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Project Management Paradise – 2021 Highlights

In this bonus episode, we've singled out some insights from the best of our guests over 2021.

Highlights include disaster planning in a post-pandemic world; managing bullies in the workplace; and decoding the DNA of strategy execution in project management.

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From “Disaster Proof: Scenario Planning for a Post-Pandemic Future” with Lance Mortlock (Episode 133)

Lance Mortlock is a partner with EY. He has provided management consulting services through over 130 projects across the globe. As a strategist, he is an author of 27 points of view on a variety of business topics and is the author of “Disaster-proof scenario planning for the post-pandemic future”. In this interview, Lance and I will discuss scenario planning for a post-pandemic future.

Over the years many disasters have happened whether it’s financial like the Wall Street Crash in 1929…What can history teach us about scenario planning?

It’s interesting. Like when you go back to as far back as the 1970s and we look over the last 50 years, we keep having these boom and bust cycles where there are periods of boom. There’s growth, there’s the investment, there’s prosperity. And then something happens.

There is the OPEC oil prices crisis in the 70s, there’s the Latin American sovereign debt crisis in the 80s, the dotcom, the economic crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic that we’ve been living in for the last year and a half. It keeps happening and it’s interesting because it feels like we go through this crisis and then we get back to normal.

Hopefully, we’ll get back to normal when it comes to Covid. And then our memory seems to be short-term, we sort of forget about it. And what I’m saying is, like it’s going to happen again. We don’t quite know what the next crisis is going to be but there will be one and it will likely happen within the next 10 years.

So, what are we doing as a society and as businesses to prepare for that? Do we have the right level of business resilience, the shock absorbance in our organization to be ready for that next crisis because it’s going to occur?

And so, what I advocate for, in my book “Disaster Proof” is leaders need to take this more seriously, they need to take the results of this more seriously, as we go forward. I talk about in the book a couple of case studies, one being the center for strategic and international studies, CSIS, in the US. Also the World Economic Forum, which, by the way, who endorsed my book.

Both of those organizations a couple of years ago had done some future thinking around the use of scenarios and global pandemics and they were largely ignored like people are not taking the results of these things seriously. So, it’s not only about using the tool, but it’s actually going through the process. But I would say it’s also taking the result seriously which did not, from the research that I’ve done, happen, as it related to Covid and we’re now dealing with the consequences of that.

Why don’t we listen?

I think it’s a combination of: I go back to people have a short-term memory and I think we look for things in the environment that reconfirm our beliefs and we fail sometimes to recognize those signals in the external world that might not confirm our existing beliefs. So that’s one thing.

Secondly, I would say what I call in the book, we get into this sort of these confined riverbanks and we need to expand the riverbanks and actually say what’s possible and what’s probable could be much wider than what we’re thinking right now.

Humans generally do not like change. We struggle to deal with change, and there are all kinds of research that supports that. One of the great change management professors that I quote in the book is Professor John Kotter at Harvard. And if you read any of his work in any of his very popular books, he just talks about like how as humans like particularly in business, we struggle with change. I think you get into a comfort zone and then you get squarely hit on the side of the face with something unexpected.

That’s why I’m advocating for more progressive thinking, use of tools like scenarios and future thinking, to create more intelligent organizations, organizations that are more systems-based in their thinking, trying to understand what’s happening in the world and the uncertainty, more formalized processes for understanding uncertainty.

Some companies do it pretty well, like Rolls-Royce, a really great luxury car company. They formalize uncertainty management and they do a good job in a very competitive car market, understanding the uncertainties in the world, through the use of scenarios. We need to do more of that, companies need to do more of that.

Why is it important to wallow in ambiguity sometimes?

I think part of the challenges and I see this: I work with a lot of companies that have a lot of engineers in their workforce; is there’s this convergence on deciding what to do too quickly. Humans are in some ways solution-orientated. But sometimes if you get to the solution and you converge on that solution too quickly, you might be solving the wrong problem.

