Viewing Posts by Lynda Bourne
By Lynda Bourne
Accurately predicting project outcomes has always been difficult. The standard tools in use today for doing so don’t offer much help. These tools work on the assumption that the planned duration or cost of future work is the best option to use for calculating completion outcomes.
The significant exceptions to this approach are earned value (EV) and earned schedule (ES). EV, ES and some other tools do adjust future performance based on past performance to predict outcomes—and they have demonstrated significantly more accuracy as a consequence. But no mainstream control tools deal with the management opportunity to actively change future performance with the use of incentive and motivation.
The performance of any activity is influenced by:
Incentive Schemes and Motivation Theory
Incentives in the form of piece rates have been used since the commercial revolution of the 11th and 12th centuries. Then in the 20th century, a range of more sophisticated payment schemes were introduced by management consultants looking to drive enhanced productivity (some of the better known are outlined in the chart above – click for more information).
The word “piecework” first appears in writing around the year 1549. Under this system a worker is paid for each piece of work he produces. Since the 16th century, a wide variety of incentive schemes have been developed to encourage productivity by directly linking payments to performance.
Individual schemes are either time-based, with incentives being paid for completing on time or early, or production-based, with workers paid based on the number of items produced.
Group incentive schemes reward team performance by paying a group bonus instead of individual bonuses. The bonus is distributed among all the employees of the organization or team.
From the 1920s onward, management researchers began to realize simple incentive schemes were not sufficient and a range of motivational theories were developed.
Management theorists are still debating whether it is possible to motivate a person or if motivation is an internal state that can be encouraged. However, there is a consistent view that when motivation is increased, productivity increases.
The Planning Conundrum
From the 12th century on, managers have known that well-directed incentive schemes can influence worker behaviour. Consequently, we know the productivity of a worker is a variable based on how he or she responds to various incentives and motivators.
Similarly, the emergence of scientific management and other management theories in the 20th century also highlighted the importance of organization and planning of work, and the workspace, in enhancing productivity. Improvements are always possible.
However, these concepts are largely ignored in project planning and control disciplines. Plans are set based on estimates made at the beginning of the project and rarely changed; at best, tools such as EV adjust future estimates based on performance to date.
What seems to be missing is a process that takes an objective look at productivity and identifies the changes needed to improve productivity to the levels needed to achieve project objectives. The concepts of process improvement and total quality management exist in general management and are mentioned in the A Guide to the Product Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), but no one seems to have moved these concepts into the domain of project planning and controls.
How do you think we could better approach the management of future work to enhance productivity and deliver better outcomes?
Knowledge Is Creative
by Lynda Bourne
In my last post, Information Is Subjective, I outlined the way data is gathered and transformed into information by the subjective application of personal knowledge. Now, let’s look at how knowledge is created and shared (the gold connections in the diagram above).
People know things: Knowledge is organic, adaptive and created. It exists in the minds of people. Some of each person’s knowledge is explicit—they can explain the rules that apply to it. But much is tacit: intuition, gut feelings and other ill-defined but invaluable insights, grounded in the person’s experience.
Therefore, managing knowledge means managing people.
The fact that knowledge exists in people’s minds does not preclude joint activities to create knowledge, share knowledge and refine knowledge. But the people involved need to be in communication with each other.
Some of the structured ways this can be accomplished include:
Structured approaches work well if the information that needs to be transferred or created is understood, and the people involved focus on creating or acquiring the required new knowledge.
Less formal approaches are better for generating completely new information or insights that people did not know they were about to create.
Spontaneity and serendipity are encouraged through social interactions, such as:
Knowledge will never be uniform in its distribution or in the way people interpret what they know. The function of a creative knowledge management system is to smooth out the differences as much as is practical and to facilitate the creation of new knowledge through the synthesis of different people’s ideas and insights.
So as you venture forth to share knowledge, remember:
Information Is Subjective
by Lynda Bourne
Knowledge is organic, adaptive and created—it exists in the minds of people. A person’s store of knowledge is built from their life experiences, their observations, and their formal and informal learning. Consequently, what one person knows will be different to what everyone else knows. Some of each person’s knowledge is explicit, meaning they can explain the rules that apply to it. But much is implicit: intuition, gut feelings and other ill-defined but invaluable insights grounded in the person’s experience.
Information is recorded, held in systems and made accessible to people. Good information management systems contain verified information in a useful format. This information is based on data. Because it is written, it is consistent—but it may not be correct. How the data is interpreted to create the information depends on people’s knowledge and perceptions.
Data Is the Starting Point
Data is a set of observations or measurements. If nothing changes in the world, another person can perform the same measurement or observation at another time and gather the same set of data. Data may not be accurate or reliable but it is based on observed facts about something. The potential for error rests in the way the observations or measurements were made.
The Interpretation of Information
Information is organized data. It provides the answer to a question of some kind or resolves an uncertainty.
However, transforming data into information is not automatic; it requires the input of knowledge. Someone has to look at the data and observe patterns that indicate something of significance or make decisions on what is important in a particular context. Information is refined data in a context that is designed to communicate a message to the receiver of the information.
The problem is different people with different knowledge frameworks will interpret the same set of data in different ways. You only need to listen to politicians arguing about the state of the economy to see how different the interpretation of the same set of data can become. The old adage applies, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
When I reduce my knowledge to a codified or written format it becomes available to others as information. But I have no way of knowing how you or anyone else will use or change the information I have created.
