Tips for Managing Your Assumption Risks

Risks and Issues

A major element of project management is the identification, analysis, and handling of risks. There are many types of risks that Project Managers must consider, but there is one type, that in my opinion, is not given the attention it deserves, and that is assumptions. This post explores that concern and offers some suggestions on how we might improve.

Risks result from a lack of, or uncertainty surrounding, an element of needed project knowledge. That knowledge deficit, or uncertainty, means that we can’t “know” all the things that we need to know to effectively plan and execute our projects. The more complex the project, the more “un-knowables” there are to challenge our future success. Our brains prefer the “simple things” to complex things. Our brains and our bodies become stressed when what we’re sensing doesn’t match the mental models we’ve formed. So, when we face project-planning uncertainties, we naturally want to simplify things, by making assumptions. Assumptions are decisions that we make, consciously or unconsciously, to artificially eliminate uncertainty for our convenience. Most of the time these assumptions work out pretty well, but when they turn out to be wrong, they can create difficult, even disastrous results. Assumptions are risks and must be managed as such.

So what can Project Managers do to improve the way we manage our assumption risks? Here are a few of my thoughts. I welcome your comments and ideas.

1. Think of yourself as a knowledge manager. Try to visualize your project as a knowledge transformation system that takes what you know and adds to it to create new knowledge solutions for your customer. When you see the project through the eyes of a knowledge manager you will make better decisions about your conscious assumptions and be more aware of the subconscious ones. Using the knowledge domain as a thinking framework can help:
• Make sure you really know what you think you know. Good assumptions… low risk assumptions, are they really “Known-Knowns”. On a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being best, how confident are you in your assumption? Is it really true or do you just want it to be true?
• Be diligent and honest in deciding what you know you don’t know or “Known-UnKnowns.” If you have some confidence, but not enough, your assumptions are in this part of the knowledge domain. Handle them as you would handle at least a low to moderate risk.

2. Challenge your assumptions. When you identify an assumption, challenge it with critical thinking.
• Is the assumption logical, credible and supported by objective evidence?
• Has the assumption been vetted by a knowledgeable, non-advocate process?
• Are there biases (yours or others) that might have influenced the assumption?
• Have you looked for the unintended consequences of a bad assumption?
• Even if the assumption is good now, what things could change to make it a bad one?
• What can you do now to protect against a failed assumption?

3. Manage your assumptions as a part of your normal risk management process.
• If assumptions are risks, then they ought to be listed in your risk register.
• As risks, the likelihood and consequences of bad assumptions must be assessed
• Prepare and deploy mitigation actions and contingency plans for your assumption risks.
• Regularly monitor your assumption risks along with all your other Project risks

4. Raise your level of assumption situational awareness. If you’re really going to protect yourself from bad assumptions, then you must be hyper-aware of things that could turn them from good to bad.
• What are the characteristics of your assumption that should be watched?
• Use trusted and non-advocate advisors to help you watch and assess assumption.

Posted in Best Practices, Better Thinking, Program & Knowledge Management, Risk Management | 3 Comments

Better Project Initiation with Mutual Learning

Mutual Learning

Project Initiation (PI) is a critical step in the project management process. An inadequate PI effort can put the project in a hole from which it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to escape. Poor PI leads to poor planning and poor planning leads to poor execution and failure. The Project Management standards, including the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) provide an excellent set of guidelines for managing the mechanics of the “things” of PI. By “things” I mean the project management process products like the building of the project team, the marshaling of the needed knowledge for the project, the definition of the preliminary scope, the identification of the necessary and available resources, the establishment of the timeline and the approval of the project charter. These “things” are of course necessary, but they are not, by themselves, sufficient to ensure success. What’s missing are the “people strategies” that the Project Manager must employ during PI to ensure that the “things” are completed effectively and that they set the stage for success in the subsequent phases of the project. The objective of the PM’s “people strategies” is to ensure that there is an informed, aligned, empowered, collaborative and effective team to execute the project. A PI approach that uses a PMBoK driven process, in combination with a set of good “people strategies” provides a powerful tool for getting the Project started on the right footing. Many PM’s, including me, have struggled to find an effective and consistent set of “people strategies”. This blog will explore an idea that I recently came across, which I think can help significantly.

