Project Management as the Customer Sees It (part I)

So just who are our customers?

 Customers are a bit like stakeholders, easy to define their attributes but hard to draw their boundaries. This is often one of the biggest problems or ‘issues’ that we face in the project or change world as we impact more and more people, are influenced by increasingly greater numbers and generate interest in larger and more diverse groups. Hence this is a very appropriate topic for a group of senior project managers.

 

What are they like?

Of course this section starts to get involved in the tricky area of personalities, perceptions and perspectives of which more later. However without a good scientific or ‘gut’ feeling for their potential future behavior we may be left floundering in the wind with a perfectly ‘beautiful’ MS project schedule and PMBOK® complaint plan.

We often start this piece by looking close to home. Are they like me, my family or my relatives? Are they like my neighbors, my acquaintances or people from my city, province? We then start to extend to comparisons with fellow countrymen, neighboring countrymen, fellow continentals. But now we are relying on gut feeling based on history, books, movies and a few samples at best. And this is where the twin dangers of ethnocentric and xenophobic behavior raise their ugly heads.

For larger groups some companies start to use ‘scientific’ methods e.g. Myers Briggs, Belbin, DISC as well as others with a more dubious background e.g graphology, astrology, Many of these systems give us nice comforting labels for individuals that go beyond local, national or international boundaries to titles like facilitators, plants, sculptors, artists, executives, visionaries, caregivers and performers. Some even give you a nice color hat or mug!

However many of these systems are based on outdated ‘Freudian’ and ‘Jungian’ ideas, false positives and dubious statistics and fall foul to what is called the ‘Forer’ effect whereby individuals read into positive results and neglect negative attributes even though both are incorrect.

 

Why are they like that ?

Now this area is very interesting and depends on how much time we have and how much it affects you. At some point in your life you have no doubt reflected on why men are different from women. For those of you lucky enough to have two or more children will also have pondered on why they are different even though raised by the same loving parents. Perhaps at work too you have encountered differences between IT groups, Sales groups, Engineers and others. And also at a national level between Asians and Europeans, between Chinese and Americans, between Singaporeans and Finnish!

This takes us to the heart of the nature/ nurture debate that has swung both radically and irrationally from pure nurture (blank slate) to pure nature (instinct) to the present view of a compromise understanding based on recent genetic discoveries. Very basically we are descendants of primates that lived in savannah Africa for millions of years. Recent studies have identified 13 distinct ‘tribes’ in Africa. The rest of the world descends from one of those groups that left North Africa as hunter/ gathers about 150,000 years ago and settled in the Middle East or West Asia. From there it seems that we developed from 7 key tribes and started to spread out around the world between 40 and 20,000 years ago. Farming arrived about 10,000 years ago by cultural education although there are still some pockets of hunter/ gatherers. Language had been with us in various forms for millions of years, as dancing, singing and finally talking. Language started to differentiate into dialects and distinct languages around this time possibly to help us identify ‘free loaders’ or outsiders. Writing started in many different styles and methods but seems to go back no further that 5,000 years.

So when we ask the question – Why are they like that? We can now start to have an interesting debate. Was it because of something that happened yesterday? or last year? or in their childhood? Or is it something deeper that relates to their countrymen, their history and shared experiences? Or perhaps it goes deeper to where they live and have always lived, the climate and geography – factors that help select their ancestors and their beneficial characteristics. Or finally is it because of who they are at a genetic level, something that we all share to an amazing degree of 99.9% – interesting stuff indeed – and something that we must leave for the afternoon session as it may involve brief diversions into religions, genetics and brain chemistry.

 

Watching Goats! Genetics, Multiculturalism and Managing in a Global World (Part III)

scarey goat

 

by Frank Ryle, PMP

III. Assessment

As project managers we need to assess the performance of the project, individuals and team. How will we do this in a multicultural, global, project environment? Our records of people management as a subject are limited. However, we must assume that informal people management must have been around for ages, possibly even during the three million years our species was evolving in Africa.

In some way groups have been assessed and developed for a very long time. Almost certainly it was necessary during the great migrations as we left Africa about 100,000 years ago and drifted across Asia and Europe and all the way to South America and Australia. We should assume that the cave dwellers of the south of France and their famous cave paintings would have started to have some rules and techniques for people management, perhaps learned by observation of the Neanderthal neighbors 40,000 years ago.

The earliest farmers, 10,000 years ago, must also have had some people management skills in order to plant and harvest as well as organize their large families and groups for maximum effectiveness and to defend themselves from hunter/gatherers. The Romans must have had good reason to divide into groups of 100, the Mormons into groups of 150, for Jesus to choose 12 disciples and a soccer team to have 11 players.

Unfortunately there are no ‘airport’ style self help books from those eras to help us understand their successes (“10 Ways to Cross a Desert,” “A Checklist of Mammoth Hunting,” “How to Motivate your Shiftless Relatives,” “What to Do with Old Folks,” “How to Communicate with Rampaging Hunter/Gatherers.”)

We have tried phrenology, astrology, graphology and psychology as ways to assess ourselves and our fellow man and all of these methods seem to fall foul of the same mistake of trying to put all 6.5 billion members of mankind into ‘boxes’ and to use those ‘box types’ to predict future behavior.

When assessing the performance of individuals beyond our ‘comfort zone’ we need to take account of instincts, beliefs and science. We need to consider the environments that developed their instincts, the beliefs that guided their early development and the breakthroughs in science that have led us to question much of what was previously left to the gods. Only then will we have methods and tools worthy of ‘scientific analysis.’

We have evolved over many, many generations. Traits and characteristics that have proved beneficial have been selected by the environment and passed down through inheritance. Some of our behaviors may be anachronistic in that they would be better served in an ancient environment with differing needs for survival. We will need to address the relationship between the genetic environment that chose our genes and our current working environment.

We need to make the connection between the latest breakthroughs in science and our own needs for productivity increases in knowledge workers. These knowledge areas include genetics, anthropology, and psychology as well as brain chemistry and migration studies. Based on this knowledge we need to build credible tools to assist selection, assessment and development of human resources. We need to work better worldwide and really advance not just project management, which this will, but our own collective potential as humans.

