Category Archives: Leadership

Under pressure everything becomes fluid

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Nobody works better under pressure. They just work faster – Brian Tracy

There is a misunderstanding that under pressure people perform better. Pressure to a certain degree is fine and can have a positive impact on performance, because people become aware of the fact that things have to get done. But too much pressure will have a negative effect on the quality of output. And if that happens the probability of rework at later stages in the project goes up significantly.

Under pressure everything becomes fluid. In other words, when hitting deadlines becomes the primary driver and focus, deliverables will eventually get done, but oftentimes with lack of quality. People start to demonstrate irrational behaviour, remove standards and constraints, and go the extra mile to get the job done with making sacrifices. This makes sense, because in the devils triangle of project scope (quality), schedule and cost, the latter two are fixed, and the only variable that can move is scope.

When the project schedule is aggressive and tight, the risk of a balloon effect is high. At the start of the project, people believe they have tons of time to complete the work. You actually see the opposite happening. People are focused on scope and quality of output, instead of schedule. But as we go, those two variables start to shift.

What can you do as project manager to mitigate the ‘risk of pressure’?

  • Build a hierarchy of schedules that reflect the milestones, dependencies, tasks and deliverables. That sounds simple, but in reality people struggle to build meaningful schedules. They need to be granular enough for the level you report status. You need to be able to communicate the schedule. Many project managers are challenged to find the right level of detail. If there is too much or too little, nobody else than the project manager looks at the schedule. I would recommend to use 3 schedules. One for the executive level that you use for steering committees and CXO. One for the program or project level. And one at the team level. You build them top down, and validate them bottom up by assessing the work and estimates against the time line
  • Communicate the schedule and report accurate status. How many times have you been in projects, where you knew there was some sort of schedule, but you did not know the details, nor did you have access to it? It happens more than you think and if it does, you can rightfully wonder if there is one. Project managers must communicate the schedule and status at a minimum on a weekly basis at the project and team level. For the executive level and CXO it can be bi-weekly to monthly. Status reports have to be accurate and complete. But how do you know that you something is accurate? For deliverables and tasks that are on the critical path you want to do cross-checks to mitigate the accuracy risk
  • Paint the bigger picture. When people perform under pressure, they tend to loose the big picture. Although you want them to be in the zone for optimal performance, they need to be made aware of what is happening around them. They need to know what is coming up next, and how they impact that with their current output or lack of output
  • Facilitate daily scrum meetings to set focus, priority and urgency. When the going gets tough, the though gets going. You cannot be early enough to start with daily scrum meetings. I am using the word ‘scrum’ to refer to a daily stand-up meeting at the team level, where each and everyone is present and provides input on the schedule and status. The project manager and solution architects are on point to resolve issues on the spot and to keep the work flowing.
  • Open up your toolkit and be creative. When that deadline is looming and smiling in your face, you want to do a step back as project manager and assess, reflect and adjust. It is the only way, to let your creative mind go and provide new and better mechanisms to get the finish line with the best output possible. The worse thing you can do is to get hooked into the pressurized momentum as well. If that happens, it could be game over

Every project gets under pressure. If it hasn’t, it probably wasn’t a real project, meaning there was tons of time to deliver. Project managers need to be aware of this and understand that under pressure everything becomes fluid. When that happens it is time to roll up the sleeves and apply specific techniques to bring the game home with the right level of quality. Most of these techniques centre around better and more timely communication, detailed work schedules, ad-hoc actions to keep things moving forward, and creativity.

Bas de Baat

The 5 A’s on the program manager’s report card

big-red-a-report-cardGreatness begins beyond your comfort zone – Robin Sharma

One of my kids came home with a report card the other day. I saw it laying on the stairs when I was on my way to go to bed. I picked it up and stared at it for awhile. The result were great and made me feel proud. Once I was beyond the point of happiness, I looked at the scoring mechanism and concluded that through the years it has not changed much. The other thought that came to mind was how would a report card of a program manager look like.

The easiest and most obvious way is to measure a program manager’s performance on traditional metrics like scope, schedule and budget. Still in most of the job profiles today you read something like: “must deliver the planned scope of work on time and on budget”. I wonder if that still makes sense in a world where leaders need to rely more on soft skills to make things happen. The capability to apply the technical aspects of program management must be there, no doubt, but the ultimate success is a result of other qualifications.

What A’s must a program manager score? I think the following five apply:

Accountability – Many years ago when I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers they communicated being visionary, bold, open and accountable as core values of their professionals. I like them all and probably accountability the most. It determines whether you are a winner or not. Strong program managers put their teeth in an initiative they believe in and deliver no matter what

Adversity – Program managers show their true colors at times of adversity. With strong headwinds blowing, accomplished program managers have alternative strategies in their back-pocket. With their helicopter view and ability to connect the dots, they are best positioned to provide sound recommendations to adjust, correct and overall stay the course.

