Which Star Trek officer best represents your project management personality?

Just like the officers on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise (original series, please!), the personalities we bring to managing projects can be quite diverse.

This is one of the profession’s benefits – there is no single right way or best practice to managing projects. And this uniqueness also applies to growth in the profession – whether it is crossing the chasm of business domains, focusing on getting better at delivering a specific type of project or even growing your skills within a PMBOK knowledge area, there are ample opportunities for personal development.

Here are just a few of the characters I’ve run across in my fifteen year mission exploring the profession.

James Tiberius Kirk

Like Captain Kirk, these project managers emulate the motto of Star Trek’s Federation by constantly seeking out new (project) life and civilizations. They relish the unknown – once they have completed one or two projects of the same type or complexity, it’s off to challenge themselves with something different. Retaining Kirk PMs can be difficult if your project portfolio doesn’t possess sufficient depth and breadth. They also are eternal optimists – like Kirk, they don’t believe in the no-win scenario.

Montgomery Scott

Some project managers possess Scotty’s exceptional ability to turn engineering lemons into high performing lemonade. They relish the challenge of taking on troubled projects and turning them around. Rarely does some one enter this role without having gained sufficient experience successfully delivering projects from start to finish but at some point they realized that their personality and temperament are best suited to troubleshooting.

Spock

If you get off on the science or techniques of project management and find the soft side of the profession doesn’t enthuse you, you might be a Vulcan. Such project managers rarely (perhaps once every seven years?) let their emotions get the better of them which can be a crucial skill when everyone around you is losing their cool. However, this apparent lack of emotion and empathy can make it difficult for them to effectively use influence or persuasion to help their projects and having to put up with illogical behavior from their stakeholders can cause deep frustration for them.

Dr. Leonard McCoy

If you come across as a bit gruff but underneath that tough exterior beats an empathetic heart of gold, you might be a doctor not a project manager. Bones serves as a good foil for Spock with one embracing their humanity whereas the other struggles with it. Bones project managers will possess a high EQ and are confident relying on that to help them make decisions more often than with pure logic.

Nyota Uhura

Uhura posesses exceptional linguistic skills and we all know project managers like her who know just what to say in a given situation. Such project managers are very capable of managing stakeholder expectations and rarely struggle with managing the communication demands of complex projects.

So where will YOUR project management career boldly go?

Categories: Project Management | 2 Comments

Cultivate teams with lessons from your garden

With the return of warmer temperatures to North America, Spring provides us with the opportunity to spend a few hours each week gardening. Gardening is a great way to beat stress and the returns from a visual and potentially culinary perspective are compelling. But it also provides us with a number of lessons which can be applied to developing and sustaining teams.

Neither under nor over water

There is an art to correctly watering one’s lawn. Water it infrequently and too little and the grass will go dormant or will start to resemble the Sahara desert. Water too frequently and the grass roots will remain near the surface instead of growing deep and you will encourage the growth of fungi and weeds. Recognizing team members works the same way – neglect them and their engagement will diminish, but go overboard with praise and recognition will lose all meaning.

Weed promptly

Weeds grow in even the best maintained gardens regardless of the volume of herbicides used. Procrastinating on removing them can result in their proliferation. The same is true of unhealthy team member conflict or other dysfunctions. Turn a blind eye to this and the issue will fester and spread the way unchecked weed growth can choke out good plants.

Let the land go fallow

Letting a vegetable patch recover for a season or two after you have harvested is a good practice. While it can be tempting to plan work to 100% of available team member capacity, this approach rarely provides time for learning. The best source of learning may be work experience, but there is also benefit in giving team members a chance to step away from the daily work once in a while to attend a conference, watch a webinar or read a book or two. While giving them a break and a chance to recharge their batteries, it will also provide an opportunity to bring new ideas into the mix when they return from their training.

Variety is the spice of life

Perhaps you really like roses so you might decide to only plant rose bushes in your garden. But this won’t necessarily give you the best looking garden. Mixing it up by planting a variety of plants could provide the benefit of flowers throughout the year. It will also hedge (no pun intended) your bets against insect infestation or diseases targeting a single plant type which could wipe out your entire garden. It might be tempting to staff a team with people that are just like you, but you will get much better outcomes if you encourage diversity.

Thomas Jefferson might have been speaking about team building when he said “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.

 

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Agile transformations should lead with changing mindset and behavior rather than practices

Like most North American kids growing up in an urban environment, my son learned to drive cars with an automatic transmission. Now that he’s been driving for a year, I’m starting to teach him to handle a manual transmission. While the most visible aspect of this is shifting, the exquisite art (to quote the Bride) lies in the proper use of the clutch. Once a driver develops the feel for a clutch and is able to find that sweet spot between dormant and stalling so that they can get a car rolling without the use of the gas pedal, the rest is mere mechanics.

Golf presents a similar scenario – learning to swing a club is secondary to mastering weight transfer. Through practice, once that skill becomes second nature, the rest of the swing will come. But if we start with the top down approach of learning to swing using the shoulders and arms, it will take much longer to develop a good swing.

Agile works much the same way.

Just because we divide our project’s timeline into sprints, conduct daily standups and bi-weekly retrospectives and ask our teams to self-organize, if the underlying behaviors of senior leaders, mid-level managers and team members don’t change, we are just putting lipstick on a pig.

Behavior and mindset changes don’t happen overnight and it’s not easy to confirm what has changed the way one can when introducing a practice or tool change.

This reinforces the importance of a change strategy for all levels of stakeholders involved with the project. While they might appreciate the benefits of agile delivery, if they haven’t reflected on the mindset changes required, stakeholders will act like chickens when we’d need them to be pigs. Senior leaders, delivery and control partners need to understand how they will need to adapt before they are put on the spot to support an agile project. Embracing the change won’t happen overnight which is why effective coaching is required to enable them to become the advocates we need to champion changes with their peers.

The challenge is that there is usually a demand to demonstrate value from a change in delivery approach within a reasonably short time.

That is why it is best to start with one or two small projects to provide a safe opportunity to try, fail, learn and improve.

Start with practices and tools and Cargo Cult behavior is almost a guarantee.

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Management | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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