Over-trusting your abilities

This is a story about Linda, the project manager who saw tremendous success and disastrous failure.

Her failure was so severe that she got fired from the company. Read on to learn about what cost Linda had to pay for over-trusting her abilities.

Linda was a successful project manager. In past two years, Linda had delivered two huge projects in a row. Everyone in the organization thought that Linda had a magic wand. The projects she managed used to get successful.

Past two most successful projects from the most credible client of the company. Successful, with Linda as the Project Manager.

Top management of the company had also noticed that. Linda was invited for dinner with CXOs and once in the board meeting also bypassing her reporting hierarchy to present about her project success.

Soon Linda was given one of the most complex projects the organization had ever taken. The project was of multimillion dollars. The organization’s reputation was on stake on the project’s success. Also if the project gets successful, then organization would attract more business from the business network it had recently entered.

Linda’s confidence was all time high. “I’ll be able to deliver any damn project that I undertake,” She used to think.

But soon after six months, Linda got fired. The reason? She could not handle the project well and the COO of the organization had to take charge of the project bypassing every other middle managers.

What did she do wrong? What points she missed in the most important project of her life?

Here they go:

  • She used to speak about her past successes so often that she compromised her ability to listen attentively.
  • She did not spend lot of time interacting and building rapport with the client.
  • In part of project meetings, she was not whole-heartedly convinced with several points but rather than confronting, she kept quiet.
  • She delegated project reporting task to her assistant, Ramit, who was extremely detail oriented but did not have distinction about what piece of information matters to the client and what does not. The result? The status reports were never given needed attention.
  • Two project sponsors got changed in the period of just six months.
  • The client organization was huge and there was fair amount of red-tape in the environment. Many people are concerned about saving their skin rather than making the project successful at any cost.
  • …and more of similar points.

All in all, Linda could not give her 100 percent to make the project successful. Why it happened? Linda had over-trusted her abilities.

The habit of over-trusting your abilities is a disease. You better get it fast.

Your past success is good but there are no guarantees that it will translate into making your present project successful.

No chance.

The reason? Many external factors that were in favor of your past success may not help you in your present project.

Your past project success might have included favoring industry trends, extremely competent and on-target project sponsor, outstanding project team, organizational process assets that work positively for the project, enterprise environmental factors and more.

All these things count. What counts more? The project manager’s ability to harmonize his or her project execution tasks with all these factors respected and expectations met. How the project manager does it? By identifying success factors and ensuring that they’re leveraged correctly.

You might have conducted “Lessons Learned” exercise at the end of each successful project but there is a possibility that you might not have a holistic view of your success patterns that would have caused your project success.

Taking a holistic view of your success patterns will not only help you to know thyself better but will provide you insights with new possibilities of influencing your project.

Trusting your abilities is good. Over-trusting your abilities is never. [Click to Tweet]

Imagine if you delegate a particular task to your subordinate and it is for the first time that your subordinate is doing that task, you’re acting as if you are a novice project manager.

The problem with over-trusting your abilities is that you stop paying attention to the things that are happening around you and contributing in silently (well, not always silently) making the project successful or failure.

The consequences are tied up with the work that is done, they are not tied up with the past success of years of experience you have as a project manager.

Project success (or failure) is a consequence of a series of steps that are taken for the project. And you, the project manager, is solely responsible for it.

Instead, stay foolish, keep seeking and retrospect everything that’s happening inside the project periodically.

If you choose to be a fool and inquire everything, then you become more aware, more wise, more knowledgable about the project and its surroundings.

Being a fool and choosing to be fool are two different things. Choosing to be a fool is actually the wisest thing that a project manager can do and over-trusting your abilities are exactly the opposite.

The nagging customer

The nagging customer represents a tribe of customers will try to bully you.

They won’t listen to your phone call,  they will use the incorrect version of the application manual, they will whine about your app size by comparing with a totally out of context app that their friends have built years ago.

They will blame you for not using the latest API that is still in its beta and as a standard practice, you shouldn’t use it on the production apps.

And not only that, they’ll find your faults when things go wrong because of reasons outside your control.

If you, the project manager, do an outstanding job, you can lower this number to 1%.

But you cannot eliminate them completely.

