Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

Can you get the right reaction with the occasional verbal spray?


I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review regarding the appropriateness of yelling at employees. It was quite an interesting article in which Michael Schrage gives examples as Steve JobsBill GatesSir Alex FergusonVince LombardiArturo Toscanini in various professions as those not averse to a bit of verbal spray. He makes an interesting point that while yelling does not make one a better manager, at the same time it does not necessarily indicate managerial weakness or failure of leadership.

Can-you-get-the-right-reaction-from-the-occassional-verbal-spray

Scharge seems to have taken quite a hammering if you read some of the comments on the article. However, I am sure he was playing the devils advocate and wrote the piece precisely to get this reaction. Indeed in some cases managers or leaders get away with the occasional hair dryer treatment. Let us have a think about what it is that their employees are letting them get away with and why. I will use some of the gentlemen mentioned in this very article.

The likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates built or ran organisations that generated a lot of wealth within its employee ranks. These are also organisations that employ some leading minds and have made a lot of employees rich through stock options. People work in these organisations for various reasons. Some are after the intellectual fulfillment, others for monetary reward, some purely to enhance their resume. Same is true for the likes of Ferguson and Lombardi. Players play for their teams for a mixture of lure of winning trophies, play with other great players, the salary or adulation from the fans.

For every Gates and Jobs there are multiple Kevin Rudd, Mark Pincus. For every Ferguson and Lombardi there are many more Buck Shelfords. The Shelford example is quite striking. He was known as the hardest rugby player. He once played on against France despite an act of foul play resulting in his scrotum being split. Bring back Buck signs are still visible today from fans cherishing his demeanour. Yet, when he took to coaching, he relied on the same “hard man” persona and foul mouth. His teams were unmitigated disasters.

What does that tell us. It is not these leaders’ yelling at their charges that got the results. Instead it was their other attributes of vision, planning, development of individual capabilities and sense of pride in work that were the key contributors for their success. In my view their sometimes tempestuous behaviour actually got in the way to diminish their other qualities. There would be a level of tolerance for everyone. Exceeding those would lead to people abandoning even the most decorated leaders.

Most people are not the special ones mentioned here. If leaders are to take cues from these well known figures, they should instead concentrate on their other qualities. I have found even small things like acknowledging good efforts from individuals and thanking them for those goes a long way than anything else. I struggle to think if yelling would ever give me the same reaction. Everyone is different in how they react to volleys of verbal spray. You have to make sure you get the right reactions from people.

Yelling is a sign of control lost. More credibility you have built over time will dictate how soon your people abandon you as a result. Even if you find it works from time to time, don’t get too fond of it.

Image Credit: Daily Mail

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Why We No Longer Need HR Departments


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The time has come for HR (Human Resources) departments to call it a day. HR departments often portray themselves as a valued business partner for management and staff alike.

However, how can anyone take a department seriously that refers to people as ‘resources’?

Nothing matters more to companies than the people who work there. Companies are nothing without the right people! And I am sure that not one, single individual wants to be referred to as a ‘human resource’.

The first point is that the name is wrong: VERY WRONG.

It signals to everyone that this department manages ‘human resources’ in a top-down fashion, i.e. managing humans in a similar way to other resources such as finance, property or machines. If departments can’t see that this is sending out the wrong messages, then they don’t deserve to be there anyway.

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Friday rant … inventing process for HR / finance


Friday-rant-inventing-process-for-hr-financeI remember having to study Accounting 101 when I studied Information Systems. At the time I had wondered what the purpose of it was. The rationale given was that 80% of software is written either for or because of bean counters. More time goes by, I am seeing businesses becoming agile and learning new ways to deliver services faster and in a more competitive way.

Sadly, the accounting and HR systems seem not to have caught up with this. When you and a customer can commercially agree a mutually beneficial business model, it becomes a chore to then translate that into the internal system. More often than not, It cannot be done, as the processes have not thought about these ‘revolutionary’ possibilities. These are systems that are sticklers for process and you end up working your existing systems to somehow shoehorn these new models.

Organisations must realise they can only be as agile as their least agile part of the business. Otherwise you get into a tangle trying to respond quick with your front office, but end up inventing process to placate your back office.

Anyone else grapple with similar issues?

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The value of stakeholder management


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One of the questions I’m regularly asked is to outline the business case for using stakeholder management in a business or project. This is a difficult question to answer accurately because no-one measures the cost of problems that don’t occur and very few organisations measure the cost of failure.

The problem is not unique; it is very difficult to value the benefits of an effective PMO, of improving project delivery methods (eg, improving the skills of your schedulers), of investing in effective communication (the focus of my September column in PMI’s PM Network magazine) or of better managing risk. The costs of investing in the improvement are easily defined, but the pay-back is far more difficult to measure.

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How do I balance competing investment priorities?


Organisations are forever grappling with the demand of competing investments that give a varying range of benefits. How do they go about prioritising these? Most organisations use business cases as a means to filter out the projects that deserve funding from the ones that have little or no merit. This then introduces a secondary problem of spending a lot of resources on going through a business case, which will never see the light of day. How do you make sure weak business cases do not get all the way before getting knocked back.

Example-ILM-Rail-Freight

Investment Logic Mapping (ILM) provides a good way to filter out some of these early investment dilemmas. This is part of the Investment Management Standard developed by the Victoria Department of Treasury and Finance in Australia. The main driver for the development of this standard was the number of complex investments that required compliance, but never articulated the benefits they were supposed to deliver.  Effectively what started as a mechanism to shape individual investments in 2004 has now matured into programme and organisation levels – including refocusing organisations and monitoring benefits.

The theory behind the standard is quite simple. Rather than a complex set of tools, it is centred around three key concepts

  1. The best way to aggregate knowledge is through an informed discussion that brings together those people with most knowledge of a subject.
  2. The logic underpinning any investment (the ‘investment story’) should be able to be depicted on a single page using language and concepts that can be understood by the lay person.
  3. Every investment should be able to describe how it is contributing to the benefits the organisation is seeking.

In Victoria it is now mandatory for most significant investments. In New Zealand the State Services Commission (SSC) mandates the use of ILM for High Value or High Risk (HVHR) projects as part of its Better Business Cases initiative. It must be remembered that ILM on its own is not the tool that will drive the investment. It is a tool to eliminate initiatives which lack merit.

I have just recently undertaken an Organisational ILM as part of a strategic review for an organisation. I have found it an excellent tool to bring out the challenges in an open forum and to agree on strategic responses. The two hour session was perfect to get enough senior leadership in one room to work through the organisational challenges. I also found it a good use of senior stakeholder time, as they are busy people and often trying to agree a course of action individually with all of them is a significant barrier to change programmes.

If you have used ILM before, I’m keen to know your experience. The only thing I had forgotten is being on your feet facilitating for two hours, while everyone else is seated discussing and having refreshments is quite tiring.

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