PM Tip #15: Define the Situation

I learned this one from watching my wife be a wonderful mother to our elementary aged kids.  Often on the way back from an outing she’ll say: “We sure had fun today”.  Or at dinner she’ll say: “We are really looking forward to Grammy and Grampy’s visit”.   The kids will nod, agree and expand on those ideas.  There are many possible, valid ways for our kids to make sense out of their feelings.  My wife does a great job of guide them to the most constructive interpretations.

Strange how being a PM is not that different than being a mom :-).   When you lead a software project crazy things happen.  Deadlines are missed, reorgs happen, competitors ship similar products.   The team needs a leader that will define the situation.  Someone that will choose from the myriad of possible reactions to find the one that will be most constructive.  To put words to the feelings everyone is having and help harness those feelings to a productive result.

In the recent push to shipping a beta of a product I was going to demo at Google IO I had a chance to put this into practice.  It was the night before my talk and the product release was a mere 14 or so hours away.  The team had been crunching hard for the last few weeks to get ready and I had found a ship stopping bug.  We gathered in the lobby of Moscone, I showed the team the bug,  incredulously, several of them setup the repro on their own machines believing it was a configuration issue.  But alas, the bug reproduced on every machine.  This meant a late night for the team to find, fix, test, build and release new bits.  At that moment, when the team was a bit down, I remembered this tip and announced: “We are having fun now!”.  And I meant it.. it was fun.  If you have ever been there you will attest to it.  It is fun to have an indisputable “top priority” with a clear deadline.  Lots of pressure, but lots of pay off as well.  With a team of people you know well and like working with…. I mean, what could be better!    “We are having fun now”…  It turned the conversation from possibly going into despair to a conversation full of excitement and adventure.  And we did get that bug fixed and ship on schedule!

Now you need to be careful with this technique.  You must always be honest – your team will see right through you if you are anything else.  The goal is NOT to paint a bad situation as rosey — that would be a lie.  The goal is to find the most productive attitude to handle the situation and rally the team around that idea.

I’d love your comments and thoughts!


4 thoughts on “PM Tip #15: Define the Situation

  1. zpyoung


    I may be submitting this comment to the wrong blog post. For some reason, I was not able to find a way to post a comment to the Google IO Session Overview post.

    One of the posted comments had concerns with the way security was being handled with the bigdaddy demo. Is there a way to setup Oauth for this example?

    I also had issues setting up the example on Ubuntu. No issues on Windows. Would be nice to have notes on how to setup on Ubuntu. I had to change the files to point to url= But for some reason this property file would change every time I reran the android project.

    Thanks for doing the demo.