Posts Tagged ‘project managers’

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.