The tragedy in Connecticut makes it difficult to write about finding what can go right on our projects. It directs our attention to what can go wrong. Horribly wrong. It hurts to think about it. I’m writing today with all those affected in my thoughts.
Sandy Hook makes us think about our own families and our hopes for them. We hope that they will be wildly successful even if they face uncertainties and risks. We hope the same for our own endeavors and projects. How should we address those risks that are exceedingly rare and horrible? How much should we address opportunities that could have outcomes more perfect than we should hope for? Do we spend enough time on the ends of the bell curve?
I started writing this post right after Super Storm Sandy. I remember a pervasive sound bite that went something like:
I never thought it could be this bad. Continue reading
In the last week I spoke with three new project managers. They were all in organizations that practiced limited or no project management. Each was frustrated with how hard it is to be a project manager where the boss just wants to get stuff done. The boss says “we don’t have time to do project management!” You’re thinking “we don’t have time not to…” What to do?
Maybe the answer is to meet halfway. Meeting halfway can be helpful in marriage and consulting, why not in our projects?
Did this happen to you on your wedding day? Older married male guests catch you alone, put their arm around your shoulder, and share a nugget of wisdom that will ensure wedded bliss. It happened to me. Not all were nuggets of gold, but one was. Continue reading
“How much of human life is lost in waiting?” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I heard this quote at the end of the last Indiana Jones movie a couple weeks ago and it stuck in my head. Indiana and Marion waited a long time to realize that they belonged together. It’s taken me a long time to recognize a different connection.
I was talking with a wise associate last week and he opened my eyes. He said he enjoys my blog and that he likes the quality assurance tools I use that reflect my philosophy. We all like that kind of feedback so I was receptive for more. Then he said that I must be using the PMI Standard for Program Management as a reference for my work. I admitted I wasn’t. He reached over to his bookshelf and handed me the standard and I paged though it.
A lot of what I’ve been blogging about as the basis for how I look at projects was right there in the PMI program management standard. It recognizes the need for:
- Linkage to organizational objectives
- Governance of organizational capacity to ensure that projects create synergy
- Consultative skills working with stakeholders and politics
- Benefits realization
We’ve been visiting family in Iowa over Thanksgiving. More eating going on than blogging. But, inspiration is everywhere.
At Thanksgiving, we recognize what we are thankful for: family and friends, our way of life, things that make us safe or happy, and opportunities for abundance. So, Thanksgiving could be an exercise in awareness. By gathering together and recognizing what we have to be thankful for, we become more aware of what we have. When we focus on this, it makes our lives better and more productive.
As project managers, we have the same need. We have to be aware of our strengths, our assets, and our opportunities or we can’t make use of them.
I can think of times in my life and observations of others’ where we’ve focused on our problems and lost sight of our strengths. It makes you unhappy and unproductive. A good friend and coach described it as “getting into our crummy (we used another word) little box.” In that box, you only see what is wrong and not what is right. You focus on problems rather than the things for which you can be thankful. The problems seem to be overwhelming because they are all you can see in the box. Awareness is how you get out of the box.
In the world of leadership blogs encouraging managers to be leaders, I have a tiny niche where I encourage project managers to develop consulting skills. This week, to balance my tendency to be a non-conformist with how most people look at things, I’ve been thinking I need to put all the leadership, management, and consulting skills into context with one another. Maybe you will add my little niche idea to the more obvious links between project management and leadership if I can come up with a good sports analogy and a cool managerial model. So, here’s the “Five Tool Player” model for successful management of projects and organizations.
A superior baseball player is often called a “Five Tool Player.” This player excels at:
- Hitting for average
- Hitting for power
- Running bases with speed
The epitome of five tool players is generally thought to be Willie Mays. Mays is near the top of all these categories for all time. Also, Willie Mays’ had an inspiring good natured approach to the game that drew respect and admiration. Willie put it all together to make his team and his organization more successful.
How do we become the Willie Mays of project managers? We should aspire to develop five skills as well. Here’s a picture:
“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.
“With great power comes great responsibility” (Spiderman’s Uncle Ben). Great power and responsibility means taking risks. Turning risks into success requires awareness, acceptance, and management.
What inspired this great wisdom, you ask? My new scooter and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
My little 50cc Kymco scooter was the source of my first scooter inspired post, “50cc’s of Patience,” last June. With my 50cc scooter, I was less concerned about risk and more aware of the gap between capacity and expectations. My Kymco served me well, but a year of experience left me wanting and ready for a ride with more potential and staying power. So my fun and economical two stroke chainsaw on wheels found a new happy home and I traded up to a 2010 Honda SH150i.
The Honda is 150cc’s of awesome power and efficiency (really!). The new Honda scooter is faster and cleaner. It’s fuel injected and has a catalytic converter. It gets the same great 90 MPG as the Kymco and is dramatically cleaner per the EPA. It cruises lazily at 40mph with speed to spare and easily totes my 150 pounds plus office backpack up the steepest of hills without strain. It’s more steady and secure in the swirly winds of a busy arterial. I love it.
But, just as I got over confident with the Kymco’s ability to max out at 40mph and suffered some engine push back, I could risk getting over confident with the easy speed and handling of the Honda. I was warned of this when I first started riding. Hearing about my scooter, friends’ responses were so consistent I thought I’d become Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” asking for a BB gun (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”) I’d hear “Motorcycles are dangerous.” “People don’t see you.” “I used to do that but I don’t anymore. It’s not safe.” Clearly, my new power and responsibility required heightened risk management. Fortunately, my motorcycle safety class covered the topic of risk with surprising sophistication. Continue reading
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
Project managers sometimes have to turn nothing into something. Change everyone’s doubt into confidence. Solve an unsolvable problem. Pull a rabbit out of a hat. Turn lead into gold. Turn stones into soup. This sounds like magic to me. Appropriate for Halloween. Here’s a story with scary risks turned into a happy ending by project manager magic.
My wife and I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. We didn’t meet until college, but we had one unique experience in common. We learned about Halloween trick or treating in the 1950s in a town where trick or treat meant something different than anywhere else. In Des Moines, we learned that the risk of tricks could become an opportunity for creative and constructive fun.
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