Archives for the month of: January, 2008

How many times have you experienced 20/20 hindsight? “Man, when she said that I should have said this.” How many times have you placed judgement on others as to what they should have done? “Do you believe he forgot to include the VP in that email?”

As Project Managers we are trained, and make an effort to execute, on the thinking that the more proactive we are the more successful our projects will be.

We identify project team roles and responsibilities to eliminate confusion as to who is responsible for what during project execution. We identify who our project stakeholders are so that we can determine their needs and concerns ahead of time. We develop the ultimate proactive tool, risk management plans, which anticipates what might go wrong and how we should handle it. We create communication plans to systematically determine how we will communicate, with whom we will communicate and when that communication will happen. Our project schedule tells our teams what they should be working on out into the known future!

The above are all proactive activities. In the context of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits, we narrow proactivity down to a more personal level – which I’ll then broaden back out to project management.

Covey presents two main concepts in this habit. First, he reminds us that in stimulus-response behaviour we as humans have the ability to control our response when presented with a stimulus – that between the time that we are exposed to a stimulus and the time in which we provide a response, we can make a choice. We can be proactive in our response. We can choose if we will provide a positive or negative response to any particular stimulus. Covey, of course, encourages us to keep it positive and take responsibility. Remove language of blame and victimization.

As a project manager, we use a number of tools to aid in responding to stimulus. We can hold status meetings, we send out project status, we talk individually with team members and other stakeholders. Think about a time when a stakeholder or project sponsor came to you during a particularly difficult time in your project. For example, you were not meeting your milestones, or the delivered functionality was not meeting the project requirements. How did you respond? Did you start listing out all the things that others were not doing that caused these problems? Or, did you take responsibility? Did you say “There’s nothing I can do” (reactive.) Or did you say “I’m aware of the problems and this is what we are doing to address them” (proactive.) Your use of language and your ability to stop, take a breath and respond proactively can have a significant impact on the success of the project and your relationship with the entire proejct team.

The second idea presented by Covey in the Habit 1 is the idea of Circle of Concern\Circle of Influence. Reactive people spend more time and energy in their Circle of Concern. Things outside their realm of control. Business examples include the direction of the organization, decisions on promotions, worrying about why someone else got selected for a project and not them. Whereas, proactive people focus on their Circle of Influence. These are areas that you can directly control. For example, you control how you react to the announcement of a peer’s promotion. You have control of your attitude each morning when you walk into your office. You control whether or not you will join in the commisserating about how horrible the customer is. As you behave proactively within your Circle of Influence, your circle will expand and start to include areas that were previously within the Circle of Concern.

As project managers, we need to to focus on our Circle of Influence. We shouldn’t be spending too much time and energy worrying about external events in which we have no control. What we do have control of is how we will respond to external events and help influence the reaction of our team.

Being proactive is the first habit on the continuum and the first habit in establishing personal independence. It is the “I” versus the “You”.


In this article from, a Yahoo-employed researcher, Duncan Watts, challenges the “tipping point” effect most recently resurfaced by books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller “The Tipping Point”. The original premise is that there is a small population of Influencers that lead the viral spread of popular opinion, purchasing, fashion, etc. The message is that advertisers can target this group of Influencers and enhance their chances of increasing adoption of whatever is being advertised.

Watts challenges that the whole process is much more complex than this. His computer simulations show that the likelihood of one of us common folk as the catalyst to viral adoption is just as likely as it is for an Influencer. I defer to the article for additional discussion of these topics.

What interested me more than the greater social implications of the studies is how to apply these studies to our work environments. As a project manager, one of my challenges is motivating project teams and team members, individually. As an agent of change, my challenge is to create and invluence adoption of organizational shifts.

We often talk about top-down and bottom-up support or adoption when speaking about organizational change and inititatives. “We need top down support for this project!” “This should be a grass roots effort to make it work!” It appears that this may be oversimplifying the matter. If we examine Watts’ studies, the influential spread of an idea or product or opinion is much more random.

