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Project Leaders Nurture Their Creative Staffs

employee retention engineers management project leadership project management scientists tips and tricks Aug 20, 2021

Leading a project, be it a Technical CONOPS or something else entirely, often requires working collaboratively with technical staff. And that collaboration usually means helping remove frustrations in their workplace. 

How are you dealing with the three buckets of “frustrations” most engineers and scientists cite as a reason for leaving a job?

1) mundane, daily frustrations

2) professional frustrations

3) management-induced frustrations

We have surveyed thousands of professionals and here are the "top frustraters" (and how to fix them). Solutions include better tools, an idea greenhouse and more discussions with users.

Read the blog post and then add your own observations and solutions there or here or both. Then tell us what we have left out!

A highly creative team can make or break a company and they require special care and feeding (literally).

The complaints coming from creative people we have worked with through the years fall into those three buckets of “frustrations”: mundane, daily frustrations; professional frustrations, and management-induced frustrations. Let’s look at each one and see how we can prevent it. 

1. Mundane, Daily Frustrations

These have included heavy commuting traffic lengthening the daily commute, difficulty finding a parking spot, and not having change for the soft drink machine. So managers, please encourage carpooling to ease the parking challenge and reward carpoolers with gas money.

And put healthy drinks in the soda-dispensing machines and let the company pay for them (select the “coinless” setting in the machines or buy your own machines). One firm we know did this and also keeps a large kitchen fully stocked with instant soups and other fast foods, all free to employees.

The positive impact on productivity brought about by having free energy drinks available to everyone, all day and night, is stupendous!  And it lessens the effects of poor sleep and fatigue on work productivity, which is a major problem across the Western world (and maybe elsewhere).  See our other blog regarding  fatigue.

2. Professional Frustrations 

Engineers never seem to have requirements that they can use. They always want better requirements. And your engineers do deserve the most solid requirements you can generate, blessed by the end users of the system. So make that happen.

Visit multiple users and get the system specification, contract and the requirements aligned.  Use our User-Driven Stakeholder Matrix Technical CONOPS tool, available in our training classes.

Scientists, especially, seem to need better tools and equipment. This gets expensive fast but you should meet their needs whenever it makes good business sense. And do two things here: 1) tie new tools to higher output, faster analyses/studies, etc. and 2) require the scientists to triage their needs so they use those new tools/equipment to work on the most crucial requirements first.

3. Management-Induced Frustrations
 a. Mismatched expectations can occur when management thinks they have asked for one thing and the staff provides something different. Usually this is caused by management thinking they have hired mind-readers.
Managers, please be overly thorough in your assignments and get confirmation by asking “Now, let's review: What are you going to go do, and why?” You’ll sometimes be amazed at the answer you get!
b. Sometimes, great inventions and technologies get embedded in devices or systems, but then the entire project gets cancelled. This can frustrate technical/creative types who understandably want to see their ideas take wing and launch!  So have an "idea greenhouse” where orphaned ideas can await a new use/home.
And reward people for planting wild ideas there (a year’s membership in the World Futures Society at or a trip to a super science symposium or a great museum). Let people know you value all great ideas, even (especially?) those ideas that are ahead of their time!
And to prevent the premature death of a project, design your projects as carefully as you design your systems.  You can learn to do this in the Project Leadership courses offered by CPL. 
c. Hidden assumptions or unvoiced - - - and unmet - - - expectations can cause the end user to reject the system. Usually this is because management failed to get sufficient user buy-in during the design and development of the system.
Remember that just meeting the specifications is not enough - - - management must seek out representative users and get their vocal support for the system as it is being conceived, developed, built and fielded. That collaboration helps them think about the resulting system as being THEIR system.  Anything less than that user-buy-in is risky for the project.
Lastly, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for leaders of creative teams:
• Don’t accept problems brought to you by staffers, unless each problem comes with options and a recommendation. This is how you build creative thinkers (and a replacement for yourself). 
Use the amazingly powerful little tool called Single Page Operations Concept (SPOC) to get all your people (and maybe even your boss) thinking clearly and able to explain a problem and a suggested solution succinctly.  Get a copy of our SPOC by asking via the contact form.
• Don’t belittle noble, technical failures. Instead, celebrate them with luncheons and rewards for the person(s) responsible - - - a half-day off, a dinner at a nice restaurant, etc. Make it a fun thing. Build a welcoming, accepting environment for new ideas, whether or not they initially find a home on a system/capability currently under development.
• Don’t overlook talent you have within your organization(s). You may have real-world expertise sitting in your organization that you know nothing about. One of our clients has a “Mission Experience Library” of people with military experience.
If they need someone familiar with aircraft maintenance, for instance, they can query the database and find that ex-sergeant wrench-turner who can provide priceless input on the new automated technical-order system being contemplated.
Track the hands-on experienced people in your organization so you can get the insights that only former users can provide.  And hire military veterans so you have that expertise available.

Take care of the people and the people will take care of the job.” - Source Unknown


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