If Project Managers Ran the Presidential Debates

As a project manager, I find the presidential debates disturbing.  If I were going to hire one of the candidates to manage the challenging project of reforming any of the major issues we have to solve in the next four years, I couldn’t make the decision based on the debates.  In fact, there isn’t much the candidates are saying or posting now that is useful for that decision.

We need to see which candidate will be best able to bring out and deliver creative solutions.  Our issues have risks with probability too high and impacts too great.  Our future leaders have to be able to deal with this.  They have to see a path forward, be willing to compromise if necessary, and get things done.  I want the presidential debates to show me who can be the best at collaborating to get things done, not who can be the biggest A&*H@!#.

Looking only at their past experience and track records, I think I could vote for either one.

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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”

Moral Hazard

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and feel that you have to write something down?  I’m doing that now.  Maybe it’s because today is the first day of October.  Here in the Pacific Northwest it’s the start of a fast slide from Indian summer sunsets at 7:30PM to driving home after work in the dark.  It’s a scary month full of goblins and ghouls, my birthday, spider webs, and looming storms.  Get ready for the dark side of risk management – moral hazard!

Photo from Pedro J. Ferriera on Flickr.

Moral hazard is scary.  It’s not just me saying this.  Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, in his book “The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008,” defines moral hazard as “any situation in which one person makes the decision about how much risk to take, while someone else bears the cost if things go badly.”  The first example I ever heard of this was many years ago from a distinguished author and speaker on systems planning who, over drinks after a presentation, confided to us that he would insure his rental cars and then crash them into things as therapy. Continue reading

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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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

Flying First Class

I’m sitting with the management team of a growing organization that seems to have money for projects when others’ don’t.  They have money for more projects than they are ready for.  Every department of this organization is doing some sort of project.  They all need more help from their shared services than they can get.  Every project is important.  Every project is behind schedule.  Some look to me like failing projects.  I want to say “maybe you should focus on fewer projects.”  No one is ready for that feedback yet.  I need to say it in a way that makes a difference.

Projects are a vehicle to get us from where we are to where we want to go.  I like this metaphor.  Whether the vehicle is a car or a plane, many of the characteristics about travel apply to projects.  Where do we want to go, what should the trip be like, how much stuff can we take with us, who’s driving (are they qualified), what will traffic be like, are we flying first class or coach, do we need trip insurance, or are we driving under the influence?  All these questions, with a little imagination, apply to projects we do at work.

My client organization, it seems, wants all its projects to fly first class; but there are no first class seats on the plane.  In order to jam everyone on the same flight, big seats, free drinks, and legroom lose out to tight quarters and not enough diet soda and cookies to go around.  I ask the managers around the table “Do you want your projects to fly first class or coach?”  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

Benefits Realization

We do projects to meet needs.  In “Don’t Give Me What I Asked For, Give Me What I Need” (July 3, 2012) I described an example of how a client can ask for something specific, but not have a good understanding of how that will meet their underlying needs.  I think that happens a lot:

  • I need a break, let’s go on a trip (will that meet our need to relax?)
  • This house is just too small, let’s buy a bigger one (will that make us more comfortable?)
  • I can’t get the information I need to control costs, we need a new system (will the new system control costs?)

I’ve found that my clients are better off if they stay focused on the outcomes or benefits they want when they make an investment in a change.  But, this is hard to do.  We quickly jump from the need to the solution.  The need and the solution can become disconnected.  How can we keep them together?  Is there a way to create a map between where we are now and realizing the benefits we need?  There is. Continue reading