Consulting and Project Management

As a project manager you often have a lot in common with a consultant.  Understanding how consultants contribute to organizational change and use influence to lead teams is valuable to us as project managers.  I talked about this a while back in “Split Personality” because I often fill both roles on different projects at the same time.   Dan Rockwell’s “Leadership Freak” post today brings me back to the topic.

I think there are two primary reasons a project manager should also be a skilled consultant.  First, as a project often changes its organization, a skilled consultant will find ways to engage people and build on their strengths to help bring about the change.  Consulting skills help us see opportunities beyond the stated scope of the project, and balance the strong project management focus on the triple constraints and risk mitigation, in order to achieve project objectives.  In “Split Personality” I covered this aspect of the project manager consultant overlap and offered some consulting approaches that can help project managers achieve a balance.

The second reason a project manager should have an understanding of consulting skills is that both roles often lead from behind.  As a project manager, you may have limited influence over your organization; or even over your team.  Your success depends more on your ability to influence than on your positional authority.  No other role depends more on the need to influence than that of consultant.  As consultants, we want to bring about positive change, but by definition we have to do so without authority.  Consultants have to influence their teams and their organizations because they can’t control them.  So, project managers and consultants share leadership challenges and depend on their ability to influence.  What skills help us get better at influence? Continue reading

Project Manager Magic

Project managers sometimes have to turn nothing into something.  Change everyone’s doubt into confidence.  Solve an unsolvable problem.  Pull a rabbit out of a hat.  Turn lead into gold.  Turn stones into soup.  This sounds like magic to me.  Appropriate for Halloween.  Here’s a story with scary risks turned into a happy ending by project manager magic.

My wife and I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. We didn’t meet until college, but we had one unique experience in common.  We learned about Halloween trick or treating in the 1950s in a town where trick or treat meant something different than anywhere else.  In Des Moines, we learned that the risk of tricks could become an opportunity for creative and constructive fun.

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Situational Collaboration

Sometimes idealism runs rampant.  At least in my brain.  My last post wrapped up with the comment: “we project managers need first to be collaborators through and through.”  Just the phrasing makes me think that I was deeply engaged in idealistic self indulgence.  Not a bad thing.  But, all things need balance.

Dan Rockwell’s “Leadership Freak” comes through again with a relevant reinforcement; and this time a counterpoint to balance my rant.  Today’s Leadership Freak post “When Collaboration Doesn’t Work” does a wonderful job helping us deal with the situation where we want to collaborate but it isn’t working.  Collaboration, at least the ideal of collaboration, isn’t always the right answer to getting where we need to go.

Read Dan’s post and then think about what it’s saying about collaboration.  I think it’s saying that collaboration, like leadership, is situational.  There is always an opportunity for collaboration, it just presents itself in different ways and calls for different approaches and levels.  Sometimes we collaborate fully when the parties share values, bring diverse perspectives and expertise, and are seeking a strategy for a long term solution.  Sometimes we are at odds in many ways but still need to get something done.  Here we may collaborate minimally, or hold at bay those who would use feigned collaboration as a weapon against progress.

I really like Dan’s post as it give us insight into how to temper an idealistic view of collaboration with the realities of the situation.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk” 2012

If Project Managers Ran the Presidential Debates

As a project manager, I find the presidential debates disturbing.  If I were going to hire one of the candidates to manage the challenging project of reforming any of the major issues we have to solve in the next four years, I couldn’t make the decision based on the debates.  In fact, there isn’t much the candidates are saying or posting now that is useful for that decision.

We need to see which candidate will be best able to bring out and deliver creative solutions.  Our issues have risks with probability too high and impacts too great.  Our future leaders have to be able to deal with this.  They have to see a path forward, be willing to compromise if necessary, and get things done.  I want the presidential debates to show me who can be the best at collaborating to get things done, not who can be the biggest A&*H@!#.

Looking only at their past experience and track records, I think I could vote for either one.

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My Project Management Philosophy

I find myself frequently trying to restate the philosophy of “The Other Side of Risk” in my posts.  As well as making this today’s post, I’ve placed this summary of my project management philosophy on its own page in the blog for ongoing reference.  I expect it to evolve over time as a snapshot of what I’m trying to say or reinforce in the blog posts.  Each post is about going deeper into or more clearly understanding this philosophy; and to see examples of it in real successful projects or everyday life.

We should do three things to find what can go right on a project:

1. Balance project management focus on scope, schedule, budget, and risk with equal focus on opportunities for organizational and personal growth. Include selected opportunities for growth in the project scope.

2. Imagine perfect outcomes to identify strengths and opportunities to grow and develop.  Consider the perfect outcomes in defining project scope so that the project contributes to where you really want to go.

3. Make the journey as important as the destination.  We should build people up as we go rather than exhausting them to achieve project scope within constraints.  Achieving the outcomes and growth expected from the investment always goes beyond the project. The journey should be one people want to continue.

Doing these things doesn’t undo the valuable project management processes we learn as we become project managers (see the Project Management Institute’s “Project Management Body of Knowledge”).  It complements them by ensuring that we find ways to engage and support the people who will be doing the work on our project and delivering on its promises in the long run.

I hope you will give this philosophy a try and let me know how it goes.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk” 2012

P.S.  As a bonus, read Dan Rockwell’s current post on “Two Ways to Overcome the Pipe Dream Problem.”  As always Dan provides inspiration and provokes deeper thought.  I found that this post reconnected me to and clarified my thinking about “The Other Side of Risk.”  I hope you will agree.

How to Make a Difference that Matters

It’s the last day of Indian summer where I live.  Rain today after 2+ months of no rain and beautiful weather.  It’s a good day for new inspiration from Dan Rockwell  at Leadership Freak.

“The Other Side of Risk” is a philosophy seeking to balance our project management focus on risk and process with finding what can go right.  To do this, we look for strength, creativity, and inspiration in our organizations, teams, teammates, and ourselves.  We find ways to overcome our problems through the strength, creativity, and inspiration we find.  Dan’s post sums this up beautifully.  Thanks, Dan.  Enjoy.

How to Make a Difference that Matters.  From “Leadership Freak”

Tuning Your Project Steering Committee

Imagine a bicycle wheel perfectly tuned and spinning without wobble or wasted motion.  Each spoke is adjusted to balance and support every other spoke.  This is the foundation of a fast and safe trip on a bicycle.  If a wheel is out of tune, energy is lost to friction, the rider becomes less stable as the bicycle picks up speed, and vibrations threaten bearings, brakes, and safety.  The risk of a trip ending crash goes up.

Imagine a project steering committee.  Each person at the table is important to the project’s success by way of their support within and outside the project.  Imagine each person at the table sharing a common vision, understanding one another’s perspective, and trusting one another.  Each person may not always agree with the others, but each is committed to the project’s success.  They are able to set direction, discuss issues, make decisions, commit resources, and communicate supportively to the organization and project stakeholders.

Imagine your project steering committee.  Are they in tune with a common vision, understanding of one another’s perspectives, and mutual trust?   If not, your project may feel wobbly, unstable, overheated by friction, and unresponsive when you need to change speed or direction.  It may be time to tune the wheels. 

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