Perhaps much of this is too difficult to contemplate, let alone actually carry out. Perhaps the theories are not properly defined, the tools not yet available or the ethics not extensively tested. In many ways, we are back at the early days of the Industrial Age where our desires are not matched by our vision or the business case is not compelling enough. However, for the person who gets this right there is the possibility of that elusive goal of achieving both project and personal goals in harmony. Finally, we would have the ‘right people on the bus’ and they would have a productive and enjoyable ride! The broad universal potential is staggering.

The intent of this paper is to raise awareness of the issues that may affect a project manager on a future project. The next steps in method and tool development, based on the most recent advances in scientific thinking, are already being written. However, in the interim we should be aware of the issues, consult locally, estimate conservatively and perhaps include team issues as standard in any project risk assessment exercise.

 

Watching Goats! Genetics, Multiculturalism and Managing in a Global World (Part II)

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by Frank Ryle, PMP

2. Development

As project managers we want to take our teams and develop the team ‘spirit’ to achieve the project objectives. Many team development theories are based on the model developed 50 years ago by Dr. Bruce Tuckman of Forming/Storming/Norming and Performing, with the ‘Adjourning’ phase added later for project type work. As project managers we are trying to get the team to spend as much project time in performing as possible. And this leads us to require a greater knowledge and competence in motivation, conflict management and communication.

 

Human motivation is a large subject area with many contributors. It should play a major role in our thinking and framework. We need to look back at the earliest understanding of motivation and any attempt to measure and develop its potential. There is much written on this topic and many theories developed. Yet we are still amazed sometimes by the changes that motivation can bring both positive and negative. We need to look at motivation in a new light, with a more scientific understanding of our instincts and emotions. We will need to look at the latest knowledge on brain chemistry and a chemical called Dopamine in particular.

 

Richard Dawkins, the renowned evolutionary biologist from Oxford University wrote about the “The Selfish Gene” in 1976 and described the apparent selfishness of genes for replication. This may be a good analogy to help us understand some of our motivations and behaviors. Apparently Jeff Skillings of Enron was highly influenced in this ‘selfish gene’ concept as a model for the Enron culture.

 

However, I am more comforted by the words of Kalhil Gibran in the “Prophet” — ‘your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.’ Even if these two basically mean the same thing — that in difficult situations our instinctive behaviors (derived from evolution and selected for success) are more likely to win over our rational thought — I remain optimistic that rationality will prevail on its own inherent merits in the long run.

 

In considering team members we have to remember that we are 99.9% identical to any other person on the planet in terms of our genetic make-up.  There is far greater genetic variation within groups of people (height, weight, behavior) than between any two persons from different groups. Perhaps the spread of genetic knowledge will finally put racism in its rightful place and allow us to consider the positive differences that will improve our team performance.

 

So exactly how does this affect people management and team development?

 

We live in a world with 6.5 billion people. For the first time in our history more of us will live in cities than in the countryside. We are endeavoring to carry out trade, projects and cooperation on a larger scale and shorter timescale than ever before. And in the process we are discovering that the tools and techniques that have helped us thus far are in need of updating and possible replacement.

 

We must first address the issue of whether it is, indeed, possible to improve the productivity of an individual and/or team. And if so, is there an ultimate peak or limit to an individual’s or teams productivity? Or to put it more bluntly, is there a limit to the output from their brain or collective brains per hour?

 

It is often taken as axiomatic that working in teams tends to improve the performance of the individual members resulting in higher-quality results. However, a recent simple study of individuals lifting sacks of sand on a pulley system demonstrated the tendency of freeloading in teams. The combined weight of the team lift was less than the total of the individuals’ efforts. We need to look beyond the simple Tuckman model and understand the science behind team formation and development.

 

Watching Goats! Genetics, Multiculturalism and Managing in a Global World (Part I).

goat-face-87

By FRANK RYLE, PMP

The rate of change of the environmental landscape in the past 50 years calls our attention to a major problem for our children and our planet. In many ways, the rate of change of the project world has been just as dramatic and perhaps the knowledge, tools and thinking of the past 50 years need to be re-evaluated in the light of new scientific discoveries and a radically different project and overall international working landscape.

As project managers operating in this new world we need to take account of the latest scientific research and thinking in the areas of genetics, anthropology, brain chemistry and evolutionary theory.

But how often do we find ourselves trying to make decisions — particularly about persons on whom we depend for the success of our projects either directly or indirectly by “gut instinct” or poor tools? Simply judging based on the superficial signs a person transmits to us or even some out-of-date tests hardly supports the standards of project management professionalism to which we all aspire.

 

The New Challenge: Going Beyond Golf and Goats

As project managers many of us are operating far from our geographical and cultural ‘comfort zones’ of usual judgment. We may be from London, Detroit or New York and find ourselves working in or with colleagues from India, China or Germany. We may feel out of our depth, totally removed from “gut instinct” and far from the home regions where instinctual judgments may at least offer some chance of success.  Suddenly, we are operating within cultures and norms that are, in fact, truly foreign to our internal barometers. We are faced with the challenge of increasing the productivity of our individuals — team members in a business world that is becoming ever more virtual, multicultural and outsourced.

In particular, we are faced with three main challenges. These are to continue to improve performance by:

  • Selecting better individuals and teams, and needing to understand the individual’s personality and his or her potential team behaviour.
  • Developing and maintaining individual and team performance and needing to understand the basic methods of motivation, conflict and trust.
  • Better assessing both individual and team performance, and needing measurements and tools that can stand up to a reasonable query by a scientist.

Which brings me to goats and golf.

Each year I return to Ireland with 12 school friends on the last weekend in March to play four rounds of seaside links golf on the old course at Lahinch. Of course, the weather is always a topic of conversation but not a crucial matter. There is a story of a previous president of the club who got tired of fixing the barometer at the Clubhouse and one day he taped a note to it saying, “Watch the goats!” The theory being that if the weather was going to turn bad the goats would be hanging around the Clubhouse and if it was going to be good they would be out on the course. However, in our experience the goats are not always right.

