Think Big – Work Small
Tech managers live in a world that is very large and very small. Technology encompasses so many areas and so many areas impact your environment. You cannot ignore new trends and you cannot embrace every trend. It is a dichotomy that hovers over us as we try to get things done and move things forward.
Tech managers have to see the forest and the trees. They cannot get tied up is the minutia, but they cannot ignore it. When they plan out the details of their vision for the future, they cannot forget the grand concepts and culture changes that may derail their efforts.
Excellent tech managers must see the big picture while they are managing the details. Small actions move the the big picture forward. Big picture thinking allows you to not get tunnel vision on the task list. Advancing tech manager must nurture the skill of doing both.
How is that done?
Start Big – plan out your initiatives with the largest concepts you can think of. Start with a very large target, like “Improve productivity”. Then think of the largest movements you can make to empower that effort. Like “migrate to the current version of software” or “increase training” or “update the standards”. Always checking your next smallest movement with the original target in mind. Revisit the target of productivity as you plan how/who/when/what of it all.
Finish Small – break it apart into the smallest units needed. Units of effort should be defined to get things done. I do not have to define everything down to 15 minute tasks is day long or even week long tasks are good enough. Divide task into steps in getting things done. There are usually three things I use to define how or if I divide a task even smaller.
- So that you can assign work – have I broken the task down enough so the deliverable is defined and understood by staff.
- Dividing work among staff – If one task will take one persons two weeks, can you divide it into smaller task so that two people can work on it and finish sooner? If so, then do it (like not being able to divide up a customization effort because only one person can work on one file or program at a time).
- Using the time available – this is usually done when I have to do something myself. I may have 30 minute chunks of available time in a day. So I divide up my deliverables/milestones into items that can be completed in 30 minutes. It might be things as small as making a phone call, writing 50 lines of code, or talking to staff about guidelines. I try to see if I can get something done whenever I have some time to spare (as if I do).
Plan for 80% – Start planning and when you have about 70-80% of the tasks broken out, then start working on them. Don’t take forever to plan out every eventuality. Just make some progress and revisit the plan when each task is done. Group tasks together by function, timeline, staff ability or whatever. Then parse out the work and keep folks motivated.
How does this add value?
Momentum is of extreme value in a tech environment. By thinking big, you do not squash momentum and excitement about achieving a goal with over planning. By working small, you provide enough framework for progress even if the time available is limited.
Focus and Clarity
It’s having a clear view of the most important item in a sea of ideas. It is seeing the main theme in a maelstrom of data and information. It is separating the wheat from the chaff. It is bringing clarity to the complex. That is what great CAD/BIM/Tech Managers do.
They have the ability to get things in focus or bring things back into focus. When others are getting confused, they are coalescing a sharper image of the goal. They bring clarity to the questions that are in everyone’s heads. They reduce multiple items to few.
How is this done? By processing lists. By thinking and rethinking the list of items, ideas or tasks, you can bring focus and clarity.
Compare and contrast – you look at the problem to see what is the same and what is different.
Categorize – Look to link thing together by category. Putting similar items together can reduce the confusion.
Prioritize – Rank things and put the most important at the top. Focus on the top 20 percent.
Grouping – by software product needed to get the job done. By job function. By time needed to get it done. By information available. By cost to complete. By workflow.
Just working a list again and again will uncover themes and allow you to get a clear picture of what is in front of you. It will let you and the team focus.
How does this add value? When you bring focus and clarity, you reduce complex tasks to simpler functions that can be attacked and completed. You help others know what is next and where to place their efforts.
Stay the course. Keep on task. Work the plan.
Having the mental stamina and clarity to do what needs to be done takes discipline. It may include living within the rules, but in the context I am mentioning, it is staying within the framework that you and others agreed upon. It is sticking to the plan. It is methodically doing the minutia so that the grand plan can unfold.
As in golf or any other sport that has a pathway that must be followed. You do not get the best rewards by playing hole 3 then 7, then 2, then 12. You must go in order. With work there are also steps and paths to follow within projects. Some things need to happen first , then next and so on. Items cannot be completed out of order. You also do not use a putter when you are in a sand trap. Nor a driver when you are on the green.
It is obvious that in golf and other sports you follow a path, stay within the boundaries, run the lane you are in. but in work there are not so many obvious tracks. You need to define them and then march along the route.
It is hard to not chase the shiny. It is difficult to stick to the recipe. There are so many enticements to cut corners, not worry about details, or skip steps. When that happens something may come back to haunt you. Check and double check. Verify everything – twice. Make sure that the dots connect.
