Plan Some of Your Work, Work that Plan


The adaptive, flexible approach….views projects as dynamic, unstable, and hard-to-predict processes.  It assumes that changes will take place during project execution – changes in the environment, the business, the markets, technologies, and people.  According to this approach, project plans must be adapted to changes that could not have been predicted at the outset.  Thus, a project plan is not a fixed document that is prepared once for the entire project.  Rather, project plans are dynamic, living entities that evolve as the project progresses and change when new information is revealed.

The solution is simple.  Rather than “plan your work, and work your plan,” you should follow a process more like “plan some of your work, work that plan, and then replan the next piece of your work, and so on.”  Rather than prepare detailed plans at the outset, you should plan only for those things that you are highly certain will not change.  The idea is to replace the “management as planned” concept with “management as planned and replanned.”  You should see a project as a continuous process of action and reflection, followed by more action.

- Aaron J Shenhar and Dov Dvir from Reinventing Project Management, p. 176

Fighting Groupthink: How To Stop Conformity From Paralyzing Your Risk Management

“Over time, we learn to associate these two ideas: on the one hand, being in a crowd, and on the other, relinquishing responsibility. Crowd. Lack of responsibility. Crowd. Someone else will take care of this. Make the connection enough times, and eventually the mere thought of a group of people is enough to trigger passivity.”

Situations Matter – Sam Sommers


The project meeting has been moving along well and you move on to the next item on your agenda.

“Does any one have any risks they want to identify?”

Is the silence in the room or static on the line all that you hear?

You know that your project has more issues that you can throw a stick at, but the silence stretches out…

Don’t worry – it’s not you.
It’s not the bridge.
It’s not the question.
The silence may have something to do with the pressure that conformity puts on us when we are in group.

People are on the call listening, thinking that someone else will speak up about the tiny little issue that is threatening to bubble up in a week’s slip.

Someone else will raise a stink about the obstacle that is blocking the team.

Someone else will point out that the emperor has no clothes.

At least that’s what people thought during status reviews of the Challenger spaceshuttle and the planning sessions about the Plan to Liberate Cuba (Bay of Pigs invasion).

Someone else was going to say something. But no one said anything.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a person on the team that regularly disturbs the groupthink vibe and raises a red flag about critical issues.

If you’re smart: you’ll take conformity into account and try to “reverse engineer” some of its effects. As Sommers’ writes, “Anything you can do to emphasize individual identity has the potential to reduce conformity”.

With that idea in mind:
1) Don’t just ask the group a general question and stop there. Go around the room (if you’re in one place) or go through the names list of folks who dialed in and ask specific questions about their areas of responsibility.

Sometimes people are multi-tasking and have wandered off to their spreadsheet or email or terminal window to do something else.

Sometimes they just need to be encouraged to raise an issue. Their name may pull them out of their waiting to see if someone else will answer.

2. Don’t just use your meeting to uncover risks. It may be more effective to talk to some of your SMEs one on one about what they view as a potential risk.

Don’t be afraid of silence on the bridge.  Remember that it’s easier to be uncomfortable for a few minutes then deal with an issue that everyone ‘knew’ was a problem, but never spoke up.

Do you have any ideas on how to encourage folks to speak up during critical calls? Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Managing Your Emotions: In the Middle of a Tough Conflict


To beat a tough conflict, you need to quickly shift to a much bigger and higher state of mind than the conflict itself. The secret is to immediately think of your best passions and goals. Once you upload that thought, the conflict and everything about it becomes much smaller and less emotional.  Your feelings about your goals and passions will dwarf any conflicts.  By focusing on your passions and goals, which are often related to your core values such as family, friendship, service, character, achievement and religion, your mind will always stay above the fray.  You not only avoid your lower level, but you transcend to a completely higher realm that is beyond the reach of conflict, difficult people and criticism.  Your mind is surrounded by the things you love to do and the things that you aspire to achieve and and no one can diminish or take that away from you, even in the worst conflicts.

- Zachary Wong, PhD, Personal Effectiveness in Project Management

Complicated or Complex? Classifying Projects

Complicated or Complex

How would you define them?

Several years ago I would have thought they were nearly the same thing.

Apparently, they are slightly different.  

In a recent study on the relationship between IT Project Complexity, Complication and Success, David J Williamson drew a distinction between complication and complexity by defining complication as related to:

  • Factors of scale, including extensive and detailed requirements
  • Large and geographically dispersed project teams
  • High project cost, and
  • Long project durations

In contrast, complexity emerges when

  • Project objectives are not clearly defined
  • Requirements are unclear and volatile
  • The project incorporates significant technological or organizational change, or
  • The project environment has extensive political and social influences, dependencies and constraints

Sounds like fun, huh?