Adaptability – It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, but a top-notch program manager must have a high degree of flexibility. In today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment the key levers of any program are under pressure all the time. It is critical to have some sort of ‘sense and response’ system that helps you manoeuvre through the landscape

Automaticity – The thought behind this measure is that the program manager maintains a set of habits to are being applied by default without putting to much thought into it. For experienced program managers it is imperative that they provide strong facilitation, communication and problem-solving skills instantly. These are a few examples of core skills

Ambiguity – In one of my other posts, I wrote that ambiguity is the silent killer of any initiative. A high level of ambiguity can be an indication that the level of trust amongst the business partners who participate in the program, is not where it needs to be in order to deliver on time, scope and budget. An experienced program manager is on top of this and avoids the program to enter into a ‘stuck-in-the-middle’ situation

Bas de Baat

 

5 things elite coaches do with top talent

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Destiny is not a matter of chance, but of choice. Not something to wish for, but to attain — William Jennings Bryan

I enjoy every moment that I can work with top talent, because I like to see people develop their capabilities and improve their performance over and over again. On the contrary, it can upset me when I see people with potential wasting their time and resources on unimportant or irrelevant activities.

Every single human being has a natural aptitude or skill that can make them a top talent. Some of us have more than one talent. The trick is to find it. That takes time, effort and dedication. We all have our dreams about who we want to be and what we want to achieve. A junior consultant who wants to become a managing partner in a consulting firm. A basketball player who wants to be a point guard in an NBA team. Or a model who has the ambition to become a Victoria Secret’s Angel. We all have our dreams.

It is not a given that your dream is aligned with your talent. When you follow your dream the experiences you face will tell you whether you have an innate talent for it or not, and more importantly, if you are passionate about it. Potential will only surface and morph into talent, when your heart beats faster when you think about it and truly commit. It will be those actions where time flies by without you noticing it, because you enjoy doing it so much. If that’s not the case, the experience is telling you that you still have not found what you are looking for. In that case, don’t give up, just keep exploring.

Dreams oftentimes don’t materialize, because the person either does not have the skills or if they do, lacks the willpower to persevere and to make things happen. If they do manifest their dream, many of them start cruising and ignore the fact that you have to sustain what you have achieved by continual investments. Having potential is one thing, bringing it to fruition and keeping it up is another. It never stops.

Top talented professionals have a coach who helps them grow. In the early nineties, Sir John Whitmore wrote the book ‘Coaching for Performance’ that overtime became a standard in the field of coaching. The core concept of the book is the GROW model. It is about goal-setting and problem-solving.

You start with the future state in mind and set your Goals. The next step is to get a deep understanding of where you are now or in other words becoming aware of the Reality of the day. The third step is to understand the context and the path to the end state. You do that by defining a number of Options. The last step is about developing an action oriented plan that gets you to where you want to be. In the model it is called the Way forward. Four simple steps that can be very effective and help you to develop your potential.

The GROW model is a great instrument for the top talent and coach to draw a baseline. It is a very helpful steppingstone to start building a successful career path. However it is not enough. A valuable coach who can really unlock and extend talent is able to push you forward repeatedly by applying specific and meaningful tactics.

What will an elite coach do with top talent?

Keeping you off balance – A top talent who is locked up in his or her comfort zone may be able to grow with small steps, but that is not enough in an increasingly competitive and volatile environment. An elite coach will keep you off and on balance. It is an intermittent process such as a flash light. The coach will expose you to new experiences, makes you feel comfortable, and push you forward again just when you hit the right level. It is the coach who knows what that level is based on his knowledge and experience of the profession. Think about a tightrope dancer who always needs to be in balance to get to the other side. His coach may extend the rope, lift the rope, takeaway the balance pole or introduce external conditions like wind, noise or light.

Helping you to focus when to perform – For top talent to perform in the moment, one of the most important factors is focus. Any kind of distraction can be a game changer. This is oftentimes more a mental process than the actual practice itself. Most professional soccer players know how to shoot a penalty kick. When you watch how they do that on a training, you will be amazed how creative they are and how easy they score. But in the game it is different. The thousands of spectators who raise the energy level, the importance of the goal for the team and numerous other external factors, determine success. A focused player knows how to deal with such a situation. Many of them follow a special routine that works for them. The role of the elite coach is to work with the top talent on improving the mental process and on routines that are effective.

Guiding you when dealing with pressure – When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. You can be the most talented professional, but if you cannot deal with pressure, you will never make it to the top. Pressure is an external force and has nothing to do with factors that you can influence. You cannot change the way spectators behave during a game. You cannot change the type of questions customers ask when you give that final presentation that makes or breaks a deal. Elite coaches prepare you for these situations by giving you guidance. There are a few tactics to deal with pressure. One of them is to stay aware of the bigger picture by putting things in perspective. That one moment may count, but there is always the next one. As long as you believe and learn, you will improve and nail it the next time. Another tactic is to visualize ahead of the event what pressure moments you can encounter and strategize a response. If possible, you can practice it so you are ready for it when it comes.

Assisting with sharpening your goals – No goals, no guts, no glory. It’s that simple. Top talented professionals know exactly what they want and have some idea how to get there. The elite coach helps you to sharpen your goals by asking the right questions that force you to dig deep. Your goals need to become more precise overtime. The coach can help you build a hierarchy of goals that you need to achieve to ultimately materialize your dream. Think-Change-Achieve is a mantra that I am using all the time. The think step is about defining your goals. It is also about creating awareness of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as key environmental conditions. To ultimately achieve your goals, you have got to change. That’s where your elite coach steps in to help you. The coach will create development plans that are tailored to your needs. He will put the plan in motion and keeps a close eye on your progress. He will make adjustments to your plan as required. But foremost he will continuously push you to the edge on every single step to make you better.