And so, one of the things that I talked about building some concepts from an American psychologist, Joy Guilford, is this sense of: it’s important to diverge in our thinking, to wallow in the ambiguities, as I call it, for a bit longer.

And so, leaders have to be out of balance, convergent, in divergent thinking and spending enough time in each of those zones. Don’t too quickly get to the solution. Let’s spend enough time, exploring the possibilities so that the solving the right problem versus the wrong problem, at the end of the day.

And that feels uncomfortable, I would say, to wallow in the ambiguity as it were because you might not have the answers and those conversations and those meetings and those discussions that you have where there is no solution. But you’re just discussing and thinking about uncertainty, volatility, complexity, and ambiguity. That’s powerful to play with that mentally and say: “Well, what are the possibilities? What could happen?” before you get to: “Okay. What are we going to do about it?”

Can you give me an example of a company or an organization or a government that hasn’t handled scenarios or events well?

One of the examples that I talk about in my book is with the Canadian government, in fact. Prior to Covid, they had a unit setup that was using signal monitoring and, in fact, some pretty interesting technology called natural language processing which is an AI technology. And they were using it to monitor diseases around the world and the idea being was an early-warning system that would inform their strategic thinking around potential pandemics before they become major issues.

And so this unit had played a successful role in SARS, MERS, and other diseases. Unfortunately, right before Covid, the Canadian government decided to defund it. There was an article in The Globe and Mail, I talk about it in the book and that struck me as an example of these kinds of signal monitoring, which are part of the scenario planning process, are equally as important.

Had we not defunded that, had we got that early warning in time, we could have averted potentially the number of deaths. We could have advance prepared the PPE equipment that we didn’t have in those early days last year. We could have prepared hospitals and ventilators for an increase in patient numbers. We could have taken different measures to shut down the airline traffic and testing. But we didn’t, we defunded something and again we’re dealing with the consequences now.

From: “Creating and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments” with Phyllis Quinlan (Episode 134)

Phyllis Quinlan. Her latest book is entitled “Bringing Shadow Behavior Into the Light of Day: Understanding and Effectively Managing Bullying and Incivility in Healthcare”. In this interview, Phyllis and I will discuss creating and sustaining healthy work environments.

Bullying in the workplace and unhealthy work environments are prevalent across every business vertical, and even though one may make a logical assumption that working in the care industry would have zero bullyings…

Yeah, I agree with you that unfortunately, what I call disruptive behavior is common in every work venue. It is commonly overlooked in every work venue which is why I’d like to bring it to the surface and shine some light on it. But it is confounding as to how come the issue of bullying and instability is so predominant in a caring profession such as nursing or medicine or other ways of being a professional caregiver.

We had a famous criminal here in the States who was asked “Why do you rob banks?” And he said “Because that’s where the money is”. So, the thing is that people who engage in disruptive behavior really try the patience of many people and they always want to have some plausible deniability around why they’re doing what they’re doing. There’s always an excuse, there is always a reason, they always want to kind of get you to see them as a little bit of a victim, and then maybe you’ll get them one more chance.

Well, where else to go other than healthcare that is absolutely filled with caring, compassionate people who want to help. So, I think the issue of disruptive behavior in the healthcare venue is unique in that we are our own worst enemies. In many ways that it is our caring nature, that the person who is engaging in chronic instability or actual bullying is playing against us, so that we’re kind of getting played like a fiddle, and our compassionate nature now becomes somewhat of an enabling factor as opposed to a remedial factor.

We have to be very careful about that because most of our staff, 85%, 90% of our staff that are really showing up to give the very best they possibly can each and every day is watching leadership and scratching their heads saying, “What about this? Don’t you see?” I mean, if you were on the other end working side by side with these people it would become glaringly apparent.

But whatever happens behind closed doors when you are having that crucial conversation with someone, they are pushing all of your caregiver buttons. You are allowing that, you’re not understanding how this works and then you feel you’re being helpful or therapeutic. Actually, all you’re doing is extending the life of someone who is really turning your workplace into a place of toxicity.

