Project Management

Articles related to doing projects right

Help your team to fire it up!

Summer time in Canada gives us the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors without having to worry about frostbite! One of my favorite weekend pastimes is to light up some logs in my backyard fire pit, pull up a Muskoka chair and listen to the crackling sounds, smell the pleasant aroma of the burning wood and gaze at the stars. But starting and sustaining a wood fire outdoors does take some effort, not unlike nurturing a team.

Enjoying a good fire normally requires starting with some type of accelerant or fire starter, then some kindling and finally the logs. Just using fire starter or kindling doesn’t work well as you won’t get a long lasting burn. On the other hand, trying to start a fire with just a log is amusing to witness but not much fun to experience. If you have the benefit of picking your team members it might be tempting to only pick people who get along with you, but you are likely to lose out on the many benefits of diversity including a reduction in the likelihood of experiencing groupthink.

Beginners often have a tendency to constantly fuss with a fire. They get worried that it will either extinguish itself or that burning embers might land on nearby flammable materials. Whether it’s incessantly blowing on the fire, smothering it with excessive logs, waterboarding it with fire starter fluid or poking and prodding it frequently with a poker, their micro-management spoils the fire and irritates those of us around them who might be trying to enjoy it. Other people are too hands off as they don’t see the warning signs of a starving fire and end up having to restart the blaze multiple times in an evening due to neglect. Teams work much the same way. Micro-management is one of the quickest way to suck the life out of your team but neglecting them is also a recipe for disaster. As with Goldilocks, our job is to discover what’s “just right” for a particular team.

It’s easier to keep a healthy fire going than it is to start one from scratch. With a long running fire, just when you think the embers have died out, the addition of some kindling and some encouraging puffs of air can bring it roaring back to life. Nurturing a high performing team takes work, but it’s a lot less than the effort required to guide a new team through forming, storming and norming.

Once your fire is going strong, there’s not much to worry about from outside elements. A good fire can withstand light rain showers and will deter most insects from bothering those sitting around it. Strong teams usually possess higher levels of psychological safety which can help team members to face challenges knowing they will be supported by the rest of the team.

It’s getting cold in here so somebody fire it up – Thousand Foot Krutch

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Avoiding groupthink on long-lived teams

Long-lived teams are often presented as being superior to their temporary counterparts. The benefits of longevity include the avoidance of wasteful forming-storming-norming cycles, higher levels of trust and psychological safety within the team and a more accurate understanding of what someone means when they communicate with us.

But there is a potential downside to persistent teams which can erode many of these benefits: groupthink.

Groupthink usually refers to a situation where team members prioritize consensus over the quality of a given decision or outcome. We might all disagree with Bob’s recommendation on how to address a project issue, but we value the harmony of the group over the mediocrity of his approach and hence we don’t challenge it. According to Irving Janis, the social psychologist who is credited with introducing the term, groupthink tends to occur most often where there are high degrees of cohesiveness, external threats, difficult decisions or isolation of the team from others. These factors are often found on long-lived teams.

So how can we avoid groupthink on long-lived teams?

One countermeasure might be to use Delphi or a similar method of anonymously or simultaneously gathering input from the team. This will reduce the likelihood of any one team member winning a “first to speak” advantage and will provide a structured approach to surface and discuss differing viewpoints.

Another option is to have the group nominate one team member to act as a devil’s advocate. This selection should be made on a per decision basis. Since everyone knows that this team member is responsible for finding weaknesses within a decision it eliminates their fear of being perceived as disruptive. Care needs to be taken in selecting the right team member to play this role. Someone who is likely to have significant interest in the outcomes of a decision might not be the best candidate as they might consciously or unconsciously disqualify the group’s approach to further their own path of action.

Have the foresight to bring someone in from the outside who has no stake in the outcome. This approach can replace the previous suggestion if team members feel that none of them can impartially play the role of devil’s advocate. This method has its own challenges as it might take some effort for the outsider to gain sufficient context to be an effective contributor to the decision.

Finally, breaking the team into two independent groups and having each group develop a recommendation is a very explicit method of eliminating groupthink. Of course, this requires a team which is large enough that such a sub-division is possible. If this approach is used more than once, it is a good idea to have different people in each group for each distinct decision.

When all think alike, the no one is thinking – Walter Lippman

 

 

Categories: Agile, Project Management | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

It’s time for RAID logs to evolve!

When documents are used to track project information, a common approach is to create a consolidated workbook in MS Excel for tracking risks, actions, issues and decisions. This is usually referred to as a RAID log.

The benefit of this approach beyond having the information in a convenient, centralized location is that there are logical relationships between these disparate elements which can be easily reflected if they are consolidated. For example, negative risks which have not been successfully avoided could be realized as issues. In turn, issue resolution might be done via actions. And finally, actions may require formal decisions to be taken.

But is there an opportunity to consolidate additional list-based project data elements for greater benefit, and if so, what are some good candidates?

We frequently hear about the need to capture assumptions made by stakeholders when planning our projects so that they can be validated over time. A benefit of having the assumptions consolidated in the same workbook is that part of a regular risk register refresh could include a quick walkthrough of those assumptions which have not been validated yet to see whether any new risks can be identified or whether information regarding existing risks should be updated.

It’s rarely ideal to wait till the very end of a project to harvest knowledge. But if you choose to identify lessons regularly over the life of your project, they’ll have to be captured somewhere. As issues are often a good input into lessons identification, having the ability to link issues to a lesson will simplify the process of understanding the context behind the lesson. Another benefit of this approach is that since it’s common practice to review issues and actions in regular team meetings, having lessons also available in the same document might encourage team members to review them and identify new ones.

Finally, let’s consider stakeholders. We know that it’s a good practice to identify stakeholders early in your project, analyze them according to their impact, interest and influence, and use that information to form your engagement and change strategies. Stakeholders will be closely associated with all of the other data elements we’ve looked at so it’s likely worth including your stakeholder register too.

So if your organization doesn’t have a central project management information system, why not use a RADIALS log in place of a traditional RAID log!

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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