Archive for February, 2011

One can find endless examples of projects. Tom Peters (2007) goes as far as claiming that all white collar work these days is and actually has to be project work. “And not just any project, no matter how droning, boring, and dull, but rather what … I come to call ‘Wow Projects’: projects that add value, projects that matter, projects that make a difference, projects that leave a legacy … ” (quote from “The Wow Project.” FastCompany, 2007. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/24/wowproj.html).

As I am getting closer to the end of an interim management engagement these days I am asking myself if the past months fulfill the description of a “Wow” engagement.  Luckily the answer is “yes!”
Throughout my career I was fortunate that most of the projects I worked on or managed, inside and outside of business, met these requirements. It was not the nature of the projects. It was the attitude of the whole team and its desire to create something special.
All of my wow projects started with a clear vision; clear enough to become emotional about it. We could see, smell, and feel the expected end results. This was a strong driver in our day-to-day activities. Other attributes of these projects were that collaboration was working: roles and responsibilities were defined, team members’ expectations articulated and accounted for, and all were reviewed regularly, adapting them where necessary. We nourished teamwork and the freedom to act for a common goal. Creating and nurturing an innovative learning environment, an atmosphere where feedback was sincere, honest, and constructive, was another success factor. It was about helping and learning from each other. Last but not least, the wow projects were about delivering results, not just the final deliverable. Instead, we set weekly goals to work on and deliver. This meant we always had a good sense of accomplishment. Project success became success for all of us.

Hence, while it is to early to tell where my next engagement will lead me, one thing is for sure, it will be another “Wow” project.

To learn more about what it takes to set-up, lead and manage a “Wow”-project and/or engagement, read my book “Leadership Principles for Project Success” (CRC Press, 2011) and/or contact me directly.


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Steve Denning, author of “The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management” (Jossey-Bass, 2010) has published a great article on Forbes.com entitled “Wal-Mart And The Futility Of Traditional Management”.  In this article he points out the declining business numbers of Wal-Mart and compares them to thriving and innovative businesses such as Amazon.  He explains that the central reason for this decline is traditional management of the 20th century in which profits are the driver of economic activity.  But, “working over “pricing and merchandising issues” isn’t going to save Wal-Mart. Instead Wal-Mart has [to] reinvent itself. Wal-Mart has to start delighting its customers.

It is true that Wal-Mart is an excellent example of “traditional management” as we have seen in so many firms for a very long time.  It is also true that Wal-Mart has to change something unless it was go down the drain sooner or later.  However, I am not convinced that a change in management may be sufficient.  Radical management as Steve describes it in his book is the right ingredient.  Alas, I don’t think they are sufficient.  What it takes to change the game in cases like Wal-Mart is LEADERSHIP.  This leadership ought to be based on the principles of radical management.  Leadership has to ignite the fire for change and innovation; radical management can sustain it.

The 7 basic and inter-locking principles of radical management according to Steve Denning are the following:
1. The goal of work is to delight clients.
2. Work is conducted in self-organizing teams.
3. Teams operate in client-driven iterations.
4. Each iteration delivers value to clients.
5. Managers foster radical transparency.
6. Managers nurture continuous self-improvement.
7. Managers communicating interactively through stories, questions and conversations.

Leadership starts with assessing and understanding the situation; this includes understanding its customers and finding out what delights them.  This is a first step.  Then leadership has to help build a vision for change.  Without this vision, the “project” is likely to fail.

It will be very interesting to see whether or not Wal-Mart will be capable of making this change.  Personally, I have some doubts.  In Germany Wal-Mart miserably failed in its market entry.  Not because it sold the wrong products.  Not because the products were not always cheaper.  But because Wal-Mart did not bother trying to understand the culture of German customers.  This is negligence, yes.  But even more so it shows that Wal-Mart has the wrong attitude; it lacks the willingness to look left or right.  Call it arrogance, ignorance or whatever you like.  It is the recipe for long-term failure.

Wal-Mart has a lot of money and a lot of assets.  These will secure that Wal-Mart will be around for quite some time to come.  However, as long as it limits its focus on managing them, its business will deteriorate.  Radical management as proposed by Steve Denning is a necessary condition for change but it is not sufficient.  What it takes is LEADERSHIP based on radical management.

To learn more about this kind of leadership for success, read my book “Leadership Principles for Project Success” (CRC Press, 2011).

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On February 11, 2011 PM Forum held a random drawing for a free copy of my book, Leadership Principles for Project Success, published last year by CRC Press in the United States.  There were a total of 613 registrations from 78 countries.  Congratulations to the 3 winners:  They are from South Africa, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

More information to follow.  Stay tuned!