Helping you by removing obstacles – There will be much more obstacles on the path to victory than the top talent ever expected. Although the majority of them can be planned and prepared for, it will be the ones that came out of nowhere that have the largest impact. In such a situation, the elite coach can help you dealing with the setback and with carving out a recovery plan. The coach can bring a number of instant resolutions that he may have applied before with other talent. It’s one of those moments where the experience from a seasoned expert like a coach, has the most value for a top talent to keep going strong.

Coaching top talent is one of the most rewarding activities if you want to share knowledge and experience with professionals who are ‘hungry’ to go to the next level and the next. There are a number of books about coaching that I have enjoyed reading over the last years and can recommend if you want to get more acquainted with coaching.

The Willpower Instinct from Kelly McGonigal

Performing Under Pressure from Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry

Relentless from Tim S. Grover

Unlocking Potential from Michael K. Simpson

The Talent Code from Daniel Coyle

In each of these books there is a recurring theme that speaks about the ultimate force behind every top talent, no matter what discipline, no matter what potential, no matter what background or where you are on earth. It is that fire in your belly that makes you so incredibly happy when you do a particular activity that keeps you going. It is an intense energy to succeed in becoming the best in what you like the most. When you have experienced that unique moment, you are on the right path and have opened the door to become a world-class talent.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager and Coach

Why business transformation programs fail

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The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance – Nathaniel Branden

Sometimes people ask me why business transformation programs fail. Many of them have searched the web, found the famous top 10 list and also a number of measures how to avoid them. What many people don’t realize is that these measures are very tactical. Like if I do this, then that won’t happen. Reality is different these days. Business transformation programs fail because of lack of awareness, trust and structure. Root causes of failures are less related to technology, more to process, and most to people.

The first two factors, awareness and trust, are very difficult to change, because they are directly related to how people within and in close proximity to the program behave. The third reason, structure, is relatively easier to change, because there are tonnes of proven concepts, methods and tools available that can help you. The challenge there is to implement them correctly and stick to it.

Awareness

One of the courses that I followed at University was Information Management. The professor was a fabulous storyteller. He vigorously spoke about technology and sociology. That may seem like a weird combination at first. But if you think about it, technology only works when people adopt it and apply it as intended.

In one of his classes he spoke about awareness and referred to the Thomas Theorem: “If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (W. I. Thomas and D.S Thomas). The theorem and his explanation made such an impression on me that ever since, it jumps up in my mind once in awhile and let me ponder about situations that transpired.

What if the interpretation of the situation is wrong? In that case, the consequences are most likely wrong too. An interpretation is personal, subjective and in reality somebody’s perception of the situation. You cannot change someone’s perception. At best you can influence it and steer it in another direction, and hope that overtime it changes.

Internalize this theorem for a second and apply it to business transformation. If you want to in-still change in an organization and ignite a transition to the future state, the hardest part is to make people aware. If you want to be effective with creating awareness, there are 3 factors you want to look at: communication, relevance and acceptance.

Communication is about clarifying the purpose of the program and motivation. People tend to accept change if they understand the purpose and can relate it to themselves using their own insights, visuals and words. When they understand the value and realize that a step forwards actually means achieving a number of benefits, they’ll make that step. When they have reached the point where they can flawlessly articulate and share the purpose with others, you know you have a successful communication strategy.

The other element is about relevance. In other words: ‘what’s in it for me?’ People can only become aware if they hear about it. But they really pick up on it and are willing to invest time and energy in further exploring the subject, if it has meaning. This is an area where communication in business transformation programs can improve. Communications must be more tailored towards different stakeholder groups. How many times have you seen the same set of slides passing by in meetings with stakeholders who have completely different needs and interests? Wonder why certain people do embrace change and others don’t?

Trust

In one of my posts on www.basdebaat.com I wrote that ‘trust, is the primary driver of success’. The single reason why people are willing to do things together and work towards a common goal, is trust. They are willing to build and strengthen relationships, because they believe there are mutual benefits in doing so.

One of my favourite books is from Stephen M.R Covey and is called ‘The Speed of Trust’.  Covey says that trust means confidence, and the opposite of trust, or distrust, is called suspicion.  In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.

Business transformation programs with low-trust relationships between key stakeholders have a high risk of failure. When trust is low, programs tend to delay on schedule, under-deliver on scope and overrun on budgets. It is important when business partners are being selected, teams are being assembled and meeting structures are being defined, to gauge the level of trust and make corrections when deemed necessary. This is an accountability of the executive sponsor. It makes sense to periodically conduct a ‘trust assessment’ of the critical relationships and make conscious investments.

High-trust relationships demonstrate effective collaboration and consistent performance. People are going the extra mile, because they are intrinsically motivated. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, introduced a performing model that can be very helpful with building and developing project teams. I oftentimes introduce the forming-stroming-norming-performing model at the start of a program and revisit it along the way, because team dynamics change all the time. The model helps people explain and understand why certain behaviours happen and how they can best respond to it. That contributes to better, healthier and more trustworthy relationships.

