Spencer Holmes

About Spencer Holmes

Spencer Holmes is MD at Global Project Leaders Ltd. Their mission is to fill the void of leadership development for people in the project management profession.

http://www.projectleaders.com
http://www.thepsychometrictest.com

He also works for Project Four

The core service for Project Four is the provision of training and consultancy in three areas:

Project Management
Programme Management
Supplier Management

I also specialise in Change Management and Personal Development - Cognitive Behavioural Skills.

I have been running APM accredited training, and designing and running highly bespoke in-house project training for leading companies for 8 years. Whilst some clients are sensitive about being named in references, these have included:

Top ten Investment and Retail Banks
Top five Pharmaceuticals
Global leader in Major Civil Engineering
Top brand Retail Firms
Major Public Sector Organisations

I am in the process of putting together case studies that describe these assignments but there are common threads throughout,

Gaining a deep understanding of the company’s business needs (not just running “off the shelf courses”)
Promoting in-house methods and processes through the training
Committing to measuring outputs of the training
An agile development approach to keeping training fresh and relevant
A practical approach that requires learners to get “stuck in” and commit to specific action back in the business

The strength of my position now with new clients is that I can continue to offer these services with much lower operational cost, so clients get the same quality for a lower price. In addition, all the training I cover in this part of the portfolio has a direct improvement on the bottom line. This combination of cost stringency and business impact is the basis for me dealing with the credit crisis.

The Future of Project Management Development

A quick sample of what people in project land are talking about TODAY:

A glance at a Linkedin project management discussion group. What are the discussions about?

What are the differences between managements and leadership?

Leverage Human Behavior to Lead without Authority

Tomorrow’s Project Managerecaminc.com

Moving project management to its next level requires the discipline evolve into three classes, that is coordinators, negotiators, and leaders.

What is a valuable tool to help determine if the Leadership in a company is failing?

What tips do you have to raise the morale and motivation of a capable but under performing Programme team?

What do you do for improving project communication in your teams?

8 Traits to Develop Project Management Political Savvy

A skim over my google alerts:

CMS Investment Study Group Unveils $55 Million Plan to Boost Graduation Rates … – PR Newswire (press release)

The project will focus on enhanced teacher and school leadership quality

Center on Management of New Projects established in Azerbaijan – News.Az

The program will be consisted of 8 modules – Project management, leadership to project, Management and Communication, Risks management, Planning and control

Daily Record investigation: A dream derailed – Daily Record (subscription)

The five-day series is the first comprehensive public examination of the project’s finances, leadership, accountability and its record in achieving its

The seven facets of leadership pt 7a: Group orientation – TrainingZone.co.uk

In the final part of the series, Spencer Holmes describes a new approach to the development of project managers to meet the current challenges of …

Now, until I did this exercise the only time I’d herd Azerbaijan mentioned was by Eddie Izzard in one of his surreal skits, using the country, some may say unfairly, to depict “the back of beyond”, the end point of the communication food chain. And yet Azerbaijan gets it!

The future of project management development HAS to be LEADERSHIP

I literally can not keep up with the correspondence I am having on this subject. I have decided to run the London Marathon this year just to get away from the tweets for a few hours!

It is not clear at this point where project professionals can go to assess and develop their leadership talents within a project-specific environment. I agree that many of the lateral problem solving team-build sorts of exercises can have merit but can also over simplify what it takes to flourish in modern day projects.

I am sympathetic to the benefits of taking time off the treadmill and immersing oneself in a community project. This enables us to see how simplifying the infrastructure and tools of project management whilst upping the “meaningfulness factor” can create greater levels of engagement and productivity. However that’s not always practical. My wife and kids would certainly have a view if I were to announce I was nipping off to Borneo for a few months!

All I have endeavoured to do in this series is to highlight our ongoing mission to provide a coherent lexicon for project leadership. This is based on sound and iterative research, subject to continuous re-iteration. Probably always will be as projects change in their nature so radically so quickly.

I think of some Information Systems project managers we currently work with. In two short years they have gone from managing small, informal teams all under one roof to managing intense interfaces between some of the world’s largest and most commercially savvy systems providers. Yikes! This is the project equivalent of going straight to summit from base camp with no acclimatisation, oxygen, Sherpa, map. This trend does not look destined to stop any time soon.

After all, maps, Sherpas, oxygen all cost money! How many project managers will we find scattered under the peak of poor planning before we get it? I wonder.

Are the 7 facets the only conceivable way to describe project leadership? No, of course not, and I could argue semantics with the next man long into the night. What they do represent is leading brains in the profession coming together and distilling 94 original suggestions to 7 highly packed and condensed subjects. Take “communication” for example – one could write several volumes on that subject alone.

What we hope it does represent is a starting point and a focal point for the development of project-appropriate leadership skills. And, as with any skills development, as the language gets more familiar, we can get more fancy with it. So instead of just taking one facet at a time we can interweave them. So, instead of simply saying “we need to develop your communication skills” we could run a specific programme or coaching journey in “creative communication” maybe to overcome cultural issues between project client and offshore supplier or “pragmatic communication” to help get to the point!

And so, as we layer up the facets in different orders and settings, the tool goes from one that’s very easy to access and get started with, to one that opens up very, very specific skill sets. I can’t wait to take someone through the “motivated, group orientated, communicator (for introverts)” or “stable, creative, pragmatist (for those who need to play the politics game or negotiate with Mr nasty)”

And so, as this series draws to a close I’d love to hear from readers about their thoughts and views. We will be running an open seminar at Coventry Technology Park in June and it would be great to get an early insight into who will be coming. Our organisation values creative research and pragmatic deployment in equal measure and so will always be looking for the next stage of development for this portfolio.

We will also be offering the psychometric at a special promotional price to all trainingzone readers in the all new trainingzone shop at the end of this week.

Facet 7 – Group Orientation

The final Facet stands alone as a factor. In the first three we looked at “approach” facets, namely:

 

Pragmatism

Creativity

Positive intolerance

 

In the second batch we looked at “awareness” facets;

 

Stability

Motivation

Communication

 

This final facet stands alone, investigating degrees of preferred interaction. It is called “Group Orientation”. The Project Leaders definition reads, group orientation;

 

refers to the extent to which the individual enjoys and seeks working with others, involving team members in decisions and looking for others’ feedback

 

In relation to more established personality tests, for instance Myers-Briggs (MBTI) , the comparison would be with degrees of introversion and extraversion. A lot is said about these traits, or preferences, and there also appears at times to be a degree of confusion.

 

For example many people find it most odd that I am, according to MBTI, quite categorically introverted. Particularly weird, they think, based on the fact I have been stood up in front of a large group performing for the day / 2-days / week, whatever. Surely I should be sat in a dark cave somewhere doing something nerdy? Well, truth is, that’s exactly what I do as soon as the course is over for the day. Or better still, go for a run where NO ONE can interrupt me for quite some period of time – perfect!

