Posts in Category: Project management trends

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.

Simple, Powerful, Proven: Logical Framework Approach

One reason to like project management is that it works.  Most of the techniques you find in books and classes have been around for decades and their value is proven. So imagine my surprise at finding a terrific, time-tested technique that almost nobody in corporate America has seen!

I’m talking about the Logical Framework Approach and its signature graphic, the LogFrame. Everybody agrees that projects ought to deliver value, and that projects ought to be strategically aligned. The LogFrame visually establishes the strategic link of project plans to strategic goals. 

If you happen to own a copy of the  The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management, then you have a six page overview of the Logical Framework Approach written by Terry Schmidt, who helped pioneer this technique over 40 years ago. Here are a few highlights from that overview.

Start with the graphic, a classic example of a picture that is worth a thousand words.

You quickly grasp that the lowest level is our project plan, in a Gantt format.  The “logic” of the Logical Framework Approach works from the bottom up:

IF you complete all the tasks on your project plan (the fourth row) THEN you’ll produce the deliverables, or project outcomes listed on the third row.

IF you produce the deliverables listed in the third row THEN you’ll generate the results (benefits) listed in the second row. 

IF you produce the benefits associated with the Purpose of the project (second row) THEN you’ll be supporting the strategic goal described in the first row. 

That “IF – THEN” logic better add up, or this project isn’t strategically aligned. 

Now add more rigor: The columns labeled Success Measure and Verification challenge your Goal, Purpose, and Outcome to be specific, measurable, and observable.

So where does this technique fit into our project management tool box? And why would it have escaped the notice of so many?

Consider the LogFrame a vital part of a project’s business case.  It clearly describes why we are performing the project and establishes the measurable value that the project will deliver.  Maybe that’s why it isn’t familiar to project managers; it should be used before a project manager is assigned, when we are evaluating potential projects.

The other reason it is still a stranger to corporate America may be that it was developed for aid  projects in the developing world.  The approach and LogFrame graphic were developed in 1969 by Leon Rosenberg, of the management consulting firm Practical Concepts Incorporated, to help the United States Agency for International Development, USAID.  This agency needed a method to evaluate potential projects, and the Logical Framework Approach became the standard for applying for grant applications to any funding organization, private or public. 

I was introduced to the LogFrame and Logical Framework Approach when I started working with NGOs a few years ago. I've since introduced this technique to our clients who are trying to improve their early analysis and project evaluation.

Terry Schmidt offers several resources to learn more about this common sense, high impact approach to summarizing the business case for a project.

Terry's website: Management Pro

Terry's book: Strategic Project Management Made Simple