Posts Tagged ‘Project’

Chaos and Complexity #11: The soul of a Project

by Gary Monti on November 23, 2010

What is the soul of a project?  The answer to this question is both central and pivotal for project success. It reflects the spirit of the situation along with the focus the project represents. For example, when at parties and asked what I do “adult daycare” conveys the most context and information. It strikes a cord within an experienced listener that usually brings laughter and spontaneous responses as to what the questioner goes through at their work place.

More scars and gray hair than I care to recount were earned over the years to get to that distillate. It serves as a statement of character as well as a statement of work. That last sentence sums nicely what is required for a project to have a soul, i.e., a reflection of the people, commitment, and capability along with what is being attempted.

It is empowering. People resonate with the statement. It gives them permission to tell their story – the ups and downs experienced on a daily basis just trying to get things done.


So what is the secret? Why does talking this way and having the experience to back it up work so well?  Why does it help establish the much-needed connection?

First, it opens the door for two-way communication and support. When having a down day myself, contact with people who care about the soul of their project provides energy and encouragement to get back on track. I do best when returning the favor in kind. This back-and-forth creates a bond out of which project structure appears.

Second, in complex and chaotic situations no one has a lock on life. Team diversity contributes to a multi-faceted view of any situation. Options and possibilities appear.

The Project Mirror

Connecting the dots is rooted in connecting the people. To expand on a previous statement, project documentation and execution is a reflection of the team, stakeholders, and the quality of their relationship.

The progression from statement of work to scope to functional specifications to design specifications to work packages to schedule is a form of code, an abstraction of something much richer flowing in the organization. The execution is a reflection of this code similar to a developing body unfolding from DNA. If a pathologic gene exists in the organization it will show in the project. If all is healthy, the project will thrive.

Vulnerability and Flipping the Organization

The tone so far might give the impression this process is linear and top-down. It is anything but that (see the previous two blogs regarding the limits of best practice and the use of political spin). To the uninitiated what works appears a bit loony.

Complex and chaotic projects only thrive in the presence of connection. Let me explain. At project initiation, the best way to proceed is publishing the goal and leaving people alone to form as they see best. “Intimidating” is too small of a word. Think “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” It takes a lot of character to trust and remain self-actualized when the situation is free form, which is especially true when the focus is conditional (more on that later).

Top-down approaches and the associated boundaries must be relaxed for the soul of the project to begin to take shape. Initially, the best results are bottom-up. When workable rules begin to surface then top-down can be considered. In other words, leaders must have a keen sense of when to relax control and let the team tell them what is needed for the project to take shape (humility) and when to tighten controls and insist on conformance to the newly created project structure (commanding).

Surrealistic Focus

What about the conditional focus? It would be nice to believe a hard focus is present to which everyone can refer. This is rarely the case. Customers typically have a sense of what they want. However, like everyone else they are influenced by what is going around them. So, their sense of what they want can be vague and shifting without them having full awareness they behave this way. Or, they can expect that you are the expert and should tell them what the hard realities of the deliverables should be.  While this can be an opportunity for building a relationship with the customer it also can be unnerving since firm limits are usually placed on the team in terms of time and money.

This brings us back to the vulnerability mentioned earlier. For the project to have a soul the customer needs to commit to riding the project roller coaster that takes them through the organizational flipping (humility/commanding). How crazy is that!? Very. The focus can shift in a very surrealistic manner. However, that craziness is essential for success.

Projects by definition are temporary endeavors providing a unique product or service. That word “unique” is crucial.

It means a degree of unhinging is present for better and worse. The better is freedom to grow. The worse is freedom to collapse. The surrealistic roller coaster ride can be exhilarating and wicked.

The reward for the customer and team is the creation of the project’s soul and establishment of a relevant, elegant focus that gets to the heart of the matter and is implementable. The ride ends by arriving at best practice where the discipline of project management can be enforced and the deliverable forged.