 

Introverts can get out there and mix it with other people, only afterwards we need to recharge, preferably alone or in the company of a very small group of trusted others. By the same token, I’m reliably informed that extroverts can sit quietly and contemplate stuff – although I’ve never seen it!

 

Wikipedia offers these definitions:

 

Extroversion

 

the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self – and so, crudely speaking, we would expect them to have higher levels of group orientation. They would be more energised by the presence of others and take pleasure in being a part of it all, often a notable part

 

Introversion

 

the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life – as mentioned, we can do the group thing but it costs us in energy points!

 

Interestingly, the upsurge of virtual social networking sites and blogging has enabled introverts to finally, safely, “mix” without having to mix and express our feelings without looking anyone in the eye!  Seriously, it is a point to reflect that if you are introverted, are you relying too much on “detached” communication to run your project? With increasingly global teams and long-lasting travel bans, you’d have every excuse. We al know, however, that on many levels, email particularly is a low quality communication medium and contributes little or nothing to group cohesion.

 

So, what does all this have to do with project leadership as apposed to management? Well, a lot. Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic’s extensive review on leadership that was the first part of developing our psychometric, led to the clear conclusion that a majority of “leaders” out there are or were extroverts. No doubt ably assisted in the just out of sight background by many less predominant managers.

 

I know from experience and reading that this is not always the case, the “Level 5 Leaders” in Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” for example, not typical leadership figures by any means. But, statistically this is the case, Theories abound as to why, are extroverts just more likely to push for position? Do we elect those we like instead of those who are best equipped for the job? etc

 

What are we observing in project land? As mentioned in earlier articles, many of us fell into project management because we were good at something else. In some cases VERY good at something else, or even “specialist”. It may not be a surprise then that many of these specialists, whether they be in Lepidoptera, logistics, linguists or landscaping are introverts. Before they were asked to manage related projects, their tendency for inward attention and quiet reflection helped them reach the outlier position they have ended up in.

 

There is no science to substantiate this, other than hundreds of project managers we have met and socially networked with over the years, but I reckon most PMs are introvert. I’m happy to find out I’m wrong and, of course, it’ll be the extroverts that tell me what they think about my theory!

 

Despite this, group orientation scores high in our testing so far. PMs would appear to like and value the benefit of working in teams, but not necessarily upsetting them if a hard decision needs making, positive intolerance being the lowest scoring gene in our pool.

 

At this point I think if the concept of “star” and “spaghetti” meetings as presented by Kevan Hall in his book “Speed Lead”. Star meetings being 1:1s with the leaders in the middle, having concise and specific meetings with one or very few people at a time to tackle a specific issue. Introverts can do these. Spaghetti meetings are those all-in affairs where lots of people attend, lots is said and complexity levels can appear high.

 

The following formula is useful here: n(n-1)/2  which refers to the total number of communication channels available related to number of people in the meeting. So, if there 5 in the meeting it works thus:

 

5×4/2 = 10

 

Or 6:

 

6×5/2 = 15

 

Or 7:

 

7×6/2 = 21

 

The mensa test fans will spot an increasing variance trend and predict the next number of channels to be 28. Fun as this puzzle may be, it illustrates the cumulative chaos of having more and more people in the mix if there is supposed to be any aspect of two-way or looped learning to the communication.

 

Of course, projects have instances where all types of gathering are appropriate. Bad projects get this badly wrong. Too many people in the room when a decision’s needed, not enough when a complex problem needs multiple perspectives, too many when only one aspect of the project is being discussed, not enough when an important announcement is being delivered.

 

 

So, all is not lost if the project manager prefers small intimate gatherings. In most cases on a project these are what is needed to move specific elements of the the ecosystem along. It is relatively rare that a rousing speech is needed to a heaving mass of volatile stakeholders or a seething mass of disgruntled teamies.

 

Group orientation is clearly a useful facet in managing projects. Having an affinity for a group of people working effectively and with relative harmony must be a good intrinsic drive. This is the foundation for making sure that people are communicated with properly during the project and it should also be inspected in conjunction with one’s communication facet.

 

In many large projects however, we are also seeing the degree of dispersion to be a major challenge for a group oriented project manager. Oftentimes project managers are separated by function, organization and location from large parts of their project team. This is calling into play increasingly creative (check your creative facet!) use of technology through instant messaging to teleconferencing, in order to sustain some degree of group cohesion.

 

As stated, overall, group orientation is one of the highest scoring facets from the 800+ project managers who have so far completed the psychometric. According to the our company’s analogy of project leader as orchestra conductor, this is a good thing. One of the key attributes of a great project leader is the ability to delegate work to the right people and build the trust required to know that work will be done well.

 

On the flip side, as we come to the end of our 7-facet review, there are possible dangers with a highly group oriented bunch of project managers, and we see this in every industry, all sectors. Projects, sooner or later, require the project manager to  make a tough call. Maybe this is a key differentiator between project manager and leader. It requires the project manager to score high on pragmatism, positive intolerance and stability. In some cases, high group orientation (which values the fun, safety, security and conformity of teams) runs at odds to this requirement.

 

In conclusion, this is typically our experience. Project Managers, especially in the UK, are just too nice and on the whole, a bit too introverted. Without creating a profession of David Brents we do have to deal with this.

 

Our work with the facets has enabled focus and specificity in dealing with the leadership deficit in project management. Our existing work is refining our tools and partnering with global and national firms to increase everyone’s understanding of how to deal with the project challenges that await.

 

 

Facet 6 – Motivation

This week we look at the topic of motivation as relates to project leadership. Maybe it’s the difference, ultimately, between project management and project leadership. There’s hundreds, neigh thousands of us out here managing projects but those who we’d describe as leading projects seem to have some personal edge. A driving force that makes it easier for them to get things done.

 

Since my original work in spinal injury rehabilitation I have been fascinated in why two people with pretty much exactly the same level of injury would rehab at vastly different speeds and end up with radically different lives as a result. I was exposed to cognitive and social cognitive theories of motivation at that time and have ever since believed this holds many of the answers.

 

Project Leaders defines the “motivation” facet in that it:

 

refers to the extent to which the individual is able to motivate himself/herself as well as others.  High scores on the motivated dimension refer to individuals who are intrinsically motivated and passionate about their work; such individuals are usually able to inspire others, too

 

It is firstly important to consider and possibly develop one’s intrinsic motivation in order to motivate others, an ability that differentiates leaders from managers.

 

We have heard levels of dissatisfaction based on “well, I didn’t chose to manage this project so I can’t be expected to love it…..everyone thinks it’s a bad idea” and similar. Whilst you could say this PM has been badly selected, we also, usually under our breath, want to say “start loving it, make a good case for killing it or do everyone a favour and do something else”

 

Now that we are on facet 6 of 7 we can start to look at combining our understanding of each to make more potent formulae for leadership to suit different situations. To give four examples:

 

Motivation + Positive Intolerance: the Nelson Mandela example given in article 4. The power of Mandela’s vision for a fairer state enabled him to take tough decisions, risk unpopularity and work round the clock to affect change

 

Motivation + Creativity: some of the best projects come from organisations / parts of the world where resources are most scarce and leaders and managers are forced to use their creativity to overcome barriers. In a stimulating talk on new thinking for motivation and creativity, Dan Pink explains how challenge and choice have replaced typical contingent rewards as motivators at work. This is good news for project people as projects are shopping lists of opportunity to try new things and challenge targets if seen from a motivated starting point.

