Posts Tagged ‘anticipation’

The Soul of a Project #28: The Wisdom of Doubt!

by Gary Monti on November 1, 2012

On Apollo 1 what would have happened if someone had asked, “What happens when you combine a spark with elevated oxygen levels in an iron rich environment?” Those 3 astronauts might have gotten to live out their lives telling their grandchildren stories about the early days of space flight. Avoiding Monday-morning-quarterbacking, the question is worth asking in terms of determining when confidence bleeds over into over-confidence. In resilience engineering that bleeding over is referred to as drift.

What stems drift is doubt. A muscular approach to projects can easily push out doubt, which is unfortunate. Doubt has a real value. It encourages us to seek others opinions and get as many eyeballs as possible on a problem or solution. Evolutionarily it has a real benefit. Darwin talks about the survival of the fittest. It is commonly thought of as the strongest. That isn’t what he meant. Survival of the fittest refers to having the best fit, i.e., finding the sweet spot among all the possibilities when swimming in a sea of possibilities.

Doubt is connected to another important evolutionary development – a conscience. In The Sociopath Next Door Martha Stout, PhD, explores the social consequences when a conscience is lacking and the associated lack of doubt. It is a very interesting read.

You might be wondering where this is going. After all, we need to develop a sense of confidence so we can get things done. But if my confidence is high does it mean I’m a sociopath? What to do?

The answer lies in wisdom.  Wisdom is choosing what to do (or to be still) when there isn’t a clear-cut path that would bring a tear to Euclid’s eye. And this is where we get back to the group. Use doubt to provoke, to dig deeper, to make a game of the situation. A little cage rattling will go a long way towards waking people up and getting them energized, which leads to better solutions and gives everyone on the team a chance to feel significant. At that point work is no longer a job, it’s a quest. It’s a chance to get lost in the problem and feel alive!

Resilience Engineering #14: Company Scorecard

by Gary Monti on September 20, 2011

How big of a hit can your organization take? Can you prevent it? What resilience score would you give your organization? Ron Westrum gives some good criteria in Resilience Engineering: Concepts and Precepts.

Threats and Timeframe

An important issue revolves around the time horizon surrounding the threat and when the organization responds to it. There are 3 categories to consider:

  • Foresight is the ability to prevent something bad from happening to the organization.
  • Coping is the ability to prevent something bad that has happened from getting worse.
  • Recovery is the ability to recover from something bad once it has happened.


Foresight has two components. The first is profiting from lessons learned and dealing with threatening situations in a constructive way through avoidance (elimination of the threat) or mitigation (dampening the probability or impact of a risk) strategies. This is what could be considered standard risk management.

The second is more interesting. It has to do with weak signal analysis. This comprises sensitivity to emerging trends within the environment and taking steps early to fend off the threat or to be prepared to deal with it successfully should it turn into a problem.

The problem with weak signal analysis is the findings may not integrate with cultural norms and be dismissed out of hand as being incorrect, over-reactive, or signs of being a crackpot. The use of radar at Pearl Harbor in 1941 is a good example. Accurate information was generated regarding the incoming Japanese attack. Use of it would have allowed for better preparation for the attack. The problem was advanced technologies such as radar weren’t part of the military culture and were considered “out there” so the information was ignored and the opportunity to prepare for the attack was missed.

Do you do any weak signal analysis to see what trends might be developing? How familiar is your organization with the competitive environment? If you do get that information what is done with it? Is it converted into something actionable?


Coping can comprise two approaches. The first is familiar to most of us. It is toughness in terms of being able to absorb, say, a no-cost change order. This is what would be called “robust” in previous blogs. There is a second intriguing aspect to coping, which can promote long-term survivability. It is the ability to redesign/restructure the organization right in the middle of the trouble. There is an everyday word for this – flexibility.

The trend to switch from being a computer company that provides services to a service company that uses computers is a very good example of coping.


How is the recovery from a seriously damaging event handled? Is the focus on the principles that best serve the market niche the organization is in or is there a search for the guilty and punishment of the innocent? Apple is probably the best example of recovery. It has gone from about 2% market share in personal computers to being the second biggest company listed on Wall Street beaten out only be ExxonMobil.

