Intrinsics and Leadership

A few months ago I wrote about Project Management vs. Project Leadership.  The dichotomy wasn’t perfect, but it can be informative.  There’s also more to discuss.  One thing that wasn’t considered in that original post was the relationship between a supervisor and the employees as intrinsic or extrinsically motivated individuals.  In Daniel H. Pink’s Book, Drive he discusses how this difference impacts performance.

Extrinsically motivated individuals looks for external stimulus (positive or negative) in order to induce action. These are often seen as the carrot or the stick, and so much of our society is based on the idea that humans are sedentary and the only way to get them to do things is with either a promised reward or punishment.

Intrinsically motivated individuals are self-motivated. They like to solve the problems and puzzles in front of them for the sake of solving the puzzles. Daniel makes a compelling case for suggesting that we’re all naturally intrinsic beings who learn to be extrinsic based upon our experiences and in contrast to our nature.

An intrinsically motivated individual is going to respond to a project leader. An extrinsically motivated individual is going to respond to a project manager.

If it is in our nature to all be intrinsically motivated and we’ve only surprised this at some point then it would make sense that this intrinsic self of ours could be reinvigorated through the practice of project leadership.

The Amount of Work

I had someone try to tell me thank you for my work on a project recently.  I had earned the compliment, but felt awkward accepting it. I didn’t do all the work. I was just part of a good a good team.

I needed a good response and despite how witty I might appear on this blog I’m not always quick witted. This is one of those exceptions. I actually thought of something good to say.

I told him that the amount of work I did compared to the amount of work the team did was really small and that I was grateful to be counted as a member of that team.

An Observation on Political Correctness

I recently spent time with family where instead of forwarding me an email chain family members were able to directly read from the website something they found interesting on the internet.  We all do it!  This particular version was a list of Christmas songs as viewed from the lens of political correctness.  I’ll share the list from New Jersey 101.5 below:

1. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus: subjecting minors to softcore porn
2. The Christmas Song: Open fire? Pollution. Folks dressed up like Eskimos? Cultural appropriation
3. Holly Jolly Christmas: Kiss her once for me? Unwanted advances
4. White Christmas? Racist
5. Santa Claus is Coming to Town: Sees you when you’re sleeping? Knows when you’re awake? Peeping Tom stalker
6. Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Everyone telling you be of good cheer? Forced to hide depression
7. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Bullying
8. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: Forced gender-specific gifts: dolls for Janice and Jen and boots and pistols (GUNS!) for Barney and Ben
9. Santa Baby: Gold digger, blackmail
10. Frosty the Snowman: Sexist; not a snow woman
11. Do You Hear What I Hear: blatant disregard for the hearing impaired
12. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Make the yuletide GAY? Wow, just wow
13. Jingle Bell Rock: Giddy up jingle horse, pick up your feet: animal abuse
14. Mistletoe and Holly: Overeating, folks stealing a kiss or two? How did this song ever see the light of day?
15. Winter Wonderland: Parson Brown demanding they get married…forced partnership

It’s reasonably funny and I was glad the family member shared it.  As I thought about it though I started to see the mantle of political correctness as nothing more than an attempt to censor speech.

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I’m not a fan of censorship.  It generally goes against my principles.

As I was thinking about this list from the perspective of censorship I started to notice something else.  Among my friends those who complain about political correctness are often the same to participate in a different type of censorship.  Members of that same group are generally ones that are offended with the use of profanity in music and on television.  I found this thought intriguing.  If both are censorship how is one superior to the other?  How does one decide which censorship to participate in and which to be offended by?

I think the right type of censorship isn’t about placing your rules on others.  I think it’s about placing rules on yourself for what you’re willing to consume.  Self censorship seems to be the best choice for society a healthy society.  Let people group together where they find common ground of what is acceptable.  I don’t have the freedom to force others to do things the way I want to, but I do have the freedom to abstain from those things that don’t add value.

Our selective censorship and wanting to force our rules on others is part of the condition we find ourselves in being human.  It’s normal for us to want society to follow our rules, but the best long-term solution is simply to reject the parts of society that we don’t appreciate.  Rejecting doesn’t need to be a passionate criticism of other’s choices.  It can be a pleasant invitation for them to follow your example.

