Scatterwork guest: How do we Talk about Strategy?

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Should we change the way we talk about strategy?

Most people don’t understand strategy. It may sound obvious but the reason why many strategies are never realized is that most people in large organizations don’t understand what the strategy means, even if they know of its existence.

Senior managers assume that their employees understand them when they talk about strategy. Unfortunately this is rarely the case and indeed strategies are often articulated in a way that makes them impossible to deliver.

My name’s Jonathan Norman. I published nearly 120 books on projects and programs for Gower Publishing and I wanted to talk to you about the subject of strategy.

Have a look at some of your current strategies. If they aren’t as effective as they could be, it may well be because they’re written in a language which is far too vague and fails to understand the role of the users in the equation.

Or perhaps on the other hand they are hugely detailed and run into pages of documents so that even the most enthusiastic employees
struggle to see the wood for the trees.

I have used the ideas in Phil Driver’s Validating Strategies to highlight some of the most common problems associated with the way we talk about strategy.

Exploratory Verbs:

Words such as explore, investigate and address are exploratory words. They are useful in early-stage high-level aspirational strategies when the main work essentially involves framing and sense-making the opportunity that the strategy will endeavor to see.

But as strategies move from the aspirational to the more operational, they are of much less value and can signal a delaying tactic to avoid taking concrete action. And using further reviews or investigations to give an impression of useful activity.

Improvement Verbs

Because they point to the need for change but their main shortcoming is that they provide no indication of how that change will be implemented. Think of words like enhance, improve, increase and consolidate. These are all words in this category and all require more specific action-oriented verbs as well as measurable targets before
they can be used at an operational level.

Certainty Verbs

Certainty verbs appear to convey confidence that the strategy will have the desired effect but they are generally illusory. One of the most popular of these verbs is “ensure”. However comforting the word, there is no such project action as “ensure”. Organizations may take actions which have a high likelihood of producing the desired result but they cannot ensure that the community will use the outcome nor can they ensure the benefit.

Collaboration Project Verbs: Collaborate, cooperate, engage have become popular as words in recent years, particularly in the public sector where there’s been a belief that
collaboration, cooperation and engaging are universally good things. This means that they often appear in strategy documents with little indication why they will add value to a strategy or how they will be applied in its implementation or development.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the repeated theme in all of this language involves
exaggerated claims for certainty, outcomes and benefits of projects that will deliver the strategy. It’s only human nature to express confidence and show a tolerance for risk and uncertainty. None of this language is wrong or bad in itself. The danger lies in the meaning that’s intended.

Now this communicates a strategy to stakeholders and strategies that
misuse this language create an environment for projects that are challenge before they’ve even started.

Thank you for listening.

Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir (pronounce) is a Collaboration Consultant at Scatterwork, which supports Project Solutions for Virtual Teams.

Email: deasun@scatterwork.com

Tel: +41 79 692 4735 Talk to me

LinkedIn: Connect with me

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Leave unsafe travel environments behind

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Here is a short video from Scatterwork about the benefits of avoiding unsafe environments while traveling in the interest of training or coordination of virtual teams. We all know that it’s never 100 percent safe to travel. Everyday of the week there are car accidents and trains and much evidence of unsafe travel. We just have to accept that and get on with our business. Very often the alternative is poor telephone conferences, not very effective web meetings and so forth. One of the ways of counteracting ineffective meetings is to build more structure into how the meeting is held, how it’s supported and so forth. This is a skill that a virtual team will have. So, I’d like to suggest that to you. If you have project activities that need to be supported and you’d like to do it without traveling, do get in touch with me and we’ll see how we can help. Thanks very much.

In the modern world, the optimal solution may not be traditional
face-to-face training that everybody likes and finds very effective, but
virtual training. Please help us to rank our list of virtual training
features: Can Virtual Training replace traditional events? (5 minute survey)

Also, if you have any queries, then please select a time to call or send a message.

Invite your colleagues to sign up for the Scatterwork Newsletter and they will also get a 10% reduction on their first workshop.

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Scatterwork Guest: How do you see your project?

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My name is Jonathan Norman from Gower Publishing,  a guest of Scatterwork GmbH, and I’d like to introduce you to a new platform we have developed for project and program managers, GpmFirst. In order to do so, I’ve taken a particular theme, which is the question of how do you see your project, and how do others see your project. I’ve chosen this subject for a couple of reasons. It introduces the premise that human psychology is a powerful influence in projects, and their success or failure, and it also underlines one of the key features of the new project community of practice that I mentioned.

