What Does Management Do?

I have a friend who rants about every manager she has ever worked for. None of them seem to know anything useful, do anything productive during the day, understand her needs or help her get her job done. More often than not, these managers slow her down, make stupid decisions (in her mind), ignore all her suggestions, and worst of all, they cling to their power with some special control over their immediate supervisor. She is stuck with a manager she loathes, and she detests being near them. How fruitful will that relationship be over the long term? Why does upper management keep managers who are openly revolted against? What keeps these managers in control?

In this series of articles, I will delve into the obscured life of a manager and review some of the widely held viewpoints of employees that I have talked to over the past few years.

Here is a list of complaints I hear about managers:
– my manager is useless
– my manager knows nothing about what I do
– I loathe my manager
– I have a recent college graduate trying to tell me what to do
– I do not trust my manager to watch my back
– My manager is at a retreat learning something – what about me?
– They never listen to anything I say! So now I say nothing
– I don’t want to be like them when I grow up
-He/She is a slave driver who does not pull his or her own weight

What does your manager do? Are they helping you get ahead? Do they listen?
Are they concerned for your well-being? Do they have your back in times of trouble?

What does your manager do all day? What are all the meetings they attend?
Why is their door closed most of the time? What secrets are they trying to keep from me?

If you are doing everything to make money for the company, what do we need the manager for? How does your manager contribute to your production? Who gets all the credit for your production, you or them?

Why are managers not liked or trusted by some employees/contractors?
What are these managers/executives doing or not doing for their underlings?

Does your manager have your back? Do they go to bat for you and support your decisions with upper management and clients? Do they believe you are competent enough to be given work on your own?

Being a manager is not all fun and games; it is not a free ride – far from it. Management is usually more work (not less), more issues to deal with (not fewer), more time spent keeping the ship going in the right direction…while looking out for icebergs or other surprises.

From David Egan

Image from user hisks at rgbstock.com

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How Are Contracts Used in Projects?

When you hire someone to do work or to deliver a product, you expect them to do it right, and they expect to be paid.  When transactions are simple, such as the purchase of fuel at a gas station, there is no confusion about whether the services were delivered or the right amount paid.

However, complex purchases (procurements) are not so easy to assess.  Contracts become necessary when there is uncertainty about who will do what (scope), by when (schedule), and for how much (cost). They are used to clarify expectations and to define mechanisms for problem resolution in the event of misunderstanding that leads to conflict.

Contracts are meant to solidify/clarify/explain commitments on both sides of an agreement. Contracts should state exactly what the seller will do or deliver, and when, as well as what consideration the buyer will provide (and when) in exchange for those goods and services.

Allocation of Risk
Contracts clarify the allocation of risk:  “If this happens, it’s your problem; if that happens, it’s my problem.”

Contracts explain what actions will be taken under various future outcomes so that there is no confusion about how problems will be resolved.

Contracts do not keep people honest. They do not prevent fraud and criminal behavior. They just provide a method of recourse (the courts) in the event of dishonest behavior or disagreement between the parties (honest or not).

Transfer of Responsibility
From a practical perspective, contracts are used in business to ensure that responsibilities are transferred in exchange for benefits. For example, if I hire someone to do work and I pay them in advance, without a contract in place, then I am taking a chance of the work not getting done and the money being lost. If the ‘contractor’ does not complete the work for which they were paid, how can I prove that they were paid or show what the payment was for if there is no contract?

On the other hand, if I hire someone to do work and commit to paying them in arrears (after the work), but there is no contract in place, they take a chance on doing the work and not getting paid.

What a contract does is document the commitments on both sides.  Agreements and commitments are written down before the work begins. If either side fails to live up to their promises, the dispute can be resolved using the courts.

Risk Transfer
Risk transfer (from a buyer’s perspective) means making someone else responsible in exchange for payment. If the buyer wanted to transfer all of the risks to a vendor (schedule, scope, and cost inflation), they would need to find a vendor willing to sign a contract for a fixed price, with clearly defined scope and a rigid completion date.

Of course, the contractor would need to be well-paid to accept all of these risks. Buyers are able to transfer risk, but it is not free.

So, if a company decides to do the work themselves (internally), they retain all the risks. However, if they choose to contract out the work, they are able to transfer some portion of the risk in exchange for financial reward. BUT, and this is a big but, risks are not effectively transferred from a buyer to a seller unless there is a legally enforceable contract in place to ensure that the right work gets done, gets done properly, and gets done on time. This is where experience and the legal department come in.