In June of this year I attended the eleventh annual In2:InThinking Network Forum, organized by the network leader, Dr. William Bellows, and held at California State University, Northridge. While there, I connected with leadership and learning thought leaders Jon Bergstrom and Steve Byers in a Forum session called “Learning Together in Complex Environments.” During that session, they introduced me to the Mutual Learning Model (MLM), which grew out of the work of Chris Argyris, and Donald Schon on Organizational Learning in the 1970’s. Once we began discussing the key features of MLM, I immediately sensed that it could be a perfect way for PM’s to guide formulation and deployment “people strategies” needed during PI, and for that matter through all of the project phases.

The following summarizes my understanding of the principles and features of the MLM:
• Core Values in a Mutual Learning Environment

  • Valid Information. Sharing accurate and relevant information and feelings about that information. Sharing conclusions and the reasoning behind them. Ensuring that others understand shared information and conclusions and are encouraged to offer alternative conclusions and reasoning.
  • Free and Informed Decisions. Decisions made are those best for the group and the individuals in the group, free from manipulation.
  • Internal Commitment to the Decision. Personally owning the decisions coming out of the agreed upon process.
  • Compassion. Non-judgmental, understanding, empathy and help for others. Caring about each-others success.

• Core Assumptions in a Mutual Learning Environment

  • Everyone May Have Relevant Information. Assume that other have relevant information to understand and act on an issue. No one person knows all that must be known. Information includes your point of view and feelings and the reasoning behind them.
  • Each of Us Sees Different Things. In a mutual learning environment people understand and leverage the idea that others will see things that you miss. You are part of a system and your knowledge and perspective is limited, therefore collaboration with others in the system is the best way to solve problems and make decisions.
  • Differences are an Opportunity for Learning. People believe that considering multiple viewpoints enriches and informs problem solving and decision-making. Curiosity and eagerness to explore differences in viewpoint and opinion.
  • People Act with Integrity In the Situation as They Understand It. Assume others motives are pure even if you don’t understand them or agree with them. Really understand the reasons for others actions rather than assume you know them and make judgments accordingly.

• Core Strategies for a Mutual Learning Environment

  • Challenge Assumptions. Challenging and testing assumptions by engaging others, informs action and decisions and supports the common interests.
  • Share All Relevant Information. Finding and sharing relevant information by engaging with others with diverse experience and skills.
  • Use Specific Examples and Agree on the Meaning of Important Words. Examples provide detailed context to illustrate ideas, and issues. Having a common understanding of the meaning of words is critical for communication.
  • Explain Reasoning and Intent. Sharing your reasoning and feelings about a subject provides context for others to understand you and provide informed responses.
  • Focus on Common Interests Not Positions. There are many ways to pursue common interests, but focusing on your position ignores opportunities and alienates others.
  • Combine Advocacy with Inquiry. Invite others about their points of view on your point of view. This enables the exchange of ideas, the building of trust and the convergence on a common approach.
  • Work Together to Determine the Way Forward and Test Conflicts. Discussion and consensus on next steps produce better results. Discussions that test conflicting points of view provide a rational path to understanding and consensus.
  • Discuss the Un-discussable. All topics relevant to the common interests of the group must be discussable.
  • Make Decisions with Those That Must Be Committed to Their Implementation. Effective implementation of a decision is a direct function of the involvement of those who must implement it.

• Consequences of Using Mutual Learning

  • Better understanding and few conflicts
  • Better trust and communication
  • Better learning
  • Greater effectiveness

So, with this view on the MLM the table below shows how I believe it can help with some of the critical activities of Project Initiation.

