Having promoted/endorsed the wonderful work done by manager-tools.com I’ve just came across an article in HarvardBusiness.org titled “How Companies Can Develop Critical Thinkers and Creative Leaders“. The writer, Col. Bernard Banks, makes the observation that:

“In industry, 90% of time is typically devoted to executing business actions, and less than 10% is allocated for increasing organizational and individual capabilities through training. The military, on the other hand, spends as much time training as it does executing — even in the midst of high stress/high risk operations…The Army defines leadership as both accomplishing the mission and improving the organization.

I am not suggesting that “civilian” organizations ought to manage their affairs using military disciplines; it is however worth noting that when it comes to managing projects towards the realization of a pre-defined set of objectives, the above statement should hold true to both military and civilian institutions.

And the message is loud and clear:

  • Given that leadership requires both meeting ones objectives and improving the organization,
  • And given that one of the surest means for improving the organization is by increasing organizational and individual capabilities via the introduction of training, coaching and mentoring;
  • It is therefore incumbent upon every aspiring manager (and yes, project managers as well) to take the necessary steps and measures to improve the quality and ‘throughput’ of their team members – not because it is a nice thing to do, not because they would feel good about themselves; but because that’s a sure step which will result in delivering a smarter, more efficient and more productive organization.

Think about it!

 

 

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A recent article by Colin Macilwain in Nature magazine, titled “World view: Leaders wanted“, as well as a presentation by Carl Malamud (courtesy of BetterProjects) made me ponder about the poor state of leadership, accountability and common sense surrounding our projects’ environment.

While I challenge the myth surrounding IT projects failure rate, I’m still at loss when attempting to logically understand the apparent reality where large scale projects fail to deliver their intended benefits. It is almost daily that we read about a project that failed or is likely to fail to deliver, sometimes with devastating or substantial consequences. Two recent examples (out of the many more featuring in local and world media) include the fiasco around the Commonwealth games in India, the second being the late and over budgeted $1.3b new ticketing system (Myki) commissioned by the Victorian Government in Australia.

Colin Macilwain laments the fact that

“today laboratory and facility heads are often selected less for their intellectual brilliance than for being ‘good committee men or women’ who can cope with the bureaucracy now inherent to the task. The result is often mediocre management by individuals who can get by, but can’t inspire.”

Change ‘laboratory’ and ‘facility’ with ‘department’, ‘division’, ‘organization’ and you get the core reason for failed projects – lack of leadership who understands the WHY and can drive with clear vision and integrity the WHAT, the HOW and the WHO.

Both the Indian and Australian examples represent situations where basic principles of project management were not adhered to due to non-project-related considerations:

  • In the Indian case it would have probably been lack of basic understanding of the need to formulate credible, achievable and unambiguous delivery timelines. This is most likely to be not so much a case of failed project management as much as complete incompetency at sponsorship levels, with limited or no drive for achieving best possible outcomes given the circumstances.
  • The Australian example is not less puzzling. The Victorian initiated new ticketing system represented the introduction and adaptation of existing technology, already used overseas, so all relevant risks should have been easy to realize, quantify and mitigate earlier on in the project life-cycle. That the government continued to pursue the project delivery even when it has become blatantly apparent the it will end up costing much more than initially budgeted is a reflection of poor decision making level that should not reflect on the project itself (at least not as far as this particular aspect is concerned – as there are many other reasons to wonder how come such a seemingly straight forward project has managed to stray that much off its intended course).

There are many lessons that can be leaned from the above; I would like to focus on one, which is the need to enforce transparency.

Transparency (naively perhaps) was brought to the forefront by various (yet to mature) Open Government initiatives aimed at ensuring openness at all levels of government. The notion behind this initiative was that openness would increase the potential for better, more effective public scrutiny and oversight. Nice in  theory; this idea is yet to be fully realized in practice, despite being approved by a number of countries, including the USA, Australia, Britain and others. Self preservation, lack of personal and professional integrity, and unwillingness to play according to the rules, results in project failures reflecting incompetent sponsorship and lack of management credibility.

So, next time you hear about a failed project resist your natural inclination to put the blame on the project manager and dig deeper, there’s good chance the project was bound to fail before it even started.

Think about it!

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Commitment

If you promise you will do something by a certain date and realize half way through that you can’t make it, please let me know. Don’t wait until the last minute as it will most likely affect other people and it takes time to reschedule material delivery and contractors’ time.

