Letting Go of Baggage to Find What Can Go Right on Your Project

Here’s a reblog of Dan Rockwell’s “Leadership Freak.”

“Creating Glorious Space for Reinvention”

baggage dan rockwell

Dan discusses “Leadership and the Art of Struggle” with its author, Stephen Snyder.  Stephen encourages us to create “glorious space” by letting go of baggage of past failures and successes.  On our projects, past failures may cause us to see only what can go wrong and limit our ability to find what can go right.  Opportunities may be missed.  The same may be true for past successes.  Building only on what worked before may also limit finding opportunities for what can go better this time. 

I think that using a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) approach to risk assessment may put us more in touch with the present and what is possible vs. focusing on the past and what worked or didn’t then.  It’s a good thing to think about. 

The photo is from Dan’s post.

The First Question to Ask on Your Project: “Can we do this?”

Dan’s post provides a guiding principle for finding what can go right on your project: you have to ask. Too often projects start off with the scope, schedule, and budget predefined. The charge is “We can do this!” Then we don’t or pretend we did. A project starting this way spends it’s time and energy protecting itself with risk mitigation, change orders, and blame shifting. Starting, as Dan suggests, with “Can we do this?” gets the team to explore the challenge, it’s strengths, and opportunities for needs to be met in a realistic way that improves the organization and its people. Thanks, Dan!

Moving from Planning to Doing on Your Project

I’m almost three weeks into a new job.  This job requires me to build stronger relationships between a complex business environment and its IT providers.  No one has had this same job for this business before, so I’m figuring out how to do it.  Among many startup considerations, it requires me to consider how much to read vs. how much to act.  I’m looking back to old advice and advisors for wisdom.

waiting for the right timeEarly in my career I was lucky enough to participate in a 12 week leadership and management training in the US Air Force called Squadron Officers School.  About a thousand junior officers (I was one in 1977)  gathered at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama for intensive physical, military, and management training.  Among many memories and takeaways I retained was a small foldout card with a few management models we had learned about.  One was the read/act model.  It illustrated the need to build strengths to both read and act; and to judge and balance the need for reading and action in any new situation.  I did a little Google research on Read/Act and found only one website.  It gives me the impression that the concept was developed at SOS.  Here’s the link. This site is more involved than the core concept I remember.  What I remember is that many officers err toward action with bad results, so we needed to build our read skills.  If we tend to be readers (like me), then we need to work on balancing reading with acting.  It’s situational and intuitive.  I’m in a new situation. Continue reading

Productive Project Assessment

As my career evolves, I’ve moved from project manager roles to roles where I oversee and assess projects.  I think doing this productively requires balancing cold objectivity with optimism and encouragement.  It also has to balance an independent perspective with collaborative input.  The challenge is ensuring that the assessment identifies strengths and problems, encourages improvement, and doesn’t weigh down the project while requiring accountability.  After all, being assessed is a powerful thing.

Think about it.  Few things cause as powerful an emotional response as being judged.  The coach says “Nice play!  Your footwork is really improving.” You feel great; motivated to get better.  You think about the input and accept the positive encouragement.  The coach says “No, you aren’t paying attention!  You have to learn the play and be in the right place.”  This brings out a more complex response.  You may resist criticism.  You may think about what you were doing right and are mad it wasn’t noticed.  If you are singled out, you may be embarrassed.  If the coach is fair and you respect him, you may more readily accept the comments.  But they can still hurt.

Here’s a lighter hearted example to give you something to think about.  Over the holidays we visited our grandkids.  My five year old granddaughter, Amberly, loves games and role playing.  We were playing catch with an indoor soft Frisbee.  I was admiring how much her ability to catch and throw had improved in the last few months.  Our game had changed in an interesting way, though.  Where it used to be that any throw was a good one, now we tried to make straight catchable throws.  I’d say “good throw” or “good catch, Amby.”  She’d say “good throw” or “good catch, Grampy.”  It got more interesting when Amby decided, out of the blue, to keep score.

Amby measures

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Awareness

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.

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150cc’s of Risk Management

“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

Tuning Your Project Steering Committee

Imagine a bicycle wheel perfectly tuned and spinning without wobble or wasted motion.  Each spoke is adjusted to balance and support every other spoke.  This is the foundation of a fast and safe trip on a bicycle.  If a wheel is out of tune, energy is lost to friction, the rider becomes less stable as the bicycle picks up speed, and vibrations threaten bearings, brakes, and safety.  The risk of a trip ending crash goes up.

Imagine a project steering committee.  Each person at the table is important to the project’s success by way of their support within and outside the project.  Imagine each person at the table sharing a common vision, understanding one another’s perspective, and trusting one another.  Each person may not always agree with the others, but each is committed to the project’s success.  They are able to set direction, discuss issues, make decisions, commit resources, and communicate supportively to the organization and project stakeholders.

Imagine your project steering committee.  Are they in tune with a common vision, understanding of one another’s perspectives, and mutual trust?   If not, your project may feel wobbly, unstable, overheated by friction, and unresponsive when you need to change speed or direction.  It may be time to tune the wheels. 

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Moral Hazard

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

Photo from Pedro J. Ferriera on Flickr.

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

Managing Risk Can Be Risky

Last week the message was “lean into risk.”  To get into a project we have to overcome fears – emotional risks.  But, managing emotional risks can be risky.

Emotional risks are fears we feel like fear of failure, embarrassment, loss of status, or more tangible impacts that may not be quantifiable but are scary.  As project managers, we know that part of our job is to make quantifiable business risks explicit and understand how they affect the work to be done on the project.  I asserted that the emotional risks are also important as those fears affect our team and stakeholders behavior on the project.  If we better understand them and can get them safely into the open, we can do things that mitigate the emotional risks and help people engage in the project.

I got a comment – I love comments – from Mike Murphy on Linked In.  Thanks, Mike! Mike described his experience in organization cultures where leaders emotionally resisted managing business risks.  Responsible project managers trying to identify and mitigate business risks can be greeted with rejection. Continue reading

Benefits Realization

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

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

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