[Watts] programmed a group of 10,000 people, all governed by a few simple interpersonal rules. Each was able to communicate with anyone nearby. With every contact, each had a small probability of “infecting” another. And each person also paid attention to what was happening around him: If lots of other people were adopting a trend, he would be more likely to join, and vice versa. The “people” in the virtual society had varying amounts of sociability–some were more connected than others. Watts designated the top 10% most-connected as Influentials; they could affect four times as many people as the average Joe. In essence, it was a virtual society run–in a very crude fashion–according to the rules laid out by thinkers like Gladwell and Keller.

Watts set the test in motion by randomly picking one person as a trendsetter, then at back to see if the trend would spread. He did so thousands of times in a row.

The results were deeply counterintuitive. The experiment did produce several hundred societywide infections. But in the large majority of cases, the cascade began with an average Joe (although in cases where an Influential touched off the trend, it spread much further). To stack the deck in favor of Influentials, Watts changed the simulation, making them 10 times more connected. Now they could infect 40 times more people than the average citizen (and again, when they kicked off a cascade, it was substantially larger). But the rank-and-file citizen was still far more likely to start a contagion.

Here are some initial thoughts on applying this concept in your workplace for creating your own Tipping Point:

  • Spread the word as broadly as possible using different technologies
  • Ask permission to post a clickable banner on the corporate intranet (or locally on your departmental page)
  • Include links to a destination site (or the next step) in your email signature
  • Print out posters to place in the cafeteria
  • Place the posters over urinals in the men’s room or in stalls in the women’s room
  • Talk to your friends about it
  • Create a blog or podcast
  • Create a seed video to attract attention
  • Use humor or mystery to capture people’s attention

Do you have additional ideas? Leave them in the comments!

Stephen Covey has been the first to admit that he didn’t invent the 7 Habits. Most who have read his book and put into practice realize that the habits are logical, common sense, natural and realistic. Many will also admit that they are not easy to put into play. For me, the difficulty comes from breaking out of my day-to-day old habits and to stop racing to the finish line. The habits require us to rethink so much and to admit to ourselves (and to help others) to see that it really is about the journey.

The first chapter of the 7 Habits establishes guideposts so we can understand the fundamentals along our journey. First, Covey makes the argument that we should be focusing on Character Ethic and not Personality Ethic. I won’t repeat the arguments here, but the essentials are that real change comes when we focus on our character, the inside, the root of our self, as opposed to techniques and tricks that are presented externally and interpreted as our Personality. He doesn’t name names but the Personality Ethic is best exposed in books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Covey encourages us to look deeper than technique.

As project managers, this is an important topic to understand. I posted before about exhibiting the right behaviour as a PM (Oops I did it again). Many books and “experts” are willing to hand out tips and tricks to “motivate your team”, “get buy in from your sponsors”, “negotiate with vendors”, etc. Without a strong character, your tips and tricks are exposed for exactly what they are – manipulative behaviour. Like caring for a garden- nurture the soil and roots and beautiful blossoms will emerge.

Paradigms are how each of us see our world – the lens in which we view all. How many times have you been emersed in an argument with another person. You are completely convinced you are right and they are wrong. How many times in the heat of that argument have you stopped and said to yourself – “I believe I’m 100% right, I bet she thinks she is 100% right too and all our arguing isn’t going to change either of our views.” Not many times I’m sure. We spend our time and energy trying to convince the other person that our Paradigm is the right one. That is what is important to understand about paradigms – they are our perceptions and that means they can change.

How can we use the concept of paradigms as PMs? Understand they exist for us and for our teams and customers. Next time you sense that you and someone on your project are not on the same page, try not to dig your feet in deeper. Be willing to possibly shift your paradigm, or at a minimum, understand that there are different paradigms.

The last topic I want to cover is Principles. Principles are time tested. They are not new and they are definitely not quick fixes. We’ve all heard of them – Do unto others as you’d have done to you, seek first to understand, etc. The 7 Habits are heavily rooted in principles. That is why the 7 Habits are always timely and did not fade into history – victim to the next “management fad”. Living with these values is part of the journey. Keep that in mind. Do just list them and check them off.