Monthly Archives: October 2010

A word on “Management Speak”

I pride myself on being able to explain quite complex issues to clients, colleagues and students without resorting to excessive jargon and “management speak”, sometimes however attempting to avoid this type of terminology makes the process much more difficult.

I’m putting together a posting to expand on the first idea in the list of recommendations for improving project managment and it’s all about stakeholders, which many consider to fall into this category. Indeed, there was a lot of publicity [Story] last year for an initiative by the Local Government Association to ban this type of jargon – a very laudable aim but it gives me real problems because both “stakeholders” and my business name “Fulcrum” are on the list. [List]

The indiscrimate and excessive use of jargon must be avoided but not at the expense of losing clarity – most of these words have real value, providing they are used sparingly and correctly. I can’t think of alternative terms to cover those involved in or affected by a project or change initiative than stakeholders. There are other ways of dealing with the issue but they tend to lead to unnecessary complication and risk confusion.

So in the posting which will follow, I use the term “stakeholders” without apology, to mean everyone who participates in an activity, has an interest in it or is affected by its outcome.

Perhaps it is time for a sensible debate on how this terminology can be best used rather than proscribed.

There but for fortune …

i was listening to a podcast from BBC Radio 4’s “Thinking Allowed” series on my way to a meeting yesterday. In a discussion on a drug trial which went disastrously wrong, the following quote was mentioned:

“Each uneventful day that passes reinforces a steadily growing false sense of confidence that everything is all right – that I, we, my group must be OK because the way we did things today resulted in no adverse consequences.” by Scott Snook (Senior Lecturer in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School

This got me thinking that in business, we are often preoccupied with the results of our actions rather than striving to do the “right thing” [assuming we know what that is!] – successful outcomes encourage us to repeat the inherently risky behaviour. We may even be motivated to take even more risky behaviour by our “successes” but we ought to be focusing on taking steps which build capability and capacity. This one of the reason’s I like the efqm model [] with its balanced emphasis on results and enablers – building the habits which lead to success.

It may be quicker to overtake on that blind bend but one day there will be a truck coming in the opposite direction!

Improving Project Management?

One of my students noted in a telephone discussion that whilst there are lots of recommendations in the literature about how to improve project management, very few are presented in a way which allows practitioners to improve their performance. Most are what might be described as “motherhood and apple pie”! That is useful but perhaps obvious and overly vague.

So here are my top ten suggestions which I will elaborate on in future posts.

1.       Understand your stakeholders – all of them: their needs, desires, expectations, contributions and most of all whether they win or lose as a result of the project. This will help you to …

2.       Ensure that everyone thinks they are doing the same project in terms of scope, standard and approach – just because they are using the same words, don’t assume they mean the same. You need to encourage real dialogue.

3.       Put as much effort into describing the “asset” to its end users / future owners in terms they will understand as you put into describing to the implementers in terms they understand. Can the operational team really understand construction drawings and visualize what they will be getting?

4.       Make sure that the scope [content and standard], budget, schedule and proposed method[s] of work are mutually consistent and check the detail.

5.       Make sure you get the budget right and the right budget.

6.       Recognise that risk is not the same as uncertainty and that they need to be managed differently.

7.       Make sure that the methods for handling risk align with the sources of risk and recognise that some risks can’t be managed just dealt with. [This is particularly true in portfolio / programme management situations where the consequence of even quite moderate risk situations may be larger than the individual project budget.]

8.       Look for opportunities to learn not means of allocating blame: – people won’t help if they are waiting for the punishment.

9.       Recognise that whilst the content and context of projects may differ, the process is largely the same from case to case; learning depends on looking for similarities not hiding behind the specifics.

10.   Most importantly put effort into the front end and have a clear delineation between project development and project implementation. In the first part change is not only acceptable but desirable; in the second it is not.

Pivotal Thinking for Challenging Times

Welcome to Pivotal Thinking: An irregular, informal and often irreverent look at the world through a management lens…. The postings are likely to be controversial, irreverent and occasionally humorous thoughts based on observations of everyday life which seem to have learning points when looked at from a management perspective. They will major on Project and Change Management but are unlikely to leave any area of management unchallenged.

In some cases, the posts will be inspired by discussions with my students on the Open University Business School MBA course B830 about their Evidence Based Initiatives other times they will be about things I’ve tripped over or spotted as I go about my daily life as a Consultant, Coach, Tutor and general iconoclast!