Can you give us some examples, Phyllis, that you’ve met along the way and how you were able to help the teams locally to manage that disruptive behavior?

There are things that are commonly accepted by the authorities, as what creates a healthy work environment. Certainly, open communication, collaboration, authentic leadership, staffing issues need to be addressed. There are many authorities and you can Google them that pretty much have five or six, different key things or pillars if you will, that create healthy work environments.

What I’ve noticed is what they all have in common is they don’t talk about disruptive behavior. So, I have broken down disruptive behavior into two categories. Those that are chronically uncivil and those are actually bullying. People who are chronically uncivil, fortunately, so to speak, make the large just proportion of disruptive behavior. So, they’re not really people who are engaging in any kind of behavior that’s trying to target you or abuse you. They are more annoying, they can’t get to work on time. They can’t get their work done on time. They go into the break room and all they want to talk about is the latest drama in their lives, which of course, sucks all the air out of the room.

These are people that if they called in sick, you’d have a better day, you’d think it is going to be a good day. They just are the pebble in the shoe, they are so distracting, they are needy, they disrupt meetings, they have inappropriate humor at inappropriate times, they say things and then the rest of us seem to have to try to clean that up, as well as do our own work.

That is just demoralizing. And what can happen at that point is that you can start to bleed talent because there’s just so long that you’re real, your top-performing people who are really invested in your company, your organization, your department, will put up with that nonsense, just so long and, finally, they’ll say, “Okay, I need to get the fastest ticket out of there.” Whether they stay in the organization or not, they’re going to go and you’re going to be left with your poor performer as opposed to your top talent.

The other category here is it, and they usually are only about five percent. Thankfully, true bullies are only about five percent of your staff. These folks engage in real behavior that is what I call shadow behavior. It’s in the dark, it’s subtle, but they are targeting people. The result of that is the person is feeling abused, threatened, they’re made to feel incompetent, they are ridiculed. It is really an abusive type of behavior.

I call this a narcissistic bully because the personality of a bully is very, very aligned with this psychological profile of the personality disorder known as narcissism. It’s all about them. All you’re supposed to do is accommodate, accommodate, accommodate because they have no reason, they’re so perfect that they really have no reason to make an accommodation to change their ways because there’s nothing about them that needs changing. You need to change.

They will use plausible deniability to talk about why they are abusing another staff person. If a staff person complains about them, they’ll say, “Well, I was just trying to give him an orientation. I was just trying to give them a sense of reality. They better grow a thicker skin or they’re never going to make it. I’m trying to get them to toughen up a little bit.” But whatever, plausible explanation they want to give at the end of that is that this person is just really abusive.

So, if you think about people who are chronically uncivil, the pain in the neck in the department, they really have low emotional intelligence. They don’t understand, they have very poor self-awareness about how they’re acting. They have less self-management skills about how to remediate or think before they say or act. They are clueless so to speak, you can bring it up to them, and then they need to make adult choices to whether or not they’re going to try to change or learn how to try to change.

But a bully or narcissistic bully, they’re rooted in what they’re doing. I think one of the things that we have to understand is narcissists only have relationships based on usefulness, they don’t have a relationship like you and I. We could be friends. We could be colleagues across the pond, so to speak. And, we could have common ground and we would build a relationship from there.

For a narcissist, I would be connected to you based on how useful you are to me and if you’re no longer useful to me, I just kick you to the curb. People don’t understand that because they see people who are narcissists, as people you might want to align with because they seem so powerful when actually their personality is so very, very fragile. People who are in leadership positions need to understand the compliments they are offering you, the insights, the alliances, they’re offering you are really just to use you and your position in order to enable their bad behavior and perhaps, even help move them up the ladder.

