Point/Counterpoint: Let the interoffice games begin!

by on Nov.06, 2009 , under facilitative leadership, program management

This article was originally published in slightly-edited form by Multilingual magazine, Index 2008 & RD, 2009 volume, and is reprinted here with permission. Erin Vang would like to thank both Multilingual and her co-author, Tina Cargile, PMP, for graciously consenting to republication of these articles in the GlobalPragmatica blog.

Interoffice games and politics are nothing new; the trick is to avoid gunplay in the hallways. Few office relationships are more tenuous than those between project managers and salespeople. The following is an attempt to uncover what drives both crazy.

While both parties share a common goal—the overall success of the company—their individual stress points are quite different. Sales is concerned with client retention and frankly, making a decent living. Project managers are concerned with client retention and having a decent life. It turns out that your “decent” and my “decent” are often in competition. —Tina

Point: Top Ten Ways to Drive a Salesperson Crazy

Tina Cargile, PMP

#1: Keep bad news close to the vest

When a project is going south, please don’t let me know.

C’mon! I am trained to finesse the situation and provide solutions for the client. Your proactive communication helps me come up with alternative delivery scenarios. Often client-side milestones can be adjusted with early-enough discussion.

#2: Don’t address hazardous turnaround times.

Saying “well, OK” to tight turnarounds is great, and seems like a team-friendly attitude.

C’mon! When the turnaround is perilous, let me know! Better to arm me with an immediate counter-offer than to wait until the last minute to declare the project at risk (or hopeless). When a client asks for our best turnaround time, don’t ask me what they want, since the answer is typically “yesterday” and we both know that’s not going to happen! Tell me  instead what we can reasonably offer and I can try to make that work.

#3: Argue with me about “freebies.”

Sometimes it is necessary to shave margins to bring in a new client or to keep an unhappy client in the fold.

C’mon! I understand that you want to keep your margins in good shape for your next annual review, but keep in mind that some margin is better than none at all. You might also keep in mind that lower pricing means lower commissions for me, too. It’s not like I’m giving away your farm; I’m giving away a few acres of our farm to keep us in business.

#4: Accept escalated deliveries from the client no matter how questionable.

No need to call special attention to problems; I can read your mind.

C’mon! You might be copying me on project communications every single day, but you can’t expect me to realize when your polite “no problem” emails really mean “big problem!” I’m not involved in the day-to-day workflow, and your gracious, patient replies to the client look as calm to me as you mean them to look to the client. When there’s a problem, you need to speak up and get my attention!

#5: Send me a laundry list of questions for the client, rather than proactive suggestions.

Phrase every possible concern or objection in the form of a polite question.

C’mon! We are supposed to be the experts in our industry. Many of our clients are not as well versed, and consultancy on linguistic issues is part of the service we sell. Asking a client new to localization questions like, “How do you want us to handle text expansion?” is not a winning strategy. Instead, suggest options based on your expertise—nine times out of ten, the client will be grateful for the guidance.

#6: Tell me what you think I want to hear.

Tell me everything’s on schedule and on budget, and there are no risks.

C’mon! Happiness is a private matter; this is business. I have a job to do, and ugly information is best served sooner rather than later. I promise that I won’t resort to violence. Or even sarcasm. Well, maybe sarcasm.

#7: Keep me guessing

I don’t really need to know what’s going on until it’s hopeless.

C’mon! Both of us are probably working a 24/7 schedule, but please make it possible for me (and you) to fit in a little “private” time by letting me know about problems before they’re emergencies.

#8: Tell me you’re “swamped.”

C’mon! I probably am too, but learn to ask for help when you need it. Keep the focus on client needs.

#9: Keep customer complaints under wraps

It’s better to hide problems and hope not to get in trouble.

C’mon! I can’t address issues if I’m in the dark. I’m your partner, not your adversary. Don’t worry about failures; they are an opportunity for lessons learned and continuous improvement. Think of me as a client/PM advocate—I truly do see both sides.

#10: Give me grief about my “glamorous” travel schedule.

I’m just flitting around while you’re working hard, so it’s okay to give me grief.

C’mon! Yes, I travel frequently and stay at nice hotels. But most of the time, it’s just another hotel, I rarely see the city I’m visiting, and the presentation—whether at a conference, a speaking engagement or a client visit–is fraught with sore feet, exhausted facial muscles from smiling, time away from family, and airport misadventures.

Counterpoint: Top Ten Ways to Drive a Project Manager Crazy (whether you’re my colleague or a vendor)

Erin Vang, PMP

#1: Keep bad news close to the vest

When you’re running late or can’t get a component working, please don’t let me know, even though I know the schedule and feature lists were just best guesses that would need to be updated as reality came into focus. It’s really better to leave me in fantasy-land.

