Saturday, February 29, 2020

More Leadership. Less Management.

More Leadership. Less Management.
Why do so many projects continue to fail? An important aspect is the increased complexity of projects and the environments in which they are undertaken.

Many factors contribute to this growing complexity – social and technological change, growing global interdependence, increasing numbers of stakeholders and the need to communicate and coordinate cross-culturally.

Traditionally, a good project manager was someone who was logical and rational and effective at dealing with events, tasks and processes. It was someone who would work to the client’s brief and use his or her authority to deliver the desired outputs.

Often, this type of project manager would study best practices and company procedures so that the individual could play by the rules and ensure that the standards were upheld.

But this approach no longer works.

Or as one executive put it.

"If a project manager just follows orders he is not much use to me."

Building high-performing teams, creating great relationships and ensuring that the project actually delivers what the customer needs cannot be achieved solely through logic.

It requires creativity, empathy, risk-taking, vision and, most important, the ability to connect with people at a very personal level.

It requires leadership.

Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper.

Leaders, on the other hand, know where they’d like to go, but understand that they can’t get there without their team, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.

Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility.

We need both. But we have to be careful not to confuse them.

Leadership is not attained through a job title but through a continuous journey of introspection, observation and development.

In a nutshell: We need more leadership and less management.

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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Projects Fail at the Beginning. And This is Why.

Projects Fail at the Beginning. Not at the End.
Beginnings are always difficult.

Projects are about people, people are about relationships, relationships are about trust, trust comes over time.

So at the very moment your project is at its most vulnerable because you don’t have enough information, credible plans, nor stakeholder support, you also don’t have the relationships with key people to fall back on.

The only way to start is to trust your instincts.

Something they won’t tell you in any project management methodology book.

It’s also not just what you do at the beginning of the project; it’s how you do it.

The ‘what’ is no huge mystery. Perfectly straightforward project management theory.

Go and buy any project management book for a list of all the things you need to get done at the beginning of a project; it’s no more complicated than the shopping list for a cooking recipe.

But what none of them will tell you is ‘how’.

The reason those books won’t tell is simply that there is no magic formula.

There is no list of successful habits to kick-start a project that works in the real world.

You aren’t going to learn it from any textbook because it’s all about people and relationships.

And that is one reason why so many projects fail at the beginning.

A project management certificate does not help anybody with their people and relationship skills.

Also what works for one project or company will not work for another.

You need to be able to read people, relationships, situations, and organizations,

You need to be able to trust your instincts.

In a nutshell: The only way to start a project is to trust your instincts because it’s all about people and relationships.

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

Project Success is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Project success is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Go around admitting doubt, and your project will fail.

Tell everyone that it will succeed and they will believe it too, and you have every chance of getting there.

You’re thinking it cannot be that simple?

That it just sounds like self-help psycho-babble?

All I can say is that I have never once in my life have seen a doubting project manager succeed.

The opposite is of course not necessarily true.

Believing in project success is necessary.

Believing alone is not sufficient to get the job done.

In a nutshell: Go around admitting doubt, and your project will fail.

When you need some guidance on how to define and measure project success have a look at my Project Success Model here or by clicking on the image.

The Project Success Model

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Sunday, February 09, 2020

Project ≠ Product ≠ Business ≠ Company

Project ≠ Product ≠ Business ≠ Company
Last few weeks I had a number of heated discussions around these terms. People get confused and make wrong decisions because of this.

This is my take on it.

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.

And a project is unique in that it is not a routine job, but a specific set of jobs designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.

Where each project is unique, doing projects is something that is recurring. Most organizations spend a lot of time and money on projects.

That is why investing in project management capabilities gives you usually a high ROI.

A product is something that you can build and sell, directly or indirectly. It is the "thing" (though it can be a service) that you could make money from via a business. By itself, though, it won't make money.

Typically the first version of a new product or service is the result of a project. The second version is usually not.

A business is a set of people, processes, and tools that have been structured around a product or service to enable it to make money.

Ideally, a business is profitable, but it may not be.

Ideally, a business doesn't depend on any specific person being a part of it (including the founders), but it may rely on some exceptional people.

You can't run a business solely with projects. You need day-to-day operations.