From: “Decoding the DNA of Strategy Execution” With Jack Duggal (Episode 127)

Jack Duggal is the founder and managing principal of Projectize Group, specializing in next-generation strategy, execution facilitation, and consulting. He works with leading organizations from NASA to Silicon Valley and companies and governments around the world. Jack is a TEDx speaker and internationally recognized expert in strategy, execution and PMO with over 25 years of experience. He is the author of “The DNA of Strategy-Execution – Next Generation Project Management and PMO”.

In this interview, Jack and I will discuss decoding the DNA of strategy execution. Jack is deep into decoding the DNA of strategy, execution, and transformation in a DANCE – dynamic, ambiguous, non-linear, complex, emergent and an increasingly uncertain world. So, in case you think you’re in a biology or dance lesson podcast, let’s talk to Jack.

“Your next-generation idea …Can you tell us a bit about your DANCE approach?

So, DANCE was an acronym we coined somewhere in the mid-2000s, as we were really trying to struggle with some of these issues to see how we shift the focus and what is really going on? What impacts our project environment? So the DANCE is an acronym that stands for Dynamic, Ambiguous, Non-Linear, Complex, and Emergent. So, just to give you a little bit of background we coined this term somewhere in the mid-2000s and I started writing about it in my articles and so on.

At that point, I didn’t know about this, but later on I came across this term, which I’m sure you’ve heard about, and it’s almost become like a buzzword now called VUCA. So, VUCA is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. VUCA was coined by the US military in the 1980s. I had not heard about it until much after the DANCE. So, when I saw VUCA, I said “Well, this is cool.” So, DANCE is almost like the next generation of VUCA because in the DANCE, we cover a couple of areas that are sort of not called out specifically or more which is the non-linear part and emergent part. And let me explain a little bit more about what actually each of these means.

Nowadays, you’ll see a lot of people talk about, most presentations will start with “Oh, we live in a VUCA world” but the challenge is most people do not really understand VUCA. Even the people who are talking about it. It’s just more like a buzzword that’s appropriate for the moment. But what does it really mean?

So, let’s look at the DANCE. So, DANCE is dynamic. Everything is changing and it’s changing so fast. It is impossible to forecast or plan for the degree of change and volatility that can be triggered by the unexpected. So, why is it dynamic? Because we are hyper connected. So, it’s not just, as soon as you have done your plan, you come out of your meeting, your boss or somebody, one of the big sponsors sends a tweet. Oh and the whole thing shifts. So, as long as you’ve updated the plan, but before you go back and sit on your desk, it’s changed again. It’s very, very dynamic. And in these environments, the more you try to plan and control, the more it fluctuates, the more variance you get and it provides a false sense of security. Okay, that’s just the first part of the DANCE.

The A is ambiguous. There’s too many people involved and everybody wants something different. So, in this type of ambiguity, how do you even do a good job with requirements? If it’s a simple thing like “I want to make this chair” The project is very, very simple – chair. Okay, I can break down the requirements. I can understand it and I can SPEC it. I can scope it, plan it, execute it, control it.

But the world we live in today is not just the chair but it’s kind of like the monkey who’s going to sit on the chair and it’s hard to get inside the monkey’s mind to see what it wants, whether it is going to like the chair or not. It wants a reconfigurable chair. Now, it wants a chair that it redesigns itself from time to time. And it gives it updates and on, and on, and on. And as soon as you give something to the monkey again, it has changed its mind. So, how do we even plan? That’s just the A part.

The N stands for non-linear. So, traditional approaches are based on stable environments where things are linear and expected. In a non-linear world, it’s even hard to determine the cause and effect and as humans we go crazy, project managers go crazy when they can’t determine the cause to the effect and they can’t link it. So, sequential tasks and dependencies do not seem to hold and we find ourselves kind of entangled in a web. So, we have to really understand non-linearity and the effects of non-linearity are exponential. All of these things were harder to explain, maybe even like eight months ago and finding in my work these days it is much easier for people to understand this due to what we have been going through with Covid because we are facing all these things right now.

