Harnessing the power of conflict

imageFew of us enjoy dealing with conflict.

But shying away from conflict doesn’t work – you’ll get mediocre results from a team who focuses more on being nice than making progress, or worse, your better team members will become disengaged and actively seek new roles.

So what are some clues to alert you that you may need to step in to catalyze the chemical reaction?

Pay close attention to people’s body language. If you are frequently witnessing a mismatch between what people are saying and how they are acting, that might indicate that they are really not in favor of a direction.

If the drive to maintain team harmony appears to trump all others, that may need to be called out. A symptom of this is whenever any discussion starts to become lively, a number of team members suggest that it be taken offline (which never happens), or some other type of interference occurs to interrupt the progression of the conflict.

On the other hand, unhealthy conflict is evidenced by a greater focus on personalities and positions rather than the underlying issue.

If you start witnessing attacks on individual team members or if you notice a growing reluctance to participate in team discussions or withdrawing symptoms from certain team members, it could mean that conflicts are beginning to become too personal and need to be re-focused.

Of course, picking up on signs of poor conflict requires you to be sufficiently self-aware – it can be difficult to identify the behaviors of your team members if you are exhibiting the same behaviors yourself.

While it is an essential ingredient when forging healthy, productive teams, conflict can feel like making nitroglycerine. – you need it to make a bomb, but let the process get away from you, and you are likely to bear the brunt of the failure.

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Crashing your schedule is not your only choice when facing delays!

car-crash_420-420x0When our projects begin to experience schedule delays, a very common reaction from our customers may be to ask the team to work longer hours or to leverage their influence to provide additional resources to work on critical path tasks such that the project can get back on track.

Of course, nothing comes for free – such additional labor hours usually will result in increased costs which in turn increases the likelihood of going over budget. If the existing team is asked to work longer hours for a sustained period of time, this is likely to impact team morale and deliverable quality. If new team members are added, while they are coming up-to-speed, the overall productivity of the team is likely to suffer as existing high performers may be engaged in onboarding the newcomers.

So before looking at crashing your schedule, here are a few ideas.

What caused the delays?

If the team cannot identify and address the root cause, there is no reason to expect that such delays won’t be experienced further in the life of the project. For example, if the issue is due to gross underestimation, adding more resources is unlikely to result in a great improvement in performance. Have the team re-assess supporting assumptions to come up with more realistic estimates.

Is the schedule optimal?

Perhaps there were soft constraints placed on certain tasks when the schedule was originally developed which could be removed thus accelerating certain tasks. For example, an assumption might have been made that a given resource is unavailable before a certain date – would moving up their start date help? If so, negotiating for an earlier start may be something you ask your sponsor to help with.

Do any of the dependencies between critical path tasks lend themselves to fast tracking? If so, weigh the duration savings against the risks of rework or reduced quality and introduce lead times in a thoughtful manner.

Can you restructure scope delivery?

Customers will usually want it all, but facing a schedule delay, you may be in a better position to negotiate for a phased delivery approach by moving certain scope elements to later phases. Focus on work packages which will result in time savings without crippling the business value gained from a minimally viable deliverable.

Of course, whenever the focus is on optimizing the delivery of critical path activities, the risk is that chains of near critical path activities will be neglected resulting in them turning into a new, longer duration critical path. So don’t ignore the forest just because you are focusing on a particular group of trees.




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Risks in your project’s rear view mirror may be closer than they appear

truck_in_rear_view_mirrorRisk management, like nearly all project management knowledge areas, is iterative. We don’t just identify risks at the beginning of our projects. As we learn more about what we are expected to deliver, our risk registers experience progressive elaboration in the same way as does our knowledge of our customer’s requirements or our work breakdown structure.

While this iterative nature of risk management helps to increase the currency of risk information, it does have a dark side.

The risks we’ve most recently analyzed might appear to be more relevant than those identified much earlier in a project’s life. Given how busy we all are, if those older risks have not yet been realized, it can be tempting to assume that they can be safely ignored. And when our vigilance drops, that’s usually when those risks will strike.

To protect against this, we need to implement countermeasures which won’t consume much effort, but can provide us with sufficient lead time to recognize that a risk may be realized so that we can execute response plans with a higher probability of success. This is why it is important to identify risk triggers which should be as specific as the risks they are associated with.

It’s also a good reason to consider going beyond simple probability and impact-based assessments of risk severity by incorporating the failure mode effects analysis practice of estimating how easy it is to detect that a risk is about to be realized. By doing this, a moderate risk with low detectability will gain importance relative to those which we can see a mile away.

Of course, none of this matters if risk information is not reviewed regularly.

You may want to review risk triggers for your key risks at each team meeting to find out if any have been detected. You might even consider creating a “Project’s Top Ten Most Wanted” cubicle poster highlighting the triggers tied to your most critical risks.

Whatever techniques you use, regular reviews of meaningful triggers can act as a gauntlet around your project, ensuring you don’t get rear-ended by a risk Mack Truck!


Categories: Project Management, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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