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ASK Blog: “Solving Modern Management Ills: How Simple!”


“Personal Service Level Agreements”

Herein is the Right Way, a simple program for rectifying awful, nonsensical, failure-ridden corporate cultures.

It can start with one disciplined individual or a small group, as long as they have common sense and don’t mind giving some tough love to their workplace neighbors…

Personal Service Level Agreements. As of this post, you have no excuses.


In a previous essay, I presented a checklist of typical, bad practices in corporate executive and project management. So as not to be accused of being an ineffectual whiner, I herein present the astonishingly simple solution.

Buddhism has the Middle Way; Taylorism the One Best Way; Middle-Earth the Straight Way. Among successful managers, we have The Right Way….

The RIGHT WAY – Personal Service Level Agreements


At a recent client meeting, one of the Senior Program Managers laughed, mentioning that he had four meetings booked for that very time. Imagine?

At the same firm, one senior technical architect had an email rule that accepted every meeting request AUTOMATICALLY!

Over and over again, I see the symptoms – increasingly, unabashedly, as the above example shows – of bad management. Yet even as corporate personnel admit these obvious issues, I am continually told, “but that is the company, the culture, you can’t change it.”

So I say: watch me. If I insist on doing things right, then I can have those in my group do likewise. We can have simple rules of engagement for our interactions.

Because these principles start with YOU, the individual, I call them Personal Service Level Agreements – analogous to what service companies or internal departments put in their contracts. I list their clauses below.

From there, we can force other groups to follow the rules if they want to interact with us. And it grows from there; we as courteous pebbles start the avalanche of a productivity revolution.

But of course, it cuts both ways. We stand by our own Personal Service Level Agreements so that our neat idea of binding each other to correct, polite, considerate behavior in the aggregate causes projects and tasks to move along more efficiently. As Robert Plant never sang, “does anybody remember successful projects?” – on time and within budget.

Personal Service Level Agreement Clauses

  • I will answer all emails within 48 hours, even if only to state that I need more time.
  • I will not accept a meeting invitation (where I am a required attendee) unless I can definitely attend.
  • I will prepare for meetings beforehand so as not to waste everyone else’s time. If the meeting is mine, I will distribute materials beforehand so that others can prepare.
  • I will come to meetings on time, and I will leave when the time is over.
  • For any given endeavor, I will only involve those who need to be involved.
  • When I am given a task, I will give a completion date that I will take seriously and that I can realistically achieve.
  • If I am GIVEN a completion date, I will only accept it if I can realistically achieve it.
  • I will make clear all resources I need, etc., to achieve my task goals.
  • When I give tasks to others, I will require that they act similarly – to only accept what they can achieve.
  • I will allow others to push back on me; I will deal in the truth.
  • If a request comes in that interrupts my personal planning, I will reject it, even if it is from my boss and even if his boss just read a new article about Hadoop. I will not act stupid just because my superiors like it.
  • I will accept the consequences of missed deadlines even if it affects my performance review and career and compensation prospects at the firm.
  • I will not laugh at or ignore failure, whether in myself or in others.
  • I will have a plan and stick to it. I will define “emergency” in terms of lives at risk, legal pause-giving, or moral issues ONLY.
  • I will be disciplined, and insist that others allow me to operate under this PSLA.

In short: I will act responsibly, considerately, and not blow smoke up highly personal orifices.


In a follow up essay, I will discuss this topic further. But can you already see how easy it might be to remedy common management vices, with a little common sense?

Again, please remember: it can start with just one individual. From there, others within the group will be forced to interact more efficiently. And from there, other groups will have to adopt associate “rules of engagement” to coordinate and communicate across boundaries more effectively.

Have fun!

— John Cona ’87

john.conaAs background, note that I have broad experience in Information Technology, having started as a software developer directly out of college – I was a mathematics major, and my first industry positions were in actuarial departments (within large, complex insurance companies) as a student-actuary and programmer. From there my career proceeded along a typical arc: technical leadership, architecture, enterprise architecture – and in parallel I also followed an analogous path through management: project management, program management, executive management.

That described, and though I am hired usually for executive IT, custom software development, analytics management, most of my work now boils down to solving generic management issues. And, further, most of the problems have simple solutions found by everyday reasoning and using good, old-fashioned common sense.

Email me with your questions, comments, tales of management horror, and commiseration. Thank you.

ASK Blog
The views expressed by ASK guest bloggers are those of the authors and do no reflect those of Stony Brook University or the Stony Brook Alumni Association.

Making educated career decisions can be difficult at any stage of career development. The ASK (Alumni Sharing Knowledge) Blog is intended for Stony Brook University students and alumni to learn career knowledge and get advice from experienced alumni, working in various career fields, about lessons learned from their career experiences.


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