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Tag: Methodologies

Shu-Ha-Ri and Servant Leadership

In today’s rapidly evolving IT landscape, leadership styles play a pivotal role in shaping the culture and success of companies. With unique challenges and demands, it is crucial for leaders to adopt effective approaches that resonate with the modern workforce. Among many leadership styles, there are two prominent styles within IT companies – servant leadership and dictator leadership. Each leadership style has different implications for IT project delivery and for the delivery leads and/or project managers.


What is Dictator Leadership

Dictator (or dictatorship) leadership, despite its negative connotations, can be effective in specific situations (e.g., where discipline and obedience are absolutely necessary). This style involves a more autocratic approach, with leaders making independent decisions and providing clear directives to the team. IT delivery leads may adopt dictatorship leadership during high-pressure scenarios or when immediate action is required. However, it is crucial to balance this style with open communication channels and involving the team in decision-making whenever possible.


What is Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is a people-centered approach that prioritises empowering and serving the needs of the team. IT delivery leads following this style foster collaboration, open communication, and trust-building within the organisation. Creating an inclusive work environment, providing resources and support for team members to excel and offering coaching opportunities are key elements of servant leadership.


What is Shu-Ha-Ri

Shu-Ha-Ri is a concept that originates from the Japanese martial art Aikido. Aikido master Endo Seishiro explains the concept via the following statement:

“It is known that, when we learn or train in something, we pass through the stages of shu, ha, and ri. These stages are explained as follows. In shu, we repeat the forms and discipline ourselves so that our bodies absorb the forms that our forebears created. We remain faithful to these forms with no deviation. Next, in the stage of ha, once we have disciplined ourselves to acquire the forms and movements, we make innovations. In this process the forms may be broken and discarded. Finally, in ri, we completely depart from the forms, open the door to creative technique, and arrive in a place where we act in accordance with what our heart/mind desires, unhindered while not overstepping laws.”

Shu-Ha-Ri is increasingly popular with companies where Agile methodology influences their project delivery ways of working.


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How Shu-Hai-Ri Complements Servant Leadership

In the “Shu-Ha-Ri” framework, the servant leader guides the team closely at the beginning (Shu), transitions to a more hands-off approach (Ha), and ultimately reaches the stage where team members can make decisions independently while aligning with the organisational vision (Ri).

Example of Servant Leadership with Shu-Ha-Ri: Estimation


Shu: A delivery lead provides a pre-defined method of user story estimation, and the newly launched Agile development team follow the method in their first month.

Ha: In the second month, the Agile development team members reach out to the deliver lead to learn other estimation methods. They then decide to use a different estimation method under the guidance of the delivery lead.

Ri: Six months later, Agile development team members review all estimation methods and choose another fit-for-purpose estimation method all by themselves, without involvement of the delivery lead.


Playbook of Shu-Ha-Ri



Effective leadership in modern IT companies requires an understanding of different leadership styles and the ability to adapt to specific situations. IT delivery leads must navigate the complex challenges of the industry, drive success and inspire their teams to achieve their fullest potential. By adopting a fit-for-purpose leadership style based on the context, IT delivery leads can create a positive and productive work environment that fosters innovation, engagement and continuous growth. The concept of “Shu-Ha-Ri” provides a “test case” for leadership development and allows leaders to evolve alongside their teams.



  1. Wikipedia, “Shu-Ha-Ri”,
  2. Brian Tait, “Traditional Leadership Vs. Servant Leadership”,

Beyond Traditional Metrics: Why Adaptive KPIs are the Future of Project Management

In a recent engagement with a government client, I came across an intriguing yet common conundrum regarding the enforcement of KPIs. Individual projects within their diverse portfolio were flagged ‘red’, signalling they were off course, yet the overall portfolio surprisingly reflected a ‘green’ status, implying smooth operations. This stark inconsistency, compounded by disagreements over the statuses of individual projects, underlined the critical need for a more sophisticated, adaptive approach to KPIs in project management.


