Does your organization practice diversity? I’m not talking about a Human Resources handbook that covers equal opportunity hiring and anti-discrimination policies—every organization checks those legal boxes. I’m talking about embracing diversity. I’m talking about demanding true diversity.
The latest Pulse of the Profession In-Depth Report from Project Management Institute—A Case for Diversity—is a timely one. It shows the value and benefits of inclusive project teams, shows where companies are currently in their attitudes versus actions, and offers a blueprint for making diversity a reality. All project professionals should read it, and make sure their executive leaders find a copy in their in-boxes as well.
Most project leaders already recognize that culturally diverse and gender diverse teams increase project value—88 percent, according the report. They know a “mix of mindsets” leads to fresh approaches, faster problem-solving and far better solutions.
“Being able to draw from a spectrum of backgrounds and experiences”—be it race, age, gender, sexual orientation, culture or nationality—“fuels innovation, unleashing perspectives that might otherwise go unconsidered,” the report states.
But knowing and doing are two very different things. Large gaps exist between what organizations proclaim and what they have actually achieved. Only 33 percent of respondents say their organization has a culturally diverse senior leadership team, and nearly 60 percent say there isn’t a single female in their C-suite.
Cross-cultural awareness and communication are also lagging. Half of respondents say their organization is below average at educating teams on cultural norms and practices to improve collaboration with global stakeholders. And just 18 percent say their organization offers a formal mentorship program to develop project leaders.
Diversity requires action. To build inclusive, future-ready project teams, organizations need executive sponsors such as chief diversity officers to lead the charge and make sure the message of inclusion is heard at every layer of the org chart, the report states. “Companies can also boost diversity with distributed teams, drawing in talent from different locations—with different voices and different ways of working.”
Networking groups, mentorship programs and focused recruiting efforts are all fundamental to developing diversity in the workplace.
The diversity dividend—the ROI in inclusion—is real. The report finds that clients want to see themselves reflected in the project teams they call on to execute their strategic goals, and that Gen Z's best and brightest want to work for companies that demonstrate a commitment to diversity.
A Case for Diversity concludes with three principles that organizations should focus on to make diversity a reality:
> Walk the Walk: The desire for diversity and inclusion is clear—but ambitions must be backed by actions. To achieve real outcomes, organizations need a strategic plan.
> Reexamine Assumptions: The post-COVID-19 reality is revealing new ways of looking at inclusion. By tapping into technology and rethinking the old office requirements to allow for more distributed teams, companies can reach valuable new talent pools and ensure diversity.
> Reflect Your Audience: There’s value in visibility. To attract and retain employees, clients and business partners, organizations must assemble teams that truly reflect their diverse audiences. With the right mix of perspectives, companies can better understand—and deliver on—what end-users really want out of a project.
Future-ready project teams will be diverse teams. Demand nothing less.
Download A Case for Diversity here.
What, in your experience, are the biggest barriers to driving an innovation from within?
This is the question Dr. Kaihan Krippendorff asked 150 “internal innovators”—employees leading innovation efforts within their organizations— over the course of three years while conducting research for his book, Driving Innovation from Within: A Guide for Internal Entrepreneurs. He took their responses and then interviewed innovation experts such as Bharat Anand (Harvard), Steve Blank (Silicon Valley), George Day (Wharton), John Hagel (Deloitte’s Center for the Edge and Singularity University), Gary Hamel (London Business School), Roger Martin (Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto), and Rita McGrath (Columbia) to capture their points of view.
His discovery: there are seven common barriers to innovation:
1. Intent: Many would-be internal innovators have simply given up trying; they have abandoned the intent to find and pursue new innovations.
2. Need: Most employees do not understand what kinds of innovations their organizations need (e.g., less than 55% of middle managers can name even two of their company’s top strategic priorities), so for ideas, they look in the wrong places and then propose ideas of little strategic value.
3. Options: Would-be internal innovators often grow frustrated because they become fixated too early on a few, or even worse just one, innovative idea, instead of continually generating a flow of new ideas and managing them like a portfolio of options.
4. Value blockers: It is commonly accepted that innovative ideas are inconsistent with, and therefore disruptive to, a company’s current business model. This established model creates erect value blockers that prevent an appropriate new business model from forming around the new idea.
