Hundreds of books are published every year on project management and project manager skills. The recent translation of the book “Glue. Become indispensable in any project” by An Dao Pham interested me not only with its healthy practicality and a minimum of theoretical calculations, but also with a humane approach to project work: the author considers the priority not to comply with standards and rules, but a healthy climate and psychological comfort commands. This is exactly the job of a project manager. Under the cut – a detailed review of the book.
Be the link in the project
The basic idea of ”Glue” is simple: the project needs not so much a manager as a leader. Somewhere explicitly, somewhere veiled, the author convinces us that one of the key problems of projects and an important reason for their failure is a formal approach to management, the replacement of leadership by mechanical management. A “bad” project manager relies primarily on the collection and transmission of information and the execution of his own “statutory” tasks. He does not delve into the work of the performers, distancing himself from them with the shield of his role. And even “agile” does not help here: for example, the mechanical rigorous application of Scrum rituals not only goes against the principle of “people and interaction is more important than processes and tools”, it can also really harm the project.
A “good” manager, on the contrary, adapts not only to the team, but also to any unplanned situation. He takes full responsibility for the fate of the project, cultivates the best qualities of the team and each of its members, and most importantly – becomes the “glue” for the project.
Word “glue“, rendered in the title of the book, is a metaphor for the main function of a project manager. The leader must do everything so that the team is cemented, so that there are no gaps in communication and processes, so that the project develops and the team works. The “glue” leader is a multitasker – a generalist who is able not only to cut tasks and customize performers, but also, if necessary, take on some of the tasks, from analytics to coding and testing.And, of course, support each colleague, create an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect, solving problems and creating for teams the most comfortable environment.
The book’s second key metaphor is “manager conductor”. The main thing in the PMA profession is communication. You need to conduct your team, listen to (and support) everyone and report when the game starts. The manager helps to pass the “baton” from one performer to another, but at the same time he must see the whole picture and understand what is important at a particular moment in time, getting out and rebuilding the work of the “executors” if something goes wrong.
A coordinated project is one in which each member of the team knows what his goal is (song or melody), knows his part (notes), in which everything is timed in accordance with the score. On the contrary, uncoordinated projects are false notes and performers who enter at the wrong time and lose their rhythm. The project manager is the conductor who helps his orchestra find harmony.
Each of the 16 chapters of the book talks about a certain important component of the manager’s job. No academicism – and this, in general, pleases. In “Klei” there are not even theoretical digressions, and all the material is built as a set of personal, hard-won advice.
The starting point of the book is communication, and the author tells with inspiration how important it is to quickly and informally build mutual understanding, and indeed acquaintances. Everything that can win over the interlocutor and remove the barrier in communication is used – in one of the stories, such a tool turned out to be a box of sweets that the new RP treated his team to, and in the other – elementary words of gratitude in response to the work done.
When I meet a freshly minted project manager, I can immediately tell whether he will succeed or not: this will be indicated to me by how quickly he can find a common language with me.
At the same time, An notes several times: it is important to choose for communication and the project not those tools that are imposed from above or that are customary to use, but those that are most comfortable for the team. It is necessary not to drag the team to the ideal channel, but to use the channel that the employees themselves like.
Several chapters are devoted collection and structuring of information. This is not about requirements, but about those very “glue”, cross-task elements of the project that are between the competencies and areas of responsibility of employees. The project should not only become the most knowledgeable person in the team, but also be able to properly structure their knowledge. If there is a meeting – you need to make a summary with key provisions. If there is a set of incoherent data, there should be storytelling that will help the team understand where the project is heading. A separate story is the sponsor (curator) of the project, who may have information of a higher, decisive level, and it also needs to be correctly interpreted for others and for oneself. And just as in the case of communication methods, you need to choose not the format that is convenient for you to pack information, but use what is clear to everyone: for some, make instructions in the knowledge base, for others, retell orally, and for others, show with an example .
An’s peculiar attitude towards plans and planning. In a nutshell, everything is individual. If a team or a sponsor asks for a plan, then by all means make it. Otherwise, the plan is an optional thing, and if you do it, you should include it there landmarks. These are relatively simple mini-goals that will show whether a milestone has been completed or not. The benchmark motivates the team to achieve, and at the same time gives freedom in action, as opposed to overly detailed planning. Many landmarks add up to a roadmap.
I like to make a roadmap using the sticker method. We gather with the whole team in a room where there is a large board or a free wall. I mark a table on it with chalk or tape, and then we fill in each cell with stickers until all the points are covered. This method has the advantage of being simple and collaborative; everyone can stick their sticker with the task. I help to choose a place for the sticker, move the stickers around the map, adjust the plan in front of the whole team. This method is good because it does not require any additional tools or skills.
When the roadmap is ready, I take a photo of it to save it. After the meeting, I transfer the map to a digital format, such as a spreadsheet, an electronic document, or some special program that the team uses to enter current information.
The author calls his method of project management CALM – “closely aligned, loosely managed” (“coordinate as much as possible and control as little as possible”). CALM is built on the use of prioritized benchmarks that are understandable to the team. The main thing is the achievement of the benchmark, and not what method or tool the team will use.
An gives a separate chapter risk management. There are no theoretical calculations here, but there is a simple method called “premortem“: the manager gets together with the team and brainstorms on the topic “Let’s find the reasons why our project may fail.” The output is a list of risks, for each of which it is appropriate to assign experts from among the team members. The risks themselves are needed not only reduce, but also avoid, and the author shares his tools, for example, it is necessary to form redundant competencies (including for the role of a project manager) that will allow the project to survive in the event of someone’s illness or dismissal. gradually and starting with small audiences so that there is an opportunity to roll back.
Change is inevitable
The final part of the book is about futility
being planning and motivation. No matter how proven and cool your project in idea is, practice will always bring unexpected nuances. Even if you are an experienced RP with many projects behind him, each new project will bring surprises and make you sweat in search of solutions. It’s like with children: it seems that when raising a second child, you will take into account all the mistakes and do everything right. But it only seems so … But this is by no means a reason for pessimism: change and impermanence are the essence of life and an attribute of any project.
As for motivation, everything is simple here: the main thing is a sincere desire to help people with whom you spend most of your life.
Communication with colleagues, friendships at work and real, loyal friends among those with whom I work fill me with happiness. They make my work interesting, every day at work brings me inner satisfaction. The meaning of my life is not to achieve any goal of the company, it is much deeper. I am close to people who mean a lot to me and for whom I also mean something.