My sister-in-law recently passed the PMP certification (congratulations Heather!). I’m waiting for a call from her asking if we need to add resources.
The resources comment above is a joke, but it isn’t really that funny. It’s indicative of my decades of experience with bad IT project managers.
I believe and hope I have worked with some of the worst project managers on the planet. Why do I hope? I’d hate to think anyone has had to deal with folks worse than the poor project managers I’ve dealt with.
As I type, we’re experiencing a heat wave in Farmville, Virginia. It was 107 degrees Fahrenheit here yesterday. It’s the “dog days of summer“, as my Granny used to call them.
Somehwere, you will find 30 or more push mowers lined up wheel-to-wheel along one axis of a lawn. On command, the 30+ operators will start their mowers. On cue, they will push them across the lawn, maintaining the wheel-to-wheel alignment, cutting the entire area in one pass.
This, my friend, is the home of an IT project manager.
My experiences have led me to a couple thoughts:
- Frederick Brook‘s The Mythical Man-Month should be required reading for all project managers.
- Proof of callouses should be required for the application process.
(The same can be said for MBAs, but that’s for another post…)
Inspired by the book, Brook’s Law states “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.” It is perhaps best summed up by the following statement by Brooks himself: “The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned.”
As an IT professional, you can learn to detect when you’re about to be “managed”. I share the following indicators and advice from my years of experience:
“Do we need to add more resources?” This question in and of itself is harmless. It’s actually the way project managers greet each other and has no more meaning to ordinary folk than “How are you doing today?” or “How about this weather?”
The best answer to this question is a non-answer. After years of trying to correctly answer this (as though it were a meaningful question), I stumbled across an answer that works for me: “I don’t know.” Why does this work so well? The last thing a bad IT project manager wants to do is make a decision – at least one traceable to them.
“I am (or used-to-be) a software developer.” If you hear this, you’re in trouble. Big, big trouble. My advice to you is to vacate the project – and the premises – as quickly as possible. This isn’t a fire evacuation, it’s a bomb evacuation. You may wish to consider jumping out a window if you’re on or below the third floor.
Why? You are dealing with a person who believes they were promoted because they were such a good developer. Mind you, this is true in less than 25% of my experience. And even then, odds are their resume includes COBOL or they aren’t nearly the project manager they believe themselves to be. At best you have 1/3rd of a 25% chance that you’re working for someone who knows a definition for delegate – a definition that isn’t “someone who attends a convention.”
The truth of the matter is this person was likely promoted before they could delay or otherwise further damage the software project to which they were assigned.
“What do I tell my boss (or the stakeholders)?” This question is the prelude to a demand. Your answer isn’t important, the demand in the mind of the IT project manager is important. And that demand is for you to do something no sane developer would ever do.
There are a couple options. If you’re feeling froggy, you can document the fact you were asked to take this ridiculous course of action by your IT project manager, and then do it. Be sure to address the issue in writing and as soon as possible. CC someone else – anyone else. If you can CC the project managers’ boss without looking like you’re trying to make them look stupid, that’s best. If not, CC someone else at your level on the development team (and allow the bad IT project manager to continue their work of making themselves look stupid unassisted).
Note: Never BCC. BCC’ing the boss is the equivalent of placing a bold, red, flashing banner across the top of your message which states “I’M INSECURE”. The boss will get this message, loud and clear. Go ahead and CC them if you believe it’s warranted – those dogs need to wake up eventually.
Make sure it’s in writing and someone else sees it – that’s the point.
The other option is to simply ignore it and do what you know to be right and good. There’s risk here too. Some bad IT project managers will call in bigger dogs to shout you down. It’s good to have your mugshot and name on a book somewhere if you’re going to exercise this option.
“Umm yeah. I’m going to need you to come in Saturday. Sunday’s not looking good either…” People are people. Bad IT project managers don’t get that. They call people “resources”. People aren’t resources, we use resources, but we’re separate and distinct from resources. People are people.
Bad IT project managers are the reason we have IT Project Leads. After all, someone who knows what they’re talking about needs to have some authority if any software project is to stand a chance of succeeding.