The thing is, defending what you have done and getting frustrated about why that particular customer does not understand the right thing doesn’t solve the problem.

They are like that only.

And even if, if you find a magic wand and somehow figure out how to fix the customer’s mindset, it doesn’t work as that 1% keep changing.

Is there a way to know who that 1 % of customers are?

If you are in the software development service business, you have to accept that some customers are like that. Not to whine about why they exist but to accept them and do what’s possible.

Given you are not blessed enough to change how the software development service industry, it would be good for your business to make it easy for them to “catch” you, learn from those experience and align your business decisions accordingly.

This is not included in the theory of Project Management but if you do, your business will suffer less. This is applicable more when your organization size is small and you, the project manager is the one who is responsible to “solve” the problem.

It is certainly not comfortable and it is obvious that you won’t like it, however, it is, certainly a wise thing to do.

Ship an imperfect product

Certainly, it is not perfect. It can still be improved.

That’s an incorrect question. The correct question is: when can I ship it?

It can be shipped when it is adequate.

But it’s not perfect. We cannot…

Well, it is not. Actually, the efforts put in making it perfect beyond what’s adequate are waste.

It’s okay if you like to change the definition of what’s ‘adequate’ but that should be your goal.

If your goal is to ship your product after it’s perfect, then, one day you might reach the goal but there might not be any need for that product to be shipped.

Technology Vs. Solution

“I don’t understand why we’re NOT using the latest version of the programming language to build this software application,” the programmer showed his disappointment to the newly assigned project manager. “By the time we will finish building this application, this version of language will be out of beta and released.”

“Okay, does current version of the language you’re using solve your client’s business problems?” The project manager asked.

“Well, we are using an old, so-called stable version,” the programmer repeated. “Most others in the team think it’s dated. Sure, we will be able to solve client’s business problems but we will lose the opportunity of working on the latest technology and eventually become inferior.”

“Let me share something,” the project manager said.

“Almost every great professional I have met in my life has one thing in common: their primary focus is to solve their client’s business problems. And I have seen some of the cleverest professionals who have failed. Just because of one thing: It’s NOT latest version of programming language that matters but your ability to make the best use of whatever programming language you’re using and solving your client’s business problems. A programmer’s chief goal should be to solve his client’s problems, version of the programming language is secondary.”

Do you get it?

“It’s okay,” the programmer replied. “But, we want to use the latest version of C# for building this application so that we can seize the opportunity of working on the latest technology.”

“So, my role will be more of a coach than of a project manager” The project manager mumbled.

As the project manager walked away the programmer turned to his colleague and rolled her eyes.  “Some project managers just don’t get it, no?”

Improve your soft-skills

Many Project Managers focus on gaining command over hard skills such as planning, budgeting, risk management, monitoring and controlling the execution of the project etc.

Despite that, overall project failure rates continue to grow.

So, what’s missing?

Focus on the soft skills.

Self-leadership, building motivated teams, negotiating and effective presentation skills to name a few.

Sometimes these skills are considered soft skills but developing these skills becomes tough for many.

Sure, these skills can be learned but the critical question is ‘how’ to learn those skills?

By continuous learning.

Why such skills cannot via training programs that happen on weekends?

Developing soft-skills can take time, and most training programs alone would not help much apart from getting clear about its basics.

Developing soft-skills is like a long-term project.  If you actively choose to excel your soft-skills continuously then having above hard skills would help you more in making your project successful.

Effective middle manager

In a typical organization, the middle managers would have quite a big responsibility for making things happen.

So how to rock as a middle manager? Well, Here are some tips:

  1. Request clear, specific goals from your boss;
  2. Pull the work that matters;
  3. Ask your boss tough questions which challenge dominating premises;
  4. Do your best to fulfill those goals;
  5. If your boss guides you about ‘how’ to achieve the goal but you have a different idea, do present your point but once a conclusion is made, commit to it;
  6. Define clear, specific goals for your subordinates;
  7. Demand excellence. Convey that anything less than excellence will not be tolerated;
  8. Ask your subordinates tough questions, which make them discover new ways of achieving the goals;
  9. Inspire your subordinates to ask you tough questions;
  10. Inspire your subordinates to pull the work that matters.
And, you’ll rock as a middle manager.