Project management lessons from the world of weight lifting

IMG_0112If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!

At first glance, you might feel the discipline of project management and weight lifting are worlds apart. After reading this article (between sets, of course!), hopefully you feel otherwise.

Don’t neglect your warm up

If you have ever pulled a muscle by exerting yourself because you didn’t take the time to first stretch and warm up, you know how important the right amount of preparation can be. In projects, while you might be under tremendous pressure to deliver, taking sufficient time to plan ensurse that your project doesn’t get shelved for the season because of a cold start.

Don’t ignore post-workout recovery

Whether it’s a massage, a hot shower, or a protein shake, how you end your workout is critical to ensuring you are ready for the next one. Mature organizations build buffer time between projects to allow project managers and team members the opportunity to recuperate from the stresses of their previous project by taking vacation days, going on a course or other forms of self-investment.

Work(out) with integrity

Most gyms have basic rules of behavior posted – wipe down machines after you are done, replace your weights, no swearing, don’t drop the weights and so on. While each person exercising has their own workout routine, there is an expectation of treating each other with respect. It can be easy to become antagonistic with team members, other project managers, or with functional managers as a result of challenging constraints on your projects or the chronic imbalance between resource supply and demand. Just don’t forget the golden rule.

Cutting corners rarely pays

While steroid abuse has dropped in most mainstream gyms through zero tolerance policies, you still see the occasional meathead who tries to take the easy way to gaining mass & strength. Project managers often face similar temptations to meet tight deadlines. However, just as with steroid usage, breaking corporate policies or taking on excessive risk for your organization may lead to personal and project failure.

There’s lots of misinformation out there

Do an online search for “gain muscle” or “lose weight” and you’ll be inundated with hundreds of links. There may even be some validity to some of the information available on these sites, but it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s snake oil. Do a search for “avoid project failure” and you’ll get a similar number of hits (hopefully, my site is one of those!). Having a peer network of senior practitioners to lean on can be as effective as a personal trainer to help you achieve your objectives.

Good time management pays

Time plays a critical role in workouts. Rest time between sets, the length of each set, the amount of time spent on warm-up and cool-down activities, and the overall duration of your workout will all affect the quality of the outcomes. Whether it’s time spent in meetings, managing your calendar instead of letting it manage you, or spending the minimal required time on tactical activities such as e-mail processing, it’s difficult to be an effective project manager if you find it challenging to manage your own time.

Your workouts are important meetings you schedule with yourself. Leaders don’t cancel!





Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Improving project outcomes takes organization-wide efforts

RisingTideRaising overall organizational project management capability is critical to improving the predictability of project outcomes.

When most companies look to improve project delivery, the normal starting point focuses on elevating the capabilities of project managers through improved hiring practices, formal training and coaching.

No project manager is able to ensure project success solely based on their own efforts, so the role of the project sponsor is usually tackled next. Clear definitions of the expectations of a sponsor, addressing the common issue of sponsors with insufficient capacity to perform the role effectively, and sponsor onboarding programs are developed and deployed.

But can we confidently declare “Mission Accomplished!” after this? What about everyone else that is involved in project work?

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and if key stakeholders involved in project delivery are not also capable, committed and have the capacity to support projects, they will suffer.

Commitment and capacity go beyond the scope of this week’s article. The first requires good governance practices to fund only those projects which will deliver meaningful value, the ability of the project manager to align stakeholders to the project’s objectives and a healthy dose of servant-leadership. The second requires the leadership team to walk the talk of eliminating unhealthy multitasking by cutting their (portfolio) coats according to their (available resource) cloth.

Capability for supporting projects has two components.

The first is the technical or hard skills that are required to perform the role expected from the individual towards achieving the project’s outcomes. The hope is that good talent management and resource allocation practices coupled with the avoidance of multitasking should take care of the first.

The second is understanding what it means to effectively support a project in the role one is asked to play and this is where most organization’s onboarding programs are lacking.

Yes, you could lean on your project managers to educate team members on rules of engagement, but what about the resource managers, procurement staff, finance analysts and other stakeholders who all need to collaborate effectively to achieve project success? Or what if a given project manager is new to the organization?

Any company which spends more than a fraction of its earnings on funding projects should invest the effort in adding a project work component to its staff onboarding programs. This program should be catered to the needs of specific roles, but should also explain how each role interacts as part of the overall operating model for delivering projects. Additionally, each role should have specific performance measures and incentives tied to effective support for projects.

Let’s put the “organization” back in organizational project management maturity!


Categories: Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Team building with assumptions analysis

imageWhen we think about team building, trust-based exercises and singing Kumbaya by the fire come to mind.

However, at the beginning of a project, assumptions analysis can also be a very useful method of eliminating expectation gaps down the road.

Assumptions analysis is normally thought of in the context of estimates, constraints or solution approach but it can be extended to any aspect of the project where we have to bridge uncertainty gaps.

One of the biggest areas of uncertainty relates to the interactions within the team. Until the team has progressed through the storming and norming phases, expectation gaps and misunderstandings can be a frequent source of conflict.

Given this, it may be worth considering apply assumptions analysis to the team itself.

In a session led by an independent, unbiased facilitator, team members are asked to anonymously write down three to five assumptions about each other, the overall team and their roles. Once those assumptions  have been submitted, the facilitator will affinity group them and provide an opportunity for the team as a whole to review and absorb them.

The team or role-level ones could be discussed as a group followed by action planning as the next logical step. This could be the first step  towards team self-management.

For sensitivity reasons, the assumptions made about individual team members may not lend themselves to group discussion but might help to increase the awareness of some team members towards how they are being perceived and to address those concerns.

This is not for the faint of heart – the magnifying glass is shining on us, and not on the project. But facilitated well, it could be a powerful step towards forging a team identity based on trust and mutual understanding.

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

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