A company is an organization of people that is designed to run one or more businesses successfully and to create new businesses to respond to opportunities in the marketplace.

This must be, ultimately, independent of any specific employee, since companies, unlike products and businesses, are (or should be) built to last for decades.

A business is worth much more than the product that it sells.

A company is worth much more than the business that keeps it alive.

This is one good rationale for why some startups (e.g. WeWork, Facebook, Twitter), operating in environments where it's easy to raise money, have bypassed the "build a business" step to go straight to building a company.

The danger with that is that if you don't first build a business, you might end up building a company that's incapable of building new businesses - and that's not worth a whole lot.

In a nutshell: Project ≠ Product ≠ Business ≠ Company

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Monday, February 03, 2020

Leadership Is Not for Cowards

Leadership Is Not for Cowards
Fewer “bad leader” types have the capacity to paralyze a team more than a coward – the leader who praises poor performance, avoids difficult issues, and buys loyalty by saying yes to anyone and any idea.

The dictionary defines the word coward, when used as a noun, as “a person who lacks courage in facing danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc.; a timid or easily intimidated person.

Coward leaders are in every organization, at every level of an organization, from the first line supervisor to the company CEO; government bureaucrats to elected officials ... they’re out there ... they’re everywhere … like an insidious disease; they corrupt employee morale, destroy trust in teams and organizations, and even threaten the very existence of their teams and organizations.

Working for one is probably one of the most discouraging experiences one can have.

Below are thirteen differences between strong leaders and cowardly ones. Recognize any of these characteristics in your own manager -- or yourself?

1) Strong leaders reward achievement rather than effort

Weak leaders, on the other hand, reward effort rather than achievement. It’s a mistake to be too “soft” about expectations, to say, “Just do your best.” People will not achieve just because you encourage and motivate them. Somebody must drive performance. Somebody must plant the flag on the hill and refuse to accept anything but success. That somebody is you.

Courageous leaders layout expected results in the most effective and humane way possible and are clear about the consequences of not meeting them. Managers may worry about upsetting their employees, so they don’t set high expectations.

I believe in a respectful workplace where people enjoy their jobs and look forward to coming to work, but I am also in full support of less whining and more doing, less passing the buck and more personal responsibility, less explaining why you didn’t and more showing how you did.

2) Strong leaders collaborate with their team members to create a vision

Cowardly leaders don't dare to establish a vision -- they take their orders from the higher-ups. It takes courage to have vision, because you have to believe you can realize the vision, no matter what obstacles may appear in your way.

Cowardly leaders are more comfortable measuring people against handed-down yardsticks, than inspiring people to achieve great things.

3) Strong leaders hire strong and confident people

They don't hire people based on endless lists of essential requirements but rather based on the pluck and brains of the candidates they meet. Cowardly leaders stick like glue to the bulleted list of essential requirements when they hire people. All they need to know is "Is this person a 'safe' hire that I won't be criticized for hiring?" and "Is this person someone who will listen to me?"

Cowardly leaders don't dare hire someone with their own ideas, because that person might outshine the manager one day!

4) Strong leaders tell the truth about sticky topics

If they run into a conflict with an employee, they'll address it head-on and compassionately. They'll say, "Look, we see things differently regarding the project scope and priorities. Let's talk about it."

Cowardly managers don't dig into conflict in order to sort it out. They say, "I'm the manager, so we're going to do it my way.", or they don't say anything at all. That way they don't have to look any more closely at their words and actions than they're comfortable with.

5) Strong leaders speak up when they feel strongly about something 

If a new policy gets enacted at Corporate and they're told they must enforce the new policy, strong leaders will go to their boss and say "Red alert! This policy makes no sense. It will anger our employees and suck away our team's precious mojo." When six or eight supervisors all say the same thing with equal vehemence, the manager will tell the folks at Corporate that the new policy is %&ç@ and the Corporate people will revisit it.

A cowardly supervisor may hate the new policy as much as a strong supervisor does, but they won't speak up. They'll enforce the policy and tell their employees, "There's nothing I can do about it."

6) Strong leaders take responsibility instead of placing blame

This is an energy-draining, counterproductive way of dealing with difficult circumstances. Blaming someone else puts you in the position of a victim who is not in control. Therefore, you won’t take action to change your circumstances because it’s someone else’s problem. (How convenient, huh?). Victim thinking affects not just individuals but entire organizations.

