Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Motivating people

Much as I wrote about my project management experience and its apparent success, what hasn't still be achieved is motivating the tech interns. Let us see, you give free lodging in a flat with a caretaker to cook cuisine that we ask, pay all expenses, free commute, provide unlimited internet connectivity, put us into a room full of interns, free coffee and tea from vending machines, as has been the case for us EB interns, I mean, why would we think of working ? And on top of all this, you also promise a PPO to them :)
I've always worked with self-motivated people at a workplace, and I was shocked to hear one of my team-mates talking about taking things easy. EB is supposed to create a startup environment, but "startup environment" doesn't necessarily mean small and talented bunch of people working on a tech project. It also means motivated people idealistic (and stupid) enough to try to take on a well-established behemoth, without even knowing whether the company would survive until next week. It also means knowing that losing a single customer deal can probably prove to be the death of the company, and so, everybody, including the developers at the lowest level are highly customer-focussed. Now, since the essential ingredient called motivation is missing, it is left to someone senior to motivate them.
As a project manager, I am responsible for getting project done. And that means I'm responsible for motivating them. But how ? I'm sitting on their backs, even looking at core tech issues - hoping that they'd get tired of me and to get rid of me, they'd start doing their work. But it hasn't worked yet.
Since I'm as much an intern as those guys are, and as less a manager as those guys are, I really can't pull rank on them and order them to do anything. And that leaves me with the last weapon - their pride. If you can't work for honour, then the only thing left is pride (and believe me, each one of us has loads of it). So, I can make that the pawn in this game, and bring the question of pride to each issue.
I really don't like this, not because they're going to hate me (I'm used to people hating me), but because I feel I'm manipulating them, I'm striking below the belt as it were... I wish I knew how to do it better.
It reminds me of the book "On the Basilisk Station" by David Weber (it can be read online ... legally) - I wish real life problems were that easy to solve.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Art of screwing up

I'd always been afraid of making mistakes - people thought that I was shy and reserved, but never understood why. Now, when I came here in IBM, I was given 3 profiles of work: product management - getting business insight to a software project (my original work); project management - getting things done (my additional work); and finally, as the Point-of-contact for all interns in Pune.

The last one is the biggest and the most time-consuming. I need to book conference rooms, check if people have received stipends and if not, forward their bank a/c numbers to the administrative co-ordinator, track the expenses incurred during this internship by all interns and mentors here in Pune ... It really is a thankless job, I don't get a "thank you" if I do it, but get all the brick-bats if I make a mistake somewhere. Initially, it was daunting - most of my time is "wasted" in this, and I scarcely find time for "my work", and yet, I'm at the receiving end most of the time.

I was afraid of making mistakes, and it turned out that I made mistakes anyway - like sending wrong mail to wrong people, booking wrong conference rooms, getting interns pissed off by arranging tech talks that none of them were interested ... I used to spend 10 mins wondering whether or not to Cc a person some email ... But, it turned out that whatever mistakes I made was set right (a by-product of the oft-criticised chalta hai attitude), in the sense that it didn't cause sky to fall over my head !

So, I might as well enjoy the things by doing what I felt right ... and I am ! It has made me a new person - I'm taking initiatives, terrorising people ("after all, I'm working for your stipend - do you want it or not ?"), bruising their ego left and right, spamming them ... and even joking about it :) Let us see, if only I can maintain this state for just one more month ... watch out IIT !

Friday, June 16, 2006

Apprentice Project Manager

I've always preferred to be docile, laid-back and even passive. I'm very sensitive to the feelings around me, and so try to avoid hurting others. Often, this has made me indecisive, but only now, I'm learning to use this ability to good effect. I do prefer indirect and subtle approaches to the direct ones, but at the same time, I must confess that I'm also known to be undiplomatic and blunt. And whenever I'm blunt and rude, I'm the one who is most affected, much more than the other person.

My EB project wasn't going on as well as I hoped. There was no seriousness, no urgency and to cap it all, there was not much communication either. Fortunately or unfortunately, I've been assigned the task of project management of this project. I take my duties seriously, and I did express my frustration in subtle ways, but it was never heeded. And this Monday night, as I was about to go to bed, something in me snapped. Something had to be done. The solution was simple: someone had to take responsibility for the project and its progress. Doing that would involve rubbing people the wrong way and also, a little bit of experience in doing so. Now, who'd bell the cat ? After deep thought, I realized that I was the best (and perhaps, the only) person who could do it. Being just an intern, it didn't matter much what I did, and I'm not too important to be noticed, anyway. And my work-experience had given me the maturity to head-off difficult situations before they get blown out of proportion.

So, in the end, I decided to drive the project myself. It wasn't easy - under the pretext of drawing up a project plan (that I had to do, anyway), I forced my team-mates to talk to each other. I pushed the mentors to talk all of us together, and hash out the problems, instead of tackling each intern individually. I was also helped, in the meantime, by the decision by our manager to put us all together in a single room.

My team-mates got (and still are) pissed. I know, but I'm wearing a thick skin (and an asbestos suit). I've had words exchanged with them - they just don't want to communicate with each other, and I've experienced first-hand all the problems that arise due to mis-communication. I'm past caring for silly stuff like that. Time for them to grow up. I'm pushing real hard, and annoying them even more by frequently asking them what they are doing. They usually give me an evasive answer, but I'm drilling down and going into the depths of code (I'm not a tyro, you know). That annoys them more than anything. I know - been there, done that.

Then the part came about priorities - I drew up a project plan. And, we are sticking to it. My initial guesstimates have been good. But, more than that, the satisfaction that I see in my team-mates face, when they tell me that they've reached a milestone or completed a sub-task (so that I can update it in MS Project), is worth it.

But, why all this effort - why take the risk ? Why go through all the hoops, when it is easier to do nothing ? I don't know, I just don't feel easy about it. Somehow, when I go to sleep at night, I need to feel satisfied that I've done something. Pity, I don't feel the same about academics :(
I don't consider an EB internship to be an all-expenses paid vacation. I don't want to think about this as a means of bagging a PPO (pre-placement offer). My feelings are very simple: I've been assigned a job to do, and I'm going to do it. I am just doing my duty, and I'm not going to give up, just because I faced a few difficulties. That is worth all the pains that I'm going through.