How many of us in management today are using tools as sophisticated as ‘Watch the goats?’ How many of us in this new environment would be temped to say ‘Do you have any goats here? Or ‘Let’s fix this barometer’.

So the questions before us as project managers in this new world are direct. How should we:

  • Choose your team members?
  • Assess their performance?
  • Develop them as a team?

 

Understanding Instinct and Fixing the Barometer

A recent paper “Darwinism, Behavior, Genetics, and Organizational Behavior” (by Ilies, Arvey and Brouchard – Journal of Organizational Behavior, 2006) stated ‘the partial heritability of job performance through the combination of intelligence and personality will likely surpass 30%.’  

Many other references suggest that the heritability of personality alone could be as high as 50%. However as the former science writer for The Economist, Matt Ridley writes in his book “Nature via Nurture” — “100 years of anti-nature thinking has done much damage to behavioral thinking from which we are only now beginning to emerge.”

There are some who believe that our personality is a developed phenomenon. Often this thinking is referred to as a ‘blank slate’ approach. This argument does a disservice to our ancestors and to our children: did we inherit nothing from our forefathers?

Is this thinking a part of an ever-improving set of theories or is it a paradigm shift? In France they have a nice saying ‘It looks OK in practice but how does it look in theory?’ Can we rely on the old thinking and tools that have served us in the past? Or do we need to review the whole approach?

We used to believe the world was flat, or that the earth was the centre of the universe. Many of us still believe that we can measure personality by a questionnaire approach. Many tools have been developed and when anomalies occur in results, the tools are often recalibrated against a master version, in this case the ‘Big 5 personality model’ (see below). But what would happen if the ‘Big 5’ themselves were flawed? We would have a blunt tool assessing another blunt tool critically.

Perhaps there really is a paradigm shift in the people management arena. We need a more scientific approach using the latest findings on evolution, genetics, migration studies and brain chemistry. The new thinking would recognize that our nature, our innate behaviours do play a part in who we are and in how we will act in the future. We have gone beyond what we are in science and medicine and now we have turned the scientific torch on who we are and why we behave the way we do. To paraphrase the words of Steve Pinker about language in his book ‘The Language Instinct’ ‘it is time for people management to submit to science’.

One more quote from Matt Ridley is important here in the light of any confusion about predetermination. ‘None of our behavior is determined by our genes. However all of our behavior is influenced by our genes.’ It is the degree and timing of the influence that we as projects managers need to consider on our projects.

For project managers it means that we must expand our thinking horizons many times in distance and in time. We need to go beyond our towns, provinces and country boundaries to include the whole  inhabited world. How far back in time is a different question. At present most of us only go back as far as our recent memory. The psychometric tools, based on Freud and Jung go back 60 years. But the question of where and when did we get our personalities may go back a lot further. We ask the simple question of others ‘What are they like?’ and ‘Why are they like that’? Do we need to go back to the middle ages, the Roman empire, the advent of farming, the cave dwelling painters of France, the hunter/ gather life, the savannah experience in Africa or even further still?

The Harvard biologist, Edward O. Wilson made a useful analogy to explain the vast timeline that may have had an effect on our current and future behaviors. He put forward the comparison between our human evolution and the life span of a 70-year-old man. The amount of time man has spent in savannah Africa is equivalent to 69 years and 8 months. The remaining 4 months accounts for all the movement after the migration, through the ice ages, farming, biblical times, middle ages, industrial revolution to the present day. How much of our latest behavior was developed in Africa and how much in the interim?

With this background, let’s look at the three key areas for successful people and team management in a truly global world.

 

“Point of View” —

An Abstract of the Article Suggests …

  • That the project environment has changed dramatically in the past 50 years.
  • That the current thinking in people management is out of date.
  • That existing methods and tools need to be updated due to advances in science.
  • That existing methods and tools do not work in a multi cultural, multi discipline, and global environment.
  • That ‘nature’ plays a greater role in our behavior than ‘nurture.’
  • That 100% productivity in knowledge workers is possible by a combination of selection, assessment and development.
  • That hundreds of thousands of employee training hours could be more effectively utilized.
  • That genetic testing will become the norm by 2020 as semi-private information.
  • That individual development and career path choices can be improved.

 

I. Selection

How do you select individuals for a project? The challenge of getting the right individuals has never been more critical. Despite the recent plethora of communication enhancements (fax, answering machine, email, IM, Mobile phones, blackberry) we are challenged by the distance, culture, time zones and attention of those individuals who make up our teams.

If we could get the selection right we would have less need for assessment and development. In effect performance assurance should take precedence over performance control or to paraphrase W. Edwards Deming, the quality guru referred to in the PMBOK® guide, 85% of our improvement may come from this area. In many ways Jim Collins, the management guru of “Built To Last” fame has got this right when he asks of an organization not ‘where is this bus going?’ but ‘who is on this bus?’ Get the right people on the team and you reduce the need for assessment and development.

Even one bad individual in a team can lead to lack of trust, conflict, miscommunication and ultimately poor performance. I have seen it on a large construction project near St. Petersburg, Russia where one team member with a strong personality but was not a proponent of the project goals. He managed to seriously disrupt the performance of an otherwise united team.

Project managers operate in both functional and projectized environments. Currently around the world we use many informal selection methods (prior knowledge, peer reference, meeting, intuition) as well as more formal selection methods including Team styles (Belbin), Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Taylor Hartman’s Color Code and DISC. However, in Germany many companies still use handwriting analysis (graphology).

In “Blink” Malcolm Gladwell talks of people making decisions on an individual based on intuition or ‘gut feel’ and lists the problems of thick and thin slicing. I recently interviewed the owner of a large company about her strategy for hiring key employees and she confirms Gladwell’s thin slicing concept by saying that she makes up her mind about an individual within the first two minutes of a person-to-person interview. However, she confirmed that she was finding this more difficult with her expansion plans into Asia and South America.