Structure

Business transformation programs that don’t have a robust planning and scheduling function fail by default. My recommendation is to implement a cascaded model, comprised of plans and schedules at 3 distinct abstract levels. Executives have a strong preference to steer the program based on a GANTT (high level visual timeline from start to finish) with major work streams and milestones. At the program level, the PMO works with the same GANTT, complemented by a MPS – Master Project Schedule that has all the contractual deliverables, key tasks and dependencies. The MPS can be supported by a number of trackers that have detailed schedule information by sub deliverable, for example design documents. The MPS has a firm schedule for a 3 months horizon. At the project team level, leads work with the MPS and TWS – Team Work Schedules that are deliverable oriented and activity based. They follow a 6 weeks rolling window.

Having a plan and schedule does not mean ‘success guaranteed’. A major risk of failure is timely and appropriate decision-making. Decisiveness competency is influenced by a number of factors. One of them is trust, the other ones are quality of available information, level of ambiguity, risk attitude and ability to deal with pressure. It is the responsibility of the program manager to understand what the critical decisions are, the timing that decision need to be made, and managing the decision-making factors pro-actively. Part of that responsibility is to escalate decisions up the chain if they are not made or made inappropriately.

Organizations must be resilient and have the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and toughness. Business transformation programs are roller-coasters with high peaks, lows, accelerations and slow-downs. Project and business teams involved in the execution, will encounter the valleys of despair at times and wonder if they can ever get to the finish line and meet expectations. There are a number of remedies to deal with this. For example, increased executive level involvement at peak times to fast-track decisions or remove hurdles like resource constraints. Daily scrum meetings where progress, issues and risks are being discussed with the key players and as a result the bonding helps the team to get through a difficult stage. Or team building exercises where the focus is on techniques that improve overall performance.

Successful business transformation programs focus less on tactical measures to keep them on track, but more on the people factor. They have created effective communication strategies that create the required level of awareness for the different stakeholder groups. They are able to relate to the interest of the group and individual. These programs foster a high-trust culture, resulting in strong, collaborative and productive relationships. They thrive because there is a well-defined structure with plans and schedules, and teams that can deal with pressure, high expectations and tight timelines.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

Find your sources of inspiration

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Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve – Napoleon Hill

If you want to get your creative juices flowing, you want to know what your sources of inspiration are. Whether you want to resolve an issue, respond to a risk, craft a project strategy, you need to be able to tap into the creative zone of your brain. It applies to all non-routine activities that you are facing on a daily basis. Be effective, smart and of real value to your clients by being aware of where your inventiveness is coming from.

The greatest sources of inspiration are stories about work and life experience of other people, and memories you have of achievements that had a lasting impact. Inspirational leadership is based on stories. Think about it for a minute. Inspirational leaders like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Michael Jordan, Johan Cruijff or Hasso Plattner all have great stories to tell about their accomplishments. They entice you because they can vibrantly articulate what they have done, why they relentlessly pursued on that path and how they dealt with obstacles along the way. Many people want to replicate behavior of inspirational leaders and do it slightly better.

People love stories. The best presentations you remember are the ones where the speaker gets your attention right from the start by telling a unique story. The best stories grab your energy and direct it to a better, high motivating level. A formal setting is not needed for storytelling. It can simply come from somebody you are talking to, or from the different kinds of (social) media we have today. It can come from a location that is special to you and where the setting and ambiance is inspiring.

The stories that I remember and like to go back to for inspiration are from people who contributed to my personal growth and performance. They gave me meaningful messages that I instantly knew I would never forget. I also obtained insightful stories from biographies, audio books, magazines, TV or radio programs. Not necessarily from academic literature. Of course there are a number of key concepts and theories that you have memorized for a lifetime, like a SWOT analysis, the five forces of Porter, or Mintzberg’s structuring of organizations. Truth to the matter is that most of what you remember and recall when you need it is from experiences, either your own personal experience or somebody else’s.

It is key to have a broad interest in topics, also outside your field of expertise, outside your comfort zone. By expanding your horizon, you are able to expose yourself to information that you have never imagined and which can be very helpful for completing a task you have been struggling with for quite awhile. As an example, one of the areas that I have been exploring the last year is artificial intelligence and its impact on professional services. It is a fascinating topic that is rapidly evolving and one day will impact all of us to some degree. A development that is very interesting to follow is what IBM is doing with Watson.

