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individual contributor with project management responsibilities

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  • individual contributor with project management responsibilities

    I write books and develop courses. Over the years, I've also spent time leading projects and managing others, without giving up the individual contributor responsibilities. Those individual contributor responsibilities have always suffered.

    I've always imagined it was a case of 'leverage'.

    That is, if I have to choose between an action that benefits a whole team, or one that furthers an individual goal, I will obviously get more bang for my buck if I choose the one that benefits the whole team.

    And, if I am a member of a team, I don't want to be the one holding the 'hot potatoe' -- whenever I get it, I want to handle it and pass it on so things can keep moving. Towards that end, I let 'hot potatoes' interrupt whatever I am doing.

    But, maybe the problem isn't as logical as that. Maybe it is a focusing problem, a flow problem. Individual projects get done best when you can 'get into flow'. Once you assume responsibility for others, you may never get into flow again.

    What are your thoughts? How do you handle this?

  • #2
    Lack of time for individual work is one of the great frustrations of managers everywhere. And yes, to some extent it is a matter of leverage. Presumably, you have management skills that no one else on the team has, while other people on the team *can* do the individual work. Hence the importance of delegation.

    As for the specific balance between management tasks and individual responsibilities, that would be something to ask your management about. What do they expect?



    • #3
      Front-line managers, project managers, and 'lead' people often are expected to 'do it all' -- do the stuff they are so good at, and, because they are so good at it, guide others as well.

      Timewise, it shouldn't be that much of a problem to mentor others. A few minutes here, a few minutes there -- how hard can it be? But, 'flow wise', 'interruption wise', and 'focus wise', it can be hugely disruptive to individual goals.

      As you move up the management chain, you relinquish many of those individual projects, delegate more, and depend on others. But before moving up the chain, you have to survive and thrive in that 'front-line' experience of being fragmented, distracted, and pulled in opposing directions. For that reason, I think the front-line manager has the most difficult of all management jobs.


      • #4
        The right habits are the secret

        ArcCaster, one thing that might help, at least a little, is setting a regular scheduled time for your mentoring and project monitoring activities. This is the same principle as I mentioned in another thread about email: set regular times to do fragmented work, and keep a block of uninterrupted time for brainwork.

        In general, I think regular habits can make our work lives much easier, provided they're the right habits. The wrong habits, like allowing popup email alerts or having an 'open door' policy for staff, can make our work lives much, much harder. Once you've got a habit embedded, you almost don't need to think about what you're doing: the work almost does itself.

        You might want to take a look at Zen Habits. The site has a number of interesting articles about productivity and simplicity, among others, and I've certainly learned a lot from him.


        • #5
          Well, I'm certainly no expert on this, but as a research professor with a busy travel schedule and a lab full of students I try to balance the "my work" vs the "team work" issue all the time.

          What I've found is that working from home, or out of the office doesn't appear to impact my students abilities to get things done.

          We still meet weekly as a group, and can get many questions answered face to face. When I'm not available, they use email or call my cell phone.

          What I've found is that when left alone a bit they tend to solve problems themselves, at least the little ones, and that reduces interruptions. I also encourage them to solve problems as a team, so the more experience students train the less experienced ones. This saves my time, and gives the student valuable management advice.


          • #6
            "Becoming a Manager" by Linda Hill is a classic book on this. She followed several (18? 19?) new managers through their first year as managers and provides a lot of insight into the difference between "doing" and "managing." The book was originally published about 10 years ago, but there is a new, updated edition out recently. One of her conclusions in the updated edition is that managing is harder now than it used to be. Globalization and rapid change have made the process more complex. Published by Harvard Business School Press. Available from your local bookstore.