5. Act: Established organizations tend to ask one to prove an idea will work before giving permission to take action. Yet most new ideas are better suited to the opposite approach: taking action in order to prove the idea. This puts would-be internal innovators in a catch-22: they cannot prove their idea will work so they cannot take action.
6. Team: Scaling new ideas often requires one to pull together a cross-silo team that runs at a rapid pace and is geared toward learning rather than delivering results. Corporations are geared for the opposite: they are siloed, act slowly, and value results (over learning).
7. Environment: Getting support for new ideas is politically complicated because the leadership behavior, types of talent, organizational structures, and cultural norms that help established organizations sustain their core operations also tend to hinder internal innovativeness. Would-be internal innovators struggle to find “islands of freedom” from which they can access the talent, structures, cultural norms, and leadership support that support attempts at innovation.
"Successful innovators understand that, while any one of the seven barriers can crop up at any time, there is usually a natural flow to the sequence of events, a sequence that outlines a pathway of innovation," says Krippendorff. “Their ability to recognize and control that sequence, to the greatest extent possible, plays a big role in their ultimate success. I also realized that if we turn those seven barriers around and look at the obverse, we see solutions.”
To that point, Krippendorff outlines seven steps to building an innovation team, each of which we have begun presenting in greater detail here on ProjectManagement.com:
1. Remove organizational friction: Walk through the five points of organization friction (resources, rewards/expectations, risk-taking, senior leadership support, and organizational freedom), and identify what you must do to address, or at least anticipate, each one.
2. Assemble a cross-functional team: Pull together a team of between five and ten people with the right mix of functional backgrounds, who are learners (high educational level) and unrestrained by accepted dogmas (low tenure). [see “Start Building an Innovation Team”]
3. Align around an important goal: Complete a V2MOM to align the team passionately behind a compelling shared vision, with an understanding of what specifically qualifies as winning and what obstacles you will face. [This acronym stands for: Vision, Value, Metrics, Obstacles and Measures—for a deeper dive, see “Build Team Commitment to a Goal”]
4. Use metrics and data to track the most important thing(s): Decide which leading metrics your team should focus on.
5. Build a scoreboard everyone can see: Decide on a display for your team and individual metrics.
6. Establish a rapid rhythm: Agree on the frequency with which you will review your team’s progress, and set an agenda for that meeting.
7. Generate positive velocity: Celebrate early wins; allow people to strive beyond what is easy by allowing for failure.
Whether you’re an executive, project manager or team member, these are great, actionable steps to support innovation efforts in your organization. And there’s also a great piece of advice to remember for each step of your innovation journey—from Gary Pisano, senior associate dean of faculty development at Harvard Business School and author of Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation:
“The all-or-nothing approach to solving problems makes for great theater. It does not, however, bear much resemblance to how actual big problems are solved in society, business, or science. Big problems typically get tackled through a series of small solutions, each of which on its own may not seem particularly important, but that together can have a huge impact.
“We need to be thinking about a big set of ‘small’ solutions rather just a small set of ‘big’ solutions.”
With the pandemic forcing so many project teams to work from home, no doubt you're holding tons of virtual meetings. But are you making the most of them?
Working from home (or WFH) is quickly becoming "the new normal." The COVID-19 pandemic kicked the WFH movement into high gear, and many experts believe it will continue long after the crisis has passed. But before we can optimize this new way of working, we're all going to have to get proficient at one of the biggest work-from-home fundamentals: the virtual meeting.
"Remote meetings are inherently different from in-person meetings," says Howard Tiersky, coauthor along with Heidi Wisbach of Impactful Online Meetings: How to Run Polished Virtual Working Sessions That Are Engaging and Effective. "If you're not used to running them, you're going to make tons of mistakes. And those mistakes can have major ramifications in terms of how well people perform once they log off and get back to work."
The good news is that well-run online meetings can be extremely powerful, says Tiersky. In fact, according to the Harvard Business Review, online meetings can be even more effective than in-person meetings when done right. But first you need to be aware of what not to do. Tiersky identifies five common mistakes made in virtual meetings:
1. Neglecting one (or more) of the "big five" success keys of online meetings. If you are seeking to bring people together to share information, come up with solutions, make decisions, coordinate activities, and/or socialize, you will be successful if you:
"If you do all of these correctly, you will have high-impact online meetings," Tiersky says. "If you don't, there's going to be a lot of awkwardness and inefficiency. Worse, bad meetings can lead to bad workplace performance, which is the last thing any of us need right now."
