Managing Processes

Project Management

Success Paradigm 4:

Just as people need leadership and partners need partnerships, processes need management. However, they don’t need micromanagement!

Proper management of project processes is an art that relies heavily on leading the team, rather than micromanaging it. For too many years project managers have been forced into roles of micromanagement. They have become overly busy managing the miniscule details of their projects and less focused on that which is most important – performance of their team.

The problem we encounter almost every day is that governments, and even private companies, incorporate prescriptive, cookie-cutter management methods into their contracts, which end up forcing project managers to become micromanagers. Often, much of their time is spent producing reports and other paperwork, which has very little to do with the success of the necessary projects.

In both government and the private sector the contractual arrangements often force managers to act as watchdogs within our litigious society; in order to protect themselves and their companies, project managers must make up reams of reports that have little to do with performance. Their greatest worries are avoiding law suits. We, of course, believe this is counter-productive. It would be much better for these managers to be focused on performance and success, rather than mistrust.

The following example vividly illustrates this point:

We recently worked with a team that was involved in a government project. They knew their business well, particularly the project manager. All of them knew what it meant to be a high-performance team. In all cases where we were involved their performance was excellent.

However, on this specific project, the government quality assurance (QA) representatives did not trust this team to do the job right. They seemed intent on showing the project team who was in charge and correcting the team’s supposedly flawed understanding of project requirements. Interestingly, most of what these QA reps said was based purely on opinion.

The micromanaging tendencies and lack of trust shown by the government representatives had a significant impact on project team performance. Instead of seeing an increase in team productivity, the project saw an increase in unnecessary paperwork and meetings. Instead of having a project manager to focus on team performance, the manager was forced to micromanage the entire effort. Instead of providing innovative solutions to problems, the manager was relegated to implementing the unwise opinions of the QA reps.

In looking closely at the situation, we discovered that an interesting phenomenon had occurred. Risk gradually shifted from the shoulders of the contractor to the shoulders of the government representatives. The contractor would no longer take responsibility for product quality, delays and cost overruns. He attributed all of these problems to the government. The government was dictating quality – so he let them do quality control. They were also dictating time and cost impacts – so he let them take responsibility. He spent most of his time documenting problems created by the government representatives, rather than focusing on the performance of his team.

As a result, the project experienced difficulties with quality, significant schedule delays and large cost overruns. The irony of this mess is that the government paid for these problems in the end. Since the project manager spent so much time documenting the problems, he was able to prove that the government had removed the risk from his shoulders. Since the government reps were so busy micromanaging the project, they didn’t have documentation to refute the contractor. So the taxpayers paid a high price for lack of trust, incompetence and micromanagement.

Another quick story to illustrate the impacts of micromanagement may be appropriate. A very large corporation decided to prepare a critical manual to illustrate their products. The company had several levels of management. Two levels above the project manager there was a man with tremendous company history. He was assigned to be on the project team. He was bright, resourceful, and innovative when working by himself. However, he had one fatal flaw: he was a micromanager. He insisted that he have the final say about what went into every detail of the manual.

As the project progressed, the team found that this executive was dictatorial, intolerant, and rude. In this case the project manager and team thought they had no choice but to accept his rule. They labored for over a year. When the final product was presented to upper management, they found the writing forced, inaccurate and, at best, dull. They rejected it outright.

The project manager was called to the board room to explain. He finally had to admit that he had allowed this higher level executive to dominate the work, overshadowing the rest of the team’s contribution. The reaction of the board was simply, “You had the responsibility to inform us of this situation long before a year had passed. We did not know that this member was exercising such unwarranted control. But that doesn’t excuse this poor performance.” The project manager was held to account for the failure. He didn’t get another chance to lead a team in such critical circumstances.

These examples are two of many that show it is difficult for project teams to produce success if project managers are not focused on performance. Thus, we believe it is time to abandon the old paradigm of micromanagement and mistrust and replace it with a new paradigm involving performance-based management.

Performance-based management is different than micromanagement because it is focused on outcomes and customer satisfaction, rather than miniscule details. High performing project managers and teams understand it is their responsibility to create a bridge between their performance and the desires of the customer.

The three foundational pillars supporting this bridge must be the guides of high performing project managers and teams. High performing project managers help their teams:

  • Clearly define success
  • Plan for performance
  • Perform

They also understand that for the team to be effective, they must lead the team, using these guiding principles, not micromanage them to the point that team members want to dive off this bridge into the swirling waters below.


