Paddling in the same direction

Last week, my attention was drawn by the last Vital smart weekly post about the crucial behaviors of a team. In the article, “Paddling in the same direction” was mentioned first. It says that, whatever the arguments, theories and opinions on a personal level, when on the same boat, it is expected from you to paddle hard and steady to the finish line … which sounds just fine, I’m good with the idea, and paddling in the same direction is nice from a project manager’s perspective. Too good to be true, I’d say … I like to go fishing and I am project manager, so let’s talk about rowing and catching !

How to set the direction and maintain it ? Far from me to go against the paddling along idea, I’m totally ok with the opinions these guys spread, they’re good ! I had the pleasure to collaborate with a project team that liked to sing while rowing, and we still remember the songs after 20 years and would row again anytime… real men and gals of the sea, big fish … fun, fun, fun ! And, once set with budget and target, it turned out to rowing against the directors, the unions, the local decorum and the very dignified thinkers that would not share with us simple minds … because we were on the chase for a huge shark nobody wanted to hear about and we got it, before it went to the journalists and created a public scandal. I chose to disobey as the team leader and we made some of the local gotha look like amateurs when we brought the very bad smelling critter to the shore. Did we enjoy the ride, oh yeah ! Did the project cost more ? We cut the cost by 25 %… Needless to say, me and most of the team were on the black list for the next 15 years, until all the ego bruised local directors and brains took their pension. I went away, the resident team member never got their promotion and the story was buried deep … we crossed the plate as Captain Jack Sparrow would mumble… 

So, I have some questions about the understanding we all make of rowing and targets …

Clearly, we, team members, clients and leaders don’t think the same way nor understand these glorious messages in the same manner. Why is that ? Our map of the world, our beliefs and our tendency to stop thinking when our mind is “set”… and the unnamed and untamed fears we would never confess: fear of losing our job, of being revealed in our incompetency, fear of losing face, fear of the boss … this being said, are you lost in some bitter souvenirs of projects that cost you more than your daytime energy, skin and/or reputation?

Maintaining a target is utopist, the direction will change, and there will be rapids and sea weeds and the boat will rock. You will lose your best rower to the sea of the unexpected priorities.  This neurotic guy that the director imposed on you will put the team in jeopardy as you announced, the control inquisition will set their radar on you, crucial communication will not take place to clear the air and ensure the necessary honesty and reciprocity … pirates, holes in the boat, bad paddles, changes of plans, hurricanes, name it, we project managers have to face many unnamed problems apart from the project per se, much more than what we signed for. I like to think of project management as embarquing on the Titanic… got the picture ? But the boat is too small and the clients, managers and other stakeholders put more than their project expectations into it. Either we sink or someone has to throw the unnecessary expectations and challenges overboard. Guess who has to do the job ?

As a project manager, you need to locate the overload nobody signed for, negotiate to put it into another project or require more resources… and you won’t get any, because these submarine issues are burning and nobody will reckon these, less take it in charge.

Does the ones that set the project in motion KNOW better than you ? For a small amount of time, surely. But as we leave the coast, project manager’s insight become a reliable compass, relaying the input coming from the team, clients and experts aboard. If there is an iceberg or a rotten apple in the barrel, what does it take to listen to the signals and manage them accordingly ? Project managers are usually selected for their communication skills, so let’s hear them and clear the issues, for the best.

As I like to say: why not make it better ?


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