As you march down your agreed upon plan, always adjust as needed when one step does not produce as expected… but keep going until you can see the outcome. Prioritize and move on each step in the proper order. Avoid random attacks on problems or projects. Be methodical.
It is boring at times. It is tedious. There is little fanfare along the path. But you will reap rewards of knowing that you had everything in line and marching in the same direction. You will see consistent outcomes that are positive. You will see successes come as you discipline your work and stay within the plan.
How does discipline add value? By defining a plan and then driving that plan forward with discipline, you insure that the proper steps were defined and completed. By doing this, you take away the doubt of “missing” something and you relieve stress by knowing what will be done next. It also encourages others when they know you have a plan and a method.
Don’t take things so seriously. I can be viewed as being serious most of the time and need to take this advice. I don’t take things so seriously, but I might project a serious temperament that impacts others by making them think that I am soooo serious.
When things get tough – lighten up. Make a joke. Laugh about it. Help others get through it by not thinking that it is the end of the world. Stress breeds more stress. Unless there is some relief, it might end up impacting your teams ability to respond to tough situations.
Many teams blow off steam by complaining about end users not knowing their right hand from their left. This may be okay in small measures if contained within the back halls and offices of the support team, but should not spill out in general meetings. A little is okay, but a lot can kill your teams trust factor with others.
When thing really pile up, consider backing off a little on the pressure to perform. Taking a break from the stress of deadlines and goals to just breath a little. Let your team know that they can slip a little – not much, just a little. Take stress off the team by lightening the moment. Just laugh about the stress.
Go to extremes. Suggesting that “we should all just quit” followed by “but seriously” can lighten a really tough moment. Make yourself the butt of the joke. “Maybe I need to go back to CAD/BIM Manager School” or something that pokes fun at yourself. Don’t pick on others or make end users the brunt of your jokes. That would not be advisable. They might be easy targets, but it would not be proper.
Once you have cut through the tension, get them back on track and strive to have renewed vigor to meeting and exceeding expectations.
How does this add value? It keeps your team focused and resilient in the face of stress. It makes your team stronger and better able to plow through tough times.
Flexibility means that you can change. You may initiate change, but are you open to change that is initiated by others or by circumstances? When someone comes to you with an idea or a need for change you don’t react in such a way that causes them concern or appears to not be welcoming to ideas. You should basically appear non-reactive. That is not to say that you do not react. You ponder and provide feedback and interact with the idea or need. Good Managers move toward embracing every great ideas. No matter who generated it.
When change is brought by circumstances, errors, failure of plan A or B, or just another better idea, there should be an embrace and extend perspective. Unlike Microsoft and others, you should not move to adding the third “E” of extinguish (or exterminate). Our friends at Microsoft would add the third “E” to take over new areas and move competitors aside as they did. Adding Value does not mean you eliminate things, but rather embrace them. Make it your goal to assist others in getting great ideas to spread.
Being flexible also means you are not anchored to the way things are now. You continue the profitable measures and move aside the unwanted ones. You are responsive when you or others find that the status quo is not making things better, but trapping productivity in the past.
Flexible means you also bend a little on the items that can be flexed. Standards that can be set aside temporarily to get the project moving and then complied with in a later phase. You also look for patterns of flexing the standard to see if maybe it is too rigid.
Flex a little. It will make you a better leader.
Kindness and Compassion
People like to work with people they like. We are drawn to others that we get along with. (or should that be… drawn to those with whom we get along – to avoid dangling participles). Getting along may mean that you and the other person share common backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, like the same type of movies, watch the same shows on TV and more. We enjoy being around others that a similar to us.
We also shy away from those that “rub you the wrong way”. It might be demonstrative, in that the other person really appears to not like us at all. We might think that they are even out to get us. They disagree with a lot of our comments, always point out the negatives in our ideas or just roll their eyes when we talk. It might be more subtle and passive/aggressive as they talk behind your back or insult you and then deny that they did – “I was just kidding”.
Which brings me to kindness and compassion. These two qualities need to be in a leader. They are defines as acting in a thoughtful way to the rights and feelings of others and consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. They are action words. Think “random acts of kindness” and the many organization that encourage kindness. Think Compassion International, an organization that helps third world children in distress. Those that are kind and compassionate put their thoughts into action.
