Management Myth 29: I Can Concentrate on the Run


Busy managers get used to making decisions on the fly. But, some decisions require more thought and consideration than others. Johanna offers some tips for knowing when you need to slow down, take a seat, and give a problem your undivided attention.

Janet tried to catch Bill, the CIO, on his way to his next meeting, "I need ten minutes of your time to discuss this client problem."

"Good, we'll do a standup later."

“No … wait … nuts, he left.” Janet grumbled to herself. I don't want a standup. I want a sit down, so we can think about and solve this problem. Standups are for status and micro commitments, not for problem solving.

A couple of days later, Janet poked her head into Bill’s office. He was standing at the whiteboard with a couple of senior developers.

“Bill, I have a question for you. I can come back later, though.”

“No, it’s OK.” He walked over to the door.

“Look, Bill, this is important. It’s an intricate problem, and I don’t feel comfortable discussing it in front of other people. I want some private time with you.” Janet frowned. “When do you have time to discuss this with me? I asked you about this problem a couple of days ago. It’s not just a technical problem. The client is making funny noises now; it’s a client make-nice issue.”

Bill shrugged. “OK, we can talk about it in fifteen minutes. I’ll be done then.”

Fifteen minutes later, Bill was still standing at the whiteboard with the developers.

“Bill, remember our discussion?”

“Oh, yes, now I remember. Give me another minute.”

Bill took another ten minutes to extricate himself from the other discussion. Once he and Janet started discussing the client issue, Bill asked, “Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?”

“I tried to. You told me we would do a standup ‘later.’ I didn’t want a standup with you. I’ve been fighting to get time on your calendar. You’re always running from one meeting to another. You’re not responding to my emails. You just postponed me today, half an hour ago, remember?”

“OK, I get it. Let’s solve this problem and go forward.”

Later that week, Bill ran down the hall as Janet made her way to the women’s room. "Janet, I need to know if your teams can commit to this program."

"I'll tell you later, when I've looked at it and seen what it is. I'm on my way to the women’s room right now."

"I can't wait for an answer."

"Well, you're going to have to. I have to answer the call of nature."

"Janet?" Bill bellowed through the closed door. "What if I told you the specs now?"

Lauren, the sales VP, tapped Bill on the shoulder. "Excuse me, Bill, I need to get into the ladies’ room. Why are you yelling at Janet?"

"I need to know by 5 p.m. if these teams can commit to this program."

"It's 4:45 p.m. now. Why did you wait so long to ask?"

Bill growled, "I just discovered I needed to know."

“Well, that’s no good,” Lauren said. “That’s no way to run a business.”

“You’re telling me? I discover fifteen minutes before an Ops meeting—and why are we having an Ops meeting at 5 p.m. anyway?—that I have to know about this must-save-the-company program, and my program manager is in the bathroom! I need an estimate. They'll have my head if I go in there with no information.”

“If you just discovered this program, why can’t you explain that you’ll have the information tomorrow?”

“Because the Ops committee wants to make a decision today. They only do their standups at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, and here it is, almost 5 p.m. on Tuesday.”

Lauren thought for a minute. “You know, standups aren’t for decision making.”

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