“Leadership is about vision and responsibility, not power.”
— Seth Berkley

There is a lesson about anti-help I learned early in my career. The project I was leading had some troubles as projects sometimes do. Unfortunately, I was not treating the project with the same level of importance as the executives were. Further, I had done a poor job of communicating my understanding of the problems and I had not made others aware of how I was addressing them. The executive team did not ask if I wanted help, they just sent in five people to “help”. Unfortunately, this led to significant delays in the project. My team had to stop the problem-fixing work we were already engaged in. Bringing these new people up to date on the situation took an inordinate amount of time. The project was eventually delivered and the executives were pleased with the help they provided to the project. However, team morale was lowered and the team members felt deprived of their ownership in the project’s success. Anti-help had been given and I had accepted it. From that experience, I learned how to ward off anti-help. The key is to provide crucial product stakeholders with the answers to these five questions on a regular basis. Do so even if these questions are never asked. Even when others around me were getting plenty of anti-help, my projects were now immune.
  1. What are the biggest problems with your project right now and what are you doing about them?
  2. What are the top risks to quality with your project and what are you doing about them?
  3. What are the top risks to schedule with your project and what are you doing about them?
  4. When is the most likely time your project will finish with high quality – and how do you know?
  5. What help can executives provide that will improve schedule and quality?

If you answer these questions well, you will have warded off anti-help.

As an executive, ask these questions.  Do not assume that help is not needed simply because you have heard no requests for help. If someone cannot answer these questions well, their immediate need is the help in finding the answers to the questions. When they do answer them well, you will know how to give the support the project needs.  

You will not be firing the anti-help torpedos. Your projects will thank you.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,

Alan Willett

Sunrise in a city very near Death Valley in California

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