Project management success can be as much improvising and adapting as it is planning and controlling. Opportunities to find what can go right constantly present themselves.
How to effectively improvise can be the challenge. An old friend posted the secret to improvising success on Facebook quoting from a commencement address by Stephen Colbert at Northwestern University. Thanks, David. Enjoy.
“AFTER I GRADUATED FROM HERE, I MOVED DOWN TO CHICAGO AND DID IMPROV. NOW THERE ARE VERY FEW RULES TO IMPROVISATION, BUT ONE OF THE THINGS I WAS TAUGHT EARLY ON IS THAT YOU ARE NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE SCENE. EVERYBODY ELSE IS. AND IF THEY ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN THE SCENE, YOU WILL NATURALLY PAY ATTENTION TO THEM AND SERVE THEM. BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS YOU’RE IN THE SCENE TOO. SO HOPEFULLY TO THEM YOU’RE THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON, AND THEY WILL SERVE YOU. NO ONE IS LEADING, YOU’RE ALL FOLLOWING THE FOLLOWER, SERVING THE SERVANT. YOU CANNOT WIN IMPROV.
AND LIFE IS AN IMPROVISATION. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT AND YOU ARE MOSTLY JUST MAKING THINGS UP AS YOU GO ALONG.
AND LIKE IMPROV, YOU CANNOT WIN YOUR LIFE.
EVEN WHEN IT MIGHT LOOK LIKE YOU’RE WINNING.
I HAVE MY OWN SHOW, WHICH I LOVE DOING. FULL OF VERY TALENTED PEOPLE READY TO SERVE ME. AND IT’S GREAT. BUT AT MY BEST, I AM SERVING THEM JUST AS HARD, AND TOGETHER, WE SERVE A COMMON IDEA, IN THIS CASE THE CHARACTER STEPHEN COLBERT, WHO IT’S CLEAR, ISN’T INTERESTED IN SERVING ANYONE. AND A SURE SIGN THAT THINGS ARE GOING WELL IS WHEN NO ONE CAN REALLY REMEMBER WHOSE IDEA WAS WHOSE, OR WHO SHOULD GET CREDIT FOR WHAT JOKES.”
Maybe the secret ingredient to project success is love. After all, isn’t anything made with love more special to the maker and the receiver? Maybe someone should do a study on this. Wait, someone did!
The Ikea Effect says “labor enhances affection for its results.” A recent study at Harvard written about by Michael Norton in Harvard Business Review found that people undervalue products that they don’t contribute to, and tend to overvalue – fall in love with – those on which they have labored. This study builds on marketing research from the 1950’s on cake mixes. Housewives resisted instant cake mixes because they were too easy. They were concerned that their labor to make the cake would be undervalued. On the other hand, when the cake mixes were changed slightly requiring the cook to add an egg, adoption rose dramatically. More labor = more love.
The more recent study looked at IKEA furniture and Build-a-Bears. Laypeople assemblers of bookcases and teddy bears tended to value the products of their labor higher than they valued more expertly crafted versions.
Another finding, to temper the thought that labor leads unconditionally to love, was that the work had to be completed for the IKEA Effect to take hold. Partially finished work was not valued the same way. You have to be able to step back from what you did, look proudly at it, and say “I did that.” Kind of like I do when I finish each blog post.
Finding the other side of risk – opportunities for perfect outcomes – isn’t done in lieu of finding risks; it’s the complement. Science tells us that this is true and necessary.
I’m getting ready again to present “The Other Side of Risk.” Each time I do it’s a journey to a better understanding of what I’m trying to say. This journey stumbled across the concept of “positive psychology.” It’s reinforcement for the importance of seeking perfect outcomes and a perfect journey so that our projects leave our organizations better than we found them.
In my presentation, I talk a little about Appreciate Inquiry or AI. AI is a technique of organizational planning and change that emphasizes finding and building on organizational strengths to promote positive growth. In AI, the organization enquires into its strengths to: Continue reading →
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how organizations change. The bottom line seems to be that successful change comes from people pulling it in. You can’t push change in. Do our projects focus on push or pull?
I’m part of planning for a project where thousands of people will have to change how they do their work. The old system is about 30 years old. The change will require thousands of people to redo 30 years of process and system connections to unplug the old and plug in the new. How will they get ready to do this?
For the past several years I’ve encouraged all my clients, and now my co-workers, to adopt agile methods on their projects. I also encourage it for any work, like software maintenance work, that can be organized as well-defined sets of tasks that are completed in a time period. In my experience, all work groups that use a good agile methodology as it’s meant to be used end up more productive and happier, too. My inspiration to write about agile today, though, comes from a different place that further proves what a good practice it is.
