Illusory Measures – Part II

In my last blog I claimed that there is an epidemic of bad measures being applied within project management and that there must be a better way. As a proposed solution, I suggested building a “risk culture.” In a true risk culture it’s acceptable to call “unknowns” “unknown.” In fact, one of the main goals of risk project management is to manage the unknown. However, to do that, we must be willing to accept the unknowns as unknown and admit when projects cannot be measured completely, controlled, or forecast properly. Unknown is unknown. The sooner we learn to accept this and manage our projects with open communication and collaborative effort, the better off we’ll be. In order to make this happen, we need to first build the right type of working environment.

The right type of environment is conducive to several key building blocks that combine to create an effective foundation for teamwork. This environment is greatly influenced by the management of the project community.

I propose that we build and maintain three essential layers within our working environment:

1. Relationship
2. Communication
3. Workflow

Starting with “relationship,” this involves the development of some critical principles like trust, value, honesty, and transparency. We build a psychological contract with everyone that we work with. This contract is unseen and unwritten, but very important in the development of effective working relationships. Without it, nothing else can be accomplished. You can’t pay for this either. You earn it over time. It’s easy to lose, and almost impossible to rebuild.

After we establish our foundation of trust we can begin work on “open communication.” This takes place on all levels between us and our colleagues, other managers, upper management, and those external to our department and/or organization. We also need to facilitate “communication” between others. This requires time, patience and ongoing management. Try encouraging people to collaborate on key things within the project life-cycle like the development of the project charter, risk identification, schedule and budget estimating and SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). Each activity provides an opportunity to further develop relationships and open communication amongst the project team members.

Lastly, we need effective workflow. This last component is very difficult to get right and easy to get wrong. One of the challenges is to decide what work needs structure and what work requires flexibility. I suggest applying situational leadership. This involves treating each component of work, and each individual as a unique and distinct entity. An example would be providing instruction and oversight to a junior member of the team, while entrusting a senior member with almost complete anonymity in their work. Micromanagement across the board will kill any project team.

When we get all three layers of our project environment working well, we end up with better communication and higher levels of collaboration, problem solving and ingenuity. This is the perfect environment for open discussions of risk and ambiguity in project scope and the establishment of realistic measures and risk response plans. In my next blog I’ll propose how to translate this into some effective risk response plans.

Larry T. Barnard

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