Project Management Meets Confucius is an ongoing series dedicated to finding the inner philosopher in all of us. The ideas presented herein are designed to bring together the two worlds of Asian Philosophy and Project Management; ideally, in an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek, and (ever-so-humble) inspiring way.
This is Part 3 of Virtuous Kick-off Meetings — check out Part 1 and Part 2!
"The firm, the enduring, the simple, and the modest are near to virtue."
Simple and Modest
In Part 2 we discussed being "firm and enduring" — today we'll wrap-up our analysis of the above quote. "Simple and modest" sounds good, but how can these be applied to kick-off meetings? I can see simplicity, but modesty?
More than a few historical figures have laid claim to the benefits of simplicity... Kelly Johnson's "Keep it simple stupid (KISS Principle)," Leonardo da Vinci's "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," and Albert Einstein's "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
Interestingly, the intent of all these sayings is not necessarily to design according to basic principles. If a robust web-based project management application is the most viable solution, then a PM should not hesitate to implement it. If a project requires multiple dependencies and involves layers of resources, then so be it. The Simplicity Factor comes into play when the integrity of the project is tested by an agitator. How does your project respond when a resource is missing or is uncooperative? What happens if a bottleneck appears? In short, how do you fix a problem when it happens?
If you need to spend extraneous working hours re-tooling your project in the face of a problem, then your project is not simple enough. If a last-minute requirement from Sr. Management puts everything on-hold, then your project is not simple enough. Unnecessary project complexity is like a tennis ball rolling through molasses — the proverbial ball will be rolling, but all momentum is lost when a problem arises. The capability of your project to react efficiently to the unexpected is the ultimate Simplicity Test.
For the PM, this means integrating contingency plans (within reason), allocating resources efficiently, and addressing potential issues before they become problems (e.g., maintain project control and facilitate stakeholder communication at all stages).
Simplifying a project is done in the early planning stages — usually before the kick-off meeting is even planned. When the meeting does happen, though, you will have an opportunity to transform all of the planning into actionable items. Once the project is formally underway, it needs to be able to withstand the rigors of real-world implementation — that's when the real Simplicity Test begins.
There are quite a few variations of the word "modesty": (a) not extravagant, (b) decent behavior in a social setting, and (c) a small amount. While these are all well and good, we're more interested in the "don't be a jerk" variety of modesty. In other words: be free of pretensions, ego, and boastfulness.
A fact of life is that some people like the spotlight... no, they don't like it, they need it. You know the ones I am talking about: the guy who takes a meeting hostage, prattling on (at length) about their project-saving contributions... the girl who demands daily meetings with the PM in order to provide unasked-for guidance & advice. In short, it's the bad apple who will try to spoil your kick-off meeting barrel... and, subsequently, the entire project.
Strictly-speaking, Confucius is advising us to avoid becoming one of those people. Be modest. The world does not revolve around you. So, if you fit the mold, please look in a mirror and make the appropriate personality changes.
On another level, Confucius is warning us to be aware of people who are full of themselves. They exist, they're out there, and we should develop a proficiency in dealing with them effectively. In a project management environment, and particularly during a kick-off meeting, the boastful participant can truly wreak havoc. How to manage such a situation?
- Father Time is your Friend: Some kick-off meetings are monologues, some are highly participatory, and others are a mixture of both (e.g., project scope is defined, resources are allocated, and questions are entertained at the end). No matter which format you implement, define a set length of time for the meeting and stick to it. Start the meeting with a time reminder and, as it winds down, remind the participants about the number of minutes remaining. If you're in a participatory environment, gently remind everyone to be mindful of the length of their verbalizations — if someone launches into a diatribe, feel free to use non-verbal cues (e.g., a sheepish grin & shrug while pointing at your wrist or the clock). By externalizing the issue to the concept of a strict time limit, you can avoid making it personal. Above all, always remain in control.
- Be Inclusive: Remain aware of everyone's contributions. If you are a PM then others will look to you for overall project guidance — sometimes you will be a sounding board. When 'enduring communication' is present (see last post), then you will be in a position to know exactly what everyone is doing and how they are collaborating with each other. Why is all of this important? The immodest/boastful participant will (a) take every opportunity to assign all milestone successes to him/herself and (b) share their unique viewpoint to everyone within earshot. In addition to being an annoyance, this can actually foster resentment and bitter feelings within the project team; this, in turn, can effect productivity and dampen enthusiasm. By keeping aware of who is doing what, you will be able to use meetings (both formal & informal) as opportunities to foster teamwork and collaboration by giving credit where credit is due.
So have you encountered your fair share of egocentric soliloquies? Have you tried to keep things simple in the face of complexity? Tell us your story via a Comment below!
When not studying Asian Philosophy and writing User Manuals, Brian likes to fish, read fantasy novels, and eat cheeseburgers.