Kevin Dolling, Paul Girling and Joanna Reynolds
This chapter is about what our company (‘new habits’) calls Humanability®. Everyone knows about project failure. Reasons often cited include lack of user involvement, unrealistic timescales, poor requirements definition, scope creep, having no clear sponsor or champion and many others. However, we believe that projects and change initiatives do not generally fail for technical reasons. They might fail for procedural reasons, but mostly they fail for human reasons. These can include political struggles and power games, lack of ‘buy-in’ (from a whole assortment of stakeholders), poor motivation, not understanding what others want and focusing on the wrong things. So unsuccessful project managers probably focus on the wrong things. But on what should they focus? We want to share our company’s views with you. Our aim is to provoke you to question your own practice and behaviour.
A downturned economic environment makes things even tougher for a project manager. It creates pressure. The recession (current at the time of writing) means that investment is cut back savagely. Therefore funding for projects is scarce. Added to this, there is a feeling of doom. All we get is bad news and self-fulfilling pessimism.
Managers appear to be scared of failure. They take refuge in the left side of their brains (the logical, safe-keeping side) rather than engaging the right side (the creative, emotional, fun-seeking side). This is expressed in micromanagement and tight control causing people to play it safe – keeping their heads down and following rules.
However, measuring, taking apart, quantifying and analysing doesn’t necessarily mean making things clearer and more effective. The constant pressure of knowing you might have to justify, in minute detail, every decision you make, hampers performance. So what gets measured gets done. In micromanagement there is no space left for inspiration, entrepreneurism and creativity.
Allowing Individual Freedom
Annette Simmons (2006) tells a story about a family wedding that an engineer attended when he was aged 16. That wedding was the last time this engineer saw his two uncles at the same time. His favourite uncle (Henry) was a prominent lawyer. His other uncle (Horace) was considered crazy. Horace always wore purple trainers and would sometimes deliver shocking statements like ‘Helen is a bitch’, which everyone knew to be true but no one else was game to say. He loved his Uncle Horace best because he wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone. He seemed more alive than all the sane people. But Uncle Horace had not always been ‘crazy’.
Both Horace and Henry had been brilliant as young men and were given excellent educational opportunities. By the age of 18 Horace had graduated from Harvard with a degree in psychology. Henry studied law and did well, but Horace was considered the brilliant one. Despite the brilliance, or because of it, during the 1950s Horace was diagnosed with ‘brain fever’. He might have been depressed, neurotic or eccentric – no one could remember. They just knew that his behaviour seemed strange to the family.
In the 1950s the cure for ‘brain fever’ was a lobotomy. Uncle Horace was admitted to hospital and part of his brain was removed – along with his brilliance. His brilliance was destroyed.
One of the morals of the story is that sometimes, when we don’t understand something we try to take it apart, piece by piece. But in that process we destroy it.
Some people may ‘wear purple trainers’ and be exceptional at what they do but we have no idea how they get the results that they get. Don’t destroy their brilliance by trying to measure it or quantifying it, with rigorous measurable outcomes. just be happy they are in the team, being uniquely brilliant.
Can you Let Your People Wear Purple Trainers?
The problem is that ‘working to rule’ is inflexible. It creates what we call ‘jobsworths’. These are people who cannot venture into different ways of achieving results. In an environment that requires creativity and inspiration, ‘working to rule’ prevents people from being their best.
This is strange because whenever we give presentations to professional associations we ask ‘What is your organisation’s best asset?’ The response is always overwhelmingly ‘Our people’. Yet people can be treated like machines. Or they are treated even worse than machines, because machines have maintenance schedules, experts to keep them functioning and repair them when needed. People are more adaptable and versatile than any machine, but many are neglected or even abused. Yet they still deliver results. This is clearly not the way to get the best out of people. How much better could they deliver if they were ‘maintained’?
In fact, rigid compliance to rules turns people into machines. As we shall mention later, adults don’t like rules. So we rebel against them.