 

Motivation + Pragmatism: a recent example shared with me from an experienced programme manager who has managed global systems integration for Accenture, Barclays and Astra Zeneca. He spoke of the need to come away from strict methodology when the project required expediency. The point being, the less motivated PM would be more likely to stick to the script, avoid risk, and, worse still, blame the process for project delays.

 

Motivation + Communication: well, just think of your own experience and compare an educator / trainer who was highly motivated by their subject, try Ben Zander on leadership for example, and the less inspiring figures who’d slump ahead a snoring summer classroom.

 

We could go on. Suffice to say the ability to motivate yourself is the essential basis for excelling in any other facet. Without it, forget it. So, how?

 

To simplify years of cognitive and Gestalt psychology research we often use a length of elastic to explain the process. Once you set a goal, you stretch the elastic. There is an obvious difference between where you currently are and where you intend to be. The degree of stretch depends on how challenging you perceive that goal to be. The tension in the elastic we can call motivation.

 

Of course, if others are setting your goals for you, and you don’t buy into them (poor leadership) motivation turns to tension, or stress. Too much and the elastic snaps of course, no energy, lethargy, avoidance, depression.

 

Humans like stasis, this stasis is ruggedly protected with a thick sheath of “comfort zone” and so, day to day, we change little, keep our reality “as it should be” and take few chances (most of us). The goal upsets stasis and we have two choices to reduce the tension.

 

Choice 1

 

Move towards the goal. This requires lots of change as you are moving away from “normal” e.g. learning a new language / to drive / to swim / to present etc. Our comfort zone sheath does what it can to stop all this unnecessary effort so the goal has to be mighty compelling. In Frankl’s words, must have true meaning. A recent TV dramatisation of Geldof’s obsessive driving of Live Aid from day dream to reality shows how this compelling meaning can overcome ridiculous odds.

 

Choice 2

 

Move the goal towards current reality, dilute it until it goes away all together. It is relevant writing this at the point in the year where a vast majority of New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned. That “new you” was just too tough to achieve.

 

Still visualising the elastic, when “reality” and “goal” are in the same place (whichever of the 2 choices above you plumped for), the energy / tension / motivation disappears. This, theories believe, is why inexperienced mountaineers have accidents on the way down the hill, and why most motor accidents happen close to home. If the goal was “get to the top” the energy stops before the more hazardous downward stretch. If the goal was “get home” the brain goes into neutral when surroundings are ultra-familiar.

 

Project managers need to know this. So many projects, nearing their goal, are characterised by waning enthusiasm and general levels of apathy. This is why, the elastic’s gone – we haven’t made “what’s next” compelling.

 

So, from a trainer’s point of view, project management is very easy to turn into a course on intrinsic motivation. Let’s face it, on the average PM salary, we’re wasting our time talking about the financial trappings!

 

To clarify the point a menu for “Project Management as Intrinsic Motivation”

 

  • Projects, distinct from “business as usual” should have a clearly stated end goal that produces meaningful benefits, this should make it easier to visualise, get excited about and move towards.
  • Projects have defined targets that should act as regular opportunities to attain one goal and move forward to the next. We say “goal set “through” not “up to”
  • Project plans are basically sequentially ordered menus of opportunity to learn new skills and challenge oneself if you choose. Elements are relatively well planned and so opportunities to do something different, e.g. travel to do a supplier audit, run a stakeholder meeting, learn new software, dig a drainage trench out of a jungle, should be easier to stick in people’s diaries
  • Projects usually run in teams with a wider pool of humans (stakeholders) variously involved. This offers limitless opportunity to practice social intelligence, negotiations, influencing and the like. Of course, many are motivated by the sheer camaraderie that comes from a team working to a shared goal.
  • Projects usually involve subject experts who’s experience and knowledge can be a great source of motivation for those of us still keen to learn
  • Every project is different, variety is the spice of life after all
  • Despite the best attempts and worse propaganda of project management trainers, crises do occur on projects and the resultant pressure can forge life-long relationships and stimulate super-human problem-solving efforts.

 

 

When we describe projects to a new class, we speak of 2 key factors. Levels of “complexity” and “novelty”. Projects become more or less challenging according to their location on these axes.

 

Whatever the specific DNA of the project, it will always be in some way new and at some level complex. If Pink and Frankl are to be believed, this is the raw material of modern human motivation, as long as we can find within it, and within ourselves, meaning.

 

 

Facet 3 – Positive Intolerance

Article 4 of the series on project leadership facets explores “positive intolerance” and covers the standard 3 questions:

 

  • What do we at ProjectLeaders mean by “Positive Intolerance”?
  • What are the consequences of an absence of positive intolerance on projects?
  • How can project managers develop greater levels of positive intolerance?

 

Of all the 7 facets, positive intolerance is by far the one that raises most interest when we talk to business professionals about the development of their project managers. And from experience, any manager. So, what is it? Our psychometric describes it thus:

 

“Positive Intolerance” refers to the extent to which the individual is able to sacrifice popular decisions to accomplish goals.  Often, tough decisions ought to be made that may portray individuals as disagreeable in order to gain a positive benefit to the project

 

Maybe you too are now paying more attention? There is a damaging lack of positive intolerance out there in project land. My experience alone has shown me that too many projects are going too slowly and being executed by the wrong people in the wrong ways and weak positive intolerance is at the heart.

 

This may seem a bold statement but we are ready to back it up. In some cases issues repeat themselves in organisations (the classic being poor communication and conflicting priorities across functional silos) and project managers seem to simply put up with it and compensate for the resultant inefficiencies by working extra hours. Sometimes the wrong people are assigned to specific work areas and unsurprisingly fail to perform to the extent the project requires. All too often however the project manager just lets it go, fearing recrimination, conflict or a lack of popularity if they were to deal with poor performance. Sometimes project managers run projects they know are doomed to failure rather than speak up at the right time and to the right person.

 

Of course, there is more behind all of these (real) examples than just a lack of positive intolerance. Often top-down hierarchies actively and tacitly discourage speaking up or making hard choices, sometimes repeated attempts to change things met with no support create a sense of futility in the project manager. Sometimes there are personal issues that would make “taking a hard line” inhumane. We understand this but more often than not a tougher stance would have been the best choice but was avoided.

 

In case this is starting to sound somewhat despotic I would like to share four examples from a recent film called Invictus in which Nelson Mandela perfectly displays the facet.

