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My thought had always been that the person who is responsible for a team having to work late should be there with them. In most of my experience as a developer, that person has been a project or product manager and some would stay while others wouldn't.

Now I'm a project manager and we often have code deployments that have to be done during off hours. Most of the other PMs here do stay for these and I usually do, but only if it's a major deployment. The team is distributed so there is always a phone conference set up and I just call in for minor deployments. However there's still this culture that looks down on you if you don't physically attend every one with your team.

My role during these times is to sit in a chair and just be seen so people think I care about the team. Even if things go wrong, the team just jumps on it and gets it fixed. I have no responsibilities during this time and have never had to actually do anything. My managers say I should be there in case I need to coordinate something at the last minute, but all the people necessary, even for failure, are coordinated by me ahead of time and are all there or on the phone.

Is there something I can do as a PM that would be a real, needed role during these times instead of just sitting there bored to show my support?

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    Sounds like you're there because your boss wants you there. Are you trying to justify his reason, find your own reason, or what? – Todd A. Jacobs Sep 6 '13 at 6:19
  • As I don't really believe there is a justification at this point, I'm trying to find my own. And maybe justification isn't the right word. I don't have a problem attending, I just want some direction as to what I can actually do to be useful during these times. Everyone else is busy and I'm just sitting there staring at them like I'm some kind of lazy overseer. – NightMan Sep 6 '13 at 14:47
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Someone needs to run the show. If not you, then one of your trusted team members who is able to direct the action and follow the plan, prepared to take control, and empowered to call out the cavalry if needed.

For any deployment you should have a detailed schedule of events (SOE - a fine-grained plan that gives all of the information needed to successfully complete the deployment or back it out if necessary). Someone - you or your deputy- should be working the SOE: recording progress, identifying off-plan activities, checking times, looking for opportunities for future improvements, etc. Unless your deployments are very bespoke, each one should build upon the previous ones. That way, you just keep on getting better at what you do.

But should it be you? Well, this depends on a number of factors.

  • What is your company culture? - it seems to me that your culture is that you SHOULD be there.
  • Do you have a suitable deputy or stand-in who can run the SOE without interfering in the technical "doing"?
  • Who will take over to manage the fix and the fall out the next day if it all goes wrong? If you are exhausted, having been at work all night, you need someone to take over from you - or if you need to be there, someone else needs to have been running the show overnight.

But one other thought: with a distributed team and an open conference line, why not stay at home, stay on the line, and provide the support remotely. After all, you can only be with some people in a distributed team - not all of them - so why do you need to be in the office to give them the moral support that seems to be required?

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  • A piece of information I missed is that our operations teams actually have a role dedicated to running deployments including all the things you mentioned. If we didn't have that, I agree, I'd have a bunch of stuff to do during that time. So that's been my question too. Why isn't calling in good enough? The answer I get is just that it "looks better". I think people assume if I'm just on the phone then I'm not paying attention. Also, while the teams working on the deployment do get to flex time, I often can't because I have other projects that need me in the office during normal working hours. – NightMan Sep 5 '13 at 19:55
  • Ok - thanks for the clarification. Your last sentence in your comment suggests to me that you should limit your time in the office out of hours, as you need to be focused on your other work. As a PM, then, your role is to be sure that the work is being done, and delegate it to the specialist team making sure there is a clear accountability to escalate issues should they arise. Otherwise you are wasting your time - and I can't see why anyone should expect you to do that. – Iain9688 Sep 5 '13 at 21:51
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Sounds like you are in a culture that needs you to look busy for the sake of looking busy, working long hours for appearances versus they are needed.

The scenario that challenges their expectation is, in many cases a PM can be assigned to several small projects simultaneously. If two or more projects are working late, to which project should the PM attend?

The PM has his or her sets of tasks that would drive the level of effort required, which may or may not cause him or her to work late. While one of those tasks is simply oversight and monitoring, it does not mean physically being there. One can oversee and monitor from afar, either because they are available via our current technologies or they have a team leader who is monitoring on his/her behalf. This certainly would be the case if there are multiple teams working late over several different geographies.

But the issue is not this. It is your organization's culture and expectations.

And the likelihood of you changing this is pretty small. Your choices are to go along with it and fit into the culture, go against the grain and accept the risks inherent in that action, or find another job.

If you choose the first, and since you have some technical skills, then I suppose you can dig in and get your hands dirty to fill the time. If you are getting in the way, then I guess you just need to sit there and look pretty.

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  • I admit that's a lot of my problem. I'm a worker. It's difficult for me to just sit and watch everyone else work. As I mentioned in another comment, we have operations roles that manage deployments. I think with my technical background, I'd fit better in that kind of a project management role. I've mentioned that to my boss, but it's one of those things where those positions are all filled at the moment. – NightMan Sep 6 '13 at 14:56
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I think end to end delivery including deployment is the role of PM. As stated above some one need to do this. Also once every thing is done as per the plan communicating to stake holders is PM responsibility. Physically PM may not be required login from home and watching out, tracking and communication is the key for PM. If there are any issues team need to hunt for PM, instead of that part of deployment meeting will help team a lot and is a booster for them.

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Alternatives to Busy-Work or Useless Oversight

I just want some direction as to what I can actually do to be useful during these times. Everyone else is busy and I'm just sitting there staring at them like I'm some kind of lazy overseer.

Well, yes. It sounds like you've done your scheduling and coordination jobs so well that that you have no need to perform those tasks during execution; you're just there because politically you're required to be there.

If you genuinely feel at loose ends, and you don't want to rock the political boat by not attending these after-hours sessions, then you might want to consider some practical alternatives. For example:

  1. If you have a technical bent, get some hands-on involvement. As long as you're contributing constructively, rather than getting in someone's way, it's a nice way to keep up your technical skills and let the technical folks know you consider yourself an integral part of the team.
  2. Focus on project management artifacts related to the after-hours work. Generating reports, measuring deviations from planned effort for individual tasks, predicting man-hours or other resources for similar work in the future, or simply gathering metrics on the work itself may all be useful tasks that fall squarely into the project management domain.

Perception Matters

Anytime you ask engineers to go above and beyond, it's politically and socially necessary for them to feel that management has skin in the game, too. There's nothing more demoralizing than mandatory overtime when management is knocking off early for a golf game. So, if the team perceives your presence as a sincere measure of your skin in the game, then that's a valuable contribution to the process all by itself.

Before you spend too much time looking for your own alternatives, one of the things you might want to do is ask the team what they think of you being there, and whether there's any additional action they need from you. If they see your presence as genuinely useful, or at least view it as sincere support, then you may not need to do anything more. If the team views your participation as unnecessary interference or as a distraction, then perhaps they can articulate ways in which you can take a more constructive role.

It's certainly worth raising this issue during your next Sprint Retrospective or other inspect-and-adapt inflection point. Sometimes just raising an issue within the team is enough to dispose of it effectively.

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