Posts From October, 2012

I Love This Book! The Culture Code

Build Your Project Team Culture

The Culture Code Reveals the Power of Safety

“When we talk about courage, we think it’s going against an enemy with a machine gun. The real courage is seeing the truth and speaking the truth to each other.”
         –Dave Cooper, Retired, Commander Master Chief, SEAL Team Six (From The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle)

Why is it so hard to see the truth and speak the truth to each other? Why does that demand courage? And, can any team reach their potential without this ability?

Safety: The Foundation of High Performance

Daniel Coyle, in his new book, The Culture Code, offers three necessary cultural elements of what he calls “highly successful groups.” These elements are safety, vulnerability, and purpose. After reading the first few chapters, I became convinced that safety should be the primary focus for every leader, especially project leaders

I’ve always thought of safety at the office and in my work group as physical safety. Coyle refocused my attention to that of emotional safety. Frankly, I am surprised I haven’t seen it before. I’ve been reading and writing about project team performance for about twenty years. I’ve always known that trust is crucial to creativity and innovation, but Coyle’s angle brought a fresh light on the foundational role of safety. His theme is that for teams to reach their potential, each member must feel safe enough emotionally to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is critical to giving and receiving authentic feedback, which is the only way a group will improve its performance. Feedback within the group is directed toward serving the purpose. Purpose becomes the North Star. That logic is tough to dispute.

Project teams are temporary, formed to accomplish something unique. These teams solve problems and make decisions every day. Versatile’s high-performance team checklist lists nine characteristics that enable a team to survive the “give and take” of creativity and problem solving while maintaining trust and keeping relationships intact. But I have to admit that emotional safety has always been assumed, rather than explicitly called out.

Coyle’s logic, that safety precedes trust and trust precedes authentic feedback and team learning, lays bare the importance of establishing emotional safety within our teams. The quote at the beginning of this article comes from a key story in the SEAL Team Commander’s evolution as a leader. In Cooper’s early career he advised a superior that a particular course of action was dangerous and should be avoided. That superior ignored his  advice and the result was exactly what Cooper had feared. Cooper took away from that experience a desire to be the kind of leader that invited opposing points of view and encouraged criticism from every member of his team.

The Primary Focus of Every Project Leader

Do you want your team to “see the truth and speak the truth to each other”? What could be more important? From creation of a business case and charter, through risk identification, scheduling, and daily problem-solving, your team is making decisions and working through conflicts.  Every day of every project is affected by team culture. Pick up Daniel Coyle’s Culture Code. He illustrates his theme with stories from a wide range of teams and follows up with specific actions for the reader. I predict his lessons will stick with you and reignite your focus on team culture.

Project Selection Drives Project Results

choosing projects


So many choices.
Projects start with problems to solve or opportunities to do things better. New products, new services, streamlined operations. There really are an infinite number of projects you could work on.
With so many potential projects, how do we decide which ones are worth our attention and resources?
Project selection and portfolio management are the hottest new topics in project management today. As we've gotten better at executing projects, the big issue has become, "Which Projects?"
We've heard it said that "You can't compare apples and oranges." It is a phrase that characterizes a choice between two options with different benefits and disadvantages. Choosing between potential projects frequently presents that same dilemma.
A seasoned executive can justifiably rely on her/his intuition and judgment to choose between two projects, even if they are an apple and an orange. That won't work for project portfolios. The projects that a company or department will invest in are typically chosen by a group of people and the range of projects can turn the "apples vs. oranges" dilemma into a fruit salad. With limited resources it is absolutely essential to prioritize your projects pick the projects that deliver the best results with the least risk?

project selection

The principles of project selection include:

  • Use established selection criteria to reduce the politics and subjectivity associated with the decision.
  • Recognize that some projects MUST be done. Include regulatory, compliance, and maintenance projects in this group.
  • Prioritize projects based upon resource availability, too. Some less important projects might leap-frog up the list when you realize that you have the resources to get them done sooner.
  • Be willing to cancel projects that are under way if it looks like initial estimates for costs, schedule, or benefits were wrong.  Update the business case with new information and cut your losses if the new numbers don't add up.
  • Accurate estimates for new ideas are sometimes hard to get. Have a realistic estimating and approval approach that accommodates ball park or other early stage estimates.
Technology lets you put these principles to work.  Microsoft Project Server 2010 is our favorite technology for prioritizing projects and resource forecasting. Project Server 2010 reduces the effort to apply best practices, so you get more benefits.
  • Portfolio modeling allows projects to be ranked by department priorities and cost – literally producing a “best bang for your buck” list.
  • Resource forecasting integrates Microsoft Project plans to show exactly how much work any person is assigned for any day, week, or month, even when he/she is assigned to many projects. That also applies to job categories such as engineer, technical writer, or quality assurance specialist.
  • Project Server uses automated workflows to add consistency to the project proposal and selection process.

 priority list

Projects prioritized by department priorities. Selection line driven by department budget.
resource forecasting
Graph showing the resource forecast across projects for a department. Someone has eyes bigger than their stomach!
Successful project portfolio management relies on four regularly recurring themes:
  • People with the skills to make the right decisions
  • A consistent process that creates predictability and can be fine-tuned over time
  • Information technology that provides the necessary data with a minimum of effort
  • Some person or group within the organization that is responsible for making this work
As is often the case, the processes and technology for prioritizing projects have already been developed. To benefit, take the industry standard practices and technology and adjust them to fit your unique characteristics.
It is a high stakes choice.
Choosing projects is choosing results.  Where do you really want to go?  What can you afford to pursue?  The right combination of projects will result in a unified direction and strategic accomplishments.  The wrong combination will cost you the time, effort, and expense without the reward.
If your firm doesn't use a systematic process or is not using technology that makes this all possible, contact The Versatile Company for advice on getting more results from your project investment.