Adopting These Project Management Beliefs Could Change Your Organization — and even the World

I confess. I’ve hit a wall. I’ve been blogging weekly for nearly two years on one subject — project management — and I’m finding it increasingly hard to ignore the political scene in Washington. The vote to leave the Paris accord was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But the increasing divisions and even hatred in our world, terrorism events, and war torn countries around the globe don’t help.

Add to that an increasing focus on artificial intelligence and we can legitimately wonder where humanity is heading. When I began my Smart Projex journey, it was to find a way to re-invent project management. It was with the belief that human beings are important — more important than anything else. I was trying to build a team centered approach that valued the financial investment behind projects.

Agile approaches, including Scrum and Kanban, are great, but there is rarely a focus on cost management. When the goal is to create software better, faster, and cheaper than the competition, perhaps that works. But what happens when you are investing in other kinds of projects and you need a portfolio dashboard that weighs all of your project investments?

And so, Smart Projex has been working on a way to integrate an agile scheduling approach and high-performing teams with other project management best practices.

The Smart Projex approach requires project managers to adopt some pretty magnanimous belief systems. And the best project managers share these beliefs. Would the world be better off if we all adopted these beliefs? Here are some project management beliefs that might improve the world, or maybe just your school, your company, your project team, or your family.

Project management is not a zero sum game.

The best project managers are always thinking about the business value that their projects add. No business has unlimited funds. Tough decisions have to be made. But when project investments are improving the bottom line, there is more money to fund projects. So the best project managers are looking at how their projects are improving the business.

If you read the conservative political press, Donald Trump is ‘leading.’ I don’t argue that it took courage to abandon the Paris accord. But does making Pittsburg great mean that somehow Paris needs to be anything less than it can be? Can’t the world be great? International trade is not a zero sum game either. I’m not sure it does much good to make America great in a world that is increasingly frightened and hungry.

People are important. Take care of them.

People execute projects. And project leaders understand that people work better when they feel good. Good project managers take the time to nurture the individuals on their teams. They provide safe environments for teams to work. They reduce unnecessary distractions. And yet, they don’t remove all conflict. Some struggle is good.

I’ve always loved the story about the young child who was watching a caterpillar emerge into a butterfly. The young child thought that he/she could help the caterpillar by clipping away some of the silk cocoon to help the butterfly get free. But then, the butterfly couldn’t fly. Its wings were underdeveloped because life was made too easy for the caterpillar. We need to allow our teams to struggle.

As we move towards a world with increasing artificial intelligence, it behooves us to question whether we are using artificial intelligence wisely. I wrote my first assignment on artificial intelligence nearly 40 years ago. It is not a new subject. And the same fears that the subject engenders today date back to the Industrial Age, when some were afraid that machines would make humans obsolete.

Michael Lewis, in his book The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, writes about a number of situations when humans make flawed decisions. And experts are grappling with how to improve human decision making. We seem to be closer to a point in history where computers can actually make better decisions than humans, as evidenced by the strides that IBM has made with Watson. And yet, what is the overarching goal?

What are the wise questions that should face leaders today when they seek to embrace technological advances? If we fast-forward to a world that is controlled by humans with augmented brainpower, what will that do to the gap between the rich and the poor? What is the future for humanity in a world controlled by super-humans? Can we ever program a computer to ‘have a heart?’

As ­­Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology says, “We are, without doubt, built to make social connections.” He argues that the metaphor of viewing the brain like a computer — as a processor of stored data — is invalid, and needs to be abandoned. According to Epstein, no two people will hear the same story, listen to the same piece of music, or view the same image and be changed in the same way.

That makes us much more complicated than computers. And while computers never tire, people do. So, we need to take care of our people. Treated well, they may be the single biggest source of your organization’s greatness.

Spend time creating a shared vision.

The best project managers resist the urge to jump into planning the steps of a project before they have documented the ‘why?’ and developed a commitment to that vision.

Suppose the US Congress abandoned all lawmaking activities until it developed a consensus on what kind of country we want to be? Is the vision for America to be the kindest and ‘greenest’ nation on the earth or the smartest and meanest nation? Congress would still have differences about how to accomplish its objectives, but at least it would have a shared objective.

I think it is safe to say that the founding fathers never predicted that America would grow into a nation that shares an extraordinary planet with such a diverse group of individuals, all needing air, water, food, and safe housing. We can quickly be in contact with others all over the globe. Yet, by happenstance of birth, while some play golf on one of Donald Trump’s courses, others are still walking miles a day to transport water to their villages, or worse yet, coping with bombs exploding nearby. It used to be that America felt like a place with a shared identity but that seems less and less true.

Listening doesn’t mean approval.

The best project teams take time for spirited debates. They actively listen to others, including those with opposing views. And, they respect others enough to allow them to speak without interruption. The best project managers ensure that those who speak loudest and most often don’t necessarily win every debate. In healthy debates, good project managers provide the space for the best ideas to rise to the top, like cream.

We aren’t seeing healthy debate and respectful listening enough in our world today. Regardless of your political persuasion when did it become acceptable to “body-slam” someone who held an opposing position?

Even on academic campuses, where the free exchange of ideas has been a hallmark characteristic, there is an increasing lack of tolerance for different perspectives. And it’s coming from both sides. Somewhere along the journey, ‘progressives’ — the ones who were promoting freedom of expression some years ago — have begun to feel that ‘conservative’ ideas should be shut down.

But when we try to shut down an idea, don’t we risk giving it more credibility? I learned that lesson in Parenting 102. Try to forbid your darling 12 year-old daughter from seeing that dashing 17 year-old football player. I predict she will find a way.

Diversity is desperately needed.

When everyone on your team thinks alike, how will you create new and interesting solutions to the problems today, and in the future? The best project managers make every effort to build diversity into their teams. At the same time, they seek out the brightest and best.

But, for diverse teams to work well together, respect for each other has to be very high. People need to understand that others on the team will bring different skill sets and that their contributions will look different. People need to commit to actively listening and supporting everyone on the team. When teams adopt an adversarial approach, little constructive progress is made.

In closing, let me say that I don’t yet know what the future is for Smart Projex. I continue to believe that there is a market for a project management solution that offers:

  • Dashboard reporting of reliable metrics to improve executive decision-making;
  • Increased profits, resulting from improvements in team functionality; and
  • Better alignment between project investments and organizational strategy.

Curious? Please reach out by email or schedule a call.

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Writes on project management, leadership, team building, and value delivery. Imagining work management in the future. Smartprojex.com