PM Articles > Musings on Things that Matter > The Power of Perspective: What lenses are you using today?

The Power of Perspective: What lenses are you using today?

By Cinda Voegtli

I first remember hearing "you have to be systematic!" from my dad, an engineer, when at 6 years old I'd hang out on Saturdays in his shop, while he worked on some project.  He'd give me some wood and a hammer and nails and show me how to build little contraptions.  But he made sure that before I started banging away, I stopped to consider the outcome i wanted, and think through it for a few minutes before the first nail was struck.

I eventually became an engineer too, then a manager, then whoops, a project manager.  At every stage, "you have to be systematic!" has seemed like good advice.  As a PM, with a bunch of puzzle pieces to consider and craft into a doable plan - goals, work, risks, people, constraints - being systematic has seemed like the only way to get through it all without missing something.

I have another term for it, though, that has helped me remember to "just stop a minute and think through it," as my dad used to admonish.  (This is pretty critical now given how fast we always seem to be moving.  "Just do it" is a noble sentiment for some things, but  not, I fear, for what WE do, what people count on us for.  It's our job to NOT MISS STUFF - stuff that could blow up our projects later if we do miss them earlier.)   My new term is "lens".  As in, "what are the lenses with which I can consider this problem or plan, to make sure I'm seeing everything I need to see?"

By looking at things through multiple lenses, I reduce the chance that I'll miss something and am able to head lots of problems off at the pass.  And you'll see below that the answers I get from the  different lenses often involve overlap - different lenses will identify some of the same risks, or planning items, or communication needs.  But that's a good thing, because it raises my confidence that I really am looking thoroughly at the whole picture, even though I'm moving fast.

So here are some examples of different lenses in action.

RISK:  What different lenses will help me identify risks that I might have missed otherwise?

  • Making a brainstormed risk list is one lens, that of "what's top of mind with me and the team".
  • SWOT Lens: What are our internal strengths and weaknesses, and the external threats and opportunities, relative to this project?  --> Gives insights to risks to handle or opportunities to take even if they do involve some risk.
  • Lessons Learned Lens:  What risks have we encountered in the past that could be possible for this project?
  • Cross-functional lens:  What are the riskiest aspects of this project in each function that's part of our team?
  • Innovations lens:  What are we doing this time that's new - anything, new process, new technology, new project approach? Level of newness (or "lack of experience with this area") translates to level of risk. 

PLANNING:  What different lens will help make sure we find all the work and dependencies to end up with an accurate (and bought-into) plan?

  • Cross-functional lens:  Is the major work of ALL involved functional groups represented in the plan, and do we truly understand all the handoffs and dependencies?
  • "Whole product" lens:  This is a term that refers to making sure the project is not just "doing the development work" but also includes everything it takes to hand a finished, usable, sellable, serviceable, etc. product or service to a customer.  Is all that work accounted for?  Asking it this way will help cross-check whether your cross-functional lens view truly caught everything.  
  • "Full timeline to business results" lens:  Have I included everything in the plan to get all the way to not just handing to a customer, but also being sure we've achieved the business results we're after? Are we planning to monitor results after we ship? And how are we closing out the team? Who has to stay around to support ramp to volume manufacture? Is there extra work at the end to support any of those late activities?
  • "Group or person" that usually runs late" lens: that I can think about where to spend extra planning time and/or build in some buffer.

COMMUNICATIONS PLANNING:  How can I make sure I've really thought through all the people who care about this project in one way or another, and thus need to be kept involved and/or informed (or else I may find myself with unhappy people, missed issues, and having to deal with blow-ups and time sinks along the way):

Stakeholder lens:  Who are all the people who are customers in some form of this project, or otherwise are affected by (or PERCEIVE they will be affected by), this project?

Influencer lens:  Who are people who could impact the project for good, or for bad?  E.g., people who could help us get resources we need due to their influence. Conversely, people who could hurt the project by withholding resources because they don't understand the importance, etc.    People whose opinions are valued in the organization - so if they don't support the project, it could influence others to not support us either.

Functional lens:  Who in each functional group needs regular or specific communication and why?

Team lens (Core and extended):  How do I make sure I don't get so wrapped up working regularly with our Core team that I forget what communication extended team members need?

Resource-holder lens:  Who owns the resources I am MOST worried about getting committed to this project and how do I need to involve and inform them to be sure we do get those resources?

Usual Suspects lens:  Are there people who are "most likely to cause a ruckus over something" on the project? It's a fact of life!  Using this lens makes me laugh and makes sure I think about who is especially opinionated, outspoken, and perhaps even disruptive, so I can plan to collaborate and communicate with them as needed.

So the "lens" approach is just a simple concept.  It's a perspective I've found useful.  This keyword has stuck for me and pops to mind even when I'm moving fast, reminding me to make sure I've thoroughly and systematically considered things before I plow ahead. It's an efficient and effective way to double, triple, quadruple check myself and my thinking...

So what lenses could you and should you be using regularly, to systematically but quickly truly see everything you need to see as a PM for the critical work at hand?

All the best on your projects!


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