Two Project Managers that Care

This week I’ve gotten inspiration from two project managers.  Both are long time associates.  One I’m working with now, and one is working on a project nearby.  Both are making big successes out of difficult projects by expertly applying project management tools and processes.   When I ask them about what’s making their projects successful, both go immediately to the processes and tools.  Clarifying scope, managing change, detailed and continuously evolving estimation, managing issues and risks, team building and role definition, and communicating relentlessly form the fabric of their project management uniforms.

I’m pondering whether “the other side of risk” is at work on their projects in some way.  I notice that the people on their teams and the supporting organizational units get on board and work collaboratively with their projects.  Is this because of a compelling project charter or a complete and logical work breakdown structure?  In part, yes.  But more questions get me to a deeper understanding of their success and closer to the other side of risk.

The other side of risk philosophy asserts that:

  • Application of tools is balanced with an understanding of and focus on the people involved and their individual and organizational aspirations.
  • The most insight on what can go right comes from visualizing perfect project outcomes in business results, organizational growth, and individual growth.
  • The journey taken by people on the project can contribute as much to positive project outcomes as the scope delivered.

I think that both of my friends apply these practices unconsciously or as a matter of personal values as a part of each tool or practice that they employ.  As I think about their answers, the common thread seems to be that they care.  They don’t apply project management as a detached overlay to the people and business undergoing the change.  They bring each practice to bear because they care about their teams and their mission and the people who are depending on them. 

Photo from John Flinchbaugh on Flicker

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Managing Risk Can Be Risky

Last week the message was “lean into risk.”  To get into a project we have to overcome fears – emotional risks.  But, managing emotional risks can be risky.

Emotional risks are fears we feel like fear of failure, embarrassment, loss of status, or more tangible impacts that may not be quantifiable but are scary.  As project managers, we know that part of our job is to make quantifiable business risks explicit and understand how they affect the work to be done on the project.  I asserted that the emotional risks are also important as those fears affect our team and stakeholders behavior on the project.  If we better understand them and can get them safely into the open, we can do things that mitigate the emotional risks and help people engage in the project.

I got a comment – I love comments – from Mike Murphy on Linked In.  Thanks, Mike! Mike described his experience in organization cultures where leaders emotionally resisted managing business risks.  Responsible project managers trying to identify and mitigate business risks can be greeted with rejection. Continue reading

Risk – Science or Emotion?

When I think of “the other side of risk – finding what can go right on your project,” sometimes I wonder if I’m thinking about the science of risk management or the emotional – personal – side of risk.  Do we think about risk precisely enough to know the difference?

It strikes me that risk means a lot of things.  As people taking personal risks, we are trying new things with uncertain outcomes.  We see opportunities for fun, money, friends, experience, and growth.  We see possible negative outcomes of losing money, having a bad time, being rejected, or damaging our reputation.  We probably don’t scientifically quantify the probability and impact of the negative outcomes vs. the potential positive value of a positive outcome.  Our coaches and consultants encourage us not to over think the negative side.  We don’t have to know exactly what will happen, what we will do, or how we will do things.  If the risk we are considering is a step needed to fulfill our aspirations or dreams, the best thing we can do is lean into it.  That means take a measured step toward it, see what happens, learn, adjust, and take another step.  This isn’t a scientific process.  It’s an emotional one.  We make personal decisions to take personal risks based on our emotional needs and desires.  Continue reading

Flying First Class

I’m sitting with the management team of a growing organization that seems to have money for projects when others’ don’t.  They have money for more projects than they are ready for.  Every department of this organization is doing some sort of project.  They all need more help from their shared services than they can get.  Every project is important.  Every project is behind schedule.  Some look to me like failing projects.  I want to say “maybe you should focus on fewer projects.”  No one is ready for that feedback yet.  I need to say it in a way that makes a difference.

Projects are a vehicle to get us from where we are to where we want to go.  I like this metaphor.  Whether the vehicle is a car or a plane, many of the characteristics about travel apply to projects.  Where do we want to go, what should the trip be like, how much stuff can we take with us, who’s driving (are they qualified), what will traffic be like, are we flying first class or coach, do we need trip insurance, or are we driving under the influence?  All these questions, with a little imagination, apply to projects we do at work.

My client organization, it seems, wants all its projects to fly first class; but there are no first class seats on the plane.  In order to jam everyone on the same flight, big seats, free drinks, and legroom lose out to tight quarters and not enough diet soda and cookies to go around.  I ask the managers around the table “Do you want your projects to fly first class or coach?”  Continue reading