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?
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.
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.
In my new role I feel a sense of urgency to get things moving. I think this is common for project managers. We are brought in to make a difference and we are excited about that. But patience is important, too.
I’ve blogged about patience before in June and December. In those posts I advised project managers to be patient so that they build partnerships; and understand and build the capacity and commitment of their team. Then, I was still a crusty consultant advising others on their projects. Shortly after the second post, I accepted a job that requires me to help a very large organization come together in support of organization-wide business and systems transformation. Can I take my own advice? I’m trying.
To reinforce my patience, I looked for updates from my consulting guru, Peter Block, on the Internet. Peter’s books and classes have shaped my approach to what I do. Peter recently posted a video that helped.
Projects are more successful when all the participants – project managers, builders, and clients – find ways to understand and learn from one another. But, that’s not easy. Why is that? Don’t we want to understand and support one another? We probably do. But, our different perspectives can get in the way.
Most people on a project are looking for different things when they look at the project. The project manager is looking to define and manage objectives, scope, schedule, budget, and risks. The other people on the project are looking at what they will be creating or what they will have when the project is completed. They see what interests them. And, they see what they are directed to look for. Science backs up my assertion.
Listening to NPR earlier in the week, I heard a story about the invisible gorilla. It wasn’t about the 900 pound gorilla that comes to most of our project meetings that we all see but don’t talk about. (Or, maybe it was…). It was about a gorilla in plain sight that we don’t see because we are looking for something else.
A few months ago I did a post on my experiences many years ago at a day camp in West Des Moines, Iowa; and how those experiences shaped my project management philosophy. Lately, I’ve gotten a few notes and comments on that post from former day campers. One (a vice president at a manufacturing company) gave me a call and we reminisced about the pea green pond (and its monster), snipe hunts, the big brown bus, Shady Creek and the woods, and swimming at Camp Dodge pool. What struck me was that our great experiences were still a positive influence on our lives. So, what can we learn from day camp that helps us on our projects?
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 →
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!