Posts Tagged ‘team’

Project Reality Check #10: Personal Resilience

by Gary Monti on February 22, 2011

Staying centered in high-risk situations is a key project manager characteristic necessary for success. Asked once by a project manager, “What do I do when dealing with an uncooperative person on my project?” the answer given was, “The same thing you do when the person is cooperating.” As you can guess, the challenge to that answer was pretty immediate. So why believe the advice is sound?

The Paradox

There actually is a paradox at play. As a question it can be expressed as, “Should I change behaviors based on what is happening or should I stick to the initial focus?” The correct answer to that question is, “Yes.”

When the Zen master D.T. Suzuki came to the West one of the first things he addressed was the difficulty associated with staying centered with all the distractions present. Looking at this from a project management perspective the solution to such a situation can be broken into two categories of action needed: Internal and External.

Internal Activities

Every day the project manager’s primary activities include:

  • Keeping one’s eye on the goal(s);
  • Maintaining the same level of awareness of risk when things are going okay as much as when they aren’t;
  • Thinking about alternative situations and outcomes along with the underlying assumptions needed to make them true and realistic, e.g., imagining what would happen if the housing market collapsed;
  • Fleshing out options based on the possibility of some aspect of those alternate universes, e.g., determining what constraints on the financial market are needed to forestall the collapse.

External Activities

With a clear focus on the desired goal the project manager observes behaviors and takes note of variances from expected performance. Types of behaviors shown fall into two broad categories:

  • Win-win where stakeholders and team members work interdependently. Maintaining the integrity of the project comes first even if personal sacrifice is involved. There is the belief the individual will do well by contributing to the overall successful achievement of project goals, e.g., a committed team member.
  • Win-lose where antagonism or complete independence is the order of the day. Individuals focus on themselves first-and-only at the very best or on inflicting some sort of damage on the project at the worst, e.g., a competitor.

The Solution: Resilience

Resilience is the ability to continue functioning while adapting to a changing situation. It could be restated as staying consistently with the internal activities while shifting with the external ones.

Sticking with the belief everything is simple, I’ve found the following series of questions and taking appropriate action helps:

  1. Where am I? This isn’t so much a geographic question (although when on the road for long stretches it is). It is more in line with the physical, emotional, and spiritual space presently occupied.  What value do I bring to the situation and why would anyone work with me in this current state?
  2. Am I aware of what the project needs right now? This leads to a subset of questions, “What is? What should be? What’s the gap? What shall we do?”
  3. Do I see the constraints present? Monitoring the environment is an ongoing activity. Do I know how they affect the project?
  4. Can I empathize? It usually takes a team.  Can I accept people as they are, even the difficult ones?
  5. Can I formulate a plan? This is where the internal and external activities begin to converge. The internal activity “thinking of alternate situations/outcomes” can be used to generate a range of options.
  6. Can I state the plan and seek commitment without engaging in emotionality? Letting go of reactivity is very powerful. Can I stay with that and simply state to others what is needed without putting any emotional bait on the table or biting on bait others may put in front of me?
  7. Can I accept the limits of the commitments? This is where resilience is both tested and strengthened. It requires viewing myself both as separate from the work at hand and being more than what life does to me, positive or negative.

Sometimes you get the elevator, other times you get the shaft. The idea is to build resilience, think, and keep moving to get more of the former and less of the latter.

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.

How do you cross thresholds in business life? This can be a daunting question. Boiling everything down to key components and making a balanced, constructive decision is the goal of a good leader. There is a drawing on both personal and group mythology to arrive at a sustainable goal.

So what’s this “mythology” stuff about? Sounds touchy-feely, fuzzy, and far removed from business. It is anything but that. It is about surviving, thriving, and protecting your business especially if social networking is important. How so?

Time to dive in and take a look

The previous blog mentioned four aspects to mythology:

  • Mystical
  • Physical
  • Sociological
  • Psychological

Here we will tackle the first one – mystical – and look at a form it commonly takes in business – Co-opetition.

Is It Really So Mystical?

The mystical really isn’t so…well…mystical, as in transcendental. It actually is very practical – close to the ground. The word “mystical” is used to describe both the awe felt and stance taken with regards to business life. This stance is based on simultaneously accepting the rough and tumble aspects of an environment that also provides opportunity to not just survive but to grow and thrive. Finding a way to balance cooperation and competition, co-opetition, is a good example.


In their classic book, Co-opetition, Brandenburger and Nalebuff apply game theory and view the business world in terms of PARTS (Players, Added value, Rules, Tactics, and Scope).  First there is a collective effort to add value and build a bigger pie (cooperate). At the same time, as the pie grows and benefits to all increase we might work to control the pie and get as much as possible (competition) without driving out needed stakeholders. Sustaining this environment is co-opetition.

Another radical idea Brandenburger and Nalebuff introduced was the concept of a complementor.  A player is a complementor when a customer values your product more when in the presence of that player’s product. Think hot dogs and mustard at a baseball game. One promotes the other.

