3P/T — Personal, Professional, and Project Recovery over Time

This perspective on business recovery means we must respect the relationship among personal, professional, and project behaviors.  The three dimensions of recovery behavior take place over time and are highly interdependent: functional or project recovery cannot exist without a foundation of appropriate personal and professional behaviors.

In particular, I maintain that project, operation, or business recovery will not be effective unless one’s personal and professional recovery leads the way. In other words, one must have changed one’s personal and professional behaviors — that is, moved them from “before” to “during” recovery — before one can effectively fix a project or business.

I hope this conclusion makes intuitive sense. After all, who can effectively facilitate a contentious scope prioritization session when one has been on short sleep for three weeks? Or how does one find the right expert to untangle a technical knot when one’s network was ignored once the new job started?

Before, During, and After Trouble

Like projects themselves, recovery from project challenges follows a definite lifecycle. Todd Williams (@BackFromRed), in his Rescue the Problem Project, identifies one prerequisite and four steps in the recovery process.

  1. Realization. Before recovering a project, the project sponsor, executive management, or steering committee must realize that the project has a problem and needs new direction. After accepting that the project has problems, recovery proceeds in four steps:
  2. Audit the project
  3. Analyze the data
  4. Negotiate the solution
  5. Execute the new plan.

A few years ago I put together a project de-escalation outline on Crossderry Blog based on my experience recovering projects and consulting engagements. My approach had a slightly different twist — largely driven by its emphasis on engagement management — but there are definite parallels.

  1. Discovery: How well do you know your project?
  2. Decision: To escalate, or not to escalate?
  3. Definition: What must be done?
  4. Dialogue: How to explain?
  5. Delivery: Into action.

I’m not sure there’s much value in reconciling project recovery lifecycles; in fact, I’m afraid it will distract from my focus on personal and professional factors in project failure and recovery. Therefore, this series of posts will use a simplified lifecycle of “Before, During, and After” project trouble.

Quote of the Day — Chinua Achebe

“Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man.  But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness….  It was the fear of himself…”  — from Things Fall Apart

Did you see this WSJ review of “Wait”?

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more comment on this WSJ review of “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay” by Frank Partnoy. 

With all the emphasis on being “first”, it is good to hear someone praise “the gift of hesitation.”  Goodness knows that I could have used this advice more than once!   Of course, Partnoy’s book could be dangerous in my hands.  Now I’ll have art and science in hand to rationalize away my next procrastinations.

By the way, the review itself is sharp.   Christopher Chabris alludes to his own experience and insight in a way that qualifies him, but doesn’t make the review all about the reviewer.

Bad Choices Underpin Most Problem Projects

In my last post I asserted that failed projects often have at their roots “neglect or damage in [the leaders’] personal and professional lives”, not ignorance of project management principles. Rather than let that question begging stand, we should look at that claim. If the claim is true, then shouldn’t we find evidence in problem projects of “good thought, bad action?”  Bad projects don’t just happen, we make them happen.

Indeed we do.  At Crossderry Blog I’ve blogged about project failure and success many times, including the work we did at SAP on project escalations. The most glaring examples are around stakeholder and communications management.

While these stakeholder and communications management techniques appear simple, we’ve found that many project managers can’t muster the motivation or confidence to execute against them consistently. These “symptoms” are great non-obvious indicators for project health:

  • Projects that consistently linked stakeholder analysis, communications planning, and plan execution stayed out of trouble.
  • Project managers who did not fit into, or could not adapt to, customer cultures, mission-critical projects, etc. were reluctant to escalate projects quickly enough.
  • The most frequent communications mistake was failure to execute planned executive-level messaging, which eroded the project manager’s position in the eyes of sponsors and other leaders.

These stakeholder management findings correspond with recent external studies noting that communication breakdowns – especially “keeping quiet” about known risks or issues – are a primary driver of project failures. To my main point, isn’t “keeping quiet” about project-threatening issues and risks a sign that there’s something amiss with one’s mind, body, spirit, or professional life?  More soon…

Personal and professional lives fail before the project does

Well, I’ll confess.  Not only has failure happened to a friend, but I’ve seen it, I’ve heard it, and I’ve lived it.  Personal, professional, and project problems grow and cascade into a torrent of trouble. In other words, project problems don’t remain confined to the project; they inundate every part of one’s life.

This challenge is what I’m going to address in this series. Many excellent writers and thinkers have laid the foundation of project management and project recovery. And indeed I’ll outline many of those standards and practices, along with my take on them.

However, my experience is that projects rarely fail because the initiative’s leaders were ignorant of tools and techniques.  They usually “knew the good,” but did not “do the good.”  This inability to translate knowledge into effective action is often driven by neglect or damage in one’s personal and professional lives.

What do I mean by personal and professional?

For now I’ll keep it simple. The personal life refers to one’s mind, body, and spirit and the balance among the three. I’ll borrow from Eastern and Western traditions to illustrate what and how the personal life gets out of balance. The professional dimension is more like a complex Interstate or Autobahn interchange. It’s where one’s career goals, relations with one’s team and bosses, and professional network come together. We’ll look at both in more depth later.

Things fall apart

Another sleepless night.  It’s 4:25 AM and you’re wide-awake. Check that. You’re awake, sort of, after another sleepless night.  Yes, another sleepless night, because you had two last week, and another two weeks before that.

As you shuffle into the day — guzzling a cup of this, wolfing a bite of that — you barely put one foot in front of the other. You’re so busy that the only time you have to yourself is in the shower. As you slump under the spray, you ask “How did it come to this?”. That moment’s reflection leads to an answer.

You can’t sleep because your life is a mess, you can’t sleep because your job is a mess, and you can’t sleep because your project is a mess. “I’ve gotta take a step back and… Arrrgh!”

A bit of soap in the eye does the trick and now you’re well and truly awake…and late!  And rushing unawares into another day.

Does this sound familiar to you? Are you living this right now ? Has it happened to a friend of yours? 

More later…

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