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All the Answers

July 31, 2014

by Jeanine Izzo


Looking back on my early years as a project manager,  a title on my business card  of problem solver or fire extinguisher would have been more accurate than project manager.  Between not knowing any different and sheer survival…problem solving became my forte.  The better I became at thwarting off total disaster, the more prevalent the emergencies became.  Yes, the better I became at containing and putting out fires, the more they erupted.  Eventually, I figured out how the fires were igniting and how to prevent the bulk of them.

How familiar does chasing down tasks, team members and deadlines sound to you (or someone that works for you)?

Going back to the period where I was thwarting disaster, I had two concurrent projects with more than 20 team members in 5 locations, at least three cultures, and a 14 hour time difference between my most west and most east team members.  These projects were two of the first the company had taken on with Asian Vendors.  The process we had to guide us (and abide by for audit purposes) was based on using internal design, testing and manufacturing.  Between all these elements, there were a lot of misses along the way.  My PM training did  not prepare me for these dynamics.  I felt like I had a perpetual fire hose at my side.

By the end, my team and I were able to wrangle a successful completion, and it wasn’t long after that I was promoted.  Whereas, the fact that it was the results that mattered wasn’t lost on me, there had to be a better way to obtain the results than having to lug that heavy fire hose around.    After all, the business was getting what they needed, but I was getting burned out.

In the years since, I consciously worked on preventing and minimizing the fires by practicing and employing a number of tools and techniques.  Today, I’m sharing one common trap that sucks your time and keeps you in a reactive, fire-fighting cycle.

Trap: I have to have all the answers.  

The very trait that can bug us about those above us who don’t ask for our input can be adopted all too easily.   You may not identify with the phrase, yet think about your actions and responses which just may be supporting this trap.  When people come to you with problems, do you take them on?  Do you find yourself automatically directing/acting on the solution and being swished away from other priorities?     When we do this, we are not supporting others to solve their own problems.  This means they will continue to look to us to do their work for them or at least eat away at time that could have been spent getting ahead of the curve, finding opportunities and preventing fires.

Peter was one of my extreme team members.  Instead of being one of those I never heard from, he was at my desk quite a bit.  Additionally, he took up a disproportionate amount of meeting time.  Peter was one of the most capable mechanical engineers, yet he ate up a lot of my time.  At first it felt good that he was coming to me to help him resolve design issues.  Eventually I realized that the direction he was headed in the first few minutes was the same as what resulted after 30…40…50 minutes of me thinking I had to have the answer…the solution to his problem.

Who is the Peter on your team?

Because I thought it was expected of me, as a team lead, to be central to every solution, I allowed myself to be taken away from more important preventative and proactive tasks.  This approach caused me to unintentionally light matches on fire after fire.

Forward Moving Tips:

Instead of automatically listening to solve, listen to support.  Ask clarifying questions early to ascertain the needed degree of involvement.

  1. Listen – provide a supportive ear, thought provoking questions and encouragement
  2. Advise – supply information, options, directives to help them resolve the issue on their own
  3. Act -If it becomes clear that your direct involvement is needed…jump in.

If you believe and act like you have to have all the answers, you are more likely to keep yourself in a reactive, time-sucking, fire-fighting mode.  With effort, the instances where you will have to be directly involved with the solution will diminish and you will finally be able to get ahead of the curve.

For assistance with moving forward with more focus, confidence and success along your journey,  Contact Viage Partners today.

© Viage Partners 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Viage Partners with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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