Category: Room for reflection

A space for the reflective practitioner, inspired by Donald Schön.

Relationships in projects

It is not unusual for members of the project team to come close and to get romantically involved with clients/beneficiaries or between each other. It happens in particular, although not exclusively, in projects of duration, when interaction lasts and/or is frequent.

A fellow project manager shared a story: a project had been ended by the sponsor because the team leader and the deputy team leader were engaged in an office romance. The project manager saw no problems and took no measures to prevent the conflict of interest. Also, conflicts with other members of the team followed shortly. The result was for a team of 20 to remain without a lucrative contract.

Could things have been different if the project manager would have reacted? The answer is often in the integrity framework of the project team and the commitment of team members to behave accordingly.

Story:

Sammy (not the real name) told the project manager that she knows that Peter is romantically involved with the top guy in the client’s organisation, who was also married. Peter had a support function in the team, with little to no interaction with the client. The project manager – Max – asked Sammy not to share her thoughts with other members of the team.

Peter knew Sammy knows and he was fine with that. Max asked for HR advice and analysed all potential consequences in terms of project information flow to the client. It was sensible not to get into a private matter between two adults, was the HR advice. Max redesigned the information flow as to avoid the sharing of information ahead of the project schedule and to prevent any potential conflict of interest. Sammy was in charge of monitoring that. She assumed the role and delivered well. Peter was reminded of the Code of Ethics of the organisation and the values the organisation stood by. No conflict of interest occurred and the project run smoothly to its end.

Do:

  • set a clear integrity framework and ethics rules;
  • place ethics at the center of the project’s culture;
  • prevent and solve conflict of interest;
  • prevent office politics and mis-perceptions;
  • involve Human Resources and professional advice.

 

Advertisements

Are projects managed by men different?

The title is deliberate. Comparing men and women seems a new wave in the equality  debates on all sorts of professional walks. The project management world, like any other, is not immune to that.

It seems senseless to me to categorize project managers as male or female. There are studies out there showing that projects managed by women are more successful. The point of this is elusive to me. I am also aware of the bias and prejudice still surrounding women in many cultures in respect of their abilities and skills. At the same time, we have to admit that thanks to generations of women before us we have come a long way in dealing with the phenomenon known as the “likability conundrum.”

Coming back to the project managers profession, if you have the skills, the passion, the commitment, responsibilities, and the work ethic necessary to hold the position then you are a project manager.

By focusing on gender, we miss the point. We shall focus on talent, rather than gender, shall we?

What I learned in numerous interactions is that when you face the likability conundrum, it is important to remember that it says quite a lot about the other person. Do not hold it against them, they might be utterly unaware. Teach them, with your passion and skills.

If you are interested to delve on the issue, PMI has done some research and studies in the field: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/gender-project-managers-nasa-8988 ; https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/gender-project-management-workplace-dynamics-5609

 

 

 

The holy trinity of projects

Every project has a

  • Scope,
  • Budget and
  • Timeline.

This is what differentiates them from routine/regular business. Project management literature calls this trinity ‘the triple constraints”.

This trio also serves as a success measure. Truly successful projects deliver what is required, within the budget and on time.

I also believe the Trinity is in good company when Quality and Integrity butt in.

Some trade-offs might be necessary between the scope, budget and time. If the sponsor or client want a closer launch date of the product/service, additional resources and reduced scope might be necessary.

Sometimes, the project manager will have to have the courage to say No to trade offs. Saying No at the right time to anything which risks creating a scope creep is a project’s manager duty. It can be No during the design phase, before the commitment. It can be No during the implementation phase, when the client’s appetite increases. This requires some business acumen.

In the business world, some use the “law of two-thirds” to decide the trade-offs. It offers criteria for decisions about what will define a product or organization (inspired by Tyler Kleeberger, A Technique for Deciding When to Say No, Medium, published on Medium, January 2019). Essentially, you can’t do everything so what should you do?  It will not surprise you that the three criteria are (again):

  • Quality
  • Speed
  • Price

You must consider all three, but you can only choose two. For example, a manufacturer wants to deliver quality and wants to be fast? Then the products are likely going to be more expensive. A business desires to offer its services at low prices, but also wants to maintain quality? Then, it is likely that the speed is going to be reduced. Those who want something that is fast and cheap, will have to compromise on quality.

It will be important to keep an eye on the perspective and the short, medium and long-term benefits, along with a good risks management strategy. I would never compromise on integrity though.

It takes humility, strength, and fortitude to acknowledge your project’s, your team’s and your own limits. It also takes visions and leadership to choose and to focus on priorities. It is not unusual for me to ask my colleagues and my client: “So what are the 3 big things this project shall deliver?”.

IMG_1374image credit StamfordGlobal, 2008.

 

 

Trust and Teams

We often hear ‘I trust X” or “I do not trust Y”. I discovered that the level and manifestation of trust affects the team performance and ultimately the achievement of the project’s objective.

