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Ever-Increasing Circles

In the last two posts, I’ve explored course corrections, that is, how we use feedback loops in our lives, so that we keep on course, and improve our results.

One of the fundamental problems the western rationalist mind is that it finds it hard to think in non-linear terms. Our thought processes habitually follow the linear, “If I do this, then I will get this, and then I will achieve this” kind of mental narrative. We can find this works, but only in limited contexts.

In the world of engineering, marketing and projects, to name but three fields, we are learning to think more iteratively: to revisit and rework the results. This is more like thinking and moving in circles.

W.E. Deming, the American quality guru who was credited with revolutionising post-war Japanese manufacturing advocated his classic PDCA cycle:

Practising this led to continuous improvement. Manufacturing results improved because of attention to the feedback and improved as a result. In marketing, deliberate A/B testing yields similar results. In projects, we are learning to iterate, improve our estimates and customer satisfaction.

I remember a situation comedy on UK TV a few years ago called “Ever Decreasing Circles.” It had a hapless hero who always found himself in a spiral of frustration.

Circular thinking has had a bad rap. I’d like to reframe circular thinking as “ever increasing circles.” That is to say, that some circular workflows become more and more powerful.

Shall I go over that again?

[reminder]In what ways to you iterate positively in your life? I’d like to hear from you. [/reminder]

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Course Corrections – Part 2

For a period of time, a friend of mine prevailed on me to take up golf. To begin with, it seemed like I was doing random gardening on a long walk. I became very conscious of my muscle movements in a swing, which club to choose, and experimenting with little rituals, like the number of times I looked up at the target spot I was aiming for. I also became aware of two things that could undermine my performance as the game progressed: my inner emotional state after a ridiculously bad shot, and my physical stamina - or lack of it.

For me, golf was like random gardening on a long walk.

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I realised that the inner game of golf was all about self-awareness. What I became acutely focused on was being aware of my muscle movements, grip and so on. If I made a bad shot, I would attempt to adjust and see if I got a better result. I was constantly correcting myself.

In yesterday’s post, we looked at the Apollo 11 mission and how the accuracy of the launch targeting was a delusion; the reality was that they landed within the lunar landing zone by a process of constant correction - a sort of feedback loop.

Then I moved to talking about a more personal kind of feedback loop, the Daily Heads-Up technique that I use for my personal organisation.

At least every week, I review, hone and improve my key workflows.

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Feedback loops can operate at different cycles, such as at:

  • the weekly cycle. I ask myself the questions: What could I do differently this week to get better results than last week? What must I complete this week? What results to I want? I have noticed that these questions at the weekly level help me to work on my workflows. I’m continually reassessing and honing, for example, how I compose and publish articles like this one.
  • the monthly cycle. At this level, there is some overlap with the project cycle. It deals with somewhat more seasonal challenges. We are in the run-up to Christmas now, so my questions are centred a lot around being ready for the family visits, gifts, etc.
  • the annual cycle. I’ve just been through this, reviewing where I want to be by the end of 2017. This has really been an adjustment from positively saying ‘no’ to certain kinds of work, and positively saying ‘yes’ to replenishing events such as vacations, and positively moving towards the kind of work more aligned with my passions and chosen destiny. This is a less obvious, but profound level of course correction.
  • the project cycle. I’m coming to the end of a book publishing project. It’s not quite complete: you can’t find my book on Amazon yet (but you can find it here!!) And I’m about to start an online Leading Yourself programme very soon. Of course, there should be course corrections within the project cycle. Agile is very good at this, Waterfall less so.

In each case the feedback loop provides the opportunity for us to correct our course, to learn, and to get better results.

In the next post, I’ll look at how neglecting the course corrections, the feedback loop can hinder our effectiveness and growth, and why it is so easy to neglect this.

An Unexpected Response to Feedback

My wife bought me a FitBit Blaze for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I love it. I find myself consulting it or the app on my smartphone rather too frequently. If I’m not careful, I will walk into walls reading it!

