As a consultant, I come across many project and program managers in the IT world. I always wondered why most of their faces looked to be in pain. I was then enlightened by a long-time family friend who happens to be a homemaker. She mockingly said, “Hadn’t you seen your own face in the mirror when you were a manager in the IT world?”, and she went on to quote St. Jerome: “Face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart”. I said, “Say no more!” and slipped away from the conversation.
Although I had difficulty accepting her observation about my face, I realised that these managers’ faces are mere reflections of the kind of thoughts that were plaguing them. You may be one such manager. As my colleagues and I have been fortunate enough to coach many managers like you, I thought it is worth penning down top four of these thoughts and emotions as to what you may be going through
- Uncertainty in making commitments
In today’s digital age projects, uncertainty is the norm. Even the customer does not seem to know the requirements; and you are building the software on the shifting sands of today’s technology; not to mention the pressure to deliver faster!
You don’t know what to commit. If you are conservative, projects do not come your way. If you are adventurous, you burn and and take the team along with you! Invariably, managers continue – to curse the senior management for taking ‘business decisions’ to take up such projects; to blame the ‘cowboys’ in the sales team! One of the managers that I was coaching identified 22 risks and found 8 risk owners to make this 6-month project a success! Just to be on the ‘safe’ side!
It is human nature though, isn’t it? It is difficult to take ownership when so much uncertainty exists – you end up looking for crutches!
- Seemingly impossible conversations with customers
With the kind of new age projects that you are experiencing, you are finding it increasingly difficult to have meaningful conversations with customers. As one of my coachees pointed out, customer is almost always winning in a negotiating situation. Gurus tell you that ‘customer is always right’. Your senior management told you to learn how to have ‘robust dialogues’ with the customer and ‘build relationships’!
On the other hand, customer lives in the VUCA world. Either his business is getting disrupted or is under threat of being disrupted. Their faces look no different from your own. For their part, they are passing on a few creases to your face. They have the ultimate weapon called ‘escalation’ that completely disables you!
- Loss of control over teams
If you are a project/program manager in the IT world, it is likely that you are cursing the wise one who invented ‘self-organizing’ teams. You feel you have lost complete control of the team and they are dictating what can be delivered. The commitments that you made seem to have very little significance. When you want the team to stretch, you get a polite lecture from the Scrum Master about ‘sustainable pace’ and he/she is backed by the honourable Agile Coaches who have a direct line to your boss!
Yet – senior management and customer hold you accountable for the commitments! You feel like your hands and feet are tied and you are rolling on the floor trying to justify your existence in the organization!
- Missing ‘map’
Here is an interesting one that today’s middle managers in the IT world face. Industry is growing at a slower pace. Not many are entering at the bottom of the pyramid to push you up. HR tells you to look for lateral movements to enrich your experience. You are wondering, “does that count as a promotion?”. Technology is moving fast and you feel out-dated! Young ones seem to be knocking on the door for your role.
On the personal front, you have bought a ‘nice’ car and stretched yourself in buying a ‘fine’ home. Obviously the children need to attend the best of schools and luxurious family holidays are a must to keep up with your friends, your spouse’s friends and your children’s friends!
You are lucky if you have good relationships with your spouse and other loved ones in the family.
You feel like you are in the middle of a jungle with the ‘map’ missing. You are wondering when things changed and why you feel lost.
If you relate to this blog, you are not alone. If not, I am happy your face looks fine in the mirror. May be you can share some of your thoughts and ideas that will help majority of the managers in pain. I will look to share my own thoughts in future blogs.