Innovation , Project Management

We believe that partnerships and synergy are catalysts that set innovative processes in motion.  In fact, innovation is one of the most rewarding results of partnership.  It is one of the best ways to capitalize on the effects of synergy, and thereby balance project success parameters.  As positive synergy builds, innovative power increases, bringing life and meaning to projects!  But this can only happen when people, teams and partners truly unite under a common cause.

The experience of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team brings home the importance of partnership, synergy and innovation.  This “project” brought together a group of people with very different perspectives and molded them into a partnership that achieved greatness.  Their historic and exhilarating journey toward Olympic Gold provides a wonderful lesson in partnership and innovation.

Looking beyond the final outcome and glory that came with this brilliant victory, one can see that the experience of this team was not easy.  These young partners did not truly become great until they united under a common goal and bought into the innovative game plan of the coach.

At first, they literally could not adapt to the coach’s innovative approach.  It was not until they worked together to increase team synergy that the team began to seriously contend for the coveted medal.  At the beginning they experienced significant friction, inertia and turbulence all because they seemed not to be able to work for the team.

The Olympic journey seemed all but dead.  However, once they came together, they not only accepted the ideas of the coach, but individuals began to think and perform innovatively.

In layman’s terms, innovation is the ability for people to develop new and better ways of doing things.  The coach believed they had to play a new style of hockey to win on an international stage.  Even he, however, had little hope of beating the dominant Russian team.  If it were to happen, his methods had to root themselves firmly in the team’s collective play.  His methods were unfamiliar to the young U.S. team members.  Initially the players felt these methods were just different, not better.  However, the coach was very persuasive and helped them see things in a new light (not that we totally agree with his persuasion tactics).  As they came together and adopted his style, innovative power alone propelled them to success.  The victory, of course, filled everyone across the world with admiration.  It never would have happened without the power of innovation.

Like the hockey team, businesses cannot achieve greatness without synergy and innovation.  Peter Drucker says, “Any existing organization, whether a business, a church, a labor union, or a hospital, goes down fast if it does not innovate….Not to innovate is the single largest reason for the decline of existing organizations.” (Drucker, p. 8) This translates easily into the project management environment.  If project teams and partners do not develop a synergistic, innovative environment, they will “go down fast” and have difficulty balancing the project success parameters.

If we think about the purposes of projects and partnerships, we can easily see that they lend themselves to innovative processes.

Projects are implemented to create unique systems that in turn will lead to unique products which will meet the needs of individuals or organizations.  The term “unique” describes the process we’re looking for: individuals, teams and organizations must innovate to produce their products in a new or better way.  In other words, projects must create change.  Innovation is change.  Thus, successful projects naturally generate opportunities for innovation.

Partnerships are almost always created to generate synergy.  As people work well together, synergy increases.  As positive synergy builds within a team, innovative processes become easier and performance improves.  Thus partnerships naturally generate innovation and performance improvement.

Recently we were providing consulting services to a project team that was responsible for making some clinical and facility improvements in a large portion of a hospital.  Part of the project involved some unique improvements to the communications infrastructure.  Along with standard office IT infrastructure, this particular facility was installing a telemedicine system, a remote monitored security system, a high tech environmental control system and a medical equipment monitoring system – all of which would provide the hospital new and better medical capabilities.

The project team had a wonderful knack for partnering.  They truly had a synergistic, partner-focused work environment – with the exception of one particular stakeholder, the IT Division, which had not bought into the team concept.  In truth, it seemed they were actively opposing the efforts of the primary project team.  Furthermore, they had a reputation for providing poor, untimely support.

The communications requirements of this project generated a significant need for innovative thinking.  The project manager began to notice this, and he saw that this need would not be met unless the IT group became part of the team.  To address this problem he began making efforts to bring this group into harmony with the project team’s thinking.  Instead of challenging the IT group’s thinking, the project manager listened to their concerns.  He talked them through the project vision and goals and ensured their participation in future planning efforts.

Slowly a partnership began to build.  As their partnership progressed, synergy began to develop between the IT group and the rest of the project team.  This led to some interesting innovations which surprised the members of the project team.  And certainly the final performance surpassed the expectations of the medical staff.  It also led to an improvement of the IT group’s overall performance.

This experience is just one of many which have showed us that as project teams improve their partnerships and begin to innovate, the bottom line improves.  Sometimes this is dramatic improvement.  Again, as partnerships are developed, synergy builds, innovation becomes possible, life and meaning are infused into the project, and chances of success increase.

