Posts From May, 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.

CIO's Describe Successful Projects

"What makes an IT project successful?"

That was the simple question that I posed to CIO's as I was developing the 4th edition of The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management. They answered with one voice: "The project delivers business value."

That's tough to dispute, yet it challenges project leaders in a whole new way and has implications for how we run projects.

First, it demands that we know how to define business value.  Requirements and specifications can tell us what the product or system has to do, but they can miss the point of WHY the project is being pursued.  

On time and on budget still count, but we'll have to tie them to the actual business case. Most importantly, it assumes that the project team can see through the eyes of their stakeholders. 

Is any of this really new?  The best project managers have always delivered business value, but the attention from CIO's is new. To deliver business value there are three clear focus areas:

  1. Business analysts must have a prominent role on the project team from the beginning.  BA's define business value during Enterprise Analysis. (See the IIBA standards to learn more.)
  2. The project's business case describes the real justification for spending organizational resources.  Again, no news here, but organizations that really do this well have the business case/project justification as a standardized input into a disciplined portfolio management process. (I described portfolio management in an earlier post.)
  3. Stakeholder focus and attentiveness.  The next edition of the PMBoK (the Fifth Edition) will include a new knowledge area: Stakeholder Management.  Why the new emphasis?  Again, its the need to tie project deliverables to business results.  Attending to our stakeholders will give us a better understanding of the intended business value. (Look for commentary on this new knowledge area in future posts.)

Here's the real change: project managers can't just deliver to spec any more. The Triple Constraint of time, budget, and quality must be viewed through the lens of business value. And that's good news, because when we deliver business value, we increase our own value.