Sunday, May 30, 2010

Meet the most wanted Project Management tool: the dog!

Recently I was told in two different occasions that the most wanted and needed Project Management tool was... THE DOG!

Both times the speech and reasoning were quite straight forward and did amuse me. It went like this: if you are able to take enough distance from the events that you're involved in you can take a different perspective of things. And a dog can help you get the time to do it when you take him for a walk. Now a different perspective can be more than a more objective one, it can also be a more high level one. That is, instead of looking at stuff happening at the heat of the moment (an argument on who will do some project task), you can look at what caused it (there's a team member performing way behind all the others). And this is not only interesting but you can take advantage of it as a Project Manager. If you take your dog for a walk after dinner you have the chance to take a look at that day's events with a certain distance. And... Ah ha!, that can make a difference (in this example, if first you know there's a team member that is under performing then you can find out what's wrong with him, hopefully find a solution and get this team member to perform better). Much like going from positions to interests on negotiating, you change the focus from the events that happened to their context, causes and motivations. So, taking enough distance from events can give you at least these additional perspectives:
- more objectiveness
- higher level
- causes
- learn from your mistakes

I don't mean that you need to get a dog if you're a project manager or that everyone that owns a dog should be a project manager, but it can certainly give you an edge. Have you ever wondered why everyone is insisting so much on soft skills? It's just because the hard skills are much more common on project managers. So, if everyone knows about Earned Value Management, Gantt charts and resource leveling what difference can you make if you just know the exact same stuff? It's pretty easy to find someone who knows about these topics, but what about international virtual team building? And about negotiating? And leadership? If you know the hard skills (like EVM) and on top of that you add soft skills (like leadership) you have an edge over the professionals that just have the hard skills to offer. This gives you a competitive advantage.

Albert Einstein once said that insanity was "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". I don't think he was refereeing to competitive advantages, but it fits just the same. If you do like everyone one else is doing all you can expect is doing as good as everyone else. If you're looking to be better than the rest than you have to do things differently even if it means taking risks and going against the standards and conventions. On the last PMI Global EMEA Congress I heard someone tell a story about an Italian company that went international and on some point decided that their IT had to be standardized. When he was asked "What was the Project Management methodology used?" he answered: "The CEO was the methodology". The fact is that they took a different approach that worked for them in that particular context. And they would probably fail if they did that particular project in a more conventional way.

One thing I usually do on the most stressful moments when I have people over my shoulder anxious for results is going for a smoke. This gives me the chance to cool down enough so that I get focused again. Moreover, when I'm not thinking about the problem at hand, I often get solutions that somehow pop up in my mind. Again, I don't mean that you should start smoking, ok?

So, if you:
- take enough distance from the problems at hand
- if you are critic on how everyone's dealing with issues and
- if you can deal with the issues in a different way

Then you have an edge that may lead you to get results on complex contexts and so...
Then you can be a better project manager!

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