 

(being told that he is wrong to support the rugby team because the people do not like them) “Yes, I know, but in this instance the people are wrong. As their elected leader it is my job to show them that.” – Nelson Mandela, Invictus

 

(being told that he is risking his political capital and future as a leader if he supports the Springboks) “The day that I am afraid to do that is the day I am no longer fit to lead.” – Nelson Mandela, Invictus

 

(pleading with the black sports committee to keep the Springboks) “This is no time for petty revenge. This is the time to build our nation using every single brick available to us even if that brick comes wrapped in green and gold.” – Nelson Mandela, Invictus

 

(being counseled against placating the white minority) “That minority still controls the police, the army and the big economy. If we loose them, we cannot address the other issues. If we take away what they cherish, the Springboks, their national anthem — we just reinforce the cycle of fear between us. I will do what I must to break that cycle or it will destroy us.” – Nelson Mandela, Invictus

 

Mandela is not usually described as tyrannical or unfair but here he shows in various ways, his readiness to upset the majority and put his own popularity at risk in order to achieve the goal. Now most project managers are not dealing with overthrowing an entire political regime and rebuilding a broken nation, although at times it may feel that way! However there are useful comparison we can draw and lessons to learn from these examples.

 

As always we will end with some thoughts on how to develop the facet, but first we need to make the case to justify that effort. Developing positive intolerance may be the toughest of the 7 development areas, so what does it mean when there isn’t enough PI on a project? Do any of these sound familiar?

 

  • Risks turn to issues (bad possibilities become reality) because a clear decision is not taken early enough
  • Money and time are wasted because a powerful stakeholder is not tackled about an unrealistic request early enough
  • Teams fragment because poor performers are not dealt with and stronger players get disenfranchised
  • Suppliers are over paid and complacent because contracts are not actively managed
  • Creativity is stifled because the dominant culture dissuades the project manager from doing anything differently
  • Issues occur late in projects (when they are most expensive to deal with) because being “sparing with the truth” regarding progress reporting has been permitted earlier in the project
  • Project team effectiveness is harmed by cynics and negative critics that the project manager fails to deal with (sometimes because they are senior management!)

 

As always, the list could go on.

 

Often it is the dominant organisational culture that nurtures these issues. As these cultures tend to recruit in their own image, the problem is exacerbated. We work in many organizations where people would be described as “accommodating” and the preference is to avoid conflict, even when it’s blatantly obvious something different needs to be done. Often, sessions with these groups take on a confessional tone where they know what the issues are, they are often disarmingly open about their faults, they even have good ideas about what needs to be done to improve, but they fall short when it comes to “how” to go about making these changes.

 

These organisations are always the ones we look forward to visiting because they are always so friendly, but it might be, at times, this is getting in the way of effective project working. The cohesion and amiability that comes with the accommodating culture is great during good times, but when projects hit problems frustration is very quick to arise “how did we get here AGAIN!?” Project teams sometimes run at the whim of both clients and suppliers who negotiate harder – a tug of war that’s impossible to win!

 

OK, so, enough of the horror stories, how can project managers build leadership ability by strengthening their positive intolerance?

 

  • Positive intolerance links closely with the first facet, pragmatism, as you must have a very clear picture of what is right in order to make tough decisions about anything that challenges or threatens that image. In project terms this means clearly articulated, prioritized objectives and “end goal” that has been agreed by all key stakeholders. It is often difficult to sternly defend a project if the senior decision makers are split.
  • Honestly assess situations you may be avoiding for the wrong reasons. Why are you avoiding those situations? Are your concerns legitimate or constructed? Many cultures actively discourage assertiveness, labeling it “bullish”, “cocky”, “precocious” etc but if you are stepping forward for the right reasons, to improve a situation, this should not be the case. Always clarify first how the project will benefit from your intervention before you go ahead.
  • Focus on the “positive” of positive intolerance, this is not about being a dictator. If your usual approach is positive, collaborative and inclusive, people will understand and respect your motives when you have to draw a hard line
  • Practice general assertiveness building activities such as negotiating and debating. These will help you keep calm in tricky interpersonal settings which is the basis of keeping the “positive” in positive intolerance. Start small and work up (see if you can get some free nuts with your martini!)
  • Be clear with the team and stakeholder group of the vision for the project and the expectations you set for yourself and others. Some teams benefit from a charter, especially in joint ventures and multi-organisation / cultural projects. In this way, it will be clear if people are acting in conflict to the project ethos and hence why you are having to be tough
  • Get feedback. Make sure you don’t over compensate into good old fashioned “intolerance” in your efforts to strengthen your levels of assertiveness. Remember, keep it positive!
  • Brits, next time you are served a bad meal in a restaurant, be positively intolerant, don’t just say it was fine and try to avoid a fuss!!!

 

This is the last of the 3 facets that look at your “approach” to project leadership. Next week we look at the first of three “awareness” facets, your degree of “stability” which is the perfect follow up to considering positive intolerance. You have to be able to keep your head during the madness in order lead with a “firm hand in a soft glove”

 

Facet 2 – “Creativity”

In the same way as for all the facet-specific articles, this piece will cover the following three questions:

  • What do we at Project Leaders mean by “creativity” as related to project leadership?
  • What could be the consequences of an absence of creativity in projects?
  • How can a project manager develop greater levels of creativity?

This may be one of the more contentious facets of leadership, especially as far as project management and training are concerned. Some people believe that you “either got it or you aint”. Funnily, that seems to be “self defined” much more than scientifically validated. In other words, if I dare throw in elements of creative thinking into a course or project meeting I am so often met with a mumbled fog of protest along the lines of “we’re not really the creative type”. I disagree.

I taught creative thinking to the management team at the Audit Commission for goodness sakes. I know “I’m not creative” is a myth and one that’s relatively easy to bust.

The reservation around “developing creativity” as apposed to being born with it stems from a view that you have to live a life of abject misery or else have a twiddly moustache to be truly creative. It’s certainly not the first word that springs to mind when you’re talking about project managers – all too often quite the opposite sadly. Again, I’d say a lot of our formal project training does much to create this impression of a dry and somewhat systematic and staid subject.

So, before looking at how, if at all, a project manager can develop their creative muscle, let us clarify how the Project Leaders psychometric defines it:

 “Creativity” refers to the extent to which the individual seeks novel solutions to old problems and is able to identify new problems; creative individuals are insightful and intellectually curious, they are open to new experiences and seek novelty.

We’d say a good project leader should certainly value and work to develop their creative side. Indeed isn’t the whole point of projects about “finding new solutions to old problems” or new problems? It is the key differentiator between what we call a project and the rest of “business as usual”. Surely a project manager who doesn’t value or believe themselves to possess creativity is in the wrong job, they need to find something repetitive and predictable, and fast!

Projects are about novelty to one extent or another. Whilst methods for managing them should stay relatively constant (efficient), what goes on to make that project a reality (effective) often demands levels of creativity that would make Dali’s head spin. I was once involved in an engineering project that required a tiny but immensely powerful pump (I’ll spare you the details). The specification of which we were assured by world leading manufacturers defied physics and would be impossible to make. The project completed 4 months later (ahead of schedule of course) with a new and fully functioning and CHEAPER pump. We did not defy physics but we did apply every creative work-around imaginable which included changing the circuitry, plumbing and layout of the device in question. (what is it they say about 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration?)

