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Author: Harry B. Mingail

Managing a “Dangerous Opportunity” Project

I call projects like this “a dangerous opportunity”. I inherited a troubled initiative, which not only did not know what they were really trying to deliver, but they were delivering badly.

My client contact was under severe pressure from the parent company to fall in line and develop a multifunctional enterprise computer system from scratch. Application software packages wouldn’t do because they “already looked at them”. And of course the project was “to be completed yesterday” To make matters worse, my client’s boss was an exceedingly intelligent and charismatic individual who lacked experience, yet had the dominating, strong-willed and demanding presence to prolong the project damage.

Why did I take on this “death wish” project? Suffice it to say that once upon a time I skydived while these days I go out of my way to find challenging, turnaround initiatives. Here are some of the things I did.

  1. I suspected that building an enterprise initiative from scratch was unwise. My predecessor really didn’t do problem solving due diligence. Yet my client’s boss, all of the executives and the parent company thought otherwise. To make a long story short, I asked their indulgence to quickly define some key aspects of their business needs, after which they convinced themselves that customized route was suspect and then unanimously chose an enterprise ERP package as their solution. Because a project manager has to influence without complete authority in a matrix environment, one of the best ways to do so is to allow management to convince themselves with solid and objective problem-solving.
  2. Okay, so they were on the right path but I now had to conquer the complexities of preparing and implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). These monster projects impact every business function, are highly complex and demand high priority attention from most of an organization’s management and staff. To ensure that stakeholders were on the same page I collaboratively prepared a project charter as the foundation and beacon for a shared project vision and a basis for future project budgets and schedules.
  3. Given the high project profile, a team size of 50 with other indirect participants, organizational inexperience, a lengthy project time horizon, a budget which was 5% of sales and immature implementation practices, I helped management to identify project risks as extremely high. By doing, I garnered support for a strong risk management program.
  4. Now it was time for me to “delegate in detail”. Ensuring that the team estimated in detail and applied productive work-breakdown structure methods, I fostered a project schedule and critical path, taking care to include all major stakeholders in order to win their commitment, support and hopefully passion.
  5. Turnaround projects demand change, especially for ERP’s. To this end, I empowered two influential project members as change agent champions.
  6. My predecessor over-supervised the people. In contrast, I began supervising the work, giving creative and highly specialized workers a zone of freedom to allow them to feel empowered.
  7. To inspire trust and open the lines of communication I also cultivated relationships with subordinate project leads. And, my open door policy ensured that team members were always welcome to discuss and action project issues.
  8. To foster a more timely emergence of the classic “norming stage” of project, I worked with the team to record agreed norms including: strive to do better than budget and schedule commitments, continually share knowledge and criticize the behaviour not the person.
  9. In sessions with individual staff member I asked “What do you want from your job?” Subsequently I proceeded to fulfill as many of these expectations as possible.
  10. I engaged my time-tested qualities when recruiting for the team: trustworthy, genuine, conscientious, at least moderately intelligent, positive problem-solver, hardworking, a team player, willing to learn and happy with the gift of their existence. After that, the rest tends to be much easier.

Innovation is always a primary part of the “modes operendi” I culitivate. I encouraged my project reports to “think out of the box”.

We continuously improved the practices to the familiar tune from hecklers that “It Cannot Be Done”. … Well, we did it. Another “project parachute jumps” safely landed.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Harry B. Mingail, combines a Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP), Mathematics/Computer Science and Business Administration designations with 25 years of BA, PM and management consulting as well delivery of webinars, workshops, mentoring and keynotes.

Creativity and Innovation Enable Project Success

Creativity and innovation are magic wands. They endow projects with enhanced performance and new profit-making results. They spark creative genius and the potential for creating wealth.

Discovering Opportunities

Most innovation springs from a conscientious search for new opportunities. These opportunities exist both within and outside a project, organization or industry. Innovation opportunities within a project include:

  • Unexpected successes or failures: Mistakes as well as successes breed innovation. Failures should not be ignored and hidden. They should be examined for possible innovative opportunities.
  • Process Needs: An understanding of needs leads to process-generated innovations. For example, if your project needs documentation to be written but engineers lack time, clerical or automated processing help may be the answer.
  • Industry Changes:  Changes in industry products of industry and market habits throw the door of opportunity open for innovators. For example, complicated networks need integration experts. Unavailable skills breed profitable consulting opportunities.