Attending PMI Global Congress?

We’re heading to Washington, DC this weekend for PMI’s annual conference, Global Congress. Will you be there? If so, be sure to stop by and see us at booth 1235. We will have subject matter experts giving short presentations in our booth on topics like team negotiations, controlling scope, and vendor management. Each presentation is worth .25 PDUs! Click here to see a full schedule of in-booth presentations.

We’re also giving away free copies of our templates and resources CD to everyone who wants one. The disc contains more than 100 project management templates, as well as copies of our web seminars and white papers. The templates are full customizable, so you can alter them to fit your organization’s needs.

If you use foursquare, make sure to check-in at our booth – you could be the mayor!

Head to our events page for information about our involvement at Global Congress.

Contracts and Contracting

Contract Definition
“A mutually binding agreement that obligates the seller to provide the specified products, services or results, and obligates the buyer to provide monetary or other valuable consideration.”
PMBOK Guide – 4th Edition, p. 315

A contract creates a “formal relationship between two organizations.”  A contract is like a marriage certificate (which is a form of contract) only with a lot of details about how exactly each party is expected to behave.

Like a marriage certificate, the terms of a business contract can be enforced through legal action if the parties involved are not able to settle their differences on a private basis.

Contracts exchange obligations and responsibilities.  One party pays the other for taking responsibility for delivering goods or services.

Terminology
Other names, such as agreement, MOU, SLA, understanding and purchase order may be used in place of the term contract. However, only a contract is a legally-binding agreement.

Documents do not need to be labeled as a contract in order to be legally binding. Whether or not a document constitutes a binding contract depends on the presence or absence of well-defined legal elements, the so-called “four corners.”

A legally binding contract typically must contain mutual consideration and legally enforceable obligations of the parties. There cannot be any barriers to the legal formation of the contract, such as fraud, duress, insufficient age or mental incapacity.

An agreement, understanding, MOU or purchase order may not have all the legally required ingredients, and therefore, is not necessarily a “legal” contract.  In other words, a contract may be a purchase order, agreement, or understanding, but the reverse may not be true.

Also, if an agreement cannot be enforced through the courts, it is not a contract.  Instead it is a “non-binding commitment,” sort of like a promise.

Essential Ingredients

  • Capacity or legal capacity: The parties entering into the agreement must have the legal authority to enter into the agreement on behalf of their organizations.
  • Consideration: Something must be given in exchange for something else.
  • Offer: There must be an invitation to make a deal, typically within a time limit.
  • Legal purpose: The deal must be legal; the contract obligations cannot violate the law.
  • Acceptance: An exchange of commitments must take place, possibly within a given time limit.  If there is a counter-offer rather than an acceptance, this condition has not been met.

Signatures
Notice that a signature is not listed as a required element to have a legal contract.  If both parties behave as if a contract is in place and meet the other requirements, then a legal contract exists between the parties and a signature is not required.

For example, when you order products over the Internet, you provide a credit card number but no signature. Nevertheless, you and the vendor have still entered into a contract where the vendor agrees to provide the product you ordered, and you agree to provide consideration by credit card payment.

Related Contract Terminology

  • Duress: Refers to a contract being signed under pressure where the signatory’s actions are constrained by threat.
  • Minors: Refers to the minimum age under which a person is not considered to be capable of signing a contract.  The courts cannot be used to force minors to live up to contract commitments.
  • Estoppel: Refers to a decision by an authoritative body that prevents someone from denying the truth of a fact that has already been settled.
  • Privity: Refers to the limitation that a contract cannot confer rights or impose obligations on any person or organization except those who have signed it.
    • If you hire a company and they hire subcontractors, you have no legal relationship (rights or controls) with the subcontractors as a consequence of having a contract with the primary contractor.

Alternative to Contracts

Not everything is a contract. In order for something to be a ‘contract’ it must have very specific ingredients.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU or MoU)
An MOU is a document that describes a bilateral or multilateral agreement between parties.  It outlines a common understanding between parties indicating an intended course of action.
MOUs are most often is used in cases where a legal commitment is not desired or where the parties cannot create a legally enforceable agreement.

MOUs are formal versions of “gentlemen’s agreements.”  However, MOUs can be legally binding if they contain the correct wording and ingredients of a contract.  In other words, an MOU can be a “contract” if it contains all the elements of a contract, but otherwise, it is not.

