Project Management

Focus on the positive

From the The Agility Series Blog
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A big part of traditional project management is Risk Management which consists of the following steps

  • Risk Management Planning
  • Risk Identification
  • Qualitative Risk Analysis
  • Quantitative Risk Analysis
  • Risk Response Planning
  • Risk Monitoring and Control

Some teams will do all but the last step very early in the project - I have seen it done before they have even established WHY they are doing the project! In a recent post What? You don't know why you are doing your project?  I discussed how outcomes-focused agility helps us to figure the WHY before we focus on the WHAT, WHEN, HOW, or WHERE of our portfolios, programmes, and projects let alone which products we should build using Scrum.

Too much of an upfront emphasis on Risk Management has us focusing on what will go wrong before we have truly focused on what must go right. Humans have a bias towards negative thoughts according to Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist. He says

Our minds naturally focus on the bad and discard the good. It was much more important for our ancestors to avoid threats than to collect rewards: An individual who successfully avoided a threat would wake up the next morning and have another opportunity to collect a reward, but an individual who didn’t avoid the threat would have no such opportunity.

He describes the brain as like "Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones." While that may have been important when we were mostly hunter-gatherers, it is not such an important behaviour to have in modern organizations.

In our second book in The Agility Series, Leadership Agility: Enabling Organizational Sustainability, we said that mindfulness is a core value of leaders that exhibit agility. Being mindful helps us to counter the effects of negative thinking (or the overemphasis what on might go wrong), as opposed to what must go right for us to be successful.

Another example from everyday life - if you watch or read the news you would believe that 2016 was a horrible disaster. However, Col. Chris Hadfield, the renowned Canadian astronaut reminded us recently with a list of 46 things that show 2016 was actually pretty good. He concluded with

There are countless more examples, big and small. If you refocus on the things that are working, your year will be better than the last.

So what does that have to do with portfolios, programmes, and projects and risk management? Lots. An overemphasis on risk can cause us to forget to focus on the positive. So what is the positive for portfolios, programmes, and projects? Answering the WHY question before we jump into the WHAT, WHEN, HOW, or WHERE. Outcomes-focused Agility enables us to thrive in a VUCA-world where we face mostly holistic messes rather than discrete problems.

Having a positive focus enables us to meet each unexpected event using an inspect and adapt mindset. Being mindful as a leader, is having the willingness to self-reflect and change our behaviors, attitudes, practices and processes, based on what we now know to be true. In my webinar Are you an Agile project manager or an Agile project leader? And why does that question matter? I talked about the fact that projects consist of known knowns, know unknowns (the risks we try to identify), and the known unknowns (those things we don't know and could never anticipate but that we must respond to when they occur).

Focusing on knowing our WHY enables us to respond to each unexpected event or new realization along the way within the context of the specifics of what we are trying to accomplish, rather than focusing on all of the bad things that can go wrong that may have nothing to do with our WHY. If we instead focus on what we need to do (the positive) to achieve our WHY, then we will be far more likely to actually achieve it. When we spend most of our energy on making good things happen, and when engaging with our stakeholders more often and in a more positive context, then far less of the bad will actually happen.

Positive thinking is not only good for ensuring success in our projects, it's also good for own personal well-being and the well-being of those around us.

So what are you doing to engage in mindfulness and focusing on the positive so you and your teams can be successful? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


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Posted on: January 06, 2017 07:43 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Anupam India
Thanks for sharing

Rami Kaibni
Community Champion
Senior Projects Manager | Field & Marten Associates New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada
Good One Lawrence.

Drew Craig Coach, Practitioner, Consultant, Humanist| North Highland Philadelphia, Pa, USA
Thanks Lawrence. I sent through a request to join the LinkedIn group.

Alaa Hussein Program Manager| MEMECS Baghdad, Iraq
Thanks for sharing!

Mansoor Mustafa Senior PM| Government Department Rawalpindi Punjab, Pakistan
Thanks for sharing!

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