Conventional KPIs in the realm of project management often bear resemblance to religious texts – unwavering and unchanging, even in the face of shifting project dynamics. This rigid constancy, while providing a sense of stability, may distort perceptions of project performance and overlook potential avenues for improvement. In this article, we delve deeper into these inherent limitations of traditional KPIs and champion a more agile, adaptive approach, one that aligns better with the fluid and ever evolving and unique nature of today’s project landscapes.

Let’s scrutinize the limitations of traditional KPIs. These conventional metrics, while offering a valuable framework, do exhibit certain drawbacks. They possess an inflexible character, condense the complexities of project statuses into a simplistic ‘traffic light’ system, and enforce a generic approach that overlooks the distinctive nuances of individual projects. Consequently, a sudden transition from ‘green’ to ‘amber’ might not truthfully represent a project’s actual condition. Moreover, ignoring key project-specific factors such as the project team’s experience and composition, and other complexities could thwart optimally project outcomes.

Envisioning a New Approach to KPIs

Considering these constraints, we advocate for a more adaptable approach to KPIs. KPIs should serve as flexible signposts, offering nuanced insights and evolving in response to dynamic project conditions. A ‘spectrum’ system could replace the binary ‘traffic light’ system to better encapsulate the subtle gradations between ‘good’ and ‘caution’, thereby enabling a more accurate snapshot of the project’s health and fostering tailored problem-solving and decision-making strategies.

Let’s illustrate this ‘spectrum’ grading: ‘Deep Green’ signifies a project operating ahead of schedule; ‘Light Green’ and ‘Yellow’ mark minor deviations that are manageable with slight adjustments; ‘Orange’ indicates a substantial deviation demanding dedicated intervention; ‘Red’ denotes a severe delay necessitating immediate action. This refined system facilitates proactive responses to project status changes and fosters a culture of continuous improvement.

KPI thresholds should be malleable, adapting to the unique context of each project and evolving in sync with the project’s progress to spur continuous learning and strategic adjustments. Influential variables, such as the project manager’s experience, sponsor involvement, project type, size, duration and team skillset, ought to be incorporated into the KPI thresholds to ensure a more precise and meaningful assessment of project performance.

Finally, KPIs should be viewed as living, evolving mechanisms, mirroring the project’s trajectory. This dynamic perspective fosters a culture of continuous learning, encourages periodic strategy adjustments, and aligns more effectively with the complex and fast-paced realities of modern project landscapes.

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Advantages and Challenges of an Adaptive Approach

Adopting an adaptive approach to KPIs unveils several compelling benefits. Primarily, this method fosters a responsive and agile project management environment, enabling teams to adeptly navigate changes and maintain momentum towards their objectives. By embracing flexibility, teams are encouraged to continually learn, refine their strategies, and progressively improve. This learning culture not only nurtures individual and collective growth but also enhances the potential for delivering value and achieving project goals.

However, implementing an adaptive approach is not without challenges. Critics may argue that tailoring KPIs for each project is a burdensome task, especially for organizations handling a vast number of projects. Indeed, creating individual KPIs for each project may seem daunting and resource intensive. However, this concern often underscores a deeper issue of mass governance in project management, where projects are overseen in a bulk, uniform manner, neglecting their unique characteristics.

Counterarguments and Solutions

To address these concerns, it’s important to emphasize that while individualizing KPIs requires upfront effort, the long-term benefits—enhanced accuracy, improved decision-making, and ultimately, successful projects—outweigh the initial investment. It’s about quality over quantity, shifting the focus from managing a large volume of projects to truly understanding and effectively managing each one.

Technology can also play a pivotal role in facilitating this adaptive approach. Advanced project management tools and software can automate the process of defining and adjusting KPIs, making it a less labour-intensive and more streamlined process. Organizations can gradually introduce adaptive KPIs. Starting with pilot projects could allow teams to gain confidence and experience with the approach and help refine the process before wider implementation. This gradual integration can help alleviate concerns and demonstrate the efficacy of adaptive KPIs.

Ultimately, transitioning to an adaptive KPI approach should be a thoughtful, well-planned process, considering the unique needs and capabilities of each organization. By doing so, we can address the legitimate challenges posed, while still harnessing the substantial benefits of this innovative approach.