The creation of the Project Management Institute (PMI©) is an example of tremendous innovation.  This organization has had a dramatic impact on the success of innumerable projects. And, although it had very humble beginnings, it has become a powerful tool for change.  It was originally formed by a very small group of people who simply understood the principles of partnership and innovation.  This group used the synergy developed through the creation of a partnership to implement innovative processes which fundamentally changed the world view of project management.

Through the organization’s efforts project management is now viewed as a profession, rather than a set of skills.  Through their determination, a common body of knowledge and a certification process has been formed to assist project managers in balancing project success parameters.  Through their vision, the Project Management Institute is a world leader in promoting project management principles.  Their abilities to partner, synergize and think innovatively changed the entire project management landscape.  They literally breathed life into a profession!

As said earlier, we believe that partnerships and synergy are catalysts that set innovative processes in motion. Perhaps one more story might be useful.  Kenny Saunders worked for a large corporation that used multiple forms of film and video products to enhance its image.  These were critical to the success of the company.  Building these promos was the express responsibility of the Audiovisual Department.  Kenny worked as head of one production team.

He was asked by the Department Director to take his team on location.  The promo they were to work on required a western theme.  They wanted cattle and horses and cowboys.  And there was a time deadline that was somewhat unrealistic.  Within three weeks Kenny was to return with sufficient footage so the Department “cutters” could form a promo that was exciting and real.

When Kenny arrived at the Laramie location he found plenty of cattle, horses, and an abundance of cowboys.  He rounded up those he needed and headed for the shoot location.   On the way the cattle broke free from the wranglers.  They ran to an underpass on the freeway in a regular stampede.

There was real danger that the cattle would run onto the freeway and cause severe accidents.  The wranglers seemed unfamiliar with the real dangers.  They were used to the open range.  Kenny and his team, of course, had little knowledge of how cattle would react to fast moving traffic.

In a panic, he reached for his cell phone.  To his director he said, “I’ve got twenty cows on the loose.  I’m not sure we’re insured for this kind of thing.  What should I do?”

The director told Kenny the company was insured, but he also said that the cows were his problem.  “I’ll get the state troopers on the scene, but you’re in charge, be innovative.”

Kenny then did the unthinkable.  He knew he did not have the skills to control the cattle.  So, acting in partnership with the troopers and wranglers, he stayed out of the way and let them do their jobs.  He then grabbed a hand held camera, mounted a horse and filmed the entire melee.  The troopers had slowed the traffic to a crawl.  So there were no accidents.  But the unique mix of cowboys, cattle, ten wheelers, and passenger vans made such an exciting stretch of footage that when the cutters looked at the film they decided to change the entire scope of the promotional.

It finally became one of the most effective scenes ever put together for the company.  It could have been a disaster; it could have been lost time and terrible expense for the company.  But it became a valuable innovation set in motion by a director who trusted his on-site project manager to make the right decisions and innovate.

Each of the examples in this section provides insight into the importance of innovative processes.  As project teams see success through innovation, they become even more united, excited and innovative.  Synergy literally builds and spills over into all their activities.  This upward spiraling movement is the life-blood of successful projects.  Thus, innovation truly gives life and meaning to partnerships and projects.

The previous blog post is an excerpt from the book entitled, “Project Management Paradigms” by Dr. Denis Petersen and Daniel Anderson,

© 2006 Milestone Publishing

Partnerships: a New Paradigm

Project Management

Old Paradigm: Adversarial Relationships
New Paradigm:  Partnerships

Success Paradigm 3:

Project teams will most likely succeed if they abandon adversarial relationships and create an environment of partnering and facilitation.  High-performance partners are valuable and critical to success.

Effective partnerships are vital in today’s project management environment!  As we mentioned in the Preface, agility, speed to market, team complexity, diversity, globalization and other similar environmental factors dictate the need for a new paradigm involving the art of partnership.

In the past, adversarial relationships have been the rule, rather than the exception among project stakeholders.  Being adversarial doesn’t make sense, since this approach almost always defies the law of synergy on any project.  High-performance partnerships, on the other hand, build synergy among stakeholder groups and create project success.  In fact, we believe that promoting project synergy, affiliating with high-performing partners and “playing nice in the sandbox” will do more for the success of a project than all the creative management charts, graphs, estimates and paperwork project managers can assemble.