Project Initiation Key Activities

How Mutual Learning Can Help

Building, Informing, Aligning, a Collaborative and Effective Project Team
  • Selection of people with relevant technical experience and skills, as well as: good interpersonal skills, a desire to share and collaborate, bias for learning, social intelligence.
  • Encouraging open and honest communication.
  • Sharing information, points of view and reasoning.
  • Encourage the surfacing and discussion of conflicts and a forum for expressing dissenting opinions without harm
  • Maximize engagement of team members in key decisions
Identifying the Project Stakeholders and Their Wants, Needs, and Concerns
  • Leverage the diversity of the knowledge, experience, connections and points of view of the project team members to thoroughly understand and engage with the Stakeholders
Marshaling the Needed Knowledge
  • Encourage the active engagement of the project team what knowledge is needed, what relevant knowledge is available, what knowledge gaps exist.
  • Encourage continuous learning to close knowledge gaps.
  • Identify and challenge assumptions that are being made on the project and evaluate them as risks
Establishing Team Expectations and Rules
  • Clear communication of what PM expects of the Team and what the Team should expect of the PM
  • Clear understanding that the Project is a system and a system is successful through the successful interactions of its parts.
  • Everyone must care about, and be committed to, the success of every other member helping the members of the Team.
  • Collaborative decision-making
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When Risks Must Be Treated As Issues

Risks and Issues

Conventional Project Management wisdom is that risks are unfavorable things that could happen, but have not yet happened, whereas issues are unfavorable things that have occurred. Yet, in the real world of managing complex projects, thinking that there is a binary distinction between risks and issues is shortsighted and potentially dangerous. By thinking of them separately we tend to focus on, and manage them separately. When we do that, we compartmentalize the information and constrain the thinking about potentially better, more holistic actions that should be taken. Thus limited in our thinking, we are positioned to be surprised and unprepared, and that is a dangerous place to be in a business critical, fast moving project.

It is my belief that project risks with sufficiently high likelihood and consequence are indistinguishable from issues, and must be treated as such. Here are a few ideas to help Project Managers handle the risk-to-issue transition process.

• Be a Project and Knowledge Manager. Projects are about the creation and transformation of knowledge in to products and services that satisfy customer wants and needs. The Project Manager provides the planning, sequencing, direction, monitoring and control of that knowledge transformation process. Risks represent a lack of, or uncertainty in, the knowledge required to execute a project. A significant part then, of the Project Managers job must be to close those knowledge gaps. Sometimes closing the knowledge gap means deciding that a risk is so high, and presents such a threat to the Project, that it’s more effective to assume it is an issue.
• Develop an early and complete understanding of your Customers and Sponsors risk tolerance threshold. Even if a risk hasn’t officially been realized, there is probably a likelihood/consequence level at which Customer and Sponsor “worries” turn in to pain, demanding the transition from aggressive mitigation action to aggressive corrective action.
• Use a common management system to assess and track risks, and issues. Managing them in the same tool will provide better visibility and integrated decision-making. I might add here that opportunities should also be included in this common tool. Just as with risks, as opportunity levels grow in probability and value, there is an optimal point at which an exploitation decision should be made.
• High risks must have both mitigation and contingency plans. Plan and work effectively to mitigate risks that threaten the project, but also build and maintain a Contingency plans that can be put into effect when that threat exceeds the tolerance threshold.

These ideas may seem obvious to many of you, but it’s been my experience that there are at least some Project Managers out there who are still caught in the trap of binary state risk and issue thinking. I hope this blog provides some additional insight for them.

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Leadership Lessons from My Father

Lessons from My Father



Since today, Sunday, 16 June 2013 is Fathers Day in North America; I decided to share a few things I learned about leadership from my father.

I’m pretty sure that my leadership style and whatever I’ve accomplished as a leader throughout my career, can be directly attributed to the lessons I learned from my father. Although he never spoke directly about leadership, I’ve come to understand that he was his character, the way he interacted with people, his gentle guidance and even his reprimands all played a part in shaping my leadership values and skills.

