by Phil Smith, Vice President of Operations and Services
A few months back I wrote a blog for this site that talked about 3 pillars of development that are visible: cost, schedule, and quality. Like arithmetic, these items are fact-based with little room for interpretation. Dollars, time, and adherence to requirements are all measurable and tangible. Multiply this, divide by that, and you can measure earned value and know if your project is ahead, behind, or progressing as expected.
Yet the most important dynamics of the workplace are not always measureable. For instance, how is team morale? Does the organization have enough diversity? Is the team chemistry contributing to overall performance, or hurting it? This time around I’ve elected to write about things that are more subjective, including the less visible “pillars” of development and the unspoken roles of team leadership.
Let’s look at that first.
A project manager works within the realm of cost, schedule, and quality. It is possible to affect one or two of these elements by making adjustments to the other(s). For example, we can reduce cost and advance the schedule if we are willing to sacrifice quality.
A project leader creates an environment where motivation, morale, skills, diversity, and chemistry all contribute to improved cost, schedule, and quality. It is important for us to think at a higher level specifically about these items that I’ve listed, because improving these areas is the best way to affect cost, schedule, and quality without having to make sacrifices.
Now I’ve stepped into a leadership dialog that may require multiple books to explain. Given that this is a blog and that my goal is to invoke thought, I’ll stick with the high level and will let the people who write books do their writing. In fact, I’ve included some books at the end of this blog that I believe cover these topics quite extensively.
I do want to share some of my own thoughts and I invite you to comment on the blog with your own ideas in return. In the title of the article I refer to the following concepts as development pillars as well, because they are essential to success.
Motivation. There are two schools of thought: individuals are self-motivated (hierarchy of needs) and individuals can be led to a motivated state. There is truth in both views. Leaders have an opportunity to influence individuals such that their choices around commitment and contribution escalate over time. Leaders who invoke trust, believe in a cause, and exhibit strong ethics end up with team members who will run through walls for them. This is not complicated stuff. People want to work for someone that they respect. Once they have that, they don’t want to leave.
Morale. Morale requires motivation — and a smile. The team has to be “happy”. Unhappy people cannot sustain motivation over a long period. They will influence others the wrong way and they will seek out new leadership. Leaders must create the right environment so that people have fun and an element of sanity in their workplace.
Skills. Skills can be measured so it seems odd to mention them in this list. I have included the concept here because skills are something the project leader will continuously seek to influence in order to maintain a positive impact on cost, schedule, and quality. Leaders make training available. They put mentors in place. They put people with complementary capabilities together. The critical element for the leader here is to know the people and their skills.
Diversity. Diversity is more than a politically correct buzzword left over from the globalization of the economy. It is the capability to leverage multiple perspectives when solving complex problems. If you do not have this capability, then you will get beat by competitors who do have it. Leaders need to seek out diversity and set the example of respecting all points of view and their sources.
Chemistry. I put chemistry last because of its difficulty to put in place, and because it sits on top of all the other building blocks I’ve just outlined. Team chemistry is not something that can be “created.” Rather, it is something that evolves over time through mutual respect between team members. The best thing the leader can do is select people who have strong interpersonal and communication skills, who don’t tolerate distractions, and who are willing to support each other.
Smart project leaders look for ways to avoid making sacrifices to cost, schedule, and quality by gaining benefits from the intangible factors in the workplace. Please comment on the blog if you have an intangible pillar of development to add to the list. And, if you’re looking for some books that dive deeper into the leadership world, I like:
Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, Paul Marciano, Ph.D.
Fish!: A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results, Stephen Lundin
What If?: Short Stories to Spark Diversity Dialogue, Steve L. Robbins