Chapter 20 - Softskills

4. Working in the Project Team

Short story…

…from Carl Rogers's life
Some days before the meeting of Carl and Karen last year.

Wesley could really let off steam in the lunch break. He knew all the latest gossip about his colleagues. It was brilliant! According to him, one of the key members of the project team - William Rose - was going to leave the company. "How do you know that?" asked Tina from Marketing. "I've got a reliable source!" answered Wesley. "So there will definitely be some impacts on the project", he continued. "It's always people like us who bear the brunt and the project manager will come out smelling of roses, as usual."

"Have you heard? Our best man William Rose is going to leave the project team and the company. It's just another example of project manager Dr. Rogers's sheer incompetence." Tina was in her element, telling colleagues about the project manager's inability to keep qualified personnel on the team and the news soon went through the grapevine. The only person who knew nothing about it (at least not directly) was Dr. Rogers.

"Apart from the fact that it isn't even certain why William Rose is leaving the project and the company, why don't you talk about it openly?" Sandra asked that question at one of her regular visits to Karen Wilson's project office. The rumours that were circulating had obviously upset the student. "Well, there could be several reasons. The project manager, for one. He's responsible for setting up a project communication platform so that all project team members can get regular and timely information about important things. What sort of proactive communication do we have in our project? Have you had the opportunity at your regular meetings to discuss results and address problems? Did you hold workshops so that every team member could contribute their specific competences? I think Carl Rogers has probably overlooked something. He hasn't given the project team the opportunity to communicate important things quickly. Or the project management environment could be to blame.

There are all kinds of environmental factors in the organisation but the particularly interesting ones are the staff, the project manager's management colleagues and the executive management." Food for thought!

Karen continued, "One member of the team might be motivated to cause problems for the project manager. There are all kinds of reasons why they might do that - envy, hate, conceitedness. The list is practically endless. The individual involved causes damage by deliberately circulating rumours. A project information platform would help us to proactively prevent this. Unfortunately, we don't have one. Information that is not transmitted personally is distributed via e-mail, video conferences or voice messages." "Who's fault is that?" asked Sandra. "Definitely the project manager's." Karen shrugged her shoulders. "He's responsible for project communication and for any negative communication that occurs. The current negative communication is targeting him."

Karen kept thinking of more things: "Basically, the same things should apply for colleagues and staff. Sometimes, suitable platforms exist but they aren't used. If one or several negative motivation factors come into play, harassment is virtually guaranteed. It can and has to be stopped, but the project manager doesn't have many options available to him, so every team member has to take action. The three sieves of good communication according to Socrates, the Greek philosopher, help us to make the right choices."

"What are they?" asked Sandra. "Don't you remember your history lessons?" "No, I've suppressed those memories." "OK, you have to check the relevance, truth and communication quality of every conversation!"

"And block any irrelevant things." "Yes, because I've got more important things to do than listen to irrelevant gossip", said Sandra. "Exactly", added Karen, "So you're obviously going to have to address the problem properly. Either directly, which takes a lot of nerve or by escalating it to the project manager or another higher instance.

If you aren't certain about the truth of something you've been told, ask the person who told you where he or she got the information from." "I could ask Wesley directly whether the information is true and what he wants to achieve by circulating it", added Sandra. "Now that you're involved in the issue, it's only right, isn't it?" Karen grinned. "What about asking somebody who knows the background information to this news that is relevant for us, but possibly not true? We'll ask him to clarify things. I think my colleague will soon let me know how much truth there is to it when I suggest that." Sandra nodded thoughtfully.

"The third sieve, the sieve of quality, doesn't necessarily mean that good news is being communicated. It mainly refers to the form of communication. The conversation in the hallway and the information communicated on the quiet. … have you heard … it's already all over the grapevine …" said Karen, citing examples. She continued, "Those aren't valid communications because they're scheming, hurtful and damaging." "Yes, I think so too", Sandra agreed. Karen added, "We have to disassociate ourselves from it and if it's very serious, we have to report it and escalate the whole matter." "We do have the opportunity to counteract rumours, intrigues and the like in meetings; all we have to do is ask for clarification." "Yes, so that the project manager and the project team can act to prevent harassment."

Success diary

The success diary is a means of consciously recording achievements and adding weight to personal perceptions of these. Obviously, the success diary should not prevent people from reflecting upon and learning from their mistakes.

Most things can be put in either a positive or negative light, according to the principle of a glass being either "half empty" or "half full". People who learn to derive benefits from negative experiences and view problems as opportunities are able to cope more effectively with difficult (project) situations. With a little training and discipline, it is easy to change personal perceptions.

Personal success diary

The personal success diary should accompany its owner at all times, irrespective of whether it is in electronic or paper format. At least three successes should be entered every day, however small or insignificant they may seem (e.g. a successful presentation or a milestone that is achieved on time).