Let’s just tackle these elements in order. In each case, I’ve used screen dumps from the community practice to illustrate my points. First of all, how does our psychology influence projects and their success or failure? Have a look at this image that was created by the wonderful writer Gareth Morgan, and is used in our book, “Images or Projects”. Imagine that this is a picture of your project, what do you see? A pig, but it isn’t as simple as that.

Have a look at each of the people around the edge of the image, let’s call them the stakeholders of your project. Put yourself in their shoes, and now look again at the pig, what does each of them see?

To the farmer, the pig represents his livelihood, a source of income. To the butcher, the pig represents a series of joints and cuts, bacon, ham, and so on. To the vet, the pig represents a potential patient. To the little girl, the pig represents the start of a nursery story, you get the point.

The point I’m trying to make is that you need to put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders and ask yourself, how do they see my project, do they see it differently from the way I see it? What implications does this have on how I should communicate with them, or manage my project?

Once you understand the importance of perception, you’ll understand the idea of a playlist, which is a feature in the platform, www.gpmfirst.com. Rather than simply presenting content in the site in the way that we, our moderator, or our expert authors think it should be presented, we’ve included a feature that allows you to add any elements of the site, chapter, books, user generated articles, videos, community discussion threads, and indeed external links into your end playlist, which you can commentate.

Think of it as your own personal scrapbook of how you see a given theme, or a problem, in project management. Once you’ve created your playlist, and here’s one I created earlier using chapters from our books around the theme of perception in projects, you can share it with others by social media or email, and it will become a part of the searchable content on the platform, so that other users can benefit from how you see projects, or an aspect of project management.

Thank you for listening. If how I see projects peaked your interest, than I hope you’ll take a moment to visit this site to explore the new platform, and to get a sense of how you might use it. I’ve included my contact details on this final slide, so if you’d like to know more, than just go to the website, or contact me directly by email. Thank you very much.

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Varied Participation increases impact

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This is a short video from Scatterwork about varying participation in workshops and thereby getting an increase in the impact. A typical workshop has some business issue that needs to be resolved as well as possible and as quickly as possible so we bring together the right people who have the know-how, the context, the experience and so forth and they work on it. We hope that they will evolve a solution.

The people that we bring, if the issue is either local or the people locally have the skills we need, then we sit together. If the issue involves people that are further away, then there is an unavoidable delay in bringing people to a meeting and those people lose business time by traveling. But, we have to decide if that’s worth it. If we have a really big issue, we might say we need people from a much wider background. Again, that’s a conference and it takes longer to organize and it also costs more.

Other reasons that we bring people to this meeting might be team building. For example, those who are going to be involved in the implementation of the solution and we might bring stakeholders in as well so that they see what is emerging and again, they will support us as things go ahead.

In Scatterwork, we specialize in virtual workshops so that means providing the structure, the direction, the experience to make sure that we can hold a workshop but do it though the internet. By doing that, we can have a much wider variety of people involved and without much of the lead time delay that we would have if we were holding a physical meeting and certainly much more cost effective.

Why is it worth doing this? Let’s just say that a typical person has a 100 live contacts and that each of those 100 live contacts has 100 live contacts. Then we find ourselves in a situation that the linkage brings in 10,000 contacts so we have a much, much greater access to insight when we bring in more people. That’s the suggestion is that we use virtual workshops for an appropriate, and this always allows us to do it faster than if we’re involving travel and it allows us to bring in a much greater variety of people. By doing that, we leverage from the situation.

Thanks very much.

In the modern world, the optimal solution may not be traditional face-to-face training that everybody likes and finds very effective, but virtual training. Please help us to rank our list of virtual training features: Can Virtual Training replace traditional events? (5 minute survey)

Also, if you have any queries, then please select a time to call or send a message.

Invite your colleagues to sign up for the Scatterwork Newsletter and they will also get a 10% reduction on their first workshop.

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Time Management

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Hello this is Deasún Ó Conchúir from Scatterwork to introduce another little anecdote from my book, “Overview of the PMBOK Guide.” This one is to do with time management and the point is that we don’t usually need permission to use time. We can be late and we say, “We’re sorry.” For money, we have to ask permission in advance to sign it in principle. The story here is very short and I once worked in a company where long coffee breaks were normal. Nobody seemed to need permission. It just happened. Even if we were told to take shorter breaks, we could still have taken the usual long ones. If management demanded an explanation, we would excuse ourselves and probably do the same in the next day. In fact, we would probably say we were using the coffee break for a deep discussion.

