Posts Tagged ‘deadlines’

Fantasy vs. reality during project execution can be a major concern for the project manager and the team. “No good deed goes unpunished” might be the project motto. This seems rather dark but it is a common project reality. Assuming everyone has the best of intentions how could this happen? It can be summed in a word, “disconnect.” What is maddening is how this disconnect can be subtle and imperceptible, being spread out across the entire organization rather than focused at one location.

The Truth(s)

One would assume with intelligent, disciplined, competent people from top to bottom that harmony would be the order of the day. So, what happens? It has to do with the “truth.”

Truth is anything but an isolated, stand-alone reality. Truth is always embedded in a belief system. Belief systems are shaped by experience. As one travels through the various levels of hierarchy and across disciplines, experiences shift and the truth is in tow.

Imagine people at different altitudes looking at the project through a tube with a lens at the end, a lens that changes with their stakeholder position. Everyone gets the same light radiating from the same project but the truth varies from person-to-person. The relief effort in Haiti is a good example.

Suffering continues in Haiti. The project goal is frustrated. A year after the hurricane billions of dollars contributed to help the Haitians languish. While project managers are frustrated and impotent, those higher up feel they are being quite responsible by insisting criteria be met before funds are released.

The Solutions(s)

Is someone wrong? A better question is, “Why the disconnect?” Staying with international aid, project managers who have resources available may be in a situation where achieving their immediate goal of providing relief may require negotiating locally in a manner that goes against the grain of stated strategic political policies and procedures.

Aircraft maintenance is another example. A mechanic in the field can be faced with a problem not defined in the policies and procedures yet they need to get the airplane functioning and back in service. All this needing to be done with the tools and resources available.

What can develop are two sets of books, one set is informal and spread throughout the maintenance community and the other is the official set used to show compliance with stated methodologies. There is the danger of punishment if caught. Why? It goes against the “truth” as seen by those with power working at a distance (in all its meanings). There’s nothing unusual about this. Readers working in other professions probably have similar stories.

The Challenge

One of the project manager’s jobs is working the interfaces between all those truth systems and doing so in a way their integrity remains intact. It is a classic case of situational leadership. In the next blog we will look at other examples of what can happen when there is insistence from senior management that stated methods and policies and procedures be followed.

Do you have a rock star culture in your organization?

by Himanshu Jhamb on January 11, 2010

In a world where heroes are worshiped, superheroes idolized and rock stars treated as gods, somehow it gets lost upon us that the true power lies in high performance teams and not just embodied in one person, however good that person might be. Corporations are in the quest of seeking out individuals who are superstars – you can pick up any job requirement write-up and you’ll see a huge bent towards making sure the person sought after is an expert in at least 5 areas, a one-man-army and then, somewhere down there, in a tiny bullet point you will find a feeble mention that “Candidate must be a good team player”. Am I the only one who sees something amiss here?

Here’s a little story from my early career days:

I worked for a young organization where the team comprised of people who labeled themselves “Rock Stars” (seriously, they used to call themselves that). They were ambitious, competent, competitive, hungry, arrogant and loud. I still remember my first day as a trainee when one of them “Oriented” me on my responsibilities, the product, the customers and the services we provide… all in the space of 2 hours… and I was thrown in the deep waters to sink or swim. When I questioned this process, I was told – “Oh! Everyone has gone through this – after all, we only hire Rock Stars!” Only problem was – I didn’t feel much like a rock star when I was sitting in front of the customer the next day as an expert on the project. As time went by, I saw that my fellow Rock Stars were very talented and savvy but all of them kept “Winging” stuff because the philosophy of being a Rock Star begins with making tall promises (sometimes, unattainable) and then stretching to deliver. Sometimes things worked really well and they returned from projects as Heroes… though, most of the times, projects went awry and there was a lot of “coping” to do… but the label “Rock Stars” stuck to them. The one consequence that mostly all of them faced was they worked very long hours and over time, burned out.