So the questions are, “What would your organization’s score be when it comes to foresight, coping and recovery? What would you do to improve them?”

Resilience Engineering #13: Tap Dancing on Ball Bearings

by Gary Monti on September 13, 2011

Moving quickly and accurately in an ever-changing environment is a key business skill in today’s environment. Success insures the competition will be coming at you even harder possibly using the tips, tricks, tools, and techniques you’ve created and mastered. Let’s look at what it takes to survive.

The Dynamic vs. The Product

To work in the environment described above resilience is needed. Resilience is about the dynamic, about how a system responds to shifts in the environment, rather than just focusing on the product or a specific component in the system. I tell clients and students the following:

“Working in a resilient manner is like tap dancing on ball bearings.”

Staying with ball bearings but shifting the frame of reference, look at the illustration. If the project falls into the trough, a dramatic, irreversible change can occur. This is the terrain of complex systems.

What To Do?

Managing projects in such situations is as much an art as a science.  A risk management perspective can help an organization gauge its survivability by assessing the three types of responses possible in changing situations.

  • Passive acceptance. The change that occurs can simply be allowed to play out.  This is acceptable when we have a good sense of the ripple effect and feel it will dampen out or have a low impact. An example from a previous blog goes like this: 10 animals are charging you. You have 4 bullets in your gun. Which do you shoot? Well, if one is the rabbit Thumper from “Bambi” passive acceptance will probably work. With passive acceptance we take the risk of doing nothing until AFTER the threat has turned into a problem. What if Thumper has rabies and bites?
  • Active acceptance. This is one of the most popular responses. For example, a tiger team is formed to find out why the installation is failing at several sites. This is fixing the problem when in the thick of things. With active acceptance something is done DURING the time the threat is turning into a problem.
  • Mitigation. “Thinking ahead and executing a strategy” would be the watch-phrase for mitigation. It comprises doing something BEFORE the threat is actualized and turns into a problem. Hiring extra staff that has field experience and including them during the planning phase so as to get their expertise into the design before the installation is a good example of mitigation. The team can double-dip on this one because the extra staff will also be available during active acceptance. This balancing act is dynamic. There is nothing static about it.

There is no setting-and-forgetting.


Think of how the hiring of extra experienced field staff affects the dynamic of the entire project. Let’s look at what the word “experienced” means regarding all stakeholders and team members, not just the field staff.  It means having people well-versed and seasoned in the four capabilities of resilience:

  • Knowing what has happened
  • Knowing what to look for
  • Knowing what to expect
  • Knowing what to do

In working with clients I’ve found that focusing on these four capabilities up, down, and across the organization and developing a harmonized, orchestrated corporate sensitivity to risk management increases the ability to do the tap dancing and deliver the product. It is this esprit de corps that helps insure the success.

Project Leadership #3: Courage and Stupidity

by Himanshu Jhamb on November 1, 2010

Contrary to the first impression you might have got looking at the title, I am not going to spell out courageous actions and Stupid actions on projects.  That would be too common. My mission is to reflect on my Project Management journey and share valuable insights I have gained from my mistakes (admittedly, more so) & successes in my journey.

In this article, I am going to talk about how being stupid is actually the first step in being courageous.

There are times when you come to a point where you simply have to act out of courage. Any amount of planning, foresight, anticipation or execution skills simply just don’t cut it. You find yourself in a zone where you go on your gut, just because… well! There is no because. You just do it. That is not to say that you (as the picture suggests) start playing Russian roulette with your projects (well, that would be a bit stupid!). Though, if you think about it, you really cannot be courageous and have zero risk of looking stupid, at the same time.

Here are a few circumstances that might sound familiar in the context of this article:

  • You ask what others might term as a “Dumb question”. Yes, it takes courage to ask dumb questions… you are always at risk of looking “Dumb” in front of someone who thinks you should have known the answer.
  • You take a stand for your team in front of your boss… or your boss’s boss, which might mean you disagree with him/her. Yep, very thin line indeed. Cross it and your head might be handed to you on a platter OR you might end up saving your project by being courageous.
  • It might appear stupid to bend the rules a little when it comes to being a little flexible with your team. Think ROI. What seems stupid at first glance, quickly becomes courageous once you think of the trust and loyalty you might end up earning from your team, in return. Sure, you might end up being admonished by the “Powers-to-be”… but sending a bold message that you’ll stand for your team & get their trust in return. You do the math!
  • Asking a lot of questions can occasionally be seen as (and usually is) being stupid. And that is usually a good thing. That’s the first step in being courageous enough to get the answers you need to manage the project.
  • Over-communicating is sometimes termed as being stupid by your own team members. I get that all the time, though, the very next thought that crosses my mind is “Aah! That means at least I have communicated!”  A Zen moment follows.
  • Micro-managing. My personal favorite. Let’s face it – Sometimes, in order to get the project back on track, you have to get into the trenches and steer the way. That’s “Courageous” indeed. Though, you do have to cross the chasm of appearing like you are micro-managing before you can show the doubters and non-believers the other side.

The last one reminds me of the time when I was handed off this project in distress – midway through the project. The customer was feeling just one emotion at that time. Livid. Is that an emotion? Maybe not. But, I digress.Point is, I had an unhappy customer and the reason they cited was that “Nothing was getting done”.

After a bit of digging I realized that because my team member was at the client site (The business world lovingly terms this arrangement as “Staff-Augmentation” or more intimately “Staff-Aug”), he was a victim of poor project management – primarily emanating from the fact that he would be getting his weekly goals from pretty much everyone on the client team while he was eating lunch, walking down the halls or perhaps even in the restroom. No wonder “nothing was getting done”. Once I saddled in, I took care of it by making sure that all traffic to him was routed through me. My involvement obviously meant that my colleague had one more level of indirection added to his work that he had to deal with – ME! His reaction – “Himanshu, you are micro-managing”. We sorted the matter out immediately… fast forward one year – The customer went from “Nothing is getting done” to being a cheery one and investing >$1M over the course of the project.

So, yes, while you are running the project, there will be hurdles along the way that will have “STUPID” written in big bold red letters, on them. You need to have the courage to see them in the eye, acknowledge them and then take that leap of faith to scale them to complete the race you are in.

Leadership Cancers #8: Anticipation

by Gary Monti on May 4, 2010

Anticipation, a song by Carly Simon, chronicles well the consequences of waiting for consequences, “Anticipation…is makin’ me late, keepin’ me waiting.” In this blog we will explore anticipation and look at a much healthier alternative.

The Desire for Control

Anticipation has its roots in the desire for control. Specifically, it results from building expectations. With expectations I choose to lock on to some possible future event causing thoughts and actions to become a servant of the desired consequences.  Not a smart way to operate.

This was reflected in a rather painful experience pursuing a contract early in my consultancy. A division of an aerospace firm was looking for someone to audit their current project management system and then provide guidance and support in making it more robust.

The fit felt perfect! After going through preliminary conversations it seemed like a slam-dunk. There was only one problem – other companies were bidding. Ignoring this, I kicked back and rewarded myself with some rest and relaxation prior to starting the engagement. Fantasies as to how the engagement would be successful and transformative for the client danced before my mind’s eye.

The Loss of Freedom

As you might have guessed, the day of reckoning came and much to my surprise someone else was awarded the contract. The first thought was, “How dare they!” To say my blood boiled would be an understatement.

Anxiety followed the anger. The future was surrendered to an expectation. The feeling of being trapped soon set in. It was quite genuine. Leads were dropped in anticipation of getting this contract.  It was a lesson well learned. Fortunately, there were sufficient reserves to make it through until the next contract.

The Solution

A better way to behave is stated in a term from complexity theory, anticipatory awareness. It sounds almost identical to the leadership cancer called anticipation. It is quite different.

Where anticipation is a locking on to an expectation and experiencing emotional ups and downs similar to a gambler at the racetrack, anticipatory awareness is a complete letting go of expectations.

Does this mean no planning is done, i.e., just sit around and wait? No. It is much more subtle and more challenging than that. In fact, anticipatory awareness can be restated as, “Plan without consequence.”

Practicing anticipatory awareness requires discipline. In the case of making proposals it means creating a document as if the prospective client’s survival depends upon it and then letting go as if the client does not care. While it sounds a bit crazy it promotes a very healthy behavior. It keeps me on the move. It also promotes a constant question central to any good consultancy, “Does what’s being offered really provide value?

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