Tuesday, 15 February 2011 12:49

Seeing the Big Picture: The More You Know …

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Feb16_PitagorskyThere is power in making sure everyone on a project sees the big picture. When performers know how what they are doing fits into the overall project plan and where the project fits in the overall strategy of an organization they can better perform their parts.

The Power of Seeing the Whole

Many of the projects we work on and manage are complicated. They combine multiple technologies and disciplines and occur in environments characterized by multiple organizations and organization units. Add to that the likelihood of cultural and other forms of diversity, personality differences and varying degrees of cultural intelligence, and the complicated becomes complex.

Over the past few decades, enlightened organizations have realized that this view is detrimental to quality and organizational effectiveness. For example, the automobile industry and other manufacturing industries realized that line workers who have a sense of what they are contributing to will more likely perform effectively and identify opportunities for improvement than people who are focused on one small set of tasks to create a widget and "throw it over the wall". Paradoxically, the more complicated and complex the project, the greater the need for a statement that makes the big picture accessible to as many stakeholders as possible.

Why Managers Don't Communicate the Big Picture

Yet the tendency to parse the project and reserve the big picture for senior people in a project office or leadership group persists.

Some managers think that all individuals and small teams need to know is their own piece of the project. They think "The big picture is too big and complex and it would only confuse the performers." This view is also shared by many specialists and functional managers - "just tell me what you want and when you want it and I'll deliver." But, paradoxically, the more complicated and complex the project the greater the need for a big picture perspective because without it there is a greater likelihood of miscommunication, conflict and suboptimal performance.

This persistence may be caused by

A distorted desire for control. A manager may feel that if only he or she knows the whole it is easier to direct performance and protect his/her job. A distorted sense of the capacity of the performers to understand the big picture. In project work it is likely that if the whole is described well everyone can understand it. This leads to the third cause. A lack of ability to articulate the big picture in a way that makes it accessible to different types of stake holders. A project of any complexity can be synthesized into a concise statement that provides a picture that is accessible to just about anyone with an interest. Too much work and not enough time to pick up one's head long enough to understand the whole well enough to articulate it for oneself or others.

"Symphony" is the ability to see the big picture not only in terms of analysis, but also to integrate and synthesize to see that the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts. It is a capacity that each person has to a degree. The more this symphony is cultivated the easier it becomes to communicate and understand the project as a whole, the significance of each part to success, and the subtle interrelationships among the parts. The understanding makes for stronger morale and a higher likelihood of performance that goes beyond simply complying with ones small task requirements to contribute in a more effective way.

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