Humility is

Humility is an asset. So far in my exploration of this statement I haven’t found any good reason to think otherwise. Humility is not self deprecation, depression, or thinking less of one’s abilities.  It’s acknowledging your proper place in this grand and wonderful world. Calvin Coolidge had this thought, “It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know that he is not a great man.”

Project Management vs Project Leadership

I’d like to start off by pointing out this is not a true dichotomy.  Project Management and Project Leadership are not exclusively on the same spectrum, but there are differences and placing them as opposites on the same spectrum can provide some insights into the discipline and our behavior.

Transactional vs Contextual

One of the ways I’ve seen the differences is in the way PMs conduct themselves at meetings.  I’ve seen great people use meetings as control points where they’re focussed on accounting for the progress on a particular deliverable and only the progress. The dialogue usually includes something like “Tim, can you tell us the status of XYZ deliverable?”  Moving around the room they’ll use a slightly different line with the next person “what’s the progress on EFG?”  “When will this be ready to hand off?”

These are closed transactional questions that don’t lend themselves too much more information than could be achieved by a bar graph or spreadsheet.  Why pull people into a meeting for a status you could get from a website?

In contrast I’ve worked with others who don’t directly focus on the progress of the deliverable, but instead will start with focusing on the person and their team.  More than one time I’ve been a part of a meeting where a project leader will ask someone how it’s going and in the course of the response they’ll get a full status update as well as context that helps to understand the challenges that team faces.  The style that only focuses on the status loses important context.

I’ve often said that Lean can be simplified into the sentence of “making work for the next person easier at the point of hand-off.”  This is hard to do without a shared understanding among the team of the context the next person has to operate in.  Shared context helps to make the work of the team visible it’s something leaders strive for and managers miss.

Our Reality’s History

Any time you see the word management written it’s probably referring to a definition widely influenced by Frederick Taylor.  The industrial revolution moved work from disparate and disconnected environments and consolidated them in factories.  Very quickly people who went from one generation working with a handful of others in agriculture found themselves working with hundreds of others.

This drastically changed the way the work force operated.  It also mean that there was a large diversity in work ethics and work experiences.  This was especially true in the United States when immigration meant not only a workforce new to the job, but new to the language and culture of their new country as well.  Non standard processes and perspectives can lead to significant issues with production.

Frederick Taylor saw how these problems impacted the productivity of manufacturing and performed studies and wrote about the solutions he found.  His book, The Principles of Scientific Management has been widely influential, but because of his generation it contains a few flaws that encourage transactional behavior.

Taylor’s model relies very heavily on class distinctions between Management and Workers.  Managers get paid to think.  Workers get paid to do.  Ideas come from managers studying out the problems to improve progress along their measurements.

Can you see how this could lead to some issues?  Firstly, the measurements of his era where the best they had, but are clearly wrong.  Cost accounting’s flaws translate to a great deal of poor behavior and encourage waste in a system.  If no good ideas could come from the employees then how valued do you think they will be and how will their sense of value improve their performance?  One needs only read the story of the NUMMI Plant in Smarter, Faster, Better to see what a difference employee empowerment can make.

Taylor’s definition of management was highly influential during World War II when the term Project Management first appears in the literature.  Today the heritage of Project Management is the transactional manager.  PMI has made huge strides to address the issues this causes (there’s a whole section on resources now), but its literature isn’t quite divorced from the history of the transactional management style.

Moving Forward

The history lesson and meeting observations are helpful to identify and understand the issue, but they’re not terribly prescriptive on how to move forward. Here’s some additional tips that can help improve the project’s performance and your stakeholder experience:

  • Change your vocabulary.  Use the work Project Leader instead of Project Manager.  It’s amazing how powerful a word change can be.
  • See the symptoms.  If you’re frustrated then you’re managing, not leading.  Leaders help the team through their trials.
  • Practice listening.  Get to the point where you’re comfortable being quiet and asking follow up questions that show you heard the person and you care about the challenges as they see them.  “What are the obstacles you’re facing?”
  • Help create the team.  Leaders help members of a group feel like they’re part of a team.  One of the best ways to encourage this is to provide positive reinforcement.  Starting your team building by telling someone in a meeting they let the group down is not an ideal technique.  Instead help the group see that the challenges of one person are group challenges and help that person with the challenges feel they’re not alone.
Published Uses of Project Management vs Project Leadership

Conclusion

While it’s not true that Project Management and Project Leadership are opposites exaggerating the differences helps to illustrate that there are differences between the two. These differences are part of the heritage of the project management discipline being heavily influenced by Frederick Taylor’s scientific management.  We’ve got some practical steps we can take now to change towards project leadership and to close the gap between the use of project management and project leadership in our actions and in our prose.

