Do You Know How to Say No?

Some of my coaching clients have way more to do than they can manage. Some of my project portfolio clients are struggling with how to say no. My most recent Pragmatic Manager newsletter is all about what to do when you have too much to do. Read it at Do You Have Too Much to...

How to Say ‘No’

I originally wanted to write about how to start an agile project, possibly the pilot agile project in your organization–if it was starved of resources, people, machines, space, whatever. But I can’t write that article because no advice is worth the space. You shouldn’t even start that project. An important tenet of agile project management is that both the team and management fully commit to the project. It’s the same idea as when an agile team commits to backlog items for an iteration–it’s got to be a full commitment all around. Let me be clear about what a starved project is: That’s a project where you’re busy counting the FTEs (Full Time Equivalent) because no one is assigned to this project full time. Or it’s a project with no testers. Or a project with no database people (even though the database is an integral part of the project). Or it’s a project with no testbed, even though you can’t move the product directly to production; you have to test it first. That’s a starved project. Most of the time, I see projects starved of people because they are “just finishing up” a previous project. Sometimes, I see projects starved of project management time because the project manager is supposed to be managing several projects at once. Well, that doesn’t work for any project–and it definitely doesn’t work for an agile project because the project manager’s job is to protect the process and remove obstacles for the team. The project manager provides the organization’s interface to the project. How the heck are you supposed to support your team if you’re...

No: Such a Difficult Word

Pat meets me in the lobby and walks me to the conference room for our 9 a.m. meeting. She yawns several times during our two-minute walk. She yawns a few more times before everyone else arrives. “Late night?” I ask. “They’re all late,” she replies. “I’m way overworked.” When I asked why, she says, “I’m good at what I do, so my boss asks me to do more. Now I’m overloaded, tired, and not making the progress I could. I must not be managing my time well. Do you know of a good time management tool?” Managing time—or managing action, as David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, might say—only goes so far. Pat’s real problem is that she has too much to do. So do her developers and testers. Everyone in her department is overworked, tired, and cranky. That’s because no one knows how to say no to more work. In some organizations, it’s a badge of honor to get more work. I know of several organizations where the senior managers say, “The reward for good work is more work.” Harder work might be a good idea. Different work might be a nice reward. But more work—without realizing the costs of multitasking—is not a reward. More work creates death march projects and tired people who make mistakes. Why Some People Can’t Say No Some people can’t say no and make it stick because they feel bad when they try. I’ve heard many reactions to my nos. One manager told me I wasn’t a team player. Once, when I thought I was being a team player by explaining what...

What’s on Your Not-to-do List?

Summary: Drawing up a to-do list sounds like a logical starting point when you want to prioritize your workload. But if you have an extra-long list of tasks, the list you should start with is the not-to-do list. Doing so forces you to take an extra hard look at what you’re doing and if you should be doing it. In this week’s column, learn more about Johanna Rothman’s not-to-do list, how it helps you stay focused on the most important tasks, and how it inevitably helps you maintain your value to the organization. I’ll bet you’re one of those people who have too much to do. (I haven’t met anyone in the past few years who didn’t have too much to do, so it’s not much of a bet.) And, I suspect that you’re so busy with what you’re doing, that you haven’t yet thought of what you should not be doing. A not-to-do list is as important—if not more so—than a to-do list. When you make a to-do list, you’re listing, categorizing, and prioritizing all the work you need to accomplish. But with a not-to-do list, you’re first thinking about why you are working, and ensuring that you’re accomplishing the strategically important work. I recently worked with a chief technology officer (CTO) who, aside from his CTO role was also acting as the development and testing managers, until he could hire people for those positions. As a short-term tactic, that may have been OK. But while he was acting as the manager of both groups, he was unable to perform his job as CTO. After three months of attempting...

How Much Work Can You Do? Developing and Managing Your Project Portfolio

Summary: Knowing how much work your group can accomplish–and how much it takes to complete that work–is critical to your success as a manager. In this week’s column, Johanna Rothman explains how to ascertain your team’s potential and how to use that information to define and manage your project portfolio so it doesn’t manage you. I meet many managers in the course of my work, and they all share a common complaint: They have too much work to do. I ask how they know there’s too much work to do, and they look at me as if I’ve sprouted another head or two. “My staff and I are spread too thin–that’s how I know,” they answer. I ask if more people would help. “Of course,” they answer. While they look at me as if I’m an idiot, I ask the question that too few managers can answer right then and there, “How many more people would you need, and for how long?” I have sympathy for those of you trying to work in organizations with too few people and too many projects. So, I recommend you develop an answer to the “how many people” question. Once you have the answer to that question, you can then deal with the trade-off question with your managers, “If I take on this new project, which work would you like me to stop?” Define the Universe of Work I develop and manage a project portfolio by first defining all the work (the “universe of work”), organizing the work by seeing when each person starts and stops each project or piece of the project, and...