In our rapidly changing project environment, the steadfast, conventional KPIs may no longer suffice. It is high time we welcome a shift towards an adaptive KPI approach, one that truly echoes the unique fabric of each project, appreciates the diverse shades of project progress, and continuously evolves in tandem with the project’s trajectory. This approach not only amplifies our project management effectiveness but also ensures that our success metrics are as diverse, resilient, and forward-thinking as the projects we orchestrate. By advocating this change, we lay the groundwork for a more realistic, precise, and insightful method of tracking project performance, fostering an environment that champions continuous learning, innovation, and strategic flexibility. With this, we can confidently navigate the complex waters of project management, steering our projects towards their destined success, one adaptive KPI at a time.

Best of PMTimes: Managing Stress in Project Management


Project Manager (PM) is no doubt one of the most stressful jobs out there as the PM is directly responsible and accountable for the success or failure of a project. Some PMs believed that they can handle and cope with the high level of stress but there are some who are ignoring or refuse to recognize that they are under stress. The experience of stress is not only impacting the cognitive and behavioral performance, it can also have a negative impact on your personal health, wellbeing, and family life. You might not able to change the amount of stress you have on a daily basis, but you can change how you deal with it. It is important to manage the stress before it becomes more and more difficult to handle and manage.


The Yerkes-Dodson Curve

Based on the Yerkes-Dodson curve, moderate level of stress improves performance and when the stress level increases more, the performance decreases. Hence, it is crucial for project managers to be able to moderate the stress levels for optimal performance.


Causes of Stress in Project Management

Imaging the project deadline is 2 weeks away and there are still some critical issues to be resolved. To make it worse, one of your key team members has been hospitalized. Customer is unhappy and management is requesting for a daily review. The source of stress in Project Management can be many and varied. Some common sources are listed below:

  1. Unrealistic timeline
  2. Working in a matrix system which PM does not have the full control of the resources
  3. Lack of resources – human and/or equipment
  4. Proliferation of virtual teams and cross cultural influences
  5. Inter-group conflict in organization
  6. Project environment

And the list goes on.


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Stress Management Techniques

Project Manager must first acknowledge or recognize that he or she is being under stress and then develop self-discipline before proceeding to learn and practice what are the techniques to manage stress. Learning to manage stress successfully begins with our willingness to take an honest look at ourselves.

Many techniques can help to manage stress. There is no-one-size-fits-all technique and no technique will be able to eliminate stress totally. Each person must decide what will work best for him or her. A few techniques should be explored to determine which works best and once they have found some strategies that work, commitment to practicing them is the key for managing stress.

I find five interpersonal skills and/or attitudes that help reduce stress taken from “Tangible Tips for Handling the Endless Stress in Project Management” by Steven Flannes, Ph.D., Principal, Flannes & Associates below to be really helpful in managing stress in Project Management:

  1. Detach or dissociate: Consider the team meeting where you are extremely frustrated by seeing wasted time or the personal posturing from a team member. To use detachment or dissociation, allow yourself to mentally “check out” of the meeting as much as is appropriate, letting your mind wander to a more pleasant image. Obviously, these approaches are used selectively and discretely.
  2. Monitor “what if?” thinking: In the middle of a stressful event, it is natural to engage in “what if thinking,” asking ourselves “What if we’d only done this in the past, then we might not be in this crisis right now?” As is evident, this form of “what if” thinking involves a focus that is not present oriented. An alternative to this form of thinking is to focus very much in the present, such as posing this question to yourself: “It’s Thursday at 3:17 PM, I’ve just received bad news about the project. What can I do in the next hour to take a small step towards improving the situation?”
  3. Develop potent conflict resolution skills: We add stress to our work lives by either under reacting to the stressful situation (avoiding or denying it) or over reacting to the stressful situation (coming on too strong). Both approaches increase our stress. A menu of conflict resolution skills (which will help reduce stress) is found in Flannes and Levin (2005).
  4. Know when enough is enough, and stay away from debating: A natural but often unproductive approach to resolve a stressful situation is to debate another person about the wisdom of your point of view. This does not mean you should not assert your belief, but you should know when to stop, often when your message has been heard. At this point in the dialogue, if we continue try to be seen as “right,” we are actually increasing our stress. It’s better to stop earlier than later; it can be a matter of diminishing returns to continue to be seen as “right.”
  5. Look for a paradoxical component in the situation: In the midst of a situation that is legitimately stressful, we may find ourselves taking ourselves, or the situation, too seriously. Cognitive behavioral psychologists would say that we are engaging in “catastrophizing” behavior, in which we take a singular, negative event, cognitively “run with it,” and then find ourselves believing, for example, that the entire project is probably doomed because of this one serious problem. An antidote to this is to find a paradoxical cognition that you can hold onto, something that will put your stress and worries in perspective.

