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For years I am telling a story. It is a story from the perspective of a Project Manager. The perspective from a PM as an individual.
If you are a Project Manager that operates for a short period of time in a foreign organization, with a team you don’t know, in a domain you would not know how to spell, I would say you have some challenges.
Think about this Project Manager as a person in a huge network of interacting people. The PM can interact only with a few of them (his team, the stakeholders). The stakeholders interact also with others. People the PM knows, but more likely with people invisible to the Project Manager.
Because of the size of the network, because of limited visibility on the network, because of the complexity of the network, the PM is getting partial information, always.
For the same reasons the PM has only partial influence. He cannot interact with “everyone”. He has no “power” over everyone.
Yet, he has a goal to reach. And he only has a couple of months to reach it. A short period of time before he moves on.
How do you get your job done?
First of all, the goal is reached by the team. A team with a leader might be ineffective at worst, but a PM without a team is, well, useless.
As Anthony Mersino once wrote:
“Project Management is Getting Work Done Through People!”
The only way I know to get such a complex task done in a short period of time under these circumstances is by means of culture.
Create goals, create an identity that the organization members want to be associated with. Create rituals, rules of engagements, language and visual clues that turn a collection of individuals into a tight and focused group. A group with a purpose. A group that feels special and a little different from the rest of the organization.
I am personally fascinated by how this works in a global and virtual world. There is no denying that the digital online world is playing an increasing role in our lives. Private and professional. Communicating through digital channels is different and at the same time it is familiar. Human interaction is still human interaction.
However, the visible clues we provide by what we are, what we think and, more importantly, with which groups we are associated are becoming more persistent (the web never “forgets”) and more dominant (it’s more obvious and in-your-face).
I thought about naming those clues “tags”, but I am not quite sure about that now. But still, as I explained:
“The kicker in the virtual space is, you actually use real tags. We see them. We use them as keywords in our filters. We use them in our one sentence pitch on LinkedIn. But still. Always the same principles. It’s about group affiliation and identity.”
I will never suggest that you need to do all your project work online. But I will state that hybrid operations will emerge more and more, mixed teams, mixed communication channels, offline and online.
And I am happy to tell you, no worries. Mechanism is the same.
The observable traits or characteristics of an organism are called “phenotypes”. Your entire digital footprint is a phenotype. And so is the parrot on your shoulder if you associated yourself with being a pirate. So tags are phenotypes. Rituals are phenotypes.
Boyd and Richerson in Culture and the Evolutionary Process (1985) define culture as “information capable of affecting individuals’ phenotypes which they acquire from other conspecifics … by teaching or imitation.”
Providing information and teaching are therefor essential tasks in building cultures.
But this view also provides a different angle. The culture (in this case the project) adds to the individuals phenotype. So, to the legacy of the individual team member. It is not just his resume he is working on, it is larger than that, it is about creating his own identity and life story. His storyline is made up of a sequence of quests he is taking on. And one of those quests might be your project.
The essence of this observation is that culture cannot be separated from the project and the individual professional paths.
In an attempt to create a visual representation of the story I am telling at Project Shrink, I came up with the following.
The quest is the goal of the project. I call it “quest” as it also applies to e.g. online communities.
The small circles are the individual team members. The arrows between them represent their interaction.
The rules of engagement are the set of rules the group agreed upon for the way they interact.
The leader (PM) can use a mix of rituals, badges (visual clues), motivation, facilitation, communication and setting the example to ensure interactions and quest are followed as agreed (explicit and implicit) by the group.
The individual storyline is the combination of the “history” of the person (which determines his reputation) and the profile (a snapshot of who he is at this moment, the current role or expertise). The storyline moves into the direction of a persons ambition.
I hope this provides some structure in a sometimes complex story