Here are a couple of things I learned about being a leader from my Father:
Treat everyone with basic human respect, civility and kindness. Leaders must make this a default position in any relationship, whether personal, casual, or business.
Trust is built on a foundation of honesty, compassion and competence. Leaders must show that truly care about the people that they lead, always tell them the truth, no matter what; and demonstrate that they have the skills to get the job done.
Building trust often requires leaders to make themselves emotionally vulnerable. Don’t be afraid! Revealing something emotionally significant about to others is scary, but it encourages others to reciprocate. The exchange of vulnerabilities builds important bonds between people that enables better communication of knowledge, ideas, and inspiration.
Inspire, prepare and support your people, but free them to accomplish things on their own. Leaders must explain the context for action, set the vision and goals, provide guidance when asked, trust people to do the right thing, and help them learn from mistakes. Letting go can be difficult, even painful, but it is the beginning of the path towards wisdom.

Thanks Dad.

Posted in Best Practices, Better Thinking, Heroes, Leadership, Life, Love & Courage, Personal Development, Program & Knowledge Management | 1 Comment

Project Managers Must Know When to Break the Rules

Bird Breaking Rules

One of the major challenges, faced by Project Managers is achieving a workable balance between compliance with company policies, procedures and standard practices, and being responsive to external customer requests that require “bending” those rules. In theory, standard policies, procedures and practices define the explicit knowledge or requirements or “rules” that all employees, including Project Managers, must use to control the execution of the business. Employees who don’t comply may be disciplined or even terminated. The problem is that policies and procedures are established based on the context of the situation and organizational needs at the time of their writing. In fact, often they are established as part of a “fix” for problem that has occurred in the past. I’m not saying that companies shouldn’t have standard policies and procedures; indeed they provide an important knowledge transfer and execution consistency function. However, the complexity and dynamics of today’s business environment can create situations where Project Managers are sometimes placed in the difficult position of having to trade the risk of going against company rules, for the good of the Project.

Here are a few ideas for Project Managers to be better prepared when they are caught in that position.

Taking actions that are contrary to company rules is not something to be taken lightly. It is usually the domain of more experienced Project Managers, those who have established a reputation for thoughtful, out-of-the-box thinking with both their company management and with their customers. If you are a Project Manager who hasn’t achieved this status yet, you will still have to deal with these situations, but pick the scale of your battles carefully, so that if you make a bad decision, it’s character and experience building, rather career-ending. Talk with your more experienced colleagues and learn from their successes and mistakes. By the way, don’t wait until you’re in a rules conflict situation, to talk with other Project Managers…do it now. There are two reasons for this: 1) You won’t have the time or objectivity when you’re in crisis, and 2) You won’t be placing your colleagues in the uncomfortable position of being perceived as a co-conspirator in your actions if they go bad.
Know the rules that apply to your Project and to the greatest extent possible, understand the context at the time the rules were established. This may seem tedious and a waste of time when you are able to operate without rule conflicts, but this knowledge will be critical in making a good decision when there is conflict. If your decision will break or stretch a company rule, understanding the circumstances in which the rule was created will help you identify and mitigate the risks. If on the other hand your decision will turn down a customer special request, your knowledge of the rule background will enhance your ability to provide a compelling rationale to your customer.
Know who owns the rules in your organization. Usually Functional Management owns the rules in an organization. Seek out and speak with the rule owners in your company. Learn not only the “what’s” of the rules but also the “whys” from the owner’s perspective. The trust relationships that you build doing this networking will become a great resource for you.
Be actively engaged in your company’s efforts to review, and update its rules. Don’t just whine about being constrained by bad policies and procedures. Offer objective assessments of their effectiveness and limitations and viable alternative approaches for change.
Manage the expectations of both your company management and your customers. Both your management and your customers must be assured that their best interests are a top priority, but they must also realize that there will likely be situations that bring those interests into conflict. You’ll want them to understand that when that happens, you will make an informed, fair decision and that even if they are less than happy in the short term, in the long term the best interests of all parties will be balanced.
Communicate frequently and openly with your management and customer stakeholders. Your ability to keep your management and customer stakeholders informed and “unsurprised” will allow you to navigate through these difficult rule conflict situations with small course corrections rather than large ones.
Take full accountability for the consequences of your rule bending decisions. You must engage your team as you gather the facts and explore the alternatives related to any rule bending decision, but in the end you must own the result and be accountable to the consequences. Shift the blame even once, and it will be the last time your team will trust you.
Treat rule conflicts as a risk management activity. As a Project Manager, risk management is something that you should be pretty good at. Identify potential rule conflict risks early in the project; analyze the likelihood and consequence of realizing those risks; plan in the mitigating actions like the ones suggested above, and prepare contingency plans for the ones you can’t avoid.

