“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.
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.
Imagine a bicycle wheel perfectly tuned and spinning without wobble or wasted motion. Each spoke is adjusted to balance and support every other spoke. This is the foundation of a fast and safe trip on a bicycle. If a wheel is out of tune, energy is lost to friction, the rider becomes less stable as the bicycle picks up speed, and vibrations threaten bearings, brakes, and safety. The risk of a trip ending crash goes up.
Imagine a project steering committee. Each person at the table is important to the project’s success by way of their support within and outside the project. Imagine each person at the table sharing a common vision, understanding one another’s perspective, and trusting one another. Each person may not always agree with the others, but each is committed to the project’s success. They are able to set direction, discuss issues, make decisions, commit resources, and communicate supportively to the organization and project stakeholders.
Imagine your project steering committee. Are they in tune with a common vision, understanding of one another’s perspectives, and mutual trust? If not, your project may feel wobbly, unstable, overheated by friction, and unresponsive when you need to change speed or direction. It may be time to tune the wheels.
When I think of “the other side of risk – finding what can go right on your project,” sometimes I wonder if I’m thinking about the science of risk management or the emotional – personal – side of risk. Do we think about risk precisely enough to know the difference?
It strikes me that risk means a lot of things. As people taking personal risks, we are trying new things with uncertain outcomes. We see opportunities for fun, money, friends, experience, and growth. We see possible negative outcomes of losing money, having a bad time, being rejected, or damaging our reputation. We probably don’t scientifically quantify the probability and impact of the negative outcomes vs. the potential positive value of a positive outcome. Our coaches and consultants encourage us not to over think the negative side. We don’t have to know exactly what will happen, what we will do, or how we will do things. If the risk we are considering is a step needed to fulfill our aspirations or dreams, the best thing we can do is lean into it. That means take a measured step toward it, see what happens, learn, adjust, and take another step. This isn’t a scientific process. It’s an emotional one. We make personal decisions to take personal risks based on our emotional needs and desires. Continue reading
Getting and giving feedback is an essential part of finding what can go right on a project. It requires openness, self-confidence, and humility. When giving feedback, it has to be about helping others, not about you. When receiving feedback, it is about you. You have to let it be about you. Accept it, understand it, and use it. It reveals how your project is going, how you are contributing, and what can go better.
But giving and getting feedback isn’t easy. Done poorly, it can make things worse. People have to be open to it before it’s given. You have to be open to it if it is going to make a difference to you.
I posted Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak blog post just before this one from me. Dan has a way of bringing out my ideas. He submits that achieving excellence in leadership depends on our ability to successfully give and receive feedback. He offers some good suggestions on how to trade feedback without having one party to it feel subservient to the other. It’s a good point. How do you set the right attitude when sitting down with a person or team to trade feedback? 35 years ago, in a big lecture hall at Maxwell AFB with about 800 other young Air Force officers at Squadron Officers School, I learned about Johari’s Window, and have used it to encourage feedback ever since.
Johari’s Window was created in 1955 by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham as part of an exercise that helps people in a group understand how they see themselves vs. how others see them. It looks like this:
Thanks to Don Clark at http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/index.html for this picture. Continue reading
Sometimes we need to express confidence in achieving a good outcome on our projects in the face of significant uncertainties. If we look only at the uncertainties, our confidence is deflated to the point of inaction. If we express confidence without acknowledging the uncertainties, we may be seen as not credible.
Our challenge as project managers on difficult projects is to be confident in the face of uncertainty in a credible way. We want others to believe in our confidence, and others want their concerns acknowledged and believed as well. Being believed is important to all of us. I got a lesson in that this weekend while watching the grandkids. Continue reading
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
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.