Quality #7: Productivity and Quality

by Tanmay Vora on November 17, 2009

speed_velocityWelcome to the seventh post in this 12-part series on QUALITY, titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first six 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

#QUALITYtweet Tracking productivity without

tracking the quality of output is like tracking

the speed of a train without validating the direction

In F1 racing, one of the primary challenges for a driver is to keep a close eye on speed and direction. One wrong move at a high speed and car bumps with the edge of the track.  “Speed” when combined with direction is termed as “velocity”.

One of the rules of management is, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” But an obsessive focus on metrics can prove harmful for organization’s health because:

  • You may be measuring wrong things that do not directly relate to organization goals
  • You may only be measuring outcomes without focusing on qualitative aspects.
  • You may be using measurement as a sole base for decision making without considering the variable/unknowing aspects of your business.

A lot of resource managers in technology and business area narrow their focus on hardcore metrics that reveal volume but not quality. Examples could be number of hours logged during a day (versus tasks achieved in those hours), number of modules completed in a day (versus quality of those modules), number of cold calls made during the day (versus quality of research and depth of communication in each call). This list can go on, but you get the point. More, in this case, is not always better.

Metrics are important to evaluate process efficiency, but not sufficient. Quality system of an organization should have processes to assess both qualitative and quantitative aspects of work. How can this be achieved? Here are three most important pointers:

  1. Hybrid approach with focus on good management: Measuring productivity solely by units produced could be a great way to manage in manufacturing world. In knowledge world, where the raw material for products or services is a human brain, qualitative approach combined with common-sense metrics is a great way to ensure balance between quality and productivity. Key to higher productivity in knowledge based industry is ‘good management’.
  2. Quality as a part of process, rather than an afterthought: Quality is not an afterthought. Quality has to be built through process by people. Process should have necessary activities defined at each stage of product to ensure that a quality product is being built. These activities can then be measured and improved upon. Process also shapes up culture of an organization and hence due care must be taken to ensure that quality system does not form a wrong culture. Process has to take care of softer aspects of work including trust, commitment and motivation levels of people.
  3. Measure to help, not to destroy: Metrics are like a compass that shows direction. In order to move forward, you have to walk the direction. Metrics can give you important trends, but these trends need to be analyzed and worked upon. Key challenge of any process manager is to ensure that metrics are used to evaluate process and not people. If you start using metrics as a base for rewards, you are not allowing people to make mistakes. When people don’t make mistakes, they don’t grow. As an organization, you don’t grow either.

Process can be used to gain “speed” or to gain “velocity”. The choice is yours.

What a Project… Is Not

by Himanshu Jhamb on June 19, 2009

Many a times, I encounter the word ‘Project’ thrown around, rather liberally. I am writing this post in an attempt to dispel certain notions of ‘A Project’. So, in a way, this post is not about what a project is: Rather, it is more about what a Project IS NOT!

Here are 5 things a Project Is not:

1. A task list or something that you do repeatedly day-in and day-out. Example: Generating a weekly report for a customer is not a project (although many would have you think so)

2. Having someone do a task for you. Example: If you delegate someone to prepare a document for you, that is not a project.

3. Thoughtless (or thoughtful, for that matter) activities with no Purpose in mind. Example: Sitting and thinking about your next project, is not a project.

4. Something that you do to ‘Cope-with’ with or ‘React-to’ a situation. Example: Meeting with a group of people at your workplace and talking about how to tackle a difficult customer issue, is not a project.

5. Some work you do that has no relevance towards a commitment you have made. Example: The act of showing up at work and not producing ROI (Return on Investment) for your employer, is not a project.

Projects are created for the purpose of handling new situations, which if left unhandled, would turn into unfavorable situations.

Projects become more and more relevant in the face of rapid changes in the environment because the old ways of doing things no longer produce results that are satisfactory.

More on what “projects” are… in my upcoming post(s).