Project Practitioners > Are You “In the Game”?

Are You “In the Game”?

By Randy Englund
Game tug

In a recent discussion about additional costs being added to my home build project, I made a comment to our builder that “I don’t want to play that game.”  He took offense at that comment.  I believe he thought I was trivializing the situation and not honoring standard industry practices.  The conversation did not go well.

To prevent future misunderstanding, I am compelled to clarify the meaning of my statement. I argue that this thinking and use of words are valuable tools in the complete project manager’s toolkit.

A context for using this terminology is selecting color for a concrete driveway pour.  The homeowner’s association requires colored driveways.  Adding a one percent color cost $X.  More color at three percent is $2X.  Five percent color is another $2X. X is not just the cost of the color.  It is the total price for the delivered cement.  That means, for me as the homeowner, asking for more color results in the driveway costing twice as much!  My mind asks, how can adding more pigment to the cement cost twice as much?  I believe this practice is ripping off the consumer. I did not want to play that game.  Bear in mind, I do not fully understand the mechanics or justification of this practice, so I am only expressing a layman’s point of view.

Allow me to define what I mean by games. Games have rules. Each player in the game has a role, or tasks, and shared goals. To be in the game means we learn, understand, and agree to abide by the rules. We can be penalized for violating the rules. Games have scores, or metrics. We win, lose, or tie against others in the game. We chose to play the game…or not.

When viewing project work (or any other activity for that matter) as a game, that means we know the rules and understand standard practices. An organization may have a certain way to conduct work or projects. We get into trouble when doing it differently. People may resist or refuse to operate in a different way. The project may not achieve desired outputs and outcomes. I was told one time that before I suggest doing something a different way, I need to fully understand the way it was done now and why. This “sensitivity training” was a valuable lesson for me.

So now we have options. Once we understand the game and its rules, we can play the game as usual or even better than ever before. Or we can decide to change or make up new rules. Or we can decide not to play the game and not participate.

I believe these options are wonderful, liberating tools for us. It puts a different perspective on life. Yes, there are consequences; the penalties may be stiff.  We may be accused of not being a team player. But we also may serve as pioneers to take organizations into innovative territories. We invent new markets, new ways of competing. We become role models for higher levels of performance. We make a difference in the worlds around us.

In my example, I chose not to pay the additional markup. The association may want more color, but they are not the ones paying the bill. I am happy with the outcome. It is consistent with the theme of the house –Casa de Zen—and complements the neighborhood. It is not the same as other houses, but neither am I. I chose to play a slightly different game, one that does not threaten coexistence with our neighbors. Rather we add to the charm and uniqueness of this development. I may be either respected or scorned for this behavior. It is my choice for what I do. I cannot control the reactions of others. But I exercise free choice and accept the consequences.

So ask yourself these questions:  Are you in the game? What is your role? What are you contributing to the project, team, and organization? How can you change the game? Are you satisfied with the status quo? Are you okay with the scoring system or should the measurement system be revised? Do you want to play this game, or do you want to find or invent a new one?

Randy Englund

Englund Project Management Consultancy, www.englundpmc.com

Co-author The Complete Project Manager and The Complete Project Manager’s Toolkit.



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