Wow – this week has been a real rollercoaster. So many delivery issues! One of the many things I didn’t realise I was going to need to do as a product manager was project and delivery manage all the product workstreams in all their varying degrees of progress. At this point, I’m not sure whether that was just some kind of naive assumption, or whether as PM some of this stuff genuinely isn’t my responsibility and should instead be delegated or outsourced in some way.
As things stand though, it is at least to some extent my responsibility to make sure things get delivered when we speculated they would, so dealing with the fallout when they don’t comes with the territory. Of course, there’s always a story behind why things aren’t getting delivered to plan. And, as the late, great Jerry Weinberg would say – “it’s always a people problem.”
It would be easy for me to look at the various other people involved in the processes and decision making for our various delivery streams; and to be sure, there are lessons to be learned by those people. But I can’t control how other people behave or respond to circumstances; at least not directly. So it’s probably wiser to look at myself, and figure out how I can think or behave better to ensure similar issues don’t arise in the future.
There were two key issues on this occasion for two separate work streams: one of them is a personnel issue, and the other is a process issue.
The personnel issue has been going on for some time, and I had a kind of false positive on what the root cause might be shortly after my return from the Christmas break… I recalled that I had experienced similar issues in the past, when interacting with somebody remotely (i.e. on the other side of the world) from a culture that I eventually realised had very different values to my own.
While considering this challenge, I discovered this article on cultural awareness and specifically the Hofstede-Insights web application which can be used to compare different cultures and see where the differences lie across some specific dimensions.
Using this tool certainly did highlight some major differences between my UK cultural values and the other culture in question. Some of those insights are no-doubt profound and useful, but the concept overall was a bit of a rabbit-hole. The behavioural issues I was experiencing weren’t cultural in nature. They were professional. And in the end, needed to be escalated and dealt with accordingly.
If there’s one thing I’ll take away from the experience, it’s kind of a blueprint for recognising problem behaviours that are going to need to be addressed. Sooner, rather than later – since on this occasion the problems had been going on for several months – which served to exacerbate the consequences of those behaviours much more than might otherwise have been the case.
Did I just Get Promoted?
It also transpires that I am now a line manager. I’ve never been a line manager before; I was always more of an individual contributor. I have no particular issues with managing by influence, which is what I’ve been used to doing in the past… But it seems to me that line management requires a somewhat different skillset. So, I guess I’ll be brushing up on that. I have a copy of Managing Humans which is supposed to be good, so I’ll give that a try. Any additional book recommendations are welcomed in the comments section though!
Writing this diary is going to be a constant challenge since I have to be super careful about what information I can put in here. Writing about the specifics of our processes and how we work is a bit of a no-go area: As a public company, how we design, build and deliver our products is a competitive advantage, so I can’t go into very much detail. What I feel like I can say though, is that as a team we have been following a process that up to this point has worked for us. And that was fine, until it stopped working. Clearly at which point, you need to re-evaluate the situation and determine where the blockage or bottleneck is – precisely, and how you’re going to go about fixing whatever the problem actually is.
In true agile fashion, what we’ll probably end up doing is carrying out some kind of experiment to figure out whether a new or adjusted approach works for us instead. The trouble is, that’s kind of how we got into our current process issue in the first place. We tried something out, and it seemed to work. Until it didn’t.
I guess there’s no easy answer. We just have to keep experimenting and then iterating on those experiments until we find a process that does work, for us, at a point in time. And then pivot if and when it stops working. It seems like a helluva messy and potentially expensive way of going about things though. It would be nice if there were just some best practices we could follow. But – as the context driven folk would say, “there are no best practices. Only best practices in context.”
We need to find the best practices for us, in our context. And really, we’re just at the beginning of our journey – so it may take some time. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy the ride anyway!Thanks for reading. Feel free to reach out via a comment or on the socials if anything resonates.