Sources of inspiration can be ‘real-time’ or from past experiences. When I was 15 years old I started working for a grocery store in a small city, north of Amsterdam, who was well known in the area for their fresh produce. It was a family owned business with a long tradition of serving top-notch products to a very loyal group of customers. The owner and his two sons ran the business. Each son had his own store. The owner was in his late seventies when I met him. He was a great storyteller. I remember the days that he asked me to work with him in the warehouse. It was a very old building not far from the office where my father worked. Together we prepared the fresh produce for the store. We would load a silo full of potatoes and unload it by filling 5 kilogram bags for example. That activity could easily be for half a day. While doing that, he told stories about the Second World War and what he and his friends did to hinder the Germans. Or how he helped local people survive by handing out food. He spoke about the evolution in transportation, and that the distribution of fresh produce was now so much easier with the use of trucks. Small vessels did when he was young most of the transportation from Amsterdam. With him telling stories, they days went by fast. When we were done with bagging the potatoes, we would switch to sorting all the different kind of bottles that the customers returned to the store. Crates and crates full of bottles, sorting a getting them ready for return transport. I did not mind doing the work, as long as he kept telling stories. What I have learned from this period in my life was to always deliver quality output, even when the work is repetitive. But also to respect the quality of life we have today, as well as the freedom and security. He taught me what it means to persevere, especially by explaining what it meant for him to stay alive during the cold winter of 1944-45 of the Second World War.

Locations you visit on a regular basis can become a source of inspiration as well. There is an island in the Caribbean that I visit quite often with my family. The entire experience from arrival to departure completely renews, replenishes and reenergizes me. Whether it is going to the white sand beaches, listen to live music, nice dinners or get togethers with friends, all of them or very inspiring. One day I met the founder of a Brazilian company that manufactures, installs and services ATM machines, entrance technology and ticketing systems around the world. He was in his eighties and had passed on the business to his sons. He was still involved as an advisor. I had long talks with him about his life and work. He told me that he worked in many different places and companies in Europe and North and South America. Engineering was his trade and he made a number of major inventions. Through this storytelling he handed a number of lessons:

  1. Be the dominant leader player in your industry – Be so damn good in whatever you are doing, such that you always attract business
  2. Know the key players and work with business partners – To be successful you have to collaborate with other stakeholders in the market segments where you operate.
  3. Know your clients – The most important stakeholder is your client and you better understand their needs and challenges they have to overcome
  4. Have lots of cash, cash is King – You will be facing difficult times whatever you do and you need a cushion to keep going
  5. Be fit – No matter how busy you are, find time to maintain your health through exercise and clean diet.

Despite his age, he swam a few kilometres in the ocean every day. He would park his car, warm up his muscles, put on his goggles, watch the tide, decide what direction to swim, swim and walk back. During the swim he would oftentimes get ideas that he would share with his sons, the new leaders of the company that he founded.

Another source of inspiration for me are performances from business leaders who really made a difference and changed the world we live in today. Steve Jobs is an example of such a leader. His commencement speech at Stanford University says it all. The advice he gave to the students has made a huge impact on me and many others who I know admire him as well: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”.

In the 1989, Stephen Covey published his bestseller ‘the 7 habits of highly effective people’. I remember that many people around me in the workplace read the book and mentioned that it  changed their attitude towards work and life. The 7 habits transformed the way they work and interact with other people. The book became of standard and many companies included it in their management development programs. Overtime, it became a source of inspiration for many successful leaders. His book also inspired his own son Stephen M Covey to write the bestseller ‘the Speed of Trust’. One of the key lessons that comes to mind frequently when I lead technology-driven change programs, is that when trust goes down, speed goes down and cost goes up. Stephen came up with this equation to clarify a simple dynamic that can make or break any initiative, and that is that ‘trust in relationships is the main driver of success’.

You can make it a habit to get to your sources of inspiration. Most of those habits require a moment of silence or time for yourself. It could be a walk in the forrest, or some form of meditation, an outdoor run, an intensive workout or any kind of activity where you are detached from the day-to-day routine. Try to find what that habit is for you and seek your sources of inspiration.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

Collaborative willpower drives organizational change

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If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself – Henry Ford

Technology-driven change projects succeed when senior leaders demonstrate collaborative willpower. Many organizations lack this group dynamic and as a consequence deliver sub-optimized results.

What does willpower mean? Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, and author of the book ‘The Willpower Instinct’, describes it as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to. Self-awareness, control and discipline are fundamental behavioural traits that come with willpower.

While I listened to McGonigal’s audio book on my way to work, I wondered how collaborative willpower can work in projects. Here are 5 thoughts to came to my mind.

