Is Good Strategy also Good Project Management?

Picture This:
You’re in the middle of a constantly changing terrain – where your resources, external influences and even the tactical objectives can change overnight.  Your objective: to navigate through a valley to the end.

What does this sound like – a tactical situation on a battlefield?  A market that you need to dominate or one of your multitude of projects that you’re juggling every day?

If your answer is: it depends, you’d be right.  In my attempt to fill up my PDU requirement before April of next year, I started taking a business strategy course through The Great Courses: Strategic Thinking Skills.  The more I heard, the more I thought I was hearing PMBOK best practices.

How many times have you heard warnings about:

  • Sunny day scenarios
  • Communication Breakdowns
  • Inflection Points

And yet each of these are examples of failed strategy.

From Sunny Day Strategies…
Listening to historical examples of bad planning drove home the importance of following Best Practices. At the Battle of Bulge, the Germans suffered defeat because of a plan that needed everything to fall into place.  Sunny day strategies fail every time.  Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever had a plan fall exactly the way it was originally drawn up.  Something always changes and we need to adjust our strategy in order to finish on time.

To expect a complex plan to align with the stars and our expectations would be a feat of even greater wishful thinking.  Instead of drafting a plan that relies on the best case scenario – we would do our teams and our plans better service by planning in risk mitigation and ensuring that we have what we need to hand over deliverables at the final milestone.

Communication Breakdowns…
In battles, a communication breakdown could lead to a disastrous results.  Just read the poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade to see how disastrous.  Due to a vague order, the calvalry charge was made up the wrong hill.  Replace the wrong hill with the wrong location, release package, configuration item name and you could have a disaster on a lesser scale, but the cause would be the same.  Dropped calls, broken features or rework make no one happy.  Take time to ensure that both sides of an exchange of information understand what was shared.  It’s worth the extra moment to ensure the team has what it needs to deliver.

And Change…
If the business environment changes or the requirements change it can have significant impact on the eventual success of the project.  In battle or business a rule change can result in a change in strategy that could lead to defeat.  When we lock down a project, we like to imagine that nothing changes while we’re cranking out the deliverable over several months, but nowadays business needs change quickly.  Staying in close communication with stakeholders can help avoid delivering a product or service that fails to provide as large a benefit as expected.

We set our sights on an objective and lock down down a project based on assumptions about the environment, resources and an approach.  It should be no surprise that the language of strategy seems to align with project management principles.  I was excited to see the parallels and look forward to learning more in the second half of the course.

Have you seen any other parallels between Strategic Thinking and project management principles?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet.  My id is jgodfrey.

Always Think Bigger, In Both Time and Space

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Always think bigger doesn’t mean you can solve your problem by imagining you are bigger than you actually are.  However, the stuckness you experience as obstacle and conflict is often the result of not seeing the larger environment around whatever is happening. Missing critical points, and sometimes obvious solutions, can be the result of having too narrow a focus.  The antidote to that is to allow your mind to become bigger.  A bigger mind leads to a bigger view, which gives rise to unusual solutions….

Thinking bigger takes place in the dimensions of both space and time….A narrow view of time can not only ignore history, but also cause you to think you must take action sooner than need be….Thinking bigger in terms of space means literally looking above and beyond the immediate conflict or problem at all the elements of the larger environment – the ground, its conditions, all the people connected to it.  Each element in a situation has its own ever-changing constellation of relationships, each is interconnected with the others, and all have some impact on your situation.

- The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict: Strategies from the Art of War, James Gimian and Barry Boyce

 

Staying Motivated: Keeping Your Focus on Daily Quality

Quality.

The term itself seems to lend itself to all the wrong images and connotations.  It seems to give off an ‘eat your broccoli’, ‘floss your teeth’ kind of feeling.

Looked at that way, Quality is boring.  When you think about the non-fun aspects of ensuring a quality product: Inspections, reviewing the results of inspections, identifying methods to improve your defect finding, it can certainly seem a little dry.

  • Inspections
  • Requirements Reviews
  • Tracking Adherence to requirements
  • Identifying Critical Customer Requirements (CCR)
  • Prevention over Inspections or Build in quality
  • Continuous Improvement

Remembering the why and the who helps keep me on point.   It reminds me that it’s ok to make a few people unhappy in the short term.  The why is to ensure a quality product for our customer.  Knowing who helps me understand why they need the service to be reliable.

It reminds me of the story of the 3 bricklayers, now so well known that it is probably a cliche.

“Once there were 3 bricklayers. Each one of them was asked what they were doing.

The first man answered gruffly, ‘I’m laying bricks.’

The second man replied, ‘I’m putting up a wall.’

But the third man said enthusiastically and with pride, ‘I’m building a cathedral.'” –Author Unknown

Keeping the Why and the Who in sight helped the third bricklayer remember why each brick had to be laid to the best of his ability.

Looking at Quality with the end in mind gives you a different perspective when you ask for a re-inspection or the review of a document.

