Encouraging deviancy in projects

First off, apologies for the misleading advertising — this isn’t a how-to post.

I’ve linked to a lot of Bas de Baar’s shared posts, but I’ve never commented on one of his own posts (or at least not in a long time).  Let’s remedy that oversight.   On a recent post (here), Bas admitted to deviant behavior on a previous project.  He stopped doing his status reports.  Or more accurately, he first sabotaged the status reporting approach (e.g., submitting the same report with different dates, added nonsense risks, etc.).

I asked myself: “Would I have noticed?”  Bas’s colleagues sure didn’t; or worse, they never admitted they did.  The only reaction came when he forgoed submitting the reports altogether.  Never mind that he had stopped providing useful information already… it was only when he ended his formal compliance that he got in trouble.

Sometimes our project’s rebels are our first and best indicators that something is wrong with how we’re monitoring and controlling our project.  I’ll bet that Bas had voiced his opinion to the project leadership.  Something like this: “Our status reports are a waste of time because they aren’t substantive, aren’t read, and therefore waste our time.” 

He was right, of course.   Bas’s post is a reminder that instead of punishing deviants, maybe we should encourage them.  Or at least listen to them.

PM Quote of the Day — John Wanamaker

I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half.

I love to quote this saying whenever I’m about to start a propaganda campaign communications effort for an initiative.  There’s a sneaking feeling that a lot of people won’t even bother to open the broadcast e-mail, or won’t read my section of it, or won’t visit the portal page, or are blogging during my Webex session.

Not that I’ve ever done any of that…

This saying reminds me that about half of my audience is tuning out my message.   Ensuring full attention and comprehension will depend on the appropriateness of the channels, media, and frequency that I use.  That’s the whole point of stakeholder and audience analysis. 

A very simple example is given here — graphical views of work breakdown structures typically work well when summarizing for executives and WBS lists usually work best when elaborating the detail for project teams.  This result is to be expected, once we’ve analyzed the attention spans, communication styles, and information needs of the respective audiences. 

Sure, some folks simply won’t get it, at least not without a consistent and persistent effort.  But regardless, the onus is on me and my team to make the connection. 

Corner Cutting Survey 2nd Answer: Performance Appraisals

The corner cutting poll’s second answer (at 18 percent) remains Performance Appraisals for Project Team Members.  This result wasn’t a shock at all to me.  Only relatively mature project organizations even mandate that project managers conduct performance reviews.

As anyone who has been in the SAP ecosystem knows, SAP is a matrixed organization.  This model is a great advantage in at least this aspect of implementing project management: we have an already-established approach for “additional appraisers”.   The reviews are embedded in our project management methodology and our HR processes:

As part of project closing, the project manager conducts final reviews and evaluations of the team members. The project manager and project team member should review and sign the additional appraiser form during a final meeting before the team member leaves the project….  Every member of the team should be evaluated prior to the project ending or the team member leaving the project.  

In other words, project, program, or PMO leadership has the responsibility for performing reviews even when we don’t have direct reporting responsibility for project team members.  This approach allows the PMO to have “soft oversight” of technical and functional resources we don’t directly own.  It also provides excellent opportunities to give future managers hands-on coaching experience.

PM Quote of the Day — Sappho

Love is a cunning weaver of fantasies and fables

How fevered and furrowed our minds become when we’re swept away by love!  Our beloved’s fleeting glances seem to last forever, while the shortest silences appear to be cruel slights.  Everything looks so right, always on the verge of going so wrong.

The delusions of romantic love can grip us in the business world as well.  I’m now recovering from such fantasies and fables myself.  I’ve had to take a step back from an initiative where I drove the approach, the design, and the initial implementation because my love for it has become a barrier to its acceptance and success

I’m so passionate about the initiative that I’ve lost more than a little perspective — I came to believe that I was the only one who understood it.  When objections were raised, I veered from sulking quietly to excitedly defending and justifying all that was done before.  Every time I spoke I was losing my audience and betraying my “love”.

Luckily, I was self-aware enough to step back and let go before I damaged my pride and joy irreparably… or before my colleagues slapped a restraining order on me!

PM Quote of the Day — George S. Patton

A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.

This quote is an nice appropriate bookend to yesterday’s Eliot quote (here).  Most SAP projects have to be delivered within a tight time window within strict resource constraints.  With two legs of the triple constraint almost fixed — and we can’t compromise on quality with mission-critical applications — our scope planning and prioritization must be ruthless. 

