About 6 months into my job with the City, I inherited a management role on a project to upgrade foundational information systems within the City’s Public Safety Departments. There were no useful models to emulate because we’ve never had a perfect project. So we made our own.
SKILLS AND INSIGHTS GAINED
Build a culture based on what the challenge dictates – I have been a part of successful project teams before – that’s what Deloitte prides itself on. But I knew that if I copied exactly what I had experienced before, our project would struggle because our circumstances were different. For example, we had a leanly-staffed team. We had an extremely aggressive timeline. Most of all, the terrain was extremely complex because we'd have to balance the needs of many agencies, units, and people. So instead of creating a team with a top-down, authoritarian culture, we built our team with practices emphasize coordination and communication because that what our challenge dictated.
Set the right target – Before embarking on this project, I thought hard about why our team really needed to exist. In my opinion, our project wasn’t a technology upgrade. It was a culture change project (people should use data when making decisions) that happened to utilize technology. When we thought of the project this way, we approached it much differently. For example, we built time into the plan to think about using reports and teaching people problem solving skills instead of just focusing on building the perfect system. As a team, we talk about our real goals - beyond implementing technology - so that we remember to define success as a behavior change (people using data to solve problems) not a technology change.
Prioritize (and re-prioritize) constantly – Big projects never have enough time, resources, or people. Trade offs are inevitable. At first I was uncomfortable putting anything off or letting anything slide – I thought it was my job to manage every detail and complete every task. I quickly learned that approach is not sustainable or effective. Instead of solving everything, it’s necessary to constantly refocus on what's most important and most urgent. Everything else solves itself or doesn’t really matter. I used to see my job as getting everything done by any means necessary. Instead, I now see my job as cleverly shaping the time and attention of our team so that we focus on what matters most and ensuring that every single person on our team is maxing out the bounds of their talent.
IMPACT AND LESSONS LEARNED
For most of my career (and in life) I’ve been a doer. I’ve had to do what people tell me to do and do it to the best of my ability. And there’s a lot of pride and joy that comes with that – it’s fulfilling to produce a lot of stuff.
Now, I’m lucky to be in much more of a position to shape how a team operates and to help others succeed. It’s a much different ball game. Now I feel like much more of a gardener, where I sow seeds and help others tend to them. With it comes a much different, longer-to-develop satisfaction. Instead of feeling accomplished by making lots of slides or pivot tables, I feel satisfaction when our team avoids crises or I see someone on our team do something remarkable.
It’s a very subtle shift in my perspective, but I honestly feel like I’ve learned the essence of management is not to “get stuff done.” Rather it’s to “make stuff grow.”