Bill Sand, allPM co-publisher, recalls an ex-Navy commander at a global professional services firm who hired hundreds of senior consultants in Washington, D.C. He performed many, many tests on the candidates before deciding. And he finally concluded: “The only way to really know how good someone is going to be is to get them in the cockpit and see how they perform.

Can we as project managers afford the expense of flying team members together and the risks of failure ‘in the cockpit?’ How will we manage when our team members come from another culture, another country and another way of thinking?  What could be wrong with the tools and tests used in selection?

How accurate is this ‘Gut Instinct’, where does it come from? I can imagine a Punch or New Yorker cartoon of a bubble coming from a pensive interviewer’s brain and a second bubble coming from his or her gut. There is a new book coming out soon called “The Second Brain” which should throw some light on how our gut feeling is derived from how we use the neurons in our stomach for decision-making.

In order to make a decision about a person we seek to understand their personality. The commercially available tools use an interview method and try to understand and identify variety in personality and work styles through questionnaires, databases and role models — e.g. sculptor, curator, specialist, completer finisher, plant etc. Many of these have been developed from and must fit back into a ‘model’. Many of these models are based on the  ‘Big 5 personality dimensions’ model of Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability and Openness to New Experiences.

However, these five dimensions are based originally on Freudian/Jungian psychology and may need to be updated or replaced based on recent advances in science. A thermometer works as well on an Irish banker in China as on an Indian developer in Argentina. A stethoscope works as well in Dubai as Dallas. Can we improve these ‘selection’ methods and tools to work in all cultures and times?

In practice these methods are open to the obvious false-positive effect of incorrect answers to the questions. However, they are also open to a cold-reading effect, our desire to make sense out of an experience, as explained by psychologist Bertram R. Forer. The ‘Forer effect’ refers to the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements could apply to many people. In a study carried out in 1948, executives scored the personality assessment of themselves as 84% accurate even though they had all received a copy of exactly the same analysis.

Recently Derren Brown, a famous UK based illusionist demonstrated the same effect in three countries on a BBC show. He created the illusion of a scientific study by asking for a hand drawing and a personal item from each student. He achieved the same assessment score with students in London, Barcelona and Los Angeles. Many of the students were in tears as they read the ‘accurate’ assessment of themselves and rated the assessment as 80% to 90% accurate.

Brown then demonstrated that they had each received an exact copy of a well-written assessment. The assessment contains what is called the ‘Barnum effect’ in that there is ‘something for everybody’ and the rest is left up to your brain to misinterpret in our favour. You have been warned to beware of snake-oil salesmen in white coats with long questionnaires.

Have you ever completed a psychometric test? How comfortable did you feel with the methodology? Could you have been deceived by the ‘Forer effect?’

Is that why we reserve judgment to a gut feel or intuition? — How will we choose? How will we discriminate between individuals? We have entered a much more sophisticated era in the 21st century. However, the tools that we currently use for selection in organizations still feel like stone tools in a clean room environment.

- check back shortly for Part II -

The Methodology Dilemma

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by Frank Ryle, PMP

Implementing a single project management (PM) methodology — a defined process — has proven to be very difficult across all industries over the past few decades. Ingrained differences may contribute to the challenges faced in implementing a PM methodology. This article addresses the differences and relationships between a PM methodology and the currently popular organizational performance methodologies. It also addresses the four main challenges encountered when using PM methodologies and provides advice on future implementations and developments.

Organizations carry out work by two primary means—operations and projects. Many organizations do not clearly recognize the distinction between operations and projects, and so a large middle-ground of untracked work called stuff or just doing it exists. But the differences between the two areas are deep and complex, and we need to appreciate the underlying natures of each to help successfully implement a PM methodology.

Companies like Goldman Sachs and British Airways primarily make money from operations. Companies like Accenture and Bechtel primarily make money from projects. As you might expect, world-class companies realize that to maintain and improve their position, they must excel in both areas.

Many operations people have transitioned into the project world — perhaps because factories need fewer humans — and throughout this transition and beyond, they have clung to their faith in processes rather than in people. And I believe this viewpoint is what gave birth to the desire for a project management methodology — the insistence that increased productivity on projects can only be obtained through stricter methods and defined processes.

I have been fortunate enough to have worked on both sides of this debate — first, as production manager for one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world, and then, as head of project management for a large consulting firm in New York. I believe the following are the four main challenges to the idea of a project management methodology.

1.    Not scalable (real world)

PM methodologies do not generally address the initial size of a project, nor can they accommodate changes to project size during project duration. Projects, by their nature, are unique and, therefore, are highly variable in approach, type, and size.

We need a volume control on the processes.

 

2.    Not flexible (exploit opportunities)

PM methodologies do not typically exploit opportunities. Most successful project organizations maintain the flexibility to capture and benefit from opportunities in time, scope, and cost that occur on projects. Methodologies, by their nature, do not allow this lateral, out-of-the-box approach. Advice from a senior investment banker who shuns standard methods sums up her successful approach to projects with these words — Consult widely. Decide quickly. Act swiftly.

We need safety rails, not railroad tracks. We need a mitten, not a glove. We need a framework, not a methodology.

3.    Not visual (poor representation)

The traditional format for methodologies is paper based. Recently, PM methodologies have been transferred to electronic formats without the redesign necessary to allow for improvements in electronic representation (literally, re-presentation).

Many of us struggle, not with the concept being explained, but with its representation. How many times have you seen senior-management people struggle to comprehend a critical path diagram, earned value management calculation, or resource histogram? In effect, project managers are often trying to represent a complex four-dimensional event (a product being built over time) in two dimensions. Few people are completely honest when it comes to their own ignorance; they often just nod their heads in agreement, while not really understanding the full concept. Visual representation can dramatically help to improve the absorption of large amounts of data. For example, the city of London put together a video to illustrate the proposed schedule for their 2012 Olympic bid. The video showed future progress over time on the site in London. The video left the International Olympic Committee members with no doubts as to the concept proposed.

One picture is worth a thousand words and conveys concepts clearly. We need more visuals and fewer words.