2. Holding voice calls instead of videoconferences. When everyone has their cameras on, you can expect a significant improvement in the effectiveness of online meetings. This keeps people engaged because they know that what they're doing is visible to everyone else. They're far less likely to multi-task, which is one of the greatest obstacles to audience engagement.
3. Failing to be strategic about sequencing. The first item on your meeting agenda should be a restatement of the purpose of the meeting. After that, strategize on the sequence of your activities. For example:
4. Not giving people an active role. It's possible for one person to present content, facilitate questions, ensure the meeting stays on time, and take notes, but why? Seek to distribute the roles of facilitator (responsible for running the agenda), presenter (responsible for sharing specific units of content), timekeeper (watches the clock and alerts facilitators and presenters how to adjust their speed and content), and the notetaker (documents the meeting) among the participants.
"When you give participants something to do, you prevent them from being passive listeners or webinar watchers," Tiersky says. "When people have an active role, they are far, far more attentive and engaged."
5. Failing to take advantage of breakouts. In most meetings of more than eight people, usually most of the talking is done by just five to seven participants. This is one reason why during live workshops Tiersky often breaks larger groups into breakout teams, so they can come up with ideas, work on prioritization, action planning—whatever the work is—in smaller groups and then come back to the larger group and report on the work they did. (Several of the major online meeting platforms including Zoom and Google Hangouts now offer breakouts.)
"We give each team clear instructions for the work they are to do, in writing, and then usually give them a small amount of time to do it, like 20 to 40 minutes," he says. "A compressed time frame forces the group to organize quickly; get to work; and focus on progress, not process or perfection. I've been amazed over the years that sometimes when clear instructions, a small team, and a tight time frame are combined like that, you get work done in a half hour that might have taken days, weeks, or months if done 'the usual way.'"
These are just a few of the mistakes people regularly make. There are plenty more. The good news is most of these are easy enough to correct once you realize you're making them.
"When done correctly, online meetings are an incredibly powerful method of enabling collaborative work," Tiersky says. "It's worth investing a bit of time and effort in learning how to maximize them. Frankly, they have the potential to move the needle for your business, and right now, this is more important than it's ever been."
In an age when nuanced discussion gets lost or distorted by Twitter rants and Facebook echo chambers, is anyone listening to anyone anymore?
Even in the world of project management, where communication skills are highly valued, listening skills don’t get nearly as much attention as they should. But listening is foundational to meaningful communication, and as important as speaking or PowerPointing when it comes to effective collaboration and teamwork.
“Listening is how we demonstrate that the conversation—and the other person—matters,” says Geoffrey Tumlin, author of Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life. “Listening harnesses our attention and sends the message that this person and this interaction count.”
And something remarkable frequently happens when we stop talking and listen: We learn amazing things about the people we work with.
But for a meaningful exchange to take place, actual listening, not just partial listening, is required. We have to let people talk, without interruption, and give them our precious attention. It’s a paradox of the digital age that we are all so busy sending messages that we feel like there’s no need to listen. For better conversations, make listening a priority.
Of course, when we’re constantly distracted or stressed, it’s difficult to listen, let alone to consider another perspective. But that failure is a major opportunity lost, because perspective-taking provides a host of important conversational benefits: It increases the odds of understanding, it shows respect, it keeps our minds open, and it boosts the chances that we will discover common ground.
“When we make it a habit to consider the other person’s perspective, it opens up a window where common goals and shared understanding often emerge,” Tumlin says. “And even when they don’t, people know when you are seriously considering their perspective and it encourages the building of a cornerstone of strong relationships: trust.”
Yes, listening and considering the other person’s perspective will work wonders to improve our conversations and strengthen our relationships. But something quite beneficial often happens when these two communication behaviors become habits: Good ideas start bubbling up all around us.
“We’re often so busy pushing out messages that we completely miss good ideas that waltz right up to us,” Tumlin says. “It’s true that not all ideas are good ideas, but intentional listening and perspective-taking sort out most of the shaky ideas from the valuable ones.”
