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Tag: Academic

Managing Well When Your Project is Falling Apart

In chaos, we can retreat alone to a safe place behind it all.

Safe and alone.

And from there respond as best as possible.

 

Project In-crisis

Imagine that you are in the last month (at least what you planned to be the last month) of a time-critical project and your principal team leader/designer walks out in a huff when the client decides she doesn’t like the design and changes her mind about some key product features. Further, she insists that her changes are trivial and should not affect the end date or cost.

You are in a state of severe anxiety, envisioning a serious blow to your bonus and career, since your upcoming review will hinge on how well you managed this project to the satisfaction of this important client.

What do you do?

 

Retreat

Of course, the quote above gives away the answer. “You retreat alone into a safe place behind it all.”

This answer opens some questions. What does “retreat” mean? Who has time for one? Where can you find such a place? How do you get there? What do you do once you’re there?

When faced with insurmountable forces, a wise general often chooses to retreat to live to fight another day. Retreating, in an orderly way, makes it possible to regain strength, and replan to renew the battle or go on to the next one.

In another sense, a retreat is a personal choice to take time to relax, reflect, and gain a fresh perspective. In effect, retreating is stepping back onto a platform from which you can think clearly and plan your next steps. A quiet, comfortable, secluded place is ideal, but not necessary.

 

Who Has Time for It?

You might be thinking, “Who has time to retreat?” The answer to that question is easy, you do! Make the time. Depending on the situation it might be only a minute, an hour, days, or weeks.

In our project in-crisis scenario painted above, the PM could take an hour or, better, a day to retreat, to calm down before doing anything else. Then with a clearer head, the PM and team can decide what to do next.

 

Where Can You Be Safe and Alone?

That place behind it all, like the eye of the storm, is not a physical location. Even if you could find a cabin or cave, your anxiety would be there with you. The quiet solitude could make it worse since you’d have more time for obsessive thinking and worry.

Retreat to a calm center that is always available, though often unseen, and unfiltered. It is not a specific physical place. It is a felt sense of presence, relaxed, objectively observing, accepting, and letting go. It is more of a feeling.

 

Benefits

Consider that thinking that there is no such thing as a calm center is just as much a belief as thinking there is such a thing. Consider taking on the positive belief as a hypothesis and seeing what happens.

The hypothesis is that by finding your peaceful “retreat place” within, you cultivate the ability to become increasingly responsive and less reactive. And the more responsive you are, the better your performance. The better your performance, the greater the probability of success.

 

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How You Get There: The Peaceful Warrior’s Path

While some have it naturally, for many, it takes courage and patient skillful effort to overcome reactivity and cultivate responsiveness when faced with emotional and intellectual challenges. The effort applies concepts and techniques to remove the obstacles to responsiveness.

Concepts, for example, models like servant leadership, process awareness, and systems thinking, address mindset. Mindset is the way we think, feel, and believe. Your mindset affects your performance and emotions.

The techniques include meditation, breath awareness and control, and any exercise that combines mindful self-awareness and physical health. It might be running, lifting weights, walking, or playing a sport while using the activity to hone your mindfulness and self-awareness.

 

Courage is needed to confront deeply held beliefs and uncertainty and to accept the discomfort of challenging physical sensations and emotions. Patient persistence is needed because it is hard to change habits and it takes time and practice. Target perfection and accept imperfection as part of an ongoing improvement process.

The good news is that as the concepts and techniques are contemplated, practiced, and integrated, it becomes easier to accept and let go, it becomes your natural way of being.

 

What Do You Do Once You’re There?

This “place”, the calm center, we refer to is a felt sense, a dynamic state of mind, in which you are objectively observing, relaxed, energized, making conscious choices, and performing optimally. “There” refers to this state of mind, some refer to it as Flow, or being in the Zone.

From there, the PM and his team would analyze the situation and revise the plan to reflect reality. They would consider the impact of this project running late on other projects or programs. They would consider how best to communicate the results to clients and sponsors and manage expectations. The PM may determine if the team lead who quit might come back to finish the project.

Anxiety, fear of failure, and fear of confronting superiors with unwelcome news contribute to overly optimistic plans. These create more stress and anxiety later. The skillful manager retreats, stepping back into the calm at the eye of the storm, and plans with objective clarity while managing his emotions and expectations, and the emotions and expectations of the team and all the other stakeholders.