C’mon! Let me know what’s going on! If it’s a minor change, I can probably juggle things to make it all work. If it’s a major change, then I need to get started on helping management come up with a Plan B.

#2: Don’t address hazardous turnaround times.

Keep it to yourself when the official schedule is bogus, because it’s not your job to announce when the emperor has no clothes.

C’mon! We’re often asked to sign up for “fantasy schedules,” knowing that the true release date will be much later, but who does that really serve? The boss? No, the boss is staking his or her credibility on it, wants to know the truth, and s/he probably doesn’t realize how afraid you are to say it. The customers? No, the customers have production schedules riding on our delivering when we say we will, and they don’t really care if that’s sooner or later—they just want us to say when and stick to it.

#3: Argue with me about “details.”

Sometimes it’s hard to get all the niceties of a new locale working—like currency formats that don’t expect decimal places. Why can’t we just show prices in yen with two digits for centi-yens?!

C’mon! I understand that these things are tricky, but prices in Japanese yen don’t have decimals except on the Nikkei. If we don’t get the decimals right, we might as well not support yen at all. It’s not “a picky little detail,” it’s a requirement!

#4: Shrug and say, “Sure, we’ll make it work,” even when you know you can’t.

You might be rolling your eyes and thinking I see that over the phone and know what it means, but when you say you can do it, that’s what I expect you to do.

C’mon! If it can’t be done or it can’t be done on time, or you’re just not sure, say so! We can work with the truth. Empty promises get us nowhere.

#5: Send me a laundry list of doubts rather than your best estimate of what will happen.

When I ask you to estimate your time (colleagues) or quote a project (vendors), please list the eight million things that could go wrong.

C’mon! I know you need to cover your… um… bases, in case what we deliver is wildly different than stated, but do we really have to dwell on every possible risk? Can’t we just agree on baselines and come up with a contingency plan to resolve the inevitable discrepancies?

#6: Tell me what you think I want to hear.

No matter what I ask, just smile and say, “Right away, ma’am.”

C’mon! What Tina said! When I come to you with questions, it’s not to be polite, it’s because I really want your advice. Vendors: if we’re doing something stupid, tell us, and help us figure out a better way! Colleagues: if my questions are bizarre, don’t just answer them—help me figure out what it is I don’t know. I promise not to get defensive or embarrassed. Well, maybe embarrassed.

#7: Keep me guessing.

I don’t need to know what’s going on until it’s hopeless.

C’mon! Both of us are probably burning the midnight oil, so I understand that you feel bad about it, but your delay of “just a few days” is my headache of telling twenty people that our deliveries are late and, yes, they could have taken the holiday weekend off after all, now that it’s too late for them to book train tickets. I’d rather know sooner, and so would they.

#8: Tell me you’re “swamped”

It’s okay not to answer my emails if you’ve got a lot going on.

C’mon! I’m short on sleep just like you. You know that some of my questions need answers right away, and getting back to me two weeks later doesn’t help. Please give me the courtesy of a yes, a no, or an “I’m stuck until I get a decision from so-and-so.” I might be able to get so-and-so to make the decision that gets you unstuck.

#9: Keep problems under wraps. (This is another one for vendors.)

If you can’t figure out what our strings mean, it’s okay just to do a word-for-word replacement and hope the customers never see it.

C’mon! Some of our strings are lousy, but that doesn’t mean our customers don’t need to understand them. I’m your partner, not your adversary—don’t feel stupid about having to ask for explanations. The truth is you’re the best editors our product has ever had, and if it weren’t for you, even our English product would be a mess. I’m grateful when you call attention to the problems.

#10: Give me grief about my “glamorous” travel schedule. (Back to colleagues.)

I fly a lot, stay in hotels, and eat out on the company dime, and you’re stuck at home, so you have every right to be jealous.

C’mon! Yes, I’ve got “platinum-butt” status with the airline, but it’s not like I’ll ever have time to cash in all those miles on a vacation. What you might not realize is that I’m “on stage” from 8am until 10pm and then I start dealing with email. There’s never any time to do laundry, so I’ve worn my underwear right-side-in, inside-out, frontwards, and backwards. I’m gaining weight from all the meals out, I’ve watched all the TV shows on my iPod twice, and I miss my dog.

Look, we all face challenges and endure anxiety —that’s why it’s called work. If we’re honest about what’s difficult, though, and if we cut each other a little slack on the tough stuff, we can usually find a path to mutual success, or at least avoid dismal failure. Finger-pointing just makes us all bitter, but sharing responsibility and accountability for the bad as well as the good brings us together and enables us to grow as partners. Later on the “war stories” will unite us in laughter (if we remember to celebrate with a few pitchers of beer). Nobody will remember the easy successes.

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