Posts Tagged With: communications

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

Online repositories or project documents (Part Two)?

In my last article, I wrote the first half of my overview of the benefits and disadvantages of following a document-centric or repository-centric approach to managing project information. This week, I’ll conclude the assessment by covering the pros and cons of an online repository-based approach.

Whether you implement a COTS solution or build a repository in house, there are some clear advantages to this choice including:

  • Reduced oversight and reporting effort. If a PMO leader wishes to institute governance and gating over the project portfolio, having key project data captured in documents scattered across multiple folders or sites makes this objective manually intensive. If instead all key project information is consolidated into a repository then standard query capabilities can be used to build reports which can be run with minimal effort.
  • Update once, benefit immediately. When an artifact template gets updated or introduced, the effort to propagate it to all project teams can take a lot of time and effort and it is not uncommon to have teams continuing to use obsolete templates well beyond the launch date of an updated version. With a repository, changes could be pushed immediately with all instances getting updated simultaneously.
  • Enter once, use often. A document-centric approach can generate redundant information spread across multiple documents for the same project. Hosting all this information within a single repository facilitates elimination of data duplication which will both reduce project team frustration and will avoid the inconsistencies which invariably occur when a team member forgets to update all instances of a given data element.
  • Greater value realization from centralized information. Identifying common organization blockers affecting multiple projects across the portfolio or creating a knowledge base of lessons learned is simplified when a centralized repository is available.
  • Encourages collaboration. When elaborating the details of requirements, design elements, test artifacts or even code, the ability for multiple team members to work together in near real time without having to constantly check in or check out shared documents reduces collaboration effort.

But as usual there are no silver bullets when it comes to project management!

Such repositories have their own challenges including:

  • Increased difficulty in sharing information outside the company. Control partners are usually unwilling to permit project teams to open up their project repositories to all the third party delivery organizations they might be partnering with. Documents can be easily shared whereas online repositories require access to be granted and taken away once the third party’s involvement has ended.
  • Increased learning curve. No matter how intuitive, a project information system requires staff to be trained to a greater extent than if documents were used to capture the same information. Such training needs to cover not only how a tool works but also appropriate usage.
  • Higher one-time and ongoing costs. Even if a tool is developed in house, build and maintenance costs will be significantly greater than what’s required with a document-based approach.
  • Potential versioning challenges. Online repositories lend themselves to increased collaboration which means that content can evolve over time. This can make it more challenging to identify which version of a given information set has been reviewed and approved.
  • Potential inefficiencies for power users (thanks for suggesting that one, Michael!). While online repositories can be made more foolproof than document templates, this fool proofing can actually slow down advanced users. Also, the record-centric approach found in such tools can increase the effort required to perform simple search or global find & replace actions.

For some information, a document-centric approach might yield the best results whereas for others, an online repository is the way to go.

True victory is achieved by picking the right tool or practice to fulfill a given context.


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

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