As with most devices like this, I’m not using its full potential. For example, I’m not yet taking advantage of the power of accountability by sharing my results with others, despite some encouragement from my daughter.

My main focus at the moment is exercise and the number of steps I take each day, particular since injuring my calf muscle recently.

However, what has really taken me by surprise is how the device is tracking my sleep. And now it is tracking my sleep patterns, I find myself sleeping more soundly.

[shareable]I’m getting better quality sleep![/shareable]

I’m not aware of making any changes. I’m just observing myself, tracking the empirical feedback from the device. Yet I am getting better sleep each night.

Why is this? Could it be that self-awareness is key in this matter? I would have thought that if I obsessed too much about my sleep then I would keep myself awake. But tracking myself this way is really reassuring.

[reminder]Has anyone got any ideas?[/reminder]
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Dealing with Difficult People?

Earlier this year I was running a Stakeholder Engagement Workshop in the Netherlands. Towards the end of the workshop, I began to reference one of the most popular, but contentious sections in my book Practical People Engagement about ‘Dealing with Difficult Stakeholders.’ One of the delegates suggested that if I label someone as ‘difficult’ immediately that label creates a barrier between me and them.

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In Praise of Public Servants

Someone once said that life was like learning to play piano in a public concert. I think I know what they mean. We all feel vulnerable when we make mistakes. Nobody likes being seen making a mistake. So we try to do this secretly, don’t we?

When it comes to the area of project management and strategic change this works itself out in a different way: it is very hard to see good case studies. Why? Because a “warts and all” account might show the organisation or people within it in a poor light. They would not publish such a report.

This is a pity because the rest of us could learn valuable lessons. We could learn from their mistakes and so avoid failure in those areas.

But that is not going to happen. Organisations can suffer reputational damage, even damage to their stock prices if some juicy failure leaks into the public domain. As a result, there is a dearth of learning.

[shareable]Unwillingness to share case studies – good or bad – means a dearth of learning.[/shareable]

The opposite can also be true: an organisation innovates, makes a breakthrough, a disruptive change. As a result, that firm makes huge inroads into a market previously dominated by its competitors. So is it going to share how it achieved the breakthrough? Senior management gets uneasy. Surely this would erode their competitive advantage. Better to keep it under wraps. And so more potential learning is kept from us all.

An Outstanding Exception

There is an outstanding exception to this pattern. And this exception has played no small part in my own career. The exception is the public sector; particularly, the UK Central Government. Here we have a Government that is subject to intense, and sometimes very public scrutiny.

In the area of major public projects, over the three decades from the 1960’s, there were some major failures: such as Trident, TSR2, and Nimrod. The UK Central Government began to set about identifying and defining what it called project management “best practice.” It codified it, first into a methodology called PROMPT, then PRINCE®, and finally PRINCE2®.

And it did this publicly.

Private sector consultants were not ready to praise these efforts too quickly. Some were even quite critical, in fact, but the truth was we all benefited from this sharing.

A Rude Awakening

For the early part of my career, I worked in the public sector in the UK, in local government across three bodies. After 15 years of working in local government, I made the transition to the private sector.

Yes, Minister, BBCAt that time, we were watching TV programmes like, “Yes, Minister.” I believed the stereotypes. Public bodies were extremely bureaucratic, stuffy, hierarchical, formal, and conservative, whilst private sector organisations were all entrepreneurial, more casual in dealing with each other, and, above all, innovative.

In 1990 I made the transition to the private sector.

I was in for a rude awakening.

I found the organisation I had joined was far more hierarchical, bureaucratic, self-indulgent and inert than I had experienced in the public sector. My government days felt positively entrepreneurial. This was counter to all the stereotypes.

The truth was, and still is, that within central Government there is much progressive, innovative work. This had to come forth when the public was seeing so much waste on major projects. Excellence emerged.

