Crow Tastes Like Crud (or When to Say You’re Sorry)

So sometimes in life you have to say that you are wrong. You messed up. Even though you may have had good intentions, the way you handled something was totally wrong. As a leader, eating crow tastes like crud. It is challenging to lead a team in any circumstances, but to say to a team that you were wrong is of the most awkward and yet responsible things you can do as a leader.

As a manager I am a straight shooter (please note that this may be an understatement to those who work with me). There is no question where you stand with me or what I am thinking. If I love you, then you know it. If I find you frustrating as all get out to deal with, then I spell that out as well. I do not believe in trying to dance around an issue but prefer to smash it head on. The good news is that I am never going to say anything about anyone behind their back that I would not (and probably have) told them directly so that we can honestly and openly deal with the issue. That being said, sometimes I am reminded that a bit more tact and diplomacy is a good thing to exercise.

As of late I have been blatantly honest about a challenged process at my organization (and what organization doesn’t have one or two of those?) It is one of those things that managers have to deal with. For example (and this is not a REAL example, so please, if someone reads this, don’t get mad at me!) maybe your finance department cannot provide you with accurate data for project spend on equipment because your company chooses not to track capital expenses against each project. It is a common thing that companies do not do (tracking project expenses such as % of utilization of equipment, employee hours, etc.) — and yet as a project manager you are expected to manage to a budget. What budget can you manage to if you can’t track and see actuals? Unfortunately the answer is that you have to construct the answer for yourself. Your team can give you effort estimates, and you can track against that. It is not as ideal as literal cost, but it at least gives you an ongoing idea of whether you are on, behind, or ahead of effort plan. You can do the same for external costs (such as equipment or vendor).

When you get frustrated at dealing with the same issue for what feels like the fiftieth time, sometimes it is easy to lose your temper and say things that are wrong. Finance is not being stubborn, ridiculous, or trying to really make your life difficult. They have their own set of policies and procedures and are probably trying their best to do what they can to help you—they just don’t do things the way that you do.

As a project manager, you are a leader. It is up to you to figure out how to get your work done within the constraints of your organization. Sometimes I forget that what seems like a broken process has people behind it and those people work just as hard as I do to make the entire engine run. As a project manager and a leader, it is important for me to be cognizant of how everyone contributes, and rather than spend energy complaining, spend that same energy coming up with a solution that is the best for the organization as a whole. Sometimes this means working to fix the process or find a workaround with the team in question that works for everyone. Sometimes this means doing things a different way. Whatever way, I can only hope that I remember that process and people are intertwined, and to complain about process can make people feel that they are unappreciated and unvalued, and that is not what I ever intend to do.

This is an apology to the people in a group of my organization who I owe one to (and I am pretty sure they know who they are). I will not apologize for being frustrated with process, as I think it is fair to be honest about the fact that I still believe that the processes are in need of improvement. However, to the people who work incredibly hard to make sure our products live up to our customer expectations I want you to know that I do appreciate your efforts, and I am sorry if anything I have said makes you think that I do not value the effort that you put forth.

I’m now going to pick feathers from my teeth and focus on a document that hopefully will help us all collaborate a bit better going forward.


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