The Project Mindset
I have been thinking about this topic for many years. Is the Project Mindset real? Is there a culture or a set of habits or behaviours that can define the Project Mindset?
What makes some people more suited to projects than others?
What are the traits to look for when selecting a team for a project that may not necessarily have direct project experience?
What basic knowledge sharing can happen so that the team members are clear on the project culture?
This scenario is becoming more relevant as operational staff in many organizations are increasingly expected to work on projects as they have intimate knowledge of the business processes impacted. Although operational targets are similar – they tend to be repeated so the team know how to achieve and repeat them.
When we look at a project in general and key elements of a project, here are some of the ways in which a Project can differ from an operational environment.
• A Project has a beginning, it is not a pre-existing entity.
• A Project has an End – once the scope is delivered the project will finish.
• A Project is a temporary state – it will not continue for ever. Project teams, Rooms and Ways of Working are temporary.
• A Project is unique – even if the project is being delivered as part of a wider programme – this project is unique to this team, this site and this installation. The same project will not be repeated.
• A Project is general not part of business as usual. Processes, documents, tests systems are needed outside of normal business. Sometimes these need to be created.
Looking at the above features. The First two items, i.e. the Project has a beginning and an end are obvious to most people and need no explanation or introduction.
The other three elements Temporary State, Unique and Not Part of Business as Usual create some of the biggest challenges for Operations or Support teams that are suddenly thrust into projects or find themselves on a project team.
Operations and Support teams are used to routine. Each week looks and feels that same, standard work practices, standard activity and a fixed meeting schedule for each week.
Project activity will vary as the pace changes from Kick off to Specification to Design to Build to Test to Qualification and into the Use phase.
Witch each of these project phases comes a different challenge, a different pace and the ability of the project resources to adjust the pace and change the level and type of activity is critical to the success of the project. This change of routine, pace and activity is what most operations based people can tend to struggle with for the first time they are working on a project.
A Project Manager or engineer with years of experience will instinctively know when to adopt a different pace within a project whereas the operations resources will just become comfortable with a way of working.
When the pace needs to change and changes, some of these resources will adapt and deliver even if they are moving out of their comfort zone. Personally, I have always encouraged people to keep learning and to feel out of that comfort zone from time to time – this experience will promote the growth of the individual.
As project leaders are we best to avoid this or to address this? Is prevention better than cure? i.e. If we know that someone has no project experience should we consider them for business-critical projects at all?
Or should we offer them advice, coaching and support to facilitate the transition from the “non- Project “ to a “Project” way of working. Are people capable of adopting the “Project Mindset”? This is an opportunity for you to develop as a leader by coaching someone into a position of confidence in their new role.
When selecting Operations based resources for projects the above items need to be considered.
Is the person suited to a change of pace, change of activity change of routine? Just asking the person directly may or may not yield the correct answer. You need to do a little research on the individuals as you would when recruiting for any role.
Find out if they have a track record of adopting change into their daily work. How have they responded in the past to new company policies, procedures, processes and systems? How have they responded to pressure situations in the past or to last-minute changes of direction?
You need to do your research when hiring project resources for several reasons but above everything else the biggest constraint is time. As projects generally have a fixed planned duration you may not have the time to take a risk on a resource.
Moving from operations to project based work should be seen as an opportunity to grow as an individual and expand the capability of the person and the organization.
There no hard and fast rules to selecting project resources but I look for the “Project Mindset”. I define this as a set of characteristics that will provide an indication of how a person will respond on a project.
How I summarize this is:
1. The ability to cope positively with change
2. A willingness to dig deep to complete a milestone
3. Does not tend to knee jerk react to every surprise that is encountered on a project
4. The Capability to move roles and/or work multiple roles to get the job done
5. The ability to switch off and chill after a period of high intensity working
6. Must not take any work-related discussions personally
7. Can keep focused on the end goal
8. Believe the end goal is possible
9. Can support the team to deliver the scope at all costs
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?