Project Practitioners > Learning by "Dancing with Pigs"

Learning by "Dancing with Pigs"

By Margaret de Haan


As I was doing some surfing lately, I came across an article on "Dancing with Pigs" (Scrum Alliance, July 6, 2011, Timothy D. Korson) that had the statement "when the band is playing a waltz, it's not the right time to tango".  That struck me on a number of levels, bringing with it a catharsis about teams, the organization, and time horizons. Project Managers spend so much time managing stakeholder's expectations, but I don't think we're as cognizant that we have to also manage our own!

So you are starting up a new team to work on a brand new Project in a new environment.   You are ready to hit the ground at 200 mph, when you turn to look at the team and they are speaking Russian and looking at you like you have three heads.   Let’s look at a few possible components that may be contributing to why you aren’t on the same page:

1)      What are the expectations for the weighted goals on the Project?  We know as PM’s that Project Management is the balance of cost, time and scope, but what are the team’s expectations of which is the most important of the three?  How are they balanced within the team?

2)      What is the Project culture in the organization?  You have your own Project experience that may not match that of the team members, or the organization as a whole.  Has the organization had a process and/or methodology for a number of years, or are they just starting to realize that getting a process in place is required?

3)      What are the individual team member’s experiences with Projects?  Have they worked as a team before, and if not what are the individual’s beliefs about speed?  Quality?

Although the discipline of Project Management is somewhat standardized, how the team (and the individual) views which is the primary goal when balancing the triad will obviously influence how the team performs and meets the Project objectives.   As Project Managers we need to make a point of discussing openly what the real expectations are for performance.  Here are a few questions to ask that can help to get everyone on the same page:

-          What is a deadline?  What do you expect to happen if you can’t meet it?

There is a huge difference between a deadline being a “suggestion” and one where if it is missed that the entire team gets fired after being publicly flogged.  Whatever the definition is for your team, make sure that you all understand what that is, and what exactly is expected in terms of overtime required to meet those expectations.

-          Is it better to reduce the features/functionality of the project deliverables, or reduce quality (reduce QA time)  

What are the expectations regarding quality and scope?  In an ideal world we want both, but when that is not realistic and you have team members that may be too shy to come right out and ask, which direction do you want them to take when posed with a decision requiring immediate action?

And ultimately……

-          What does a successful Project look like?

It sounds so obvious, but answering with the canned response of “Delivering the Scope, ahead of Schedule and within Budget” really doesn’t give anyone a complete answer.  Drilling down into the beliefs of the Project team members may not be required in an organization with a mature Project Management office, but in an environment where you are dealing with a brand new team that has no established rules and procedures, it’s better to throw it out on the table than to find out some things that hard way.  I mean, how many times should you ask for an answer before you escalate an associate’s lack of response?  We probably agree that jumping to their boss after just one request for information is too few to determine that they are being uncooperative and that ten is too many.  So, I ask you, do you know how your team would answer that?

If you look at the project maturity and beliefs of the organization as a color, let’s pick blue which equates to:  deadlines are goals, and delivering full functionality 100% error free is more important.   If you as the PM come in being red (you think that deadlines are “drop dead dates” and think in terms of removing features versus missing the deadline), there are only three possibilities; you turn blue, they turn red, or continuous conflict.  Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot, but making sure that you understand how far a journey it is to reach a happy medium is the best way to start without creating conflict early.  You need to have reasonable goals for modifying the culture if that is required so as to manage your own frustration, and if you are at 200mph and everyone else at 100mph you have to realize that getting everyone to 125mph is still an improvement.  Even if it feels slow to you.  

So, go ahead and ask your team what “done” is…….I dare ya……….it might just tell you how close you and your team are to aligned beliefs……………..

Margaret de Haan - MBA, PMP, CSM

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