Leaving Things Better Than We Found Them

“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.

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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.

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

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

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