Other techniques:

Prioritize: Put up a priority matrix and assign every task based on its urgency and importance. Focus on the tasks that are urgent and important. Don’t overwhelm yourself by worrying about your entire workload.
Avoid extreme reactions: Why hate when a little dislike will do? Why generate anxiety when you can be nervous? Why rage when anger will do the job? Why be depressed when you can just be sad?
Applying NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) to Stress Reduction: NLP provides a number of excellent tools and concepts to empower individuals to cope with or change non-resourceful or negative stress to resourceful or positive resources.With NLP you can change overwhelming, immobilizing feelings into powerful motivating forces.
Exercise: Take some time off from your busy schedule and plan for some physical activities, whether it’s jogging, cycling, hiking or other activities to work off stress.
Meditation: Learn how to best relax yourself. Meditation and breathing exercises have been proven to be very effective in controlling stress. Practice clearing your mind of disturbing thoughts.


The success in managing stress does not depend solely on the type of technique that is used, but instead the commitment from the individual that makes the difference. The same strategy might not work for everyone. Individual must take an honest look within him or herself and determine what is practical and make the most sense. Working to reduce stress can enhance happiness and health for many years. It does make a difference!



Best of PMTimes: Change Management in Projects – The Overlooked Methodology

The Scenario

The decision to implement a new technology solution is a significant one and, in many cases, a project that typically an organization is unlikely to undertake often. It is a project that requires a significant investment of money, time, and effort and so, return on investment (ROI) represents an important set of metrics that an organization should keep at the forefront of their minds. In almost all cases, the primary ROI metric is in fact a question – “How many people are now using the new software?”. This basic question should never be overlooked and I recommend asking it at the earliest stage of the project and phrasing that question differently- “How do we ensure everyone embraces our new software?”.

This subtle nuance is so frequently missed or undervalued, which is understandable as so much focus is applied to the traditional method of running technology projects; the priority is delivery and subsequently, user adoption does not get the attention it requires. Like a motor car, you can build the finest, most performant engine but if you only include one seat, only a select few people will choose to drive it.


The Culture

First and foremost, it is important to understand that having a perfectly designed and configured technology solution will not alone deliver a truly successful project. In the modern professional world, each of us has a significant level of autonomy in how we work and when using technology; we do not share email addresses or mobile phones and we typically undertake our day-to-day jobs differently from the next person. These examples are obvious when we think about them, so we should look at change through a similar lens; change affects people at an individual level.

The human mind is a complex thing; 1.4kgs of intelligence, hope, love, fear, and everything in between. We celebrate and promote our individuality in life, so we must consider everyone’s uniqueness when delivering a project. When we think back to previous changes we have experienced in our professional lives, almost always the same combination of positive and negative questions and remarks are made. Such examples include:

  • “Great! It’s about time we improved that.”
  • “Not for me. The current solution works just fine.”
  • “The last project was a nightmare.”
  • “Wow! This might actually make my life a lot easier.”

It is natural to respond negatively to change. Even as a Project Manager, in the past I have instinctively reacted with pessimism when I have felt a change was forced upon me! It is this realization that has driven me to adjust and develop project delivery methods to encourage people to embrace change.


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Delivering Change

We need to view delivering successful change as both a lineal and perpetual process. Embracing change starts at the onset of a project and continues throughout the weeks and months ahead until we reach ‘go-live’ and beyond. The sections below include suggested methods for embracing change and delivering a successful project.