Now, whilst there were moments of raw genius involved here, there was much more trial and error, and error, and error and a persistent determination to fix the problem by a dedicated collection of people, (some of whom were completely new to this sort of engineering and came with fresh heads). It has also of course redefined what’s possible in that specific area and encouraged others to think “what if?” (maybe the creative mind’s mantra?)

The truth is, creativity can be a very logical process (some techniques are listed below) and, especially for evolutionary change (as apposed to revolutionary), a logical approach is best. (more thought through, based in tested evidence, less risky etc). Call it “pragmatic” creativity if you will. (see last week’s article on pragmatism).

At this point I’d like to refer to the separate works of Daniel Pink and Sir Ken Robinson, regular contributors to TED.com. Pink makes a compelling case to prove that traditional, pay-based “contingent” rewards (e.g. “if you do X I will give you Y”) actually stifle creative thinking, reinforcing the norm. Projects however should be rich lists of opportunities for contributors to develop creativity and motivation by taking on or assisting with work that is not their daily bread (take involvement in voluntary projects as an excellent example).

Sir Ken’s point, hilariously and forcefully made, is that all children are creative and we “grow out of creativity” primarily through the education system (e.g how highly were art and dance valued at your school?). Again, I contend that if, as Robinson claims, we still have innate creativity, projects supply ample opportunity to explore that because they come with the essential ingredient – “novelty”.

A few words about projects managed without creativity then we will conclude with some starters for how creativity can be developed.

Expect to see all or any of the following in an un-creatively managed project

  • Poor communication – important meetings will be formulaic (and dull) and eminently “missable”
  • Low motivation – if projects are not seen as excellent opportunities to stretch and develop people
  • Waste – if we run this one in much the same way as we did the last. There is always room for improvement
  • Missed opportunities – if the culture does not encourage people to ask “what if” more often. (It hasn’t done Honda any harm)
  • Competitive disadvantage – if the others ARE asking “what if”
  • Low energy – if the team are only using a small part of their thinking apparatus
  • Satisfied clients at best but never “delighted”

Gloomy hey?

So, some thoughts on developing creativity (or simply just finding it after a few years’ suppression)

  • If you tend to be a logical / linear thinker, start a creative process with a logical and linear beginning (e.g. a list). There are many creative thinking tools that start in this way and then, through various means, end up in a “creative place” (look up the morphological matrix, outrageous opposites and metaphorical attribute listing for starters)
  • Try an “action inquiry” approach to projects. Employ people in non-typical roles to encourage questions, thinking and ideas that are not the norm
  • Use a balanced scorecard system to formally measure degrees and examples of creativity applied to each project and expound these at post project review / lessons learned sessions
  • Ensure proactivity in risk assessment, allowing more time for lateral thinking around mitigation and, sometimes, turning a risk into an opportunity (remember the pump)
  • Spend time with people and projects outside your domain, these will encourage different ways of thinking you can bring to your own projects
  • Spend more time with your clients and suppliers, they are all solving different problems and sharing can create high value-creating commercial relations (and new ideas of course)
  • As with all the 7 facets, there is a cognitive-behavioural element to personal development. Be aware of “self limiting beliefs”, they’re almost always bogus but have a profound effect on performance. Next time you feel the urge to tell yourself you’re not creative don’t listen! In fact, start persuading yourself you enjoy opportunities to express your creative potential!
  • Grow a twiddly moustache (joke)

In summary, projects are all about creativity, you need to be too.

Facet 1 – Pragmatism

The 7 Facets explained

Each of the next 7 articles will cover the 7 facets of project leadership as defined by Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and the research team drawn from industry leading project professionals and Goldsmith’s College, London.

The articles will adhere to the three key areas of:

 

A description of the facet

Implications for projects if the facet is low

Options to develop the facet

 

As listed in last week’s introductory article, the 7 facets are:

 

Approach:

  • Pragmatism
  • Creativity
  • Positive intolerance

Awareness

  • Stability
  • Communication
  • Motivation

Interaction

  • Group orientation

 

So, this week we’ll look at “pragmatism”

 

First, what do we mean by the pragmatic facet? Well, simply put, the pragmatist wants to see that an idea or proposition works satisfactorily http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatism. We have found that many project managers score highly in this facet and on face value this should not be a surprise. We should be focused on putting energy into activity that bears real results, the clock is always ticking on a project and people and money are rare as hen’s teeth.

 

So, what does this mean in practice? Well, as I mentioned in the previous piece, our attempts to improve projects through training have been heavily focused up to now on methodology and method.

 

It may appear on initial investigation that these are the ultimate in pragmatic expression of a project manager’s requisite skills. After all, what could be more pragmatic than plans, diagrams, charts, numbers, equations that predict the future, formulae to explain the past, processes to encourage conformity, frameworks to control the madness? However, we all know that there are plenty of project managers out there, having received this battery of tools, that still fail to achieve the tangible outputs that define a project’s efficacy.

 

Can we look at a definition then, of pragmatism, that goes beyond the apparent science of much of what we are taught in project classrooms? The true pragmatist wouldn’t only suggest we should, they would insist that it was done and done today. Why is this, well, simply put, the overall results we are seeing (project performance) do not seem to substantiate the proposition that this sort of training is the most useful.

 

At this point however, a word of warning. There is a real danger that supposedly pragmatic practitioners are those who “call a spade a spade” etc and, instead of spending hours in training, or indeed any “important but non-urgent” activity, we should simply be “getting on with it”.

 

We have worked with a number of large organisations where this is the prevalent cultural message. Time is money and we’re not paid to sit around thinking. Sometimes the objection is raised that “this way worked in the past so why change it?”. We know however, that the reality at project level is usually that fundamental parts of the “old way” simply didn’t work or at least could have been significantly improved with some good old fashioned thinking time. The old adage “measure twice cut once” springs to mind.

 

Just “getting on with it” is not pragmatism. We find this thinking leads to a lack of:

 

  • Proper planning, consultation and stakeholder communication
  • Learning from our mistakes
  • Sharing ideas across the team / department / business
  • Eliciting new ideas from non-typical sources
  • Scrutinising the old way and being honest about failings
  • Encouraging risk taking and innovation
  • Ensuring continuous improvements in quality

 

I suspect we would stray into stating the blatantly obvious if we tried to explain how improving all the above could radically transform project effectiveness

 

What can be done to build a pragmatic facet?

 

First, the individual has to consider their wider context. Organisations can often be their own worst enemy when it comes to true pragmatism. Sometimes, newly trained project managers return to the fray with renewed vigour to improve project performance. They find however that key allies are not thus inclined. Time is not given for thinking through problems, support not forthcoming for making real changes. It does not take long for the lone crusader to get back in their box.

