Kaled caught me in the hall as I was moving from one meeting to the next.
“Hi, I’m going to this meeting, too, but I wanted to catch you just beforehand to talk about a problem I’m having.”
Kaled was a very competent project manager. He was right – we had about 10 minutes before the next meeting.
“Okay, let’s step into this empty conference room. So, what’s up, Kaled?”
He sighed: “It’s about this methodology project that you asked me to lead. We spent the last three weeks meeting once a week and having conference calls, which involved all the software development group leaders across the country. We circulated documents. I thought we had pretty well agreed on our version of Agile. Now the whole thing seems to be coming apart. I’m worried that this Friday’s meeting is going to disintegrate into a push-pull match, and that positions will harden. “
The Underlying Issue
“Coming apart? How?”
I thought highly of Kaled’s ability to manage team meetings. I also knew that he was quite proud and did not ask for help easily. For him to come to me at this point meant he really was worried. I could see that he wanted help, but also see that he was having difficulty just asking for it straight out.
“Push-pull between whom, about what? “
“Jonathan, from the West Coast group, and Mirasay, from the East Coast group, have each engaged different agile consultants as part of this project. Each of these consultants offered a different recommendation on how to integrate that our new agile approaches with our traditional software development methodology.
Jonathan and Mirasay circulated their consultants’ recommendations two weeks ago to the whole group. They’re quite different and there seemed to be no way reconcile them technically. We seem to be split down the middle of the country on this, as we often are on many issues.”
Kaled was a great technical leader but when he could not resolve a conflict with technical insight, he did not always do as well. I could see now why he was talking to me. I also knew if he could find the way to resolve this conflict himself it would be a real boost to his confidence.
“If it was just up to you what would you do?” I asked him.
He frowned, thinking for a moment.
“If the consultants were working directly for me, I’d call them both into a meeting. Then I’d tell them there was only one client, and that there were some good pieces in each of their recommendations. So they should get together and combine the best of their separate recommendations into a single one. I’d tell them that I would pay them no more than two additional days each to get it done.”
I responded, “You seem a bit annoyed with consultants. Is that because you’re really annoyed with Jonathan and Mirasay?”
Emotions at Work are Real
“Yeah, when they first came to me with the idea of hiring these so-called agile experts, I suggested they agree on one, not each hire one independently. But they each said they had the money in their own budget, and felt they needed to learn more about agile and this was a good way of doing it.Since they don’t report to me, I couldn’t do much about it. Now each is taking the stance that their consultant is best.”
I thought for a moment and asked, “So why not just do what you’re suggesting? Get the consultants to work it out.”
Kaled looked me directly in the eyes. “Is that what you’re recommending I do?”
Pushing Down Upward Jumping Monkeys
I smiled. “You know me better than that. It’s your project. Unless you asked me to intervene directly, I would expect you make your own decision about the next step.”
He smiled back at me. “I expected something like that. But my real problem is that whatever methodology we decide on, Jonathan and Mirasay have to implement it enthusiastically with their teams. If they don’t lead in a positive way, the implementation is going to go sour.”
I looked down at my watch and realized that we were running out of time. “Have you had this conversation with each of Jonathan and Mirasay independently?”
Herding Egotistical Cats
“That’s my next step. I have scheduled a video call with each of them for this afternoon to let them know I am concerned about the meeting on Friday. I plan to lay it out that we need one approach consistent across the country.”
He went on to say.
“Their consultants have done good work, but they have only done part of the job. Now we need to consolidate the recommended approaches into one that we can all work with. We have three days to get this done. We need to jointly sponsor the two consultants to spend the next two days consolidating their approaches. Then the three of us meet to review what the consultants come up with on Thursday. Friday we can present it as a joint action that we recommend to implement.”
Listening Thoughtfully as Coaching
I looked at my watch again.
“We’ve got to run to be on time. You seem to have this all well thought out. Not sure why you needed to talk to me.”
Kaled smiled: “Guess I just wanted to bounce it off you. Make sure I’m on the right track, you know. Thanks.”
The following Monday, I had my usual one-on-one update with Kaled.
“So, how did it go at the meeting on Friday?”
He sat up and grinned.
“Well, I changed my approach slightly. Instead of separate video calls, I rescheduled to one video conference with Jonathan and Mirasay. I laid the approach out slightly differently. Suggested that the three of us meet jointly with both consultants and give them two days to pull it together into one approach.”
“They were reluctant at first but I pointed out that this was a joint project. If we didn’t all succeed together, we would all fail. I asked if they had other suggestions.”
Saving Face – Resolving Conflicts
“We kicked it around a bit. Then they suggested that they themselves would work jointly with the two consultants to come to a common approach. Then they would meet with me on the Thursday to bring me up to speed before Friday’s meeting.”
I asked, “Did you buy into that?”
“Yeah. I figured that they each wanted to save face with their consultant by saying that I was the head office guy who was insisting on one approach. So I let them.”
“They did it! They gave me one approach on Thursday. A technical tweak or two and we were there. Friday’s meeting was smooth and we are now all set to go.”
Before I moved onto our next topic, I asked, “Any last thoughts?”
Kaled’s smile was no more than a twitch at the corner of his eyes and mouth.
“Yes, I never thought that letting folks save face was the best way to resolve a technical issue. Live and learn.”