Author Archives: Vicki White

A Rose By Any Other Name…

A Rose By Any Other Name… – by Vicki White

Project Manager?  Team Leader? How do they relate?

While the Project Manager oversees and manages the big picture, the Team Leader deals with the nuts and bolts. By being more involved in the day to day work, the Team Leader also develops a more direct knowledge of the personalities of both the team members and the outside sources and conditions that may positively or negatively impact the end product.

Having had the experience of working in both positions in a large corporation, I can speak with some confidence as to the differences and similarities between the two.

As a team leader I was an integral, working member of the team. I was their first “line of defense” and the buffer between them and the project manager and the stakeholders. It was my job to keep them on track, to praise when needed and to escalate issues when it appeared deliverables may be impacted. I felt it was very important, particularly as a woman in a technical field at that time, to maintain a “just one of the guys” attitude with my team. This made it easier for them to be comfortable coming to me with issues. It was my responsibility to make sure the issues were escalated to the Project Manager and also to suggest possible ways in which they could be resolved and determine the cost, if any, associated with those resolutions.

I knew the strengths and weaknesses of each of my team members. Who would enjoy and excel at a knotty problem. Who could quickly crank out code. Who got bored once a solution was found and was then eager to go to the next challenge. Who hid their lack of confidence by using jargon in meetings with the stakeholders. With this knowledge I could juggle and monitor assignments to allow them to excel in their tasks, increasing the likelihood for overall project success.

By knowing and treating the team members as individuals, as people, the team developed a tightly knit bond which was evident in their production.

As a team leader I was still able to remain “in the trenches”, helping with debugging, overseeing testing, and picking up some coding when needed.

Once in the Project Manager role my concentration was on the bigger picture of the entire project’s progress. The Team Leader dealt with the “nuts and bolts” and had more one-on-one contact with each member of the team. While I relied on the Team Leader to identify issues and escalate them to me, it was ultimately my responsibility to make sure the team had what was needed to keep the project moving in a positive direction, whether it was answers from another area or additional personnel.

Sometimes a Project Manager may not have the hands on skill set that a Team Leader most likely has and as a result needs to rely on the Team Leader’s knowledge of the team’s makeup and the individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. Developing trust and confidence in the Team Leader is crucial to a successful project.

Returning to the earlier question of how do they relate? Using a very simplified football analogy, the Team Leader is the quarterback and the Project Manager is the head coach. Both must exhibit leadership to different degrees and in different areas to lead the team to success.

What Does Your Alphabet Soup Spell?

What Does Your Alphabet Soup Spell?

Acronyms and abbreviations are everywhere in our lives. But what is their impact on our ability to communicate clearly?

My husband has a retail facility as part of his water feature business. Recently he needed me to cover at the shop while he made deliveries. While I usually help out at his annual sales, I am not completely familiar with his product lines so working there always involves a learning curve. This time a customer came in to purchase fish food. The cash register is set up so entry of the first few letters of the product name produces a drop down list from which a selection can be made. First I looked at his price book, oh no, multiple brands of fish food in 40# bags including private labels. I called him to find out which price to use.  “It’s XYZ Growth,” he said. But the only XYZ Growth I found was XYZ Growth med. I told him, “There is only XYZ Growth medicated on the list”.  “No, it’s not the medicated food. Just XYZ Growth.”  This conversation went on for a few minutes before he said “That’s the only one (as it was the only XYZ listing a 40# bag). I rang it up even though the abbreviation med (medicated) was included in the description. After the customer left, I asked why it said “medicated”.  It was then he informed me that medicated food is no longer on the market and med stands for medium pellet.  My frustration and the whole scenario could have been avoided if the word medium had been spelled out.

My past career included employment in a family law practice. One of my first days on the job the senior partner called me on the phone and asked me to pull the “quadro” from Mrs. Smith’s file. I had no clue that a QDRO was a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. The attorney assumed that I knew what this document was and wasn’t forthcoming with what the acronym stood for.

All industries have their own terminology and collection of industry specific acronyms. Our government churns out acronyms at what seems to be the speed of light. Texting is full of abbreviations and acronyms. They are everywhere!

Of course, everyone knows what CIA stands for – Central Intelligence Agency. But if you are a chef the CIA may be your alma mater – Culinary Institute of America.

Where would you go to get a CD – a bank or a library? Is a DOE a deer, a female deer, or the Department of Energy?

Acronyms and abbreviations aren’t going to go away so how can we ensure our communications are delivering the entire message?

  1. Remember your audience. This is particularly true with verbal communication. When speaking with someone outside your specific industry, make a conscious effort to replace acronyms with the actual term. If you are trying to educate someone about your industry, state the word or phrase and then add something like “We call the Veterans’ Administration the VA. So if I say VA, that’s what I mean.” It has been my experience that your listener will appreciate this, because people really don’t want to show they don’t know something that seems so obvious to you.
  2. In written communication, even within an industry, it is a good idea to always reference the first use of an acronym within a document by fully spelling it out and placing the acronym in parenthesis – ie. Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). Subsequent instances of the phrase in the document can then use the acronym because the reader now has a point of reference.
  3. If using an abbreviation in a written document, question whether this abbreviation will possibly be interpreted as something else. If you have any doubt, spell it out.

Try these three simple steps the next time you have a mouthful of alphabet soup – I think your rewards will be appreciated.

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