Service Level Agreement (SLA)
An SLA is an agreement negotiated between a customer and service provider.  Like MOUs they can be formal (legally binding) or informal.

It is worth pointing out that contracts between service providers (vendors) and their subcontractors are often (incorrectly) called SLAs, because the “level of service” is set by the buyer and communicated to the subcontractors.

SLAs are used to document common understanding regarding services, priorities, responsibilities, guarantees, and warranties.   In theory, each area of service being delivered should have its own defined “level of service.” SLAs may specify:

  • levels of availability
  • serviceability
  • performance
  • operation
  • other attributes of the service, such as billing.

The “level of service” specified in an SLA is typically defined in terms of “target” or “minimum.”  Setting specific performance standards allows the buyer to know when corrective action is justified.

SLA contracts typically include penalties and defined corrective actions in the case of non-compliance with performance standards.

image from melodi2 at rgbstock.com

Missed or Changed Requirements

Editor’s Note: Author resides in British Columbia, Canada.

A brand-new, Light Rail Transit (LRT) system sprouted where I live this past year. The fantastically efficient, 2-car train passes the main stations every
3 minutes. The stations are smaller here than other LRT/subways that I have had the pleasure of using in other regions, because these trains pass through the stations so often.


In some stations you can see the train coming at high speed over the raised rail system for quite a distance. It smoothly arcs back and forth as it follows the curves so nicely.

There is no driver; the train is automated, and although it accelerates a little faster than I would expect and brakes too hard sometimes, it is otherwise quite smooth…except for the stretch between the middle two stations. This is the longest stretch of track and has two doglegs. The first dogleg turns left as you are going north, that is followed by a short, straight stretch, followed by a dogleg to the right.

A “dogleg” is a paired set of turns–first one direction, then the other. Technically you could say a “dogleg left” in a road would refer to a left turn of up to 90 degrees soon followed by another turn that is roughly equivalent in degrees to the right side.

Our train’s set of doglegs is fine…except for the forced braking that occurs, followed by a prolonged, high-pitched squealing as the train screeches through the turn. Why would the engineers design a set of corners on which the train was unable to make a smooth turn? Why would they not have banked the train more, so it could remain at the same speed as all the other sections of the track that are not in stations? Why did they have to put in these doglegs to go around something that seems to be directly in the path?

Were these missed requirements by the designers? Were these last minute changes to get the project done on time? This 15-17 mile LRT line runs quietly for all but two, 30-second blasts of squealing around the doglegs.
There are lots of other curved sections of the LRT that are silent and smooth. Why this mid-point anomaly?

It was a major surprise to have to suddenly sit through this cacophony of noise in a brand new system. The noise reminded me of the old trains I rode in many a foreign country, but they are totally out of place for a system built in 2009. I wonder how they explained this oddity to whoever was in-charge of the project.

Have you ever had a situation where requirements were missed or omitted?

Image courtesy of Adrian van Leen; rgbstock.com

A Gathering is not Productive

After what I considered a very successful project, the planned Lessons Learned meeting made me sit down and collect my thoughts. What did I want to share? What did I want to pass on to the organization that would make people think, ‘Ah-ha! Excellent idea!’?

That is what I was after. I did not want to dwell much on the negative aspects of the project, as I felt there were really very few. I wanted to remember those ‘genius’ moments where issues were quickly solved, dilemmas were smoothed over and hiccups were ironed out.

I assumed there would be others who felt the same, who wanted to add something to the body of knowledge related to these types of projects within the organization. What a dreamer I was!

Our gathering of minds, for what was supposed to be a project closure and lessons learned, went like this: hand in any artifacts, and now let’s celebrate…and that was about it. Our fearless leader did voice accolades for various people and groups, but the meeting fell well short of my expectations, which consisted of a deep, introspective analysis of the good, bad and ugly.

I was sorely disappointed. I am still mulling the lack of event over.

I realized Lessons Learned meetings may be something that drives me but few others, and I have to respect the personas of the rest of the team. I ended up sending in a revised document on all that I wanted to be archived, but I did not feel the release that I had expected.

The reason I do retrospectives is to ensure everyone has spoken out about their concerns, human resource issues and accolades for any and all parties. I want people to get ‘it’–whatever it is–off their chests. This is a surprisingly good way to release stress. Let your staff talk about the project, the bad first and then the good.

My team is happy, but my sponsor missed that golden opportunity to shine as a leader who has the vision to see the long term benefits.

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