Resilience Engineering #11: Grief and Awareness – Breaking the Grip of Robustness

by Gary Monti on August 23, 2011

Breaking the grip of a robust approach in complex situations can be done but it is challenging. This past week validation occurred while working with a Fortune 500 company.

Troubled Projects

We spent the week working on how to turn around troubled projects by assessing the degree of trouble and determining what to do to turn things around.

Using an approach independent of any one individual or personality, i.e., principle-based, they were shown how quickly an assessment can be done by looking for misapplication or complete absence of key principles, e.g., the nine areas of project management espoused by PMI. A strong emphasis was placed on earned value and its importance in forecasting the completion of a project along with the importance of risk management as the ability to do earned value decreases. This was repeatedly challenged and a very interesting discussion evolved over the week.

A huge, challenging project surfaced having to do with integrating a recent acquisition. The argument made against earned value went something like this (sing along if you know the words), “The situation is dynamic and moving quickly. Making a schedule will take too long. Let’s simply use a top-down approach and dictate end dates along with resource- and time constraints. It’s worked in the past, it should work now.”

Gathering Information, Change, and Grieving

A surprising drop in the resistance to moving from this top-down approach occurred when we moved into human dynamics. It had to do with information gathering and belief systems.

An essential part of quickly and accurately assessing a situation is making sure the right context is used for structuring a picture of the situation. In troubled situations if the right context is missing people feel unsure, pull back, and resist participating. The trouble increases. Empathy in terms of getting the context right is extremely critical.

The hanging on to the old method dropped and the “Aha!” occurred when showing the forms of resistance using a graphic adaption of the grieving cycle from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s seminal book, “On Death and Dying.”

A director in the PMO saw, and admitted to all present, that denial has been used with this acquisition. What was stated went something like this:

“I’ve been hanging on to the old methods (robustness) and been stuck at denial. It just won’t work. We have to shift to resilience. This includes educating leaders in the company.”

With this statement, an appreciative silence filled the room. You could have knocked me over with a feather! By shifting to resilience the odds of success for integration started increasing immediately.

Ironically, earned value is currently unachievable because the situation is truly complex. This means solutions will emerge from the bottom-up.

Earned value CAN be used but only after new project and process structures emerge (resilience) that permit getting their arms around the situation.

To repeat from the previous blog, this reads easy but does hard. However, it IS possible!

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