 

The Process is Its Own Reward

In my most recent book, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path: Optimal Wellness through Self-aware Living, I quote Amelia Earhart:

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is merely tenacity . . .

You can act to change and control your life;

and the procedure, the process, is its own reward.”[1]

 

The procedure and process she refers to is the application of the concepts and techniques that cultivate your ability to optimally manage whatever comes. The reward is priceless, it is the increasing self-confidence that leads to acceptance and letting go into optimal performance and wellness.

[1] Pitagorsky, George, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path: Optimal Wellness through Self-aware Living, 2023, Self-Aware living, p.1

 

Site Management – The Tough Call

A construction site is a zone that builds or ruins you, depending on your level of composure. A lot of drama occurs there, starting with moody site meetings, site accidents, and general community interference. As the consultant is present at such tough moments, smart and counter-responsive measures have to be taken. You know your employer is watching keenly with your future referee. Dare to mess once, and your resume will be composed for quite some time.

So, how do you deal with it? You are in a contractor`s meeting, and the gentleman is fuming to the extent of withdrawing his gun and placing it on the table as part of his agenda to intimidate you. What do you do? You happen to supervise ongoing demolitions, and members of the neighbouring area unleash violence on you and your workforce. What will your response be? You happen to be paid a courtesy call by relevant authorities, and unfortunately, you lack all the documents. How will you handle the situation?

To simplify the context, I chose to only settle on two tactics. Firstly,where your directives are to bring out short-lived outcomes, immediately abandon the mission. The authorities, for instance, are on your site and found to be lacking adequate protective gear. What will be your response? If you go ahead and compromise the situation with bribes just to get rid of them for the day, remember that it will be the first of many because they have termed the act of visiting the site a business opportunity.

 

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Another scenario that several site managers miss out on is the issue of community mobilization. Some of you act as bullies, claiming you have come in the name of the government. This is common for demolitions and other civil engineering works. Remember,the community you are speaking to is actually the government. Furthermore,being the representative indicates that you are by yourself, and therefore, failing to connect properly with the residents will have serious consequences. The tactics used for mobilisation must remain useful for the rest of the project period. When you inspire intimidation at the inception and think you have won, wait until you begin the construction works and have the full force of animosity from the residents.

Secondly, stick to your lane as per your respective line of work. This makes it easier on whom to bear responsibilities with no altercation whatsoever. Assuming you are the architect on site and the labourers need some advice on the concrete mix, will you go ahead and offer your recommendation? If yes, as who? That is the work of the structural engineer! The Architects and Quantity Surveyors Act, Cap. 525, states clearly the extent of our powers. When you take on someone else`s role, you end up creating huge unnecessary conflicts and thereby affecting progress on the project.

In general practice, it is always best to attain composure in order to be resilient and tenacious in the face of pressure, oppositions, constraints, or adversities and to focus on the implementation of the project at all times. As the guy on site, you must have no room for emotional outbursts, regardless of the scenario.

As for the client, ensure you gauge the consultant from the onset. Someone who lacks composure and a sober mind is unfit to be an advisor. The clients and developers who have been in the game for some time know this and thus prefer older and more experienced consultants.

6 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Team Members

Project managers are expected to do more than just see tasks to completion. To really succeed in the job, you’ll also need to support and enable each member of your team.

Developing strong team chemistry is a big achievement — it’s the sort of cohesion that has powered startups and sports teams to levels of success that everyone thought impossible. However, managing a team is about more than just getting everyone to work together.

The real goal needs to be getting the most out of team members. Whether you’re managing a remote team from around the world or connecting with people in an office, you have to remember that the most effective and efficient people are ones who are happy and feel supported by leadership.

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With that being said, here are 8 tips to help you get the most out of team members.

#1. Set The Standard

You can read this two different ways. On one hand, your team won’t know your expectations unless you share them. So clearly setting a standard of excellence lets everyone know what you expect from them — you’ll then have to help them achieve (or even surpass) those goals.

However, a better interpretation of this is that the project manager should be the one blazing the trail that everyone else follows. While it helps to know what a manager expects from you, it is much more helpful — or even inspiring — to see that manager put it into action.

