Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Project Managers and Politics: The new guy syndrome

One of the hardest situations for a project manager to manage is the one were she is the new guy/gal in an organization.  The 'new guy' almost always gets the projects that other people don't want or that are in trouble. Being the new person you have less leverage or ability to either say, "no I won't do it", or "this is wrong, we need to re-calibrate". The internal pressure is on to prove ones self and/or to confirm people's decision that they were right in appointing you in the first place. It is this internal/personal wish, desire, or motivation that drives us to accept tasks that our professional competence tells us are if not impossible, then extremely risky, not only for ourselves but for our employers.

How do you handle this? As soon as you realize that you are up the creek without a paddle then you have start documenting the real situation. Make sure that your status reports indicate the true state of affairs and let the stakeholders make the decisions. Always record your findings and make sure any changes in your findings by other people are documented.

I was on a project that was doomed by the time I was assigned to it. Strategic decisions had been made which precluded almost any chance of success. However, when I decided that we needed to report that the project was at risk I was overruled. It would 'upset people I was told, so we had to leave it as 'on schedule'. Unfortunately for the person making that decision he actually wrote that opinion in an e-mail. So when he tried to blame the miscommunication on others his "goose was cooked". So trust but not too much! When in doubt document, is a pretty good working motto.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Stratagems to be wary of: Kill with the Borrowed knife

This is also known as the Cats paw stratagem. Basically it means that someone else is used to do the dirty work.
Once upon a time, there was a rat that saw chestnuts roasting on an open fire; he loved the taste of roasted chestnuts, but how to get them without burning himself? He noticed that a cat lay beside the fire and an idea came to him. He would persuade the cat to use its long claws to extract the chestnuts from the fire. To cut the story short he succeeded. He ended up with the nuts, the cat ended up with some nuts and a singed paw. Hence the expression that someone is a cat’s paw in a particular dispute.
In the project world this means that your rival will not attack you directly. Instead they will stir up discontent among your user groups, or your stakeholders, in order to discredit your project and get it cancelled.
To counter this you have, to paraphrase a famous quote, ‘to keep your friends close, but your stakeholders even closer’. You should not just rely on your communications plan for your stakeholder management: It’s necessary, but it not sufficient. A smart project dashboard is no substitute for a daily/weekly/monthly cup of java with your stakeholders. Stakeholders, all of them, are both a strength, and a weakness. Start to lose their support and you’re in real trouble: Keep ‘em close!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Project Managers and Leadership: Field Marshall Bill Slim's advice

Britains, if not the Allies, best General in the Second World War was Field Marshall Bill Slim. He led the 14th Army to ultimate victory in the Burma campaign. His start in Burma, as a Corp Commander, was less than auspicious. He was thrust into command in a dysfunctional Army that was being swept aside by the then irresistible tide of Japanese conquest: Pearl Harbor, Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Wake Island, Hong Kong, Siam, Malaya, Singapore had all fallen and now Rangoon. The culmination of this campaign was the longest retreat in British Military history over some of the most forbidding terrain in the world: No roads just tracks, no supplies, but plentiful poisonous snakes, no air cover, it was a rout of the worst kind. He describes it all in Defeat into Victory, which, along with General US Grants memoirs, ranks as one of the best military memoirs ever written.

Recalling his feelings at the time he wrote this sage piece of advice that rings through the ages for all who would lead anything.

The only true test of generalship is success, and I had succeeded in nothing I had attempted....The soldier may comfort himself with the thought that, whatever the result, he had done his duty faithfully and steadfastly, but the commander has failed in his duty if he has not won victory - for that is his duty. He has no other comparable to it. He will go over in his mind the events of the campaign. 'Here' he will think, 'I went wrong; here I took counsel of my fears when I should have been bold; there I should have waited to gather strength, not struck piecemeal; at such a moment I failed to grasp opportunity when it was presented to me.' He will remember the soldiers whom he sent into the attack that failed and who did not come back. He will recall the look in the eyes of men who trusted him. 'I have failed them,' he will say to himself, 'and I failed my country!' He will himself for what he is - a defeated general. In a dark hour, he will turn upon himself and question the very foundations of his leadership and his manhood.

And then he must stop! For, if he is ever to command in battle again, he must shake off these regrets, and stamp on them, as they claw at his will and self-confidence. He must beat off these attacks he delivers against himself, and cast out the doubts born of failure. Forget them, and remember only the lessons to be learnt from defeat - they are more than from victory.

That is what you, as project manager, must do every morning before you start work. Learn from your errors and the errors of others, but shake off the fears of failure, project an air of confidence and move the project forward. If you dont radiate it then why should your team feel it? Why should they follow you?