Posts From May, 2015

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.

Prioritize Projects to Accelerate Productivity

prioritize projects 

What happens when we try to juggle too many projects? Gridlock.

Too many of us experience it on the freeway every day.

My car has a speedometer that reads 120 mph on the top end. That doesn’t really matter, if the cars on the freeway around me are traveling 15-25 miles per hour. Or if they stop completely. Why are we all moving in slow motion? Too much traffic for the highway. Congestion. Not enough capacity.

Working on too many projects has the same effect. Project resources get slowed down by over-commitment Here are some numbers that tell a familiar story.
  • A department with forty projects. 
  • Every project has a team of four to ten people.
  • Every person is working on three or more projects. 
  • Every critical path item for every project team is being worked by someone that has at least two other priorities and is only devoting a fraction of their time to any project.
Now go ahead. Try to accelerate your project. Did it fall behind because a key team member was ill? Try to catch up. 
If your project is high enough in priority, you can take the people and resources other projects want and you can actually speed past them all. Just like the state patrol when they speed past you with their flashing lights and sirens. So your project caught up and got ahead. What about all the others? Further behind? 
resource forecasting
Graph showing the resource forecast across projects for a department.  Looks like too many projects!
Prioritize to accelerate.
I don’t decide how many cars are on the freeway today. Nobody does, really. But projects are different. We know who selects projects. In our hypothetical department, projects are proposed, approved, and staffed. If there are too many, if we are congested, we actually have the power to reduce the number of projects and increase the speed of the remaining ones. The key is Enterprise Project Management, a combination of project program and portfolio management.

Prioritizing your projects relies on five factors.

  1. All projects are staffed and you do have project plans so it is possible to know how much work a person is assigned to accomplish in a particular week or month.
  2. Project plans can be integrated to show all the assignments across projects for the people in the department.
  3. The department has priorities that department leaders generally share. Projects can be related to these priorities.
  4. All department leaders that initiate projects share a coordinated process for allocating people to projects.
  5. Accepting that overall we’ll get more accomplished on an annual basis with high productivity on fewer projects compared with low productivity on many projects.*
Among these five factors are 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, the department has to take the industry standard practices and technology and adjust them to fit the department’s unique characteristics.
 priority list
Projects prioritized by department priorities. Selection line driven by department budget.
Microsoft Project Server and Project Online are designed for prioritizing projects and resource forecasting. 
  • 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.
Projects are not like freeways. We have control over the congestion.
Prioritize to accelerate.
*If you don’t want to accept the theory that working faster on fewer projects at a time will ultimately result in higher achievement, you’ll need to track planned vs. actual results on projects using both the high congestion and the low congestion strategies.