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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Project U.S.A.

It's been a year since the presidential campaign, an exhaustingly difficult and risky project, was successfully concluded by Barack Obama. He was elected on a wave of optimism and expectation.

Now, just past the first anniversary of that big win, the mighty wave has ebbed. In fact, the follow-on project that is actual service in office is getting bashed around in some very nasty rapids.

What happened? Shouldn't the historic level of Obama/Democratic victory have guaranteed a lengthy period of broad support for the policies that would implement the campaign promises? Why are Democrats now desperately scrambling to the right, or to the door? Why does it feel as if the public has turned against the administration it boosted so improbably to power so recently? Was the triumph empty?

Monday, January 18, 2010

You Don't Get What You Deserve . . .

You don't get what you deserve -- you get what you negotiate.

That's an axiom of professional negotiators, and it's true in spades for project managers. The art/science of project management is overstuffed with formulas for just about everything, but none of it works without the wise management of the relationships among the stakeholders.

Any relationship is a constant two-way stream of requests, promises and value exchanges, large and small. With projects, it is vital that, from the very beginning, all the stakeholders are clear on what this is all about, including what their contributions are to be.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Out of the Alley, Under the Streetlight

There's that insightful old story about the tipsy gentleman crawling around the roadway under a streetlight on a dark night. A friend comes along and, quite naturally, inquires as to what's going on.

"I'm looking for my wallet," says the guy on all fours.

"Oh, you lost it here in the street?" the friend asks.

"No," says the searcher. "I lost it back there in the alley, but it's too dark to look for it there, so I'm looking out here."

Feel free to chuckle, if you think that's a funny little story. Then do yourself a favor and think about the reality all around you, in which multitudes persist in doing what's easy rather than what will work.

A prime field is that of decision-making. Most of us have familiar thinking tracks and favorite solutions. When a situation arises that needs to be examined and resolved, we tend -- if we're not careful -- to follow familiar routes of diagnosis and treatment. We may do this even when the problem is only faintly related to what we have experienced before.

We cling to the "tried and true," which often is really neither tried nor true, never actually having been tested and confirmed. Doesn't matter. We need comfort when something causes us to be uneasy. We may repeatedly apply the unsuccessful process, growing more desperate with each failure, despite its predictability.

In short, the pursuit of comfort can trump the achievement of success if the decision-making process is not constructed thoughtfully and followed with discipline. Identifying what you don't know about this matter, and searching diligently for the necessary information, makes all the difference in the world of competent problem-solving.

A little practice, built intelligently from ongoing experience, remarkably raises the learning curve in competent decision-making. Life is neither a dark alley nor a well-lit street. It's having a good flashlight and knowing how to use it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Worth of a Bureaucracy

Organizations inevitably do what organizations do. When that's good, it can be very, very good. The lights stay on, paychecks arrive on time, good works get done.

When organizational behavior is not good, you can wind up with an unobstructed terrorist boarding a flight to Detroit, no matter how many protective measures are supposedly in place.

This is not to jump in on either side of the current discussion of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed bombing attempt, but to take the occasion to comment on organizational reality.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Politics & the PMBOK Guide

Project Management is politics. Whether done well or poorly, the art and science of the possible is the key practice of the person (Project Manager) who leads a complex, multiparty innovation.

Seeing the job this way provides the appropriate lens for the great majority of people I work with every year, but the general philosophy of our culture equips us all poorly to focus the lens correctly.

For one thing, in this polarized age you're a weenie if you don't batter any opposing party with supercharged overreactions to meaningless differences. For another, we prefer tidy quantifications to accurate qualifications -- meaning we are conditioned to reduce complexity to two-dimensional formulas without regard to how accurate or useful it is to do so.