Posts Tagged ‘risk’

Do you want to know when you are falling into the Peter Principle and what to do about it?

Here is a brief run down helping to predict when the fall could occur:

Note: All eight shown on the left are needed for a team to be well rounded and maintain success. If any are missing there is the risk of developing a blind spot in that area causing trouble to brew.




Jumping into the fray and taking charge. Observe, be still and distill what is going on to a simple, insightful statement
Comparing, in detail, what is happening now to what has occurred in the past. Look at all the possibilities and develop options in the absence of rules.
Compassionately making sure everyone is taken care of. Build an over-arching mental picture that models the situation in detail.
Determining the principles and values needed in the situation. Take charge and command the group as to what to do next.
Observing, being still and distilling what is going on to a simple, insightful statement Jump into the fray and take charge.
Looking at all the possibilities and developing options in the absence of rules. Compare, in detail, what is happening now to what has occurred in the past.
Building an over-arching mental picture that models the situation. Compassionately make sure everyone is taken care of.
Taking charge and commanding the group as to what to do next. Determine the principles and values needed in the situation.


A classic example of this is being top-heavy with people who compare everything to the past. When trying to institute change there can be quite a bit of push back voiced in the saying, “We’ve always done it this way and there’s no reason to change.” They have a hard time seeing that change is needed as well as difficulty in determining all the possible ways the situation can be dismantled and improved. Not knowing how things will work in detail drives them nuts.

Something you may notice is that the attributes flip, i.e., when A is strong where B is weak then B is strong where A is weak. You may see an initial knee-jerk reaction between the two that is negative. In moving the team forward an approach that works in such situation is:

Assign both people to the same task. Judge their performance as a group rather than individually.

This creates a tension encouraging them to see that there is benefit in working with the other. It’s a lot like marriage.

As the team spirit develops a key characteristic for success emerges – interdependence!

It is this interdependence that is the basis for success. It means that as each person works to deal with his piece of the project in his minds eye the solution is interwoven with the pieces provided by others on the team. Things begin to click

Project Reality Check #1: The Challenge!

by Gary Monti on December 21, 2010

“Challenging” summarizes project management well. This series of blogs will go into the day-to-day realities of project management as well as the theory and bring to light ways to deal with the challenges.

As the series progresses validation for what you already see and do will occur. So, why write this material if that is the case? The answer is simple: Validation is powerful. Projects require connectivity, which requires being seen and accepted – Validation.  Additionally, there will be a few new things that will prove to be valuable.

There’s Just One Project

Listening to students and/or clients from every continent except Antarctica (would like to go there someday) there is a common theme in the answers to the question, “What makes your projects so challenging?” It breaks down to the following:

  • Lack of clear requirements;
  • Being pushed to start, regardless;
  • Arbitrary end date;
  • Arbitrary budget;
  • Dictated resource pool comprising too few resources of adequate skill;
  • Multitasking.

The response is amazingly consistent and is independent of profession, field of study, market, etc. It has led to telling clients and students, “There is just one project in life and we all get a turn on it.” Human nature is the same everywhere. All that differs is the wrapper (culture). Don’t get me wrong, that wrapper can be quite significant. My point is once the effort is made to get beneath it you’ll always find the same thing, A human being.

The Path

This all can sound pretty bleak and make one wonder, “How does a project manager get the job done?” The answer is simple, “Stick to the principles.” As has been stated in previous blogs, simple is not the same as easy.  That simple path is grounded in the 9 areas of project management. By sticking to those principles and flexing them as called for in a given situation the odds of finding a path to success go up accordingly.

The Areas of Project Management

According to PMI® there are 9 areas of project management:

  • Scope
  • Time
  • Budget
  • Communications
  • Human Resources
  • Procurement
  • Quality
  • Risk
  • Integration

We will explore these 9 areas and see how they relate when working to find that path to success when thrown into a challenging situation.

