Tag Archives: group dynamics

Tea and a Bacon Sandwich: What Really Makes Projects Work

From time to time I receive an engaging email from someone sharing “Project Whisperer” experiences. This note from Jon Aikman rings so true, especially the part about sitting down “over tea and a bacon sandwich.” Jon graciously allowed the re-printing of his note. Enjoy! – Pam

Project management

What Really Works

“I have worked in managing building projects for more than 20 years and in the early days I was deeply interested in learning about different planning and scheduling techniques and other project management tools. My experience showed me that they were useless on their own and what got things moving smoothly was sitting down over tea and a bacon sandwich with a subcontractor listening to his issues about cash flow, lead time for deliveries, access to the site and how he struggles to pay his mortgage. Much more productive than shouting about how he is behind programme and needs to catch up by next week or he’s not being paid.

I also lived and worked in Indonesia for 6 years where the total difference in culture, economy, expectations and technology forced me to break my project management skills to basics and develop a PM approach that fitted the framework I was working in. Nothing to do with scheduling techniques or Gantt charts.

My approach to construction projects is that all buildings are imagined, designed and built by people for people to use and they only get built by everyone co-operating and working towards a common goal. Nothing has changed really since the pyramids were built except we can now build more complex structures, faster and more safely.

I recently became accredited as a mediator and I’m working on a business concept providing project team support – establishing project teams, providing ways to help the team to work smoothly together and helping building industry clients organise their internal decision making processes so that they can be very clear about what they need to achieve from a building projects. All the things I used to do as a project manager but hopefully being able to achieve better results by not being in that PM seat with its other burdens.”

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Jon Aikman

Jon Aikman, Ashburnham Project Management

ABOUT JON: Jon Aikman has a degree in Civil Engineering and an MSc in Construction Management. From 1987 to 1994 he was with Balfour Beatty Construction learning how to manage construction projects, where he learned the power of building a rapport with project team members (He says that eating together is a great rapport builder and UK construction sites collapse when no tea is available!).

Jon  left the contracting business to join a construction consultancy in London for a short time before going to Indonesia in 1995. He was a project manager for a property developer in Jakarta until returning  to UK in 2001. Since then he has been self employed at Ashburnham Project Management . Earlier this year he trained as a mediator with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

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Project Metrics: The Double-Edged Sword

Metrics can swing both ways

Metrics can slice both ways!

We all know that metrics are critical to running a business. We need those leading and lagging indicators of performance, so we can change course where needed and keep doing what works.

Metrics, however, are a slippery beast. In addition to measuring the results of actions, they also motivate action. And this is where things can go either fabulously right, or terribly wrong. What’s worse is that we may not realize what outcome we are promoting until it is too late.

Here’s an example from early in my career. This experience seared onto my brain the awesome power of metrics to influence behavior. And with that power comes great responsibility to ensure that the outcome we motivate is the one that we want.

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Dashboards and Pumpkin Muffins: A Confession

Meaningful dashboard metrics

Wake Up And Smell The Metrics!

I have a confession to make.  It’s from the days when I was still working for a large corporation and leading part of an enterprise-wide strategic IT change initiative. It was huge and encompassed dozens of programs and sub-projects, all aimed at transforming the global IT organization. It was driven top-down and had strict reporting requirements including a mega-metric that tracked who didn’t submit their weekly report. That particular metric got a lot of attention from the Steering Committee of VPs, who were being held accountable by the CIO to submit a consolidated dashboard.

Every week, I dutifully, painfully, and manually composed the required PowerPoint dashboard slide, doing my best to force-fit my program status into the pre-ordained format—which didn’t really work. I had to choose one color—Red, Yellow, or Green, to characterize the current status of my entire program, which was global and massive in itself. I had already been warned by my leadership that there were no “Reds” allowed, and no getting creative with “Oranges” as some do… so my choices were Green or Yellow. There was a tiny box for a 6 pt. font paragraph commentary on that status, which made me feel a bit better, since I could at least qualify the color rating.

Well, feeling rushed and cranky one November Friday, I decided to try a little experiment. Continue reading

Projects Are About People: Using Your Emotional Intelligence

Managing emotions is key to managing projects

You are a Project Manager. You may not realize it, and you may have some other title engraved on your business card, but believe me—you are. Envision a Saturday morning. Paint brush in hand, in-laws arriving tomorrow, and you angry at the realization that there’s not enough paint to finish the guest room. Your spouse is standing by, volunteering well-intentioned guidance “Don’t fall off that ladder!”

At this very moment, you are a Project Manager, trust me.
What’s more, I can predict the outcome of this project based in large part on the very next thing you do. It’s not whether you actually fall off that ladder, or whether you’re able to get more of the custom-colored paint. Sure, you’ll need to address those things… but the real predictor of how your day’s going to unfold is what you say next to your spouse:

(read the rest of my guest post at Tom’s Planner.com)

Broadway’s Spider-Man: A Tangled Web of Lessons in Project Management

A project crippled by scope, budget, and time.

The Broadway production of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” has been plagued with significant delays, cost overruns, technical failures, scathing reviews, and most recently, the apparent dismissal of its director, the esteemed Julie Taymor. Those familiar with the Broadway community know Ms. Taymor as the brilliant creative and directorial force behind the smash hit “The Lion King”, as well as numerous other successes of stage and film.

Wondering if I could diagnose the situation from the perspective of project management, I spent a few hours reading articles that piece together a history spanning six years of this massive undertaking. Where did it go wrong? Was there a single point of failure, or a barrage of circumstances that brought this now $65MM (and growing) debacle to its knees? Continue reading

PMP Certification: Project Management’s “Family Feud”

Family FeudThe value and importance of the PMP certification is a hotly debated topic within the project management community.  One end of the spectrum vigorously defends the credential as the defining standard for competence, whereas the other end views it as a meaningless exercise signifying nothing more than rote memorization. Many fall somewhere in the middle, seeing it as a necessary evil that hopefully yields some advantage to their marketability.

Adding fuel to the debate are the results of a research study published in the Project Management Journal, February 2011. “PMP Certification as a Core Competency:  Necessary But Not Sufficient” reports the results of a study conducted by Jo Ann Starkweather and Deborah H. Stevenson of Northwestern University’s Department of Information Systems & Technology. Continue reading

A Case of the Jitters…?

emotional intelligence anxiety

We All Get The Jitters Sometimes

I had an unusual experience a couple of days ago: I got nervous right before a client presentation. It was more than the typical adrenalin surge that happens right before I hit a stage, or stare into a live camera with a reporter on the other end. This was the real jitters.

The funny thing is that I was on the phone with a friend with whom I’m partnering on this proposal, as we waited for his client to come on the line.  So you’d think I’d be even more relaxed since my pal was there with me. He happens to be kicking-“a” in his own consulting practice, and I have a high degree of confidence in him– someone I’d trust to carry the entire conversation without me. To top that off, the workplace Emotional Intelligence program we’re presenting is so authentically from our cores that we don’t need scripted pitches. Not only do we know our stuff– we “are” our stuff. So what’s to be nervous about?

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