Herewith another collection of my daily SideWise Insights. Enjoy — and be sure to drop them into casual conversation.
Leadership and Motivation
Leadership skills are not fungible. Eisenhower was a great leader; Patton was a great leader; neither could have done the other's job.
While it's useful to tame what can be tamed, most of the management world lives where the wild things are.
The Old Yeller Rule: you have to know when and how to shoot your own dog. Sometimes it's even an act of mercy.
Realism isn't cynicism. A cynic is disappointed that things are what they are. Realists accept the facts and go from there.
It's not enough to learn the lessons an event teaches; you have to *not* learn the lessons it *doesn't* teach.
If someone spends more time and energy scheming to get out of work than it would take to do it, is that person unmotivated?
In the same way expenses rise faster than income, so does responsibility rise faster than authority.
Competition imposes constraints that aren't under your control. This suggests that a portion of your resources be devoted to intelligence.
You have to pay people to get them to work: you personally, not the organization. Respect, gratitude, and support make great paychecks.
"Lessons learned" aren't pleasant, but they're essential for growth. Make watching the game film as pleasant as possible.
There are two very different reasons to delegate: (a) to get stuff off your desk and (b) to train other people. Do some of each every week.
Another proud graduate of the Blanche Dubois School of Leadership: "We rely on the kindness of strangers!"
The job of leaders is making bad decisions, not good ones. When all options are rotten, the decision goes up the ladder.
When I first became a supervisor, I was so naive I actually believed my title meant people would do what I said.
Work is infinite. Resources are finite. Many management problems derive from this essential truth.
Operational definition of quality: It ain't dog food if the dog don't eat it. If no customer or boss wants it, why is it a requirement?
Power and Politics
Your role power is delegated by other people, but your respect power is something you own personally.
Here's a simple test to see if you have office politics in your organization: Do a headcount. If the result is 3 or higher, the answer is yes.
Power is energy that overcomes resistance to achieve work. The corollary of no power = no work.
The power to say "no" is held at lower organizational levels than the power to say "yes." Don't ask someone whose only answer is negative.
If there are multiple stakeholders, the 500 lb. gorilla wins. If there's more than one 500 lb. gorilla, conflict is inevitable.
Your negotiation power is greatest right before you say "yes." As soon as you've said it, your power plummets.
Pick your fights carefully. Some are necessary, some even desirable, but others should be avoided at all costs.
If you tell people they can have what they want, you're a genius. Tell them "no," you're a moron. Spin your "no" so it sounds like "yes."
If the wasps are already swarming, maybe you shouldn't be riling them up even more.
Military retreats don't garner kudos, but managing one takes a lot of planning. If you expect cutbacks, don't wait for the announcement.
Power follows failure like white corpuscles follow disease. Look for the last major failure to find out which department is most powerful.
Keep your friends close, and your customers closer. You need to manage them.
Project Management and Risk Management
Organizational movement up and down the stovepipe is easier; unfortunately, project managers usually need to work sideways.
A project begins life as a gap between where you are and where you want to be. If the project doesn't close the gap, it's a failure.
There are three main project gaps: the official gap, the underlying gap, and one or more hidden agendas. You need to know them all.
All wars are projects, though not all projects are wars. Borrow the best military thinking, but don't confuse problems with actual enemies.
It's not just one damn thing after another, it's usually the same damn thing over and over again. Attack repetitive crises at the roots.
In spite of a quarter-century of project management professionalism, studies show nearly 70% of all projects fail...and the trend is getting worse.
It's well known project management needs to be scaled, but it also needs to be stretched.
Two reasons projects fail: stuff nobody expected and didn't prepare for, and stuff everybody expected...and didn't prepare for.
Success at the project level doesn't mean success at the program level. "The operation was a success, but the patient died."
It's often an advantage to organize your project in stages. Actual results build enthusiasm and commitment.
Identify bad projects early by looking at stakeholder interests and conflicts. Are you being set up as the scapegoat for inevitable failure?
What makes a project challenging? Complexity, constraints, and (un)certainty. Of them, uncertainty is the toughest to manage.
Megaprojects inevitably have megaproblems. Take scale and complexity into account before judging disaster too harshly.
Some objectives are easier to achieve then others, even if they aren't central. It's often smart to pick low-hanging fruit.
Hidden or unstated objectives may be politically sensitive, and can't be spoken out loud without creating problems.
Some key goals are assumed, not stated, but that doesn't mean you're off the hook. Listen carefully to what people don't say.
"Nothing's impossible" implies unlimited resources and time and really flexible performance goals. None of these apply to project managers.
Earning a PMP only means you know the basics. No one ever finishes learning to be a good project manager.
A risk evaluation prices a risk, but price alone doesn't always tell you whether the risk is worth running.
There is no reliable correlation between short-term and long-term outcomes. Bad early can be great later, and vice versa.
If you do something stupid and get lucky, it doesn't validate the quality of your original decision.
Don't drive carpet tacks with a sledgehammer. Most formal systems are way too robust for most normal projects.
The most overlooked question is "Why?" If you don't know, even if you're on time, on budget, and to spec, you haven't done the job.
All wars are projects, but not all projects are wars. Wars have conscious opponents. Don't confuse ordinary risk with actual malice.
You are never the only game in town. What other projects are going on? How's the overall organization's health? Adjust accordingly.
The project isn't necessarily what they tell you it is. It isn't necessarily even what they think it is. Your job is to figure out what it really is.
Projects live in a finite universe, bounded by the triple constraints of time, cost, and performance.
The triple constraints of time, cost, and performance are never equally constraining. What drives your project? What is most flexible?
On any project, make sure you know where "good enough" is. Even Tiger Woods needs to know what par is.
Why People Don’t Do What You Want
Performance problem come in three varieties: "don't know," "can't do," or "won't do." Each has a different solution.
"Don't know" problems are communications failures. Don't expect your team to perform the Vulcan mind meld.
"Can't do" problems may require training, tools, someone else, or you may have to change what you're asking.
"Won't do" problems are about motivation. Everyone's motivated. Some work harder to get out of work than it would take to do it.
There are three reasons for a “Won’t Do”:
If performance is punished (reward for a bad project is an even worse one), expect motivation to drop quickly.
If failure is rewarded (screw up a job, get an easier one), expect failure.
If performance doesn't seem to matter, people put it on the bottom of the "to do" list, as they should.
Whenever someone isn't doing what you want, remember there are only these three reasons: don't know, can't do, and won't do.
Copyright © 2010 Michael Dobson, and made freely available under the Creative Commons attribution license.