When we give people our undivided attention and make a serious attempt to understand their point of view, we are often rewarded with the answer to a longstanding problem, with a key piece of information we need to resolve an issue, or with a better way of doing things that we hadn’t considered.
“It doesn’t require a lot of undivided attention to build and maintain strong relationships, but it does require some undivided attention. Good communication equals good relationships equals good life. And that’s why being fully present in our conversations matters so much.”
Cents and Sensibility
A hard line on the bottom line means projects better show value. But ROI can be spelled many ways.
No business goes to market with a product or service that it isn't confident will justify the time and resources spent developing it. Should project selection be any different? Most organizations answer with a resounding "No!" Understandably, they want to focus on initiatives that promise a solid return on investment (ROI). Indeed, for executives and customers—the stakeholders who ultimately decide the fate of projects—it sometimes seems that R-O-I are the only letters in the alphabet.
But making ROI the “Holy Grail” of project valuation and selection can backfire. A project's value is driven by many factors, and many of them can't be measured, or even imagined, by ROI alone. The challenge is to take into account all the important value drivers for ongoing and future projects.
Generally stated as the benefit divided by the cost, ROI seems straightforward enough. But simplified formulas are part of a complicated problem. Project ROI equations should consider many factors, including overall impact on the organization. ROI viewed at the departmental level may look great or disastrous, but the impact on other departments may be just the opposite, depending on what the project delivers.
In some industries, companies that seek rapid paybacks may tend to avoid long-term projects with big budgets. But exclusive emphasis on quick ROI can be unhealthyin the long run. By focusing solely on an ROI percentage calculation and ignoring qualitative metrics, companies shy away from projects that can lead to significant business advantages down the road.
It can be said, some projects run the business, some projects extend the business, and some projects transform the business. Because the latter group of projects are strategic in nature, they are often the “fuzziest” to assess, and they don't stand up well in ROI comparisons to easily quantifiable projects with clear numeric results. Unfortunately, when taken at face value, these projects tend to fall down the project selection list at an organization's own peril.
At the team level, an overemphasis on ROI can often negatively impact project management behavior as much as it does decision-making at the executive level. During project execution, team members are often pushed, or take it upon themselves, to act to improve ROI. Lacking clear understanding of the project's alignment with business goals, they can often have the opposite effect.
For example, a team may cut corners in attempts to reduce costs or decrease implementation time. These actions, in turn, can cause project risks to escalate. And when ROI is held over the head of project teams without a clear explanation of how it relates to the big picture, projects may actually lose value as team members miss or ignore opportunities to improve quality.
Just as organizations need to take many factors into account when selecting projects, the question of value must be revisited and re-evaluated during project execution. Project management performed in an "ROI vacuum" can hurt team morale, productivity and creativity-all human factors that contribute directly to project value.
Perhaps the greatest attraction to ROI is also its greatest myth—that ROI is all about hard numbers and, thus, objectivity. But the fact is, how an ROI study is conducted will determine what it finds. Even more subjectively: Who conducts and presents a particular ROI analysis will often influence the ROI result.
Project sponsors, for example, will often "back into" an ROI figure to arrive at a number they believe management needs to see in order to approve the project. A savvy proponent of a project can show what appears to be an acceptable ROI, but under scrutiny, the score may lack sufficient validity.
On the other side of the coin, upper management may mandate the use of complex or unrealistic ROI equations in order to have a means to cancel or reject projects that may deliver value but do not have political support for whatever reason.
Management must consider more than ROI scores, starting with the data's relevance—from collection methods and sample size, to variables that were or weren't included. Otherwise, they won't understand what the ROI really means.
For the ROI equation to be reliable, estimated costs and benefits must be scrutinized through comparison studies and take into account all possible issues, be they changing market conditions, corporate cultures or cost of capital. These factors may help to defend or dispute the ROI results, but they certainly ensure more accuracy.
In addition, project managers and stakeholders should never forget or underestimate the effectiveness of applying common sense to support a project worth defending, or to throw water on an ROI figure arrived at by incomplete or insincere means.
And post-project reviews should be used to get a final word on the ROI of every project. It is extremely important to revisit a project and evaluate the actual costs and benefits associated with projects. In addition to identifying lessons learned and areas for improvement, reviews show the accuracy of project estimates, paving the way for better ROI forecasting in the future.