It can be argued though that good project management uses rules by setting clear, quantifiable targets. This sounds good in theory, after all, ‘What gets measured, gets done’ (which has been attributed to Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Edwards Deming, Lord Kelvin among others). But the issue here is that we can end up by being obsessed with quantification. We create a ‘tick-box mentality’. As a frustrated employee at Ford put it,
The bean counter wants to know all along the way how much is this, how much is that – and even before you get the genesis of the thing organised, they want to know the exact cost of each part. And you can’t think that way, so what you do is lie, fake, hide things behind the blackboard […] they can always prove they are right. They’ve got it on paper. They are right, but they are wrong. (John Kay, 2011)
Which of us has not felt the pressure to record the required metrics so that we can get on with the real job?
Constraint from Imposed Methodologies and Targets
At the risk of being strung up by many members of the project management community, we would like to consider PRINCE2 and other project methodologies. There has been a vast amount of money ‘invested’ in them, both in their development and in training practitioners. Our concern is that they focus on processes to follow and not on people. Such methods are based on the ethic of obedience. That means having rules to follow (which we shall come to later). It is argued, by experienced practitioners, that one should employ one’s judgement to adapt the method to fit the needs of the project. However, you can only tailor and adapt when you have experience. It’s a classic ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma. Further, methods are based on the premise that you require structure and quantified targets. We think the issue is well stated in this piece found on the Internet:
The idea you can specify everything up front, execute the project in pre-defined phases, base your testing on your specification etc. etc. is all very persuasive. If however, you start to feel it’s a little unreal – not the way the World works, don’t worry. It’s not you that’s got the wrong end of the stick.
Another Internet contributor was more caustic:
The most massive IT cock-ups in the UK are usually PRINCE structured, so you might say it is good for raising project costs one-hundredfold.
Dennis Lock told me that he finds PRINCE2 to be prescriptive and bureaucratic (he facetiously calls it POUNCE – projects overspent in uncontrolled environments).
In practice, management driven by rigid objectives can be like putting blinkers on people, creating silos so that they cannot or will not see outside their immediate area of responsibility. It can lead to suboptimisation, where one group might appear to function well but actually affects others negatively and does not contribute effectively to the overall goal. This silo mentality reduces trust, which is an essential ingredient in getting the best out of people. According to Lencioni (2006):
Silos are … the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.
Silos occur because there is no compelling reason to work together. So people focus on their tactical work, assuming they are working in the best interest of the organisation. But they see colleagues elsewhere going in different tactical directions. This lack of common purpose can be destructive:
And then the worst thing possible happens – they actually start working against those colleagues on purpose!
Whereas, all they need is a common goal to create collaboration. What do we want?
If we accept that rule-driven, micromanagement does not get the best out of us, what will get the best out of us? The answer is ‘fulfilment’.
Aristotle (384–322 BC) described the concept ‘eudemonia’ – happiness or flourishing (fulfilment). His ethical system has influenced thinking for the last 2,000 years. Now we recognise a difference between happiness and eudemonia. Psychologist Daniel Nettle (2005) suggests three senses of happiness, as follows:
The lowest level of happiness is the momentary feeling that makes us happy – the joy of sex, the pleasure of a beautiful sunset.
The intermediate level is a state of mind not a physical response. For example, a sense of satisfaction and well-being.
Eudemonia is the highest level – a sense of quality of life, of flourishing, of fulfilling one’s potential.
Achievement – overcoming challenge and achieving a result. This can bring a sense of growth. It can be at work or in one’s private life.
Freedom – having time to do what one wants; not being encumbered; being able to choose one’s path.
Close relationship(s) (giving and receiving love from a partner, children and/or friends).
Sense of belonging to a team. Again, this can be at work or in one’s private life.
Sense of contribution – making a difference to others or for a cause (voluntary work, for example).
So fulfilment is not bought and cannot be quantified. Albert Einstein reportedly had a sign on his office wall that stated:
Cricketer Ed Smith (2008) puts seeking to fulfil potential (personal growth) and winning (achievement) into perspective as follows:
I am not saying that personal development is more important than winning … enjoying the journey of self-discovery, by removing some of the pressure and angst associated with winning at all costs, is one way of helping you to win more often.