Think back to all the amazing stories of human achievement you’ve heard. Whether it is the captain of a sports team, the officer of a sailing expedition or the manager of a startup, a leader who strives for excellence inspires everyone around them to be at their best.

#2. Maintain Organization

No team thrives without guidelines. Imagine if you removed all of the titles (and associated responsibilities) from your team members. Who would tackle which duties? And what happens when you bring in new employees?

Even the most free-spirited human needs some level of direction. That could be on a macro scale, like laws against theft. Or it could be on a micro-scale, like choosing to become vegan.

Modern research has proven that organizational rules are a part of our subconscious needs. And in some cases, rules come out of an unofficial decision to deal with some sort of obstacle.

Even if you tried to get rid of rules, your team members would create new ones on their own. And so it makes sense that you — as a project manager — should be the one who analyzes and maintains rules for your team. You can make sure tasks are assigned to people most suited to them, or find opportunities for people to learn new skills as needed.

#3. Recognize Success

Everyone likes to be told they did a good job. And celebrating a big win or personal achievement also reaffirms the standards of excellence you set (if you already followed Tip #1). It’s an easy way to build confidence and encourage similar behavior from others.

Of course, it’s worth noting that people appreciate recognition in different ways. Some team members might be happy to get a call-out in a department meeting, while others would prefer a quiet email or note thanking them for doing their job well.

Part of recognizing success means knowing your team members. Which leads us to…

#4. Communicate Frequently

Part of managing a project means managing people. And while your projects might be low maintenance (especially if your team is excelling), your team members need to know you’re invested.

The most celebrated leaders — both in the corporate world and throughout history — are the ones who “lead from the front,” who roll up their sleeves and jump into projects. By setting the standard, you are showing that you’re not too important to get stuff done, and that makes you more approachable.

But being approachable works both ways. You also have to go out of your way sometimes to engage your team members. Ask what you can do to make their job smoother. Look into workloads and make sure no one is overwhelmed.

Connect with everyone as a person (not just an employee) and build meaningful relationships. It’s an easy way to be hands-on without being controlling or nosey, and it’ll improve team chemistry while also supporting each individual on the team.

#5. Give Clear Feedback

The only way someone understands your expectations or opinions is if you express them. While we could technically cover that in a completely separate post, the bare minimum to talk about is encouraging a two-way conversation, focusing on the performance, and making sure you’re specific in the examples and topics you cover.

Good managers know that giving effective feedback is about more than giving advice. The goal is to analyze (and sometimes critique) the work of someone else but to deliver the information in a way that becomes a teaching experience rather than an uncomfortable one.

Approach the interaction with empathy. If you’ve been communicating frequently, it shouldn’t be too unusual to give feedback team members can actually learn from.

#6. Build For Diversity

A team of similar people with similar responsibilities might get the job done, but they’re not likely to thrive in that environment.

One study by ADP found that building a diverse team actually improves employee engagement. These particular teams had a 19% higher retention rate, and claimed to be 57% better at collaboration. And all of that leads to more effective work from those teams.

While a project manager may not have the same powers as an HR director, you should look for opportunities to bring diversity to your team. If the only path to do that is collaborating with different teams or sharing a workspace with others, then that’s the option you should take.

Because at the end of the day, all of these tips focus on one thing: Using established tactics (and your own inherent abilities as a manager) to set your team members up for success. And when we do our best as individuals, we will also elevate the work of everyone around us.

Drew Gula is the copywriter at Soundstripe, a stock music company that shows businesses how to add music to a video like upbeat music in order to boost their video marketing.

Using an Agile Waterfall hybrid to manage a major Collaborative Computational Project

Collaborative Computational Project Number 4 (CCP4) in Protein Crystallography was set up in 1979 to support collaboration between researchers working in structural biology, and to assemble a comprehensive collection of software to satisfy the computational requirements of relevant UK groups.

Demand gave rise to the CCP4 program suite, now distributed to academic and commercial users worldwide.

Taking a lead role

Scientist Eugene Krissinel from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Scientific Computing Department has taken on the core lead of project managing the vast volumes of collaborative software development, and its distribution for CCP4. In leading the core team he says, “I am responsible for CCP4 infrastructure, software distribution, and everything which goes from CCP4 to users, including some program development.”