Of course, you could take another route and apply the techniques in The Art of Demotivation, or follow all the examples of Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss.

Illogical Behavior ≈ Illogical Measurements

Tell me how you measure me and I’ll tell you how I behave.  If you measure me illogical way. . . do not complain about illogical behavior.

This past week I got to meet someone who I’d instantly consider a friend of mine.  She works as a continuous improvement engineer for a potato manufacturing company in China.  She was communicating her observations of the behavior of the workers in the plant and how it impacted production.  As I was listening (which I’m still not as good as I’d like to be) I remembered this quote from Eliyahu Goldratt’s book, The Haystack Syndrome.

The behavior she was describing was illogical and while there’s not a direct correlation between illogical behavior and measurements, Goldratt is generally correct that there is a correlation!  I asked her what her mepotatoes fun knife forkmeasurements were and she explained that each shift is currently measured on their output.  Output is defined as the amount of product produced during their shift.

Output and throughput are two different things.  Output is the amount of product regardless of quality.  Throughput is the amount of value of the product to the business as determined by the customer.  Customers tend to care about quality, and so while a shift may have high output if that output is of a lower quality than customer specifications it will not meet throughput requirements.  It is wasted effort.

It’s easy to see how this happens, the measurements are designed to encourage a particular type of behavior, but that behavior doesn’t translate to added value.

One way to expose this is to ask yourself if the work your doing is value added or if the work you’re doing is simply to satisfy a measurement?  If you’r work is value add, great!  Keep going.  If it’s to satisfy a measurement then please, question the assumptions of the measurement.

Notice I said, question the assumptions of the measurement, not the calculations.  Generally, people get the calculations right (with some exceptions), but it’s the assumptions that are really dangerous.  The leadership at my friend’s work had made the assumption that output and throughput were the same thing and that measurements based upon output would suffice to encourage the behavior they wanted.

That assumption appears wrong.  It should be tested and if found false, corrected.

Making and operating on assumptions doesn’t make you a bad leader or a bad person.  We all do it.  There’s just not enough time in our lives to fully research every decision (See Thomas Sowell’s Knowledge and Decisions).  We have to use good-enough information when we make our choices.  Once a system is established it’s a good idea to review those choices to see which assumptions can be challenged to find greater opportunities to improvement.

Are you ready to challenge your assumptions?

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No Offence

Months into the project the tracts I was working on managing were lagging behind.  My inexperience, cultural barriers, technical challenges, and resources all contributed to a series of delays.  No one on the team had any issue with the way I’d been handling things because I kept them in the loop and help set proper expectations.

There was a great deal of anxiety about the delayed deliverables since so much was depending on them.  A meeting was called for lunch in a company that treats lunch time as a sacred break to give their employees time to refresh and we started breaking out the details on my deliverables.  A lot was done, but without the complete set of work the dependent tasks could not be performed and tested.

A passionate meeting ensued.  The whiteboard basically looked like it had graffiti on it.  Tables were drawn.  Dates were discussed and debated.  People were using their outside voice inside to make sure they were heard.  At the end of it the Product Owner pulled the leadership team aside and recommended that the primary PM own my effort and serve as the single point of contact.

By the time I got to the cafeteria my boss, who had scheduled the meeting, asked me how I was feeling about it.

I told him that I wasn’t offended at all.  We’d reached the point where the delay on my workstreams were impacting the overall project and that the primary PM needed to be intimately aware of what was going on so he could find opportunities to move his dependent steps forward as it becomes possible to do so.  I’m still managing, but now I’m feeding that PM my information at every update instead of just our normal cadence during the week.

I’m not sure how things would have changed if pride were a part of the equation, but I don’t imagine it would have made things any easier.  I think it was better to spend the time to focus on the work at hand and not on placating someone’s hurt pride.

No offense?  None taken.