A new book by Bruce Feiler, “The Secrets of Happy Families,” encourages families to adopt an Agile Family Strategy. Bruce got this idea talking with a software engineer in Idaho, David Starr, who moved his family from dysfunctional to functional by bringing home his agile software development practices. Bruce tried the same agile techniques as well as lots of other good ideas for happy families and also had great success. Both Bruce and David found that what worked for software developers and their clients worked for families with kids, too. Agile’s simple consistent practices focused the family members on helping each other, being accountable, planning things to do in realistic chunks and getting them done, and involving everyone in setting rules and making decisions. Everyone was happier, more productive, and appreciated one another. This is what we want at home and at work.
The first chapter of Bruce’s book is the Agile Family Strategy. Bruce thoughtfully cited a paper published by David and Eleanor Starr – “Agile Practices for Families” – which I found on the Internet. I read the preview chapters of Bruce’s book on Amazon and ordered it for my son’s family. Russ and Kellie do a great job with their three young daughters. I saw this book as affirming and expanding their family practices. Being a software development person, I especially liked the Starr’s paper. It clearly linked agile methods (derived from the Toyota Production System or “lean”) to a realistic set of practices to engage family members in a fun way to make the pressures of everyday life with kids a little less stressful.
Reading “Leadership Freak” on Monday was reaffirming. Dan Rockwell wrote about leaders who achieve great success by setting a vision, bringing in good people, and getting out of the way. His primary example was Tony Hsieh at Zappos. My ideas about imagining perfect outcomes and defining the perfect journey to get there are in line with this advice.
I use “perfect” on purpose even though people are uncomfortable about it. The audio clip on Dan’s post brings out the importance of this in how Zappos decides how to “wow” their customers. On projects, we have to decide what it will be like to “wow” ourselves (everyone involved) with our results, and then define the project around that. Those who have to get it done and will live with the results are the best ones to do it. This is a way to find what can go right about a project before we focus on what to do and what can go wrong.
Thanks for the reaffirming post, Dan. Readers, be sure to listen to the audio clip on this post; and check out Dan’s preceding post on how to establish a culture that enables “Wow.”
I woke up to NPR this morning and listened to an interview with Bobby Knight, the famous college basketball coach. The interview discussed his new book “The Power of Negative Thinking.” To sum it up, Coach Knight said that if you want to win it’s more important to focus on what can go wrong and fix it than to let positive thinking pull you through. Checking out the book preview on Amazon, I picked out this quote:
“As I looked ahead to every game and every season, my first thought was always: What vulnerabilities do we have and what can we do to minimize them, to get around them, to survive them – and give ourselves a better chance to win? In effect, how do you eliminate the wasted energy and unnecessary mistakes to build a cohesive and successful team that can play within its strengths?”
Clearly, Bob Knight is a great risk manager. What I like about his message is that we have to work hard to clearly identify and counteract the risks we face in order to succeed. We can’t just hope for the best. When we do risk management, we should really look for risks and take real actions to mitigate them. We should take specific actions and track specific results to be sure that mitigations are working. Knight is right about that.
But, I’m having a tough time with the “Power of Negative Thinking” thing. (I have to admit here that I’ve only read 20 pages or so that were available on Amazon’s preview). Maybe it’s how he went about being a great risk manager. My impression is that Bob Knight was a pretty demanding and uncompromising manager. In the book, Knight says he had a slogan posted in his locker room saying “This ain’t Burger King. We’ll do it my way.” Can we really be successful in endeavors outside of basketball by following the iron willed approach of a coach to win by relentlessly fixing mistakes? I’m going to ponder this question a bit and see if I learn anything.
Dr. Mae Jemison, Principal of the 100 Year Starship project (and former astronaut), was asked by New York Times columnist, Dennis Overbye, if she would go on a lifetime voyage to the stars. She said “Yeah” adding that “It makes a difference who goes with you.” To make the long voyage, she says that “We will bring our culture along with us.”
The 100 Year Starship project (www.100yss.org) was established recently by a group of stellar people to imagine and plan a real trip to the stars. After all, imagining, planning, and completing our trip to the moon triggered research and implementation of television, the Internet, satellite communication, revolutionary medical procedures, and even cultural movements that have changed our lives. Once started, the trip to the moon and back was completed in a matter of days. The 100 Year Starship project is imagining a trip that will take a generation or more. Reading about it, the thing that jumped out at me was not that the project has to find amazing technological breakthroughs; it’s that they have to figure out how people on such a trip can live and work together productively. They have to think about (from www.100yss.org): Continue reading →
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.
Early 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 →