When you turn off your laptop or finish that last conference call, how do you determine if your effort really made a meaningful contribution to the project? Sure you attended meetings, gave opinions, coordinated work – but did you really make a difference? Were you simply managing the ad hoc tasks scribbled on the back of yesterday’s presentation or did you really make a contribution that helped the project?
It’s difficult for IT project managers in particular to recognize if they made a contribution to the project on a daily basis. My brother is a program manager for a Fortune 500 construction management company and when he turns off his laptop, he can actually see the results of his contributions as a new wall, wing or entire building is completed.
IT project managers have a more difficult time of recognizing their contributions. Bragging about your team’s completion of a virtual server farm just doesn’t compare to building a new wing of a building. Heck, no one can even see the virtual server! At least before virtualization, you could see a server being “racked and stacked” in the data center.
So how do you measure progress and contribution on a daily basis?
I’m not talking about the zero hours remaining in your LiquidPlanner project schedule. I’m referring to the tangible results that you can see and touch or at least click! Web designers and software developers have an easier time measuring progress and getting fulfillment from their daily contributions. A working piece of code, a prototyped screen design or even a fully functioning website are further evidence of progress and daily contribution. If the design is approved and the developer’s code is error free, the work might make it into the weekly production build and the designer can go home, pull up the website and showcase their latest artistic web-creation.
IT Project Managers? Not so much.
We build project schedules and manage issue logs. We orchestrate meetings and communicate meeting minutes. We develop process flows and create masterful interactive presentations. Despite all the administrative whiz-bang, how do we recognize if our contributions are actually making a difference?
The answer is surprisingly simple and is a good measure of how well you are leading versus managing. When I walk out to the car mentally sorting out tomorrow’s next steps, I ask myself one question:
Did I move the project forward today?
Leaders drive action and further progress. Manager’s help maintain.
I may not be able to see the latest virtual server that my remote team in India configured in my North American data center. I can recognize my contribution if I remove obstacles, resolve issues and enable others to continue with their own work and move the project forward.
No matter the size of an organization or project team, there is the human tendency to “pass the buck” and use email as a work flow tool to get out of doing work. I sent you the email. Did you read it?. Resorting to this excuse isn’t leading and doesn’t result in progress. You’re managing your inbox and redirecting work. It doesn’t move the project forward.
Leadership isn’t always defined by a fancy title or a larger office. Sometimes leadership means driving from the uptown office to the downtown office for a 30 minute conversation with the key person whose been filing your emails in the Trash folder. That leadership action may not have a tangible result that you can see immediately, but it moves the project forward and is a meaningful contribution you can recognize.
If you ever have a doubt if you are actively contributing to a project or simply shuffling digital work, just ask yourself – “Did I move the project forward today?”
About the Author
Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager who tries to move project’s forward one task at a time. He maintains his own project management blog featuring project management advice at http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.