Project self-confidence

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reflecting upon aspects of my ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ style prompted by instances of my inability to perform well – some miscalculations!
I think this has been a useful exercise as I have begun to understand some critical distinctions in the differences of management/leadership roles that are required over time. In particular, I can identify a life cycle (there will be many different ones) that moves from the start-up phase of a project through to maturity and then to the need for a project to re-define itself to keep ‘ahead of the game’. If this ‘reinvention’ does not take place then there is a likelihood that an apparent success will turn into decline and eventual extinction. The avoidance of this requires a project manager/leader to take action. Technological business theorists talk of the S curve when they explain this phenomena (best link I could quickly locate to explain the idea).

The undertaking of a complicated and complex project is a daunting thing for all involved. There are often many areas of uncertainty and the project team will be constantly forced to step outside their comfort zone. I recall Simon Woodruff (the founder of Yo Sushi) as explaining using the image of a person stood in a sand pit with a scratched circle in the sand outside which they must step each day. As they repeat the process the circle grows and is reflected in their confidence and ability to deal with challenge and uncertainty through innovation – thinking outside of the box!

At the outset, there is little choice but to behave as Simon describes. The role of the project manager/leader is less complex as most readily accept the ‘nature of the beast’ is uncertainty, and all that brings with it. Decisions taken tend to be received well as sense of direction is at a premium in terms of holding the community together and allowing progress to be made. This building of some certainty is warmly received by most as over time it results in increasing self-confidence of all involved. This feels good.

As a project ‘beds in’ a collective understanding of how to be successful in that particular way grows and develops. Practice is negotiated, understanding develops, and uncertainty declines. In short, people start to feel good about themselves and what they are doing.

However, according to S curve theory at some point the role of the project manager/leader has to develop to become that of a change agent. This is a tricky act as the old rules no longer apply. Decisions that change the status quo are not necessarily welcome as instead of brining certainty, change is in the ‘here and now’ perceived as threatening. This seems to me to be a perfectly logical reaction to someone ‘ rocking the boat’ as from one set of analysis there is no obvious need to do so.

My points of learning are:

  • as an agent of change as much effort needs to go into exploring with all concerned the fundamental rationale behind the need for change, in this instance the S curve.
  • It is necessary to try and build a consensus, as far as possible, about the decisions that are being made through opening up the decision making process. I have found this very difficult as trying to engage an individual in a future possibility that may or may not affect them appears to be an uphill struggle as it is only in the here and now that we become engaged and involved in what is happening.
  • It is a mistake to assume apparent previous enthusiasms for change and development (risk taking) will continue. When we have self-confidence in ourselves and what we are doing we do not naturally want to be thrust back into an uncertain world, however good it may be for us:^)
  • 3 thoughts on “Project self-confidence

    1. Eve

      You could also look at it as a project that reaches maturity and doesn’t ‘reinvent itself’ has neglected to use the ‘review’ of the ‘plan do review’cycle – a keeping on keeping on as a reiteration of the doing – neglecting review and reflection – a sort of ‘we’ve always done it like that’.

    2. Richard Millwood

      I loved the way the time arrow goes both ways!! Wishful thinking? I wonder, is there any place for boring stability – like the woodlouse or the alligator, which have hardly evolved (as far as I know) since the age of the dinosaur? !

    3. Stephen

      Ha, yes I spotted the time arrow after the event! I am sure that stability has its place, but look what happened to the dinosaurs!

      Yes Eve, I think the ‘plan-do-review’ cycle has a place in what I am suggesting – perhaps a question of the scale of the cycle?


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