Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The boss

This is a true story. The company name has been changed.

The team’s view

Acme Corporation was implementing a new ERP system with many modules such as general ledger, payables, procurement, sales orders, manufacturing, and receivables.

Not all teams could be accommodated in the project workroom, so the project manager had to choose a team to be situated in an adjacent building.

The manufacturing team lead was knowledgeable about the business requirements and already familiar with the product. In addition, the project manager felt this team needed less interaction with and support from the other teams, so the project manager selected the manufacturing team to work in the alternate location.

The manufacturing team lead did indeed turn out to be capable of managing the team in a separate location. She was able to assist the team with proper resolution of most issues that came up. In addition, she had a good understanding of which issues required input or approval from other teams and ensured they were involved in necessary decision-making.

The manufacturing team lead called the project manager every day to report progress for the day and to ensure he was up to date on the status of all of the important issues related to the manufacturing team. She also made sure issues were escalated to him where appropriate.

The project manager was so pleased with his choice of which group to separate from the others. The manufacturing team lead clearly was capable of running the team herself with little oversight.

What the project manager didn’t realize was that the manufacturing team members no longer saw him as the person in charge of the project. He was assumed to be too remote and lacking insight into their issues.

The manufacturing team started to question the time that their team lead spent every day calling the project manager. They were fine on their own, why should she waste time keeping the project manager up to date? They also questioned the need to escalate issues to the project manager. After all, what use would his input be, since he didn’t know anything about what they were doing?

Putting the project manager back in charge

The manufacturing team lead told the project manager what she was noticing, that the manufacturing team was increasingly seeing her as the authority for anything related to the project, and didn’t recognize the project manager’s right to manage issues that affected them.

The project manager was shocked. After all, he was always up to date and knowledgeable about the manufacturing team’s progress and problems, due to the team lead’s diligence in reporting to him daily.

The project manager started to visit the manufacturing team in the other building every day. He started with brief casual conversations with each team member. The project manager started to ask team members how the project was going and to discuss the issues and progress of the manufacturing team.

At first, the manufacturing team members were puzzled. What was the point of the project manager dropping by? Didn’t he have anything better to do than to bother them with chitchat? However, as the project manager began to discuss progress and issues, he started to regain the confidence of the manufacturing team members.

After he had been visiting the site daily for a few weeks, the negative comments about the project manager were nearly eliminated. Instead, the team members started to agree that the project manager ought to be kept up to date daily, and that certain issues ought to be escalated to him.

It wasn’t much longer before team members were comfortable with the project manager having input into the key issues facing the team.


Because of the efforts of the manufacturing team lead, the project manager was well informed about the progress and issues of the team. However, because the project manager was not visible to the team members, they did not see him as a having an understanding of their issues and successes. In addition, they did not see that it was necessary to ensure the project manager was informed on key issues, so they could be considered in light of the needs of the entire project.

This could have become a problem, if the resolution of an issue had required that the project manager make a decision that over-ruled the preferences of the manufacturing team. For example, perhaps a decision would have to be made to satisfy the needs of the project as a whole, but would be inconvenient for the manufacturing team to implement. In the existing situation, the project manager would not be seen by the manufacturing team as competent to understand the issue and intervene for the benefit of the project.

Fortunately, the manufacturing team lead recognized the problem and told the project manager what was happening. Since the project manager was dealing with an existing visibility problem, he was wise to introduce himself gradually into the team’s daily work. Since the team already saw the manufacturing team lead as the authority figure, a more forceful approach by the project manager could have made matters worse.

Gaining the respect of the team members required the project manager to make a daily investment of time in getting to know the manufacturing team members and allowing them to get to know him as well. The amount of time he spent each day was small, perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, and was time well spent.

Copyright 2015 Debbie Gallagher