Several years ago I would have thought that the dispersed project teams and the scale of a project would have qualified it as complex.  At a minimum those characteristics would have made communications and tracking progress difficult and complicated the execution of the project.  Teams working on opposite end of the clock have to work harder to share information and share a common purpose. But problems like these can be solved with standard PMBOK tools & techniques.

A project with constantly changing requirements or bleeding edge technology is complex by its nature: it’s harder to find a process that fits the way the team works and harder still to manage.  The distinction may not seem significant when you feel like pulling your hair out because of an issue, but it’s justified.  As the study found, complex projects “can behave in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways.”  Because of a project’s complexity, you may be ‘changing your process as you go’ to get the work done.

In the end, I was convinced of the difference.
What do you think?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Dealing with Uncertainty


Project management used to be about driving out uncertainty.  You nailed down all the deliverables at the outset and fine-tuned your specs so implementation could be as routine as possible.  Sure, there were always a few surprises, but overall you had a pretty good idea of what to expect.  In many of today’s complex projects, however – whether they involve new-product development, IT installation, or internal process improvement – uncertainty simply can’t be eliminated….

Studies of exceptional project managers in fast time-to-market industries show that the initial phase of a complex project, often referred to as the ‘fuzzy front end’, has a disproportionally large impact on end results.  So it’s important to tread carefully.  Resist the urge to dive right into implementation.  “Defining the problem first gives you greater degrees of freedom in solving it,” says Bob Gill, president of the Product Development and Management Association, a New Jersey-based nonprofit.  “Instead of assuming that your riveting equipment is operating too slowly, if you step back and say, “The real issue is that my cost of manufacturing the product is too high,” you enable other possible alternatives to solving the problem – for example, redesigning the process so that product requires fewer rivets.”

- HBR Guide to Project Management


From the News: Using Resilient Risk Management to Fight the Ebola Epidemic

How do you address risks that are uncertain in impact and outcome?
The PMBOK Risk management process attempts to identify specific mitigation responses to pre-determined scenarios.  Risks with unknown impacts can’t have a pre-determined risk mitigation strategy – or can they?

In a recent article printed on the Harvard Business Review website, NPR wrote about a group of risk management experts who looked back to the Black Death to recommend ways to address uncertain risks with unknown impacts.

The researchers coined the term ‘Resilient Risk Management’ to describe a risk management approach where the team focuses on trying to recover from the Unknown as quickly as possible.  As Igor Linkov, one of the co-authors of the paper wrote, “Can we design our countermeasures in a way that no matter what the threat is we still manage to do our best to recover fast?”  I like the idea, but doesn’t this sound like a wrinkle on Disaster Management?

As defined in Wikipedia: Disaster management (or emergency management) is the effort of communities or businesses to plan for and coordinate all personnel and materials required to either mitigate the effects of, or recover from, natural or man-made disasters, or acts of terrorism.  Disaster Management has a phased lifecycle (prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery) as well.

On the other hand, reframing the process by changing its name might wake people up from the nightmare that all of the suffering and death caused by this virus is inevitable.  Resilient Risk Management sounds a lot more proactive than Disaster Management.  What do you think?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet.  My id is jgodfrey.

Mental Models


Do you control your mental models, or, do your mental models control you? If you are not aware that you have a choice of how to look at a situation or problem, if you are not conscious of the decision you have taken to use any particular model to understand that bit of the world, then you are using whatever happens to be your default model for situations of that type. The model is running you. If you are aware that you have a conscious choice, and you can weigh up what the benefits of the different models available are, then chances are that you are running the models, and not the other way around. But to be able to choose, you have to have a choice – if you only have one model of organization then, to all intents and purposes, you have no choice. That is the one you will use whenever you think about an organization.

Models are incredibly insidious, models slide undetected into discussions and then dominate the way managers think about their situation. A UK Secretary of State for Health, when talking about changing the National Health Service, used the metaphor of turning a supertanker, observing that this was a very slow process with a huge amount of inertia built in. It was a model of the change process that was often repeated in government and in business. But if a metaphor or model is inappropriate it will lead managers to make assumptions about what is going on that can have very far-reaching consequences, and metaphors always have assumptions built into them. In this case, built into the comparison with steering a supertanker are several fatally false assumptions: that the NHS is one cohesive entity that can be steered, that the Secretary of State is the one doing the steering, and that there is any sort of steering mechanism. The model encourages managers to think and act in particular ways, which in this case were doomed because most of the assumptions built into the model were not valid.

- Patrick Hoverstadt, The Fractal Organization