Tuning Your Project Steering Committee

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. 

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Risk – Science or Emotion?

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

It Is About You

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

Who Burped?

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

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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Don’t Give Me What I Asked For, Give Me What I Need!

If I advocate for finding what can go right with your project, and I help you manage the project, I should start with getting a clear understanding of the outcome you expect.  What is the best possible outcome from the time and money and effort you will expend on your project?  Why are you doing it, really?  What will be different, in the best possible way, when you are done?  What do you want the journey from here to there to be like?

Notice, I used the word “outcome,” not “scope.”  I think “outcome” goes beyond “scope.”  Continue reading