Leaving Things Better Than We Found Them

“Try to leave this world a little better than you found it.”   Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts)

Boy Scouts was good for me.  While I didn’t earn many awards, the values taught stuck with me.  The value expressed by Baden-Powell’s quote is a good one for us as project managers.

When we manage a project, do we leave our organization and the people involved better than we found them?  Is this our responsibility as a project manager?  I think it is.  Preparing to talk about “The Other Side of Risk,” it struck me that this is part of what I’ve been trying to say.

The Mt. Baker Chapter of PMI in Bellingham, Washington invited me to talk to them about “The Other Side of Risk.”  It was a great experience for me for two reasons.  One was that the group was a great audience who welcomed me and made the presentation fun.  The other was that the invitation forced me to go from undisciplined rambling about my emerging philosophy to a well structured presentation of my ideas.  That was good for me.  And, new ideas emerged in the process.

Over the past six months I’ve offered posts that built on these themes:

  • Bringing consulting into project management and finding balance between the disciplines
  • Considering opportunities during risk management as well as risks to find what can go right
  • Describing perfect outcomes so that the scope of our project includes aspirations that engage the people involved
  • Recognizing that the project’s journey contributes as much to our success as the destination.

Putting these ideas together in a presentation, I came up with one more thought that distills them down to a core message:

  • Our projects should leave our organizations and people better off than when we started.

I drew this picture to represent the idea:

Do your projects take a bite out of your organization, or do they add to its overall capabilities?  (I know, the resulting organization in the bottom equation looks like it has an unpleasant bump on it; but you get the idea.)  Think about projects you’ve been involved with.

  • Did they leave the people involved feeling excited about the next project, or drained and wondering how they can avoid future projects?
  • Did they build new more functional relationships among collaborating units within the organization, or was the project’s scope delivered by some units at the expense of others’ needs or wants?
  • Did the organization grow more capable and productive as a result of the project, or was its capacity to produce diminished?

Do your projects seem to have an effect more like the upper equation than the lower one?  If so, you may be delivering project scope within schedule and budget; but the results may fail to meet the intended long term outcomes.

I believe that we can approach a project in a way that considers how it can contribute to the growth of the organization and its people.  This isn’t scope creep.  It’s complete and thorough scope definition.  We find what can go right; and we include it in the scope when we see a net benefit.  We can choose an approach, take actions, and practice techniques in the project’s scope that enhance the organization while the project delivers a new system or product.  Our expected outcomes could include statements like:

  • The relationship between product development and product support will become more collaborative and productive as a result of this project.
  • The programmers on this project will build new skills in the latest version of .NET and MS SQL Server.
  • We will better understand our new customer’s needs beyond the project to build a stronger long term relationship.

By practicing The Other Side of Risk philosophy and the practices that go with it like SWOT analyses, considering perfect outcomes, and benefits realization maps, we can identify project scope that enhances our organizations and grows the skills and relationships of the people involved.

So, keep Robert Baden-Powell’s quote in mind as you approach your next project.  Try to leave your world better than you found it.  My scoutmaster would be proud.  If there were a merit badge for blogging, I might finally get my first one.

Thanks for reading.

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

2 thoughts on “Leaving Things Better Than We Found Them

  1. I grew up with Tikkun Olam (repair/heal the world) as a value and think of it in the terms you present. What if we all lived every moment with intention to leave it bettter for our having touched it (it being a person, place or thing)?

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