A Key to Success

The word “challenging” opened this blog. To some extent, it is politically correct. “Nightmarish” might be a better word, when you get down to it. How to enjoy situations, stay sane and avoid project nightmares has been a quest ever since entering project management. The secret, which will be explored in this series, is completing a simple sentence.

If everything were okay I would see ________________.

It took most of the last 32 years spent in project management to get to that inquiry (proof that simple is different than easy).

A few things stand out with that statement:

  • It is an inquiry rather than a command. Why is that important? Leaders do better when asking more questions and giving fewer commands;
  • It is recursive. That one inquiry can be asked over-and-over as the breadth and depth of a project are explored.
  • It applies to both politics and technology. The stakeholder map should map isomorphically (clearly) and correctly into the technological map of the project.
  • Variance analysis is promoted. Using that statement promotes gap analysis, which is at the core of project management.

Variance brings us to the goal of project management, i.e., making sure we know what to plan, plan it, and execute within the time, money and resource constraints that fit with the project. In other words, get the job done. It gets down to two simple equations:

Cost Variance = Earned Value – Actual Cost

Schedule Variance = Earned Value – Planned Value

This series will explore what it takes to put teeth into those two equations. Fasten your seat belt!

Chaos and Complexity #3: Managing expectations

by Gary Monti on September 28, 2010

What daily challenges face a project manager or leader in chaotic situations? One of the biggest is unrealistic or distorted expectations. Below are some of the statements I’ve come across in my travels:

  • There’s no organization here. The project is just one big workaround.
  • It’s your fault (PM) things are not going as planned. The project is out of control.
  • You’re the PM. You have all that training. Make it simple.
  • If you’d have planned properly this wouldn’t be happening.
  • The audit clearly shows where your mistakes occurred. Were you asleep at the wheel?
  • If you can’t manage this I’ll put someone else in charge.
  • If you are going to keep on coming to me for help then there’s no need for your position.

These statements all have one thing in common: The belief order can be established and maintained. This is linear thinking. You may recall that chaotic situations are characterized by non-linear behavior. That being the case, what can the project manager do? Focus on two words: power and stability.

Confront Early

Gathering power and establishing stability can be anything but straightforward. There are some steps one needs to go through:

  • Confront the situation early since it is one of the most important activities. The framing of the confrontation is critical. I’ve learned to avoid saying, “No.” What works better is approaching key people and empathizing with their goals, desires, etc., and also talking about the challenges present.
  • Separate “shoulds” (expectations) from “actuals” (limits of what the team can do) by stating as early and as simply as possible the gaps in the situation. Here is where burning the midnight oil may come into play. Why? Expectations can have a high degree of emotionality associated with them. Emotionality clouds a situation and can cause endless discussions in an attempt to avoid consequences. It is like trying to write checks when there isn’t enough money to cover all the bills. What is needed is a clear statement of the reality that is being avoided. Making decisions isn’t the hard part. It’s acceptance of those consequences. So, establish a piercing honesty as in a good SWOT analysis.
  • Stick to the analysis of the situation. Be willing to work and build plans but avoid promises. Stay with risk management. Risks comprise events, probabilities, and impacts. Talk in those terms. The only exception is when there is a real windfall (something positive that can be used right now) or a problem (something currently damaging the situation).
  • Stay close to stakeholders, especially the difficult ones and keep the conversation going. Listen and ask what commitments they are willing to make to improve things.
  • Be a straight talker, always be respectful, and interact in a business-based manner. Get the reputation for being a person of your word.
  • Keep the focus on the goal and ask how the way people are behaving works towards that goal.
  • Look for movement from stakeholders. Distinguish what they need from what they want. Also determine what they are willing to pay for it.
  • State what you believe and work to what can be known in order to drive the situation to a linear, predictable situation. Successful projects have to become orderly at some point in order to achieve the quality needed for the deliverable. It can be exciting and energizing working as an entrepreneur but at some point a stable deliverable is needed.