CCP4 is a well-known and respected open collaboration with a very good reputation and large numbers of users – upward of 25,000 worldwide.

The project now has a mature agile management style with an Executive Committee to drive targets, and two working groups to advise on software requirements and user needs.

Challenges of the project

 “The Software suite grew very fast and now the size and complexity is comparable to Linux distribution, and is managed by only a handful of people.”  Eugene Krissinel.

One of the first things that Eugene needed to address when he joined the CCP4 team in 2009 was the size issue, as the volume of software to be distributed was more than was manageable by the resources and technology of the time. The software suite had reached such a size that the ways of managing software were purely technical – from archiving, compilation, testing, to packaging and distribution – and this was taking all the effort from the core team. It was a considerable issue so his first goal was to suggest a more efficient way of handling the software.

The team adopted technologies used by Linux maintainers, which enabled them to develop automatic software management pipelines and introduce hot updates, so CCP4 updates just like an operating system.

This is something Eugene designed, and it took about 3 years to implement to a stage where it was an established modus operandi for the team.  ”It took quite a sizeable development of new graphical installers, updaters and new pipelines,” he said.  “Those pipelines are big because we have about 10 million lines of code.”

With such a huge infrastructure, there is a lot to manage, and a way forward was to automate certain processes. Eugene explains; “Regression testing of our software is an ongoing problem but now it’s completely automatic and happens every night.”

There is a great deal of communication and collaboration to achieve the mutual goal of the project. The CCP4 team links research community and developers, making sure that users’ feedback reaches program authors. It is a considerable size of code that needs distributing so this takes a lot of time and effort.

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Management style

Eugene uses an agile style of management to organise the project. He used a coarse-grained plan, and tracking progress of tasks within projects is achieved through regular group meetings. The usable outputs are discussed with stakeholders, allowing the team to have a continuous stream of deliverables.

Eugene highlights the importance of good working relationships and mutual respect. His management style is to give team members assignments that play to their strengths as well as matching the project’s needs. The team has a diverse set of skills and interests and together they successfully deal with a wide variety of tasks; from scientific problems to very technical problems or mundane jobs to very creative jobs.

Benefits in the project are identified by monitoring updates for the software. If liked by the research community they will use the software and this will be shown in download stats and start-up stats for the programs. This is collected only from academic users (not industrial users) and the information is completely anonymous.

The theory is that if academics are happy, then industry will listen. The more industry uses, the more sustainable the funding is for the project. The number of industrial licences is a crucial indicator for financial health. Currently CCP4 sells on average 140 industry licences per year, and that number is growing.

Feedback is key and the CCP4 team has always been very strong on communicating with the community directly. They support the CCP4 ‘bulletin board’, a mailing list of about 8000 subscribers who post between 20 – 100 messages each day. They also have a dedicated line for submitting bug reports, which are frequent and dealt with quickly. “If this line is completely silent I would personally worry because there are always bugs. If nobody is talking to us about them or thinks we can’t be reached, that becomes a big problem,” said Eugene.

The project is a great example of agile management because it’s focused on using regular direct discussion between the development team and the users, with 2 week continuous delivery slots. There is also a strong emphasis on stakeholder communication and reciprocal respect within the industry.

CCP4’s success can be attributed in part to generous industry support. Its roots are in drug research and its industrial customers are all big pharma companies. By purchasing software licences, these companies provide important funding to ensure the continuity of the project. Other funding comes from competitive grants, and STFC’s Scientific Computing Department provides the overall setup and home for the project.

Improvement going forward

Despite its success, the team is always trying to improve.  Going forward Eugene would like to see an easier process for supporting short-term activities.

A little bit more autonomy in financial terms would benefit the project processes, especially in terms of purchasing hardware. This can be slowed by the many channels necessary to make purchases.

This project, like so many others, has been impacted by COVID-19 as less spending has occurred and the funds don’t carry over to the following financial year automatically.

Rising to challenges is something Eugene and his colleagues take in their stride, though. CCP4 is hugely successful – something that is borne out by its longevity, its ever-evolving software, its growing community of users and high demand from industry. Importantly, CCP-4 software was used to solve the first COVID-19 virus structures. Taking the agile approach for managing the project has given it a further advantage of increasing the dialogue bandwidth between the development team and the users.