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IT Obstacles: Dealing With Problem Sponsors – Breckie Mr. MBWA

IT Obstacles: Dealing With Problem Sponsors – Breckie Mr. MBWA

As Information Technology Professionals we are often faced with the task of estimating just how long it will take to create something out of nothing. There are times we can estimate this clearly and effectively by applying previous experience or determining time based on very tight requirements, but there are times that it can be more difficult to estimate timelines as it just may not have been done previously, may not have sufficient information to estimate clearly, or may have other factors that cannot easily be factored in to a timeline.

A pitfall in any project is your sponsor that causes timeline issues by his management strategy, managing by walking around.

Whether you are designing a network, architecting a new piece of software, writing code or detailing documentation in Information Technology there is a high level of concentration necessary for a person to do their work.

Many studies point out that almost any distraction can cause issues and reaching the level of concentration necessary to be productive requires more time. (Many groups are even considering the elimination of email as a distraction see Forbes for an article on such) Achieving a state of “Flow” a technology professional becomes immersed in their work and literally churns out solutions quickly and efficiently with a much lower error rate. As a general rule or statement, “flow” can be achieved in 10-30 minutes, depending on the article or individual, and is usually achieved in approximately 15 minutes.

(For more information on flow see http://recycledknowledge.blogspot.com/2005/06/flow-stuckness-and-interruptions.html or read the book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi). In the event a technology professional is interrupted, that rhythm or flow is gone as well and another 15 minutes may be necessary to enter that highly productive state again. In addition the interruption could also cause an issue with additional work or changes that further impact the technology professional.

Breckie, our sponsor or manager, feels that to be able to report properly he needs up to the minute information on how progress is being made, and/or how timelines are being met and can cause major issues with most technology professionals. Breckie has good intentions but has never been in a position where it is necessary to achieve a high level of concentration or has forgotten what it is like to be in that high level of concentration as a side effect of becoming a sponsor or manager.

Lets say we have a 2 week project that Breckie has estimated with his team, in each day his programmer works 8 hours to build the project and the programmer has estimated 80 hours based upon requirements.

Breckie may be under pressure to deliver the application in those 80 hours and has promised to do so. In order to report upstream he checks every 2 hours with the programmers to get a “status report”. during a normal day then, he is interrupting his programmer at 10, noon, 2 and 4 with his status request. Given the programmer must achieve concentration at 8, 10, 1, 2 and 4 they lose 75 minutes per day not including the myriad of other interruptions that come along. at the end of 2 weeks the programmer has lost 12.5 hours and only worked on the project for 27.5 hours IF they never had another single distraction. The likelihood of missing a timeline then becomes very high and the likelihood of complete failure may be increased. In effect Breckie has damaged his own project and subjected himself to failure just by a management style.

To address this problem sponsor or manager this type of behavior should be discouraged early. A solid communication and reporting structure will ensure that Breckie knows when he will get his status and can plan on such accordingly. A good project manager will identify this type of manager and intercept them prior to any contact with programmers or technology professionals while reinforcing communication strategies and ensuring Breckie knows where the project stands. Planned meetings and planned status will also help everyone involved to know what is going on, and morning stand up meetings can effectively ensure the project is on the right track, every time. I have seen this type of sponsor i action, and unfortunately experienced negative results due to their finding ways to interrupt and learned by experience, protecting high level professionals from interruptions is the best answer.