Eva O’Brien, Interim Head of Delivery Management, shares lessons learned from becoming a manager
11 August 2020
Three months ago, I became the Interim Head of Delivery Management at FutureGov. This is a year-long post and the first time I’ve been in a “head of” role.
For a good portion of my career, I’ve worked in the consultancy world in Canada (at MASS LBP) and in the UK (at FutureGov), primarily working with government to improve public services and citizen experiences. I’ve managed people and teams many times before, but not at this level. It’s all quite new!
I want to write about the experience both for myself and for other people who might benefit from something digestible on becoming a manager — both the cool exciting bits and the less glamorous ones. Hat tip to my friend Lianne Mellor who thought this was not a terrible idea.
Reconfiguring my time
In my new role, I spend three days on client-facing work and two days on team-facing work. This is a radical shift from the 4.5 days of client-facing work I did before. Here’s what I tend to do in those team-focused days:
- 1–2–1 meetings with the delivery management team
- company-facing meetings about project work, resourcing and wider updates
- regular meetings with senior management on internal projects like hiring and remote working rhythms
- supporting the sales team in bid writing and pitching
This shift has been one of the highlights of my new role. As delivery managers, we don’t often get the opportunity to work with one another. We’re ships passing in the night, off to the impactful projects that keep us busy, meeting only in team catch-ups. This role has me considering both the health and wellbeing of the delivery management team and their individual career progression. Being able to coach and support the people who play that supportive role across an organisation feels fantastic.
The difficult thing is saying goodbye to some client-facing work. One of the things I always loved about consultancy is the variety of work you see in a week and the people we interact with. I work with fewer clients, but I’ve also benefitted from less context-switching (a superpower I see amongst so many colleagues). I’ve also found a new challenge in dividing that “team time” between so many new tasks — priority always goes to supporting the team, but things like our remote working rhythms and methods are incredibly timely and important as well.
Recruiting a team in a pandemic
We’re incredibly lucky that our work continues to grow and change at FutureGov. That has included growing the Delivery Management team. The talent pool we’re looking at is massive and chockablock full of great people.
Not being able to meet people in “real life” to show new FutureGovers around the studio has been somewhat bizarre. The wider team has done a fabulous job of transferring so much of the in-person onboarding work to be virtual, but we’re still working out how to fully support people as they figure out their place in a new company in a virtual world. The feedback from our new starters has been positive and I cannot wait to meet them in real life!
Managing a team whose role has changed in remote working
If you’ve ever worked with a delivery manager before, you know that a lot of what we do is build relationships. We can see when someone is disengaged. We pop by someone’s desk when they haven’t attended a session, or ask another staff member if we can quietly shadow someone going through their day. When we work remotely, that part of the job, along with others, changes.
My colleague Scott Shirbin described it as: “Not being able to see beyond our laptops.”
Something like stakeholder engagement is completely rethought when we work remotely. It’s definitely possible to do, but the approaches we use and the steps we have to take are so different. It’s been an interesting challenge to grapple with — I’m working with seven different remote teams across Europe, and see the same challenges. As a delivery management team, we have an opportunity here to rapidly test and iterate new approaches in all of our projects.
I can’t tell if this is a symptom of switching to a remote working environment, moving into a management role, a mix of the two, or something else but I spend so much time in meetings. A typical day has about six hours of video meetings across any and all of the projects I’m on.
When I find an hour or two free to do work, getting my head down and into things feels more important than it used to. I think that stems from having to carve out my time differently than I have before.
What I’ve been reading, listening to, and using
I just finished Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo, which placated some of my imposter syndrome and was a fairly accessible read. Next up, I’ve got Daring to Lead by Brené Brown on the docket. Thanks to my pals Siobhan Özege, Ryan Christiani, Kristen Spencer & Simon Bloom for the recommendations from across the ocean.
I’ve also test run this activity about using design thinking to plan your career with some of my team members. Will take a few more tries to ensure it’s the right fit, but it seems fabulous on first blush!