I’m feeling guilty for being a little late on this post. Went to a class last week and I’m getting ready to go on vacation. Hang in there with me during June as I will be travelling.
I took a great class on being a Scrum Product Owner from SolutionsIQ in Redmond last week. I want to share my class experience because it provided a great example of how agile is important to project managers who want to find the other side of risk. Agile structures your work so you are constantly challenging uncertainty to drive out opportunities.
The class content was great, the instructors were engaging and knowledgeable, and the class was run in a way that allowed students to learn from one another. At the end of the class, I was happy with what I learned. But, I paged through my class notebook and saw lots of pages we didn’t cover. They all looked like really interesting ideas. Was the class a success from a project management perspective? This is the project manager’s dilemma with agile. How do we commit to scope, schedule, and budget to meet our client’s expectations? Let’s look closer.
The class was run as an “agile” class. We used the agile Scrum process to understand and decide on what we wanted to learn within the curriculum; and how we learned it.
Time and cost were fixed constraints. We finished on time and the class cost exactly what it was supposed to cost. We got a book of slides and articles at the start of class – the potential scope, but we didn’t cover all of them. But, everything in the book seemed important. Shouldn’t I expect everything in the curriculum to be covered? Would we be successful if we didn’t cover all the slides made available? How much scope we could complete within fixed time and budget constraints was an uncertainty. Sound familiar? Continue reading →
Sometimes we are distracted from our goals by the stress of the moment. Distractions can take our eyes off the outcomes we want from our projects. After stress, we may take our next step away from stress instead of toward our goal. Do this enough, and you get lost. What can we do to keep from losing our way?
I heard an interesting Radio Lab on NPR today about how we find our way. A brief segment of the show caught my “Other Side of Risk” antenna. The hosts interviewed Dr. Lera Boroditsky, a professor at Stanford who studies how language shapes thought and behavior. She described an Australian Aboriginal community, Pormpuraaw, whose language emphasized spatial orientation. When people in Pormpuraaw greet one another, they say “Where are you going?” The answer is always something like “North northeast in the middle direction.” There are about 80 phrases in Pormpuraawan that describe spatial orientation and direction. Pormpuraawans always pay attention to their spatial orientation and how to get where they want to go. This seemed unusual, but according to Dr. Boroditsky, about one third of the world’s 7,000 languages are deeply rooted in spatial orientation. English isn’t one of them. Continue reading →
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how organizations change. The bottom line seems to be that successful change comes from people pulling it in. You can’t push change in. Do our projects focus on push or pull?
I’m part of planning for a project where thousands of people will have to change how they do their work. The old system is about 30 years old. The change will require thousands of people to redo 30 years of process and system connections to unplug the old and plug in the new. How will they get ready to do this?
I woke up to NPR this morning and listened to an interview with Bobby Knight, the famous college basketball coach. The interview discussed his new book “The Power of Negative Thinking.” To sum it up, Coach Knight said that if you want to win it’s more important to focus on what can go wrong and fix it than to let positive thinking pull you through. Checking out the book preview on Amazon, I picked out this quote:
“As I looked ahead to every game and every season, my first thought was always: What vulnerabilities do we have and what can we do to minimize them, to get around them, to survive them – and give ourselves a better chance to win? In effect, how do you eliminate the wasted energy and unnecessary mistakes to build a cohesive and successful team that can play within its strengths?”
Clearly, Bob Knight is a great risk manager. What I like about his message is that we have to work hard to clearly identify and counteract the risks we face in order to succeed. We can’t just hope for the best. When we do risk management, we should really look for risks and take real actions to mitigate them. We should take specific actions and track specific results to be sure that mitigations are working. Knight is right about that.
But, I’m having a tough time with the “Power of Negative Thinking” thing. (I have to admit here that I’ve only read 20 pages or so that were available on Amazon’s preview). Maybe it’s how he went about being a great risk manager. My impression is that Bob Knight was a pretty demanding and uncompromising manager. In the book, Knight says he had a slogan posted in his locker room saying “This ain’t Burger King. We’ll do it my way.” Can we really be successful in endeavors outside of basketball by following the iron willed approach of a coach to win by relentlessly fixing mistakes? I’m going to ponder this question a bit and see if I learn anything.
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.
Projects are more successful when all the participants – project managers, builders, and clients – find ways to understand and learn from one another. But, that’s not easy. Why is that? Don’t we want to understand and support one another? We probably do. But, our different perspectives can get in the way.
Most people on a project are looking for different things when they look at the project. The project manager is looking to define and manage objectives, scope, schedule, budget, and risks. The other people on the project are looking at what they will be creating or what they will have when the project is completed. They see what interests them. And, they see what they are directed to look for. Science backs up my assertion.
Listening to NPR earlier in the week, I heard a story about the invisible gorilla. It wasn’t about the 900 pound gorilla that comes to most of our project meetings that we all see but don’t talk about. (Or, maybe it was…). It was about a gorilla in plain sight that we don’t see because we are looking for something else.