Flow and Inner Game
Fulfilment or flourishing does not mean soft-pedalling. In fact, it can mean just the opposite. Psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (2008) describes what people experience in demanding activities as ‘flow’. It is ‘the sense of effortless action they feel tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable’.
We can experience flow in our work lives. For example, an engaging presenter may ‘lose’ themselves when in full ‘flow’. We often lose sense of time in flow. In neuro linguistic programming, this experience is often described as being ‘in the zone’.
A coachee of our company (we prefer ‘coachee’ to ‘trainee’ in this context) who was a professional rugby player, told us that his best performance in games happened when he didn’t think about it. It came instinctively.
Flow experiences contribute to our fulfilment and long-term well-being. We think that flow corresponds to Timothy Gallwey’s performance model set out in The Inner Game of Work (2000) and his other Inner Game books. As well as being successful in business, Gallwey was a tennis coach, which is where the model has its roots. He proposed that we have two inner selves:
inner-self one, which is protective and seeks to get us to do things properly (according to the rules);
inner-self two, which is our creative, natural self with vast potential.
Gallwey expresses the relationship between these with the equation:
Our performance is equal to our potential (what inner-self two could achieve) minus the interference (doubts and negative thoughts) that our safe-keeping inner-self one generates. We cannot switch off inner-self one but we can distract him/her. So when we are in ‘flow’ we are working close to potential because inner-self one is distracted.
Whilst Gallwey’s model (2000) identifies interference as being internal, we extend the model to the interference imposed by the behaviour, rules, constraints and culture of the workplace. This means that micromanagement does not enhance performance but diminishes it.
So when we tackle a challenge, it can lead to flow. Overcoming challenges can bring fulfilment; as can freedom to be oneself, having close relationships and a sense of belonging. We desire fulfilment but do we get it at work? The important questions are:
What would it be like to get fulfilment at work?
And if we did, what would our contribution be like?
Wrong focus – just what is failure?
Project Success or Failure
Project success is normally defined objectively in terms of quantified costs and benefits. Classically this means: the required outputs are delivered on or under budget and on or under timescale. In other words, the business case has been met. The corollary is that if the business case has not been met, then the project is a failure.
However, are success and failure that simple? Kay (2011) suggests that pursuing quantified goals is artificial and too rigid. He argues that the sorts of models and projections upon which a business case is based are inadequate and too simplistic because the business environment is too uncertain for us to forecast the future. In times of national and international economic turmoil, such as exist as we write this, who can reliably predict financially 12 months ahead?
The business environment is complex. Many factors are involved so we simplify them. We make assumptions and restrict the business model by eliminating ‘unimportant’ factors. So the model becomes too simplistic.
Franklin’s Rule and Franklin’s Gambit
The response of other parties (individuals, departments, organisations and cultures), cannot be predicted accurately. So our knowledge of the business environment is incomplete. Indeed there is so much that we don’t know that the ‘unknowns’ may well outweigh what we profess to know. And, of course, the business environment is constantly changing.
Nonetheless, project managers would still argue the case for objectivity. John Kay (2011) illustrates this desire in relation to Benjamin Franklin who set out his rule for an objective decision making in a letter to the English chemist Joseph Priestley. This (Franklin’s rule) reads as follows:
Divide half a sheet of paper … into two columns; writing over the one Pro, and over the other Con. Then … I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives, that at different times occur to me for or against the measure.
When I have got … one view, I endeavour to estimate the respective weights … I have found great advantage for this … moral or prudential algebra.
In principle, organisations follow formal processes that resemble moral algebra (Franklin’s rule), when making decisions, for example appointing to a job or choosing between options in a project.
However, Franklin knew that moral algebra is not how people and organisations really make decisions. He later went on to describe what became known as Franklin’s gambit, which reads as follows:
so convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one had a mind to do.
So in fact, moral algebra is really just a justification for a decision that has already been made. The interview report or the option appraisal usually follows Franklin’s gambit rather than Franklin’s rule.