4.    Not human (hunter-gatherers vs. farmers)

A PM methodology cannot relate to human themes. Process champions may disagree with this statement, but secretly they are delighted when robots replace their warm-blooded staff because variances are reduced and productivity increases. Projects rely heavily on people for success. However, human productivity is notoriously fickle and human emotions have a strange way of infecting rational decision making. Any PM approach needs to incorporate human strengths and weaknesses.

Projects, by their nature, are diametrically opposed to the nature of operations. While projects are temporary, operations are ongoing. Where projects are unique, operations are repetitive. Here is where we — project people — must draw the line with them — operations people — and say that rigid methods do not work in our environment. Thankfully, people are different and personalities do exist! Any project approach must address the primary differences between the human attributes associated with each environment.

Yet, it goes deeper than operations-vs.-project attributes — perhaps even deeper than McGregor’s Theory ‘X’ and Theory ‘Y’ peoples. I believe it goes back 10,000 years to the advent of farming and the desire (and disposition) of some to stay and reap the rewards from the land. Farmers developed customs and laid down rules to allow greater numbers of people to live and prosper close together. This led to the development of systems and processes and, eventually, to performance methodologies. However, this also led to natural selection of human personalities and attributes that were suited and adapted to the farming environment.

Another group of humans remained hunter-gatherers, driven by the hunt and trusting of their instincts. They relied on mental shortcuts and well-honed skills to survive. This group, as opposed to the farming group, was smaller in number, more flexible and agile in nature, and more willing to embrace and adapt to change. They had little need or regard for formal rules and customs.

Obviously, much has changed in 10,000 years, and now we all share genes from both groups. However, people still have ingrained differences — preferences for certain environments and, perhaps, for operations vs. projects.

We need to do our homework on people issues.

However, if you are struggling with a current implementation or just embarking on a new initiative, then the following advice may help you succeed where many others have failed.

Conclusion

Change the focus of your approach. Project managers need fewer rules and methodologies and more guidelines and techniques. We need more accurate and timely information to assist decision making. Perhaps what we really need is a project GPS system similar to the ones in modern cars. In place of three satellites to assist status/progress/forecast information, we need PV, AC, and EV (planned value, actual cost, and earned value). With this information in hand, we would be far better able to deliver projects efficiently and effectively.

Finally, I would offer the following advice: treat the PM methodology implementation as a project in itself. Clarify the goals. Analyze the stakeholders and requirements. Fully develop the WBS, risks, schedule, and budget. But most importantly, focus on the organizational change necessary — most project failures occur not from the lack of a methodology but from the lack of its acceptance and use within the organization.

Whatever system you build and whatever name you call it, remember — it must be scalable, flexible, visual, and most importantly, human.

 

 

Frank Ryle (B.E. C Eng, FIEI, PMP) is involved in worldwide project management training and software development for International Institute for Learning (IIL). He has twenty years’ experience in construction, production, and project management in Russia, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Ireland, the UK, and the USA. Frank also writes for various publications and companies on project management methodologies and management. He has been involved with the development and rollout of project management methodologies for several global organizations.

PM Tips for a Reluctant PM

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by Frank Ryle, PMP

  1. If you don’t know where you are going you better be careful because you might not get there.

This great quote from Yogi Berra gets to the essence of planning. Our brains seem to struggle with the complexity of keeping a project on track. Perhaps we are better built to react than to predict. Imagine that you are taking your family and friends on a cross country hiking trip. A guide would be useful if available. A map could be just as good if you can all read maps. A GPS would be best. On projects we are looking for the accuracy of the GPS from the PM without the objective information from the satellites.

Until the Project GPS arrives we should plan for a series of shorter trips and focus more on risk to get us to our goals.

 

  1. There is no hearth like your own hearth

The growth of international, cross boundary teams has brought troubling time for project team spirit. The project manager must strive early to break down barriers, both real and perceived and create a sense of purpose for the team. Alongside this activity the PM should also try to create a sense of place for the team where they can be a team. In earlier times this was called a project or ‘war’ room. Modern virtual equivalents may include a webpage, Sharepoint site or ‘Second Life’ type presence. In my experience none of these comes close to the physical proximity and we struggle as we await the digital equivalent of a smile and handshake. A student once told me ‘virtual teams do virtually nothing.

If you cannot shake hands every morning with your core team then double the duration of your project.

 

  1. The value of better representation

My wife cannot read an ordinance hiking map. Nobody told her about contour lines. ‘Who though of that?’ she exasperated on a recent trip in the mountains ‘It must have been a man!’. I do not read music and feel similarly about whoever first wrote music. Most of our stakeholders do not read MS Project or RASIC charts. We need to improve our communication of the project goals, tasks and status.

Consider visualization over paper and post-it notes over MS Project.

 

  1. You will never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.

Analysis-paralysis is a common concern of new project managers. There is a natural urge to get started which is confronted by the need to ‘look before you jump’. A PM’s should consider at least 6 characteristics of the project (cost, scope, time, complexity, risk, vendors) before assigning a type or category to the project – I suggest small/medium or large.

For small projects use only a project charter, for medium projects – develop and control a plan and for large adopt a phased approach.

 

Tips for a reluctant PM

 

- Meet Regularly – PM’s should try to develop a shared desire within their organizations to improve PM through monthly meetings, calls or postings – a problem shared is a problem halved.

- Review PM Training Materials – shake the dust off those big folders, books and notes and try some of the exercises learned to review and improve your skills. – you have probably forgotten more than the new kids know.

- Share Learning – Take note of any key ‘got it’ moments that occurred on your  projects and be prepared to share them with junior and aspiring PM’s  – picture yourself as the ideal role model. – would you want to work for yourself?.

- Develop Processes – Develop simple steps/ checklists/ documents to assist your administration of multiple projects. Reduce the content to a bare minimum to achieve the desired communication purpose. Use thermometers, clocks, weather icons and any other symbols to ‘kiss’ and reduce miscommunication.

