The tragedy in Connecticut makes it difficult to write about finding what can go right on our projects. It directs our attention to what can go wrong. Horribly wrong. It hurts to think about it. I’m writing today with all those affected in my thoughts.
Sandy Hook makes us think about our own families and our hopes for them. We hope that they will be wildly successful even if they face uncertainties and risks. We hope the same for our own endeavors and projects. How should we address those risks that are exceedingly rare and horrible? How much should we address opportunities that could have outcomes more perfect than we should hope for? Do we spend enough time on the ends of the bell curve?
I started writing this post right after Super Storm Sandy. I remember a pervasive sound bite that went something like:
I never thought it could be this bad. Continue reading
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.
“Try to leave this world a little better than you found it.” Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts)
Boy Scouts was good for me. While I didn’t earn many awards, the values taught stuck with me. The value expressed by Baden-Powell’s quote is a good one for us as project managers.
When we manage a project, do we leave our organization and the people involved better than we found them? Is this our responsibility as a project manager? I think it is. Preparing to talk about “The Other Side of Risk,” it struck me that this is part of what I’ve been trying to say.
“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
Project managers sometimes have to turn nothing into something. Change everyone’s doubt into confidence. Solve an unsolvable problem. Pull a rabbit out of a hat. Turn lead into gold. Turn stones into soup. This sounds like magic to me. Appropriate for Halloween. Here’s a story with scary risks turned into a happy ending by project manager magic.
My wife and I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. We didn’t meet until college, but we had one unique experience in common. We learned about Halloween trick or treating in the 1950s in a town where trick or treat meant something different than anywhere else. In Des Moines, we learned that the risk of tricks could become an opportunity for creative and constructive fun.
As a project manager, I find the presidential debates disturbing. If I were going to hire one of the candidates to manage the challenging project of reforming any of the major issues we have to solve in the next four years, I couldn’t make the decision based on the debates. In fact, there isn’t much the candidates are saying or posting now that is useful for that decision.
We need to see which candidate will be best able to bring out and deliver creative solutions. Our issues have risks with probability too high and impacts too great. Our future leaders have to be able to deal with this. They have to see a path forward, be willing to compromise if necessary, and get things done. I want the presidential debates to show me who can be the best at collaborating to get things done, not who can be the biggest A&*H@!#.
Looking only at their past experience and track records, I think I could vote for either one.
I find myself frequently trying to restate the philosophy of “The Other Side of Risk” in my posts. As well as making this today’s post, I’ve placed this summary of my project management philosophy on its own page in the blog for ongoing reference. I expect it to evolve over time as a snapshot of what I’m trying to say or reinforce in the blog posts. Each post is about going deeper into or more clearly understanding this philosophy; and to see examples of it in real successful projects or everyday life.
We should do three things to find what can go right on a project:
1. Balance project management focus on scope, schedule, budget, and risk with equal focus on opportunities for organizational and personal growth. Include selected opportunities for growth in the project scope.
2. Imagine perfect outcomes to identify strengths and opportunities to grow and develop. Consider the perfect outcomes in defining project scope so that the project contributes to where you really want to go.
3. Make the journey as important as the destination. We should build people up as we go rather than exhausting them to achieve project scope within constraints. Achieving the outcomes and growth expected from the investment always goes beyond the project. The journey should be one people want to continue.
Doing these things doesn’t undo the valuable project management processes we learn as we become project managers (see the Project Management Institute’s “Project Management Body of Knowledge”). It complements them by ensuring that we find ways to engage and support the people who will be doing the work on our project and delivering on its promises in the long run.
I hope you will give this philosophy a try and let me know how it goes.
Thanks for reading.
Copyright Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk” 2012
P.S. As a bonus, read Dan Rockwell’s current post on “Two Ways to Overcome the Pipe Dream Problem.” As always Dan provides inspiration and provokes deeper thought. I found that this post reconnected me to and clarified my thinking about “The Other Side of Risk.” I hope you will agree.
It’s the last day of Indian summer where I live. Rain today after 2+ months of no rain and beautiful weather. It’s a good day for new inspiration from Dan Rockwell at Leadership Freak.
“The Other Side of Risk” is a philosophy seeking to balance our project management focus on risk and process with finding what can go right. To do this, we look for strength, creativity, and inspiration in our organizations, teams, teammates, and ourselves. We find ways to overcome our problems through the strength, creativity, and inspiration we find. Dan’s post sums this up beautifully. Thanks, Dan. Enjoy.
How to Make a Difference that Matters. From “Leadership Freak”
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