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Take a Position

“Nothing happens until something moves.”
Albert Einstein

Anyone who has had the privilege of working on a project team has also undoubtedly had the experience of balancing varying opinions and agendas, weighing the potential of analytical paralysis that often stems from that, and navigating the fog of uncertainty throughout the term of the project.

Although these classic project pitfalls are often annoying and can stall or even derail a project timeline, they are also ironically some of the key exercises that help to fill critical knowledge gaps and ultimately ensure good results. While slowing down execution speed is never desired, failing to tease out these pitfalls is far worse. It is the truly skilled project manager that can strike the balance between perceived perfection and the real courage it takes to do the project right, with all its warts and pimples.

As a project management consultant I have had the privilege of working with a variety of personalities from a variety of cultural and educational backgrounds— research scientists, chemists, tech geeks, lawyers, doctors and “suits” from all around the globe. One thing I can say without hesitation is that this line of work has been an adventure. (My wife would probably agree although I am not sure she would use the word “adventure” exactly).

On one such adventure, I was brought in to a Fortune 100 company to rescue a fairly large, high profile project. Upon diagnosis it was clear to me that the project was stuck in the Scoping Phase and the fog of uncertainty had left the previous project manager paralyzed and lost. There was no question that the path was unclear. The bigger problem was that the pressure was high and the sponsors wanted results yesterday.

It was a unique struggle getting onboard with such dynamics. It was during this time that I got some of the best advice in my career from the program manager who was overseeing this floundering project as well as several other “problem children.” The guy, who was a former college football player, said to me, “I want you to run until you get tackled.” Such simple words but it was total freedom. He gave me an entirely new perspective that allowed me the opportunity to start making decisions without the fear of making some mistakes along the way. It was such a simple order, but it was also a mantra for me throughout that project and in the end I realized it was leadership in a sentence. It took guts and it took trust, but at the end of the day it was just what I needed to get this failing project back on track. With the freedom to work in this way, the project that was thought to be lost was in the end delivered ahead of schedule and under budget.

The “RUN UNTIL YOU GET TACKLED” mantra helped me refine our approach which was to run with an “Agile/Rolling” methodology. We started knocking out deliverables and continually refining and re-refining our approach as we progressed, without fear or judgment. This was such a key lesson for me and I have carried it with me to many other projects and clients since.

I recently came across a quote from Albert Einstein which notes that, “Nothing happens until something moves.” If you want to create movement in your teams, take a strong position. But take the position not with the intention of setting and driving your own agenda or ideology, but to simply give your team a starting point, the proverbial line in the sand. You will find it will help generate discussion— cause a reaction, and it will create movement. Run until you get tackled.  Igniting a positive chain reaction.  Decision making.  Move forward and progress.

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