Everyone Has Had A Terrible Boss
I’ve had them, and I’ve been one… but, bosses are only terrible if you allow them to be.
Here’s my framework for managing my manager, improving my personal happiness, and becoming a better delegate.
Management 101: Define Projects Using Five Variables
- Expertise (who performs the work)
- Risk Tolerance (are we ok if this doesn’t work out?)
These five dimensions help root my work in clear, measurable expectations. It lets me define goals, but is also a vital tool for discussing realistic goals with my bosses.
When it comes to projects, trying to keep all of these details exactly as planned is not only unrealistic, it’s usually impossible. For example, if your development isn’t progressing fast enough, you can accept a delayed release, allow a less-than-polished project to ship, or invest more resources into development. It’s a basic, well-understood fact of the industry, and that’s why I developed my variables around it.
The Key – Know Your Priorities
One or more variables always has to be flexible.
This isn’t about lowering your standards, it’s turning inevitable problems into strength.
I’ve learned that when I constrain all four variables, I run a risk of falling short. But, I can fix three of the four as aggressively as I want as long as I allow the fourth to become whatever it needs to be. In other words, I can guarantee I will finish a project given three constraints, but not four. Four is a crap shoot.
Communicate Your Goals
Now, whenever I take on a project, I define my top three priorities and make an agreement with myself that I will accept whatever is left over. When working with a team, I make setting these expectations a priority, so that all decisions will be informed by our shared goals.
As a manager, I make these agreements with my staff every day. I define my priorities and allow my team the autonomy to solve the problem as best they can. And, as a delegate, I tell my CEO, Board, and investors that they may only set three constraints or accept failure.
If failure is an option (i.e. a goal), then I express the risk in terms of how aggressive the constraints are.
It is your responsibility to walk away from a company when your stakeholders refuse to accept risk or provide at least one dimension of flexibility. Realistic, adaptive goals and expectations serve everyone and allows companies to find talent with greater expertise and commitment to problem-solving.
The next time your boss asks you to do the impossible, force them to define their expectations in these terms or send them to me. I’ll write a creative resignation letter for you.
Trying to be more confident when speaking to your bosses? Need some help informing them of a harsh reality? Check out How To Portray Confidence As An Engineer