Communication

If I send you a message requesting information or assistance, don’t ignore it, I know you’re busy (I’m actually busy too) but there’s always time to be courteous and send a reply (any reply) – please manage my expectations and at least let me know when you’ll be able to respond with a proper reply

Attitude

Don’t assume that just because I’m the project manager it is “my problem”. The truth is that if you are part of the team then it is YOUR problem too. We’re all in it together and if the project fails it is a reflection on each and every one of us, not just ME.

Personality

Don’t be a bully; it doesn’t resonate well with me, or with others. Chances are you’ll get a much better response from others if you treat them with respect.

Time Manaement

Don’t come and see me every time you need information. It disrupts my schedule and forces me to divert my attention to you. If it is not urgent, send me an e-mail. I promise I will respond. If I’m very busy I will at least provide you with an indication when a more detailed response will be due.

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Over the past few months I’ve come across a number of interesting, yet conflicting, views regarding the benefits associated with allowing the use of Social Media tools in the workplace.

A media release published by the University of Melbourne in April 2009 claims that “‘workers who engage in Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing’ (WILB) are more productive than those who don’t”. The author of the study, Dr. Brent Coker, from the Department of Management and Marketing further says that “People who do surf the Internet for fun at work – within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office – are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t.”

This survey is in direct support of an earlier study conducted by Accenture that makes the observation that people who were born between 1977 and 1997 (corresponding roughly with Generation Y) expect their employers to respect their IT preferences, including their computers and applications and that employees in the above age group would show a preference to use instant messaging, text messaging, and RSS feeds to communicate with their clients and customers. The study further found that over a quarter of the employees surveyed use technology that is unsupported and unsanctioned by their employer. Amongst Gen Y employees, almost half reported that they use social networks, blogs, vlogs, or Twitter without having their IT departments’ approval.

A new study, published by Helen Hodgetts of the University of Cardiff in the UK found that “Email notifications and instant messages all cause a break in focus of the task in hand, even if they are attended to only very briefly”.

It seems like the jury is still out on this question. The topic of applying effective time management to managing e-mail has already been discussed extensively with most experts making the observation that effective use of e-mail requires the allocation of pre-defined time-slots throughout the day for checking and sorting out e-mail. Accordingly e-mail notification should be turned off as, as outlined above, they cause a break in focus and take attention from other productive and planned activities.

It is not difficult to see how social media tools will fall into the same category as e-mail notifications. The majority of these tools (take twitter for example) are based on random stream of uncontrolled and unscheduled data. Unlike e-mail notification that can be assumed (although not necessarily so) to be work related, social media traffic will be (mostly) not work related and has the potential to lead to substantial amount of lost time.

It is easy to see why Gen Y employees will be keen to maintain their internet access while they’re at work. This is the generation mostly associated with the ‘dot.com’ concept and are also (perhaps fondly) called ‘dot.com generation’.

I’ve yet to see a study which addresses the apparent conflict between the wishes and desires of this generation and the realization that some of their surfing habits are not necessarily conducive to an effective and productive working environment.

So, watch this space.

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John Maeda from HarvardBusiness.org brings a compelling argument to the idea that Business Leaders should act more like Artists. He brings three reason to demonstrate this need:

  1. Artists constantly collaborate
  2. Artists are talented communicators
  3. Artists learn how to learn together.

Which got me thinking that the above arguments are relevant not just to business leaders but also to managers generically and to project managers specifically.

So in the on-going discussion regarding whether or not project management is an art or a skill it seems like the above argument is leaning towards the art end of the scale. My view though is that project management consists of both, and having the artistic capabilities help distinguish between the good project managers and the ones who are not so good.

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Wikipedia defines “Environmental economics” as the science that undertakes theoretical or empirical studies of the economic effects of national or local environmental policies around the world.

I would like to suggest that in the context of Project Management there should be an undertaking to study the impact of various modes of management on the human environment. Whereas economic behavior can affect environmental policies, management – or more specifically bad management – can impact team members and, although indirectly, their families and friends.

Economic models suggest that humans, as rational animals, will perform in various ways depending on a complex set of incentive based rules. The greater the incentive towards behaving in a particular way, the greater the chance that this option will be selected. The way we treat our team members reflect the same economic model where our behavior is dependent on the set of incentives to which we as project managers are exposed.

The problem is that in the corporate environment we are mostly governed by conflicting and mostly differing sets of incentives. As individuals we are motivated by a different set of incentives and values than the ones driving us in our corporate capacity.

The only way these two sets of values can be reconciled is by applying the same methods we apply on all other project management disciplines, by incorporating this requirement into the project management code of conduct while incorporating this into the project management body of knowledge.

