Make Them Turn Off The Lights


April 18, 2011 by rkelly976

Like most of you, I am sure you go through a normal routine each morning.  Alarm sounds, you hit snooze, alarm sounds, you hit snooze…repeat 5x!  You get out of bed, jump in the shower, your wife dresses the kids, you get lunches ready and so on.  Okay, yours may differ from the Kelly Household, but you get my point.

One part of the routine is that I go through the house to make sure everything I turned off…lights, televisions, coffee pot, etc.  Without fail, I have to turn off my son’s lights and tell him “Lucas, you left your lights and TV on.”  We head for the day and repeat it all again tomorrow.  Today was a bit different.  I decided that if he was ever going to remember to turn off his own lights, I was going to have to go downstairs and send him up to do it himself.  So, I went downstairs and said “You forgot to turn off your lights and TV.” His response to me was “So you turned them off right?”  What?!

Being a bit geeky and having project management on my mind often, every voice of the project team seemed to blend together, right along with my sons at that very moment.  I realized that just like I had been enabling my son for so long, I had been enabling some of my team members in being able to push off work, that was actually their responsibility.  And just like my son came to expect that I would turn off his lights, they often respond with “So you can close that loop for me, right?”

Point:  If you want your project team members to own their tasks/deliverables, then you must make them ‘go upstairs and turn off the lights themselves’.  If there is a bunch of stuff on the stairs, preventing them from getting there, that is where you come in to remove the obstacles.  If they forget, it is your job to remind them.  But you can not do it for them or they will come to expect that you will always do it for them.  That is not scalable, sustainable, and doesn’t leverage their expertise in their respective function.

Additional Resources:

Why Would You Want To Lead? by Paul Slater of Mushcado Consulting

You’re a Project Manager, Not Superman by Brett Harned

6 thoughts on “Make Them Turn Off The Lights

  1. Kristen says:

    Perfect analogy. It really does make a difference, doing it for them vs prompting them to do it.

    And it works both for training kids and training team members.

    Expectations, and letting everyone know those expectations (then holding them to it), is the only way to scale.

    Thanks for the fun tidbit!

  2. Jasmin Kelly says:

    This was great!! Sad to say some 6 year olds are smarter :-p

  3. rkelly976 says:

    Everyone, thank you do much for taking the time to visit my site and leave a comment.

    Athif, thank you!

    Colin, I think that also happens when a hiring manager chooses a strong developer (PM Specialist) vs. a strong manager/project driver.

    Jacob, I have seen this issue across a number of orgs (I might be an enabler…doh!). And yes, rkellyis often my username and I hear all the jokes :)

  4. Jacob says:

    Good read, but what does that say about the intelligence/maturity level of the team if they can be compared with 6 year olds?

    Also, your name is Robert Kelly? That’s awesome.

  5. Colin Adan says:

    Great point well made Robert.

    It’s crucial that PM’s don’t get dragged into the ‘doing’. I’ve seen many a project fail simply because the PM forgot about managing the project, concentrating instead on completing what the team should have been doing. It’s especially common in new project managers eager to impress but lacking the necessary leadership skills, so I hope they heed this good advice.

    Kind regards,

  6. Athif says:

    Intersting analogy :)

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