What IT Services Project Managers can learn from Greek Mythology
(This article is a guest post by Rohit Gore, a Pune-based senior IT professional and novelist.)
“When you are a King, your options are very limited. But you have to do the best you can with them.” Odysseus, the great Greek King said to one of the greatest warriors of history, Achilles. It is a very revealing statement, and speaks a lot about Odysseus’ character and his grasp of what management is. Odysseus was one of the regional satraps of the mighty and egotistic King Agamemnon, and he had had to fight many brutal battles for the King’s glory. He was always challenged by the flagging morale of his troops, his personal sacrifice and dwindling resources of his country. However, he was aware of the wrath he and his little country would suffer if he tried to displease Agamemnon. Over the course of the history he achieved greatness as a shrewd king, who made sure his subjects were protected and larger goals were achieved, which was basically Agamemnon’s reign over most of the known world. Achilles, on the other hand, was a vain warrior who chased personal glory, and was brilliant at it.
Juxtaposing this in the world of IT Services, a project manager needs to be more of an Odysseus than an Achilles.
IT Services industry is fast approaching the plateau of maturity that other core industries like Steel, Cement and Energy achieved several decades ago. Naturally, gone are the days, when we had services organizations being run by individual visionaries and geniuses, and others in supporting acts. However, the situation of IT industry is rather unique because at its core it is still highly human intensive and knowledge centric. You cannot really replace a knowledge worker the way you would replace a worker who operates, say, a Lathe machine in a workshop. Due to this intrinsic human centric nature, the job of a project manager in IT Services is doubly challenging in a maturing landscape of the industry.
A manager could do worse than to develop these traits:
Odysseus’s view of the ‘big picture’
IT services project manager, in the torrent of daily tasks, ends up forgetting what she is actually achieving at the end of the project. No project is an individual silo and works towards a common organizational goal. It could range from as strategic as ‘better connect with the customer’ to as operational as ‘improving process efficiencies’. A project manager needs to be totally aware of what the client is achieving through the success of her project, and most importantly she has to be able to articulate it everywhere, in every forum she gets an opportunity to. Be it to her project team, client counterparts, product vendor teams or her senior management. Odysseus constantly told his troops that every battle was a way of protecting their motherland and ensuring the well being of their families back home. That message almost always made everyone realize what they were really fighting for – not for King Agamemnon, but for their families.
Odysseus’s ability to manage the ‘stars’
Let’s face it, star performers are important, in fact, crucial for the success of any team. Many a times, the estimations of work packets in a project are way off the mark and it is a constant battle to meet the quality targets and deadlines. In these situations, the people who make the difference are the ‘stars’. An IT project manager needs to make sure these ‘game-breakers’ are always motivated and focused, because they can be notoriously fickle and can lose interest very fast. Most importantly, the manager has to make sure that their egos are managed well. After all, there never was a great performer without the ego! There is a subtle difference between managing your stars and your average team members. The biggest challenge for the manager is to determine who the real stars are. The manager needs to quickly ensure that they share her view of the ‘big picture’ and can articulate it as well. Many times, the lesser performers in the team follow the stars, and if you have your best performers as the spokespersons of your vision in the team, half the job is done! Achilles was the greatest warrior of his generation and to Odysseus’s great consternation, Achilles hated Agamemnon. However, it was Odysseus who convinced Achilles to fight for the mighty king and also managed to reign in his ego and relentless thirst for glory at all expense. The result was several seemingly lost battles were won by the individual brilliance of Achilles.
Odysseus’s streak of ‘selflessness’
This trait, the selflessness, is the trickiest to master. After all, we are working towards corporate goals, which generally result in some kind of profit for the clients. In such a situation, it is always easy to be a bit cynical and protect the narrow self-interest. However, the importance of this trait is like the little pinch of salt in a dish. The dish can never be complete without it. A project manager can achieve a lot if she sets the personal ego aside. It’s manifestation can be as simple as the manager taking that little step to stay back in the office till the major activities of the day are over or as striking as the manager taking the lead in important client calls rather than delegating it. Many times, a manager ends up thinking, what she believes is paying a ‘price’ for this selflessness. The biggest price is that of preparation for every call a manager decides to lead and every hour she spends in the office after usual time of closure. However, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is nothing more inspirational for a team member than a simple selfless act of manager. Odysseus never stayed in the background during the battles. He drew his sword first and always charged headlong. It was fraught with great risk, but Odysseus what it would mean to his soldiers, and even to mighty warriors like Achilles and Ajax. It won over his troops and gained him great respect, even greater than Agamemnon. As a result, Odysseus won all his battles.
Odysseus’s flair to appreciate every facet of his trade
It is important for the project manager to appreciate what every individual brings to the table in his team. Be it coding, analysis or testing. The manager need not be an expert but she needs to know what it takes to code or test or analyze. She has to have the traits of a generalist and not get too attached to just a few aspects of the project. Several projects fail because the project manager’s refusal to having a perspective of all the facets, or even glorifying some aspects and neglecting others. Many times, this attachment comes from the manager’s background and the comfort she derives from wrapping herself in her strengths. Odysseus, an expert swordsman, never failed to appreciate the contribution and skill of his archers. He knew they were equally important to winning the battle and always told them so, although they were often derided by the swordsmen as being cowards for shooting the enemy from a distance. This resulted in archers having a sense of belonging and they never failed to flatten rows of enemy troops for swordsmen to charge and finish the job.
History can be very revealing. Odysseus was a great hero, and most importantly, he was the only one who lived to tell the tale! All the other great warriors, including the invincible Achilles, met their end. It was Odysseus who documented their heroics and passed on their greatness for the next generations. Knowledge management, anyone!!
About the Author – Rohit Gore
Rohit Gore is a Pune-based senior IT Professional and novelist. Rohit is a Lead Consultant at Fujitsu Consulting India, and has 10+ years of Industry experience including stints at Infosys and Sasken after an MBA from S P Jain Institute.
Rohit is also the author of ‘FOCUS, SAM’ a novel from Rupa Publications and the upcoming ‘A DARKER DAWN’. He grew up in a number of towns in India. At various times in his childhood, he wanted to be a theatre actor, an architect and a bookshop owner.
He loves sports, specifically the discussing and watching part of it, since the playing days are long gone. He has travelled a lot – a consequence of living in Mumbai and London. His greatest passion is reading and it inspired him to write. He is a frequent contributor to many online writing forums and wishes there were more writing groups.