Do you know of any project manager who has skewed a business case to justify a preferred option (theirs or that of a powerful sponsor)?
Quantified objectives are not as powerful a motivator as having a sense of purpose. Patrick Lencioni (2006) describes this well:
resist the temptation to say, ‘Revenue is all that matters, because …’ Even the most driven employees … will not be as motivated for hitting the numbers if they don’t understand how they fit into the bigger picture.
Branson (2007), when people ask him what business they should pursue, writes:
When people ask me … I always tell them … have a passion for what you do, for the moment it becomes all about the money is the moment you will cease to go forward.
This applies equally well to project management. It is not enough simply to chase quantified targets.
Project 1 – to deliver a mortgage processing system, within a total budget that must not exceed £2.5m and to be fully implemented in 15 months; or
Project 2 – to produce a simple, timely and accurate home-buying service that will satisfy both customers and operators.
Project Success is Subjective?
A special interest group of the APM developed a presentation called ‘Project Success is Subjective?’ The premise is that for project managers to be successful they must focus on managing stakeholder perceptions. This is because projects are complex owing to the sheer number of people involved. Also, except for identical twins, no two people are alike. We each judge success by our own subjective criteria and our perceptions can change over time. So the accepted measure of success (meeting the business case) is inadequate.
Consider a construction project. It began with a forecast completion time of six years and a budget of $7m. It actually took 16 years, and the final cost was $102m. So it was finished 10 years late and cost more than 14 times the original budget. Was it a success? Using traditional measures, it was clearly a failure. However the Sydney Opera House is a great outcome – Australians love it. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007. The architect, Jørn Utzon, received the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honour, in 2003, with the citation:
There is no doubt that the Sydney Opera House is his masterpiece. It is one of the great iconic buildings of the 20th century, an image of great beauty that has become known throughout the world – a symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent.
A further topic in the APM group’s presentation is project managers’ responses when relationships become complex and stakeholders express dissatisfaction with a project. Typically a project manager will seek a simple process-based solution, which does not deal with the core issue of a dysfunctional relationship. We observe this in relationship management workshops where project managers discuss processes and cite and impose rules rather than listen to, and engage with, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. A more useful strategy might be to agree boundaries and give the freedom to explore options for dealing with the issues.
Recapitulation: The Story so Far
Projects fail because of people issues.
The challenging economic climate puts greater pressure on project managers to deliver results.
But are they chasing the wrong targets? The pursuit of quantification can be counterproductive and the predictive models we use are inherently flawed.
Whilst we all espouse that people are our best asset, there is a prevailing JFDI (the polite version of which is ‘just focus and do it’) culture. Nonetheless we all desire fulfilment and are highly productive when we work in an environment that helps deliver it.
Ethics and Decision Making in Project Management
making the right decisions;
showing respect to all stakeholders.
Project management (like all management) hinges on sound judgement in making decisions. We suggested earlier that ‘objective’ decision making is flawed because we claim to use Franklin’s rule or something similar but more often than not we use Franklin’s gambit to justify a decision that has already been made. So what are the alternative methods?
Luke Rhinehart (1971) offered a decision-making method in The Dice Man, where the main character changed his approach to life by making all of his major choices based on a dice roll. ‘And so you, my friends, when you’ve picked up a pencil and written a list of options and rolled the dice …’. However, this method has its drawbacks, as he went on to say, ‘you may be disappointed’. Again, it smacks of Franklin’s gambit. So how about ethical decision making instead?
Perhaps we should stop here and introduce a definition of ethics. Here’s what Chambers 21st Century Dictionary says:
ethics (plural noun): rules or principles of behaviour.
In the context of project management we prefer to put the emphasis on ‘principles’ rather than ‘rules’, since we do not believe that ethics is a process or an audit procedure. Our personal ethics matures as we go through life. Here we draw on Roger Steare (2009). In his excellent book he describes the following stages in ethical development.