It may be a lost art today. Many just tell others to toughen up. To get over it. They do not apologize or even acknowledge when others feel slighted. They leave a wake of frustration in others by the mannerisms they project. They seem to be oblivious to what others might fell. They hide behind “just being honest”. They do not couch critique or feedback with softening words. They blurt out insulting comments under their breath (or directly to other peoples faces). They do not take any action to alleviate the impact of their negative words or deeds. They leave that to the person they are directed toward. They do not make moves to help others “save face”.
People like coworkers and leaders that can be understanding and be forgiving. They appreciate it when they are given the benefit of the doubt. They are thankful when others do not place blame or demean them when they have not fully lived up to their own or others expectations.
Now here is the “Don’t get me wrong” part of this post… I am not saying that sub quality work and low performance should be tolerated, but one or two slip ups should be overlooked. I am not saying that you should never correct others, but that it be done with a caring heart. I am not saying that you should never raise the bar and expect more from people, just that it be done in an encouraging way and not with negative threats.
How does this add value? How does being kind help your firm? What place is there for compassion in today’s workplace?
Because a kind word goes far. I believe that compassionate leadership makes for a happier workplace. I believe that you can get more done with an encouraging word than with a discouraging one. I believe that more can be produced by steering someone in the right direction than by towing them along. I believe that your firm will benefit from coaching and mentoring done with consideration for the other persons receptiveness and ability to make changes. High standards are needed, but moving people higher is done best with gentler words.
A tech manager is committed to the success of the software, projects and team members. They are always focused on the goal of getting and keeping the technology in working order. They strive for better tools and effective use of those tools. They are dedicated. They are in it for the long haul. They never give up. They look for ways around road blocks. They rethink their plan when they encounter resistance. They consistently stay the course and adjust as needed.
They know that the support and improvement of CAB/BIM is like a marathon. You have to keep running. Sometimes it is like a sprint and other times it is like jogging or even walking. They adjust so that they can keep going for the long haul.
They are devoted to bringing out the best in others and improving their skills. The commitment they have includes teaching instructing, nudging reminding and encouraging others to produce the quality needed for a superior model, file and plotted output.
They think about how things might be better. They ponder new ways of doing things that will decrease downtime. The think long and hard about the impact of changes to the system or processes. They consider the change from the perspective of others. They desire to not burden users with needless work or efforts that do not produce better output. If they are cluttering up the production flow by over critiquing or micromanaging, the recognize it and step aside.
Committed Tech Managers can bring more value by having a laser focus on the right goals, commit to the team, and march forward.
Being the best you can be for your firm calls for you to refine and zero in on the items that bring the most value. A thorough knowledge base is essential. The knowledge base must be so ingrained and integrated into your being that it become second nature. You just know the answer. You know about the area of discussion and you have a well thought out perspective. It may not be the only perspective out there, but it comes from pondering and analyzing the information that you have. The point is to focus on the user and what they need to know/learn. You share that knowledge because you have it. You do not focusing on the knowledge base itself. Tech Managers are not here to collect information and store data. We are here to pass it on.
The gathering of knowledge does not lead to boasting either. You should know a lot, but you should not shove it in people faces. When you pass on information/knowledge, it should empower others to get their jobs done, not show off what you know. The excellent tech manager leads from a solid knowledge base, without having to draw attention to it.
It is ever expanding. It is constantly growing because you feed it. You read and discuss. You ask questions and make a note of the answer. You should still be excited to get a new tip. To see something that you had not seen before.
Knowledge is your foundation. Gather it all the time.
I collect old books. Not rare books or expensive books, just old, used books. I love the smell of a used book shop. I love finding unique items that I think are interesting (others may find them dull). I have a lot of old bibles, dictionaries and encyclopedias. I tend to like technical/reference books. I have and extensive collection. Nothing overly impressive. Just things I like. I select them based on many factors. The binding, cover, graphics inside, content, topic, outdated perspectives and more.
Since it is Throw Back Thursday, I decided to post on this topic with a quick reference from one of my finds.
The Hardness of Lead in your Pencils. For artists, this is still a current topic. For drafters, not so much. But if you are ever in need of knowing which lead is harder or softer… here you go.
I purchased the seventh edition of the Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers (c) 1967. It has a wealth of great info, like (nerd warning) Heat Transfer calculations, Fluid and Solid Mechanics, Surfaces and volumes, Copper wire resistance, Vibration effects, Geometry and Trigonometry.
This was inside the cover of a book I bought. Written by a prior owner of the book.
Here is a chart of the same info – from draftingmanuals.tpub.com