 

As with all the facets described, making lasting change will require a potent combination of individual resilience and organisational back up. The first step for an individual in developing a more pragmatic approach may well be thinking through how they will influence those above them to assist in the changes that need to be made. Remember, all you are trying to do is strengthen the business case of all projects, cases that are, ultimately, owned by your senior team.

 

Avoid being constrained by the methodology you have been taught to defend with your life! Increasing your ability to step back and consider the bigger picture can help you make expedient decisions and reduce time wasting activity. Does that next meeting need to happen with all those invited? Is a full gate review required?

 

On the right sorts of projects, make sure you have a robustly developed critical path. This keeps focus on the right things and simultaneously helps you spot time wasting activities

 

Develop your ability to delegate effectively (think through the “who, what, where, when, why and how” and how you will monitor and support the delegated party). Sharing the workload better enables you to keep your eye on what’s really important on the project

 

Use and build your network consistently. Pragmatism could be translated as wisdom and those who have found ways of getting things done faster may have simply been around longer and taken a few more knocks. Others can often get a job done better and identify further sources of support and influence that help you get the right things done right

 

Record and test assumptions (e.g. “everyone knows what is going on!”). In the fast-track world of projects assumptions often morph into “facts” (however spurious) without a simple process for capturing them and checking them out.

 

Keep tangible evidence of success and slippage so lessons can be observed and shared quickly. Be ready to admit your own mistakes and so encourage others to do the same. We have seen this save thousands if not millions for example in the management of suppliers and contractors across a global firm.

 

Pragmatists live on evidence and always know what’s important.

Project Management Training Misses the Point

Spencer Holmes describes a new approach to the development of project managers to meets the current challenges of organisations in all sectors.

3 key points are:

  1. Projects are changing in their nature
  2. Existing project training is inadequate
  3. Project leadership now has definition

I think we / projects / organisations / societies are on the eve of massive, long lasting change, as a Dad I certainly hope so. I think there will be a “tipping point” of people who’s drive increasingly becomes a conscious search for true, intrinsic value or “meaning”. As this occurs, some of the stuff we’ve been conditioned to chase traditionally will appear increasingly dated and unnecessary. There HAS to be something more…

I certainly believe the next evolution of development for project management is to focus on “leadership” and not management. To get deeper into why people “bother” and to link performance as much to meaning as to money.

I am, by trade, a project manager and project management trainer / consultant. I am used to developing people’s (and my own) understanding of technical PM tools. On the whole it is easy to teach tools that, on first appearance, look hard. Earned value analysis, critical path analysis, risk evaluation, internal rate of return, analytical problem solving, estimating techniques, resource levelling etc. Once pulled apart and applied, these tend to stick and stay.

How is it then that despite the fact that this sort of training has been around for donkeys’ years, I keep hearing very similar stories about project disaster? (blame the training maybe?)

 

It seems that, whilst technical training is important, it is maybe the wrong tool to solve modern project problems, or at least an incomplete tool kit. My exposure to off-shoring in the flat World suggests that project challenges are less practical and more political, less mathematical and more multicultural.

I have just come off a tour of training that took in Amsterdam, London, Abu Dhabi, Edinburgh and even Coventry! It is striking how similar everyone’s needs are on project management when probed.

It is customary to ask learners what they want from a course, good manners really. Despite the fact I was at each location to run technical planning techniques, everyone was asking for:

“Communicating across a diverse team”

“Getting better requirements

“Managing expectations”

“Managing upwards”

“Dealing with conflict and conflicting objectives”

“Negotiating for more time to think!”

“Dealing with uncomfortable situations”

“Motivating the team”

Regress pretty much any problem in a project and you end up with a behaviour at fault, not a technical tool. Any time I suggest this to an experienced PM / Programme manager I get a resounding YES!

Are these technical issues? Of course there are tools, techniques and templates to support all these scenarios but the real missing link is the belief, behaviour, confidence and drive of the person you have left in charge of the thing.

So why does the PM world insist on trying to eradicate this emotional epidemic with a technical vaccine? It simply does not make sense and will not, does not work. There does not seem to be any compelling evidence that the zillion classroom hours spent learning Prince 1, 2, or any other methodology has reduced these issues.

Possibly because, in a formal sense there has not, as yet, been a credible attempt to define the specifics of project leadership. As a trainer my experience has been this. I run 6-day courses in a project management “body of knowledge” in order to get people through exams. The last day of which, typically, covers the “people stuff” of which about a fifth merits the heading “project leadership”. No wonder the muscle is meagre.

As we continue to study project problems the results will increasingly illustrate that what business “does” in the training room to improve its project performance ill-fits the causes of the issues.

I probably shouldn’t say this but some of the best projects I have known have been perfectly well conducted with very sparse budgets and not a whiff of methodology. What they have had is committed leaders and highly motivated “resources” or people as they were once known. What they also have is MEANING.

So, my next seven articles are going to describe in detail the outputs of a 7 year long study into the facets required from today’s project manager to succeed at leadership. As a taster I’ll start now by listing the 7 facets of project leadership and, over the series, talk about the relevance of each one.

The facets:

Pragmatism,

Creativity,

Positive Intolerance,

Stability,

Communication,

Motivation,

Group Orientation

In the next 7 blogs I’ll explain them, issues that come from a deficit in each and some thoughts about how to develop each….

Facet 5 – Communication

This week, we look at facet 5 – “communication”

 

As is now the norm, we will structure the piece around 3 core questions

 

  • What does Project Leaders mean by “communication”?
  • What is the impact on projects of poor communication?
  • How can project managers develop their communication skills?

 

Most project managers score highly on our psychometric test on the “communicator” facet. So how come  whenever we go into any organisation and start poking around, by far the most common response to the question “so, what’s wrong round here?” is “communication”. In itself more than a little oxymoronic as a response to such a complex issue.

 

I can start to feel myself gaining momentum already, rant mark 5 and rising, so let’s pause to consider the Project Leaders’ definition of the term. We say that communication;

 

refers to the extent to which the individual is able to communicate his/her ideas to a wide audience.  Great communicators have high verbal ability and are able to express themselves clearly and effectively

 

On first impression this definition leans heavily upon verbal acuity so let me unpack the first part a little. When we say “able to communicate his/her ideas to a wide audience” we also ascribe high levels of importance to the ability to both listen and empathise, without which a wide audience will remain unreachable, no matter what the message.

 

In last weeks’ musings on the “stability” facet I mentioned that, as we work through these facets, it becomes apparent that they combine and interact. In psychometrics language they are normative, not ipsative. This means that being good in one facet does not result in losing “points” in another. In other words, all facets can be developed and a strong project leader can score highly in all. This is rare however.

 

This week I interviewed Professor Victor Newman, head of knowledge and innovation management at the University of Greenwich. (http://the-knowledgeworks.blogspot.com/) which will appear on the Project Leaders blog soon.

 

Professor Newman made a compelling case for the combination of creativity (article 2 in this series) and communication as the key challenge for project managers. He posits the PMs need sales training to lead projects in today’s organisations. Trainers, does this sound like project management training to you?

 

No, me neither!