  1. Craft a shared vision, set compelling goals and stick to it – Although it’s obvious that one of the first steps is to set the project direction, it is oftentimes a stride to get and keep all the key stakeholders on the same page, aligned and committed. Continuity of vision throughout the project lifecycle is imperative. What I mean with that is that on one side the interest and buy in of the stakeholders into the vision is continuously managed, and on the other side the vision is further dissected into bite size, meaningful deliverables that add business value and manifest change. The willpower is reflected by strong bonding among the senior leaders, a coalition strength and a unanimous voice to the organization about where the journey is going
  1. Manage expectations at all levels – Large scale, enterprise-wide transformation initiatives have an impact on everybody to some degree. The impact is different in ‘substance’ and also in ‘order-of-magnitude’. Communications and management of expectations need to be tailored to specific stakeholder groups and individuals. Senior leaders play a key role in explaining what tomorrow’s world looks like and what that means to the people they are leading. They have a mixed bag of unified messages that apply to everybody and specific messages for individuals. For both it is important to find the common ground between the interest of the organization and the interest of the group or individual. Once people understand ‘what’s in it for me’ and concur, the senior leader has made a huge step forward
  1. Execute a realistic plan – True collaborative willpower results in a plan that is supported and actioned by the senior leaders without doubt, argue or resistance. They embrace it and deliver. They sync up with each other and adjust.  And they rally their teams to make things happen and celebrate. A realistic plan means that milestones, deliverables and key tasks are clearly articulated and achievable without ‘over stretching’ the team. Senior leaders are aware of what is important and what tasks take precedence over others. They are able to deal with competing priorities by thinking and acting ahead of time, especially when there is a concurrent performance peak on the project and business side that impact the same group of people. Senior leaders with willpower take ownership, they focus themselves and their team on the important tasks and persevere
  1. Establish cross-functional integration –  Many organizations still have functional oriented structures and cultivate vertical, silo-ed behaviour. They struggle with transformation and can at best deliver sub-optimized results, because their interest to ‘reinvent the legacy’ prevails over making a real shift. In today’s global economy, the trend is to transition to organizational models that are nimble, process oriented and cross-functionally integrated. Senior leaders with collaborative willpower perceive a transition from vertical to horizontal as a trend reversal. They realize that they have the opportunity to undertake a make over, and can make a ‘once in a lifetime’ change.
  1. Manage organizational change  – The project team is designing business processes, building and testing the new and soon to be deployed technology, and preparing the organization for go live by conducting end-user training.  At certain points in time the project conducts change impact assessments and drafts change plans to be implemented. All of these activities are a ‘must have’ to set the project and organization up for success. But truth to the matter is that the ‘driving engine’ of organizational change is the collaborative willpower of the senior leaders. That has to be fully recognized and adopted right from the start. Regardless of what the project delivers, senior leaders can make or break the outcome, determine adoption, and realize business benefits. Through tight collaboration, senior leaders stay the course, synchronize intentions and orchestrate their teams to manifest change

Winning organizations have senior leaders with collaborative willpower. They work towards the same set of goals in a transparent manner. They unlock and extend potential, motivate their project and functional teams and operate different than their peers in the marketplace. They thrive on a shared set of values and beliefs and are wary of single minded actions and outcomes that do not benefit the overall performance of the organization.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

10 things smart program managers do

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Change your thoughts and you change your world – Norman Vincent Peale

Do you sometimes wonder how super-achievers outperform others? And perhaps why it is that these rare human beings are always ‘on their game’ and exceed expectations? For 20+ years I have been observing senior leaders who run enterprise-wide technology-driven-change programs and noticed 10 remarkable things they do. It is important to know that over the years they have made a habit of doing these things. For them it has become an automaticity. Here is what these smart program managers do:

  1. Understand the business context– As one of the first things, smart program managers do an exhaustive read about the company and the industry it is operating in, with a focus on the corporate strategy, product and service portfolio, key markets and customers. The first weeks into a new engagement they seek to understand more than anything else. They engage with people to get a good sense of what’s really going on and go deep on aspects that may have a high impact on the success rate of the program. Even the most industry experienced program managers go through this step as they believe that good preparation is half the work and rules out any coincidence
  1. Nail down the scope of work– Smart program managers are keen on managing a realistic scope. They work closely with the parties involved and ‘squeeze out’ the ambiguity in the scope definition that ends up in contractual documents, project plans and schedules. With the understanding of the business context, they know how to prioritize the scope of work. That is not only important for planning and scheduling, but also for building a strong team that has the right skill mix. Of course they want to have a strong team across the board, but especially for those scope items that are business critical. Throughout the project life-cycle they relate almost everything that happens back to the scope. What is the impact? Can we still make it happen or do we need to adjust to stay the course?
  1. Create awareness– Strong and consistent team performance is based on awareness, potential, motivation and focus. Smart program managers ‘build in’ a level of consciousness in the team such that each member is knowledgeable of what is happening, why it is happening and what the impact is to the project and business. The cause and effect mechanism is one of instruments they use in a team or individual meeting to create awareness. They may for example walk a team through a particular delivery step in its finest detail (e.g. testing) and point them to aspects that can influence the outcome. With that, the team is made aware of what they have to look at during execution, and more importantly how they can self-correct
  1. Visualize the future state – Pointing the team in the right direction by providing clarity of what the future state looks like is crucial. Smart program managers know this and therefore spend a lot of time on opportunity definition, envisioning, and setting goals and objectives. They have a ‘continuity of vision’ embedded in the approach and with that they ensure that the future state becomes more and more clear as the team goes from business requirements to design to build and ultimately deployment. Oftentimes they lean towards using a lot of visuals to clarify where the team is headed. They are keen on tightly knitting the building blocks of the future state to the scope of work to make sure that what’s being delivered brings the imaginary thoughts to life
  1. Commit and align key stakeholders – Immediately from the start, smart program managers begin to maintain relationships with key stakeholders that can significantly influence program success. The intention is to make the relationship a two-way-street where information about the program flows to the business and the other way around. With the understanding of the business context, the scope of work and future end state, the program manager helps to build the commitment and alignment by connecting the corporate strategy and business needs to the outcome of the program. They also make sure that the right stakeholders are identified and keep a close eye on stakeholders who have a minimum interest in the program, but ask for maximum attention
  1. Drive change – With their helicopter view, smart program managers have a good sense of what is going on where and when. With that skill they play a key role in business transformation by articulating what the program delivers, what the organizational and people impact is, and how that can be best addressed. They continuously keep reminding the team and key stakeholders of why they are going through this journey of change. They are strong motivators and one of the things they do is making things real by relating the outcome to what a day in the future looks like for an individual or group with a similar background
  1. Keep it simple– Smart program managers embrace simplicity and apply that to everything they do. They realize that the business context can be quite volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, and that adding more value to these factors make things worse and can derail the program. It comes down to keeping project management processes, procedures and the application of methods and tools practical by only implementing and using those aspects that make common sense and add value
  1. Make things happen– The drive to think, change and achieve is immense and is the sole reason why smart program managers love to do what they do. Once things start to add up and the confidence grows that the program can actually be delivered, they put their teeth in it and take it to the next level. They are putting the pieces together and shape a plan to get to the future state. At the same time or shortly after they create alternative plans in case a course correction is needed. If they have doubts about the program when it is initiated, they will put a reality stamp on it by pointing to the areas where it falls short and giving recommendations how it can be resolved
  1. Care about people– It is not technology, not process, but people who ultimately drive the success of the program. Smart program managers realize that and make care of people their number one priority. They set their team up for success by arranging relevant learning events, managing expectations and clarifying what the program is about, where the pain-points are and how they can be addressed. Oftentimes they take on a coaching role and help top talent identify, unlock and extend their potential in a way that benefits the person and the program
  1. Sense and respond– Smart program managers are focused on the target and they have a good sense when certain events start to derail the program. Their intention is to prevent that from happening and therefore they have corrective actions readily available for execution whenever it is needed. They have their eyes on the ball all the time and know where it needs to go before it is handed to them. Relevant information is coming to them from many different sources, not solely from status reports but from people who they have build a strong relationship with from the start of the program

