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The Project Mindset – Fact or Fiction?

I have been thinking about this project management topic for many years. Is the Project Mindset real?

Is there a culture or a set of habits or behaviors that can define the Project Mindset? Do Project Managers have a Project Mindset?

What makes some people more suited to projects than others?

What are the traits to look for when selecting a team for a project that may not necessarily have direct project experience?

What can essential knowledge sharing do so that the team members are clear on the project culture?

This scenario is becoming more relevant as operational staff in many organizations are increasingly expected to work on projects as they have intimate knowledge of the business processes impacted. Although operational targets are similar – they tend to be repeated, so the team knows how to achieve and repeat them.

The Project

When we look at a project in general and key elements of a project, here are some of the ways in which a Project can differ from an operational environment.

  • A Project Has a Beginning. It is not a pre-existing entity.
  • A Project Has an End. Once the scope is delivered, the project will finish.
  • A Project is a Temporary State – it will not continue forever. Project teams, Rooms and Ways of Working are temporary.
  • A Project is Unique. Even if the delivery of a project is part of a wider program, the project is unique to its team, site, and installation. A project is not repeated.
  • A Project is Not Part of Business as Usual. Projects are not defined operational processes and tasks which are easily repeatable.

Project Resources

Looking at the above features. The First two items, i.e. the Project has a beginning, and the Project has an end is obvious to most people and needs no explanation or introduction.

The other three elements Temporary State, Unique and Not Part of Business as Usual create some of the biggest challenges for Operations or Support teams that are suddenly thrust into projects or find themselves on a project team.

Operations and Support teams are used to a routine. Each week looks and feels that same, standard work practices, standard tasks and a fixed meeting schedule for each week.

A Project pace of activity will vary as it moves from Kick off to Specification, Design to Build, Build to Test, Test to Qualification, Qualification to Implementation and Implementation to project close.

With each of these project phases comes a different challenge, a different pace and the ability of the project resources to adjust. The pace and change to the level and type of activity are critical to the success of the project. This change of routine, pace and activity are what most operations based people can tend to struggle with for the first time they are working on a project.

Project Culture

A Project Manager or Engineer with years of experience will instinctively know when to adopt a different pace within a project whereas the operations resources will just become comfortable with varying levels of pace and change.

When the pace changes some of the resources will adapt and deliver even if they are moving out of their comfort zone. Personally, I have always encouraged people to keep learning and to move out of their comfort zone from time to time as this experience will promote the individual growth.

As Project Managers and Project Leaders should we avoid or to address the aforementioned comfort zone? Is prevention better than cure? If a resource has no project experience, should we consider them for business-critical projects?

Alternatively, should we offer them advice, coaching, and support to facilitate the transition from a non-project to a project way of working? Are people capable of adopting the “Project Mindset?” This is an opportunity for you to develop as a leader by coaching someone into a position of confidence in their new role.

Team Selection

When selecting Operations based resources for projects consider the factors above. Is the person suited to a change of pace, change of activity, or change of routine? Directly asking the person may not yield the correct answer. You need to do a little research on the individuals as you would when recruiting for any role.

Find out if they have a track record of adopting change into their daily work. What has their past response to new company policies, procedures, processes, and systems? How have they responded to pressure situations in the past or to last-minute changes of direction?

You need to do your research when hiring project resources for several reasons, but above everything else the biggest constraint is time. As projects have a fixed planned duration, you may not have the time to take a risk on a resource.

In Summary

Moving from operations to project based work should be seen as an opportunity to grow as an individual and expand the capability of the person and the organization.

There no hard and fast rules to selecting project resources but I look for the “Project Mindset.” I define this as a set of characteristics that will provide an indication of how a person will respond to a project.

How I summarize this is:

  1. The ability to cope positively with change
  2. A willingness to dig deep to complete a milestone
  3. Does not tend to knee-jerk react to surprises encountered on a project
  4. The Capability to move roles and work multiple roles to get the job done
  5. The ability to switch off and chill after a period of high-intensity working
  6. Must not take any work-related discussions personally
  7. Can keep focused on the end goal
  8. Believe the end goal is possible
  9. Can support the team to deliver the scope at all costs

Sounds easy, yes? I would love to know your thoughts on this topic.

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