In the end, to be successful in a Project Management career you must consistently demonstrate, through your words and actions, that you are a person of integrity, intelligence, vision, action and wisdom. To the extent that you can become that person, and build that reputation, your management, your customers and your team will trust you to know why, when and how to bend or break the rules.

Posted in Best Practices, Better Thinking, Leadership, Personal Development, Program & Knowledge Management, Project Baseline Management | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Building Leadership Skills – A “Novel” Approach

Reading 2

I’ve always been, even as a young child, an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction. I admit to enjoying fiction novels more than non-fiction books and articles, although I do read a lot of the latter. In the past, while immersed in the pleasure of reading a good fiction novel, I sometimes felt a bit guilty that I might be wasting time that could be better spent on reading some non-fiction work that would enhance my knowledge and professional expertise. However, a recent non-fiction magazine article has changed my perspective and eliminated the “guilty” part of my “guilty pleasure” in reading fiction. Apparently, a childhood hobby of reading fiction books, may also have been an unintended investment in developing leadership skills that helped be successful as an adult.

The March 2013 issue of “The Rotarian” magazine includes a fascinating article titled, “The Truth About Fiction, by Frank Bures.” The article describes the findings of cognitive psychologists that by reading more fiction we enable ourselves to better understand and interact with other people. Numerous studies of children have shown that their exposure to the inner thoughts of, and the dynamics of relationships between characters in fiction books, improves their ability to interact with each other in real life. This ability to perceive, interpret and adjust our behaviors in consideration of the feelings and emotions of others is generally referred to as emotional or social intelligence, and it is a critical leadership skill. Researchers theorize that by reading works of fiction we immerse ourselves in a kind of a social interaction simulator. Exploring and processing these thinking and relationship management simulations builds connections in our brains that enhance our ability to interact appropriately with those around us.

A study is just study of course, and there is much more we need to learn about the linkage between brain development, social intelligence and leadership. However, this notion of using the reading of fiction as a kind social intelligence simulator, really resonates with me. In an organization or a society, we accomplish important things through a network of collaborative interactions between people. The degree to which we achieve our goals and objectives is dependent upon the effectiveness and efficiency of those interactions and that depends on the social skills of the people. The role of a leader, it seems to me, is to plan, guide and facilitate those interactions to achieve the goals of the network.

Of course, we can’t indulge in reading about the world around us to the extent that we isolate ourselves from reality. Nothing can ever replace the “life learning” that we get through real human interaction, but that involves the risk of trial and error. However, what safer, less painless way to build and supplement the development of our human interaction skills, than by learning how to interact with each other through the trials and errors of fictional characters in the books we read. It’s essentially a subtle form of risk management.

So this is yet another compelling reason to encourage everyone, and especially our children, to read. Reading fiction allows us to take an exciting, yet safe ride in a life simulator, learning to be more socially intelligent, more effective collaborators and leaders, and better people.

“Readers are Better Leaders.”