 

Why make PMs into sales people? Well, weak communication in any project can lead to:

 

  • Poorly understood requirements leading to an infinite number of problems
  • Money, time, effort, quality all wasted / compromised
  • Professional reputation dented / destroyed
  • Confusion, frustration, stress
  • Morale and team working deflated

 

Actually, trace pretty much any project problem to its source and something about communication will at least be a contributor.

 

So, back to our fantasy project management (sales) course that requires me to think laterally and somehow also link that with communication.

 

We know that all too often project managers have the responsibility without the authority. They are plucked from their cosy function and thrust into the labyrinth of project management, armed only with a paper thin (literally) process to fend off the mighty minotaur of mismanagement. So our point here is that maybe sales training would be of greater benefit to the average project manager than regurging a set of processes they could just as easily assimilate from a well written manual. This is, of course, if they aspire to be project “leaders”.

 

What would they learn in a good sales course that would develop the communication facet to be able to deal better with a project?

 

Listening– I know it’s pretty hackneyed now but the old saying  “ 2 ears, 1 mouth” so use them in that ratio still holds true, and I believe originates from sales training (pretty sure someone will tell me if that’s wrong)

 

Asking questions and probing – there are institutional, inter and intrapersonal reasons why we clam up, but a great, consultative salesperson will find out as much as they can about the other party’s needs and context before getting close to a “solution”. Good business analysts know this (check CATWOE and many other similar devices) for example. Experience will have shown them that, at best clients change their minds, sometimes they don’t know their minds and at worst they apparently lose their minds altogether. Always, always, always ask questions.

 

Spotting hooks – asking questions allows the PM to control the conversation and means the other party provides the information. Consultant sales people may use this to identify opportunities for a juicier deal, project leaders use it to identify other factors that may influence the project that are not specified in the charter / PID etc. Simple throw away stuff like “of course, Janet’s moving to accounts” or “the lease is up pretty soon” can have pretty serious implications in real life

 

Identifying pain – selling pain killers to the afflicted is easy, sales people know this. Project leaders also should think about how does aligning this project to areas of discomfort guarantee it gets the attention and support it needs. Creating training programmes is a classic example. If the pain lies in getting people in a room, create training that doesn’t require that. And so on.

 

Spotting timewasters and walking away – this is a real challenge for the project manager who, in theory, often has no choice as to whether or not they run the project. Walking away it seems is just not an option, even if the project is evidently a dog with fleas from 100 paces. (just remind me why we’re funding that tram project in Edinburgh?). However, at times, by linking this with the pain-spotting talent we can make an assertive case for shooting the project at a humane moment. Is it possible to highlight the issues for your seniors should the project end in failure? Can you simultaneously provide a great idea for what else could be done with the same resources? (I tell you what, let’s can the tram and eradicate World poverty instead with the same budget?)

 

Relationships – when you buy from a great salesperson you never regret it, well nearly never. They have built a relationship with you, and the foundation of that is trust. It happened to me today. I spent £80 in a triathalon shop because the person selling the stuff I bought also spent nearly 2 hours with me, understanding my issues (injury), trying things out and, ultimately recommending a course of action that was effective and much cheaper than the other options. I was hooked! If they’re being honest, most project managers do not spend enough time in purely relationship-building activity. When I mention “politics” they wince. We must get used to it, projects are human ant farms, understand how they work or run headlong into others for ever.

 

Closing – at the right moment, a good sales person will need to ensure you have made a deal. Again, inexperienced project managers will often assume this has been done too soon and with too little evidence the buyer has bought. My experience of working with off-shore teams proves this. This simple vignette illustrates:

 

[picture the scene, you are at the end of a lengthy conference call having thrashed through a number of technical issues with your counterpart in Mumbai…]

 

PM  (UK)                    so, that’s the end of the snagging list, does that all make sense? [closed question]

Mumbai                       yes, that’s fine [“fine” being a word that should be banned due to its vagueness]

PM                              Great, deadline OK?   [closed and assumptive]

Mumbai                       Erm, yep, fine             [unsure and vague]

PM                              Great, any questions? [having not picked up on Mumbai’s uncertainty then firing in another closed questions at the end of an exhausting conference call]

Mumbai                       No, everything’s fine  [meaning “thanks for not asking me to illustrate that I actually only really understood about 30% of what you’ve been saying but at least now I can get out of here and hopefully you’ll forget large chunks of what we just agreed to, after all it is 9pm here now”]

PM                              Great, see you next week [too tired, lazy, intimidated, stressed, rushed to pick up on what he really, in his gut, knows is a shonky deal that’s just gone down]

 

 

Project managers, whether it be with contractors or just with peers and especially superiors, need to get much better at being sure that deal everyone thinks they’re signing up for is the thing they are going to go away and build. This requires patience, political nouse and personality in order to get very different animals to see the world in the same way.

 

Win-win – again, possibly getting worn out as a phrase but project managers need to plan their stakeholder map carefully in any complex project and think tactically about “what’s in it” for everyone on that map, especially those who lie in the “high influence / anti-project” quadrant. Communication style, format and message must be tailored to fit the customer.

 

Jargon –  a bad sales person will blast you with features in the hope it will either impress or intimidate the money from your wallet, in reality most times it makes you psychologically or physically walk away. Inexperienced PMs sometimes do the same, wrapping themselves in the Emperor’s wardrobe of Gantt this and Critical that. We must be bold enough to use real words that everyone understands – maybe someone could develop a PM translator app?

 

Authentic chameleon – good sales people suit the pitch to the person whilst the product doesn’t change. PMs need to get better at thinking about “what style will suit this situation”. All too often there is a “one size fits all” approach and in the worse examples PMs seem to scorn those in the project landscape who do not technically speak the same language as them.

 

Empathy – who spends the most money researching the wants, drives, preferences and peculiarities of their stakeholders? Supermarkets and the brands therein that they sell. The most successful ones do this the most – simple. PMs need to reflect on that, how much do we invest in really understanding our customers? The investment is directly proportional to the likelihood of selling our message.

 

Getting to the point – I’m wary that for every point I  write here, 3 more spring to mind and whoever’s reading this may be wondering if it’ll ever end. So let’s end with the next statement.

 

Communication is complex, multifaceted, fascinating and ever in need of improvement. It represents the core of all our training. There are legion tools in the PM handbag to help streamline communication from matrices to maps, charts to charters. But does it really boil down to the tenacity of the project manager in committing themselves to 2 things:

 

1                    I will see every communication on this project as an opportunity

2                    I will never issue communication without checking it has genuinely been understood

 

 

Facet 4 – Stability

Readers who know their trait psychology will recognise that with “stability” we have selected the positive side for what is often referred to as “neuroticism”. Whilst a popular term for psychologists, we prefer to think of how stable, rather than unstable, project managers can be under pressure. However, the truth is we all differ when the heat is on, and theories vary as to what degree of this trait is genetic. Most agree that a significant part of our stability is inherited.

