Under the Surface at the Project team meeting


Another interesting presentation at the EVA21 conference related to behaviours in project meetings and what is behind them. We have all come across project team members exhibiting challenging behaviour and this session explored what may lie behind this. Jack Pinter arranged a demonstration of this in a session with a scenario played by two professional actors where the project manager and project sponsor are having problems in agreeing a joint approach to project issues.

Behaviours are underpinned by thoughts, feelings, values and needs of those involved in the meeting. This is why establishing shared values on a project and returning to these at key decision points is very important.

In the scenarios, this was illustrated in different ways by replaying the scene allowing the participants to voice all their innermost thoughts. This was not a wise idea as the challenging situation had let to a lot of misunderstanding between them and each held the other responsible. Then the scene was replayed with each actor giving full vent to their feelings. If you ever had any fears where this would lead to, they would have been realised in this performance with both participants reverted to screaming toddlers (much to the delight of the audience).

The audience were then asked to identify what values the participants seemed to be acting on. Values such as ‘I must be perfect’ or ‘I must have total control’ were seen to be getting in the way of effective communication. Other values such as ‘no blame’, ‘equality’ and ‘respect’ could be used instead to find a more effective way forward. In the final playing of the scene, the participants in the meeting were asked to voice what ┬átheir needs were in moving forward and also to acknowledge the needs of the other participant. It was seen that even when one of the participants did this, it moved the other away from an intransigent position and allowed a more positive outcome.

There was definitely a lot of food for thought in this presentation. Stepping back from and dealing with challenging stakeholder behaviour requires emotional maturity. Definitely an area and topic that can be explored further with the next generation of project managers and project controls professionals.



Are we out of the woods yet?

Managed woodland and a welcome signpost in Cumbria. Legal framework still applies here!

I wasn’t expecting music at the EVA21 conference this week, but it was there and used very effectively to bring the world of projects to life.

Sarah Shute gave an interesting talk about the importance of legal issues to the project manager. There was an excellent set of clear slides with key points to remember and good advice. However, it Sarah’s was her interpretation of a Taylor Swift song which captured the audience’s attention with Sarah’s on screen lyrics showing how the theme relates to the world of project controls.

Taylor Swift’s song ‘Are we out of the woods yet?’ is about a sense of insecurity experienced during a troubled relationship. It tells the story of incidents in a relationship where the couple get through. After each one, they wonder if they are ‘out of the woods yet’. Will they ever get out of the woods and into a calmer stage of the relationship? It’s not certain. What has brought them ‘into the woods’ is not stated but it is proving very difficult to find a way out.

We all know the feeling of being lost in the woods and searching for a way out. Sarah’s revised the song lyrics to reflect a dialogue between a project manager and the project controller during a project. Evidently some kind of ‘fix’ has been done during the planning to make the schedule ‘fit’ and look good on the surface. However, the schedule is ‘built to fall apart’ and this happens during the project. The project ‘map’ is not accurate and the project ends up ‘in the woods’. The constant dialogue ‘are we out of the woods yet?’, ‘are we in the clear yet?’ reflecting a tense project atmosphere as the project stumble onwards through the issues encountered and reflect on what has led them into this state.

Poor practice or mistakes not spotted during project planning inevitably result in problems with project execution and control. One mistake can lead to another as the project team try to regain control in a very challenging environment.┬áThe main message of Sarah’s presentation was that the project manager’s legal awareness can help keep the project ‘out of the woods’ or help find a way out if the project is already having problems. She listed a range of legal risks which can embroil the project and gave top tips for keeping ‘in the clear’ and avoiding getting into the legal ‘woods’ in the first place.

Project managers can benefit from more training and support on legal issues and should not be afraid to seek advice from others who have more expertise and knowledge of this territory. Well done and thanks Sarah Schutte and credit to Taylor Swift for helping us to get some insight into a difficult topic and enabling lively discussion.




Knights in Shining Armour and the importance of Project Controls

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I just got back from the EVA21 conference in London. A hectic couple of days in the historic setting of the Armourers Hall in London. EVA21 is a conference organised with Steve Wake and is associated with the Project Controls community. For many years, Steve was the Head of the APM Planning and Control Special Interest Group (more on this later).

Firstly, the venue. If you want to steep yourself in English history this is a good place to start. The Armourers are a guild of craftsmen making suits of armour set up in 1322, and given a Royal Charter by Henry VI in 1453. They set up their headquarters near Moorgate in London and have been there since. The building certainly impresses with its historical significance and also the attentiveness and courtesy of its staff. At the bottom of the staircase, a suit of armour announces that I have arrived in the right place. Halfway up the stairs a magnificent silver piece of a knight on horseback. Really quite distracting, especially seeing a member of staff pick it up and take it away for polishing!

The venue is appropriate for a ‘Project Controls’ themed conference with the emphasis of monitoring project value, the Armourers’ motto ‘make all sure’ is displayed on coats of arms throughout the building. This refers to the security of a suit of armour but also could be taken as a metaphor for project controls, ensuring the project is on track by comparing information on actual progress versus planned progress.

In 1703, the Armourers amalgamated with the Brasiers who produced brassware. The guilds were in similar areas of craftsmanship and were stronger together. The motto ‘we are one’ also displayed prominently in the building emphasises the two guilds see their future together and are committed to joint working. A shining example of all being one is when a member joined the guild, they committed to buying a silver spoon. This was engraved with the member’s name and kept in the guild. A priceless collection is now on display, so the guild has left a legacy for future generations in their beautiful craftsmanship and this historic building.

Today, the ‘We are One’ motto could refer to the interdependence between Project Controls and Project Management functions. The Project Manager needs consistent, reliable information on project progress in order to make decisions and obtains this from Project Controls. Project controls needs the Project Manager to interpret the information on progress and make the right decisions to keep the project on track and address any issues. Without effective project management, the project controls function is just an observer. Without an effective project controls function, the project manager is operating in the dark.

The project manager may be compared to the knight. They may be regarded as heroic but they rely on effective use of resources (horse, armour, weaponry) provided by others. Project controls will ensure all the resources are there. They also have to make sure the project has reins and stirrups to accelerate or decelerate progress!

Do all projects and organisations have a Project Controls function? Well yes, they all have this function but for small projects, it may be one of the responsibilities of the project manager, perhaps with an assistant to help gather information. In larger projects, the Project Controls function has evolved to take responsibility for gathering project data, reporting and ensuring its accuracy. In some organisations, Commercial Management may combine with Project Controls be part of a ‘Project Office’ function, procuring the resources needed and managing the contracts. It’s back room stuff but very important. As Napoleon said ‘an army marches on its stomach’. If the army is not fed, there will be no progress.

The Planning and Controls Special Interest Group is the voice of the Project Controls community within the Association for Project Management. It is a very industrious group which has produced a range of impressive publications and guidelines on Project Controls for the APM community. I attended the EVA21 conference because I was interested in becoming more involved in the Special Interest Group on Project Controls. The final photo is me in the impressive Court Room of the Armourers Hall, immediately prior to being elected to the committee. I hope that being involved in the committee, I can help build a bridge between Project Controls and Higher Education. I would also like to see more activity related to project controls in the North West region.

We are one and committee members really need support of members to ensure these aims are translated into effective actions. Your comments and offers of help are welcome!