Project Reality Check #11: Frame of Mind

by Gary Monti on March 1, 2011

“Everything is simple,” is one of my mantras. To hold true it depends upon two things. The first is greed, fear, rage, and ignorance are absent. The second is the right perspective, one’s frame of mind or point of view, is appropriate for the situation. Let’s take a look at the latter and how to establish a realistic point of view.

One Question

In line with “everything is simple,” one question is sufficient to determine what frame-of-mind or perspective is appropriate for a project. The question is,

“What happens when you follow the rules?”

There is a whole plethora of answers. They tend to fall into the following patterns:

  1. Things run like clockwork! When everyone in my group sticks to the rules and does what they are supposed to do then the work gets done and we can feel good at the end of the day.
  2. Reasonably well as long as our boss makes the right connections with the other bosses. We’ve been at this for a while and over time have accumulated a range of customers and products with different demands and requirements. We work it out, though, and keep the customer happy.
  3. It depends since some groups cooperate with us and others go their own way. We spend a lot of time “greasing the wheels” around here working to keep people connected to the project and stay on-task.
  4. Which rules are you talking about? The rules change from day-to-day and situation-to-situation. Oh, wait! They also change with who is in charge at any given time!  It puts a lot of stress on us in the trenches but we take pride in making things work out. Don’t get me wrong; it’s anything but perfect. We’ve had our share of snafus and paid dearly for them. But we learn and work to do better the next time.
  5. I honestly don’t know. This place is different now. I stick to the policies and procedures in our department and get along with those around me but we can’t predict how things will turn out. Some days are good, others aren’t. It’s wearing. You just can’t depend on things going like they used to.
  6. What rules? This place is a free-for-all. I am surprised we are still in business.


The frames-of-mind present are:

Simple for “1.” The rules are clear and concise and results are predictable. The methods work so a top-down approach to projects fits. The project needs primarily to be managed.

Complicated for “2.” There are multiple sets of rules present based on the history of the organization and adjustments are needed from product-to-product and client–to-client. Overall, though, no new demands are being made. A top-down approach still works.

Complex for “3.” And “4.” Work increasingly is getting done from the bottom-up. Solutions emerge from team members working across boundaries to establish day-to-day tactical connections that they hope will yield the desired strategic results. Facilitation would work here. Turn the workers loose to create the solution but hold them to the acceptance criteria. Failures are simply experiments that yielded unexpected results.

Chaotic applies to “5.” This is a dangerous situation since ups-and-downs occur for the organization but are unpredictable. People are putting in way too much effort in an attempt to get daily activities complete. Empowerment of employees to (re)build the organization works here. The leader’s focus is pointing to the goals that must be attained to survive and succeed. Honest, open feedback is critical and the encouragement of trust and building bonds among stakeholders and team members.

Random is at play with “6.” All signs of business intelligence have disappeared. It is just a matter of time before going out of business.  Do ANYTHING to get out of this state or just cancel the project and move on.

The Reality and the Challenge

The reality and challenge are the fact that all 6 frames-of-mind or some subset can be present on a given project. The goal, then, is to make sure the project terrain is gauged accordingly and the style(s) adapted are appropriate. In other words, you might be using top-down with a part of the project that is truly simple. A hands-off approach could be used with a part that has yet to have a solution emerge. Finally, scope may need to be cut with a third part of the project that is currently unrecoverable.

Remember, everything is simple (if you have the right frame of mind)

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