Management Hacks - Free Yourself By Keeping Your Customers Informed

by Kevin Shockey

Introduction to Management Hacks

This is the first of a series of articles that is similar to the new O'Reilly Hacks series. These hacks provide an insider's look at the mysteries that lie behind management, or what I like to call "The Dark Side." I'm sad to say that I crossed over to the dark side for about 7 years and even worked closely with the Emperor of a company, i.e. the President/CEO. Although I am deeply scarred, I survived the experience and I'm here now to share my knowledge.

These hacks will range from observations about what is the reality behind certain situations, suggestions to improve your relationship with your boss or employees (depending on your circumstance), and provide tips to help you understand business and the role you play.

Keep your Customers Informed

This first hack goes both ways. It is equally useful going up the chain of command as well as down. Maybe you have heard of the theory that comes to us from the customer service arena. A customer will generally wait longer and be more content with the final result if they are kept informed. This is fairly simple to grasp if we place ourself into that situation. How do you feel when you are waiting on a result and you have no clues about the status, whether any problems exist, or when you will receive the result? Well if you are like me you feel frustrated, anxious, and most of all powerless. As the time increases before you receive information these feelings increase. They continue to increase until you begin to feel anger and resentment.

The simple solution to alleviate these feelings is information. By communicating status or the expected completion date, we dramatically reduce the strong feelings that come from a lack of information. As a Software Development Manager, I remember senior executives explaining to me that as long as they knew when to expect the product they were satisfied. They typically did not care as much whether the product was going to be late or any of the reasons why it was going to be late.

However, it is important to recall that most people are not idiots. So the information must be sincere. So keep it real! In general though, providing feedback is an invitation to discuss the situation. If they desire a different result, then this exchange provides the opportunity. Usually though, I think you will find that just providing the minimal amount of feedback, people will be satisfied.

Some Quick Applications

Some quick applications that you can try immediately will illustrate this hack:

  1. While you are previewing messages in your in-box, you discover that someone has sent you an e-mail that requires your response. You know they want a response so respond immediately. As soon as you finish reading the message, take about 10 seconds to acknowledge that you have received their message and will be responding when pigs fly or whatever you want to say. You will be amazed how grateful they will be and how relieved you will be from such little effort.

  2. If you are trucking along working on something, and an emergency arises. Send a quick message to your "customer" to let them know that you have been side-tracked, but you will return as soon as you can to continue work on their deliverable. Again this should take around 10 to 30 seconds, depending on how well you type.

Free Your Time

I'm sure you are asking "Why bother?" Why should you waste your time? Easy, this is a hack because once you complete this simple response you are typically free to go about your business and do whatever moves you. Obviously you need to comply with your target date or your promises, but in the meantime wouldn't you like to keep perfecting the process of how to build Mono from source on MS Windows (or whatever)?

You can clean your plate by responding to everyone you owe and leave it up to them to pursue more information. Trust me, by the time you finish the last make command, they will have not even begin to feel the same anxiety if you hadn't thrown them this bone. So it's up to you. If you like people constantly stopping by your cubicle bugging you for information, stay silent. In the meantime, I'm working on that thing you asked, but it shouldn't be ready till next Tuesday, see you then!

Know any good management hacks?