[shareable]My government days felt positively entrepreneurial.[/shareable]

Much of my career has centred around progressive management approaches such as PRINCE2®, MSP™, P3O® and more recently, Better Business Cases™. These have all helped UK public programmes succeed more often than not. Partly driven by HM Treasury, partly by the Cabinet Office, and partly by the National Audit Office, the UK Government has raised its game in programme and project management significantly. And all this in the context of a fairly hostile national press and intense political scrutiny through the Public Accounts Committee.

Managing Successful Programmes™

With MSP (Managing Successful Programmes), I recently was part of the panel on a Webinar, hosted by Axelos the owners of MSP, and I noticed keen interest from all over the world. This framework is, in many ways, ahead of its time. For example, I was asked: “Can you make MSP agile?” My answer, in brief, was, “It already is agile.” And I went on to explain why.

Last year the Banco Central do Brasil invited me to speak at a conference in Brasilia on MSP programme management. I used the London Olympics Case Study. You can imagine, less than 17 months away from the Rio Olympics they were all ears. I am continuing to discover other countries benefiting from the wealth of good practice coming out of the UK Central Government.

Better Business Cases

Better Business Cases (BBC) is another gem. Pioneered out of Whitehall and the Welsh Government, BBC takes the business case and turns it into a strategic tool that develops in a most appropriate way throughout the start and life of a project. We hear of the UK’s NHS using this to good effect.

Say “business case” to most project managers, and you can watch their eyes glaze over. BBC turbo-charges the approach and handling of the business case.

[shareable]Better Business Cases is another gem.[/shareable]

So, all’s well then?

So, is all well then with UK Government “best practices”? I’m not so sure. Not so long ago the Cabinet Office effectively sold off its ownership of most of these management methods and practice to a private concern, Axelos. To give them credit, it seems that Axelos is making gains in scaling adoption across the globe but I’m not sure that the development of these products will be as vigorous, rigorous and authentic as it was when it clearly came out of public sector ownership.

Also, major government projects now have the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA). Several of my clients have been through this programme and speak very highly of it. One of my associates has actually worked with the faculty. However, there is a strong protection by Oxford University’s Said Business School of its intellectual property. This is a traditional academic value system of protecting and hoarding intellectual capital, and this School has a particularly assertive commercial agenda. So the rest of us are not likely to benefit from some of the key learning within the Academy as much as we might from a more generous, sharing approach.

It seems that more Central Government outsources, no doubt for otherwise good reasons, there is a loss in helping better practice more generally, that nobody in the private sector can give.

[reminder preface=”Question:”] What are your views and experiences on this?[/reminder]

 

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PinkCast & the 2-minute Rule

I really appreciate Daniel Pink's work, particularly Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, an awesome book. He delivers a periodic, high-energy, short video to his subscribers called Pinkcast.

This week's Pinkcast made me smile (as it usually does). It featured another notable author and speaker, David Allen, most well-known for his book Getting Things Done.

David Allen explains the power of the 2-minute rule to Daniel Pink.

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On this episode, Daniel interviewed David in Amsterdam about his 2-minute rule. Watch it.

And how long was Daniel's Pinkcast this week? One minute 51 seconds. 🙂

Do you use the 2-minute rule? If so, let me know how in the comments below.

Welcome to my new home!

Since I first started blogging on TypePad in the early 2000’s I have moved twice:

Recently I stood down as an Executive of the company taking up an associate Chairman role, and handing over the reins to my valued colleague and friend, Richard Rose. So it seemed right to begin posting on my own site.

In fact, blogging is becoming more important to me once again. I am doing more writing. In fact, I have my second book, where I am the sole author, well on the way. It will be about an emerging new way of working in the 21st Century that we can all choose to adopt. If you would like to be kept informed of when and how the book will be published, please leave your details below and I will give you early access to some samples.

Blogging was supposed to “go away” with the advent of new social media platforms and other media like podcasts. Instead, we are seeing a resurgence of blogging.

So, for now, welcome to my new home.

Question: Why do you think there is a resurgence in blogging? What would you like to read about in these blogs?