Posts Tagged With: project decision making

Have courage!

When we think of the characteristics of a good team player, we tend to come up with attributes such as demonstrating selflessness, possessing empathy, or being a good communicator. While these are all critical to creating a high performing team, one trait of effective project managers and team members is the ability to do things which take them outside of their comfort zone. In other words, courage.

Why do I consider courage to be so critical?

Courage won’t guarantee that right decisions will get made, but it might prevent some bad ones.

Presented with an unrealistic deadline to deliver fixed scope with fixed resources and budget, if no one demonstrates courage by raising concerns or by negotiating for a feasible commitment, the team might have just signed up for their very own real-life Kobayashi Maru scenario.

Perhaps a sponsor or other senior stakeholder is pushing for the use of a particular delivery approach for political reasons. If it is not the best fit for the needs of the project, it’s rare that the accountability for this bad decision would fall on that stakeholder but it’s more likely that the team will bear the brunt of the issues.

Maybe the business case for your project is no longer attractive. It might be safer to keep your head down and continue to deliver according to approved baselines, but wouldn’t it be better for your company, your team and your own career if you were to bring this concern to the sponsor or other appropriate governance body?

Maybe your organization’s project management methodology requires the completion of a particular artifact. No one on your team believes it adds any delivery or risk control value. If you don’t have the courage to ask “Why?” or to seek an exemption, you’ve likely lost some credibility with your team members.

Courage preserves integrity by enabling us to operate with transparency

It’s hard to tell your customer that there is a unrecoverable variance or other critical issue with their project. But if we candy-coat this message, or worse, avoid telling the customer entirely, the truth will out, and the fall out is likely to be much worse than if we’d summoned the courage to break the bad news in a timely manner.

Maybe one of your fellow team members is behaving in a manner which is irritating others. If we don’t have the courage to provide coaching or constructive feedback sensitively but directly to that team member and give them an opportunity to respond, we aren’t demonstrating respect for that team member or our team.

Courage enables us to grow

Whether your project is being delivered using an adaptive or a deterministic life-cycle, team members and your company as a whole will benefit if they occasionally work on activities which fall outside of their core specialization, if doing so benefits the team. Developing generalizing specialists will take support from both functional managers and from one’s peers, but it also requires a healthy dose of courage for us to try something for the first time, knowing that we might fail. This applies not only to the activities performed by team members, but also the types of projects or work assignments we ourselves take on.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” – Maya Angelou


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

The art and science of backlog prioritization

A key responsibility of Product Owners is ensuring that the order of work items in a backlog best achieves the goals and vision for the product. Unlike project portfolios where selection or prioritization decisions are often made by a governance committee, with a product backlog the responsibility for the business success or failure of the product rests on the Product Owner’s shoulders.

This activity is both science and art.

Multiple competing factors need to be considered and balanced including:

  • Business value
  • Alignment with the original vision
  • Dependencies
  • Constraints
  • Risk reduction

Evaluating cost of delay or Weighted Shortest Job First can inject consistency and objectivity into activity but also takes learning and effort. If used, such scoring approaches should be used to guide decision making rather than replace it.

The Product Owner needs to collaborate well with key stakeholders to ensure that releases won’t just satisfy his or her needs. This collaboration requires willingness on the part of the Product Owner to push back the release of certain “hot” features if that will result in a better product overall.

When working with a new team, the Product Owner needs to actively listen during backlog refinement discussions with team members as some of them might lack the courage to openly challenge a short-sighted decision. One way to help overcome such growing pains is to actively ask the team as work items are being ranked whether they see any flaws with the order or whether they are aware of any work item which might need to be tackled sooner. Prioritization might be a good item to consider during retrospectives to ensure that the process is regularly inspected and adapted.

The Product Owner will naturally want to maximize business value realization while solution owners will want to tackle solution uncertainties or address scalability or flexibility early on. Healthy prioritization should feel like a tug-of-war between the representatives for each influencing factor.

A good Product Owner should be ego-less about the prioritization activity as their goal is not to demonstrate omniscience about the sequencing of the product’s development but rather to release the best product possible.



Categories: Agile | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Cultivating psychological safety happens one person at a time…

Since 2015 when Google’s research identified psychological safety as one of the key attributes of high performing teams, it has received a lot of airtime. While there might be greater awareness of this characteristic, there is little guidance on how to cultivate it within an organization or team where it is absent. Hence, when I saw today’s Dilbert cartoon strip, it reminded me that instilling psychological safety is a cultural transformation.

Scott Adams does not provide insight into why the Pointy Haired Boss fired Ted but Wally’s curiosity about recent terminations and his use of Ted as a scapegoat for his project’s schedule variance clearly demonstrates that they are working within a corrosive culture of fear where failure is not recognized as a statistically expected outcome but rather is the catalyst for a witch hunt.

Sound familiar to any of you?

In one of my earlier articles, I’d provided some suggestions on how a project manager could help to instill psychological safety within their team but did not cover the need to understand the underlying causes for its absence.

While we think about psychological safety as being a team-level dynamic, it is a deeply personal feeling and like all change, needs to start at a individual level.

There are two forces operating against our feeling psychologically safe – from without and from within.

Our colleagues possess the ability to destroy our confidence in being able to take calculated risks. Every time we see someone being criticized for attempting to push the envelope it supports our personal need to play it safe. Relationship-oriented organizations can unwittingly reinforce this as no one wants to be perceived as rocking the boat.

But we shouldn’t ignore our own insecurities which might be causing us to avoid taking risks. I’ve frequently encountered individuals who hesitated to make a decision which they believed to be the right one simply because they felt they couldn’t. When pushed to identify a specific policy, standard or mandate supporting this, they were unable to and yet they still remained unwilling to proceed. When their leaders were asked if they had said anything which might have caused this, they were flummoxed. Pogo continues to be omniscient – “We have met the enemy and he is us.

Taking the time to understand what might be causing one of our team members to feel unsafe is time well spent as it will improve our likelihood of changing their perceptions.


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

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