Project Management

Autonomy and Empowerment from an Unlikely Source

Southern Alberta Chapter

Mike Griffiths is an experienced project manager, author and consultant who works for PMI as a subject matter expert. Before joining PMI, Mike consulted and managed innovation and technology projects throughout Europe, North and South America for 30+ years. He was co-lead for the PMBOK Guideā€”Seventh Edition, lead for the Agile Practice Guide, and contributor to the PMI-ACP and PMP exam content outlines. Outside of PMI, Mike maintains the websites www.LeadingAnswers.com about leading teams and www.PMillustrated.com, which teaches project management for visual learners.

It is well known that teams work best when they are empowered to self-direct and given freedom to self-organize. Yet striking the balance between providing this autonomy with responsible project oversight to ensure things do not go off track can be a tricky proposition. We want to create empowered teams, but we also need to know if the project is going awry and when to intervene. Unlikely as it sounds, but a great source for creating empowered team environments can be found in the prescriptive process of PRINCE2.

Edwards Deming, a major inspiration for Toyota’s lean approach, said there were two classic mistakes a manager can make. The first is intervening when common cause variation occurs. Common cause variation is the natural variance we see in process. For example, some three-day tasks will take four days to complete and this is just the way things are-- managers need to accept the odd instance of this common cause variation. The second classic manager mistake is not intervening in special cause variation, which is variation that is new, unanticipated, emergent or previously neglected. For example, if project scope changes significantly (new and unanticipated) or velocity trends indicate the project will not get done within schedule (emergent).

So what we really want is a protective bubble for the team that insulates them from micro-management and outside …


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I have an existential map; it has 'you are here' written all over it.

- Steven Wright

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