for a productive team, company, and office)

Expecting things to just be done

Just because a problem was identified, doesn’t mean it will get fixed. In a team, everyone, including you, can easily claim it’s someone else’s problem, or that their other work is more important. If you want it done, assign it, and prioritise it, either yourself or as a team.

Tell, don’t ask

On the other hand, don’t fall into the micro-management tap of telling everyone what to do, thereby removing autonomy, you’ll kill creativity and motivation, and you’ll end up with an informal work-to-rule where people twiddle thumbs until you tell them what to do.

Treat estimates as promises

We call them estimates for a reason: we don’t know how long it will take. We can make a good guess on what we know, an educated punt on what we know we don’t know, and a wild gamble on what we don’t know we don’t know. If you want an accurate figure, ask us when we’re finished.

Meetings as status

Meetings aren’t for your ego, for everyone to listen to you. If the team respects you, they’ll listen anyway. If they don’t, meetings like that are likely to antagonise.

Meetings aren’t for you to find out progress. That’s what wall charts, release notes, and daily stand ups are for.  Don’t call another meeting just because you weren’t paying attention.

Leaky abstractions

It’s likely we’re just as frustrated as toy that the release wasn’t perfect, that those requirements are taking longer, and we know the customer is frustrated too. Telling us about it every time they contact you (or Cc’ing us in so we can see it ourselves) is rarely helpful. Developer’s egos can be fragile enough beating ourselves up about what we could do better.

Understand what we’re doing to fix it, and communicate it back, but part of your job is to filter out noise.

But when we get praise from the customer, please pass it on.

Any other anti-patterns you’ve seen?

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