But can a complementor also be a competitor? (Here’s where you give the classic project management answer, “It depends.”) Go beyond hot dogs and mustard and think of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Intel, etc., and their relationships.

Is there a version of Office for the Mac? Does QuickTime run on PCs? What about Adobe and Apple regarding Flash?

Imagine describing all this to the uninitiated at a party. It is a bit awe-inspiring and finding a fundamental view for explaining everything consistently can be a big challenge… OR you might even say, It’s mystical!

Have Some Fun!

Can you see how important the mystical is? You can have some fun with this. Have a discussion with a group of friends based on the following. Imagine three people. One believes is cooperation-only. Another believes in competition-only. The third believes in co-opetition. Now, ask the question, “What paths could their businesses take?” Watch and see what you show each other about your fundamental beliefs.

Share you comments! I’d like to know what you think. In addition to commenting on this blog you can also send a response via e-mail to or visit

The starting point of all achievements

by Vijay Peduru on November 17, 2009

start of race“The starting point of all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind.”
-Napoleon Hill
To achieve anything in life. the first character to have an intense desire. Take a moment.. and think of something which you achieved in your life and think back on how much desire you had to achieve it or maybe how desperate you were to achieve it.  (Hint: Think of your first love.. Your first job..)
People with intense desire do not worry about the ability or the resources they need.  Ability and resources can be acquired if we have the intense desire. One of the characteristics of an entrepreneur is to achieve what he wants without regards to resources. First, he says what he wants then he starts to think about the right configuration (tools. team etc)  he needs to make it happen.  If you look at the most successful companies like Apple, Microsoft and amazon, they all had lots of constraints. They all started with less than $10,000.  With Intense Desire, we activate our inner genius. Studies show that we humans use about 5% of our brain capacity. Imagine, if we can double it and what we can achieve. Everything starts with an Intense desire to achieve what we want.
I once heard a story, which explains beautifully what “intense desire” is. Here is the story…
A disciple asked his teacher ‘Sir,How can I see God’.  The teacher said ‘Come, I will show you’ and took the disciple to a lake. Both the teacher and the disciple got into the lake and suddenly the teacher pressed the student’s head into the water. After a few moments.. he released it and asked the student how he felt. The student panting for breath.. said he felt that he was about to die.. and while in the water, his one and only desire was to get a whiff of air. The Teacher said ‘Son, if you have the same amount of desire to see will see him’.
This is the type of desire..we need to achieve what we want in life.. whether to start a business.. have a good career.. a good relationship.. a good life!

Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement

by Tanmay Vora on November 16, 2009

Qualitytweet_6Welcome to the sixth post in this 12-part series on QUALITY, titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first five 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”

#QUALITYtweet The first step of your

process improvement journey is to

know what really needs improvement

In modern day sports, players and their coaches have sophisticated facilities to learn from recorded versions of the game with some great analytical tools. When reviewing these recorded versions with the team, an important job of a coach is to tell the player:

  • What is going right? How can we consolidate that?
  • What can be improved further? How will it help the game?
  • What needs to change?

Process improvement is all about improving your game with a thoughtful consideration to critical aspects of business.

You can do a lot of improvement in non-critical areas (and feel good about it). Just because you are improving something does not mean you are improving the right thing. The key to success of any improvement initiative is to pick the right areas. To get driven by operational nitty-gritty is one of the biggest mistakes most improvement managers commit. Process improvement can become an important business enabler provided all improvement initiatives are business oriented.

Do a quick reality check by answering following critical questions to gauge return-on-investment of process improvement initiative:

1) If a particular area of operations is improved, will it have a direct impact on customer’s satisfaction level or customer’s experience? (Focus: External Value)

2) Does the improvement in a particular area directly improve the productivity of team and enable them to execute faster? (Focus: Productivity)

3) Does improvement in a particular area directly have impact on revenues and business? (Focus: Revenue)

4) Does improvement in a particular area make it easier for people to generate qualitative outcomes and improved job satisfaction? (Focus: Internal Value)

How do you find out what “really” needs improvements? The answer is – by collaborating. You can never identify broader improvement areas by isolating yourself in a comfortable cabin. You have to actively collaborate with the following stakeholders:

1)      Customers : In a customer-centric process culture, feedback from customers are carefully assessed to identify customer’s expectations on what can be improved. Your customer can be your strongest ally in improvement journey. Seek feedback.

2)      Business Development Folks: They are the ones who have maximum face time with customers. These could be project managers, account managers or client relationship managers. They can give improvement areas that directly map with business.

3)     Middle managers and team: They are people on floor who get things done. They are best candidates to give suggestions on what can be improved operationally to deliver quality upfront and improve productivity.

The famous 80:20 rule applies to process improvement initiative as well. 80% of improvement happens by focusing on continuous identification of 20% improvement areas. It helps to adopt a clinical approach in identifying the 20% that really matters – yes, that much (20%) does make that much (80%) of a difference!