Eternal Vision

To develop and implement an effective, lasting vision, project managers should remember these points.

First of all, project managers must recognize that a vision is value based whether developed alone or with a group . It reflects what stakeholders consider important at a particular point in time. Often, a vision may have conflicting values that should be addressed during its development and resolved during the project's life cycle. For example, a vision may stress quality while simultaneously seeking to produce results as cheaply as possible. Project managers will often continually find themselves dealing with such circumstances.

Conflicting values in a vision really represent the multiple perspectives of stakeholders who participate in its development. People from a financial organization will stress costs, for example, while those from a technical organization might stress technique. All perspectives are correct and incorrect simultaneously because each one sees their own "piece" of reality. A project manager must be mentally prepared to deal with value-based conflicts and differences.

They must also lay the groundwork for building and sustaining openness and trust when developing a vision. Most stakeholders come with their own motives to participate. These motives are accompanied by emotions like fear, impatience, and intolerance. Project managers must work with all to achieve results. They must exercise good listening, conflict management, and empathic skills. In addition, they must encourage the sharing of information and concerns to overcome or break down the "walls of differences." Failure in this regard will only hinder progress, leading to a lack of consensus that translates into less buy-in and commitment.

Project managers must also recognize that a vision involves many variables to consider. Project managers must be particularly mindful of their influence on the overall quality of a vision and the commitment behind its execution. Variables include a willingness by stakeholders to develop a vision in the first place and their ability to implement it; their perspectives about a project; their overriding beliefs, values, mores, norms; circumstances concerning its implementation, e.g., economic climate; timing of the project; and strategic considerations.

A collaborative approach is clearly important. Since stakeholders will have different reasons to support a project and will likely take different perspectives, project managers should encourage stakeholders to work together. Project managers must identify mutual interests like goals and objectives while simultaneously dealing with emotional ones, requiring good conflict management and negotiation skills. They should also stress this need for stakeholders to exercise the same on the project. Because visions are value based, it becomes even more imperative that everyone exercises these skills. Project managers, by virtue of their position, must exercise them more adroitly since they are the "glue" holding everyone together.

Focusing on requirements for a vision offers many obvious benefits. It can raise the discussions to a higher level by depersonalizing them and generating opportunities to achieve genuine consensus over its contents. Some of the major contents of a vision should include goals and objectives, roles, responsibilities, scope, assumptions, constraints, risks, deliverables, and budget and schedule requirements. By focusing on these elements, there is less chance for negative conflict and greater opportunity for reaching consensus. However, it is easier to deal with any negative conflict early and forthrightly, rather than later when it is impacting progress at a critical point.

Seeking a Win-Win vision naturally follows the last point. Project managers should seek a vision that all parties feel comfortable with. They should feel that the vision serves individual interests as much as possible. It is imperative, therefore, that project managers exercise good principles of negotiation and collaboration so stakeholders, especially key stakeholders, do not feel they have capitulated, compromised, or been dominated into submission, which only results in a lack of buy-in and commitment.

Taking a wide-angle perspective is important for everyone. With a wide-angle perspective, e.g., seeing the big picture, project managers can avoid taking sides or getting involved in petty squabbles. Other stakeholders can "rise above the occasion" and seek mutual interests.

Involving the right stakeholders is very important when developing and executing a vision. Stakeholders are, of course, people or organizations that have an interest in a project. If the right stakeholders are not involved, resistance will assuredly arise, especially if something is very disagreeable with the vision.

By virtue of their position, project managers are the ones who can serve as a bridge to bring all the right stakeholders together to develop a vision. These stakeholders may be internal, such as a project champion or sponsor, or external, such as a customer representative or member of another project dependent on a deliverable from another project. Stakeholders can also be formal, informal, or both. Formal stakeholders are easily identifiable on any organizational chart. Informal stakeholders are those less easily identifiable. These are usually people who "get things done" or brokers who can provide information or insights that are not readily available and frequently do not appear on a formal organizational chart.

Managing relationships among stakeholders is absolutely crucial when developing and executing a vision. Indeed, like cost, schedule, and quality, relationships are often referred to as the fourth constraint of project management. The more complex a project, the greater the constraint in managing them. A high correlation exists between the complexity of a project and the complexity of relationships; project managers must strengthen this correlation in a way that leads to successful results.