Members of a project team – be it a NASA project or a local community street cleaning project – need to trust each other. And trust is a feeling. It can be individual or shared. It comes from a variety of sources, including but not exclusively from

– knowing that someone has your back,

– believing that your team mates will deliver on time their part and their belief that you’ll take it from there and move it forward,

– being certain that they will show up at the product launch on time,

– having faith that they will tell you in good faith when you make a mistake and help you either own it or remedy it together.

Trust has come to stay when there is integrity, consistency of words and deeds, commitment to the project goal and genuine investment in building relations. Trust is not built by sharing gossips at the water cooler.

You may want to read more on the topic: “Trust: does it impact team performance… or not?” by Wendy Hirsch https://scienceforwork.com/blog/trust-impact-team-performance/

Sharing is caring. About whom? About what?

– Oh, you have a new décor!

– Yes, Japanese. It is thanks to you!

– Me?

– You told me about Tanaka and I introduced it in my wellness center. My clients love it and my services are in high demand.

My heart rejoices. The dialogue was with my dear reflexologist – Joelle.

Sharing is caring is a buzz word. I hear it often around me.  How come? We live in the era when sharing is a click away, effortlessly. So, why is there more demand for sharing?

Perhaps it is this effortless share that makes it meaningless. Perhaps those with whom we share it – the public, friends, acquaintances – do not need it or do not see the value of it.

Sharing is caring, when we share a piece of bread and a hot meal with someone who is hungry. And sharing is something more. It is sharing with those who have a first for learning and knowledge.

Can we go back to public lectures? The times of Agora meetings are behind us and long forgotten, with a few exceptions, here and there in some Universities. And even if we are there, at the public lecture, our eyes are on the phone, finger scrolling down.

I came across the name of Karl Friston, the author of the free energy principle, the organising principle of all life and all intelligence. He avoids one-to-one human interaction and has no mobile phone. He is the most prolific author in any discipline – 85 publications in 2017 alone, i.e. a publication every four days.   He opposed the patenting of the statistical parametric mapping and this is how PET scans became widespread (source: https://www.wired.com/story/karl-friston-free-energy-principle-artificial-intelligence/?utm_source=MIT+Technology+Review&utm_campaign=403ce86738-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_11_15_11_44&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_997ed6f472-403ce86738-158060557). You get the point.

Next time I will hear the call ‘sharing is caring’, I will be sure to ask myself: when was it last time I stood in front of an audience of people eager to learn and shared my learning, so that it becomes everybody’s learning? Or produced something and gave it for free? Don’t hesitate to join!

Motivation

I was having a conversation the other day with a colleague about motivation. I am a believer in self-motivation. She strongly believes in external motivation and the managers’ ability to motivate staff.

A recent research shows “Psychologists have been considering the question of our “locus of control” since the 1950s. Those with an external locus of control have a sense of life happening to them; they believe their lives are primarily influenced by forces outside their control.

Those with an internal locus of control, by contrast, feel in charge of their own destiny and attribute success or failure to their own efforts. An internal locus of control yields vastly superior results. 

knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/the-new-science-of-productivity/

At the end if the day, it is about what works best in each team, the degree of emotional intelligence of each manager/leader and the individual’s choice. Self-motivation is a choice and, even better “news” it is a learned skill.

Size and teams

Size matters. Not only in architecture.

How many people on a team is just right? Shall we go for a big team or small is the new big in projects? are questions popping up at the design phase.

The biggest team I managed had 20 people and the smallest – 3. The Palm Jumeirah Island mega project had teams commensurate with the scale of the project.

On the face of it, larger teams get more done. Yet, there is evidence that individuals in big groups actually perform worse. It is the “social loafing” syndrome: “someone else will do it. why bother?”. It is known as “Ringelmann effect“. Although it may not manifest in a construction project, I would think, when your client is a Sheikh .

So how many is just right? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has the “two pizzas rule”: if a team can’t be fed by two pizzas, it’s too large. According to Katherine Klein from Wharton University, the widely accepted ideal size for a working team is five people “If you go beyond five people the team starts to lose individual performance, while teams smaller than 5 people can experience awkward team dynamics and skills gaps”.

Smaller groups appear more agile, robust and pro-active. Yet, research shows, disagreements happen more in smaller teams than bigger teams. It could be the frequency of interaction. Or just the fragility of egos.

Through trial and error, I noticed three rules of the thumb valid on my mind in approaching the decision on the number of team members:

1. If the project needs legal advice and financial services/accounting and a candidate is competent in both, take him/her on both roles, for a blend of skills. It will save time and effort, which will be otherwise spent on collaboration or its failure.

2. The size of the team may not be a constant during the lifespan of a project. Each stage may need additions or downsizing. It does not preclude you from inviting everyone to celebrate the project completion and you can order more than two pizzas on this occasion.

3. Size matters, but more important are the quality and performance of the team members. Stay humble in expanding your kingdom and bet on quality. Find the best and nurture them. Not with pizzas. At least not only 🙂

team_size_97151_strip_print