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  • Writer's pictureMerve Can

A perspective on improving project management integrating MIT’s System Thinking course learnings

I was enrolled to April 2021 cohort of #MIT #SystemThinking course which is a 5-week online journey where you find an opportunity to connect with like-minded people and collect great learnings from MIT professors such as Aerospace Engineering Prof. #EdCrawley and Business Dynamics book author Prof. #JohnSterman.

On the 4th week they asked us to write our learnings by giving 5 actionable recommendations to companies to improve their project management. As a result of more than 11 years consulting and coaching experience, my recommendations are naturally affected by my accumulated experience and knowledge. Here below are the 5 policies that would boost one’s project management successes from my perspective:

Policy 1: Be open and vocal and visual about the overall strategy and goals

Even before starting a game, one needs to be clear about their own strategy versus others’ strategies. This helps being totally mindful about all necessary actions that would enable that strategy. Having studied and analyzed other’s strategies, one gains a competitive edge. This is not enough by itself as within the company being open and vocal about the strategy ensures every stakeholder involved knows the destination and in case of a need for calibration, it can be provided. What is meant by being visual about the strategy is using all the physical spaces in a company as well as virtual spaces, the strategy and goals can be translated into the images, graphics and timelines which would act as a reminder for everybody involved.

Policy 2: Invest in Project Team’s psychological capital

Investing in team’s psychology can be done with 4 clear steps:

1. Do not use overtime as a pressure

2. Make the project controllable by the team itself

3. Maximize communication using some rituals turned into beneficial habits

4. Create a constructive feedback mechanism

The first point considers overtime as a potential reason for burnout, and this is what we do not want. In spite of using overtime, being flexibly planned, in other words, being nimble would get the company where it wants to be. Make the project controllable by the team itself point is inspired by one of agile practices, Scrum’s philosophy to make teams autonomous. If the teams accept or reject the things that need to be done, it is going to be controllable for them and if abuse is prevented by other mechanisms such as measuring speed with item size rather than time it would take, the team will feel more in control. Maximizing communication would also be crucial. Some rituals that guarantee how we start cycles, how we finish cycles and how we evaluate our performance would be important here. Inspired by #Scrum, sprint planning, sprint review and retrospective team meetings can be adopted with its rules. Last but not least, checking if team members can easily give and receive feedback would elicit growth mindset if the right tone were adopted. Right tone can be embraced with an invite to an intentional look for what went well and what could be even better if.

Policy 3: Confront the Brutal facts in a timely manner with a mechanism in place

Confronting the brutal facts is a concept in #JimCollins’s famous #GoodtoGreat. If a project team corner cuts or cuts testing, the results would be horrendous, ethically and commercially. The whole team always needs to spare time, talent and energy for testing what they have developed. The known rework requirements should not be concealed, and concealing should not turn into a culture. The top management as well as middle management should have key performance indicators (KPI’s) for encouraging testing and not corner cutting.

Policy 4: Hire smart people, upfront, with 50-75% more than the original man required number

The industrial engineering perspective of man/hour is almost dead in every industry due to rapid disruption. It is well-known that the numbers identified almost always fall short and calculated for an ideal-world scenario. Therefore, the choice of staffing for a project should be overstaffing upfront. This would enable the team’s learning curve both for the project specifications and getting to know each other and getting along with each other.

Policy 5: Be agile mentally and strategically

With strategic agility, I mean adding newly requested features with their calculated potential for commercial and marketing impact. Being aware of some other features is a sign of mental agility but it is not enough. If the potential is not calculated for these extra features, then we invest with our emotions and this can disappoint. The potential impact analysis should be done thoroughly and if it is worth to be produced, the decision should be in favor. Otherwise, it should be seen as a learning.

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