Seeing the end result: a happy customer – makes all the difference.  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

AUTO: Around, Under, Through, or Over

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“I use the acronym AUTO as my guide and motivator.  When confronted with a life challenge or rotten banana, I think AUTO: Around, Under, Through or Over.  Any way your overcome your obstacles and blast through your barriers is okay with me.  So the next time you are faced with an obstacle, think in terms of how you can go beyond the barrier.  You can go around your challenge, tunnel under the obstacle, blast through the basrrier, or hurdle over the problem.  Regardless of how you do it, barrier busting is the way to your personal improvement.  The better you make yourself, the better you make every area of your life.”

- Letting Go of Your Bananas, Dr Daniel T. Drubin, p.15

Book Review: From Projects to Programs, a Program Manager’s Journey

  • Can you define Program Management?
  • How different is it from Project Management?
  • What does a Program Manager ‘do’ if they are not managing the projects in their program?

Those are a few of the questions that a new Program Manager would be looking to answer when they open From Projects to Programs, A Program Manager’s Journey, by  Samir Penkar, PMP, CSM.  Outside of the Standard for Program Management, most new Program Managers seemed to be on their own in figuring their roles. Until now.

When you start the book, our hero, Susan Codwell, takes a stab at the definition by writing down the following list of words:

“Oversight, oversee, orchestra conductor, communicator, benefits focused, manage uncertainty, strategy alignment, stakeholder engagement, governance, program cadence, risk management, resource optimization, manager of project managers, financial management, mentoring, creating accountability, leading multidiscipline teams, interface with senior management, competency in project management discipline and integration management.”

It seems like a lot, doesn’t it?  Not to worry – Susan will walk through most of these roles during the story and give you an inside glimpse on her choices and decisions.

It’s this inside view that makes the book unique.  As Susan learns how to step back from the Project Manager’s perspective and look at her program as a whole, you can take notes in the margin on how she evolves.

With your front row view of her program, you can see how a Program Manager picks up a large, undefined set of projects and begins to create a governance structure and the processes she needs to track program benefits.

While the story is useful for walking through her thought process and learning, I found the interviews and resources in the Appendix to be almost as valuable as the story.  The Appendix provided two interviews with program managers, a brief Agile Primer and resources to help define and track your program benefits and a short article on how the role of a PMO.

In the end, Susan Codwell boiled her long list of Program Management responsibilities into three core focus areas for a strong Program Manager.

  • Governance
  • Benefits Management
  • Integration

At the end of her story, she is successful and we have a few nuggets of wisdom on how to be a program manager, but a few nagging questions remain.  Our character never really faced / worked through a problem in the plot.  So the new Program Manager would be  left with a few open questions:

  • What are warning signs of a program in trouble?
  • What happens if my PMs are struggling?
  • How do I manage stakeholders who don’t like some of the program’s benefits?

On the other hand, there  aren’t many books out there that can help a PM in the middle of Transitioning into a Program Manager role.  For an introduction to the world of Program Management, this book is a good place to start.  Have you read any other Program Management books you’d recommend?  Leave a comment, send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

A Project is an Act of Creation

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A project is an act of creation, whether it simply repeats a product that has been made before or boldly attempts something novel…. The process of creating involves both originality and appropriateness. An original thought is nice, but if it doesn’t fit anywhere, it is simply noise. An original thought that solves a nagging problem or resolves uncertainty – and is therefore an appropriate original thought – is a thought that has value…. Contemporary projects demand creativity, not only to make innovative products, but also to solve complex social relationships and to work around challenging boundary limits. – Right Brain Project Management, B. Michael Aucoin

Manage Conflict Through Discovery?

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.Remyonmybooks

This is a very old saying essentially meaning there is more than one way to get to your goal.

Most people would agree with that idea, but how many people actually believe it?

It certainly is easy to say.

Can you be as flexible when you find yourself in conflict with someone with an opposing point of view?  How do you respond to someone who objects to your plans?   

Caught up in the drama, your view of the conflict could look more like Godzilla versus Mothra.  But I assure you – the view from outside looks more like two dwarves mud wrestling.  And while that might be a spectacle, it won’t help you move your project along.

Avoid the spectacle by changing your paradigm:
In The Magic of Conflict, written by Thomas F Crum, Crum recommends that instead of jumping in the mud, you take a step back and look at the situation in a different way.
Instead of coming at them from attack mode.
Shift into Discovery mode:

When you discover something you don’t need to defend it or attack others ideas about it.  From this perspective you are open to have your beliefs changed.  There is no attachment.  If you’re looking at a risk or a problem – you can be in perpetual learner’s mode.  Not ‘knowing anything’ as a certainty – and open to the different perspective.

When you discover something you don’t need to prove the other viewpoint wrong.  You want to learn more about the different idea.  Instead of judging it, you are free to truly listen to the other perspective.

When you discover something your focus isn’t on yourself…or being perfect.  You are more willing to take risks and make mistakes in  an attempt to explore different options. As Crum writes, “The power of discovery encourages us to explore solutions rather than spend excess energy on blame and justification.”

When you find yourself caught up in a drama with someone – instead of looking for ways to prove them wrong or justify yourself, step back and change your perspective.

If you’re willing to look at your situation through the eyes of discovery, you may find another way to achieve your goal…or you may learn something new.

Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.