Information Management Systems
Changing data into information is the first application of knowledge in an information management system. And the journey from data to useful information may need several passes through the information management system. PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) identifies:
At each step in this flow, a person applies their tacit and explicit knowledge to the information they have received. They then codify their new knowledge to create another piece of information ready for use by others. The problem with this process in isolation is it is asynchronous and based on individual transactions. This is suboptimal and potentially dangerous.
However, the model of the information management system above is very common and spans global systems, such as Wikipedia down to simple knowledge repositories in project web portals. What’s missing in this type of system is the knowledge management element, which we will look at next time.
An information system on its own will at best simply make useful information available to people. There is no control over how, or if, the information is accessed or used appropriately. In a full knowledge management system, information is the bridge between data and knowledge:
More on this next time.
by Lynda Bourne
Do really good ideas pop into your mind at the most inconvenient moments, like when you’re in the middle of taking a shower? This flash of bathroom brilliance presents two problems:
And typically, that flash of brilliance fades quickly and can be very difficult to reconstruct even a few minutes later. That may explain why Archimedes went running naked down the street shouting “Eureka!” following his flash of bathroom brilliance. This occurred when he discovered the relationship between volume and mass (density/buoyancy) by observing the change in water level as he entered his bath.
How can we unleash this kind of innate creativity on a regular basis and not just in the bathroom?
While everyone is different, there seems to be three key elements to being creative:
Now, think about your teams and how you work with them to develop creative solutions. Do you call them into a room, dump the problem on them, demand a brainstorming session right there and then wonder why it doesn’t work? Or, do you socialize the problem first, ask people to think about it and discuss it with each other offline, and then call the meeting to see what’s been developed?
Creativity needs space, time and freedom from pressure. This is the antithesis of most modern work environments where people work in a high-pressure job and are constantly inundated with a stream of “stuff” via technology.
How can you make the time to be relaxed, creative and successful?
Communicating in Conflict
by Lynda Bourne
One of the realities of project life is every once in a while you are going to become embroiled in a dispute that is emotional and personal. It does not matter how cool and professional you are, you cannot control the other party’s emotions and perceptions — and very often you also need to win the dispute.
In my post Fight or Flight?, I looked at the power of emotions, which can escalate a disagreement into a fight. Now, I want to cover some of the ways to minimize conflict so you can reach a successful outcome.
When dealing with someone who’s upset and emotional, the first thing to remember is they are not acting rationally and are not interested in optimizing their outcome. It is not uncommon for someone to be far more interested in hurting you than in achieving a mutually acceptable outcome, even if this hurts them as well.
There are a number of tactics you can use to stop the dispute from getting worse. From there, you can hopefully move forward to an outcome you can live with.
Watch What You Say
Always remember: You cannot un-say something or un-send an email. If in doubt: Don’t say or send it! Every communication needs to be crafted from a minimalist viewpoint, conveying nothing more than the necessary information. And you should not respond to provocation. Making statements that can be interpreted as threats will be highly counterproductive.
At the same time, your demeanor needs to remain strong and assertive rather than being too aggressive or too passive. An aggressive stance simply adds to the fight. If you are too passive, the other side may not feel any need to respect you and break into a bullying mode.
It’s a hard balance to strike. The best practice is to find an impartial mentor who can help you stay calm, collected and review every communication before you send it. The time lag needed to allow the mentor’s review helps you stay in control of your feelings. If you cannot find someone willing to help postpone any action, literally sleep on it — come back to any message in the morning and see if you really need to send it. Very often, a deliberate strategy of doing nothing or saying nothing can break a tit-for-tat cycle of escalation.
Use Time to Your Advantage
When dealing with someone who’s really upset, it may seem like a natural response to offer practical or helpful advice. That will often backfire, however. They will automatically assume you are in the same place they are, and everything you do or say will be interpreted as an attack or a ploy to gain an advantage over them.
The only way around this impasse is to find a third party, who is trusted by the other party, to act as a messenger. But even then, any communication has to be carefully thought through — never in the entire course of human history has anyone ever calmed down and become reasonable just because someone has told them to. You need options that may be rejected in the short term but allow the person ways to move forward once they have calmed down enough to start working toward an outcome.
Time is a valuable ally. It takes a lot of energy for someone to remain really upset for an extended period of time. Consider Napoleon Bonaparte’s advice to one of his generals: “Never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake.” As much as possible, control the tempo of the dispute and reduce pressure. If you can identify the other person’s hot buttons — the things that will instantly reignite the full intensity of the dispute — look for ways to avoid them.
Have an Exit Strategy
Regardless of the other party’s approach, you still need to focus on outcomes and your real requirements rather than positional bargaining and winning at all costs. You need to clearly understand what’s in it for you and when to walk away.
As strange as it seems, really bitter disputes often become the center of the other person’s existence and they cannot see anything else. Therefore, having a number of exit strategies is critically important — your time and energy are valuable resources, and there is no point in fighting a dispute if there’s nothing in it for you.
Ideally, the exit strategy will allow you to walk away and block the other person’s attempts to keep the fight going. If this is impossible, look for ways to lose elegantly — allow the other side to feel like they’ve won while you haven’t lost too badly. It’s far easier to get into a dispute than it is to get out of one once it is in full swing. Smart negotiators always understand their Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA). In the type of dispute we are discussing in this post, your BATNA should be the trigger for your exit strategy and every move you make should be planned to keep these strategies open.
Remember, when Napoleon invaded Russia, he won every major battle and still lost his Grande Armée’ and the war — the Russians simply reframed the rules of 18th century warfare.
How do you reframe the rules to help manage this type of emotional dispute?