Safe Environments #pmot

I am a fan of project managers and what they do, but here is a heresy.  Projects have become a bit of a cottage industry. Practically anything new seems to get wrapped up as a project, goes through gates and takes ages. It seems to me that often the greatest risks are the delay and excessive overheads of the project itself, as opposed to the actual work. There are some things we should just do as part of our day to day operations.  Still as discretionary things that look a bit like projects, but managed with a light touch, by people who may have, or aspire to, the PM competence, but whose day jobs are anything but project management. You know, the people who do the work.

I am experimenting with providing safe environments to get things like this done. That is, making judgements so as to keep a lid on it all, but otherwise identifying a few things that have value, need doing, consume resource and can be specified. These are typically not time critical and provide opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t get a go to take risks, learn things, and inspire others … in a safe environment. By that I mean one where we plan to succeed, but where the world doesn’t end if we don’t.

Less than a week after agreeing a couple of simple objectives and giving a few people permission to do things they don’t normally do, the conversation has spread from two to four cities of its own accord, people are meeting virtually and collaborating. Better still, real improvements in how we work and serve our customers are happening.

I suppose I could have kicked off a collaboration project instead.


4 thoughts on “Safe Environments #pmot

    • Mainly continuous improvement but done by the people who do the operational work. There is a temptation to look for a “they”, some mythical group who will ride to the rescue and make everything better. But “they” often don’t exist, so we take responsibility and do it ourselves.

      The context is customer service.

      I faced a choice of pushing a project through the process, securing resource etc etc or looking for people willing to have a go, encouraging them to succeed but accepting that we might fail or suffer false starts. i.e. providing them with a safe environment.

      Making a small start, seeing what we found and iterating has led to some good results but more importantly involved more and more people in the process, connecting them to each other miles better and much more quickly than if I had started a formal project.

      i do struggle sometimes to get this stuff out without saying too much about the corporate context, ho hum 🙂

      How was your trip?

  1. I’m not sure if this is the same or different, but we have the concept of “community service” (no, not handed down as a punishment) in which all of our PMs are expected to give something back to the community – perhaps contributing a new piece of best practice, improving a process, or speaking at a community event. This is built into the objectives, typically worth 20% of performance-related pay. It is over-and-above the “day job”, of course.

    We get some really good results in our area. However, it disappoints me that managers in other functions look at what we are doing, praise it, and then fail to replicate it because “it won’t work with my staff.”

    • Russell,

      Sorry it took me so long to reply.

      My intent is to build global continuous improvement, mostly by defining success, giving permission and cheering people on.

      The people who do the work are leading the way.

      I like your example though. I do struggle to get people to join in and have to remind and re permission seemingly daily. Incentivising people might be quite a good idea. The gamification trend I see at present is not something I like.

      Anthony (jet lagged and slightly shambolic 🙂

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