A wise plant ma…

A wise plant manager once told me that he didn’t want his foremen to do anything except to keep their department and the machines in it spotlessly clean, always to schedule work three days ahead, to insist on the newest equipment available and to replace tools before they gave out.

Peter Drucker, 1955

Database Administrator or Minister of Culture?

Many keepers of corporate culture complain: how can we “force” (their word choice) project managers to log data points and narratives at various milestones and thereby keep good records that enable marketing and business development staff to field new client inquiries about relevant work? The answer is simple and can be found in the Lean framework so popular today. Hire a marketing manager to keep a marketing database that is driven by the marketing department’s needs, and tie it to client billing.

I have known three firms within the last few years that struggle with maintenance of a marketing database. All three lack a marketing manager, or marketing database administrator. A fourth firm that boasts a healthy, well-utilized database, as well as high retention in marketing staff, has a different process. This firm requires all project management staff to send client setup forms and project initiation forms — information that typically goes straight to the billing office — to a marketing manager first.

The marketing manager examines the project data carefully for quality, records it in the database, assigns the root project number, sets up files per protocol, and then passes the form along to accounting. Essentially he or she is responsible for the marketing project database, which requires 1-2 hours per day to maintain. The rest of his or her day is spent utilizing this rich database. This marketing output work provides feedback to the job of quality-checking the input data that comes from those responsible for profit and loss and their project managers. The marketing manager is the link between what clients require — the “pull” in Lean-speak — and what information the project staff provide about current and recent projects. As it grows in size, quality and relevance, the database serves all marketing staff very well, so they in turn can serve internal and external clients very well. Several goals are achieved: the marketing database facilitates nimble and thorough responses to new inquiries, while corporate culture keepers can breathe easier knowing that the firm’s intellectual property records are alive and well.

Out of My Sandbox!

Good fences make good neighbors. My uncle is a rancher, so by profession he is always repairing fences. Here in my city condo, the space between one unit’s ceiling and another unit’s floor is common area. Respect of that common area is just like a fence: treat it well and you will always have good neighborly relations.

In working groups, the fence equivalent is clear roles and responsibilities. I had a colleague whose friendly wrath served as a very effective warning. When someone was messing around in her area of responsibility, she would say, “Get out of my sandbox!”

7 Lessons Learned Managing People

  1. People management takes time. Occasional team meetings have to be scheduled into the calendar. Regular or irregular, take your pick.
  2. Subordinates may not be adept at expressing what they want in a direct manner so the manager has to take the time to pull it out of them.
  3. Natural leaders emerge from surprising places so the manager should ask peers to review one another and disclose the most valuable players. The manager cannot always see what others see.
  4. All people hate to be micromanaged.
  5. Micromanagement is a form of exercising control. Some managers may crave control when they sense that subordinates are withholding information.
  6. “Getting back to work” seems like a strategy but it only delays the reckoning.
  7. The more effective strategy is to take the time to have team meetings. If the staff are quite junior, it must be explained to them at such meetings how critical it is that they share information. A manager cannot act if she is not fully informed.