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Geekend09 Unconference Mini-Recap: “Managing, WTF?”

Transitioning from being a producer to a manager.


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For those of you unfortunate enough to miss the Geekend Unconference on Sunday, you missed out on some of the most informative and engaging sessions of the entire conference. Hopefully other participants will share what they got from the many sessions but here’s a recap of one of the break out sessions I personally found extremely useful.

It was spawned from a topic brought up by Bradley and Jesse from Rails Machine in relation to some issues they were having transitioning from being producers (some times the only ones) to managers. Having recently gone through that same transition myself,  I was very interested in hearing what others had to say about it. The wealth of opinions, questions, advice and horror stories floating around our session made me feel a little better about not having it all sorted out and I thought it evolved into a wonderful example of crowd-sourcing for insight.

Some of the take-aways were:

1. Remember you’re managing people, not projects.
Having to-do lists and  milestones might work  great when handling a project but people aren’t machines. So one suggestion was to encourage the group members to take ownership of their projects. Having a list of deliverables won’t inspire the great work you’re hoping for, but making the project their baby essentially, means they have a vested interest in it being the best thing ever.

So how do you get them to feel that ownership? you ask. Well some suggestions were to:

  • give them clear parameters – the non-negotiables only, not your personal wants and likes
  • give them a clear idea of the quality expectations – so they know can measure themselves against it
  • then let them go!

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2. Intentionally structure your time around creating your desired corporate culture.
There was no clear conscensus on what the perfect balance among all the different essential tasks you have to do throghout the day is, but what it came down to was a realization that whether you realize it or not,  you’re responsible for the culture around you. Do nothing and your team’s culture will reflect it.
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3. Keep the meetings to a minimum
nuff said
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4. Streamline your Communication Methods
Having to reply, forward and then scroll down to sift through those tiresome tag-team email threads slows down the flow. So some people suggested Basecamp and Campfire to handle team-wide messenging or documentation, some simply recommended using IM instead of email. Whatever works for you the general feeling was that emails are a time-sink and other options are more productive, especially now with Google Wave invites flying around.
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5. Have an Exit Strategy
The group turned a bit to the darker side of management, with some advice on handling  difficult employees:

  • Keep a stack of current resumes handy. Heaven forbid you get stuck with the decision to fire someone and you can’t replace them quickly, and…
  • If you can’t fire them, reassign them to a different task or department if necessary. It might not be that they’re incompetent, they just might not like you…

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Books on Managing the group suggested:

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Oh and for those of you unfamiliar with the Unconference format, here’s a little pictorial explanation:

1. Anyone can present a topic

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2. The topics get scheduled on the all powerful Board of Time

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3. Discuss amongst yourselves

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Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.

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