All these 10 things are not just action items that can be checked off a list. They have all become an integral part of the day-to-day behavior of the smart program manager and are instantly executed when its needed. Only the smart program manager knows when.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

 

Articles published on CIO.com

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Since the summer of 2015 CIO.com is publishing my articles!

The articles are about program management, business transformation and coaching of business leaders and top talent.

Here is a summary list:

5 things elite coaches do with top talent

10 things smart program managers do

Collaborative willpower drives organizational change

Find your sources of inspiration

The ABC’s of program management

Why business transformation programs fail

 

5 big steps to a successful project launch…

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“Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject” – Thomas Mann

Most of the time, people, teams and organizations get very excited when they are working on project initiatives that have huge potential in terms of people, process and technology change at the enterprise level. They are spending a lot of time talking about the intended outcome, what it takes to make it happen, and the associated risks. But when they start putting it in motion, they realize it isn’t such an easy task.

What are the 5 big steps of a successful project launch?

  1. Leadership alignment and deep understanding of the future state that goes further than a vision – implementing change at the enterprise level can be quite a challenge, even when there is leadership alignment on the key aspects and success drivers of the program. Before you kick off the initiative and enter into the design phase, you must have a common understanding across the leadership team of the major pain points by business process as well as a direction as to how you prefer to have them solved. Think for example about a set of design principles and leading practices that you may have experienced at other organizations within or outside your own industry. It is the next level down in shaping the future end state that goes beyond a vision statement. It is the extra definition of the ‘WHAT’ that is critical to engage and resonate at the same level with internal and external subject matter experts
  1. Powerful, broad and deep communication of the purpose to all stakeholders – this is about the ability to communicate the intentions of the program with different abstract levels to different audiences. There is a rule of thumb that says communications about vision, purpose, future state or solution direction can be best captured in 3 – 5 key messages. The level of detail can vary depending on the audience, but it always comes back to a limited set of essential statements. Oftentimes they are based on a combination of words and visuals and they are widely distributed across the enterprise, such that a broad audience is reached. This kind of messaging is not a one-time event, but more a continuous, well-paced information flow to keep stakeholders informed and engaged
  1. Assignment of qualified and dedicated resources on a full-time basis – any enterprise-wide solution these days, is a combination of people, process and technology change. Within this triangle, technology is the dominant change driver or enabler, but the real transformation comes from the organization’s ability to make changes on the people and process side. To make that happen, organizations must assign qualified and dedicated resources to the team with creative delivery capabilities. In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that qualified people are humble, hungry and intelligent (cognitive and social). They are dedicated when they are able to identify and connect their personal ambitions with the program objectives, and understand the positive spin-off, symbiotic interdependence and growth potential. Organizations can play a key role in that process by taking on a coaching role
  1. Investment in the delivery capability such that the team becomes unstoppable – in his book ‘Relentless’ (2014), Tim Grover, the trainer of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade and dozens more, writes about what it takes to become unstoppable. He breaks it down as follow: “you keep going when everyone else is giving up, you thrive under pressure, you never let your emotions make you weak.” Planning, executing and successful delivering enterprise-wide, technology enabled business transformation initiatives is comparable to playing in a premier sports league. The mentality is the same. Think NBA, NHL, NFL, Champions League soccer. The organization is aiming for something unique, something new, and something better. Oftentimes a new platform that supports sustainable growth strategies in combination with significant operational improvements and better business intelligence. To reach those objectives, the delivery capability of the team must be world-class. A continuous investment in skills development, as well as incremental improvements in the delivery process, procedures, methods and tools (lessons-learned, kaizen) will eventually get you there
  1. Progressive, elaborative plan and schedule that everybody lives and breathes – there are two ‘dynamics’ that come with a good plan and schedule. First of all the understanding that the planning process is a repetitive undertaking and more important than the outcome itself. Plans have different abstract levels at the executive, project and team level, as well as different horizons. An executive plan has a view across the entire project lifecycle and has a representation of the key work streams and associated milestones. The same applies to the project plan, with the caveat that it contains at a minimum all the known deliverables and key tasks from the scope statement, and a realistic schedule with detail for a 3 months rolling window. Team plans are different in nature. They are much more activity driven, still geared towards to completion of deliverables and milestones though, but with a 4 – 6 weeks detailed schedule that clearly articulates what needs to get done when and by whom (week by day view). Second of all it is crucial to broadly communicate the plan to all project stakeholders, as well as the progress made along the way. Status is being reported in different ways for each of the 3 levels and communicated on a high frequency basis, such that everybody knows where the project stands, and what’s next to come and being expected. Plans succeed when there is a robust process and regular communications