Stages in Ethical or Moral Development According to Steare
The first stage in our moral development is the ‘ethic of ego’. It is an internal driver of behaviour that manifests itself in our early years. Its purpose is survival so it causes us to be greedy, fearful and self-centred. It can be summarised as ‘what’s right is what’s best for me’.
Do we ever lose this powerful, physiological driver of behaviour? Probably not; just consider the origins of the banking crisis – greedy, undisciplined bankers. The question is ‘should we still let it drive us?’ What about the project manager who can see nothing but his/her project?
The second stage of development is our first moral conscience, the ‘ethic of obedience’ or rule compliance. It is an external driver of behaviour because it develops as we begin to understand instructions from our parents. It is based upon being aware that the consequences of our choices are reward or punishment. We learn this aspect of moral conscience when we are about four to five years old. This can be summarised as ‘what’s right is following orders’. It can be argued that rules are for children and that we rebel against rules as we get older. (Remember your teen years!) We are more likely to comply though, if we are consulted on and agree on the rules.
John Kay (2011) uses the analogy of chess to illustrate the true importance of rules. For most of us, chess is a complex, strategic game. Novice chess players often lose because they make mistakes by forgetting or not applying the basic rules. But novices can often lose because they do apply the basic rules. Gary Kasparov and other grandmasters are experts not only at applying the rules, where they make few mistakes; they also understand when to break the rules.
Studies on paramedic experts show that the general public did not value them for following procedure but valued their confidence, decisiveness and results (or outcomes).
Skilled practitioners use pattern recognition (rather than calculations), successive limited comparison, make an assessment and, if evidence seems inconsistent, they adopt an alternative. This is what Kay (2011) calls an oblique approach.
When asked, most successful businessmen will describe their achievements (outcomes), or they might describe their general approach. But they cannot explain their detailed steps.
So a novice is consciously competent and will follow the rules, whilst experts who have been trained to hone their skills will be unconsciously competent. In other words, expert skill will be second nature. Experts can do without the rules.
Richard Branson (2007) uses an interesting analogy when describing the types of people he wants in his organisation.
Don’t lead sheep, herd cats. It’s easy to herd sheep, but impossible to lead them from the front. Cats, on the other hand, are independent and intelligent and those are the kind of people we want … employ thinkers, not yes men.
As project managers, do you want team of cats or a herd of sheep? Returning to Steare’s ethical development stages, we come to the third stage. Our third ethical stage develops when we are young adults. It is the ‘ethic of care’ or social conscience and relates to the moral values of humility, love and fairness. It is an interactive driver of behaviour based on ‘give-and-take’ within relationships. This ethic builds community integrity, for example in families, neighbourhoods and, in the context of project management, in the workplace. It can be summarised as ‘what’s right is what’s best for all of us’.
An expression of the ethic of care is reciprocity. Our company often illustrates this by asking our coachees two questions. First we ask them to list people, from within and outside their organisations, from whom they can ask favours and expect support. We then ask our coachees to list the people, again from within and outside their organisations, who come to them for favours. Not surprisingly, for each individual, the same people tend to be found in both lists. This is reciprocity, which is expressed in two ethical ‘rules’.
Golden rule: ‘One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself’. For example, the commandment ‘Love thy neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18). The ‘golden rule’ has its roots in a wide range of world cultures (including ancient Babylon, Egypt, Persia, India, Greece, Judea and China) and religions (including Jewish, Christian, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism). It is the basis for today’s concept of human rights, where each individual treats all people with consideration, not just members of his/her group.
Silver rule, written by Confucius (551–479 BC): ‘One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated’, for example, ‘Do no harm’ (Hippocratic oath).
Reciprocity is the basis of sustainable relationships. Effective project management is built on sustainable relationships, where bartering and trading are based on mutual trust. Richard Branson (2007) sums up the ethic of care well in his book Screw it, Let’s do it:
Change the world, even in a small way. Make a difference and help others. Do no harm. Always think what you can do to help.