- Build Systems – Simple tools can help greatly with the PM burden. Some may be existing in your organization; some may need to be built. A doctor needs a stethoscope and a plumber needs a wrench. Talk to your IT colleagues but remember – A fool with a tool is still a fool.

- Clarify the Goal  – A good roadmap to the wrong place is useless. Learn to separate the business needs from the project goals. To do this just three questions: Who is paying for the project? How will they get the money back? When will they get it back? The answers will help to define the business goals.

- Analyze your Stakeholders – know you allies and foes and their requirements. Spend your time with them wisely – Better the devil you know that the one you don’t.

- Manage your Risks – You do not like excuses and nor does your boss. So depend less on the ‘issues log’ and focus on risk management. Be predictive and proactive for the known unknowns. Leave the ‘Black Swans’ for the others. We don’t have the time to do it right but we have the money to do it again.

- Visualize your Schedule – I cannot read music and your stakeholders probably don’t read MS project. Try to find a way to communicate in their language – put your tasks on post-its and lay them on the floor – then ‘walk out’ the schedule with them. A picture speaks a thousand words.

- Check your Pulse – control the project use any technique – but calibrate on a pulse scale for each of the 9 areas.

- Don’t sweat the small stuff – project management is designed for a minimum amount of complexity and effort. PMBOK guidance is 40 to 80 hours for a work package. There is no need or benefit in many projects to decompose further so resist the urge to do it. If you project has less than 5 work packages then use the ’Nike’ approach and ‘just do it’. 

- Be Prepared – This motto is used by the boy scouts and girl guides all over the world. The PMBOK has 21 of the 44 steps in planning which represents the same idea. Planning for smaller projects should include the following steps in this order: clarify objectives, analyze stakeholder, analyze requirements, create WBS, analyze risks, develop the schedule and budget. Fail to plan: plan to fail

- ‘ Life is full of a surprises’ which is just another way of saying that projects are unique. During team acquisition you should take care to select compatible team members but in this resource constrained environment more time should be spent in continuous (weekly) team development to reduce conflict, miscommunication and those huge numbers of emails.  It is not about the cards you have but more about how you play them.

- Perhaps there is more to motivation than Maslow and McGregor. Do some research, ask for advice and consult your own team experiences. While there is no ‘I’ in TEAM there most certainly is an ‘m’ and an ‘e’. So spend more time upfront with them

It’s More About This Than That.

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by Frank Ryle, PMP

It’s more about Information than Documents

One of the biggest challenges that I find when I teach in various industries and locations around the world is the paradoxical growing need for documentation and in particular the increasing number of documents prescribed in project management methodologies.

Many sponsors and senior management are very slow to adopt the true benefits of the recent transition to the digital age and seem to hark back to a previous time when moving bits of paper between individuals constituted a valid measure of progress.

I like to use the analogy of the airplane ‘auto pilot’ to illustrate the successful move from paper based documents, maps and specifications held closely in the pilot’s briefcase to a world where information is available to both the pilot and the autopilot system for continuous communication and decision making.

Hopefully we too in project management can start to create a better way of looking at information flow and storage so that the appropriate level of communication and understanding can exist with each stakeholder and more importantly also lead to better decision-making on the project, within the portfolio and company.

A more realistic analogy for most students might be the idea of a GPS in your car. It has been a long time since many students took a map on a long car trip to somewhere.

Tip – Imagine you are a GPS for the project and try to limit the need for ‘recalculating’

 

 

It’s more about Understanding than Blame

This tip is relatively simple to give but extremely hard to live by for any length of time. It seems as if it is a universal human trait to find fault in others actions and allocate blame accordingly. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is that the PM would adopt the role of ‘blame taker’ for the project duration and seek to plan for any potential, execution based faults on the project by:

  • Developing true empathy with fellow team members and other stakeholders.
  • Getting buy-in early from the people who will actually do the task.
  • Focusing on milestones and deliverables
  • And most importantly by creating a virtual, visual, realistic simulation of the project environment within which the tasks will occur and to allow the team to use this knowledge to improve their estimations.

By providing this valuable assistance – the broad shouldered and ‘blame taking’ project manager can create a realistic environment on the project within which blame will be reduced.

Of course there will still be more than enough blame to go around. The wise PM will take the blame and store that valuable lesson learned for the next project.

Tip – It is what it is – now what can I/we do about it?

 

It’s more about Who’s in than Who’s out

The Japanese have a concept called ‘On’ to reflect our idea of reciprocity and sharing. The idea that we can do favors for each other is a powerful way to get things done in a modern ‘hierarchy light’ environment. Favors are returned willingly but freeloading needs to be avoided.

Google is experimenting with the ideas of ‘circles’ in the new tool called Google+ as a way to define and filter ‘who’s in’ and ‘who’s out’. It remains to be seen how successful it will be.

Many former British colonies had an unusual way of enabling this concept by creating a running club called the ‘Hash House Harriers’ that provided a venue for expatriates to meet and share information around the commonwealth world. The weekly run trail is marked by chalk in advance and the faster runners (harriers) seek to find the markers to continue the trail. The cry from the following pack of ‘are you ON?’ is returned by ‘ON, ON’ to reflect the affirmative.

We must be aware that when the circle or group becomes too large then there is a tendency for this system of reciprocity or ‘ON’ to break down. Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University gives us a useful limit of 150 members of a group and so most projects can comfortably manage provided they can maintain the positive sharing environment.

Tip – Use favor circles to create a feeling of ‘ON’ in your project team but remember that there is a limit.

 

It’s more about Comprehension than Communication

For many years fellow trainers and others have been stating that the single biggest factor in project failure is ‘communication’. The paradox is of course that despite the tremendous increase in communications tools and techniques we are still facing major communications problems in 2011. Many communications media do not include body language and tonal information and while they may be more efficient at getting the message to the recipient they are sadly less effective in transmitting the intended meaning to the recipient.

A French colleague explained about an irate American client who was upset to receive an email stating that ‘I am hardly working on your project; in fact all of the team are hardly working on your project’.

I too had a translation problem in Atlanta recently with a Belgian colleague who insisted that we ‘data mine’ everything. It took a few hours for me to realize that he meant ‘determine’.

