Resilience Engineering #25: Organizational Fatigue – Sharpen Your Saw!

by Gary Monti on December 8, 2011

Vigilance on the project manager’s (PM) part is critical to addressing organizational fatigue. In line with that one behavior the PM can display falls under #8 of Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Sharpen your saw.

This habit is about building a sustainable process. Sustaining can be very challenging in fatigue situations. You may not be able to avoid it completely but you just might be able to lessen its effect.

Sharpen Your Saw

Let’s take a look at what the PM and team can do. Below are some tips I’ve learned over the years.

  • Breathe. This is probably the single most important activity. It symbolizes letting go of reactivity. Reactivity causes narrowing of one’s field of vision, near-sightedness, deafness, and the inability communicate. Stepping back from the situation and breathing helps re-establish connection with and between team members as well as raising awareness. Awareness is vital for seeing just what is happening. Proactive opportunities become visible.
  • Regular Risk Reviews. The team needs to be grounded in order to proceed successfully. Interdependence is vital. Regular risk review sessions covering threats, opportunities, problems, and windfalls helps the team stay connected and re-orient as the environment shifts. (In the next blog we will look at how this rolls into creating realistic schedules and dealing with project politics.) If things are really difficult, a 15-20 minute teleconference/meeting each morning can go a long way towards maintaining cohesiveness on the team and maintaining direction.
  •  Bring in Fresh Eyes. Ask a trusted individual to sit in on a few meetings simply to state what they see. This can help team members pull their face out of the mud, which was pushed there by the organizational fatigue.
  • Pizza and Coke. Take the team out and give them a chance to kick back. It helps with breathing.
  • Restate Quality Goals. Reminding people of why they are on the project along with hearing their version of what they are trying to accomplish will help quite a bit. This activity ties into the risk review quite well.

The importance of this is reflected in one event from Monty Python’s Twit Olympics – the 100-yard dash for the spatially disoriented. When the gun went off everyone ran 100 yards as fast as they could in different directions! Everyone listening to each other state the quality goals will help the team maintain proper orientation.

  • Assess resource requirements. Avoid driving yourself nuts trying to figure out how to get 3 people to do the work of 10. You can’t. Your options are few and simple and comprise some combination of the following: cut scope, extend schedule, or get more resources. That’s all there is to it. Might be painful but it still is simple.
  • Pester Up The Food Chain. Keep senior stakeholders informed of the project status. This is especially important when resources are in short supply. A simple measure of the degree of disconnection on senior managements part is reflected in how often they use the word “should.” The more you hear it, the closer you need to get to senior management in keeping the reality of the project up on the table.

This also applies to dealing with functional managers who control resources. If the estimate calls for Einstein and Newton and all you are getting are Bevis and Butthead then the situation needs addressed ASAP. This is also true if you are getting people part-time when full-time is in the estimate.

Simple, frequent teleconferences and/or meetings to reinforce these points will go a long way towards the team keeping its self-respect and staying proactive. In the next blog we will look at coaxing task durations from the team and tying it into protecting the team from organizational fatigue.

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