Friday, May 2, 2008


One of the more difficult aspects of working for a boss is learning the boss’s communication and decision styles. Considering that the single most significant factor in determining your job satisfaction is your relationship with your boss, it pays to pay attention to that. In turn, when you’re the boss, you should communicate your personal style clearly.

(Dilbert's Pointy-haired Boss, inspired by my PM professor)

Here’s one technique I learned early in my project management “bossing” career from a mentor.

Create a list of guidelines for your team. Its purpose is to communicate the ground rules for interaction. This was one of my early lists.
  1. I strongly believe in trust and dependability. If somebody says that they’ll do something, they should. If some unforeseen circumstance interferes, that person has the responsibility of notifying all that will be affected. If s/he wasn’t able to do that before the event, s/he must do it with an apology and explanation as soon as possible. And, may I add, to not do this repeatedly.
  2. I will treat you professionally and I expect the same.
  3. Refrain from accepting or committing to changes to the project unless you have that authority. All changes must go through the change control process. All requests, regardless of the medium it was sent in (e.g., email) must be transcribed to the official change request form.
  4. Email headings. Maximize the use of the subject line. Identify the nature of the message according to its content. An email for action should be labeled ACTION. An FYI should be labeled FYI. Incidentally, I can’t think of any other type of email besides a Call for Action or an FYI. If I missed a category, please advise me.
  5. Email headings again. Break the chain! At some point, it becomes silly to continue receiving and sending emails with the same heading over and over again. Here's what I mean: ACTION ----> re: ACTION ----> re: re: ACTION ----> re: re: re: ACTION ----> re: re: re: re: ACTION. Please break the chain!
  6. Email length. Keep it to several paragraphs if possible. Longer content should be created as a separate document (e.g., Word or Excel) and attached to the email.
  7. Email legalese. Our employer can legally monitor all email sent through its facilities. This includes your personal emails.
  8. Email ccs and bccs. Refrain from carbon copying (that’s what “cc” stands for) and blind carbon copying (“bcc”) persons who do not need to know. CC-ing me to protect your rear may work but it may also lead me to form an incorrect impression about you.
  9. Presentations. We’ve all heard of “death by PowerPoint.” If the expression is unfamiliar, please Google it. Learn how to make effective presentations.
  10. Start and end meetings on time. Unless circumstances dictate otherwise, distribute the agenda at least 18 hours before the meeting.
  11. It is sometimes easier to seek forgiveness than to ask permission. If you have to make a decision and, for whatever reason, you aren’t able to contact me or another manager, decide in the best interests of the company. You can do it.
  12. I enjoy receiving most surprise presents from my family. I do not enjoy most surprises that come from stakeholders, customers, and fellow employees. Please advise me if you see something that should be brought to my attention.
  13. Grammar and spelling. There are checkers in MS Word. Please use them. Typos and bad grammar annoy me especially if customers will read them.
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