1. Ignite Interest – 0-1 month of the project

It is important to start communicating with the user community as soon as possible. This is a vital step- addressing the common complaints raised by users that they were unaware of and/or not consulted about the new software.

Below are some ways to get you started on communicating and igniting interest:

  • Announce during any regular “Town Hall” style company-wide meetings
  • Send an email to announce and sell the benefits
  • If appropriate, force-out screensaver/ desktop wallpaper announcements
  • Print free-standing banners and place in communal areas of the office
  • If screens exist in communal areas, display messages of the new project
  • Utilize the Intranet

The key to these activities is to build interest, not provide copious amounts of information. View this as a method of igniting some excitement so focus on the key selling points of the product.


2. Develop Interest – 1-3 months of the project

It is now time to build upon the initial interest that has been generated in the project. We should now be at a point that everyone in the organization is aware of the incoming software; this initial interest needs to be developed. We must remain mindful that one of the most common complaints following a project’s implementation, is that the end-users have not been consulted or felt involved. If someone feels negatively towards an incoming change, it is often because they feel that change has been forced upon them. Here are some recommended activities you can undertake at this stage of the process:

  • Run demonstration Workshops of the software
  • Establish user groups from each business area and run “interview” sessions to develop an understanding of how they work and how the software will need to be optimized for them
  • Set up a small number of workstations for users to “play” with the software
  • Provide regular project updates – most people don’t want huge amounts of detail; they just want to feel included and updated so share timelines and high-level updates


3. Empower Users – 3-4 months of the project

Training users on the new software is not a new concept but it is vital. The training delivery method is of particular importance and tailoring the training to specific departments is something that is highly recommended. When planning the training, ask questions such as “How will this department use the software?” With the knowledge built from the steps in stage 1, you will already have this knowledge so let’s use it to develop tailored training sessions. Training can of course be delivered in many forms:

  • Face to face, classroom sessions
  • Training videos/ eLearning
  • Quick Reference Guides (one-page graphical guides)
  • Remote, web-based training sessions

4. Support Users – Go live

To reach this point of the project, a significant level of investment and effort will have been expressed by all parties involved. Users have been trained, informed, and updated, but now they need to use the software. The risk here is that if there is one small gap in a user’s knowledge, then that can spark negativity that spreads throughout their user experience and transfer to their colleagues rapidly. To counter this, I always strongly recommend floorwalking. As outlined in this document, floorwalking ensures users are supported immediately during the first few days of using the software.


5. Into the Future

Change- specifically managing and embracing change, is a perpetual concept. Think of it as sliding down a curly-wurly slide and landing on a roundabout! Each twist in the slide represents the steps required for effective change during the project, followed by the roundabout which is the ongoing process of ensuring the change continues to be embraced and enjoyed. Whilst a new piece of software might not be as enjoyable (or nausea-inducing) as a roundabout, it is important to continue to communicate with your users after they have started using the software. Be sure to give that roundabout a “nudge” every now and then to keep it spinning. These nudges are often best delivered as metrics. The good thing about metrics is that they are typically easy to generate and simple to communicate. Consider options such as:

  • Usage stats – share how many people are using the software and when
  • Tangible benefits – where possible, calculate the direct or indirect cost benefits that have been realized vs the cost of the solution
  • Speak to your user community – remember, most software solutions are to benefit the users so be open to their feedback and share it


I honestly believe that there is no perfect solution to implementing a successful change. The wonders of humankind and technology mean there are just too many variables to have a concise set of rules to follow, in order to achieve a successful change. The points I have made in this document are simply my thoughts and broad suggestions, not a roadmap for success. If I can leave you with one concise suggestion, it is to always put yourself in the shoes of the end-user; base your approach on one that you would be comfortable being a part of.

Maximizing Impact and Efficiency with Zero-Based Portfolio Prioritization


In today’s competitive business environment, it’s important for organizations to stay ahead of the game. One key to success is being able to effectively prioritize and deliver on projects that will drive strategic goals and bring about competitive advantage. This is where zero-based portfolio prioritization comes in.

