In most structures I have seen, program manager role does not have direct reports. Nor he is expected to be technical/domain person. He ends up passing data back and forth and making status reports. When things go wrong he is answerable. From the perspective of ‘check list for the job design’, the balance of authority and responsibility is too skewed. He do not get to promote people. He can not give them travel. At most, he can buy one lunch a year for the team. Team has practically no incentive to listen to you.
The big question: How do you get the authority in such a structure?
How to be effective?
The answer : Be Doorvaasa.
Doorvaasa is Hindu mythical/historical character. This guy goes around the world. Visits people at all levels including kings. The hosts give him the highest priority whenever he visits. He stays as long as he needs. He can not give anything back to the host. The host still treats him well. Just behaves the way he wants.
How does he do that?
Doorvaasa can get angry very easily. If he gets angry he will curse and it will be very bad. He just can not bless anyone. Only power is in cursing. For this fear, nobody wants to antagonize him.
Like Doorvaasa, program manager has power. The power of connections. He gets to present the status to the top management. The risk sheet is in his discretion. If he feels teams are not doing enough for the project, he can raise any concern and justify with risk priority number and supporting data.
[ Part of the credit should go to one of my ex bosses in Honeywell who used the name of this character in corporate context.!]
Before Becoming Doorvaasa…
If you are program manager and feel that you can not control the direction and speed of execution, consider that you have weakness in one of these:
1. Your own credibility with top:
- You are new in the organization. And there is no past track record to derive soft power.
- Past is not as good. You know it best. Do the clean-up. Clear the air with management and gain acceptance about your judgement and ability to deliver.
2. Your credibility with bottom:
In the project plan you own, who has created the tasks/backlogs and their sequencing? It is the members playing technical management roles – Architect or team of architects. They know the sequencing. You are only formatting. Come on. You can do better. No wonder – team members do not find value in the role of program managers.
At this stage of planning – release planning, contribute. Sit with the architect. Be hands on in understanding the top-level tasks. If possible suggest agile compliance at the top-level task level. Feature based tasks rather than life cycle stage or other ways. This way, it forms the backlog if agile process is followed. Push for an early working version – irrespective of the ‘brand of the process’.
Contributing to their development can win their heart. Once you connect well with delivery team, you may not require to be Doorvaasa.
3. Your Personality:
You have the power. And right alignment with the top. Still unable to exercise authority?
The following could be the issue –
You are never used to exercising authority. If this is the case, work on it first. Possibly – due to pattern of avoiding being in charge, you ended up in cross functional role. Remember that it is important to exercise power once in a while. People lose power by both over-using and under-using.
What are you waiting for?
If there is a need, be Doorvaasa – for the sake of project. I know bosses who are good at this. They fake anger. While being calm, they pretend to be angry and yell. Guess what – it worked for them every time. It could work for you as well.