Month: August 2019

Performance metrix

“We cannot measure it. Our project is too technical” or “too specific” or too something else can unfortunately be heard in some development management circles.

Scientists say “if you cannot measure it, it does not exist”. Development management is about change (positive, preferably). So if we cannot measure change, it does not exist. Now, let’s go with that to the Project’s Board or, even better, the project’s beneficiaries. Yes, right…

Developing, agreeing on and monitoring project’s indicators is not an easy fix. It is a necessity. All stakeholders need to know and see the progress towards the objective of the project. It is true that in development projects we deal with institutions (in the sense of an established law or practice) and concepts, such as governance, corruption, transparency, accountability, empowerment, access to justice. Thanks to extensive research over the last two decades+ and due to efforts of organisations such as the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, Freedom House, Council of Europe (through its Commission for the Efficiency of Justice), OECD and many more it is possible to measure. These institutions are no longer abstract concepts they have dimensions we can grasp, measure and report on. Let’s look at the six dimensions of the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) of the World Bank:

  1. Voice and Accountability: measuring political, civil and human rights;
  2. Political Stability and Absence of Violence: measuring the likelihood of violent threats to, or changes in, government, including terrorism;
  3. Government Effectiveness: measuring the competence of the bureaucracy and the quality of public service delivery;
  4. Regulatory Quality: measuring the incidence of market-unfriendly policies;
  5. Rule of Law: measuring the quality of contract enforcement, the police, and the courts as well as the likelihood of crimes and violence;
  6. Control of Corruption: measuring the exercise of public power for private gain, including both petty and grand corruption and state capture.

When you start to develop a project, I learned how important it is to give to the performance metrix the time and effort it deserves. My experience helped me put together a couple of road signs in this respect, which I share below:

a. Identifying, selecting and agreeing on project progress indicators is a collective exercise and should be done in a participatory and inclusive way.

b. Discharge things you cannot measure or, if you are keen on them,  double check on them during the inception phase of the project.

c. Use data already available from credible sources. Creating your own set of data and measurement tools is costly and time consuming.

d. If there is no data and the project absolutely needs a tailor made measuring stick, make sure to budget for it.

e. For measurements designed specifically for the project, make sure you take the measures (right) at the project start. It will give you a reliable baseline.

f. Regularly monitor progress for signs of trouble or delays. Use your performance metrix as a tool. It can help you “measure twice, cut – once”, as illustrated by the old adage, or “measure constantly, optimize continuously”, as the context of your project demands it.

g. And perhaps, the most important the performance metrix serves the achievement of the project objective (and not interests or circumstances).

Post inspired by: “Myths and Realities of Governance and Corruption”, by Daniel Kaufmann World Bank, https://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTWBIGOVANTCOR/Resources/2-1_Governance_and_Corruption_Kaufmann.pdf

“Kaufmann, Daniel; Kraay, Aart; Mastruzzi, Massimo. 2007. Measuring Corruption : Myths and Realities. Africa Region Findings & Good Practice Infobriefs; no. 273. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/9576 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”

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The strengths of an introverted project manager

I am an ambivert. At times, I charge my energy battery from being with and among people. At other times, I need to go within to recharge. I can talk, walk and gesture in a meeting to make a point I care about. In other instances, I can feel glued to my chair with my lips sealed.

For an introvert, projects’ dynamics can be merciless. Projects are team based, hence charged with the intensity of the human interaction. Times to recharge are postponed and tensions mount. It seems an ideal environment for extroverts, who thrive in a busy environment. Yet, not all of us are 100% extroverts in this line of business. Overall, 40% to 60% of the workforce are introverts. Look around the meeting room next time 🙂 .

Thanks to research, my own and other people’s experience I designed a strategy for my inner introvert, when her majesty decides it is time to reign.

The strategy has two parts:

First, I noted down a keepsake list of strengths to remind myself from time to time. Even if not on display, introverts have many valuable strengths. You can create your own list.

Secondly, I created a prep plan, with road signs for times when it feels like the project is on a rollercoaster. I am happy to share some of its elements. Again, feel free to create your own plan.

The above was inspired by Jennifer Kahnweiler, PhD, author of the book “Quiet Influence. The introvert’s guide to making a difference”.

Unethical Behavior? The psychology behind

“Playing with the numbers “just this once” may well be the CEO’s intent; it’s seldom the end result. And if it’s okay for the boss to cheat a little, it’s easy for subordinates to rationalize similar behavior.” (Warren Buffet, Letter to Shareholders, 2018).

Paraphrasing the above in the project management context: playing with the numbers “just this once” may well be the project manager’s intent; it’s seldom the end result. And if it’s okay for the project manager to cheat a little, it’s easy for team members to rationalise similar behaviour.

