One of my favorite organizational ‘anti-patterns’ is “winning by whining.”  This is otherwise known as “squeaky wheel syndrome” or “fix what hurts the loudest.” 

Business managers get promoted by changing things for the better.  So they decide what they can change and go about trying to make it happen.  That required a good project manager. Clearly, it is in the best interest of a business manager to look around at the last four successful projects.  Who led them?  What was their business case?  Was it compelling?

More often than not, and this is not specific to Microsoft, I’ve seen the funded projects start with a vocal PM advocate who believed in the business case, making it compelling (or at least, hard to ignore).  The louder they are, the more passionate they present, and it won’t matter if the business case is any good… they will win on the basis of their ability to convince, consult, and sway.

Running counter to this is the notion of DMAIC — one of the Six Sigma tools.  DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control.  Five steps to process improvement.  You basically decide what success looks like and create a scorecard to measure how you are doing.  Then, using analysis, you can ferret out potential improvements and even, if you are lucky, make some basic predictions about the amount of improvement you should see… as expressed in the measurements.

In this scenario, the person who has succeeded by simply being vocal is threatened.  They are challenged to compete against numbers, and if management is truly bought in to the DMAIC approach, then the numbers will win.  These project managers, often seen as successful and trusted members of the organization, will oppose DMAIC for purely selfish reasons if it isn’t positioned right. This is not the case at MS, but I’ve seen it in other places.

So what is a business manager to do?  Look for ways to improve their numbers through DMAIC… then hire the squeeky wheel project manager to get it funded.  Best of both worlds.

Look, we will never get rid of the folks who make passionate business cases.  We shouldn’t.  How boring would that be.  Instead of getting rid of anyone, enlist that wonderful energy to make the RIGHT changes happen first… the ones that measure impact in the ways that the executive cares about.

This is how we turn an anti-pattern into a pattern.  We show those squeeky wheel folks that their role isn’t gone… it’s just that they will get to pick the best projects to deliver.

Bottom line: Harness the passion of every team member, and every team member will contribute to your success.  And never, ever, put someone down for being passionate… even if their passion sometimes sounds a little squeeky.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

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