As my career evolves, I’ve moved from project manager roles to roles where I oversee and assess projects. I think doing this productively requires balancing cold objectivity with optimism and encouragement. It also has to balance an independent perspective with collaborative input. The challenge is ensuring that the assessment identifies strengths and problems, encourages improvement, and doesn’t weigh down the project while requiring accountability. After all, being assessed is a powerful thing.
Think about it. Few things cause as powerful an emotional response as being judged. The coach says “Nice play! Your footwork is really improving.” You feel great; motivated to get better. You think about the input and accept the positive encouragement. The coach says “No, you aren’t paying attention! You have to learn the play and be in the right place.” This brings out a more complex response. You may resist criticism. You may think about what you were doing right and are mad it wasn’t noticed. If you are singled out, you may be embarrassed. If the coach is fair and you respect him, you may more readily accept the comments. But they can still hurt.
Here’s a lighter hearted example to give you something to think about. Over the holidays we visited our grandkids. My five year old granddaughter, Amberly, loves games and role playing. We were playing catch with an indoor soft Frisbee. I was admiring how much her ability to catch and throw had improved in the last few months. Our game had changed in an interesting way, though. Where it used to be that any throw was a good one, now we tried to make straight catchable throws. I’d say “good throw” or “good catch, Amby.” She’d say “good throw” or “good catch, Grampy.” It got more interesting when Amby decided, out of the blue, to keep score.
In the world of leadership blogs encouraging managers to be leaders, I have a tiny niche where I encourage project managers to develop consulting skills. This week, to balance my tendency to be a non-conformist with how most people look at things, I’ve been thinking I need to put all the leadership, management, and consulting skills into context with one another. Maybe you will add my little niche idea to the more obvious links between project management and leadership if I can come up with a good sports analogy and a cool managerial model. So, here’s the “Five Tool Player” model for successful management of projects and organizations.
A superior baseball player is often called a “Five Tool Player.” This player excels at:
- Hitting for average
- Hitting for power
- Running bases with speed
The epitome of five tool players is generally thought to be Willie Mays. Mays is near the top of all these categories for all time. Also, Willie Mays’ had an inspiring good natured approach to the game that drew respect and admiration. Willie put it all together to make his team and his organization more successful.
How do we become the Willie Mays of project managers? We should aspire to develop five skills as well. Here’s a picture:
“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.
“With great power comes great responsibility” (Spiderman’s Uncle Ben). Great power and responsibility means taking risks. Turning risks into success requires awareness, acceptance, and management.
What inspired this great wisdom, you ask? My new scooter and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
My little 50cc Kymco scooter was the source of my first scooter inspired post, “50cc’s of Patience,” last June. With my 50cc scooter, I was less concerned about risk and more aware of the gap between capacity and expectations. My Kymco served me well, but a year of experience left me wanting and ready for a ride with more potential and staying power. So my fun and economical two stroke chainsaw on wheels found a new happy home and I traded up to a 2010 Honda SH150i.
The Honda is 150cc’s of awesome power and efficiency (really!). The new Honda scooter is faster and cleaner. It’s fuel injected and has a catalytic converter. It gets the same great 90 MPG as the Kymco and is dramatically cleaner per the EPA. It cruises lazily at 40mph with speed to spare and easily totes my 150 pounds plus office backpack up the steepest of hills without strain. It’s more steady and secure in the swirly winds of a busy arterial. I love it.
But, just as I got over confident with the Kymco’s ability to max out at 40mph and suffered some engine push back, I could risk getting over confident with the easy speed and handling of the Honda. I was warned of this when I first started riding. Hearing about my scooter, friends’ responses were so consistent I thought I’d become Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” asking for a BB gun (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”) I’d hear “Motorcycles are dangerous.” “People don’t see you.” “I used to do that but I don’t anymore. It’s not safe.” Clearly, my new power and responsibility required heightened risk management. Fortunately, my motorcycle safety class covered the topic of risk with surprising sophistication. Continue reading
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
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
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.