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The Art of Project Baseline Management

Baseline Art 1

Scope, schedule, organization, risk and cost baselines are the fundamental elements of a Project Plan, defining the What, When, Who, and How of everything necessary for successful project execution. The direction, tempo, resources and deliverables of our projects are driven by the plan baselines. We measure the degree to which we are successfully executing the project, by the variances from the baselines in our plan. Finally, we manage the risks to our baselines by using reserves, buffers and other methods, to protect the project from uncertainties and threats. On the surface, this all seems to be the domain of “left-brain” analytical thinking, or in other words, the Science of Project Management. I’m convinced however, that to be better Project Managers we must both acknowledge importance of, and increase our use of, a more “whole-brain”, thinking approach that incorporates the Art of Project Management. Our thinking must be artful and creative as well as analytical and logical. Most Project Managers probably don’t think of themselves as artists, but in this blog I’m going to explore the notion of the Project Baseline Management through the perspective of a “Project Manager Artist”. So, with that as a theme, here we go!

When project baselines are done well, they not only inform and direct, but as with works of art, they also motivate and inspire. Here are a few “artistic attributes” of good project baselines:
• They are crafted with skill, care and pride
• They are set on a strong, stable pedestal of knowledge
• They are designed for clear expression and appeal to an audience
• They are constructed of good quality, durable materials
• The elements are integrated to form a holistic final product
• They inspire performance and creativity
• They focus and connect the project team members on a common theme
• They are protected and maintained as a valuable asset

It seems to me that at the end of the day, this list of artistic project baseline attributes is not all that different than a traditional project baseline attributes list that we would make, using analytics and logic. The reason for that is perhaps, that subconsciously, even the most practical of us, want our otherwise utilitarian work products to also be works of art that are beautiful in their own way.

So, as Project Managers, how can we incorporate a more artistic sensibility into the design and use of our project baselines? Here are a few ideas:
• Create a project baseline vision for your project team before creating the work itself.
• Select a blank canvas for your project baseline artwork that is free from the clutter of other agendas
• Think of your Customer and Project Sponsor as patrons who’ve commissioned your baseline art work and ensure it reflect their wants and needs
• Leverage the power of the capability and creativity of the other “artists” on your project team to collaborate in the creative process for the baselines
• Make the features of your baselines, simple, clean and clear
• Present and communicate your baseline artwork in a way that is accessible and understandable to all audiences
• Monitor the condition of your baseline artwork and protect it from mischief and abuse
• Ensure that the project team is inspired to follow the spirit and the detail of the baseline artwork and that they use it to direct, guide and correct their work
• The baseline artwork should be designed to support the timeline of the project and major changes should be few. However, when significant changes are necessary they should be evaluated with a critical eye that ensures preservation of the basic ideas and principles, and implemented with the same care and collaboration as the original artwork.

I know that analogies like the one I’ve presented here can be powerful and useful, yet trivial, and even and dangerous. My intent in this, and my other blog posts, is to provoke the consideration and inclusion of non-traditional project management thinking processes that I believe will improve the products and enrich the experience of our profession. To the extent that I may have stretched the artistic baseline management analogy too far for some or you I apologize, but for the rest, I hope you find it of value.

What are your thoughts about the concept of the Project Manager as an Artist? I’d very much appreciate your comments, as well as those of any colleagues with whom you would care to share this blog.

Posted in Best Practices, Better Thinking, Leadership, Personal Development, Program & Knowledge Management, Project Baseline Management | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Project Manager Politician

Org Politics 1



The dictionary definition of politics is, “the art or science of influencing people.” One might argue that Project Management is also the art or science of influencing people, albeit for different purposes. So, does this mean that Project Managers are politicians? Perhaps not, but I’m convinced that to be successful, especially in complex project environments, Project Managers must have, and effectively use, political skills. This blog post explores the idea that Project Managers need to be politically aware and competent.