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According to Charles J. Pellerin high-performance contexts for teams have the following characteristics:

  • Mutual respect, people feel valued
  • Reality-based optimism, commitment
  • People feel included, trustworthy
  • Clear organization, accountability

In his book How NASA Builds Teams: Mission Critical Soft Skills for Scientists, Engineers, and Project Teams. (2009, published by John Wiley:  Hoboken, NJ) Pellerin describes the underlying structure of this context.  Alas, where his book falls short is explaining how to create the right environment for teams to prosper, especially in a project environment.

It is great to work in performing teams.  It is indeed a wonderful experience when you see how team synergy effects help the team achieve extremely high level of productivity, quality and results AND have fun at the same time.  It is magic.  However, it takes more than the insight of the key characteristics of high-performance contexts for teams.  The following 5 principles help as a guidance to project success:

(1) You and your team have to build and follow a common project vision.  It drives the whole team.  It may be ambitious but feasible. It certainly motivates the whole team to commit all its energies to achieve it.

(2) A clear organization is a cornerstone of a functioning team.  It is a structure.  The juice is collaboration itself.  Hence, you have to nurture collaboration.  Actively involve the team to define the various roles and responsibilities, collaboration rules, align expectations, share motivations and drivers.  Give each team member to chance to buy in his or her own role as well as all the other roles in the team.  This defines accountability of the individual and the group.

(3) Promote performance on the individual and team level.  Creating the right environment for performance is great.  At the end of the day you and your team have to perform and deliver.

(4) Project environments change, as much and as often as project requirements.  Hence, cultivate reflection and learning in your team.  Don’t pretend that you can plan everything in its very detail.  You can’t.  Adapt and move ahead, keeping the project vision in mind, follow through.

(5) Last but not least, the best high-performance context for team is worthless if the team doesn’t deliver.  There is more to project success than results.  Still, results are what other people outside a project can and want to see.  Hence, ensure ongoing delivery of results.  Don’t wait until the end.  Instead, build in interim checkpoints, deliver results throughout the project.  Not only do you give the outside world a sign that you are making progress you also strengthen the morale of your team and hence the context for team performance.  This helps secure project success.

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History is in the making when you look to Egypt these days.  It is fascinating and scaring at the same time watching the Egyptian people demonstrating against the Mubarak regime, demanding “their” leader to step down. – This is not the place to comment on this political development as interesting as it is.  Instead I want to gear our attention to Mubarak himself and the lack of true, tranformational leadership he exercises.  AsKatherin Tyler Scott points out in her recent commentary in the Washington Post “President Mubarak has used his position to exercise authority, not leadership. His establishment and maintenance of control over his followers rather than control with them has resulted in an environment of fear and anger ripe for the unbridled expression of rage and violence.”

How often do we experience such “leadership” in project situations?  Way too often, at least this is my observation.  True project leadership is not based external power, force, status.  True leadership is based on the trust of and by the team.  As little or as much as project managers strive for control, the most important foundation of control a project manager can and should seek is the team itself. It is not the single project manager running a project.  The team realizes the project.  The project manager is and should behave and act as a member of the team.  Corollary, if you don’t have a
functioning team you are acting without a foundation of control.Teambuilding helps establish a foundation of control. Hence,effective project leadership always involves teambuilding.  The project manager is nothing without the trust of his or her team.  It  may have the authority to control over its team, but not with its team.  This has nothing to do with leadership, this is the abuse of power.  Project leadership requires a functioning team, it calls for team building to ensure project success.  This starts with the insight that a project manager first and foremost is always a team member, too.

More on this in my upcoming lecture at the 8th NASA Project Management Challenge in Long Beach, CA, USA, Feb 9-10, 2011

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We all need and thrive for successful projects.  But what does it take to get there?  There is no doubt that good project management is a critical success factor.  But is it really sufficient?  I don’t think so.  Instead, effective project management needs to have a solid foundation in project leadership AND team work.  It takes a performing team to run a project successfully.  And it takes effective leadership to empower the team to do so.  This is why team building is a decisive factor for project success.

Based on my own experience I have identified 5 team leadership principles that build a foundation for effective team building.  They include

  1. building a common project vision,
  2. nurturing team collaboration,
  3. cultivating team performance,
  4. promoting team learning,
  5. ensuring team delivery.

These 5 principles encompass the core of effective leadership in a team.

In my upcoming lecture at the 8th NASA Project Management Challenge in Long Beach, CA, USA, Feb 9-10, 2011 I will present these 5 principles of effective project leadership and show how they can help build and manage a performing and winning team.  – See you in Long Beach!

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