But first, let’s consider the importance of prioritization to your portfolio and your business.


Why Prioritize?

Effective project prioritization can bring a number of benefits to your organization, including:

Improved return on investment: Studies have shown that prioritized projects are more likely to drive greater ROI and overall value, as they are more closely aligned with the organization’s strategic goals. Additionally, projects that are well-aligned with strategy are 45% more likely to be delivered to budget and 50% more likely to be delivered on time.

Better support from senior management and other key stakeholders: When projects are clearly linked to strategic imperatives, they have a 57% higher likelihood of success. This is due in part to increased engagement from senior leadership and greater energy behind the projects, which can result in more resources being made available to deliver them.


Reduction of waste: Prioritization ensures that organizations are focused on projects that will add value, rather than those that are no longer relevant. All too often, organizations continue working on outdated projects that consume valuable resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.

Avoidance of resource overload: When organizations do not focus on the most important projects, resources can be stretched too thin, leading to bottlenecks and delays on critical projects. Prioritizing projects effectively frees up people to work on the things that really matter, which can also be more motivating for team members.

What is the Zero-based Portfolio Prioritization Process?

Zero-based portfolio prioritization is a method of evaluating and prioritizing projects based on their potential value, rather than their place in a pre-existing hierarchy or list of priorities. It involves starting with a blank slate and reviewing each project based on its current potential value to the organization.

There are a few different methods that can be used for zero-based portfolio prioritization, including weighted scoring, MoSCoW prioritization, the Eisenhower Matrix, and the Impact and Effort Matrix.


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Implementing Zero-based Portfolio Prioritization

So, how do you go about implementing zero-based portfolio prioritization in your organization? Here are the key steps to follow:

Define your criteria: To effectively evaluate and prioritize projects, you’ll need to decide on the criteria you will use. This could include things like ROI, risk level, resource requirements, and cost-benefit ratio. Involve key stakeholders in this process to ensure that the criteria align with the organization’s strategic goals and needs.

Review and evaluate projects: Once you have your criteria defined, review and evaluate each project based on how it aligns with the criteria. This could involve creating a matrix or other tool to help you score and compare projects. Be sure to consider both quantitative and qualitative benefits in your evaluation.

Communicate and act: Once you have your prioritized list of projects, it’s important to communicate the changes to all stakeholders and start working on the revised plan. This can be challenging, as some team members may be disappointed if their projects are deprioritized. Be sure to clearly communicate the reasons for the changes and how they align with the organization’s goals to help mitigate resistance.

Monitor and evaluate: Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the prioritized projects is key to ensuring that they remain aligned with the organization’s goals and that resources are being used effectively. This may involve regularly reviewing and adjusting the criteria used to evaluate projects, as well as tracking progress and outcomes.


Challenges and Considerations

While zero-based portfolio prioritization can bring many benefits to an organization, it’s important to be aware of the potential challenges and considerations that may come up. These could include:

Resistance to change: As mentioned, it’s common for team members to resist changes to project priorities, especially if their own projects are deprioritized. It’s important to clearly communicate the reasons for the changes and how they align with the organization’s goals to help mitigate resistance.

Difficulty in evaluating and comparing projects: It can be challenging to accurately evaluate and compare projects, especially when some benefits are hard to quantify. It’s important to be thorough and use a consistent approach to ensure that projects are being compared fairly.

Ensuring alignment with strategic goals: It’s essential to ensure that the prioritized projects are aligned with the organization’s strategic goals. This may require regular review and adjustment of the criteria used to evaluate projects.


Limited resources: Even with effective prioritization, there may be times when the organization simply doesn’t have the resources to tackle all of the highest-priority projects. In these cases, it may be necessary to prioritize further or look for ways to free up resources.

Overall, zero-based portfolio prioritization can be a powerful tool for organizations looking to align their priorities with their strategic goals and ensure that resources are being used effectively. By carefully defining criteria, evaluating, and comparing projects, communicating and acting on the revised plan, and monitoring and evaluating progress, organizations can make the most of their resources and drive greater success.