I was recently hired and have a team of 18 directs. There are many IT projects currently running that my group is responsible for, with many more on the horizon. I find that I am having difficulty getting out of the weeds and managing effectively. I've been told that I'm too task focused, and not focused on strategy. I feel overwhelmed with all the work that it takes to keep up with what project is where, so that nothing falls through the cracks. I've tried to stay on top of things by using MS Project and Outlook (and sticky notes), and still feel like there's not enough time in the day...

I'm responsible for vision and strategy, but am having a hard time coming up with those in order to delegate. Just "doing" isn't effective, as I need to make sure we are working on the right things at the right time (strategy). There also needs to be some consideration to the level of impact versus effort. I need to make sure that we're not spending a lot of time on high-effort, low-impact tasks.

Any ideas how to get me over the hurdle of being stuck on tasks and deliverables to a point where I spend more time strategizing?

Additional notes - I've been told that we (managers) have a strategic responsibility and a tactical responsibility. I think I'm stuck in the tactical to the detriment of the strategic.

AManagerTool's picture

I would suggest that you are not delegating enough. What are your direct reports doing? I would suggest that the tasks that keep you in the weeds are the tasks that they would love to help you with.

There is a really good cast called the Juggling Koan cast. Look it up and listen to it. If you are like me, it will be very helpfull.

HMac's picture

The care and feeding of 18 directs is, by itself, a huge undertaking. That's 9 hours a week just in 03's, not counting the time you spend preparing and recapping them...

Since you're "recently hired", I'm not sure that you're not delegating enough. My initial tendency was to agree with Tool as he's likely right, but since you're new, I fear that you don't yet have enough context to be sure what the problem is...

So, first advice: hang in. Look, listen and learn. Look for examples of peers who are "strategic" and see what you can learn from them.

If you're new, don't beat yourself up for not having mastered the job yet.


hchan's picture

18 is a big number to manage. And if you have to manage each one individually, there is no surprise that you would be "stuck in the tactical to the detriment of the strategic." I found that while it's easy to start with strategy and move down to tactics as needed, it is very difficult to start with tactics and try to move up successfully to strategy.

Do you know what the organization's vision and strategy is? If you don't have a clear understanding of the overarching vision/strategy of the company, it will be difficult to come up with the one for your areas. This is almost impossible if you are "new".

You said "I've been told" twice. Who told you that? Your boss? If so, can you ask him/her what the company's strategy is? Once you know that, the easiest way to start is to align your priority/strategy with the company's.

Other than that, a few ideas that come to mind:
-- To Tool's point about delegation.-- You spend a lot of time making sure that everyone is on track. May be explore the possibility of assigning a few project owner who will do the tracking and notify you if there are issues? You can have them report that in their O3's. This will free up some of your time. At least you don't have to check as frequently.
- To Hugh's point -- Learn from your peers. Take them to lunch and ask how they deal with the challenge. Ask them what are their strategies.
- Once you have the strategies (company's, and/or your peers), then use that as a guideline to understandng what your strategies need to be. I find that writing these down to paper and try to draw a diagram on one sheet can help me see the connection between then.
- When you finally have a framework for your strategy, you can put all your projects within the strategy framework. That will help you juggle when the new projects come up.
- Consider sacrificing a few hours on one weekend to finalize strategy if needed. Since you are bombarded with tactical stuff every day, it might be difficult to take yourself back and shift into strategy mode. An extra couple of hours might be all you need to get back on track. Have a strategy framework in which all projects can be placed inside will also help you make decision on delegating some balls -which frees up more time for you.

FlyingDutchman's picture

I'd try to work on a couple of fronts:

  • Improve personal effectiveness and efficiency.
  • You already are working on this, but getting more efficient is always possible and will allow to do more with the same, or yet more with more.

  • Delegate more
  • Having 18 directs gives you a fantastic opportunity here. If they are already up to the job give them more to do, including the supervision of project tasks. If not, challenge, coach and develop them to grow and take more of your responsibilities.

  • Be ruthlessly consistent with priorities
  • If vision and strategy are what you are paid to do, spend more time on them. Say no more often to the other stuff. If you get to a 50/50 balance between strategy/tactics or 60/40 it will be a good result. The precise balance may vary and depend on the specifics, but give yourself a clear target as to where this balance may need to be and regularly monitor yourself against it.

  • Share the challenge with a buddy/mentor and seek frequent feedback from him/her
  • It will greatly help you to be put in front of a mirror every now and then. Your line manager may also be able to help you on this, but you need to have a good relationship with him/her and frequent opportunity for feedback.

    ashdenver's picture

    For what it's worth, I feel like I'm able to relate on a smaller scale. While you have 11 more DR's than I do, the tasks can feel overwhelming from the moment you sit in That Chair.

    One of the things I did to "get out of the weeds" was to drop into Socratic Method mode. If someone would come to me with a question or problem, I would respond with a question: "How do you think this should be handled?" or "What would you suggest?" It's empowering to the DR that you're asking their opinion AND it allows you to hear their answer from an objective, strategic position.

    Another thing I did was get specific. Asking "When do you need that by?" would allow me to prioritize more effectively which in turn allowed me to become more proactive. Telling my DR's "I need this by X time on Y date" would allow me to put a reminder on my calendar for follow-up on that particular item so that I didn't feel like I was always forgetting things.

    Setting up my systems to effectively deal with the tasks took a little bit of trial and error and that may be where you are right now. I tried electronic files until I realized my computer desktop was getting too cluttered and offering too many distractions while on the phone for O3's or conference calls so I switched to a spiral notebook.

    I also think that as you settle in and get the hang of the group, the demands (above & below), etc. you'll be in a better position and feel less inundated by the tasks.

    madmatt's picture

    Where do you want to go?

    What are the steps that will take you there?

    How will you know when the steps are finished?

    How will you know if you are indeed getting closer to where you want to go?

    1. Sit and make up your strategy. Calibrate this with your boss.
    2. Figure out your metrics for success.
    3. Get people to do the steps; delegate where you can.
    4. Measure keep measuring and refining measurement.
    5. Ensure feedback to all performers and yourself on a regular basis.
    6. Celebrate success and reward performers.
    7. Analyze and evaluate all of the above.

    It's not about being too task focused. It's about measuring and ensuring that the tasks are aligned and effective to the strategy.

    Good luck!