External opportunities for innovation are revealed through:

  • Demographic changes: Today, people’s age distribution, education, occupations and geographic location factors change rapidly. Those who keep their ear to the ground will be the first to spot coming changes and reap the benefits of innovation.
  • Changes in Perception: People’s perceptions change. A product that is shunned one year may be sought the next. These attitudes can be defined, tested and expanded. The innovator will quickly grasp an imminent opportunity.
  • New Knowledge: Innovations based on new knowledge rank high. However, lead time is long.

Staying Competitive

Consistent innovation keeps your projects competitive in a fast-paced market. Projects can stay afloat and create an organization in which:

  • Employee performance rates as very important;
  • The project is structured in a way that innovative ideas rise above the din of day-to-day operations;
  • Strategies are clearly defined in order that innovation can be focused;
  • Idea sources are known and can be leveraged upon discovery;
  • Innovative ideas are strongly supported with company resources.

Generating innovate ideas is only the first step. To be a success, innovations require four major inputs: #1/ They need dedicated people who believe in the idea and will push it ahead despite roadblocks; #2/ Innovation craves a high-ranking sponsor to marshal resources such as people, money and time; #3/ Innovation thrives in a melting pot of creative minds and practical doers; and #4/ Finally, a process must be in place that will ensure the smooth and timely transition of ideas through the initiative.

Boosting Creative Outlooks

  • Be creative through thought processes. Discover a solution to a problem. Come up with the idea for a new product or service. Rework an old idea.
  • Produce a piece of material creativity. Write a good report, program some new software or paint a picture. Create a tangible item that can be shared by others through seeing, hearing, touching, smelling or tasting.
  • Demonstrate spontaneous creativity. Give a speech “off the cuff” or respond spontaneously in a meeting with a sincere comment. Express your confidence in the moment and be your best.
  • Take charge of an event in a creative manner. Direct a meeting, organize an office party or devise a scheme to gain consensus in a strategic discussion.
  • Evaluate your creativity in relationships. Try new approaches for old conflicts. How can you encourage co-operation and a win-win relationship? Are your words, actions and feelings expressed with creativity?
  • Exercise inner creativity to help manage stress, prevent burnout and change emotions while external circumstances may remain stagnant. The stronger our inner creativity, the more effective we can be when expressing other types of creativity.
  • Matrix Analysis: This approach comes in handy when developing new product lines. Market needs and technologies are defined and then formatted with product lives to represent a three-dimensional matrix. Potential ideas are then explored within this matrix.

Combining Logic & Creativity

  • Morphological Analysis: This approach provides a structure for creative solutions in a logical manner. It is best suited to problems whose solutions encompass many variables.
  • Reframing: This technique requires you to ask questions about your project that will lead to new frames of references to old problems. Questions asked may include: (a) What are the obvious realities of a situation and how can they be changed? (b) What are typical complaints? (c) What ideal situation do we seek?
  • Force Field Analysis: This method consists of identifying forces that contribute to or hinder the solution of a problem. Creative thinking is encouraged by clearly defining goals as well as identifying strengths to maximize and weaknesses to minimize.
  • Attribute Listing: This approach focuses on identifying attributes of a process or product and how to improve one or many of them. It is similar to force field analysis, but the attribute listing provides neutral aspects as opposed to negative or positive aspects of a problem.
  • Scamper: This acronym stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to other uses, Eliminate and Reverse or Rearrange. Address each of these issues and determine what new ideas emerge.
  • Alternative Scenarios:  Explore plausible futures for your project or product and you will gain a deeper understanding of potential environments in which you may have to operate. Build scenarios on the basis of principal forces and influences. Business opportunities within these scenarios formulate a future strategy.
  • Forced or Direct Association: Combine two concepts that have little in common. Then brainstorm to draw possible relations between the two. Fresh approaches to old problems may result.
  • Design Tree: This type of “mind map” is helpful when a central topic such as a product, market or process must be built on. By literally mapping out related ideas on a large sheet of paper, obvious results may be transformed into potential breakthroughs.

