When trust goes up, speed will also go up and cost will go down – Stephen M.R Covey
Almost all of the reading material that I have seen in my career about what drives a project to success are addressing the technical aspects of project management. They speak about the importance of managing scope, or how earned value management can keep your project cost under control, or how critical it is to maintain a multi-level schedule throughout the project, or the do’s and don’ts of vendor management. They speak about how risk management keeps you on track, or how implementation methodologies like the waterfall or scrum sprint approach deliver value faster. The list goes on and on. But what you hardly read about is what I call the hidden secret to project success and that is TRUST.
I dare to say that over the years we have created a wealth of knowledge and experience about the application of technical project management methods and tools. The last decade, a lot of people qualified and certified themselves as project management professional (for example PMP). Overall, that is and has been a great step forward in getting better in managing business initiatives that drive change. But as always, there is opportunity to do more and to do better. Where in my mind we can significantly improve is on the application of softer leadership skills and the understanding of the mechanics of success drivers that are part of an organizations DNA as trust is. It is quite obvious that you will get the most thriving and performing project team when trust is high.
A few years ago I read the book ‘The Speed of Trust’ written by Stephen M.R. Covey (see www.myspeedoftrust.com). The book intrigued me and opened my eyes on aspects of leadership that can be much more influential on the project outcome than the technical aspects only. Shortly after reading it I had the pleasure to meet Covey in a workshop, where he, by using very interesting and practical examples, clarified the key message of his book: “When trust goes up, speed will also go up and cost will go down.”
What Covey says is that simply put, trust means confidence, and the opposite of trust, or distrust, is called suspicion. Covey gives an example for communication, which we all know is a critical success factor in any organization: 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.
He also speaks about the economic aspect of trust by saying that trust always affects two outcomes: speed and cost. When trust goes down, speed goes down and cost goes up. When trust goes up, speed goes up and cost goes down. He mentions that a movement in trust can either be a tax or a dividend. By demonstrating trustworthy behaviour, people, teams and organizations, earn dividend and put that in a ‘trust bank account’. In the opposite case when trust goes down, one gets taxed resulting in a draw from the account. Covey basically says that whether trust is high or low, it is a hidden driver of organizational success:
Strategy x Execution = Succes
(Strategy x Execution) x Trust = Success
A company can have an excellent strategy and a strong ability to execute; but the net result can be torpedoed by a low-trust tax or multiplied by a high-trust dividend.
For more details about the the importance of trust and how you can influence that, I happily refer to Covey’s book.
How do you recognize low-trust affecting your project?
First thing is that you need to be aware of the trust levels in your project environment. When you are aware of it, you are able to influence and potentially change it with help from executive leadership. Recognize that trust is part of relationships at individual, team, organizational and vendor level.
Second thing is that you want to observe a number of dynamics:
- Silo-ed behaviour of individuals, teams, departments or between client and vendor teams, is often a good indicator of a low trust culture. The impact is that the execution of tasks take more time than planned, causing schedule changes and budget overruns. It can go as far as deliverables not being delivered at all, or delivered but not with the expected quality and therefore not providing the business value. You can see the ripple effect there. As project manager, you want to continuously report on aspects that impact trust to the executive leadership. Start with doing that verbally with examples and solutions. If there is limited change over time, follow the escalation path to the executive sponsor. Keep bringing it up. Aside from the reporting part, do everything you can to influence the trust factor yourself. That often applies first to individuals in your project team as well as the vendor
- Ineffective decision making is one of the major, perhaps the biggest counter productive habits of project, client and vendor leadership. Among other aspects (getting people together, prepare documentation, set priority, etc) that can fairly easily be fixed, a low trust culture is the root cause of it. It is very tricky for project managers to get the right decision made at the right time with the right audience, such that once a decision has been made, it won’t circle back another time and come up as a surprise. As practical project manager you want to be very clear, crisp and concise in the decisions that must be made in order to hit your timelines. Direct communication must be a key aspect of your leadership style. What I mean is that you are able to clarify what the decision is about and what the impact is to the project and business if it is not made on-time. Report the status of the key decision to the executive leadership on a weekly basis by maintaing a log. Leverage your informal network to influence the decision making as required
- When ineffective communication is happening while all the means are available, it is a clear indication of a trust issue. How many times have you walked out of a meeting room where hindsight you had a completely different understanding of the outcome than the other party? A practical measure to deal with in this situation is to document the meeting real-time with all participants present. Every time you document an action item, issue, risk or decision make sure you do that in front of the participants. You can do that by projecting the document on the wall such that all participants can see what you write and document, and/or by sharing your desktop if there are participants remote available.
These 3 items are project trust indicators that you want to be aware of all the time. Items 2 and 3 are easier to deal with and have practical measures that you can immediately apply. The other item is much harder to influence and change at it often sits deep in the footprint and DNA of the organization. You definitely need executive leadership support there to install an organizational change.
I want to reiterate that it is key for a practical project manager to be aware of the impact of trust on your project. It can impact any aspect, for example: scope, schedule, budget, risk and issue management, decision making, communication, team performance, vendor performance, sustainment, etc. so be on top of it from day one.
Trust is like water, it creeps into every corner and if you don’t manage it well, it can be destructive. If you do manage it well, it can bloom your organization, project, team members, performance and output. Trust is a key differentiator in the market place.
I hope you are appreciating my posts. Feel free to comment as I do want to understand what can be improved, or what you want me to write about.
Bas de Baat
Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©