Monday, March 28, 2011

You Don't Need a Project Team...You Need A Project Network

In the Spring issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, "Why Project Networks Beat Project Teams", summarizes research supporting the cultivation of project networks.
Unlike a project team that relies only on the knowledge held by members or a personal network that individuals use to solve their individual problems, the project network combines the knowledge held by the members of a team with the problem-solving capabilities of the team members’ personal networks to achieve a project goal.
The integration of project team members’ knowledge with the capabilities from their personal networks is what differentiates a project network from other kinds of individual and team-based work. This summarizes key actions the research suggest bring value:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Leading Change from the Middle

Yesterday we completed the Spring session of our on-campus Stanford Advanced Project Management (SAPM) program with students from all over the world, Global Fortune 100 firms, and innovative non-profits. (Note--apply or register for the SAPM Summer session June 12-17 here.)  I had the privilege of working with Tim Wasserman, IPS Learning CLO, Shirzad Charmine of Coaches Training Institute, and Dr. Behnam Tabrizi, author of Rapid Transformation: A 90-Day Plan for Fast and Effective Change, in delivering Leading Change from the Middle. The book and Behnam's research served as one of the anchors for the course.
We had a fantastic, energetic, enthusiastic class with folks from around the world.  The class comraderie added to the vivid discussions we had around a variety of case studies as well as guest lecturer from HP.  One student, an Aussie working in Switzerland, even had her young baby and husband with her.
Some ideas and concepts from the course discussions include:
  • Change yourself first, than help others
  • Fast is better...always.
  • Be willing to change...transformation requires agility and adaptability.
  • Though working from the middle, top executive support is required.
  • Purpose matters--principles first...then methodology.
  • 90 days is not long, work fast, work smart

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Failure is an option...fear is not! ...James Cameron

Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. 
Thank you Samuel Beckett.  Failures of all types are in the news and several fascinating perspectives on the power of failure...if you view it as an outcome and learn from it follow.

1-Director James Cameron  at TED
The director of the two highest grossing films in history--Avatar and Titanic-- ends this great TED Talk with "Failure is an option, fear is not."  He notes that failure has to be an option to innovate.  Watch it and learn!

This issue provides a wonderful array of articles and learnings around failure.  The introduction sums up the issue:
Failure. We’re hypocrites about it. Go online, and you’ll find scores of pleasant aphorisms celebrating the inevitability of failure and the importance of learning from it. But in real life—and in real companies—failure is anathema. We’re afraid of it. We avoid it. We penalize it.
It’s time for managers to get past platitudes and confront the F-word taboo. In this special issue every article provides some home truths about good failures (when we expect to fail and learn something), bad failures (when we’re sabotaged by errors in judgment), or unavoidable failures (when complex systems break down). Failure is inevitable and often out of our control. But we can choose to understand it, to learn from it, and to recover from it.
3-Learning from IDEO
In our Stanford program, we use many examples from IDEO, the Palo Alto, CA, US, design consultancy. Tim Brown, IDEO CEO,  reminds us of the power of learning from doing (a la fast prototyping) in this post from his excellent Design Thinking blog: . is important it is to remind ourselves of the value of experimentation. My hypothesis is that organizations generally avoid experimentation when it comes to processes and management. In fact they positively hate it. One reason may be that it is scary to mess with people and processes and much harder to do than messing around with new technology or new products. That feels more like an excuse than a reason to me. I believe we lack processes for prototyping our ideas quickly when it comes to management. ...experiments too often turn into initiatives. Experiments are designed for learning and it is okay if they fail whereas initiatives are too important to fail. I came away thinking that initiatives are things to be avoided at least until you have learnt from some experiments.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Power of Organizational Culture

In our Stanford Advanced Project Management (SAPM) program we focus on the significance of culture in executing strategy through project-based work.  Jon Katzenbach has studied organizational culture throughout his career and leads The Katzenbach Center at Booz & Company. They have an excellent presentation with downloadable PDF on evolving organizational culture. Some key learnings from them include:
  • culture correlates with business performance
  • culture, strategy, and operating model must be in sync (see the IPS Strategic Execution Framework (SEF) Model)
  • existing culture can be a powerful source of energy
  • change behaviors, not mindsets
  • focus a few key behaviors
  • don't change culture if you don't need to
  • use both rational and emotional forces for reinforcing new behavior patterns
  • use formal and informal approaches

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Leaders...ask yourself these questions

Seth Godin continues to be creative, innovative, and always worth listening; a marketing guru who wears many hats well.   A recent post was on questions for leaders. I have adapted these for the world of those leading complex programs, projects, and initiatives.

  1. Do you let the facts get in the way of a good story?
  2. How do you work with people who disagree with you... do you call them names in order to shut them down?
  3. Are you open to multiple points of view or do you demand compliance and uniformity? 
  4. Are you willing to walk away from a project, customer, or employee who has values that don't match yours?
  5. Can you let someone else get the credit?
  6. How often are you able to change your position?
  7. Do you have a goal(s) that can be reached in multiple ways?
  8. If someone else can get your team there faster, are you willing to let them?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Complex systems...failure is normal...plan for it

Watching the tragic events in Japan and the challenges of thwarting a meltdown at multiple nuclear reactors, I am reminded that many of the large, complex programs our clients lead and manage need to learn that all cannot be planned for.  This January 2011 Financial Times story on "What We Can Learn from a Nuclear Reactor" is prescient.

Dmitriy Samovskiy's post on "normal accidents" in complex systems provides a wealth of links and insights that any leader of any type of large program should consider.  Charles Perrow's Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies and The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters provide examples of what to consider:
  • ·         No matter how much thought is put into the system design, or how many safeguards are implemented, a sufficiently complex system sooner or later will experience a significant breakdown that was impossible to foresee beforehand
    ·         This is principally due to unexpected interaction between components, tight coupling or bizarre coincidence.
  • A big failure was usually a result of multiple smaller failures; these smaller failures were often not even related.
  • Operators (people or systems) were frequently misled by inaccurate monitoring data
  • In a lot of cases, human operators were used to a given set of circumstances, and their thinking and analysis were misled by their habits and expectations ("when X happens, we always do Y and it comes back" - except for this one time, when it didn't)
Implication for Program Managers and Leaders: programs can be complex systems, you may be creating complex systems.  Plan for failure, expect it, and be prepared to deal with it. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Use This Collaboration Tool from Stanford's

Stanford's continues to explore ways of improving how we collaborate and create across desparate disciplines.  They have recently posted an updated edition of their superb
2010 Bootcamp Bootleg.   It provides a wide variety of very useful tools for leading and collaborating in groups. Leaders of projects, business units,initiatives, or programs can learn from this.
Bootcamp Bootleg is a working document that captures some of the teaching from the "Design Thinking Bootcamp,” course. The guide outlines each mode of a human-centered design process(see graphic), and describes a number of methods which may support your design thinking throughout the process.
The key to the bootleg is to take it out and make it your own! If one method isn't working for you, toss it. If it works, pass it along to another design thinker. We’re excited to hear how you've applied what you find in the bootleg.