How to Get Better Results in our Projects

business-graph-resultsIts all about getting better results.”

Its so common of a saying its become cliché. As a project manager, we are tasked with getting a good result for our companies. However, I can’t help but wonder if we are steering into some dangerous waters by repeating it.

What does this phrase mean exactly? It almost seems kind of a dumb thing to say. I mean, who doesn’t want a better result?

Martin Yates in Knock Em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search said “the committed professional is willing to do whatever it takes to get a job done, whenever and for however long is necessary . . .”

This is also my interpretation of the results statement: the phrase appears to be referring to our commitment/dedication/perseverance. Its throwing down a challenge to our personal strength of will and willingness to make personal sacrifices.

Its not surprising really. In our culture, individual perseverance is a highly sought after character trait, so why wouldn’t our employers be looking for it?

This is how my mind processes the statement:

‘You will have to make a lot of personal sacrifices on your project. You must be willing to work lots of evenings. You must be willing to work weekends and holidays. You must be willing to become out of touch with your family and friends. You must be willing to lose sleep. You must be willing to put your health at risk. You must be willing to push your team to the brink of exhaustion, but you will need to push them harder and keep their morale up in order to reach the objective. Further, you are expected to a have a good attitude about it all. If you aren’t willing to do all this, you are not a good worker and will be fired.’

Some may just tell us this is just the way things are, but for me, this makes my skin crawl.

This statement appears to be reinforcing the need for individual contributions instead of the whole organization committing to continuous improvement. Its reinforcing our reliance on heroes and breeding asshole management. Its also reinforcing short term thinking vs. long term thinking.

Personal perseverance is a noble quality we should all aspire to have and will definitely help get us better results, however, it is only a part of the formula for success and oversimplifies how we get there.

Deming regularly warned about management by objective or management by results (MBO or MBR). I think this statement is hovering dangerously close to what he was talking about.

Too often when we chase objectives, we end up making things worse for ourselves or our organizations. Everything we want has a cost applied to it. When we just count on perseverance to get a result, which of the below are we willing to pay to achieve it?

  • Do something illegal? (Wells Fargo and the US women’s gymnastics team both counted on MBO and look what it’s done to them).
  • Do something unethical?
  • Sacrifice our values and principles?
  • Sacrifice our relationships (friends? family?)
  • Sacrifice our health?
  • Introduce more bureaucracy or overhead?
  • Kick the can down the road so someone else can take care of it later?
  • Introduce more problems?
  • Create a more complex/confusing system?
  • Decrease team morale and/or trust?
  • Alienate another department, a partner, supplier, vendor, or (shudder) our customer?

I believe we need to add wisdom and discipline to the formula of success. How about making these payments to get a better result instead:

  • Improve the overall system so better results become common.
  • Actively engage your teams and people so they can find joy and pride in their work and increase productivity and creativity.
  • Discover and fix the root cause issues so future projects and programs will have better success.
  • Do it right the first time (even if this means adding more time, resources or money).
  • Create a culture that is obsessed with quality and learning so the organization gets better and better.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
  • Be disciplined and focused and never rest on your laurels.

I realize that as project managers, we may see the above as many times outside our area of influence. We can instill most of these principles in our own teams, however, and if these principles become part of our DNA, we will be able to influence more people as our influence and/or authority grows. Also, I believe we have the obligation to influence others outside our areas to adopt the mentality that we can’t go about doing business as usual. Its a tough road to take, but for the sake of ourselves, our colleagues, our organization, and the world in general, we need to be agents for improvement. It will also greatly increase the likelihood that our projects will succeed, which we all want to see.

Perhaps we need to rephrase the results statement going forward. Instead of saying “its about getting better results,” we really need to be asking ourselves “what can we do to get a better result?”

What are your thoughts? Am I off in my thinking?

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