C is complex. Most people do not understand complexity. They confuse it with complicatedness, which is different. Most traditional project management approaches that are designed to deal with complicated problems. Like, how do we build a spacecraft or airplane or a car or a bicycle or whatever, but complex is, you have to understand, it’s more organic, it’s biological. It’s living. It’s breathing. It’s more dynamic. So, complexity by the way happens with living things because you have people and humans involved in projects just like nature, there is multiplicity of intricacies and overlaps. There’s a lot of interdependencies.

So, overall in a project, three things cost more complexity. One is the multiplicity overall. The more people involved, the more monkeys involved, the more stakeholders involved, the more things you have to do. So, multiplicity of people, multiplicity of communications, or information that flows across that needs to flow and the connections. So, think about it, even if you compare today versus a year ago or two years ago. That is just exponential. We are hyper, hyper-connected. So, things are a lot more complex today than they were even eight months ago. So, that’s complex.

And the last one is E which is emergent. Emergent and unpredictable. So, what happens is, because we are organic and living, there’s spontaneous emergence where components will self-organize to produce capabilities and outcomes that are neither obvious nor predictable. So, we can predict them.

“What makes a great leader?” with Don Schmincke (Episode 132)

Don Schmincke is a former MIT and Johns Hopkins Institute researcher turned organizational, strategic development consultant. He’s the guy the CEOs bring in when the experts fail. Don has written two best-selling management books “High Altitude Leadership” and “Code of the Executive”. He is an in-demand speaker with an impressive roster of clients. In this interview, Don and I will discuss what makes a great leader.

Today, it is our pleasure to introduce you to Don Schmincke. Don is a former MIT and Johns Hopkins Institute researcher turned organizational, strategic development consultant. He’s the guy the CEOs bring in when the experts fail. Don has written two best-selling management books “High Altitude Leadership” and “Code of the Executive”. He is an in-demand speaker with an impressive roster of clients. In this interview, Don and I will discuss what makes a great leader.

In your book, you refer to the samurai, as a great example of being great leaders and very consistent for thousands of years, as well as a group. How much do those kinds of samurai insights help influence our CEOs and leaders of today? How can we apply ancient practices to our modern ways of doing things?

That’s a good question because back in the ’90s when we began experimenting with this, the samurai did have the strategic mindset. In fact, there’s a great quote, that goes something like: “When you leave your gate in the morning, act as though an enemy were insight”. I thought that was interesting. Wouldn’t it be great if the management team thought like that? When they showed up strategically thinking, constantly, about you know, who the enemy is, and do we have the right enemy identified and how do we have a new rhythm?

That innovative thinking process was part of that day-to-day work versus just showing up and just doing work, then going home. That was one of the elements, but I think the more important element when we started looking at this research, because it, this came out, Oxford University gave me the permission to use this ancient manuscript, and I was able to go through and see how were they thinking, and try to reorganize this, so we can apply it today.

One of the elements I found out was that a lot of companies have so much wasted time and dysfunctional behavior. But what I mean is that, well, you’re probably heard of a very popular comedy show which was “The Office”. That was one of the biggest hit television series, which people think is a comedy, but I think it’s a documentary!

All these behaviors, the politics, the blaming, the avoiding accountability to cover your butt. It’s all these things end up sucking so much time. I did an experiment. I took over 15,000 CEOs in my workshops, I ended up asking them “How much time is sucked up in your organization with these dysfunctional behaviors?”

Like “How many times have you had a 15-minute meeting that took an hour or a project took longer than it should?” or maybe internal procedure or process just taking too much time? They started thinking about it and I started collecting this data and they would submit to me anonymously on a piece of paper, their number, right? So, I’ve collected thousands and thousands of data points, and generally, the range is from 20 to 80 percent. So, it’s a wide range but the middle point, the average was always around 50. So, in other words, I began to realize that on average, companies waste half their time in dysfunctional behavior. So, that was interesting. What if we could eliminate it? What if we could have speed?