Being Intuitive

Tuning into our intuitive good sense allows us to take that leap into generating new ideas. Consider the following:

  • Imagery: Create multi-sensory images in your mind to address the issue at hand. The intuitive messages that are “sent” to you can then be applied to the problem at hand. Imagery requires a relaxed state of mind, a willingness to be non-judgmental and a vivid imagination.
  • Brainstorming: This common idea-generation approach should suspend evaluative judgements for the short-term. This technique is effective in both a group and a private setting. The problem at hand should be stated in neutral terms.
  • Analogy: The similarity between two conditions otherwise dissimilar is explored. Personal analogy identifies yourself with an object or process. Direct analogy compares parallel facts in two different areas in order to generate fresh solutions. Symbolic analogy uses an image that may be technically incorrect, but that describes the implications of a key aspect of the problem.
  • Dreams: To make this technique work, recall and record any new ideas that come to mind when day or night dreaming.
  • Drawing: Drawings may both evoke and record creative insight. A business meeting may have a picture included along with the agenda in order to elicit further discussion on the agenda topics. Drawings help conceptualize problems.
  • Meditation: This state of heightened awareness may release an inner source of creativity.

Sage Advice

Declares world-famous management consultant Peter F. Drucker in Harvard Business Review’s book Innovation:

“The orderly and predictable decisions on which an organization rests depend increasingly on the disorderly and unpredictable process of innovation. How can managers expect to plan for- or count on- a process that is itself so utterly dependent on creativity, inspiration and old-fashioned luck?

Most of what happens in successful innovations is not the happy occurrence of a blinding flash of insight but rather, the careful implementation of an unspectacular but systematic management discipline.”

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

                                                …  Alan Kay, a fellow of Apple Corp.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Harry B. Mingail combines a Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP), Mathematics/Computer Science and Business Administration designations with 25 years of BA, PM and management consulting as well delivery of webinars, workshops, mentoring and keynotes. 

Managing Your Boss

Most project managers have one. Yet attending to their demands and idiosyncrasies can be nerve-wracking. Wise project managers engage good boss management strategies. Boss support, guidance, mentoring and influence will be your reward.

After all, bosses are not exalted and invincible gods. They are human beings with special roles and authority as well as the requisite levels of human weaknesses, problems and pressures.

Under these demanding conditions, most boss relationships unfold in two possible directions: the 3Rs Resistance-Resentment-Revenge or the 3 Cs Clarity-Co-operation-Commitment.

The 3R cycle is characterized by ineffective communication. This causes levels of resentment. People expend valuable energies getting even. Such a work environment becomes destructive not only for individuals but for the entire organization.

On the other hand, the 3C cycle begins with people clarifying what is required. People cooperate and commit themselves to excellence. Personal self-esteem and group performance is enhanced.

Assess Leadership Style

Recognize leadership skills inherent in your own boss. This assists you to understand your boss better. You also benefit by becoming a better manager. The more effectively you manage subordinates, the more leverage you will command with your own boss. “To lead, one must follow” … Lau Tzu.

Leader #1: The Press Leader

These leaders pretend to be drill sergeants. Low self-esteem and a strong fear of failure drives them. They are impressed by outward displays of busyness rather than by results. The leader treats people as expeditors who obey orders. They tolerate no mistakes. Trivial details snare their energies and attention. They over-supervise and manage by punishment. Doing so squashes self-esteem amongst the ranks.

How to handle the press leader? Quickly discover on-the-job limits. Determine whether your boss is simply tough or ruthless. The tough leader precisely delegates authority balanced with appropriate responsibility. The ruthless one disregards human factors. If you choose to resist the press leader, do it privately, not within view of colleagues. This way your leader will not lose face.

Support your position with plenty of evidence. Otherwise, you lose.

Leader #2: The Laissez-Faire Leader

This leader abandons staff. These leaders provide little or no support in tough times. They stipulate little of what is expected of employees. They provide virtually no guidance on how to accomplish tasks. While the press leader may hover over an employee’s shoulder, this leader does nothing to train or guide. While the press leader over-manages, the default leader overlooks.

Managing The Laissez-Faire Leader: The individual who is self-motivated and needs little praise will work well under this type of leader. This leader craves facts such as costs, statistics and research findings. Provide these facts and figures for your boss, while at the same time try to stress some human elements. Encourage your boss to clarify exactly what is to be accomplished.

