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”

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

Death March

Early in my project management career, I had the good fortune to work with Julie.  Julie is a few years older than I am and had been a project manager in IT quite a bit longer than I had.  She was tough.  Her blue eyes would lock with yours and look straight into your soul.  When our group did the Myers-Briggs personality tests, my introverted patient architect type personality contrasted with her extroverted world domination leader type.  Julie would talk about big projects she had led.  Her favorite term was “death march.”  “That one was a death march!” she would say with wistful gleam in her eye like you get when you remember your trip to Hawaii – paradise lost.

I’m thinking that Julie wasn’t the only person I’ve known who, admired or feared or pitied by their colleagues and clients, has sacrificed greatly, sometimes unacceptably, to achieve their mission.  There was Tom the budget officer at my first assignment in the Air Force many years ago. I naively admired Tom’s dedication to building the best possible base budget and keeping it up to date (in the days before computer screens) by constantly working late and weekends.  I asked my friend Dave, a somewhat wiser and more experienced Lieutenant than I, how Tom did it.  “Well, he really doesn’t like his wife much, so he’d rather be here” Dave replied.  And there was Harvey, the Pepsi addicted computer programmer for the first system I was ever asked to manage.  Harvey’s company provided the software and system support to our business.  When my boss, another tough guy, wanted something done, he’d yell at me: “Get Harvey Pepsi to do it!” knowing that Harvey lived to code and wouldn’t sleep until the job was done if given free rein to make a change to the system.   I always hated to ask.  I wanted Harvey to have a better life.  Harvey seemed to like his life the way it was.

What do we want our projects to be like?  Is the best project a death march characterized by spouse avoiding hours and caffeine infused diets?  Well, not for me, anyway.  But, don’t we all experience these projects in our careers?  Continue reading

Split Personality

I’m a project management consultant.  Does that make me more a project manager than a consultant, or more a consultant than a project manager?  Or, am I equally both?  Aargh, I’m so confused!  One day I’m like “Let’s get to the bottom of this problem and get it solved!” and the next day it’s “How do you think things are going, what has been or could be better?”  My personality is split!  Help me work this out – I need someone to listen while I rant about which one I am or need to be and why.

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The Room of Requirement

I’m trying, against my usual nature, to be predictable and consistent with my blog. I could be doing better this summer. If you are familiar with a Pacific Northwest summer, you know that you take it when you can get it. Last week and this one we’ve been blessed with both summer weather and granddaughter visits. First the eight year old, and now the five year old. The blog has had some tough competition. But, it has some new inspiration, too.

Reading kids stories, the fantasy world mingled in my mind with the realities of my clients. Sitting in a client meeting to define requirements for new software, my mind wandered to Harry Potter and the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts. Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement, as defined by, “is a magical room which can only be discovered by someone who is in need.” “The Room is located on the seventh floor, opposite a tapestry showing Barnabas the Barmy trying to teach trolls to dance the ballet. To make the Room appear, a person has to walk past the section of blank wall three times concentrating hard on what is needed.”

This makes finding the room of requirement seem relatively easy, but, as Dobby tells us: “Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not…”

Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement magically supplied solutions to his needs. On our projects, it would be useful if a Bridge of Requirements would magically appear. If there’s one thing we should imagine going perfectly on a project, it’s building a bridge between the people seeking a solution and the people delivering the solution.

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The Mt Baker Project Management Institute chapter asked me to present on The Other Side of Risk.  That was great for me for two reasons – a good reason to visit our grandkids near Bellingham (home of the Mt Baker chapter), and a push for me to continue to clarify what I mean by The Other Side of Risk.  I have my new blog and a good gut feel for what I’m trying to say, but how to clearly present it in 50 minutes to a group of peers?  Was I ready for that?  I liked how the presentation turned out on paper, but in the end, I didn’t find out what my peers thought.   On the other hand, it turned out to be a valuable and rewarding journey.

Wisely, the Mt Baker chapter cancelled its meeting.  The northwest finally unveiled summer in all its glory last week.  Sunshine, breezy, and 80 degrees won out over a room with no windows, rubber chicken, and a novice guest speaker.  Risk mitigation triggered on Saturday and I got an email from the Chapter about the meeting cancellation.  That was OK because Marcia and I had a great drive and I had a captive audience to rehearse my talk.  Continue reading

50cc’s of Patience

Sometimes we take things for granted. Especially if we’ve been at a thing for a while and have gotten used to it.  We might think we are asking for the same results, but we are really pushing beyond what we should expect. We expect more, but get less. So we are disappointed in the thing and try to fix it.  But, the problem might not be with the thing.  It might be with us.  I experienced this riding my scooter.  I learned that we have to balance push with patience; speed with capacity.  And, to be patient, we need to get feedback on what’s possible and what’s happening.

I have a Kymco People 50cc scooter that I ride to visit Olympia-area clients on days that aren’t too wet or cold. It conserves gas, and it’s fun. Maybe too much fun.

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Finding Balance

So far my blog is going slower than I imagined.  I started with an idea of what I wanted to write about – balancing the frequent project management focus on preventing failure through risk and process management with attention to techniques that bring out opportunities and engage people in making the project a success.  I wanted to organize my approach to the blog so that each piece fit into a well defined framework.  Anyone looking at it would say “Oh my, that’s brilliant!”  Well, it’s not happening like that.

I think that projects are always about achieving a balance between this and that.  This and that are many factors like the needs to balance quantity with quality, retaining ownership with transferring risk to vendors, inspiration and perspiration, Continue reading