Month: December 2019

Thank you 2019

2019 was generous with me with connections, relationships and a great deal of learning.

The words of the year are for me: adaptability and generosity. They apply both to my personal and professional lives.

The heroes of the year for me are those who reletlessly work for others – the team of Diaconia Moldova remains for me an example I truly admire. Spending a day with such a team can be a humbling experience for those of us who work in development management.

The recipe of the year’s success was a healthy mixture of ironic and slightly sarcastic mood. It worked like magic on some occasions. Those who experienced it, know that “nice” is fine and “authentic” is so much more 😉

There were many instances of success we celebrated as teams and as individuals. My highlight of the year was to deliver a 15 minute speech on anti-corruption and public sector integrity in Prague on a stage on wheels. I prayed silently that I will not have to show my skateboarding skills.

For all the project teams team this year, yet again, sharing a good laughter worked like an emotional super-glue. We will remember these moments and let go of frustration, sadness, disappointment and all of that which does not let us grow together and as individuals.

I also practiced a lot of “let go” this year (in a variety of ways :)). It made room for new and generous harvests.

I took pride in blossoming “trees” thousands of kilometers away from “seeds” my colleagues and I planted years ago. I am grateful to all those who took time to write me about those projects. We also learned from the “seeds” which did not make it to the surface.

Yet again, this year kept reminding me that context matters in development management. Ignoring it has the effect of ignoring an Italian mother-in-law (no stereotyping, it is meant as a compliment).

This year, I met numerous new professionals who touched my heart with their authenticity and generosity in sharing their knowledge. Thanks to them, I discovered my new shades of rainbow colours. So, 2020, get ready for a splash of colours, with adaptability and generosity.

“Securing the 21st century. Protecting the Planet” address by James D.Wolfensohn

Look what I found in my home library! The address of the World Bank President to the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. October 2004.

It contains some promising headlines: “We can meet the challenge”; “Protecting the Planet: Environment Sustainability”; “Scaling up the Fight against Poverty”; “Youth and Education”; “Global Leadership for the21st Century”; “Conclusions: Promises to keep”. All the right words and calls for action.

An address or a speech is not a report. It is still a public statement by a person with power. People in power are accountable in every deed and word. I know I am a bit over-stretching it. Still, I am curious if there was any follow-up. Fifteen years forward, according to Greta Thunberg, a voice of youth, who took seriously the decades of silence: ‘Almost nothing is being done’ (COP25 summit,  Madrid 2019).

In development management there are many who say that they will do it and then do not. My take-away – if you say you’ll do it, do it. Be one of the rare ones.

Text available here:

“How good people make tough choices. Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living” by Rushworth M. Kidder

While choices and decisions in project management might not be as extreme as some of the examples in the book, I find it an useful resource to come back to, when options are analysed and decisions need to be made.

The author tells us from onset that “The book is for those who want to address and resolve tough choices by energetic self-reflection”. Tough choices are defined as those putting one “right” value against another. These fell, in the book, in four paradigms:

⁃ Truth versus loyalty;

⁃ Individual versus community;

⁃ Short-term versus long-term; and

⁃ Justice versus mercy.

I experienced or witnessed some of the above dilemmas, either in projects I managed or in my fellow colleagues’ projects. Ethical fitness is required in each of these dilemmas. It can be built, the same way as physical fitness, by practice.

Case in point 1. Truth vs loyalty

Mary was given a project in its last phase of implementation. It had clear symptoms of a troubled project: budget underspending, unfinished deliverables, unhappy sponsor, to name a few. Mary assessed what would be the best course of action. On the one hand she could not possibly do in 6 months what was not done in 18 months. Speaking the truth would have put the previous project manager in a negative light and would have helped Mary save face. Recovering the project, on the other hand, would have demonstrated Mary’s loyalty to her values of professionalism and to the sponsor and client. After days of weighting both choices, Mary chose loyalty and delivered the project on time and with a 85% budget spent.

Case in point 2. Short term vs long term

Peter was caught into the design of a project which was at risk of a huge scope creep. It was a multi-stakeholder project and everyone wanted a piece of pie. Accepting all demands would have played well in the short run. All stakeholders would be happy and presumably committed to the project. In the medium to long term, it would have imploded, as Peter knew from experience that it could not be done within the budget the sponsor was willing to commit. Quality would also be compromised and the chances of accessing future funds from this same donor would shrink. Peter was frank at the last stakeholders meeting. He was explicit on consequences of “accepting it all” and also acknowledged the disappointment of having to drop some desires. He lost couple of supporters at that meeting. He regained them though in 12 months through excellent project delivery.

How well do you know your team mates? Party time!

I was a newbie on a team which was there for couple of years. I met them once at an annual meeting.

– Do you know Oxana, my colleague asked a team member, as an introduction when we met for dinner.

– Yes, he said.

– Yes, I confirmed. He knows “office Oxana”. He does not know “after 8pm Oxana”.

We all laughed.

We often spend more time with team members than with our family members. Considerably more, when projects are intense and demanding. Yet, we tend to know one side of the person’s story. Some choose privacy, and are very much protective of that. I understand that. They might have met someone who took advantage of their vulnerability. Some open up easily and are OK to let others know other dimensions they live in. There are also those who make sure everyone on the team knows about the lattest trick their puppy did. And that is also fine.

The degree to which people open up depends on their history and character. The extent to which it affects a project depends on the project environment and the project manager. As the Winter Holidays approach and end-of-year parties are being scheduled, I aspire to use this opportunity to get to know eachother and to learn what makes people tick. Careful party planning is warranted if you want it to be appealing to both introverts and extroverts.

I tailor make it each time for each team and remain prepared to adapt. I have a couple of ideas in my sleeve from which I choose, depending on the stage the project is and how well the team members know eachother. For new teams, “two truths and a lie” is fun, especially if you announce a prize for the person who “catches” most of lies. For team who worked together longer, I choose fun challenges, where they get to “work” with team members they have less interaction with during the year. One game is to have them design solutions in the shape of fairy tales. You would be surprised by the springs of imagination. In multi-cultural teams, it is interesting to ask each team member to bring a gift specific to their country/culture. It can be a song, a dish, a story …. . Also, if decorating a Christmas tree is something you do in your cultures/the team’s culture, decorate it together. No need to cut trees. I use a flipchart and post-it notes in different shapes on which each team member gets to write a New Year wish or more for him/herself and for the team. Have fun!