We have been involved in many projects in which high-performance partnerships were developed and nurtured, creating an environment in which success flourishes.  With many of these projects we have seen the law of synergy at work.  Truly, the success of a project team (the ability to balance the PSP) increases exponentially, depending on the synergy between stakeholders.  Conversely, we believe success decreases exponentially in an adversarial or divisive environment.

One project with which we have been associated provides a good example of both sides of this diagram.  We were recently asked to provide consulting services for a construction project in which each stakeholder had a personal agenda contrary to that of the others involved in the project.  This conflict had festered into an adversarial relationship among stakeholders and had negatively impacted the success of the project.  All measurements of progress showed that this was an unhealthy situation which stifled the economics of the project and nearly destroyed it entirely.

Team members reported that partnering efforts and performance were much better at the beginning of this project.  Even though the stakeholders had had differing perspectives, there was a major effort by a few individuals to bring partners together and focus them on project goals.  Although not perfect, the efforts of these team members appeared to unite the team, create synergy, and promote performance during the first phase of the project.

At the end of the first phase, some of the key people moved to other jobs and the partnership disintegrated.  Divisiveness began to creep into all aspects of the project and its processes.  Significant turf battles began during follow-on phases.  Disagreements led to a serious lack of production and to great dissatisfaction on the part of all stakeholders.  In trying to discover the crux of the problem, we found that partnering efforts and pursuit of common, earlier goals had been laid aside.  Everyone was looking out for himself without caring about the effect this had on the common good.

In digging deeper into the causes we found some personality issues that were now impeding the project’s progress.  First, an engineer, who was working directly with the owner, held a very hard line on the specifications.  While his intentions were good, he regularly required the contractor to adopt his interpretation of the specifications.  Next, the project manager for the construction company seemed disengaged and didn’t seem to care whether the contract requirements were met as specified.  He appeared to try and get his subcontractors to complete work as quickly as possible and move on so no questions would be asked.  The owner’s facility manager liked to stir the pot, point fingers, create trouble, and then “save” the project by proposing solutions to the problems he created.  He personally did not like the idea of the owner bringing an engineer from the “outside” to oversee a project in his building.  We immediately saw these relationships as a recipe for disaster.

One pointed example of the conflicts on this project was an incident with the plumbing.  The engineer explained to the contractor his expectations as to how the plumbing should be installed.  The project manager disagreed with him and instructed his sub-contractors to install it according to his own interpretations.   The facility manager visited the construction site, noticed what he perceived to be a problem and began pointing fingers at both the engineer and the project manager in an attempt to stir the pot.  The engineer began beating the contractor with his interpretation of the specifications.  The facility manager, in trying to “save” the project, called for total removal and re-installation of the plumbing.  The project manager refused to do anything.

The three personalities could not come to a resolution of this problem.  The disagreement finally escalated into a serious contract issue over which all three were doggedly adversarial and willing to let the project fail.

As difficult as this was, it was just one example of the many issues that created an adversarial relationship among these stakeholders.  Finally, the unsolved issues piled up to the point that the project sponsors were ready to abandon the effort.  Sheer unwillingness of stakeholders had created a path to failure.  In fact, it was difficult to see how these same personalities had experienced success during the earlier phase.

As a consulting firm, we immediately went to work providing partnering and team-building sessions, along with advice on how to correct the problems.  These helped, but didn’t provide the total impact we had hoped.  Finally, the solution we proposed was to bring in a new team member with great partnering skills who could cultivate the partnership efforts necessary to save the project.

We also recommended some operational changes to assist this new team member.  The impact was not immediate, but these personnel and the operational changes slowly began to improve the situation.  The divisiveness began to give way to partnership, synergy and success as the project progressed with this new structure.  Issues like the plumbing problem mentioned above began to melt away.

In looking back at this situation, we asked ourselves how these problems could have been avoided in the first place.  How do project managers and teams create and maintain the positive synergy that must exist if a project is to be successful?

We believe that synergy and success are developed among stakeholders when three conditions are met.  First, the adversarial relationships of the past must be abandoned and performance-based partnerships created.  Second, partnerships must generate innovative processes to bring life and meaning into the project.  Finally, partners must promote positive communication in all their interactions throughout the project.

The previous blog post is an excerpt from the book entitled, “Project Management Paradigms” by Dr. Denis Petersen and Daniel Anderson,

© 2006 Milestone Publishing