Guest blog post by Ujjwal Daga,
Traditionally, project managers tend to be very risk-focused and heavily assess the risks in a project, ranging from those that are most likely to cause system failures (integration, security, etc) or have a huge cost impact (licensing, outsourcing, etc), to those that might push the schedule back in failed scenarios (resource related risks). So eventually a lot of time gets spent in looking at ways of de-risking situations and analyzing what could go wrong.
- How can we shift the focus of a project manager from ‘Failure and Risk Management’ to ‘Envisioning projects with risks and failures removed’?
- Suppose a team does that, what benefits would they notice? How will that help the team in getting guided towards successful execution of the project?
John Nicol, whom I interviewed recently, helps answer these questions and explains how Solution Focus (SF), due to its collaborative and facilitative nature can be a very powerful tool to enable project discussions with failures removed.
John is a SF professional and a Certified Scrum Master. As a SF professional, he has been successfully applying the approach in different types of businesses. As a ‘ScrumMaster’, he has been practicing Agile project management techniques in numerous organizational transformation programs.
1. Look at successful methods of doing things to enable progress:
The greatest advantage of using SF tools is that it is forward-looking – teams look for strengths and opportunities going forward, they look for indicators of what’s working. For instance, in an effort to centralize software tools within an organization, project managers can begin by answering following questions and use that as a platform for getting to solutions in the future.
- “Where have we centralized the tools already?”
- “Which parts of the organization have succeeded in this effort?”
- “Which integration steps are already in place?”
In a SF approach, project managers do not ignore that things could go wrong. They acknowledge the risks and the failures, but turn the question on its head by asking
- “What could we do instead?”
- “What could we do that would make the situation better?”
2. Apply SF “future perfect” tool for better project planning:
Using SF tools such as future perfect and scaling before the development starts, imagine a project with risks and problems removed. Answering questions such as the following will help teams to list out the activities that they must get right.
- “Suppose the project is X months ahead. The project is over; it is delivered on schedule, and has met all the objectives. On looking back, what were the useful things we did to get there?”
3. Leverage SF coaching to self-organize teams: Scrum projects (an Agile project management methodology) are delivered by self-organizing teams and it puts a lot of emphasis on coaching and learning from each other. The ScrumMaster is often challenged by the maturity of their team to self-organize in order to address the risks and rearrange the work activities as needed. What SF adds to the picture is that it enables the ScrumMaster to better coach their agile project teams who, when faced with cost-driven and time-driven risks, can remain on a positive note by asking questions such as the following
- “Where do we already have examples of on-time delivery from past projects or project phases?”, “What did we do then to keep the work on schedule?”
- “Which free or low cost alternative solutions are available or in use in other parts of the organization or project?”, “Are there existing contracts in place that are cost effective?”
- “Suppose a cost-effective licensing solution was already available, what would it look like?”, “What else would help?”
4. Acknowledge and reward your team to promote solution-talk:
With more and more virtual teams operating, project managers need to work harder at acknowledging their teams and communicating the rewards and successes (an area where most managers suffer!). There are a lot of people in businesses who don’t feel heard – many of them have very smart ideas but haven’t really gotten the opportunity to bring them on the table. SF is a very powerful way to give these people the acknowledgement that they are looking for by acting as a mirror to their language and using their words while talking to them.
5. Maintain transparency in communication with the Business Partners to create visibility:
In Agile, the Customer or the Product Owner is part of the project team. They need to know that the development team and the Agile project manager agree upon a common solution, and maximize their investment by equipping them with the critical information they need to know.
In conclusion and to summarize John’s comments, I think Scrum is well-aligned with SF tools. Both systems of thought and practice share a strong grounding in delivering quick results through self-organizing teams, having openness and transparency in communication with product owners and customers, and encouraging coaching to empower the staff to think for themselves.
A definition of ScrumMaster that I came across supports the views mentioned here quite strongly.
“A ScrumMaster is a servant leader helping the team be accountable to themselves for the commitments they make”
Some of the significant characteristics one associates with a servant leader are trust, collaboration, listening, empathy, and foresight. They do not manage the team, because the beauty of Scrum is that teams are self-managing. Instead, the ScrumMasters coach their team to help them achieve outcomes on their own.
What are your comments on the proposed SF approach to project management?