And these are the easy ones to spot – what happens when we add irony, sarcasm and understatement into the cultural communications mix.

It is easier to measure ‘send’ than ‘really understood’ – easier to count emails in the inbox than ‘empathetic head nods’ and ah-ha’s when the recipient finally gets the message.

We need to find a way to measure comprehension not communication.

Tip – limit emails, texts and ambiguous vocabulary – look into their eyes

 

It’s more about Evolution than Revolution

We live in a time of exciting projects where teams often comprise members from different divisions, companies, countries and cultures. Dealing with the dynamics of team selection, appraisal and development in this challenging environment requires continuous competency development on the part of the PM.

Luckily we live in a great time where there is a fortuitous coming together of journalists and scientists to bring us the very latest in scientific thinking more or less as it is being discovered.

We are also reaping the benefits of the huge investments made during the decade of the brain and the recent decade of studies into genetics and evolution.

A wise project manager will seek to benefit from these new ideas by reaching for the library shelves for single word titles like ‘Nudge’, ‘Risk’ or ‘Blink’. Better still to read anything by Matt Ridley or the latest distillation from David Brooks – ‘A Social Animal’.

These are powerful ideas that will encourage the PM to open their eyes to a better understanding of what it means to be human and a part of a diverse team.

 

Tip – read widely and find ways to practice what you read.

 

Managing Difficult People: Nature vs Nurture?

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by Frank Ryle, PMP

I was once threatened with my life on a large project by an angry team member who fortunately happened to be in another country at the time. Things were stressful on the project – extreme winter, local mafia, hard deadlines, falling currencies and expensive lawyers – the usual kind of project stuff – and quick action was required by my group. The situation got considerably worse when Bob (not his real name of course) decided to get on a flight and make good on his promise…..

Thankfully, situations like this are not that typical on projects. However we all face situations which we would rather avoid – despite the advice I received from a former boss – “these times are sent to try us”. Initially we often try to understand whether it is a difficult situation or difficult individual and then adopt a preferred technique based on experience, gut feelings or the latest book we picked up at the airport.

Many techniques abound that involve consideration of the environment, culture and/or perspectives. Details include reframing, mirroring, deep breathing, sitting cross legged on the floor or some reference to Yin and Yang.

But alas none appear to have an ounce of science behind them – a bit like homeopathy for difficult people. Perhaps it worked previously (for a friend) and needs to be tailored for the situation and the individuals involved.

One of my theories here is that difficult people are just different people – and maybe they just have a different viewing point rather than a point of view. This is the simplistic view and is resolved by attempting to move to the other’s viewing point – change the situation. However this can be very difficult in many situations if you have only sympathy (feel for) rather than empathy (feel with) the others perspective – client/vendor, sales/engineering, men/women!- and may require further attention. Another useful technique is to address the problem as a ‘conflict’ and adopt an appropriate response – avoid, force, compromise, accommodate, confront, collaborate etc. – and see what happens.

It could also be that there really is an inherited ‘be nasty’ trait that has been handed down from generation to generation and conveys survival advantages on descendants. I have had many examples from friends to suggest that there are some very difficult people out there. When pushed for advice they offered some that ranged from unethical to illegal in the current work environment.

Another theory is the cultural nature of the challenge, made more frequent recently due globalization, outsourcing, off shoring or its latest management name. An appreciation for the local conditions and culture is crucial to building a working relationship and I am always amazed by the lack of early team building on projects by international companies. There is no substitute for a well planned ‘ice-breaker’ other than miscommunication, misunderstanding, rework and frustration.

I have been fortunate to have worked in many countries and industries and have found that humor plays a bigger part in project relationships than in operations. Humor has the power to disarm a potentially difficult situation and to probe a difficult person. Sadly this humor is often not displayed in front of the guilty party and therefore ineffective. Unfortunately a truly global humor is non-existent and in the US humor is considered inappropriate by many managers. A study by the NY Times said that 70% of managers found it unacceptable to play a practical joke on April fools day. Perhaps this helps to explain the rise of Dilbert, Jon Stewart, The Onion and other satirical media in the US. We all badly need to laugh in stressful as well as good times and projects bring their fair share of both.

One often hears the refrain “How could he/she think/do that?” or “I could never think/do that”. Maybe in time we will have scientific proof that our misunderstood brains are all wired slightly differently and in time learn to appreciate and manage the differences. Or else we may all become like Basil Fawlty in this beautiful analogy by Richard Dawkins.

“Basil Fawlty, British television’s hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn’t start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. “Right! I warned you. You’ve had this coming to you!” He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life.”

We may laugh at his irrationality. However instead of beating the car, we should start to investigate the problem.

In conclusion I have received many tips in my career on managing difficult people including the following:

‘Don’t let anybody live in your head rent free’ (UK)

‘Losing a battle is fine provided you win the war” (Ireland)

‘We are rice pickers and you are potato pickers –that is all you need to know” (Japan)

‘Empathy works – practice it or watch ‘White men can’t jump’ and feel her thirst and not go get her a drink. (US)

‘Treat them like children – reward, punishment, distraction – and if all else fails throw them in water!. (US)

But perhaps the sanest piece of advice came from a colleague in the publishing business – You can’t manage everyone the same way.  In fact, you shouldn’t. Therefore never feel the need to give everyone either the same privileges or responsibilities, any more than you required them to wear the same clothing.   The job of a manager is to leverage individual strengths, and to camouflage deficiencies.  It’s self-defeating to treat everyone the same as if that weren’t true.

Finally back to my colleague Bob in Russia. He was obviously very angry and felt vulnerable. Good advice from the HR director to sit calmly and record in writing all of his threats greatly helped on his arrival. We literally wrote down every word, expletives included until all the energy had been absorbed, almost Aikido style. In hindsight many external factors had led to the challenge and while never friends, we managed to complete the project together and to live and watch the sun rise another day.

What’s The Story?