 

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

How would Gordon Ramsay keep a SAP project on time, budget and quality?

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“The minute you start compromising for the sake of massaging somebody’s ego, that’s it, game over” – Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay is a Scottish born British chef and restaurateur, and his restaurants have been awarded 15 Michelin stars. He is a world-class performer and knows how to cook an excellent meal with the ingredients and resources that are available to him. Gordon is well known by a broad audience through his TV shows. In his latest TV program he guides a number of top talented chefs through an ‘obstacle cooking race’ and ultimately awards the winner with the title ‘Master Chef’.

When I thought about how you keep a SAP project on time, budget and quality, what came to mind is that doing SAP projects is similar to running an ‘obstacle race’. In order to pass all the obstacles you, like Ramsay, need to be fully aware of the quality of the available ingredients and resources. With ingredients I mean things like: standards, leading practices, software functionality, hardware, infrastructure, processes, data, policies, procedures, regulations, performance indicators, etc, and for resources think about: people, vendors, thought leaders, dollars, facilities, methods, tools, etc.

Once you are aware of your capability to deliver, the next steps are to explore the course of the race and its potential obstacles, and to continuously update your plans. This is an iterative process throughout the project lifecycle. Be mindful of the fact that although an obstacle may look familiar to you, it can behave very different. So what has worked for you in the past, may not work this time. Be creative and fully leverage the insights from your team. Examples of obstacles that you may encounter are: poor requirements definition, misalignment of key stakeholders, silo-ed behavior of teams, unqualified people in key positions, poor data integrity, severe software defects, poor testing, indecisiveness of the key decision makers, weak support organization, inadequate organizational change management, insufficient communications, unplanned work, scope changes, resource conflicts, lower than average vendor performance, etc.

Now let’s go into more detail on some of the obstacles and determine actions that you can take:

  • Requirements: when organizations struggle with defining business and technical requirements, there oftentimes isn’t a coherent vision that is well articulated, communicated and shared. Fragments of the ’to-be state’ are lingering and waiting for qualified individuals to take on to put more detail and definition to it, such that they can ultimately be glued together in a high level solution architecture that can function as a reference model for requirements definition. Organizations who initiate a SAP project, must have qualified resources available that deeply understand SAP, for example solution architects. They are responsible for solution management from start to finish, from requirement to implementation
  • Silo-ed behavior: with the implementation of SAP, due to it is integrative nature; organizations are forced to shift from vertical to horizontal behavior as business processes go straight through many functional disciplines. From an organizational change perspective, this is for many organizations a big hurdle to take, especially when activities and transactions shift from one silo to another, for example from finance closer to end users in supply chain processes. The key action is to create the awareness and understanding at all levels in the organizations, and find common ground between the involved functional business teams to work out an effective, practical model
  • Software defects: although you can trust that SAP is thoroughly testing its software, there will always be software defects that require their assistance. Especially when you are implementing fairly new SAP functionality, make sure that you have the right level of attention and support from SAP itself, as there will be cases where the system integrator cannot help you. Get to know the experts

As you can tell, there are many possible obstacles that can derail your SAP project and the potential impact can be very high because of its broad and deep exposure. SAP solutions permeate through the body of the organization and can cause immediate operational disruptions, and it’s on this particular aspect that SAP projects are quite different then other technology projects. It is very important that senior leadership has this kind of awareness in mind at all the times when they initiate, plan and execute SAP projects. Its imperative to start with the end state in mind with a well-articulated vision and roadmap, work all the way backwards to the start of the project, uncover the needs to be successful and identify the possible obstacles that can throw you off-guard. To make that happen, invest in qualified people who have been in the field and know what needs to be done. Or in Gordon Ramsay’s context, identify the ‘Master Chef’ who has proven his ability to cook and can serve you an excellent meal.

Bas de Baat

SAP Program Manager, PMP©