Apply ideas from other disciplines to improve your projects

My debating buddy’s a project manager. And while discussing the nature of justice in a recent dialogue, she mentioned that she was always using pre-PRINCE2 project management models and human psychology to balance politics and get things done. Because sometimes, big problems are solved by lots of little creative solutions.

I thought I had the whole ‘how to deliver projects to time and to cost’ thing nailed: you gather some insight; you create an approach; you plan; you move into delivery. That’s all well and good, but while it may work a treat when you’re working with your builder on an extension; it doesn’t work with really tangled IT projects. Like telling a client that the project team that’s been assembled is too sparse to get anything done. The project’s blocked and the problem is so complex it needs lengthy context to be understood. Or that an earth-shattering risk came out of a standard discovery phase.

That’s the kind of conversations I have with my clients, and team, week in week out.

Like my friend, I never tire of thinking of new ways to manage these types of situations. These days, when managing projects I tailor the traditional Prince2 and Agile approach to meet the needs of the organisation. I also use some fail-safe extras from other disciplines I’ve picked up along the way:

Nudge people
Nudging is a concept from behavioural science. The aim of nudging is to give indirect suggestions to influence people rather than laying down the law or raising peoples awareness through education. You may do this by sending reminders, booking in meetings with clear agendas, or offering visual feedback. 

Reframe things in a positive light
Positive reframing is a bit like optimistic thinking from psychology. Use this technique when you need to rethink a persons motives. When you need to resist the urge to go to war. Or when someone isn’t conforming to how you see the world.  

Use pivot tables where there is lots of repeatable data
Microsoft Project Plan is not the only way of displaying plans and tracking progress. The pivot table feature from Excel is one of the most powerful means of displaying project data. And it means you only need to keep one source database up to date as everything else is automatic. 

Fix the problem, solve the root cause
In business analysis, the key to solving things quickly is by defining the problem simply and then solving the root cause. Think of it this way. If you had no money to pay your overdue credit card, there is both a problem you need to fix and a root cause you need to solve. To fix the problem, you will need to borrow money fast. To solve the cause, you may decide to create a monthly budgeting plan or savings account. The problem and the cause are not the same thing. Fix the problem, solve the cause.

Get to the point, use 1 syllable words, examples and metaphors
This one comes from Steven Pinker’s Style Guide. Clear communication is about clarity of thought. Invest time to understand your message and say it simply, with examples, and as visual language as possible. 

Listen with an active ear, build consensus
There is a difference between dialogue and debate. Take it from the politicians and philosophers. Active listening means you pay attention. It doesn’t mean you formulate a response in your head while the other person is speaking. And the aim is to move towards consensus which unifies rather than disagreement which fragments.

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