Monday, November 5, 2012

Why your managers need you to manage them

Over the past 12+ months, I have become less of a producer (i.e., someone who draws and prints and researches things) and more of a manager (i.e., someone who directs producers and reviews their drawings and research intermittently). It's been tough getting used to not having any actual product to show for your efforts at the end of the day--a page of elevations, a colored floor plan, a Photoshopped rendering. I spend a lot of my time getting the information that my staff needs to make the design and drawings happen.  This means I spend time typing emails and calling people and occasionally doing my own research. 

I also spend a lot of time in [shudder]....meetings.  I go from the exterior design meeting for one project (two hours) to the planning meeting for another project that's just starting (one hour) to an informal discussion at someone's desk about a space planning issue on the first project (30 minutes) to a meeting on that same project with the MEP engineers (three hours).  If my day typically starts around 7:15am, and I leave around 5pm (if I'm lucky), that means I've just blown six and a half hours of a nine-hour day (if I actually take a full lunch) just meeting and talking to people. My email inbox has meanwhile filled up with messages regarding a wide variety of issues along with the occasional "there's cake in the break room" emails (mmmm...cake), and some of those emails may alter what I just told my staff in one of those four meetings I had today.  Oh, and I still haven't finished the meeting notes from the client meeting I spent all day in yesterday.  Dammit.

One afternoon, an intern asked me to review a drawing he was working on for another manager and me. I said sure, let me go get some water and hit the ladies' room and I'll be right back.  As I was coming out of the bathroom, I saw another team member for one of my other projects--she asked about a code study I was working on: did I have anything on how much we can suite the rooms to reduce travel distances?  I said I'd check.  Back at my desk, I looked up the travel distance, which was going to be too long even if we made a suite out of that particular part of the floor plan.  I needed to re-layout 10,000 sf of floor plan, because I only had one person working on the plan on another area's changes, so he couldn't do it that day.  As I was about halfway through redoing the plan, a shadow fell over my desk: it was the intern whose drawing I was supposed to review.  I looked up, startled, then looked at the clock on my computer monitor.  Almost two hours had passed since he and I had spoken--I had completely forgotten about reviewing his drawing.

My intern had been hesitant to "come bother me", he said, because he knew how busy I was.  Thing is, my not reviewing his drawing held up progress on the project--his project, my project, the office's project.  Like many project architects and project managers in an architectural practice, I got tied up in putting out fires and forgot about the original task at hand. I needed that intern to "come bother me" with extreme prejudice.  I needed him to come to my desk twenty minutes after we spoke and ask if now was a good time and say that he can't really move forward until he and I talked.  I needed him to hit the reset button on my priorities, especially because I had promised him some help first.  I needed him, in short, to manage me.

Your managers get busy, frantic, spread too thin.  It's generally quite helpful for them when you know their schedules and you remind them of what you need for them to do for you.  It can feel like you're being a bit parental, but nothing's farther than the truth.  Managing your managers puts you on a bit of a level playing field with them. You're really helping them help you by making sure you have what you need from them to keep moving and to do the right things on a project.

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