In the modern world, the optimal solution may not be traditional face-to-face training that everybody likes and finds very effective, but virtual training. Please help us to rank our list of virtual training features: Can Virtual Training replace traditional events? (5 minute survey)

Also, if you have any queries, then please select a time to call or send a message.

Invite your colleagues to sign up for the Scatterwork Newsletter and they will also get a 10% reduction on their first workshop.

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Quality Management

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Hello, this is Deasún Ó Conchúir again from Scatterwork for another anecdote from the book Overview of the PMBOK Guide. The topic here is quality management. This time I have two stories. The first one is about the quality of management itself and then the second one is the quality of the project.

The first one. The project manager had a small team. He told them there would be a weekly meeting every Monday afternoon. The first week, everyone was present. The second week, the project manager knew he was going to arrive late and telephoned ahead to ask the meeting to start without him. The third week, he said he couldn’t attend and delegated the meeting chair to one of his team members. Unfortunately, he did not brief this person about everything and in any case the manager didn’t want to delegate. The fourth week, the manager did not come to the meeting and just told the team that he was unavoidably engaged. The point of this particular anecdote, which of course really happened, is that quality applies in projects, not just to the deliverable, but also to the style of management.

Now, I have a second little anecdote here to do with quality in projects. I once worked in a computer factory which made standard models. As the orders came in from different countries which needed different keyboard layouts, the manufactured items were taken apart and reassembled with the right keyboard so the work that had been done was being wasted and then replaced by more work. It’s hard to find the value of add on in this process and I hope that such practices have long since gone.

In the modern world, the optimal solution may not be traditional face-to-face training that everybody likes and finds very effective, but virtual training. Please help us to rank our list of virtual training features: Can Virtual Training replace traditional events? (5 minute survey)

Also, if you have any queries, then please select a time to call or send a message.

Invite your colleagues to sign up for the Scatterwork Newsletter and they will also get a 10% discount on their first workshop.

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Do you use Expert Judgement?

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Hello this is Deasún Ó Conchúir from Scatterwork with another anecdote from my book, Overview of the PMBOK Guide. This time, it relates to expert judgement. Now expert judgement is something that we use to help us decide what to do in projects, and we as experts and we ask consultants, we ask senior managers and so on. Sometimes, the experts are not so visible, and as we see in this particular real story.

I once visited a factory making radiators for heating buildings. It was located near the Atlantic coast in the far north west of Ireland. The radiators were getting damaged in transit and various experts were asked to find out what the problem was. Eventually it was discovered that the packaging wasn’t good enough to protect the radiators on the road journey. In those days, the roads were really not good, and it was the delivery lorry driver who identified the problem.

Luckily, they were clever enough to include this experienced person in their investigations. Even though few would have called him an expert, but indeed his expert judgement was the thing that saved the day.

In the modern world, the optimal solution may not be traditional face-to-face training that everybody likes and finds very effective, but virtual training. Please help us to rank our list of virtual training features: Can Virtual Training replace traditional events? (5 minute survey)

Also, if you have any queries, then please select a time to call or send a message.

Current testimonial:

Kai Halbach, Coordination SIA Form Suisse romande

In unserem Webinar zum Thema “Gestion des risques” hat Dr. Deasún Ó Conchúir seine langjährigen Erfahrungen zum Thema Risikomanagement sehr interaktiv, professionell und gut verständlich an die Architekten und Ingenieure vermitteln können. Wir danken Ihm für das hervorragende Webinar!

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Why use Project Management?

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Hello this is Deasún Ó Conchúir from Scatterwork, and I’m here to bring you an anecdote from my book, Overview of the PMBOK guide.

Once upon a time, as all good children’s stories begin, there was a very important project. It was so important that the advisers convinced this local company with headquarters in Europe to start implementing it immediately. After about 12 million Euro had been spent, the team thought it would be a good idea to develop a specification. To do this, a project team was put together, and there was a large international kick-off meeting, which lasted a few days. Everybody had a very good time.

After some development work the users in North America were contacted to help with the testing. An enterprising manager there suggested that the project should be executed near to the users to improve communication with them. He said he was available to take over the management of the development work, and would be happy with the development manager’s salary. It’s possible this is why he suggested transferring the project to his location.

Instead of transferring the project team from Europe to North America it was disbanded. Except for the European-based project manager the work was passed completely to a new implementation team in North America. The new team grew to over 50 people and worked hard for about two years. They found it difficult to make good progress, because of the poorly defined decision making processes.

There was a senior North American manager, but he was not invited onto the project steering committee, because his line staff were not directly involved. His organization did however, provide office space for the project team. After every project review meeting he asked what was happening.

