Archives for the month of: September, 2007

Like many other project managers, and other professionals alike, I enjoy reading about project management. One recurring topic is that of “Project Teams.” Each of us comes with our own unique experiences and work in our own unique environments. Even with that being the case, there is a level of commonality with what we do and how we do it. I’m sure you would agree that it doesn’t mean 100% commonality. It can mean familiarity or, at a minimum, acknowledgement – as in “Yeah, I can see how that could work somewhere else, but not here.”

That was my response when I recently read an article on ProjectConnections.com by Kent McDonald titled “Picking the Right Project Team”. Kent visited a very familiar topic in the realm of project management prose. I read the article, nodding my head in agreement, and at the end thought to myself, “makes sense, but who has that much choice when it comes to project teams?”

As both a consultant and now in a corporate IT position, I have had relatively slim pickings when it comes to resourcing the projects assigned to me. This is not to imply anything as to the quality of the resources available for my project teams, just the quantity. When reading an article such as Mr. McDonald’s, I form a picture in my head of standing in front of the cereal shelves at the local grocery store. There in front of me is an abundance of selections with a variety of characteristics. I can pick one of each category type (healthy, sugary, hot, cold, etc.) – the specialist approach. Or I can pick a more well rounded selection that provides a bit of each (multi-grain with a sugar coating able to be served hot or cold) – the generalist approach. If I want to crash my breakfast, I can pick a couple boxes of the same type to apply to a particular dining experience to get the job done a bit faster.

In reality, I’m faced more with the bread and milk aisles just before a blizzard. Add to that, in a weak matrix I don’t even have the authority to pick my own bread and milk. The store manager comes along and picks that out for me and wishes me a good afternoon 🙂

The question arises, in what environments are other project managers working in which they have this level of selection when staffing their project teams? I know when I was consulting, I had maybe two selections (on a good day) for filling a project team role. Otherwise, I was limited to the person with the most appropriate skillset who was available. Are our “team selection” authors working in large corporations that have not yet “right-sized” their staff? Also, my resource constraints at my current role reach out into multiple projects. When working with core infrastructure services (i.e. directory services, specialized apps) we are single threaded when it comes to key technology roles. Meaning, when I engage a specialist on one project, that specialist is unavailable on another project which requires that skillset.

What have your experiences been when building your project teams?

Flowcharts are a wonderful way of visualizing a process or a train of thought. BoingBoing has a hilarious (and sometimes scary) collection of irrelevant examples. I came upon a wonderful article about corporate risk aversity on Henrik MÃ¥rtensson’s blog site which used a set of flowcharts to clarify a set of cultural attitudes that I have long pondered upon.

Let me take a step back. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to experience a number of different corporate cultures as an IT consultant. Although my exposure to them was relatively fleeting, I was able to quickly get a taste for what it might be like to work at these companies fulltime. To me, a team meeting with company employees is like a magnifying glass upon the corporation. Add to that the sidebar conversations employees love pulling you into to share their opinions of “what just happened” and you can quickly come to some preliminary conclusions. For example:

  • Observe how employees interact and respond at meetings with and without management at the table.
  • Take note of how employees take ownership and accountability. Is there a “you can count on me” attitude or is there a sense of “is anyone else going to do this, cause it won’t be me?”
  • How open and honest are employees about things that went wrong? Are problems put on the table in a frank and open manner? Or, are they danced around like a bonfire at a college prep rally?
  • Who does most of the talking and what are they talking about? Are people responding directly to what is being discussed? Using clear and succinct language? Or, are their responses like following the plot of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie? A chain of double-talk, excuses and blame.

Once out of the meeting, it is inevitable that someone feels obligated to pull me aside to give me the color commentary as to what just happened. Navigating me through the political obstacle course of which they have long ago mastered.

What’s the outcome? The result is that these encounters reveal either a culture of openness and honesty or one in which mistakes and ideas are punished or frowned upon (“this is the way we have always done it.”)

Henrik’s article provides additional insight into how companies develop their level of risk aversity. Critical to his point are two different flowcharts. The first is the Current Reality Tree (CRT). This shows us 1) Detected mistakes are punished, and 2) Decisions resulting in no action are not recorded. How would this manifest itself in the corporate culture? Most likely, it would be the empty gap of “no action”. Why risk making a mistake?

The second flowchart is the Future Reality Tree. In this state, mistakes are okay and dissected to understand root cause and lessons are learned to prevent future mistakes along the same lines. If we’ve learned from our mistakes we have added knowledge to the organization. This increases our corporate assets. This is positive. Also, when a decision is made not to take action it is noted and recorded. In some ways this will punish incompetent inaction.

So, what can we do about this? Or, for some, do we want to do anything at all? The second option may be a viable alternative for those who have made their livelihood on practicing risk aversion in a risk averse organization. Being promoted despite inaction and incompetence. Since the inaction is not recorded, the individual’s superiors never see what is not being done.

For those of us who believe in continuous process improvement and lifelong learning, ignorance and inaction is not an option. Here are some suggestions I will share:

  • Model the right behaviour.
  • Keep your attitude and stories positive.
  • Acknowledge when someone else has put their neck out to take a risk.
  • Rock the boat a bit. Trust me, most likely you are not the only one looking for positive change. (A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.)
  • Find like minded individuals and come up with creative ways to inject your culture with the attitude of a higer risk tolerance.
  • Admit your mistakes and share what you have learned from them.
  • Share the message. Use articles like this one or Henrik’s to pass along the ideas in concrete and understandable language.
  • Make it grassroots. Don’t depend on a management team that is being rewarded by a risk averse culture.

At the end of the day, feel content that you have done your best. As I’ve blogged before, politics are not always a negative and are necessary for companies to function. The key is to create the right balances, develop strong relationships and recognize that their is no end point – it is on the journey itself that we will find satisfaction.

Here’s a top 10 PM blog post from a new site I recently came across.