While it is important to have patience with ourselves and others, dithering about features and functions doesn’t work in today’s project environment.  To slip in another quote: Say what you’ll do, do what you say… and don’t look back.

Reviving Failed Ideas and Lost Causes

I liked Pavel Brodzinski‘s comment (here) on my networking post.  His point is right on and I wished I had elaborated on the point myself.  As Pavel notes, coming from the outside with fresh energy can revive previously-lost causes.  I also see some additional benefits/approaches to surfacing “already failed” ideas during your initial networking:

  • As an outsider, you can ask open-ended and naive questions about the failed concept without appearing ignorant.  Also, this approach gets people to talk more openly about what really went wrong.
  • Even if you think it is a great idea and you’ve seen it work, listen to the answers first.  To that end, don’t immediately endorse, complement, or promote the old idea.
  • Finally, listening to the answers is a great way to assess these stakeholders.  While Byham’s article emphasizes the need to establish credibility, credibility is a two-way street.

The ideal benefits from taking the these steps are a perspective on the “real” causes of the previous failure, an understanding of whether or not it may work again, and a map of the stakeholders you’ll have to navigate around.

What is toughness in a leader?

I like John Baldoni’s distinction between exterior and interior toughness (post here) as outlined below:

I am not referring to what’s on the outside (gruff and ready), but rather what is inside the individual (character and resilience). 

The post has a good set of comments as well, so it’s worth reading all the way down.

Finally, IMHO, humility is important because it acknowledges the obvious.  When I don’t recognize and admit mistakes — mistakes that everyone affected see for themselves — I essentially am showing my stakeholders that I’m disconnected from reality. 

It is rare that we’re really fooling anyone about the consequences of our bad or mistaken acts.  Admitting error and making amends ASAP is only common sense.

Networking after moving into a new role

This Harvard Business Online article on networking after a promotion caught my eye (link here).  While it’s pitched to the recently-promoted, it has great advice for anyone moving into a new role.  The piece starts fast:

Most people aren’t naturally networkers. But if you’ve just been promoted or are about to move into a new job, it’s imperative that you start talking to lots of people and make connections right away, so you can acquire crucial information about your new job and succeed early. If you don’t, you might lack the facts you need for a proposal, for example, or you might bring up an idea you think is neat but has failed in the past.

The three tips noted in the piece are just fine.  However, I particularly liked the two insights in the open about fact-gathering and avoiding already-failed ideas.  I’ve made these mistakes before, so I appreciated the reminder of the pain that a little stakeholder identification and planning can prevent.

Networking is definitely an unnatural act for me.  While that isn’t usually a deterrent for me, in this case it means that networking always goes to the end of my to-do list.  My best approach is to target and reach out per the article, then get short chats on my calendar with those folks immediately.  If I procrastinate, all is lost.  Per the article:

[T]he first 30 to 60 days are when networking matters most, because that’s when people are deciding if they can depend on you or if you’re a loser who should never have been hired.

So, you want to be a CEO?

It isn’t always wine, roses, and golden parachutes.  Here’s a cautionary tale from the Times Online: CEO murdered by mob of sacked Indian workers

Lalit Choudhary, 47, the head of the Delhi-based operations of Graziano Transmissioni, an Italian car parts maker, died of head wounds on Monday after being lynched by scores of employees he had dismissed…. Mr Choudhary was holding a meeting with more than 100 former staff to discuss a possible reinstatement deal when the attack occured.

Note that later news reports indicate that many attackers weren’t workers, which explains the senselessness of an attack during reinstatement negotiations. 

As you might imagine, Indian business leaders are worried and outraged (story here).  Of course, the effects on foreign investment are potentially dire.  The outrage comes from the fact that some in the Indian Government refuse to condemn the attack.  In fact, the Labor Minister sees it as a “warning for management”.  A warning to do what…get out of India?

Hat tip: Scott Berkun (here)

PM Quote of the Day — Tacitus

All enterprises that are entered into with indiscreet zeal may be pursued with great vigor at first, but are sure to collapse in the end.

Keep this quote in mind when trying agile or iterative development for the first time. There’s a great temptation to be all “gung-ho” during the first sprints of one’s first projects. But agile puts more of a premium on consistent, repeatable execution than one might first imagine.

Because the idea is to go through repeated iterations, agile approaches can burn out teams if a team starts with and tries to sustain a “heroic” pace. Select and work your sprint backlog judiciously!

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