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25 May 2014

Influencing without Authority

Does anyone have advice or resources for managing up when you have proposal contributors or stakeholders who are Sr. to you? (Especially when they have no idea of proposal best practices but they still have...opinions). -- Etiak Y.

Learning to influence without authority

I love the way Etiak worded that, "but they still have... opinions."

My inability to manage or influence without authority hindered my own career. I didn't even know until a few years ago that it had a name.

Because my title (Senior Systems Engineer) did not match the titles of the supervisors and directors whom I was supposed to monitor as part of my job, I limited my attempts to influence them, even when they needed somebody to hold them accountable.

Because I did not see myself as having authority and did not know how to "influence without authority," those in authority did not see any reason to promote me. Remaining at the same level for decades will stunt and eventually kill your career.

Challenging authority challenges experience

Be sure you have a good case before challenging the stakeholders. What is the authority of your "best practices?" Have you considered the impact of the changes you want to make? What will stakeholders have to change in their current practices and relationships in order to make the changes you want? Will it really make a difference? Are you sure the customer is ready for the new practices?

Communicating the challenge

You might consider laying out, side-by-side, the old and new ways. Be ready to explain, "if we do it this (old) way, then (problem). The Standard recommends doing it that (new) way, which prevents (problem) and (other benefit)." Appealing to logic does not always work because "old ways" take root in the subconscious. You want them to visualize (fear) the problems of the old way and visualize the benefits (reward) of the new way. Communicating through story can help.

If you get buy-in from the stakeholders who are in your chain of command, then you move from a position of influencing without authority to influencing through the halo effect. That is, you borrow the respect given to those who wrote the standard; and as a representative of those who do have authority, you can get the other stakeholders to at least listen.

Manage issues with change

If you have to ask stakeholders to re-write their sections because you failed to communicate your needs, it will reflect poorly on you. Announce that the format will comply with (standards) at the very beginning. Help them do their parts correctly the first time by describing the purpose and methods at the very beginning. Give them templates or easy-to-follow guidelines.

Be sympathetic when people whine and moan, but remind them of how the new way provides a way to escape the problems of the old way, remind them of the rewards of the new way, and thank them for their flexibility.

More on influence

You can find materials on influencing without authority in various places. I just finished reading The Science of Influence, by Kevin Hogan (Wiley, 2005). Understanding more about influencing others will give you the side benefit of having more power to influence your own behaviors.

(c) 2014, Richard Wheeler

19 May 2014

Recruiting 101 says not to put salary ranges on job posts.  -- LinkedIn discussion

When only one party in a negotiation has intelligence on the other party, the other party will lose. This is counterproductive. When the losing employee realizes what has happened, he will lose motivation and become less productive, jump ship, or (in extreme cases) undermine the employer.

I'd like to clarify another concept: Suppose a company hires somebody who earns $10/hour and pays him $14/hour. The company should not view that as "giving" the worker a 40% "raise." It may be a 40% increase of income to the worker, but from the company's perspective, it's dividing by zero. Literally.
Raise % = (New - N/A) / N/A x 100%
You can only give a raise to somebody you already employ. Substituting a new hire's history for N/A is dishonest.
Moreover, the situation is like sunk costs. Sunk costs only have emotional value in decisions. Good managers base objective decisions on the value and cost going forward.

Take an extreme example: Suppose I fill time between jobs making $8/hour as a WalMart greeter while finishing my PhD. If I apply for a position that pays $88/hour at your company, are you really going to negotiate my new salary down to $10/hour with the argument that $88/hour would "give" me a "raise" that's too big? Or if you hire me for $88/hour, are you going to boast that you "gave" me a "raise" of 1,000%?

Employers and recruiters may think they have all the power. So do the sphincters in the alimentary canal; but what happens to the system when they abuse their power? Job applicants have power, too. Unethical applicants can become dissatisfied losers in the negotiations and undermine the company; the best applicants can walk away and find competitors that will reward them for moving their companies forward.

If companies and recruiters demand transparency from applicants, then "integrity" means they have to practice transparency, too.

18 May 2014

Window Panes versus Tiles

A lot of web and application designers follow the Windows 8 paradigm that uses flat, borderless tiles.


Change for the sake of change

I don't believe in change for the sake of change. "Change is good" only when the changes are good. When you want to go north and your bearing is 20 degrees, change is good when somebody says, "Let's turn left 10 degrees." But when somebody says, "Let's turn left 180 degrees," change is foolish. Good change is good. Change for the sake of following a fad out of Redmond is dumb.

Stepping backwards - Why not go all the way back to MS-DOS?

Flat, borderless tiles are boring; but that is subjective. Objectively, borders, especially three-dimensionally shaded borders, provide strong geometric shapes. By guiding the eye, they provide actual functionality.

Forward into ambiguity

The paradigm of imitating our three-dimensional world made GUIs more intuitive. The new trend makes graphics ambiguous: Is it a non-functioning picture or a functioning button -- make that, membrane switch? You shouldn't have to waste time experimenting to find out what's functional and what isn't.

Will it be up or down?

For notepads, tiles make some sense. Compared to PCs and laptops, notepads and smart phones have small screens and low processing power. The simplicity of tiles has its advantages.

Some day, notepads may outnumber PCs to such a degree that PC users will want the consistent look and feel.

On the other hand, notepads will gain in image resolution and processing power. Maybe the designers will return to the higher standard, and this ugly fad from Redmond will go away.

04 May 2014

Trusting the Project Team

Vikas Gupta asks on Google Plus, pretty well answering his own question:
How much can/should a Project Manager interfere in the technical details of a project? For e.g. If a developer thinks that xyz is the most efficient way of implementing a functionality, is it unproductive for the Project team to have PM challenge that beyond a limit? I personally think that challenging the team members is ok, but a PM must trust the technical skills of team members and too much interference may demotivate the team.. Thanks in advance for your expert opinion!
 Discussion Link April 30, 2014

Project-Aria replied,
It is rare that a PM is just a PM.
Usually the PM also adds value by bringing technical expertise. Now the question here is: does the PM have the expertise in technical area in question. If yes, then yes. If no, then interference may be a dangerous path.
I would also note that communicate is a 2-way challenge. It is also important to all team members, including experts, to be able to explain their ideas and convince others. It is important for the expert to be able to communication without hiding behind a expert-cryptic language.
Apr 30, 2014

I think Vikas stated it well and correctly. Early in each design phase, the PM can ask the team to consider his personal favorite solution. The design team should then compare the various options for each architectural element and weigh them against each other. The result is a trade study that weighs the trade-offs and makes an objective recommendation of the best solution.

Unless the decision is very close, the PM should leave the decision to the results of the trade study. If he does not, it can reflect badly on him.
  • It indicates that he did a poor job of selecting his team.
  • It insults the design team and, as Vikas said, demotivates them.
  • It may indicate that he failed to have the design team include his favorite option in the trade study.
  • It may indicate that he failed to properly define the design parameters.
  • It indicates subjectivity, a failure to rely on objective evidence produced by the trade study.
  • It turns the time and cost of trade studies into waste.
  • Failure to trust often results from projection; that is, expecting others to do what you would do. Therefore, it raises issues about the PM's ethics.
  • Overriding the results of a trade study can create an appearance of impropriety (for example, the PM appears to take a bribe from the selected vendor or subcontractor).
As Project-Aria stated, the PM may bring enough technical expertise to deserve the right to override the design team; but he had better have convincing technical reasons for his actions and had better own up to his mistakes that made his action necessary.

If your experience has shown you more reasons why a PM should or should not override the decisions of his design team, I'd like to hear from you in the comments.