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Nuggets of PM wisdom

A few notes on project management, collected over a decade of tech work.

Personal observations

The basic idea that PM/managers are either on their boss's side or the team's side is a toxic oversimplification.

Client work is harsh. In-house work is ambiguous. Choose your "hard".

The collective attention span erosion has a huge cost, at work too. Managing expectations is a tough process that should take this sad fact into consideration: Don't expect more than 3 hours a day of productive time per person.

For 1 negative piece of feedback, a minimum of 3 positive interactions are needed for both sides to not feel bad.

All PMs and managers are counselors. It’s not in their job descriptions but kind of implied. Some embrace it, some try, some don't get it.

Managers and ICs have a lot more in common than perceived. Everyone is aware of the artificial nature of the corporate environment. Few navigate it peacefully.

Anxiety is a silent plague fed by overstimulation. More tech/tools to address this is most of the time, counterproductive. Connection and empathy are the best ways to alleviate some of this, even via Zoom.

Most of what we call work is type 2 fun. Very little of it is intrinsically rewarding in the moment, it comes after. Sometimes long after in an unexpected shape.

Creative work relies heavily on serendipity. Even for high performers that seems to pop a great idea on demand. They may have some tricks but ultimately they rely on something above them, just like all of us.

In the corporate world, even the things that don't scale, scale (uttered by the only Alexey Komissarouk). Sometimes arguably bad ideas will reach scale by sheer brute-force. This is the tradeoff that allows for great things at scale, shit things at scale.

There a lot of talk about "working smarter" that often neglect the fact that more work is really what is needed. Spending more time thinking is technically more work. Hustle culture and generalized anxiety have pushed a lot of us into extreme behaviors, either to do nothing or work way too much ("work hard, play hard" consider "just do the work".

From Merlin Mann / the wisdom

Every project is a triangle made of time, money, and quality; shortening the length of one side necessarily lengthens one or—more often—both of the other sides.

Less well-known is that we each tend to blow it hardest in estimating the sides of the triangle we least understand or respect.

Kindly note that the grave existential truth of the Project Management Triangle is non-negotiable. People hate this. Which is normal.

Whoever wants the meeting most usually holds the least power.

Optimization and resources

A project optimization framework is often helpful in navigating compromises. Anyone reasonable agrees that one can't get anything cheap, fast, and good. You can get 2 of these goodies if you are open to compromises but more often than not, consider optimizing for one: It will be either cheap, fast, or good.

Here is how it applies to various types of resources:

Freelancers & studios: Relatively cheap, fast, and good.

Agency: You pay a lot for craftmanship and speed of execution, but managing the relationship is often bumpy, that's just how great stuff is made.

In-house: Hiring is the right crew is a long and tough process but worth it as it allows to scale and own the outcome internally.

Regardless of budget and timing, remember what Mick Jagger said: You can't always get what you want.

Immutable laws

Law of triviality: People within an organization commonly give disproportionate weight to trivial issues

Parkinson’s law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

Two pizza rule: If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too large

Pareto principle: aka 80/20 rule, the majority of results come from a minority

What (PM) wisdom looks like:

Request -> Do it

Request -> {{ We can but Should we? }} -> Do it or don't

← Index / Published on 2024-05-13