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Blow Up Teamwork

 This completes thoughts expressed on January 31, 2011 in a post at JimMillikenProject.blogspot.com


              Teamwork is in the mind of the beholder. More specifically, it is in the mind of the team member. If you think you’re a team member, you are. Being a good team member depends upon how seriously you take the role, and what you do about it.

              This is especially true for project team members, since the character of a typical project places extra burdens on its participants. People usually are part-timers on projects, with plenty of other work, often including responsibilities in other projects. In fact, the better they are at what they do, the more likely they are to be tapped when some important extra-effort challenge comes up.

              Besides, the project work itself can carry burdens that regular duties don’t have. There are pressures, risks, uncertainties and complexities associated with projects that demand personal and professional practices at a distinctly higher level than those required in most nonproject jobs.

              That’s why so many projects fall short, or flat-out fail. If your standard of success is keeping cost, schedule and outcome within 10 percent of initial estimate, most projects don’t succeed. I’m convinced that happens because of multiple shortfalls in the personal performance of stakeholders up and down the hierarchy and across the board.

              Much of what must be done by people in a project is unfamiliar, and some demands are difficult and scary. If you’re not really into it, you can find a lot of plausible reasons why things don’t get done on time, don’t get done well or don’t get done at all.

              On the other hand, putting it bluntly, people who take responsibility for getting results “no matter what” will get those results. They may have to learn new stuff, put up with people they don’t exactly love and expose themselves to risk, but they’ll do whatever it takes. There are no excuses, no alibis – maybe a few delays and detours and surprising turns in the path, but they get there.

              The Organizational Project Management Maturity Model of the Project Management Institute provides a broad, process-oriented way of converting such experience into patterns that can be studied and understood.

The model identifies and describes five levels of expertise within organizations in their handling of the complex innovations we call projects. The bottom level is where organizations re-invent the wheel and muddle through anew with each project. There is no institutional memory because no lessons are learned and no expertise is permanized among the individuals who participate.

              At the fifth (highest) level, the entire organization is fully tuned to project management practices. That runs from the executives who set company strategy and provide all the resources, down to the individual team members, the organization’s managers and professionals outside the project whose support is required.        

              Experts say that fifth level actually is achieved by real people in real organizations in the real world. Many project managers don’t believe that, and their behavior shows it. Same with many senior managers, project team members and others who are supposed to help. No wonder the statistics are so bad.

              The answer to this puzzle, as Hamlet would say, lies not in the stars but in ourselves.

              Stop for a moment and consider the motivation level of someone tasked to pull off something very uncomfortable that is sure to go poorly. Everybody knows it won’t work. Why kill yourself on the way to the inevitable disappointment?

              So, I say, attitude is why projects don’t work, and are harder than they need to be. The fatal attitude starts with our expectations of ourselves and each other.

              Let's look the other way. Most of us have had at least one experience, perhaps a brief one, working with a group that clicked, whose process was a joy and whose results were outstanding. You got in with people who somehow convinced themselves that this thing could work. They knew they could trust each other, and each of them would run through a brick wall to live up to expectations. That’s the kind of atmosphere that is the norm in a Level Five operation on the OP3M scale.

              Such an experience does not have to be an infrequent, fortunate accident. A project manager who believes it can be done, and who applies common-sense management practices to that end, can ignite a contagion and make it happen.

              In the organizational sense, you clarify intent, specify process, track progress, correct variances, refocus the goal, and maintain momentum.

              In the human sense, you engage the parties. Really engage the parties, meaning that they not only have roles, but roles with meaning. People are expected to do stuff, in vigorous, practical ways, that not only produce clearly useful outcomes, but also contribute to the momentum of an obviously successful group process.

              This is a situation of fully accountable, committed, empowered individuals, and a concept that integrates the obligation and blessing of teamwork into each team member’s job description.

              So teamwork arises from the individual and is driven by concerted individual effort, not the other way around. Sort of like inflating the success of the individual into the success of the group.

              Another way to think of blowing up teamwork.   


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