Archive for February, 2014

The Perils

February 24, 2014  |  No Comments

Sun Tzu has an intriguing opinion about wars, when he says:

It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.

It intrigues me as Sun Tzu, himself a teacher of the strategies of the war, he has spoken about the evils of the war.

Gone is the era when the world used to be dominated by the brute force of armies. We live in an era, where the world is conquered by seductive products and services.

ConfusedHowever, Sun Tzu, means that the introduction of new projects, products and services has certain inherent risks. A new product, with a great demand, may also fail for design problems, incorrect pricing strategies and positioning. The new products and services may suffer due to the skill-gap in the organization. The skill-gap may be due to the lack of building skills or it may be due to the fact that new products and services may need new or additional marketing strategies to push the product into the markets.

Therefore the skill assessment of the product must not only include the project development, it should also include the entire life cycle of the product management, including the launch, media relations and maintenance.

However, in case the we find ourselves, amidst a pet project or a death march project, addressing such a scenario using the skill-gap approach is not likely to help. In such a case, as the pressure to deliver mounts, the risk to delivery also increases, therefore, being articulative, persuasive and persistent about communication related to risks, mitigations, contingencies, alternative options may also help.

Moreover, it is here that a project manager must draw on the wisdom of his years of experience.

Strategic Skills

February 21, 2014  |  No Comments

Relaxed ManA project plan alone doesn’t ensure project’s delivery. Its the strategic skill of the project manager that has major contribution in project delivery.

While everyone else may only focus on the tasks and actions, its the strategic skills of the project leadership that drive the team towards the project’s aims and objectives.

It is not enough for a leader to observe and plan based on something that can also be seen and observed by the team.

The leader must be able to see-through the things; communication, body language, data and see the patterns that the data conveys. It is the excellence in such abilities that are needed while leading the projects, as it is the leadership who has to perceive the risks & threats to delivery, exploit opportunities, monitor quality and sense the impacts on the stakeholders’ interests, project’s outcome and the organization.

While discussing Tactical Dispositions, in The Art of War, Sun Tzu observes,To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence“. 

In simple words it means,”To see the victory only when it is within the knowledge of the common people is not highest form of leadership excellence“.

Therefore, in easy-to-act terms,

  • The project leadership drives the project to success.
  • The team carries the project on its shoulders from milestone to milestone until the end.
  • The project leadership defines the milestones.

Delivering Projects

February 19, 2014  |  No Comments

In the third chapter, Attack by Stratagem, Sun Tzu observes;

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

This is a prophetic observation!

Applicable whenever we have to take up something new.

In the modern world of project managers, these words carry the wisdom that:

  • With skills, business knowledge, understanding of the market, skilled people, and understanding of the project needs, a project with any degree of complexity can be delivered.
  • When you have the skills, business knowledge, understanding of the market and skilled people in the team, but do not understand the needs of the project, the project will be a failure.
  • When neither the skills, business knowledge, market understanding, skilled people; nor the project needs are understood, and the project work begins, it leads to the project failure.

Therefore, just like a war is not an act of brute violent force, it is a matter of deep thoughts, deliberation and planning, same is the case with a project that an organization takes up to introduce a product or a service in the marketplace.

Handling information

February 17, 2014  |  No Comments

Sun TzuIn the context of war, the sagacity of employing spies can not be questioned and it still remains a major source of information. In the modern business scenarios, the criticality of the role that information on project delivery can not be denied, however, a project manager is not authorized to use spies for this purpose. However, a project has many sources of information, both formal & informal, colleagues & friends, verbal & written and confidential & public.

About the information sources, and handling the information a project manager may receive, Sun Tzu has said,

Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity.
Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports.

ConfusedWe live in world of information overload and exposure. We must rely on people who possess a certain level of wisdom so that they are able to filter the right information for the benefit of the project. This is a special skill, that can only be developed with experience.

While a project manager may receive critical information from several resources, the subject matter experts and skilled people, without appropriate knowledge, skills and wisdom, he is unable to use it to his advantage.

Though, the matter of The Art of War is not project management, we can clearly see that this wisdom, very clearly applies for today’s generals, the project managers, as well. A project manager can only apply

Risk Responses

February 11, 2014  |  No Comments

On managing the risks, Sun Tzu says…

The highest form of generalship is to thwart the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field, and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

ConfusedA Project Manager hears…

“Develop options and actions to reduce threats to the project objectives and enhance opportunities. As part of planning risk responses, a project manager must identify strategies for positive risks or opportunities as well as strategies for negative risks or threats. It is best is to nullify  the risks either by mitigating them or by converting them into opportunities, though there are other options like using the contingencies, risk transfer, however, the worst options are not to face the risk or trying to mitigate a risk that can neither be mitigated nor be managed using contingencies.”