So, what do you do when you see symptoms of a “Rock Star Culture” in your team. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Ask many “How” Questions: This is the part that gets “Winged” most of the time. People make promises based on a “Feeling”. While I am not a total non-believer of this (because sometimes actions need to be committed to before planning – just talk to an entrepreneur, if you want a lively discussion on this one!) BUT many a times, the feeling falls under the area of  a story about things getting done without any thinking on how they will be done and who will do what.
  2. Estimate a little higher: Rock Stars know that in order to retain the mantle, they need to overachieve. Nothing wrong with that – except, sometimes they promise very aggressive estimates and overlook dependencies that are not easily visible at the start of the projects. The little bit of higher estimates gives them room to cope, when unforeseeable situations occur (and they do!).
  3. Make them commit to a Project Plan: A well laid out plan takes care of the concerns around “eating more than you can chew” because it forces you to ask fundamental questions like:
    • What tasks need to be done to achieve the final goal
    • Who will do it
    • What are the dependencies that must be taken care of to complete a task
    • How much effort is needed to complete a task
    • When will it get done
  4. Foster a Team environment: Reward people when they look out for each other, help each other and back each other – all aspects of good teamwork, encourage communication and coordination between team members, Acknowledge individual feats but amplify the team achievements more!

True, teams are made of individuals and the more skillful the individuals comprising the team, the better the capacity of the team… but teams are teams. What we are looking for is “High Performance Teams” and THAT comes not from gathering a bunch of superstars in a group BUT from Focused teams supporting each other at each step of the journey… Yes, by all means, have Rock Stars on your team but in the end what really matters is you need to have a Rocking TEAM!

Quality #11: Driving Change Through Leadership

by Tanmay Vora on November 23, 2009

change through leadershipWelcome to the penultimate post in this 12-part series on QUALITY, titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first ten posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality
  8. Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual
  9. Quality #9: Quality of Relationship and Communication
  10. Quality #10: Inspection can be a waste if…

#QUALITYtweet Critical question: Knowing that

people will change only if they want to, how do you

make sure they “want” to change?

Process Improvement is a “change” game and implementing change isn’t always easy. In case of process improvement, the challenge is to change habits and behaviors of your people. That makes it even more difficult.

People change, not by “force” but by their “intent”. With force, people may dispassionately comply with your processes, but for true involvement, their intent needs a direction. With this as a given, critical questions are:

  • How do you make sure that you implement change by driving intent of people?
  • How do you make sure that people are passionately involved in change?

The answer to these is “Change Leadership”. Leading a change means undertaking right initiatives, mobilizing resources, addressing soft aspects like motivation, overcoming hurdles and aligning the teams to make it happen. How can change leadership drive process improvement initiative? Here are a few pointers:

  • Accurately define what needs a change: Apply 80:20 rule to identify what needs improvement. It is easy to align people when they know that they are improving the right areas that have maximum business/operational impact.
  • Create a change time line: Humans work best when they work against a time line. We often tend to get complacent when there are no deadlines. Reasonable pressure helps us become more creative. Create a time line by when change will be implemented with a step-by-step action plan. This also creates a sense of urgency.
  • Engage people: People tend to commit themselves to things they are involved in. Involve practitioners and managers in defining the change. They are the ones who will be impacted by the change. Engage them by explaining them the larger context, vision and business need. When they know the larger picture, they can align their actions accordingly. They also need to know the “What’s in it for me?” part. How will they become more effective? How will this change help them improve their performance? They want to know this.
  • Review progress periodically: If you don’t monitor your people, you give them a reason to slow down. Have short and effective meetings (in group or one-on-one) with people involved in change. Take a stock of how things are going. Understand their problems. Help them do better. They get help and you get the broader picture. If you hit some roadblocks, you still have chance to re-align. Review early and often. This is also your opportunity to share progress and motivate people involved in improvement initiatives.
  • Lead: Give them the context and set them free. Micromanagement on tasks can kill creativity and morale. Be there to help them, but let them do it on their own. People learn the most when they try to do it themselves. They will make mistakes. Help them overcome and share the lessons learned. Set right examples for them to follow.
  • Share rewards: when you link participation with rewards, it will help you get voluntary participation from people. But after they have participated, it is only your leadership abilities that will keep them going. You will still have lot of people who will willingly participate.
  • Keep rotating teams: Once a change cycle is implemented, induct new team members in the improvement team. You maximize the opportunities for everyone to get involved in defining improvements. Broader the participation, wider the acceptance of change.

Last but not the least, people engage when they see continuity of effort. If your improvement initiative is temporary or ad-hoc, people will not engage beyond the first cycle. When people see consistent results from a process improvement group, they willingly participate.

Process improvement is a journey and not a destination. Who you travel with matters a lot. Choose the right people and get them to swing into action. Your business will thank you for that!