Project Management Patience

In my new role I feel a sense of urgency to get things moving.  I think this is common for project managers.  We are brought in to make a difference and we are excited about that.  But patience is important, too.

I’ve blogged about patience before in June and December.  In those posts I advised project managers to be patient so that they build partnerships; and understand and build the capacity and commitment of their team.  Then, I was still a crusty consultant advising others on their projects.  Shortly after the second post, I accepted a job that requires me to help a very large organization come together in support of organization-wide business and systems transformation.  Can I take my own advice?  I’m trying.


To reinforce my patience, I looked for updates from my consulting guru, Peter Block, on the Internet.  Peter’s books and classes have shaped my approach to what I do. Peter recently posted a video that helped.

In this video, Peter urges consultants to avoid quick answers sought in the “contracting” phase of the consulting engagement.  Contracting defines the problems, the work to be done, and the relationships between the consultant and the client.  It’s kind of like defining a project’s objectives, scope, and roles and responsibilities.  In both consulting and project management, there can be an urge to move quickly through this step to solve the presenting problem and implement a solution.  But, the results are almost never good.  And, the bigger the change sought, the more this is true.

Patience can be difficult, though.  In our big organizations, there can also be big, urgent expectations.  This seems particularly true in my sector – government.  I’ve seen this in the private sector as well.  We tie our expectations and projects to a funding or earnings reporting cycle and want to make a difference to show results.  But, our organizations have much longer lives than the next cycle.  Many of the projects we do may have lives of many years.  If we can get them right, the benefits are multiplied throughout their lives.  If we rush to complete and miss doing what’s needed to get benefits, the lost opportunities are multiplied throughout their lives.

Rather than rushing into a change, Peter Block suggests that six critical conversations can set the stage for (in my words) finding what can go right on the upcoming project:

“To open the community to an alternative future, start with the invitation conversation. Since all the other conversations lead to one another, sequence is not all that critical. It’s important to understand that some are more difficult than others, especially in communities where citizens are just beginning to engage with one another. Certain conversations are high-risk and require a greater level of trust among people than others to have meaning. A good meeting design begins with less-demanding ones and ends with the more-difficult ones.

  1. Invitation conversation. Transformation occurs through choice, not mandate. Invitation is the call to create an alternative future. What is the invitation we can make to support people to participate and own the relationships, tasks, and process that lead to success?
  2. Possibility conversation. This focuses on what we want our future to be as opposed to problem solving the past. It frees people to innovate, challenge the status quo, break new ground and create new futures that make a difference.
  3. Ownership conversation. This conversation focuses on whose organization or task is this? It asks: How have I contributed to creating current reality? Confusion, blame and waiting for someone else to change are a defense against ownership and personal power.
  4. Dissent conversation. This gives people the space to say no. If you can’t say no, your yes has no meaning. Give people a chance to express their doubts and reservations, as a way of clarifying their roles, needs and yearnings within the vision and mission. Genuine commitment begins with doubt, and no is an expression of people finding their space and role in the strategy.
  5. Commitment conversation. This conversation is about making promises to peers about your contribution to the success. It asks: What promise am I willing to make to this enterprise? And, what price am I willing to pay for success? It is a promise for the sake of a larger purpose, not for personal return.
  6. Gifts conversation. Rather than focus on deficiencies and weaknesses, we focus on the gifts and assets we bring and capitalize on those to make the best and highest contribution. Confront people with their core gifts that can make the difference and change lives.

Other conversations may also be important, but these six are vital to shift to a future where each citizen, each neighbor, each individual chooses to take responsibility and own their role in shaping the future.”

I’m trying to keep all this in mind.  Maybe these thoughts will help you as you approach your next big challenge.

Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2013 Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk”

Photo credit Fifth World Art via Flickr

1 thought on “Project Management Patience

  1. Your insights are right on, Glenn. A project manager who is patient in the beginning, in the initiating stages, is a wise project manager indeed.

    In the quoted material, I found this especially profound:

    “…If you can’t say no, your yes has no meaning. …Give people a chance to express their doubts and reservations, as a way of clarifying their roles, needs and yearnings within the vision and mission.”

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