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John Reiling writes about the importance of nurturing unseen relationships. He’s got a valid point. As a project manager your #1 challenge is maintaining relationship and your #1 tool for achieving it is effective communication. I’ve argued previously that as 90% of the project manager’s work requires communication of some sort, improved communication will have substantial impact on the overall project’s chances of success.

Scientific American has recently published an article where it brought together a number of scientists to explore the intellectual and cultural walls that have fallen (since the fall of the Berlin Wall) and those that remain to come down. One of the scientists quoted in the article, Muhammad Yunus, talked about the “falling walls of poverty.” The premise of his work is to engage large corporation with the aim of convincing them to create a business model that is not necessarily profit based but rather based on a social and environmental contribution – a fascinating concept.

I wonder whether or not this concept can also be applied to project management. Can a project manager be judged not only by his/her ability to deliver the ‘profit’ based results (i.e. those objectives determined by a business case which have a $ value behind them) but also on the contribution that the project makes to the well being and long term aspirations of the people involved with the project.

Imaginary idea? I think not!

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imageIt’s a common scenario. You are managing a project and something goes wrong. You are following the established processes, take corrective actions and institute preventative actions to mitigate future risks. Irrespective of what actions you take, there is always a stakeholder (and there is always at least one) that will persistently raise questions and make comments like:

  • “I’m sure I’ve asked for this functionality to be included, we discussed it 6 months ago, and I can’t understand how come just now you realised it is not covered”
  • “We need to get to the bottom of this now! Why did this discrepancy not identified earlier given that I’ve been pushing for this for the past 3 months.”
  • “Bunch of useless operators, the worst lot I’ve ever come across…”

See the pattern? As a project manager you are mainly occupied with achieving the project’s objectives and, while learning from past mistakes, attempt to chart a path into the future.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that mature adults seem to expend a lot of effort on disagreeing, or more specifically, raising un-necessary obstacles and concerns on issues that don’t really matter. It’s not just that some people like to disagree and voice their opinion; it is also the conduct in which they choose to do it: Assertiveness dipped in aggressiveness and disrespect to other’s feelings. Logic suggests that while it is productive to learn from past mistakes, it is counterproductive to labour over past misdeeds, as this can bring about a sense of under achievement and reduced motivation. It is commonly accepted that following a personal loss, one is expected to ‘move on’ and carry on with ones life. Grief should be an act of retrospection but without a resolution and determination to turn a page and face the future, such experiences can end up on a more negative note than necessary. Negative self reflection and blaming games cannot result in a win-win situation. It seems nevertheless that attempting to achieve win-win results is not the most common human endeavour. In many situations, many people will tend adopt a path of behaviour that will provide them with short term satisfaction at a risk of achieving an overall negative social or organizational outcome.

Why?

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Values) states that “Groups, societies, or cultures have values that are largely shared by their members. The values identify those objects, conditions or characteristics that members of the society consider important; that is, valuable.” We expect people to behave in accordance with their value system. Most people go to work with the aim of doing a good job, delivering value for money, while still maintaining their personal and professional integrity. What is it then that causes ‘normal’ people to deviate from a commonly agreed value system, one that calls for compassion, co-operation and collaboration, and sways them towards a set of behaviours that they will not usually exhibit in their natural environment (e.g. when they are home with their family, surrounded by their spouse and kids)?

An interesting angle to this issue is elaborated on by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner in Freakonomics. In the chapter titled “what do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common” they expand on the theme that people’s behaviour is a function of an incentive system. Briefly, “an incentive is simply a means of urging people to do more of a good thing and less of a bad thing”. Incentive can be introduced in three flavours, being economic, social and moral. The offshoot of this idea is that when people behave in a manner contrary to that which is expected of them, at least under normal circumstances, that means there is no incentive for them to do so, or at least that if any incentives do exist, they clearly do not work.

Good, socially acceptable, behaviour in the work place, one reflecting people’s moral values and representing their preferred personality both at home and in the office does carry an incentive – a positive incentive. Failing a project delivery and not delivering business value and project objectives also carry an incentive – a negative incentive. Ensuring a project is delivered as expected carries an incentive – a positive incentive. Bullying your team and pressuring them to meet project deadlines carries an incentive – or does it? On one hand, if your organization emphasizes delivery over job satisfaction, a tough, aggressive project manager will be judged by his results and the behaviour will carry a positive incentive. If, however, employees’ well being and emotions are of value to the organization, in that case such behaviour is likely to be result in a negative incentivise.

I am yet to come across a study classifying organizations by their practiced value system (practiced as opposed to their published one – as it is possible they might not be the same). To draw from my experience it seems like most organizations value the ‘bottom line’. Delivery first and people second.

Sounds almost like a derivative of capitalism. Or is it?

Think about it?

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