Transactions and Connections

May 28, 2015 by
Filed under: People, Project management, Teamwork 

When we stumble on our projects and seek ways to improve our experience and results, there is a strong tendency to establish a clear approach for future projects, based on what hurt us in the past. This might look like a particular approach, a set of templates to ensure something doesn’t fall through the cracks anymore, perhaps a collection of checklists to guide the way. These become ‘our new standard approach’, but can actually get us into more trouble than before.

There are a few reasons for this.

First, we are often putting things in place that could have remedied the issues that burned us in the past, regardless of the shape and challenges coming up in future projects. We’re looking primarily at our rear-view mirror, rather than looking ahead at what’s coming. Even in the smallest of shops or in places that repeat very similar projects, there are differences between them – heck, that’s the very nature of projects, the development of something unique that didn’t exist before.

More importantly, though, is that as we try to proceduralize our work on projects, defining specific practices outside of the challenges we face, we are severely constraining ourselves, limiting our ability to creatively collaborate. We are merely executing transactions. We are de-humanizing a decidedly human adventure: projects should be seen, at their essence, as people collaborating to resolve a shared challenge.

Ignore that human collaborative element, those connections, at your peril.

It is far too easy with a defined approach to fall into dogma, to turn the project into a series of lifeless transactions rather than rich connections. There’s the daily stand-up where most people are chomping at the bit to get back to their work rather than engaging in solving the problems at hand, there’s the template you’ve been asked to fill in on your own because that’s part of the approach you’ve got in place. This might be the analyst filling in a bunch of user stories, or the project manager populating a charter template or producing a schedule behind close doors. These things get thrown over the wall, often into the hands of people bewildered by what they are looking at, sometimes landing on the floor where the intended victim misses them completely.

Big Hint: if you are doing something on the project that is intended to be used by others (and if you can’t see that connection, why the heck are you doing it?), then include them in the process of putting it together, at the very least confirming that you are putting together something they can use. Connect early and often, in person – you’ll gain shared understanding, a richer solution, and a smoother path to success with less back-and-forth puzzles.

We work based on how we are measured. If your team is being monitored by the completion of documents or through attendance at pre-defined meetings or through completion of tasks without regard to the value these tasks bring to the project, that’s what you will get: documents that are written but not used, people merely physically present in meetings, or a whole bunch of completed tasks with little apparent progress.

We need to focus on making the right connections on our projects, with deeper collaboration. Take those templates and make them the agendas for discussion and shared understanding. If you are drifting in one of those standard meetings, take a few minutes to clarify with others the reason you are all together.

Sure, projects are about time and budget, but those are simplistic measures of success that are often served by transactions. Projects are more about delivering value, though, and true connections are critical for that to happen. – JB

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