Panic, mayhem, and anarchy are three of many terms that are often associated with Project Management. Some corporations seem to perpetrate these traits as a statement of leading edge, customer responsive working environment accolades. I have even seen job posting referring to these as adjective descriptive words in the running list of candidate qualifications. What this says to me is that panic is the expected mode of operation, and that the Project Manager (PM) role is to primarily orchestrate and repackage this bundle of negative energy into something useful.
I have titled this article as Agile Project Management because this workflow framework is often thought to be a best fit to such a workplace that operates in a panic regime. I see Agile framework as more of a remedy to panic as opposed to being co-aligned to a development environment that is fueled by negative energy. Waterfall framework managed projects are also afflicted with panic, and are likewise expected to incorporate the panic de jour with minimal (actually zero) impact on cost and delivery. The point is that chosen framework is not the issue when dealing with panic. Panic is an individual and organizational behavioral phenomenon that must be well understood and effectively managed in order to be successful as a PM.
The term Agile Project Management is much more than a framework and methodology associated with the logical structuring of a backlog of tasks into sprints tracked by metrics indicating progress. The agility that a PM must possess are largely acquired soft skills to understand and eventually master individual and organizational psychology to calm and ultimately proactively manage panic. The starting point is to realize and embrace the knowledge that reality is a physical manifestation of what an individual believes. If the PM believes and more importantly dwells on panic, then panic, mayhem, and anarchy will certainly be their reality as this will very efficiently and effectively manifest. From an organizational standpoint, this will spread like a viral agent affecting almost all that it touches. A pandemic rapidly develops and can become the normal state of operation. This can become chronic when the corporate mentality re-brands this into a distorted statement of a desirable mode of execution.
Here’s a simple technique that a PM can immediately implement to deal with a panic pandemic. This technique is purported from a technical electronic signal noise management methodology. When dealing with undesirable noise energy infiltrating a signal processor, there are three different management methods to consider:
- Avoid the noise source.
- Develop shielding from the noise source.
- Redirect the noise where it doesn’t harm the signal processor.
Let’s consider, for a moment, that the noise source is a key stakeholder, and the noise is a new or modified feature (i.e. scope creep). Going down the list, we quickly see that option #1 can’t be applied in this case because of the stakeholder’s importance. Option #2 is kind of like a quarantine method which means you (the PM) recognize and value the input, but are going to hold it in the backlog and deal with it later. This may work, but if it happens to be made known to the team, and the team thinks it’s cool, then this technique won’t work very well. Option #3 can be considered in cases where #1 and #2 don’t fit the situation. The “redirection” is a workflow that you have defined to actively develop these kinds of adhoc additions. By doing this you insulate the team from the diversion, and assign specific individuals that are separate from timeline critical workflow tasking. These would be team members who can effectively and confidently operate in this domain.
This is a simple example. The point here is that building some techniques proactively completely change the individual psyche which ultimately projects cool confidence. That’s what we want to spread across the team. The bottom line is that individual behavior management is where it starts. The PM needs to develop masterful skills on self before organizational behavior can be effectively managed.