Sometimes putting a name on something helps us to easily recognize it and more easily deal with it. Management by PowerPoint is my current name for a dreadful anti-practice that I observed at a client site some time ago. I recommend instituting this practice only if you wish to guarantee the rollout of fear, loathing, and whip cycle management across your organization.
Where to begin? At a client where I was consulting, there was a new division manager brought in (I’ll refer to him as Putter to protect the guilty). Putter was responsible for taking over the in-flight activities of several teams all working toward the development of a highly-visible next-gen application platform. The teams had their fair share of in-fighting and blame fu (an anti-practice for another day) but the managers were working with the teams to set goals and track progress in an agilish fashion. Nothing was perfect, but people were working together and trying. And there was enough process discipline to have accurate enough status around the activities of the team to know that progress was not sufficient to meet the forecast delivery dates.
After meeting with everyone and taking time to assess the situation, Putter asked for status from all the team managers and consolidated that status into a six page, color-coded, Gantt-inspired, progress-issue matrix. Putter explained that he intended to use this PowerPoint, which required hours of updates each week, to focus his message to the business partners and upper management. Seems reasonable, right?
It did seem reasonable until it became clear that the PowerPoint was intended to manage both up and down. Putter began ignoring the bad-news forecasts from team leads and instead began shaping and coloring the bars in his PowerPoint to fit his message. The team leads who continued to deliver status reports that contradicted the PowerPoint began to fall out of favor with Putter. Managers who drove their teams to overtime to meet the letter of the PowerPoint survived. Managers who stopped delivering team status survived, regardless of the true progress of their teams. Managers who delivered truthful depictions of the reality on the ground disappeared.
Four months later there was no team-level planning and tracking. There was only Putter’s PowerPoint, whip cycle management, and chaos. Delivery dates slipped by weeks only days before coming due. Then the same dates slipped again in the same fashion. Upper management and the business partners lost confidence in the development organization. There even was a short-lived mutiny. People left.
Six months later Putter left–gone off to another job in another company. The PowerPoint was gone. The team-level discipline of goal-setting and tracking was long gone. Trust between development, business and upper management was lost. All that was left was an entirely unnecessary and avoidable mess.