Leader #3: The Participatory Leader

The participatory leader is adept at communication procedures. Under this type of boss, employees are given precise feedback and recognition when deserved. The participatory leader strives to involve employees in the assessment process. He or she is inspirational and innovative. The participatory leader customizes the type and amount of feedback required for each employee.

Managing the participatory leader: The most effective way of dealing with the participatory leader is to feed back the same techniques that he or she uses with subordinates. Keep them informed of what does and does not work. Since this type of leader is interested in results, your opinions will be heeded.

Leader #4: The Develop Leader

This leader goes a step beyond the participatory leader. The develop leader fosters staff self-esteem, autonomy and competence. Techniques for success are isolated and taught to subordinates as the need arises. The develop leader empowers staff and nurtures a feeling of reverence, not in the boss, but in the employees themselves.

There is often a high staff turnover rate for employees of develop leaders. But it is a good one because it is upward. Because this type of leader creates such a high level of competence amongst the ranks, there is always someone to take over when someone moves up.

Both the develop and the participatory leader expect good performance from their subordinates. This expectation is communicated not only verbally but through a trusting working relationship that encourages autonomy.

Weaknesses and strengths exist within us all but being aware of the bosses can help manage the relationship on an on-going basis. Keep the below points in mind –

Boss Weaknesses

  • Lack of Training: Is your boss a whiz at finance, but uncomfortable dealing with human elements? Few managers score As on both task and people-oriented responsibilities.
  • Unclear purpose: Can your manager clearly define goals? A clearly understood purpose assists everyone to fulfil their roles.
  • Fear of rocking the boat: Does your boss resort to the familiar while stifling new ideas? Managers must adapt to changing values and needs.
  • Being a saviour: The boss who insists on expending valuable time and money to keep proven weak people afloat helps nobody. This boss ignores competent staff. At best, this approach postpones the inevitable dismissal day.
  • Having to be right: Even the most talented executive must be willing to make amends when they have been wrong.
  • Low compatibility: A manager must be willing and able to create alliances with peers, superiors and subordinates. Compatibility is mandatory in the executive suite.
  • Demanding agreement: Many bosses find it difficult to accept different points of view. Bosses should seek acceptance and assistance, not agreement.
  • Confusing efficiency and effectiveness: Efficient workers get things done quickly. Effective staff achieve the right goals. The two should be balanced, with priority going to effectiveness.

Boss Strengths

  • Causes agreement: Idea exchanges lead to the best possible solution. Everyone’s opinion is welcomed and valued.
  • Manages with continuity: Issues are discussed at regular intervals. This minimizes surprises and last-minute fire-fighting.
  • Matching people with work: An effective leader carefully considers not only work experience but personality traits when staffing an assignment.
  • Understands the job: A good leader will develop trusted, valuable employees who strive to contribute to the organization because they feel needed. The successful leader knows the way, shows the way and goes the way.
  • Respect feelings: Emotional needs of employees are recognized. Employees are offered a guiding hand when making decisions. They are not simply handed the solution.
  • Gives employees autonomy: Once a level of trust is attained, the more autonomy an employee can handle, the better the employee and organization will be.
  • Eliminates Boredom: Allows individuals to adapt the work to suit their needs, as long as the job gets done.
  • Seeks results, not methods: New methods to improve effectiveness should be sought, but not at the expense of results.
  • Employs positive feedback, not criticism: Focusing on the positive rather than the negative is a proven technique in affecting a desired change in behaviour. This boss “catches subordinates doing something right.” “A soft answer turneth away wrath” … Proverbs.
  • Combines co-operation with competition: Organizations, which encourage groups to be simultaneously co-operative and competitive, produce the greatest chances for success.

Follow these steps to keep the boss happy.

  1. Learn what your boss expects and values.
  2. Strive for high-quality results.
  3. Solve as many problems as possible without the help of your boss.
  4. Keep your boss informed.
  5. Be your strongest critic.
  6. Get regular feedback from your boss.
  7. Differ with your boss only in private.
  8. Save money and earn revenue.
  9. Be a good leader yourself.
  10. Promote only valuable ideas.

Your boss is not interested in the storms you encountered, but whether you brought in the ship.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Harry B. Mingail combines a Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Business Analyst Professional (CBAP), Mathematics/Computer Science and Business Administration designations with 25 years of BA, PM and management consulting as well delivery of webinars, workshops, mentoring and keynotes.