Sharpening the axe…..

Here is my next important lesson that I learned after becoming manager.

First time when I became a manager, I received a set of people as team members. As a team we started to take up task and complete them one after another as per the schedule. Things were normal and we had no issues in meeting the deadlines.

After a while slowly the output from the team started to drop. My managers commented that the initial enthusiasm of the team is gone and people are not doing their job as per the plan. Now with respect to my previous post I believed that my team was putting in the same amount of effort it was putting before. And I did not know what was the problem. So I called for a meeting and explained the situation to the team and the perception that is building up on our team. Everyone agreed that we will put in more effort and prove to the management that there is no lack in our commitment. But the story repeated we missed deadlines more now.

At this time I read a small story

Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job to a timber merchant, and he got it. The pay was good and so were the working conditions. For that reason, the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he was supposed to work. The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees “Congratulations,” the boss said. “Carry on that way!”.

Very motivated with the boss’s words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could bring only 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but could bring 10 trees only. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees. “I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought.

He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on. “When was the last time you sharpened your Axe?” the boss asked. “Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my Axe. I have been very busy trying to cut more trees for you.”

I slowly understood the root cause behind our current crisis. As a team we were working harder and harder day after day. But we were still using the old methodologies. Sometimes we had the tools, but we never investigated in what way we can use that tool better. Sometimes the solutions were already published in the documentations provided to us but we always tried brute force to solve the issue. There is a famous saying from Tesla

“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”

Nikola Tesla

So we as a team started to update our knowledge regarding various tools and technologies. Slowly we were putting in lesser effort but we started to meet our deadlines again. The top management was happy with our quick turn around. But only we as a team knew what went wrong and how we corrected it.

Now a days before inducting any new team member we have made it a practice to give enough basic training regarding all the areas.

The lesson learned was “Knowledge is power” so as a manager it is up to me to update the team members knowledge base as much as required. It saved us lot of time and we never landed into a situation where we had to sacrifice our vacation for the sake of project.


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