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I'm starting a new department as a manager, and this will be my first time having direct reports. I have directly managed people on-and-off for the last 4-5 years, but the reporting structure has never been formalized. I have some ideas I'd like to implement. I will be hiring all new people (data analysts). My experience with my current company is that everyone is overworked and priorities are constantly shifting.

Concerns:

  • I'm concerned my team members will get pulled into too many meetings.
  • I'm also concerned that we will agree to do things in conflict with the vision my boss has for our department.
  • I'm concerned my boss's boss and my boss have conflicting ideas about the tasks my department should do. I want to avoid surprise in this area and flush out any and all issues on this point when I can.
  • I'm very concerned we will overcommit ourselves (a weakness of mine).

Ideas to deal with concerns:

Department "Backlog" or Activity Log - I have read about Scrum backlogs, and I like the idea of having a public list of current activities viewable by all, along with a list of the next tasks we will do, with the order of priority. I have tried this in my past position, and people (above me) were downright opposed from having to log in to a system to check it, so I just sent weekly updates. Another issue is getting my team members to buy into this. I would like to do this on SharePoint. I know these backlogs are usually project specific, but we are small enough that I would like to expose the entire department's log to the other departments. Good idea?

Steering Committee - I would like to have quarterly (monthly?) meetings with my "customers" throughout the organization to get their input on priorities and new projects. My boss does not like this idea. I believe she wants to have ultimate say over the priorities, but this is complicated by the fact that she is very liberal in letting me work out tasks, timelines and projects with other teams, with almost no guidance from her. I believe I could convince her to do something like this, but I might need to be creative about the process and the naming. Any tips?

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It sounds as though you might get buy-in from your boss if you make her your Product Owner and give her some more information about what a Product Owner's responsibilities are. Here's a good video that explains product ownership in 15 minutes: http://youtu.be/502ILHjX9EE

In terms of naming, you can call her your Primary Stakeholder.

As someone familiar with Scrum, so you know that a primary responsibility for your Product Owner (Primary Stakeholder) will be the prioritization of the product backlog. Backlog Refining sessions, and sprint planning meetings will give you the opportunity to comment on why you and/or your team might think something else should take priority. This is the opportunity for your team and the Product Owner to have a conversation about what should be worked on next.

You and your team would be responsible for the prioritization of items in your sprint backlog, breaking up your "activities" into tasks, and deciding on your time commitments for different activities (your timelines).

It's possible your boss is concerned that she will be excluded from the process but by adopting Scrum you are actually increasing your visibility. Stand-ups, or quick "status update" meetings with her might help your boss feel involved.

Your quarterly meetings sound like "Sprint Reviews" where your stakeholders (committee) and Primary Stakeholder get together to review the work that has been done.

The thing to keep in mind is that you can still ask your customers/steering committee for input on priorities and new projects, and make sure you capture those in your backlog (Activity List) but the key to getting your boss' buy-in will probably be giving her the final say in terms of prioritization.

If you're adopting elements of Scrum it is good to make sure you do have one Product Owner/Primary Stakeholder, and not a committee because you want to make sure there is one voice/advocate for the stakeholders and not a multitude of people sending your team in different directions. The importance of a Product Owner/Primary Stakeholder cannot be overstated, and as such is a really good pitch to use to get your boss' buy-in.

I hope this helps.

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To address your concerns:

  1. If you are the direct manager of the team, you should have final say over what meetings they need to attend. Step in if necessary and let the meeting organizer know if the team member is able to attend or not. Sometimes you can satisfy a need for input by simply having your team member available to answer questions before or after a meeting. That way the team member can address the request per their schedule.
  2. You need to sit down with your boss and establish a clear set of goals for your team. If you are allowed to help set the goals, make sure they include some level of decision-making authority for you.
  3. When you have the meeting with your boss, also ask what the boss’s boss has in mind for overall goals and vision for their area. Make sure the goals established in #2 above do not have a direct conflict with these goals.
  4. Stem concerns of over committing by saying “no” where appropriate. This is especially important when dealing with others outside your direct chain of command. I have encountered numerous situations where an outside department wanted to dominate my department’s time and focus. Make sure when you establish your goals in step 2 above, you discuss this angle.
  5. Activity Log. It is reasonable to prepare some easy-to-digest report or update for upper management. I personally would not expose your entire log to other departments. You would open yourself to being questioned as to your project goals, milestones, etc, and why another department’s requests cannot be handled sooner (see item #4).
  6. Steering Committee/meetings with customers. It would seem you could have such meetings but be sure to include your boss on them. She may or may not attend, but at least you’re giving her the opportunity. Discuss the meeting format when you set your team goals (item #2).
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