When developing the vision, project managers can best manage relationships by assuming partnership and stewardship perspectives. With a partnership perspective, they can identify opportunities to further mutual interests among all stakeholders. With a stewardship perspective, they can lead by persuasion rather than manage through control. To effectively take on both perspectives, however, project managers must encourage interdependence , not independence, among stakeholders so the vision will generate synergy.

Understanding the Tuchman Model for teaming can help give project managers and other stakeholders some understanding about managing relationship patience when developing a vision. According to the model, teaming progresses through four successive phases to various degrees: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. The Forming phase occurs when people assemble for the first time, representing more of a committee rather than a team. The Storming phase occurs when people start to "battle" over turf and details. The Norming phase occurs when members are ready to achieve goals cooperatively. The Performing phase occurs when everyone focuses on goals and is receptive to new ideas. Of course, project managers want all phases to go smoothly. However, that is not possible. Instead, they should concentrate on ensuring that the Forming and Storming phases have progressed as smoothly as possible. It is at these two phases, especially when developing a vision, that project managers should exercise good skills in negotiating, conflict management, effective listening, and collaboration. Failure to apply these skills successfully can result in a vision that lacks buy-in or commitment.

Understanding the context of a project can help. It ties directly to the recognition that building a vision involves many variables. But identifying variables is only one step. The other one is understanding emotions. Project managers must listen for explicit and implicit variables to ascertain their meaning and significance to a project. Explicit variables are, of course, factors like strategy and resource availability. Implicit variables are less obvious, such as political relationships and informal networks. Project managers must not only be able to identify both, but must also determine their significance. Failure to appreciate these variables can add complications later in the project life cycle. Hence, it is wise to heed the advice of Stephen Covey: seek first to understand, then be understood . [5]

Being realistic about the vision can also help. Too often, visions can raise expectations unrealistically only to be dashed later when a project ends. The best way to avoid rising expectations is to recognize what is and is not achievable realistically . If a vision is unrealistic , any effort on a project, however heroic, will likely be perceived a failure.

Scoping, therefore, is very important. An excellent way to ensure that expectations remain under control is to consider Covey's notion of the Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern. The Circle of Concern consists of items on which stakeholders lack any direct influence; the items are so remote that no matter what happens, it is impossible to affect anything. The Circle of Influence, however, consists of items that they can affect, such as the strategic direction of a project. Good scoping via stakeholder participation can help define both circles. Stakeholders then determine what aspects of a project they can influence either directly or indirectly and what aspects of a project they can truly control. This perspective gives stakeholders a sense of being proactive, or responsive , to project requirements. They will be better able to function more effectively, identify obstacles, and determine useful strategies to deal with them.

Seeking buy-in is absolutely essential to realize a vision. This buy-in must go beyond the mere tokenism of nodding heads, but also does not mean complete agreement. What it does mean is having concurrence or consensus. The difference is that agreement encourages blatant acquiescence but not necessarily acceptance, while the latter recognition exists despite reservations and, therefore, proceeds accordingly . Mere compliance does not engender lasting adherence since once the threat of punishment for noncompliance is lifted, people deviate from the vision. With consensus, stakeholders feel that, albeit not perfect, they have consented to support it and the commitment will last longer and require less oversight. Vision becomes essentially the policeman and not a clique of stakeholders trying to control all activities.

Finally, keeping the vision in the forefront of everyone's mind is necessary. Even with extensive buy-in and commitment, the "fog of managing a project" can cause people to lose sight of a vision. Project managers must encourage stakeholders to revisit it constantly during a project. They should also encourage decision making and reinforce commitment by focusing all project activities around it. This approach prevents scope creep and avoids the tendency to concentrate on activities of a lesser priority. Project managers must also continuously communicate the vision, such as placing it on a project wall or on a web site.

[5] Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill, First Things First , Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994, pp. 212 “215.

Leading High Performance Projects
The Photoshop CS2 Speed Clinic: Automating Photoshop to Get Twice the Work Done in Half the Time
ISBN: 193215910X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 169

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