Merete Wedell-Wedellsbort explains the psychology behind unethical behaviour in her article published in Harvard Business Review (12 April 2019). I very much recommend to read the article. It raises the awareness of own behaviour and explains others’ behaviour next time you find yourself in an environment prone to unethical démarches.

As Merete Wedell-Wedellsbort puts it “three psychological dynamics  lead to crossing ethical lines. First, there’s omnipotence: when someone feels so aggrandized and entitled that they believe the rules of decent behavior don’t apply to them. Second, we have cultural numbness: when others play along and gradually begin to accept and embody deviant norms. Finally, we see justified neglect: when people don’t speak up about ethical breaches because they are thinking of more immediate rewards such as staying on a good footing with the powerful.”

In project management, your “audience” is neither experts of any sorts nor politicians/commentators. Your audience are the tax-payers (in development management) or the shareholders. The numbers that flow up to you as a project manager should be the ones you send on to those who gave you the money to implement the project. They send auditors to attest to that. The above applies not only to money. It also applies to relationships with stakeholders; communication with the public; rewards for team members and many other aspects of project management.

Case in point:

Upon arrival on the team as a new project manager, Avril (not real name) learns that the donor will send an audit in two months. The last financial report raised a number of questions. She realised the report was made to match the numbers and did not reflect accurately the actual spending. Avril knew the report was done to please the previous project manager, who believed the rules of accountability do not apply to him (omnipotence). After discussing it with the financial assistant, it became clear that the later admired the project manager (cultural numbness) and played along (justified neglect).

Avril prepared all the supporting documents required by the auditors in advance. Upon the arrival of the auditors in the morning of the appointed day, she acknowledged the mistakes made in calculations, exchange rates and the like. There was nothing to hide and the numbers had to be corrected before the final financial report. The auditor tuned in Avril’s readiness to correct it with “you are glad we are here”.

As a result, the implementing organisation was spared of the need to repay a six figure amount and the reputation of the project was restored.

Ivan/Getty Images

“Quiet influence: the introvert’s guide to making a difference” by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler PhD

I found the book valuable from a number of perspectives. It is well-researched and anchored in real-life experiences of introverts in different lines of businesses. Yes, introverts do work in sales and project management!

I am an ambivert, so the book spoke to me, as the narrative is respectful in the sense that the author does not re-educate the introverts. The book rather builds on introverts’ strengths and skills to help them maximise success with a clear call to stop acting like an extrovert. The basic idea is that you do not need to raise your voice or exude passion in excess in order to make a difference. The author offers towards that goal a number of tools, strategies and inspirational stories. I find many of them relevant in the project management world, as we aim at making a difference within and through projects.

I have successfully applied some of techniques, as I was reading the book. For instance, developing an influencing project plan, preparing LAQs (Likely Asked Questions) before a meeting, AEIOU technique, “the eyebrow test” and many more.

Enjoy reading it and share what you liked, as well as what other books you read on the topic.

“Getting Past No” by William Ury

“Getting past No” is one of my favourite books on the art of negotiation. Its author, William Ury, is the cofounder of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard University.

Cooperation is one of the most effective means of achieving the objective of any project, hence my interest in the art of negotiating and breaking barriers to cooperation.

The value of the book is in the techniques it offers and the explanations behind their efficiency and effectiveness in different power relations. So, if you are looking for inspiration or help in difficult situations, I highly recommend the book.

Case in point: how I used one of the techniques offered by the book to breakthrough in a difficult situation. The technique is called “don’t escalate: use power to educate”. The author used a quote from Sun Tzu to anchor this technique: “The best general is the one who never fights”. In one of projects under my responsibility, the team was confronted with a client whose desire to exercise power was notable. It manifested in the smallest project’s details, up to the desire to veto the selection of service providers. The team kept explaining how service providers are selected based on the legal agreement the project had with the sponsor. Nevertheless, many activities remained blocked as the client kept insisting.

I travelled to the project’s site for a face-to-face meeting with the client. We had one hour. I started the meeting with “easy to digest” stuff, were we achieved together considerable progress. My colleagues, noticing that 50 minutes into the meeting we have not tackled the contentious issue, started showing signs of worry.

I was waiting for the right moment. When the body language of the people on the other side of the table told me that they begun to relax, I brought up the issue. First, I reiterated what they already knew from my colleagues (to show that we act as a team and they can trust them). Secondly, I used our power to educate by explaining the administrative and legal consequences of an additional clearance mechanism, which was not in our initial agreement. I also knew how important for them was to complete the project on time, as any delays would have been costly. We concluded the meeting with the client by sealing our initial agreement and no further demands in this respect were made.  Upon the project’s completion, the client wanted to continue to do business, which is a clear sign of “win-win”.