Acknowledging that you are ultimately responsible for the results of your life, thoughts, and actions creates a level of freedom not experienced by those who choose to blame others. It empowers you to act. Courageous leaders are driven by, even obsessed with, the imperative to eliminate excuse-making and blame from themselves and their organizations.

7) Strong leaders give people latitude

They are available to answer questions, but their general posture is "It's your job -- do it your way." Weak leaders don't trust themselves enough to hire people they can trust. They spell out every detail -- and woe to the employee who does their job even slightly different from the standard process. They are like a helicopter.

Helicopter leaders are afraid to let go because they believe the work won’t get done if they don’t oversee every detail. Either this fear is unfounded or it’s a sign that employees really aren’t capable of doing their jobs. The solution is simple: do your job and let them do theirs, or get rid of incompetent employees and replace them with people who can get the job done.

8) Strong leaders know they don't know everything

They lead through trust, rather than fear. If a teammate tells the supervisor, "I think you're using the A valve, but it's the B valve we need," the supervisor will say, "Thanks for noticing that!" They don't freak out when somebody corrects them, because they know that it takes everybody's brain cells to make a department go.

Cowardly managers can't stand being corrected. They don't want to learn from their teammates. They aren't open to learning in general!

9) Strong leaders take the easy way out only if it is the right way

Weak leaders frequently take the easy way out. They avoid taking bold, decisive action because it makes them uncomfortable. Then, they rationalize why they didn’t do what they really needed to do. It’s easier to avoid taking action (at least in the short term), but it’s also a sure path to mediocrity and stagnation.

10) Strong leaders don’t pretend to don’t know what they know

Weak leaders pretend they don’t know what they actually know. They pretend they don’t know about opportunities in order to avoid risk. They pretend they don’t know that a high performer is behaving badly and making other employees unhappy. They pretend that your biggest client isn’t crushing employee morale. Maybe, they even pretend they don’t know it’s time for them to move on.

All of this pretending allows them to avoid pain and feel good in the short term, but it exacts a heavy price over time. There is always a price to be paid for necessary actions not taken. The job of a leader is to look reality in the face and accept it so that you can make the tough decisions that need to be made.

11) Strong leaders don’t ignore what’s causing “weight and drag” in their organization

Maybe it’s a policy, a person, or a mindset that’s holding them or their team back from optimal performance. They ask themself: What am I doing, or not doing, that is adding weight and drag? Am I refusing to make a decision, waiting to hire an assistant, delaying a hiring or firing issue?

At the core of your job as a leader is your role as an obstacle remover. Be courageous: remove the obstacles you can and work around the ones that remain so that you can stay productive, directed, and focused.

12) Strong leaders don’t hide behind the “I’m not quite ready” excuse

Leaders and organizations spend too much time getting ready to be ready to get ready to almost get ready to be ready to get ready. Then they form a committee or a task force (which is just a committee on steroids) to evaluate more and look into the situation more so that they can really be ready. Getting overly ready is a result of fear. You don’t want to fail so instead you put off the moment of truth by perpetually getting ready.

Should you prepare? Of course! Do your research? Yes. But stop hiding behind the “we aren’t quite ready” curtain. Say, “Enough is enough,” and just do it—even if conditions aren’t perfect.

13) Strong leaders don’t ignore information

Weak leaders see only the information that agrees with their beliefs. We all have a natural tendency to ignore information that contradicts our beliefs about the world, especially our negative beliefs. If we believe someone doesn’t like us, we will see only those behaviors that support that impression. If we think we are bad at something, we will see only more evidence of that conclusion. This tendency is so strong that it blinds us to contrary evidence. As long as we don’t see other possibilities we don’t have to take action.

Closing thoughts

The business world is full of coward leaders; as is the government. Of all the factors that are used to describe a coward leader the one element of the coward leader that usually isn’t mentioned is the basic character flaw of not having the guts to look you in the eye and being honest with you. They will try to find any way they can to avoid dealing with tough issues. Coward leaders are scared people, refusing to confront at all costs… Don’t be one of them.

In a nutshell: Leadership is not for cowards.

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