There are dark days in every project manager’s career—projects that go out of control, conflicts with others, or circumstances that create dark clouds that hang over everyone week after week. In one software company, something did go wrong and havoc ensued. The following story recounts what the CEO did to turn those dark clouds to blue skies.
It was a long road trip and the kids, who were in the back seat, started in with each other.
“Stop looking at me,” the daughter said to her brother.
“You stop looking at me,” he retorted.
“Mom, he’s looking at me. Tell him to stop,” she pouted.
“C’mon kids, look out the window and you won’t even see each other,” the mother replied.
A few minutes of quietness pass. The squabble continued to escalate.
“You’re in my space,” said the son.
“No, I’m not. You’re in MY space,” replied the daughter.
Their father interrupted them. “That’s it,” he said. “Both of you need to sit there quietly and not say one more word the entire trip!”
“Yeah, but…” said the son.
“Nope, nothing, I don’t want to hear another word,” the father said, which silenced them for the rest of the journey.
That tendency towards sibling rivalry is often carried well into adulthood, as we see with interpersonal rivalries and squabbles at work. If arguments are allowed to escalate out of control, the father figure (aka president, CEO, or another high ranking manager in the company that everyone rolls up to) needs to get involved and execute swift and final resolution.
Fighting in the Back of the Corporate Car
Just about the time outsourcing IT work to other countries was becoming all the rage, upper management of an up and coming software company established a relationship with a newly formed foreign company with about 50-60 developers, testers, and other technical resources. Not only would state-side resources be able to focus on bigger issues, the cost of outsourcing IT was a fraction of what it costs in the US. Seemed like a great idea on paper.
Three managers in the US were put in charge of this relationship—the development manager, the QA manager, and the PMO director. It was their job to work with the outsourced company to make sure they knew what they were doing when they were doing it, and that it was getting done according to the specs.
This type of relationship was new to everybody on the team. Nobody had ever worked with an offshore resource, nor had the offshore team worked in quite this manner before. They were just starting up themselves. In hindsight, this was a disaster waiting to happen.
The development manager turned them loose on certain technical tasks. His assumption was that they knew exactly how to get things done. He never received any questions back so thought everything was going well. The PMO director checked in with the team every couple of days and always received reports back that everything was going just fine. The QA manager was waiting in the wings for the first deliverables to start testing.
The first deliverables came soon enough, albeit a couple of days late. Not a big deal. However, when QA started digging into this first deliverable, a simple report, it woefully missed the mark. Red flags were raised left and right. What they delivered wasn’t even close! There was a very real concern about the other deliverables they were working on as well, as they were more complicated and touched many more areas. Alarmingly, the offshore team had not asked one question or raised any issues regarding the subsequent, more complex phase either. The fighting and finger pointing in the back of the car began…
Quit Looking at Me
“What’s their problem?” the QA manager asked the development manager.
“What’s their problem?” the development manager repeated back. “The real question is, what’s the PMO’s problem? You guys should have been on top of this much sooner and not let it get this far.”
“Are you kidding me?” said the PMO Director. “They kept telling me everything was on track. The QA manager should have been asking for samples of what they were putting together much sooner.”
Sound familiar?—Quit looking at me! You’re in my space!
This went on for weeks and never got any better. The three managers made it a public spectacle for everyone to see. To add insult to injury, the offshore resources had their own view of matters implicating the other three managers and questioning their skills and abilities. It was a mess!
Don’t Make Me Stop this Car
Things got so bad the CEO of the company stepped in to stop the bickering. Clients were upset. Resources were aggravated. Morale was deteriorating. He ordered the PMO Director, QA Manager and Development Manager to attend a mandatory daily meeting at 8:00 AM.
It was brutal, but he had to stop the car.
So, every morning at 8:00 AM sharp the CEO and the managers sat in the conference room face-to-face. The CEO prepared for the meetings by getting information from the manager in the offshore company. Whatever was wrong made it on a list, and that was what he would start the meeting with.
“They say that they didn’t receive good enough direction from you,” the CEO would say to the development manager. “Is that true?”
“Of course that’s not true,” the development manager would reply. “All of that was funneled through the PMO. I have no idea why they weren’t getting those instructions.”
“What??” said the PMO Director. “You expect us to answer the technical questions about product architecture? Are you crazy?”
And that’s the way it went the first week. Argument after the argument was accompanied by painstaking deep dives into the details of what went wrong. Each meeting lasted about an hour, and without fail misinformation and accusations flew from one end of the building to the next. The second week wasn’t much better.
But, by the end of the 3rd week, the level of intensity began to calm down a bit. Confusion was replaced with clarity. Accusations were replaced with facts. Missed deadlines and incomplete work were replaced with accomplishment.
Painful, but Beneficial
The CEO forged ahead with these painful meetings for nearly five weeks, which was as long as it took for everything to start running like clockwork. The unexpected silver lining was that the three managers started working MUCH more closely. Eventually, they realized that pointing fingers at each other was getting them nowhere, that they needed to figure out their own problems before the daily meeting. They stopped airing their dirty laundry in front of the CEO and figured out how to work together.
They put their sibling rivalry to rest and stopped fighting in the back of the car, and actually came to enjoy spending time together. The rest of the family was able to enjoy the trip, and they all made it to their destination in one piece.
Next time you find yourself squabbling with someone, take a lesson from the experience above. Your authority figure will need to get involved if you don’t get things resolved on your own, and it will be painful. Realize that there may be different points of view about a situation, but that everyone must work together (relatively) peacefully to reach the ultimate destination of a project—on time, on a budget, and within scope.
The three managers in my example certainly learned that lesson. Some more managers are about to learn that lesson as well…the CEO just heard that the kids are acting up in Marketing!