TPMs: 10 ways to improve your partnership with your Eng leader

This is written from the perspective of an Engineering leader. It’s merely to provide insight into how to build a strong relationship with your Eng partner while continuing to drive your project(s) forward.

  1. Remember you aren’t doing battle, and your Eng partner isn’t your adversary. Come in with guns blazing, and you’ve already gotten off on the wrong foot. A certain amount of assertiveness is required as a project manager, but crossing the line into aggressiveness alienates your partners and their customers.
  2. Ask, “how may I help you?”. Your Eng partner is your customer. Figure out what she expects from you right off the bat. You may believe your role is program owner, whereas she may expect or need a project coordinator. Better to work through the expectations before conflicts arise.
  3. Stick to your responsibilities. Doing more than is expected, wanted or needed can raise red flags or make your Eng partner feel you don’t trust her leadership or team to deliver. By all means, if you see a gap, volunteer your services. Just make sure your partner is aware of the gap and your wish to fill it, and the team understands your expanded role.
  4. Try to figure things out on your own before you escalate. Laziness is very unbecoming, plus who can argue with John Dewey and Edgar Dale that you’ll remember it better if you put some work into the discovery? If you put the time in to uncover something germane to the project, remember to document it for the rest of the team.
  5. Keep yourself organized. Ask the same question multiple times when you’ve already acknowledged you understand the answer, and you show a lack of focus or interest, which can quickly breed mistrust in your abilities. Consistently lacking the answer to basic questions on project status, budget or resourcing may also cause mistrust and unnecessary churn within the project team.
  6. Know the dependencies across projects in your org, and be proactive in bringing up potential conflicts. Know the major launch dates, keep track of potentially over-subscribed engineers, and pay attention to budget conflicts. Your Eng leader will appreciate a proactive heads-up before deadlines are endangered.
  7. Ulterior motives and politics are terrible for trust and great for maximizing conflict. As a TPM, your Eng partner is your customer, and you wouldn’t use dirty or underhanded tactics with a customer, right? Use your broad knowledge and relationships to influence the success of your project and others, but do it in the ‘public eye’. Unless you and your Eng leader agree that you make the top-level decisions on the project, any background manipulation will be fodder for mistrust.
  8. Provide timely, proactive, relevant metrics and progress updates. The first time you collate them, review them with your Eng partner to make sure they tell the right story for the audience before publishing them. It’s a good idea to agree on the cadence as well so you don’t do more work than is useful or necessary.
  9. Minimize needless meetings. Invite the minimum number of people necessary to address the goal of the meeting (you have an agenda and goal, correct?). If you can handle the topic through a 1:1 conversation, do so and then follow it up with a note to the project team. Or, better yet, include your ‘offline’ conversations in a section of your regular project summary report.
  10. Recognize when a project should be evaluated for ‘scrapping’. Tale-tell signs include insufficient support from other parts of the organization, severe lack of progress, duplication of effort with other projects, or over-subscribed team members working on other high-visibility projects with better backing. There’s also “gut feeling”, especially for senior-level folks who’ve been through it before. Don’t be afraid to raise the issue to make sure you’re not wasting your team’s (and your Eng partner’s) time.

Much of this may (should?) seem like a good old ‘duh’ moment, but a reminder of ‘good manners and model behavior’ is rarely a bad thing. Just be nice, get organized, maintain open communication with your partners, and have the interests of company > org > team > self in that order.