A Project is executed by using a network of connections between people in an organization. Those connections enable the flow of needs, ideas, knowledge, and physical resources from where they exist to deploy them where and when they are needed to deliver products and services to a customer. Most of the network connections are defined by the business organizational policies, procedures and rules. However, all organizations, over time, develop hidden workflow connections that aren’t documented or obvious to an outsider. Members of the organization, not necessarily those with the official roles and responsibilities, have learned over time to collaborate in an unofficial ways that get things done while protecting local organizational interests. This is what forms the political environment of an organization. It’s a bit unsettling to think that businesses run this way, but to one extent or another that is the reality of any social structure, including a business.

I think it’s fair to say that if you asked Project Managers how they feel about organizational politics, many, maybe even most, would say that they are all too common, and that they are unfortunate, and wasteful. I’ve heard this view and even more negative characterizations expressed by many Project Managers. Yet, it’s been my experience that whether we like it or not, organizational politics is permanent and unavoidable part of any project management operating environment. I’d even go so far as to say that poor political awareness and competency on the part of the Project Manager could be one of the more common contributing factors for poor project execution and failure. In addition, as the complexity of the project increases, the more pervasive and significant are the project politics and the greater the need for the Project Manager to be engaged in, and competent to deal with politics.

Early in my career I was worried by, wary of, and even repulsed by, the notion of being involved in project politics. I thought of it as an unseemly distraction from the real work of the business and that it stole significant time and energy that could be better applied to the real business of project management. I felt that those that took part in organizational politics were not really leading but trying to achieve their objectives through opportunistic deals and by telling people what they wanted to hear. Over the last few decades I’ve learned a lot about project politics, the reality of their presence, and the necessity of being politically aware and competent if you want to be successful as a Project Manager. Today, although I’d say I’m not totally comfortable with the subject, I have accepted the fact that politics is a natural part of the culture of any social network and that a leader must employ strategies that take them in to account and even leverage them to pursue the project objectives.

Here are a few strategies that I think will help you deal with your project politics:

• You don’t have to like being a politician but you must deal with. Get over your fear and loathing or project politics and deal with their reality. You don’t have to like them, but you should acknowledge their presence and power and be open to learning and using them to both protect and advance the interests of your project and your career as a Project Manager.
Study to become politically savvy. Political savvy is a leadership competency. There are many sources of knowledge that you can access to start building your skills. Like most skills, however, competency comes with accumulated experience.
• Understand the political landscape. During project initiation, even before you start the project if you can, learn who the project stakeholders (including Customers, Suppliers, Sponsors and Functional Managers) are, what they say they must have, what they would like to have, what gives them pain, what their assumptions, biases are, and what they think of as Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). This will take some time and require strong social and communication skills. You will discover conflicts, tensions, and hidden agendas, but also secret hopes, unexpressed passion and genuine character during this process that will define the political landscape, at least as it is for the current moment.
Recognize and adapt to political change. Political landscapes change as a function of time, and people and events. You must maintain awareness throughout the project and be prepared to adjust your behaviors and actions to adapt to those changes.
Keep your stakeholders informed and “unsurprised”. You must keep your stakeholders up to date on progress and setbacks using a personalized communications approach and KPI’s that each stakeholder values and trusts. Obviously you will want to standardize the KPI’s and project status reporting methods to the greatest extent possible. However, it’s important for your stakeholders (especially the difficult ones) to feel like they are getting customized attention and information. Stakeholders are seriously unhappy when surprised with bad news. To the greatest extent possible, keep providing an on-going stream of meaningful communication, even if it includes unfavorable news about new problems and risks. They won’t like hearing bad news, but being in on the early stages of its discovery helps them to process it in a less emotional way. This allows the project politician to manage stakeholder expectations to protect the project from the distraction of providing crisis responses to surprised stakeholders.
Develop Your Ability to Take Other Perspectives When Making Decisions. One of the arts of politics is social intelligence. Social Intelligence is the ability to recognize that others have different perspectives on the world and that you can and must adjust your behaviors in such a way that build relationships with those having different perspectives, to make decisions and create approaches that pursue win-win outcomes for everyone.
Use the strength of your character and unwavering business ethics to guide your use of political relationships. The leverage gained through the political relationships that you build within an organization can be very powerful, and like all powers, it can be abused. Make sure that your character and ethics guide your use of this power to benefit the project, the project team and the customer, without doing harm to others.

