IT management: How to create and lead a committed team

Tips for becoming a better manager of your projects, your team, your boss, and yourself.

by James E. Gaskin - This tip comes from Bill Thomas, co-author with Watts S. Humphrey of Reflections on Management: How to Manage Your Software Projects, Your Teams, Your Boss, and Yourself. Thomas is the manager of the technical communications department at the Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute in Pittsburgh, where he oversees about 20 people. Humphrey, the "father of software process management" spent nearly three decades at IBM managing up to as many as 4,000 software professionals before joining the Software Engineering Institute as a Senior Fellow.

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Thomas worked with Humphrey to bring together the best and most influential essays and articles from his years managing the software development process. Mining Humphrey's personal writings as well as all published books and articles, Thomas organized the material around the four areas in the book's title.

1. Manage Your Projects. You've heard it before, but that's because it's important: start by defining your goal, and from there, set your priorities. Imprecise goals waste your time and push you off track.

Make an accurate plan as part of your goal. The plan must be accessible to all involved, clear as to the intentions to avoid sloppy and inconsistent information getting in the way of the plan, specific as to who does what when and at what cost, precise to the point you develop a unit of measurement appropriate to the project at hand like hours for a short term project and days or weeks for long term, and accurate to be able to meet the targets of the plan and and achieve your goal in the time allocated.

Experience teaches you how to reach your goals, along with a healthy amount of reflection on past projects and how well, or poorly, their planning served those projects. As Humphrey said, when you can't plan accurately, plan often. The hardest time to make a plan is when you need one the most, so don't shortchange your planning time.

2. Manage Your Team. The theme of the book, according to Thomas, is commitment, and you want to build a team committed to the project. There are three ways to manage: fear, greed, and commitment, and the third is by far the best road to long term success and team happiness. Spend the time necessary to train the team and develop cohesion so they all feel they belong. Develop a common working framework so everyone understands what's expected of them, give them challenging goals to keep them interested, and provide feedback on their progress toward those goals.

3. Manage Your Boss. First of all, you need a solid plan (see Tip #1) backed up by data. When the boss says he or she has a project for you and it should take 10 months, don't just say yes, especially if this is your first project. Go to your team, develop a plan, and make an informed estimate. Better to tell your boss upfront the project, done right, will take 20 months than to agree to 10 months and be late month after month. Once you have a good plan, the pressure drops considerably.

4. Manage Yourself. Understand what you can do, and the time it takes to do it right. The personal management process works for software and everything else in your business life, and helps you manage the pressure of projects as well.

Use time logs from past projects to accurately estimate completion times for items. Don't forget those lovely meetings held daily until production improves and other management nonsense. In fact, when scheduling meetings, remember that an hour meeting can waste three to four hours of time for each participant, depending on how much preparation and travel time they need.

You may think you have a 40 hour workweek, but Thomas says studies show we only really have about 18 productive hours on task out of that 40. After meetings, e-mails, phone calls, and other distractions, more than half your work week is gone, so understand that a 80 hour project won't take two weeks, but really close to five.

Plan, revise, and reflect on a regular basis, and you'll become a better manager of your projects, your team, your boss, and yourself. That's a great value in any book.

For more IT management tips, see:

Building IT credibility

How to maintain your leadership "edge"

How to lead an all-star team

James E. Gaskin writes books (16 so far), articles and jokes about technology and real life from his home office in the Dallas area. Gaskin has been helping small and medium sized businesses use technology intelligently since 1986. Write him at readers@gaskin.com.

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