 

Project Leaders definition of stability

 

refers to the extent to which the individual is able to perform well even under pressure; stable individuals remain calm in all circumstances and even enjoy working under pressure 

 

Clearly projects provide multiple opportunities for pressurised working due to their variable and often volatile mixture of novelty and complexity. Add to this often arbitrary (rather than scientifically calculated) timescales and budgets and you have the perfect recipe for stress. Seen another way of course, a perfect recipe for making new discoveries and achieving new levels of performance, leadership and teamwork.

 

Before tackling the “what if” and “how” questions, it is useful to delve a bit deeper (and believe me this is still only a dip) into what we mean by “stability”. I have chosen, in order to inspect the DNA of this subject, to start with its ugly sibling, neuroticism.

 

Neuroticism can broken down further into six sub facets. Namely:

 

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Self-consciousness
  • Immoderation
  • Vulnerability

A number of schools of thought can help us better understand these issues. The now prevalent area of emotional intelligence (EI) may offer the most coherent and accessible source. Simply put, EI looks at both our knowledge and management of self, and our ability to control our dealings with others. It probably doesn’t need Freud, Jung, Eysenck or any of their friends to point out that higher than average (we all have our days) levels of neuroticism will negatively effect a project manager’s ability.

 

However it is too simple to say that high neuroticism equals poor performance, “mental noise theory” shows that, at times, performance can be higher than average amongst neurotic people. What does change is the degree of variance between tests, or as I once heard it, the likelihood of getting “sixes and ones” as apposed to mid-range scores.

 

Why bother with this psychology snapshot? Well, outside genetic influences (which we can’t do much about), the main deciding factor is environmental stress combined with internal (cognitive) noise. As we know, stress in projects is ever-present and noise, internal and external, can be deafening, especially if poorly controlled.

 

Our concern here links all the way back to the origins of the Project Leaders mission. There are many technically sound project managers out there who struggle with leadership. We believe a major reason for this is that project managers are usually drawn from a previous role where they performed well, rather than from a pool of professional project leaders.

 

We have seen this in every sector from farming to pharmaceuticals, I.T. to P.E. Good technical managers get “promoted” into managing a project in their domain. Then we wonder why oftentimes their response looks a bit like:

 

  • Anxiety – nervousness around the viability of the concept or, more frequently, managing the team and stakeholders
  • Anger – visible signs of agitation / frustration whenever things go “wrong”
  • Depression – lack of energy, belief in the chances of success, motivation
  • Self-consciousness – avoiding tough decisions if it runs the risk of making the leader unpopular (or low positive intolerance as we would describe it)
  • Immoderation – wearing one’s emotions on their sleeve, even when positive sometimes a little “over the top”
  • Vulnerability – avoidance of accountability / lessons learned type exercises

 

No recruiter in their right mind would place someone into a role with these as the potential benefits, yet it happens to project managers all the time, we have seen it globally. Sometimes “natural” leadership comes through and a star is born, usually however the support is meagre and the project manager suffers by fire.

 

In this article I will leave you to reflect on the possible effects on the project with a project manager who is low in stability. In project terms, you could list any failure to meet any balanced scorecard measure. It must be apparent by now however that failing to identify, acknowledge and deal with low stability can result in serious, deleterious outcomes for the individual.

 

This is a particularly poignant message in cultures (like mine) that still believe professional help, whether it be coaching, counselling or anything between, infers weakness. Whilst patently ridiculous, this attitude has historical inertia as its parents and won’t go away immediately. If you manage or recruit project managers it is your duty to ensure stability is high amongst your recruits and support is readily available. (as I’ve already mentioned, we all have our days)

 

So in the long wait for enlightenment, what can project managers do to help build their stability facet?

 

  • As we start to work through the 7 facets, combinations between them emerge. To help build stability it helps to also work on the pragmatism facet. Neuroticism is partly defined by over reacting to minor issues. Pragmatism helps keep a focus on the important things and put “irritants” in their place.

 

  • Similarly, building stability acts as the bedrock for all other facets. In terms of what we have so far covered, clearly a stable character is needed to express positive intolerance. You can’t protect the critical path against the critical masses if you doubt yourself. Also you need to stay calm to access creativity under pressure. (apart from the creativity required to duck yet another tricky situation)

 

  • Whilst dictated heavily by your organisational culture, emphasise the importance of planning and getting matters clear at the start of the project. Of course things will change but getting your tools clean, ready and lined up with a map of the terrain in front of you ready can be a very calming exercise

 

  • Use classic project tools to reduce “noise”. You will be trying to turn down internal noise anyway so do yourself a favour. Make sure lines of communication are clear and understood, roles and responsibilities likewise, try and give dependable people key “single point of control” responsibilities such as change control, risk management and logistics.

 

  • Use tools like the Johari window and specifically emotional intelligence expertise (e.g. JCA Associates – http://www.jca.eu.com/ ) to run diagnostics and coaching to develop emotional stability. There is no substitute for awareness here, it is the starting point of doing practical things to help you develop. Feedback is always useful but sometimes starting with professionally trained people is most appropriate. (i.e. feedback from an “unstable” source may not be very reliable!)

 

  • Try and start small. Going straight into large and complex projects can unearth degrees of neuroticism that managers until that moment had managed to suppress. This can be a highly depressing realisation for the individual and surprise for the recruiting manager. I have seen this with IT managers used to managing their own mini, in-house team moving straight into massive, multi-partner global outsourcing projects. Unsurprisingly the typical response (in a huge percentage of cases) is bi-polar. Either micro management or total abdication. Stable?

 

  • Develop and engage in training that uses simulation. Project Leaders has found that experienced managers, who are highly thought of in their organisation, can be found to be quite unstable when the heat is on. This gives you a safe environment to find this out and begin to deal with it. (much better than finding out in front of a client / patient / policeman / boss etc)

 

  • If the change is sudden (shame on the organisation) try and line up mentoring support. We have mentioned this approach before and it helps add “on the spot wisdom” and “hindsight up front”. Both put things into perspective.

 

  • Remember, as the project manager you are the conductor, not the lead violinist. Keep feelings of inadequacy in check (“they know more than me”). The whole point is YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING, be open about your concerns and make the most of the talent around you, it is liberating for both parties.

 

  • “Check in” with yourself every morning before second nature takes over. Are you “up for it” today? Are you brining road rage into the office with you? Are you Australian and will the ashes become the driving force of your mood today? (sorry, couldn’t resist)

 

  • All theories tend to also emphasise “balance” for more robust mental health. Make sure you have a life outside the project (to help keep perspective and give you a chance to relax and have fun), try and keep physically active (you don’t have to do an iron man!), get good sleep (outside conference calls!) and watch those “crutches”, booze, fags, Percy Pigs (my vice) etc.

 

Whatever the approach, stability is not one to get wrong or marginalise. Of all the facets it probably has the closest link to the individual’s mental health. If you suspect you, or the project managers you are responsible for have issues that have been touched upon here, act now. Enlist the support of experts if you are unsure on how to proceed. In my experience JCA are one of the best.