Sometimes he didn’t agree with the decisions, so he contacted his longtime senior colleague in Europe to get support for changes. This colleague then sent out new instructions, which often reached the team weeks after the original decision. This meant that some work done in the meantime was wasted. Because the development manager had such a big team he earned a really good salary.

During this time the company headquarters in Europe bought a competitor, and their managers became new project stakeholders. This was because they were expected to use the output of the project. Even so they were not convinced, and they said they wouldn’t use it. This made the company rethink the project and send in the auditors. They found out that the value of the deliverable minus the cost of development was nearly zero. The project was then terminated, and the project manager was fired, although he was paid his salary for some months without having to come to work. The total cost of the project was about $100 million Euro.

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Project Manager Tips – Communication

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Project Manager Skills

Business Team
Image courtesey of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I read project manager job descriptions, they often seem to be written for superman or superwoman, as they require skills in a huge range of areas.  Typically they include leadership, self-starter, analyst, motivator, not to mention negotiator,  as well as coach and team builder and so on.

Is it really possible to find all these qualities in one person?  Even if the individual is very competent, every person has their own preferences and style and cannot possibly be an expert in everything.  Somebody who is analytical and great for planning may be not so good at negotiation, or the competent leader may not be so good at the detailed work.

The conclusion is that these shopping lists of project manager qualities may all be desirable, but that they will not all be provided by the project manager. Here are some project manager tips you might find helpful in both building and learning these skills.

A Project Manager Priority – Communication

So if the project manager is unlikely to be master of all possible skills, which ones are really essential, assuming that the other skills will be present in other members of the project team?  High on my list would be Communication skills.

One way of looking at project management is that the leader (also known as “project manager”) takes the role of communicating the vision of the completed project to the team members and other stakeholders, even before the vision is realised.

This is a challenge.  Even when something exists and is generally accepted as useful, it can still be very difficult to get everybody to work towards the vision.  There is an old story where the bricklayer was asked what he was doing, to which he replied “building a wall”, while his colleague answered “building a cathedral”.  They were doing the same work, but one lacked the vision.

Team Motivation also depends on understanding the relevance of what has to be done and deciding that it is worth the effort.  Again, communication is a key project manager skill, so that the team understand not only what has to be be done but why it is important.

This leads me to Communication as one of the most important skills for the project manager.  Good communication can be used to share bothe project vision and how to achieve it.

Communication can take many forms

Active Listening
Image courtesey of Marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In it’s most direct form, communication is simply talking but in our modern world, communication can take a very wide range of forms.  Some of them are particularly useful for project managers, such as:

  • Gantt Chart
  • Schedule Network
  • Earned Value
  • Resource Levelling etc.

Other communication methods are not restricted to project management, but are certainly also useful:

  • Social Networks
  • Live Presentations
  • Reports
  • Photographs
  • Telephone
  • PowerPoint slides
  • Automatic translators
  • Meeting Minutes
  • eMail and so on.

One of my favourites for the project manager is “Active Listening“, where the listener stops doing everything else and pays attention to the speaker.  This is one of the most powerful Project Manager tools, both to get the work done and to build up team spirit and mutual respect.

If the listener multi-tasks (looks at the ticker on the computer screen, reads mobile phone messages, flicks through brochures or reading material and so on), while pretending to listen, the reaction of the colleague is likely to be negative.

The opposite scenarios is far more conducive to the sharing of motivation and vision which a project manager needs. Simply by agreeing within a project team that meetings will take place without multitasking is one of the easiest ways to improve project team communication.

 

 

 

 

 

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Global choice of Trainers

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Hello, this is Deasún Ó Conchúir from Scatterwork, and I’m here to talk about the benefits of virtual training. We’re talking here about using the Internet as the interface instead of traditional classroom. Of course, we all like to meet new people and it’s certainly a very good environment for learning, but these days, it’s not always optimal when we include all the other issues such as time, travel, and cost.

I’d like to just pick out one advantage of virtual training, and that is that it provides a much greater choice of trainers. In other words, you have a better chance of getting the best. If we take the traditional way of selecting a trainer, either the person lives locally or it costs time and money to get them to come. So if you can choose from the whole world, then you have a much better choice, and indeed this may be a make or break feature for your training program.

There you have it! The choice of trainer is better when we use virtual training, and this may outweigh the disadvantages of not meeting face-to-face. Thank you very much.

In the modern world, the optimal solution may not be traditional face-to-face training that everybody likes and finds very effective, but virtual training. Please help us to rank our list of virtual training features: Can Virtual Training replace traditional events? (5 minute survey)

Also, if you have any queries, then please select a time to call or send a message.

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