Posted in Best Practices, Better Thinking, Leadership, Personal Development, Program & Knowledge Management | 3 Comments

Humor is the Best Medicine – You Know Your Project is in Trouble When…

Project Trouble 2Project Management is serious business, hard work, and it can be very stressful. A little bit of humor goes a long way to relieving that stress. I thought I’d offer a little of my own humor to try to make you smile and perhaps lighten your stress load a little. Coming up with your own humorous additions to this list probably offers even more stress relief than reading my ideas, so feel free to contribute.

You know your Project is in trouble when…
• Your Scheduler keeps muttering, “Let the healing begin.”
• Your Marketing Representative has red marks all over his body from 10-foot poles.
• Your boss summons you to a “No Subject” meeting at the lobby of your business.
• No matter how cynical you get, you can’t seem to keep up with reality.
• The Managing Director of your critical path Supplier is featured on the “Americas Most Wanted” television show.
• The words “inadvertently” and “inexplicably” have shown up in your last three product acceptance test reports.
• Your customer gave you a “wedgie” (look it up on Wikipedia) during your last Project Review.
• You feel compelled to use the word “Diddly-Squat” in your Monthly Progress Report.
• You receive an urgent request from Human Resources to complete a form showing how long you’ve worked at the company, not counting tomorrow.

Don McAlister
February 2013

Posted in Best Practices, Humor, Program & Knowledge Management | 1 Comment

The Never Year

Mikayla 2010(800x600)In most of my blogs I write about the things that I’ve learned from my experience in the business world. Some of my blogs however are more personal and talk about things that I’ve learned about myself, and those close to me. This is one of those very personal blogs.

There is nothing more devastating than the diagnosis of cancer, or some other life-threatening disease in a child. However, I’ve also learned from my daughter Lesley, that there is nothing more powerful than the love and determination of a Mother trying to save her child from such an illness. Lesley and our son-in-law Steve went through this experience with their 15-month-old daughter…our granddaughter, Mikayla in 2010. As they dealt with the challenges of that year from the many blood tests and scans, through the multiple rounds of chemotherapy, tumor removal surgery, and more blood tests and scans, the word “Never” kept coming in to my head. “Never” expecting the diagnosis… ”Never” being so afraid… ”Never” feeling so helpless and angry… “Never” working so hard… but also ”Never” feeling so much love, …and “Never”, “Never”, “Never” giving up.

Mikayla 2011 (800x600)

So, 2010 became our family’s “Never Year” and I was inspired to write this poem to capture my daughters experience and to honor her for the power of her love and fierceness of her spirit. And now, 3 years later, with Mikayla cancer-free, and enjoying life as a typical 4-year old, I thought perhaps it was time to share the story and the poem.

My hope is that it provides comfort and inspiration to the many other families experiencing their “Never Years.”

The Never Year

Never hurt so much or felt such fear.
Never slept so little or cried such tears.
Never been so angry or felt so wronged.
Never had to be the one that’s strong.
Never worked so hard, or been so tough.
Never felt such joy in the simple stuff.
Never learned so much I didn’t really want to know.
Never been so many places I didn’t really want to go.
Never knew such love of family and friends.
Never doubted the power of prayer in the end.
Never been so blessed, and as you might expect,
Never want to remember, but never will forget.

Dedicated to Mikayla, Lesley & Steve

By Don McAlister, proud and thankful Dad and Papa
28 November 2010

Posted in Heroes, Life, Love & Courage, poetry, That's Life | 6 Comments