Steare’s fourth and final listed stage of development is the ‘ethic of reason’ or principled conscience which we reach in our early sixties. Aristotle is recognised as the founder of this school of ethics. This internal driver of behaviour comes from deep inside. It helps us to decide what’s right by acting in accordance with our values and principles, such as fairness, courage and kindness. We display integrity when we live by our principles. It’s our moral DNA. It can be summarised as ‘what’s right is what I/we judge is right’.
However, principles can conflict. For example, we may have the values of ‘truth’ and ‘loyalty’ but what do we do if we know that a member of our family has committed a crime? Or our principles of determination and fairness can be in conflict; how does the conscientious, determined project manager act with team members who do not put in the same hours because of their domestic circumstances?
Doing the Right Thing
So ethics is ‘doing the right thing’. It isn’t adopting just one of the ethical stages. Steare (2009) offers a framework for making choices or decisions that incorporates all three stages. The framework helps us to deal with the contradictions and ambiguities we can face. It is summarised by the acronym RIGHT, as follows:
Rules – This relates to the ethic of obedience; for example, is there legislation, policy or a code of conduct that prescribes what should or should not happen?
Integrity – How do the options align with my core integrity? This relates to the ethic of reason; what do my wisdom, self-discipline and sense of fairness tell me? How does this align with my principles and values?
Good – What good will come of the decision? This relates to the ethic of care, the golden rule; what benefit does the outcome bring to whom?
Harm – What possible harm will come from the decision? This also relates to the ethic of care, the silver rule; what harm or cost will the outcome bring to whom?
Truth – What if the truth should come out? This relates to both the ethics of care and reason. It is a powerful final question to ask ourselves, ‘Could I sleep at night?’
Lessons from Carers
In our company we have been fortunate to work with informal carers in workshops, such as assertiveness and effective communications. An informal carer is a person who looks after another person. That might be an aged parent, a spouse, a son or daughter and so on. These carers are called ‘informal’ because they do not get paid for their efforts. Along with many others, we believe that the UK’s six million carers are undervalued by society. They are exceptional people. One common feature we have observed is their capacity to fight for the rights of their cared-for individuals (often at a high cost to themselves). Carers demonstrate the following traits:
belief in the vast potential of each person;
focus on what a person can do (not what they can’t do);
encouragement and support for the individual (in fact, they often show good coaching skills);
investment in and empowerment of the individual;
desire to challenge limits imposed on a cared-for individual.
Overall they treat their cared-for people with respect and fight for other people to do likewise. Carers and their cared-for also demonstrate that each of us can tap into a vast well of determination, resilience and inner-strength. They illustrate our belief that ‘we are all very resourceful’. In respect of Gallwey’s (2000) formula (performance = potential – interference) carers help their cared-for to overcome both external and internal interference to strive to fulfil their potential.
What does this mean for project managers? How would it be, to be a project manager whose team members are pushing to fulfil their potential? And how would it be to work with or for a project manager who believed in you, listened to and encouraged you, helped you to grow your abilities and confidence, empowered you and fought for you? What would that do for your performance and what would you give in return? What would it be like to be the customer of a project manager with those values?
At ‘new habits’ we like to use the acronym RESPECT to identify the people traits that (project) managers need to be effective:
Relationships – building and maintaining reciprocal relationships.
Empathy – putting oneself in the shoes of another, appreciating their feelings. Sincerity – being honest with self and others.
Principles – operating by one’s principle or moral code.
Empowerment – empowering self and others to grow.
Compassion – dealing with others compassionately, with care.
Trust – show trust in others and build trust.
human ability: people have immense potential. We can be like carers and see people’s ability not their disability;
humanity: the quality of being humane; showing benevolence;
humility: the quality of not being too proud about yourself, recognising collective effort of other people.
Summarising our Choices
Relationships with Stakeholders
expedient or sustainable? Go for the short-term, immediate needs or develop longterm reciprocal relationships?
competitive or collaborative: pursue our own needs, ignoring others’ needs – or look for joint solutions?
approach to issues: rules or people; impose processes and rules or listen and engage with stakeholders?
Managing the Team
command or empowerment: inflexible management (JFDI) or trust and empower;
use or value; team members are resources or team members are people with great potential.