Category: Room for reflection

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

Thank you, 2020!

As we processed the last payments for services delivered in 2020, we were grateful for having created opportunities for others. Thanks to these, they managed to stay afloat. And even thrive perhaps a little.

We learned to read each other on the screen. We compensated the missing clues by asking more frequently: “What do you mean?”

We got frustrated by the 10th email on something we could have solved in 3 minutes by walking into each others’ offices. And we picked up the phone to air it.

We acknowledged that while many of the processes this year were global, the way we felt their effects is individual and highly personal.

We learned the art of planning to re-plan and plan again.

We loved the “mute all” button. And “camera off”, which let us stroll unwatched to the kitchen for yet another bite of cookie.

We felt like naughty grandchildren shouting into grand-dad’s ear: “Can you hear me?”, still grateful for all the technology we have to connect.

We learned some things about our neighbours’ routine and know now not to accept video-calls during certain hours while teleworking.

We managed our time-in-the-office and teleworking and learned by heart the schedule of our partners and team members spread across the continent. Only to learn that it changed again.

We dropped the “all-or-nothing” approach. We allowed for complexity and different shades or nuances. We sought what was possible to do and went for it.

As externalities of travel and sanitary restrictions kept proliferating, we stopped should-ing on yourself and team members. We replaced the constriction of “should,” “ought to,” and “must” with “can,” “choose to” or “decide to”.

We thanked each other more and reinforced the gratitude at work.

We will keep at least some of these in mind as we enter a New Year. We will continue to learn, as we’ll navigate the course, that life is change and change makes life, in projects and beyond.

Trust. Teams. Politics

No matter their lifespan, projects need people to trust each other. I agree with Simon Sinek: “Trust emerges when we have a sense that another person or organisation is driven by things other than their personal gain”.

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

– knowing that someone has your back,

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

– being certain that they will show up.

– having faith that they will tell you in good faith when you make a mistake.

Trust comes slowly and evaporates in the blink of an eye.

Does it mean that when there is trust between members of the team, there is no conflict? Not at all. Pat Lencioni answers it well: “When there is trust, conflict is nothing but the pursuit of truth. Without trust, conflict is just politics”. And no one well-meaning wants politics in projects.

The perils of copy-paste in projects

“Just copy-paste from other projects’ documents” was a response I heard quite often, at the start of my journey in the project management world. It was usually coming in response to a concern from a project team which lacked data or status information. I still hear the same kind of response sometimes. With much regret, because such a response goes against the tailor-made approach and contextual project management. Evidence shows that it is a no-no in development management.

Every organisation has project management methodologies. There are formalities, templates, procedures to follow and rightly so. There is also the reality on the ground and the context the project will be implemented in. Making these two tensions meet and lead to a positive outcome might require finding an answer equivalent to “Give to God what’s God’s and give to Caesar what’s Caesar’s”.

If the project team was to follow the copy-paste advice, the stakeholders’ analysis and needs assessment would not matter. The stakeholders voice will be silenced. As a result, there will be no (or very limited) partners’ commitment and ownership of the project and its results. Will this bring the change the tax-payers gave money for? Highly unlikely. Will this be professionally fulfilling for the project team? I know the answer. You may want to find it yourself.

I truly believe any project is unique and requires a unique approach in both design and implementation. The context will demand it. So will the project team’s professionalism, accountability and integrity. Yes, it will take time and resources. With good planning, commitment and couple of tips it can be done.

Do’s in conceptualising:

  • Determine the project’s boundaries
  • Put together a classic literature study list (it is also nice to go back to the student-mode)
  • Place all materials on a shared drive for the team to have access to 24 hours a day (particularly helpful for remote teams)
  • Put together a stakeholders registry and decide on interviews modalities
  • Apply participatory methods when talking to people: they will feel empowered and gladly share their knowledge and aspirations
  • Stay aware of biases and assumptions, your own and others’
  • Bring in the data
  • Decide how the differences between the team members’ assessments will be dealt with in full transparency and with integrity

Do not:

  • Search for the truth: it is neither practical nor realistic. Accept a degree of subjective
  • Discard what does not support your idea. It will boomerang. Try not to get it wrong
  • Stick to the story just because of the evidence you collected at some point in time. Stay prepared to change your story if new evidence appears.

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Need more arguments against copy-paste, see the story of the “expert” – found to have “mastered” the “art” of cut-and-paste in respect of the same evidence for several different cases https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-48444605