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Topics: Consulting, Organizational Culture, PMO
How do you identify and address optimitis?
I learned a new term, recently – Optimitis. Yes, it’s a made-up term, but it describes a limiting behavior that I’ve seen a lot, and occasionally been guilty of, over the past 20 years. The best way to describe optimitis is how it affects someone. In a complex environment, with multiple projects and operational changes taking place concurrently, and a limited number of people to work on them, if your first response when asked to produce a specific solution to a new problem or opportunity is, “Yes sir, right away, sir!” you might have optimitis. A healthier discussion might be, “What are our current priorities and are the tradeoffs?”

How do (or would) you identify and address optimitis?
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Aaron -

I'd say there are two flavors of optimitis (sounds like an ear infection :-) ):

1. Low psychological safety in the team which the requestor and requestee work in. In such situations, the requestee will be afraid to share their true thoughts and concerns for fear of reprisal.

2. Blind optimism on the part of the requestee.

The solution to both is different - the first will take much longer to address than the latter.

Kiron
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1 reply by Aaron Porter
Oct 11, 2022 6:42 PM
Aaron Porter
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Thanks for the examples, Kiron. How would you discern the difference between someone having an "execution" mindset versus exhibiting one of the flavors of optimitis you mentioned?
As a team leader in a very cost focused or resource constrained environment, I have had to be very conscious of this situation.

Some people don't know how to say no and/or think they have to please everyone. They become the go-to person for everyone outside the team, especially people looking for free work to limit their own budgets. These people are often overloaded, working on many things that aren't part of our team's assigned work, which also hurts their performance on the work to which the are actually assigned. They might think they have the bandwidth, but don't see the upstream work in the pipeline.

To help prevent the scope creep, first you need to clearly define the scope. If someone is asking to expand the scope, the first answer is "No. Now justify why I should change that answer." Sometimes not that bluntly, but sometimes direct but polite is necessary.

Making sure that WIP is visible is important to managing others' workloads. Is it part of their assignment? Did they volunteer or accept a work request from someone else? I might have to tell others that the work goes through me as the lead for capacity planning. I may have to mentor my team member 1 on 1 on managing their own work. Using emotional intelligence is also important to read both how busy my team is, and if someone is trying to con me into taking on extra work by dropping names and telling me how urgent it is.
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1 reply by Aaron Porter
Oct 11, 2022 6:45 PM
Aaron Porter
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Keith, I hadn't considered optimitis from a project task perspective, but you are so right. Thanks for your response!
Oct 10, 2022 3:43 PM
Replying to Kiron Bondale
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Aaron -

I'd say there are two flavors of optimitis (sounds like an ear infection :-) ):

1. Low psychological safety in the team which the requestor and requestee work in. In such situations, the requestee will be afraid to share their true thoughts and concerns for fear of reprisal.

2. Blind optimism on the part of the requestee.

The solution to both is different - the first will take much longer to address than the latter.

Kiron
Thanks for the examples, Kiron. How would you discern the difference between someone having an "execution" mindset versus exhibiting one of the flavors of optimitis you mentioned?
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1 reply by Kiron Bondale
Oct 12, 2022 8:49 AM
Kiron Bondale
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Great question, Aaron! We certainly want folks with an execution mindset as otherwise we would never overcome hurdles. However, we want to ensure that the person understands where there are constraints which can't be overcome and demonstrates the ability to weigh risk against reward when making decisions. This is where having a conversation with their past PMs or other folks they've worked with might help...

Kiron
Oct 10, 2022 4:35 PM
Replying to Keith Novak
...
As a team leader in a very cost focused or resource constrained environment, I have had to be very conscious of this situation.

Some people don't know how to say no and/or think they have to please everyone. They become the go-to person for everyone outside the team, especially people looking for free work to limit their own budgets. These people are often overloaded, working on many things that aren't part of our team's assigned work, which also hurts their performance on the work to which the are actually assigned. They might think they have the bandwidth, but don't see the upstream work in the pipeline.

To help prevent the scope creep, first you need to clearly define the scope. If someone is asking to expand the scope, the first answer is "No. Now justify why I should change that answer." Sometimes not that bluntly, but sometimes direct but polite is necessary.

Making sure that WIP is visible is important to managing others' workloads. Is it part of their assignment? Did they volunteer or accept a work request from someone else? I might have to tell others that the work goes through me as the lead for capacity planning. I may have to mentor my team member 1 on 1 on managing their own work. Using emotional intelligence is also important to read both how busy my team is, and if someone is trying to con me into taking on extra work by dropping names and telling me how urgent it is.
Keith, I hadn't considered optimitis from a project task perspective, but you are so right. Thanks for your response!
Optimistic Bias is something intrinsic in all people which impacts in things like estimations by 20%. So, no problem with that. Just to be aware. In the other side, I prefer optimistic people working with me. At the end, to be honest, I just try to understand to all stakeholders to stay aware about how much the will help along the solution creation process.
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1 reply by Stéphane Parent
Oct 13, 2022 7:08 AM
Stéphane Parent
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I agree that people tend to be overly optimistic in their estimates. That's why I ask for an estimate range. (Three-point estimates typically just add the average of the optimistic and pessimistic estimates--not very useful.)
Oct 11, 2022 6:42 PM
Replying to Aaron Porter
...
Thanks for the examples, Kiron. How would you discern the difference between someone having an "execution" mindset versus exhibiting one of the flavors of optimitis you mentioned?
Great question, Aaron! We certainly want folks with an execution mindset as otherwise we would never overcome hurdles. However, we want to ensure that the person understands where there are constraints which can't be overcome and demonstrates the ability to weigh risk against reward when making decisions. This is where having a conversation with their past PMs or other folks they've worked with might help...

Kiron
One option when asking a known optimistic, is sometimes ask the 2 or 3 questions that they have to say yes to or qualify information, in order to say yes to the question/request you are going to ask. Takes a little thought time on your side, but you can be more confident on where things stand.
Oct 12, 2022 6:10 AM
Replying to Sergio Luis Conte
...
Optimistic Bias is something intrinsic in all people which impacts in things like estimations by 20%. So, no problem with that. Just to be aware. In the other side, I prefer optimistic people working with me. At the end, to be honest, I just try to understand to all stakeholders to stay aware about how much the will help along the solution creation process.
I agree that people tend to be overly optimistic in their estimates. That's why I ask for an estimate range. (Three-point estimates typically just add the average of the optimistic and pessimistic estimates--not very useful.)

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