Gather Power

Performing the above-mentioned activities consistently helps gain power- the ability to influence. It is the consolidation of this ability to influence that is the hallmark of a successful leader. Keep in mind power is fluid and perishable. Converting that power into a plan, which can be implemented in a timely manner, is a major transition point. It is the point at which the chaos and complexity decrease and the linearity (predictability) of the outcome takes shape and grows.

Drive Towards Stability

A good project- or program manager takes the power and disperses it. Any attempt to hold onto it will introduce a stiffness, which cuts down on flexibility, and the power will simply disappear.

What does this mean in everyday terms? The leader becomes a conduit for the power and lets it flow to the team leads and technical people who make up the project. Coordinating the development of the architecture and the subsequent flow into specific design components requires the capabilities of an orchestra conductor. When done right it leads to stability reflected in the flow of work (rather than a positioning that leads to stagnation).

Spread the Credit

Get a reputation for appreciating what people do. Doing this will attract good people and encourage those going through rough patches. The reward is gathering more power that can be carried into the future. This power provides a safety net preserving position and providing more opportunity to do even more in the future.

Leadership Cancers #2: The insanity of multitasking

by Gary Monti on March 23, 2010

Doing more with less is a message that bombards us every day. Pushing that approach beyond reasonable limits creates a false reality that can be summed in one word – multitasking.

The belief in multitasking is so rampant we see it in commercials supposedly showing busy mothers optimizing their time. Is this really possible? Is there more to be squeezed out from a given situation? Let’s examine the reality of multitasking by first defining it, looking at the consequences of trying to achieve it, the reality of what it takes to complete tasks, and then conclude by examining a possible option for increasing effectiveness.

What Is Multitasking?

Multitasking is giving someone less time than is needed to complete a task. An example of multitasking is giving a person 8 hours to get two 8-hour tasks completed. Can you see the craziness?

To try and make this situation work one or both of the following assumptions must be embraced:

  1. Whoever did the estimating is incompetent, or;
  2. Whoever is doing the work has been sandbagging and holding back capabilities.

Neither of these options bodes well for the individual or the organization. Let’s go a little deeper and look at the consequences.

The Consequences

The malignancy of multitasking can be summed in one word – shame. For multitasking to work someone must be viewed as not being good enough. Either the estimator has lost touch with reality or the person doing the task has been lazy. So, for multitasking to work someone has to be put down. A good reference for the organizational damage caused by this and other insane behaviors is New Times Best Seller by Robert Sutton, The No Asshole Rule. It gives good examples of the consequences of shame-based management styles.

The Reality of Completing Tasks

Many of us can and do multitask. It is an interesting neurological phenomenon you can experience every day. It occurs because the brain off-loads repetitive tasks to the spinal cord. What’s an example? The ability to walk and chew gum at the same time!

There is a trade-off here. Notice that the multitasking is with highly repetitive tasks. What about problems professionals get paid to solve? Problem solving require thinking – use of the frontal lobes. The span of thought reduces to one task at a time and one task alone.

Some readers are saying, ”Wait a minute! I have simultaneous tasks open all the time.” If you look closer what you will see is something called micro-bookmarking, i.e., shifting from task to task to task. I know. It is how I work at times. While stimulating, it still is doing one thing at a time just in a task-rich environment.

A Healthier Option

So, what works? The answer is simple and difficult. It is contained in one word, “Schedule.” Good scheduling requires accepting the reality of the situation and whether or not a limit has been reached. If it has, the difficulty kicks in.

Letting go of multitasking requires letting go of the expectation there somehow are enough resources to get what we want. This just isn’t always true. It is a reality that, as humans, we just don’t want to accept. This desire to hold on makes it easy to blame ourselves or someone else and feel if they would just work harder everything would be okay. But, as Buddha said, “Attachment is the source of suffering” which brings us back to the harm Sutton talks about.

This all points in one direction – take the risk of letting go. The irony is that there actually isn’t any risk because the belief that multitasking works is an illusion. There isn’t any real gain to be had by trying to multitask, just loss.

If you would like to delve deeper into scheduling and its use in leadership send me an e-mail at or visit