In the foreword of an excellent book by Sonia Arrison on longevity called ‘100+’ Peter Thiel of PayPal speculates that the origins of storytelling originated when our ancestors first acquired the knowledge of our inevitable death, a somber birth for a very powerful part of our lives. This series takes a lighter look at the benefits of a storytelling approach to communication on projects.

 It would be a sad parent that brings a PowerPoint presentation to tuck their kids to sleep at night.

The Road as a Metaphor

The road is an oft used metaphor by writers and storytellers for life itself.

The long road, the high road, the road less travelled are all used to add value to an understanding of the challenges faced by an individual. A recent movie directed by Emilio Estevez called ‘The Way’ beautifully uses the 500 mile walk across northern Spain, called the ‘Camino of Santiago de Compostelo’ as a picturesque background and metaphor to communicate the trials and tragedy of father losing a son. The story is made more poignant by the casting of Martin Sheen, the director’s real father.

Perhaps we can borrow this metaphor of a road or journey to help communication and conflict reduction on our complex projects. Where are we going? Who are the characters? What are the challenges? We are in desperate need of storytelling in order to simplify but not dumb down the complexities of the challenges we face. Among many ingredients we must include the scope, time and the availability of resources. We also need to manage and communicate the potential costs and risks. Often overlooked are the quality, communications and procurement requirements of this particular venture. Perhaps the most misunderstood and least appreciated aspect is the need for integration. Who is going to tie the whole venture together? Maintain the pace, direction and purpose? Keep the backpacks replenished? And how will they achieve that on the journey?

The metaphor of the road can be made more useful by the introduction and addition of touch points or discreet punctuations within the narrative. A good example of this is the planetary walk in Zurich, Switzerland, or in Ithaca, NY.  On each of these the traveller navigates a road or track that is punctuated at appropriate intervals to illustrate the relative size and distance apart of our planets. In this way the metaphor becomes a simile and the student can engage in a different type of learning experience as they walk from our sun to Pluto.

In 1996, John Feinstein wrote a beautiful book called ‘A Good Walk Spoiled’ about how golf was, in essence, a walk in a beautiful setting spoiled by a cruel game. He carries the reader through the ups and downs, trials and tribulations of many players on the various professional tours. The name of the book and quote is actually accredited to Mark Twain.

In my story I saw an opportunity to borrow from this idea and use the structure of the golf holes themselves to tell the story of a typical project. The walk for each project is over nine holes on a golf course. The first hole would be setting the objectives for the project. The last or ninth hole would be closing the project. The intervening holes would address the stakeholders, requirements, work, risks, schedule/budget, execution and controlling of the project. Three characters play this golf course while discussing the merits of their individual approaches to achieving a project goal:

Bob is from North Carolina and represents a pure process based perspective.

Edward is from London, UK and represents an old experienced ‘trust me’ project approach.

Louise is from Ireland and represents an academic or theoretical approach.

In the story we follow Edward and Bob to Cork, Ireland, for intensive facilitation from the brilliant consultant-turned-academic, Louise, who happens to be a champion golfer.  The dynamic between the three characters combines the best of Edward’s intuitive, soft-skills approach and Bob’s process-centered approach, grounded by Louise’s academic theory.

Together, their journey and discussions illuminate the challenges faced on typical projects both in structure and content. As team members and stakeholders, we can listen in on their discussions, observe the rhythmic structure of their 9 steps and follow the story of their project. We can imagine our own projects following the same walk. We can even imagine ourselves or colleagues, as Bob, Ed or Louise.

 

So whatever the complexities of your project, you can still benefit by seeing it as a story to be told, a road to be travelled, a journey to be completed. By making an emotion connection, by embracing the power of the right brain we can reach more stakeholders with greater clarity and engagement.

What is the story behind your project?

Frank Ryle, PMP

Simply Leadership

by Frank Ryle, PMP

We all like to hear good news every now and then. Especially as the days are getting longer and the warmer. And so it was nice to hear Bill McDermott, the first US born co-CEO of SAP recently stated that the dark days of the economic crisis are behind us and we need to prepare for and focus on a growth model again. He further mentioned that all good leaders faced with this transition will understand the need to maintain the customer at the center of this new growth model. To satisfy those customers they must continuously ask the following questions:

So just who are our customers? Are they changing?

  • What are they like? Why are they like that?
  • What do they expect from us? Can we continue to meet those expectations?

Previously in order to answers those questions a good leader would have aspired to build an efficient organizational environment and balanced the need for ‘hard’ data with ‘soft’ skills in the various operating functions. That balance was often hard to create as too much reliance on either side was a classical path to failure. When successful, the resulting mix of personal and corporate character was impressive, infectious and quickly imitated.

However it was rarely sustainable.

In this new model, companies that desire sustained growth will need to incorporate the ability to adapt and reorganize to suit the changing needs and desires of their customers without losing their core ethics and values.

Achieving this careful balance will demand more of all new leaders. Instead of trying to develop a leader to understand change, diversity and the global market, perhaps it is best to have a young, diverse and global leadership. Jim Hagemann Snabe, the other co-CEO of SAP is Danish. He brings a different understanding of Europe and its history, culture and potential future. He was asked about his impressions of his co-leader, a very charismatic and presentable American and mentioned his optimism (‘we can do’ attitude) and his execution (‘just do it’ attitude). In turn Bill McDermott lavished praise on his co-leader for his European style and historical perspective.

Both talked about a new environment dominated by an ever increasing speed at which business is conducted and the pace at which change is demanded. We may soon reach the ‘catallaxy’ point coined by Fredrick Hayek in the last century where the rate of change is so fast as to be self generating and spontaneous. In conjunction with this  the complexity of projects is also increasing due to globalization, regulation change, acquisitions and many other factors.

When this point arrives there will be an even greater need for simplification by the customers. The combination of leadership and management that can absorb that speed and complexity and transmit order and understanding will stay competitive and prosper.

Then the leaders can continue to ask themselves:

  • Are we still doing the right things?

And their managers can ask of themselves:

  • Are we continuing to do those things right?

 

And the customers will continue to enjoy the whole show.

 

 

 

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