Use the Power of Your Rumor Mill

Use the Power of Your Rumor Mill

Project and program managers often ask, “How can I get people to work across teams? I don't want to delay people or solve problems for them when they can solve problems themselves. I just don't know what to try.”

My advice: Use the rumor mill.

You've seen the rumor mill work quite well when there is bad news. You know, when the managers have closed-door meetings? That kind of bad news. You can also use the rumor mill for problem-solving and organizational learning.

Your rumor mill is your small-world network. We have connections all over the organization. You know someone in Marketing. That person knows someone in Support–and not the people you know in Support. The person in Support also knows other people in feature teams, and one of them might be able to answer your question or solve your problem. You don't know who you might need to answer a question or release your product. You will need help from people who are not part of your team.

Those connections across the organization are part of your small-world network. You can use a small-world network to ask and answer questions, to solve problems, and learn interesting information.

I learned this firsthand when I managed a program many years ago. One team had trouble finishing one of their features. I couldn't help—I didn't understand the technology well enough. I sent an email to “all-software” for all the software people in the organization. One of the developers saw it and forwarded it to a hardware person. The hardware guy had encountered this exact problem the previous week and had a fix.

I was surprised that a hardware person understood our (supposedly) software problem and had a fix. So was that feature team.

Now that the people on my program understood the value of the small-world network, they created other mailing lists where they could explain and learn things from one another. One of the developers called this the “program rumor mill.” The program staff used their lists for all kinds of interesting discussions.

If you also have a program, more than a couple of teams delivering one product, I encourage you to consider investing in building small-world networks in your program. People will solve problems together.

Use the power of your rumor mill to help your people problem-solve together. That will build and maintain your program's momentum.

For more about small-world networks and how to use them in programs, see Agile and Lean Program Management: Scaling Collaboration Across the Organization.

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© 2016 Johanna Rothman

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