What Project Managers Can Learn From Airport Security

On average, I pass the airport security four times a month either on business or as a tourist. Over the years I became a living proof that Pavlov’s finding about conditioned reflexes were correct.
When I see an airport, I start pulling off my belt, taking off my shoes, and my hands are unzipping my laptop bag. Everyone knows that keeping the notebook in a separate tray while passing this X-Ray machine makes your flight safer. Nobody knows why though.

Last week, the New York Times published an article titled “The Mystery of the Flying Laptop”, where Matt Ritchel tried to find the reason WHY you have to pull the laptop from your bag, but tablets or smartphones can sit inside… in some airports. He was talking to different people from the Transportation Security Administration (a.k.a. TSA), but no one seemed to know the answer.

Finally, one security expert offered the following explanation: “…the laptop rule is about appearances, giving people a sense that something is being done to protect them. “Security theater,” he called it.” And this makes sense to me. On the same token, just seeing policemen on the streets may stop some criminals from trying bad things.

And what all this has to do with project management? It’s elementary, Watson! Some of the project managers trust their employees completely (and in many cases for good reasons), and don’t even bother checking on the status of their current assignments. Sometimes they get surprised that John, a great software developer, was working for three weeks on the assignment, got carried away and delivered not exactly what you’ve expected. Sure enough, John will fix this little issue – he just needs a couple of more days for this.
This could have been prevented if the manager would be checking on the status of the project every couple of days. “Management theater”, kind of. Not that the manager would have helped the experienced and trustworthy John in creating that software piece, but just the mere fact that “somebody cares and will ask about the status” may prevent John from moving sideways and will help in accomplishing the assignment in a timely fashion and to the specification.
So don’t underestimate this management theater. Talk to people who work for you regardless if they have an excellent track record in delivering great results in the past. Do it respectfully, but do it regularly.

Our aircraft has landed and pulled over to the gate a minute ago. I’m about to witness a demo another Pavlov Dog’s reflex – right after that beep sound everyone will stand up to open the overhead compartment… just to spend the next 5 minutes standing uncomfortably in a tight space between the bags instead of continuing sitting in their seats. There’s nothing you can do about it – reflexes rules!


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