Posts Tagged With: team building

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


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Timing is everything for your team!

Those of us who have managed projects with team members dispersed across distant time zones are well aware of the risks caused by geographic, cultural and temporal distance. The benefits of thoughtful co-location for right-sized teams are also well recognized, but even in such ideal situations, we face a different challenge which Daniel Pink covers in his latest book, When.

We know that some of us tend to deliver our best work first thing in the morning, whereas others are late bloomers who are most productive much later in the day. Daniel uses the common terminology of larks and owls to refer to those people who act as bookends of the working day, and refers to the majority who fall somewhere between these extremes as third birds.

He also provides guidance on the type of work which, for the majority of people, are best performed at specific times of day. For early birds, analytic tasks or critical decisions are better made in the morning whereas tasks requiring insight are better done in the late afternoon or early evening when analytical safeguards are down. For night owls, the opposite pattern appears to hold true.

While this is intellectually stimulating, what’s the relevance to our teams?

When our teams are forming, if we take some time to understand which of the three categories our team members fall into we might be able to more fully realize their collective potential. If we have a team which is predominantly larks, daily stand ups or other planning or analytical activities might better be done first thing in the morning whereas solving a particularly challenging problem or tapping into the team’s creativity might be better done during the latter part of the afternoon.

For a parliament of owls, you could consider the opposite approach. Such homogeneous cases rarely occur, so it is helps to understand each individual’s preferences. The book provides a number of simple tools as well as references to more advanced assessments to facilitate this discovery process.

Daniel also highlights a darker pattern – the early to mid-afternoon time tends to be both productivity and quality quicksand. Daniel provides the example of a hospital where the probability of an avoidable surgical problem was shown to increase from one percent in the early morning to four percent in the mid-afternoon. While this might not hold true for all people, the majority of larks and third birds are affected. However, the impacts of this can be significantly reduced through preventative measures such as short breaks and the use of quality methods such as checklists or non-solo work.

When it comes to productivity and quality, timing is everything.


Categories: Project Management | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Have you rotated your project’s tires?

A standard semi-annual ritual for many who live in cold climates is swapping all season to winter tires on our cars and back again. This exercise also presents a good opportunity to catch up on any other outstanding preventative maintenance for our vehicles.  For those of us who live in places which observe daylight savings time, we are reminded to change the batteries in our smoke alarms whenever our clocks spring forward or fall back.

Here are a few questions to consider if its been a while since you’ve performed preventative maintenance on your projects.

What’s the what? It can be too easy to have our heads down and keep executing the project, but what if there have been some shifts in the environment which have eroded the project’s benefits? While this isn’t a primary responsibility for most project managers, ignoring expected outcomes might be considered negligence.

How’s the how? Assuming we are comfortable with the project’s objectives, are the solution and delivery approaches still viable? If we chose an adaptive approach, is that still the best choice? Are there any early warning signs that solution design or architecture might be flawed and should be revisited? Is there any waste that’s been introduced in our product or project processes which could be eliminated?

Risks revisited? If its been a few weeks since the contents of the risk register have been reviewed chances are some new risks could be identified and the assessment of older ones might need to be refreshed. It’s also a good practice to periodically assess the effectiveness of risk responses and see if any key assumptions made to date can be confirmed.

Stakeholders surveyed? Similar to the risk register, if there are cobwebs on your stakeholder register you’d likely want to see if any new stakeholders have emerged and whether the attitude, interest and power of existing stakeholders remains the same. How effective have your stakeholder engagement strategies been to date and do they need to be adjusted?

Team thriving? When’s the last time you did a pulse check on the health of your team? Was your last team building activity months ago? Even if no one has joined or left the team, you need to regularly monitor team morale and provide opportunities for individual and team development.

Lessons learned? Has any new knowledge been identified, curated and most important, disseminated and learned? Even on projects following a traditional delivery approach, the team should regularly reflect back on what has been learned to help them and others improve.

Ignoring such good practices won’t usually cause immediate issues but paying down project management debt gets costlier the longer you wait!



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

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