The benefits of the personal success diary are:

  • A positive basic attitude is developed.
  • You learn to be motivated by even minor successes.
  • You implement personal knowledge management by recording successful strategies (this can be used in the future).
  • Your confidence grows because you can prove to yourself and others (e.g. at meetings with superiors or finance providers) how successfully you work.

Team success diary

All members of the team should have easy access to the team success diary (e.g. it could be kept on the meeting room table or integrated on the project website). Ideally, you should remind the team to enter team achievements in the diary at every meeting. Each member of the team should contribute at least one entry each week. You can also read out entries from the success diary at the beginning of each meeting to create a ritual that the team members will soon learn to appreciate and which reinforces their collective identity.

The advantages of a team success diary are:

  • Short-term enhancement of team atmosphere and motivation.
  • A positive team sentiment is permanently established and teamwork becomes more pleasant (which enhances team performance).
  • Listing successes prevents "off time" in the team.
  • You can get the team on your side with the assistance of a success diary (it helps you to prove that you register and appreciate even minor achievements).
  • Diary can be presented to the customer or senior management at the project handover workshop.
  • It functions as a record, documenting the commitment and efficiency of the team in an unconventional way.

Problem solving

Understanding problems

Problems can only be solved by somebody who understands them. Every team member involved in the process of problem solving must be precisely aware of what the problem is. 'W'-questions and graphical representations (e.g. flow charts) are effective tools that help people to understand and tackle problems.

Understanding problems by asking the right questions.

Obstacles to problem solving

It is more difficult to solve a problem if the project personnel

  • fail to recognize it,
  • do not understand it,
  • misinterpret it,
  • do not analyse it or only analyse it superficially and
  • if they perceive the problem differently.

Problem solving methods

Normally, problem solving is a process consisting of several steps. The development of a problem solving procedure is one of the most important aspects of conducting negotiations. It is a good idea to stick with the chosen method until the process has concluded. Switching over to another method involves the expenditure of time and effort on learning and coordination, with which some smaller project teams are unable to cope. One important aspect of any problem solving process is information procurement, for which there are various methods:

  • Collection (e.g. studies, statistics, user reports)
  • Surveys (e.g. interviews, questionnaires)
  • Monitoring
  • Forecasts
    • Intuitive (e.g. survey, Delphi method)
    • Analytical (e.g. simulation, extrapolation)

The three basic approaches for solving problems involve the use of either sequential phase models, problem solving cycles or form-based systems.

Problem solving cycle

The problem solving cycle is nothing more than a sequence of activities - e.g. the Deming cycle that you've already learnt.

Unlike phase models (which are linear, sequential and take place only once) problem solving cycles continually repeat the involved steps. They are iterative (i.e. repetitive) processes. Each time a cycle is completed, the team comes closer to solving the problem. The starting point of each cycle is the result of the previous cycle.

Form-based systems

Form-based systems are suitable for problems that are being solved by more than one person. Various forms are used throughout the problem solving process, from the situation analysis, through the problem analysis to the decision and the documentation of the solution. In this standardised procedure, the next step in the process is more or less automatic. The disadvantage of form-based systems is that they tend to be bureaucratic and complex, which means they are not appropriate for small-scale projects.

Cause-and-effect diagram

The cause-and-effect diagram helps the project team to break down the problem and identify possible causes. The team identifies the possible factors of influence (causes) of a problem (effect), for example, in a brainwriting session. Then, the causes are categorised as main or contributory causes and entered on the diagram. The subsequent evaluation identifies several key areas that need further investigation.

The fact that this cause-and-effect diagram is produced in a team enables the combination of different perspectives of the problem. The team focuses only on the specific problem and its solution and the interests of the individual team members are accorded subordinate importance.

Procedure

Creativity techniques help the team to identify possible causes of the problem. If the team groups these causes in the main boxes, they can use the cause-and-effects diagram to create a structured overview. The diagram also shows the various interdependencies between the different causes. This procedure eliminates the customary restriction to one or two causes and enables a comprehensive overview of the problem.

First of all, the content, time, location and extent of the problem are described. The definition of the problem is written on the right-hand side of the chart by the facilitator. In the next step, the boxes for possible causes are filled. Often, the causes are grouped under the 4M & E categories:

  • Machine (e.g. tools, equipment, plants)
  • Method (e.g. work method, process)
  • Material (e.g. production materials, raw materials)
  • Man (e.g. persons involved, degree of familiarity, qualifications)
  • Environment (e.g. work environment, air humidity, temperature)

There is no generally applicable number of categories. The solution can be established in a problem specific and individual way. All categories are noted on the arrows on the chart (= fish bones). The team then allocates possible causes to these fish bones. The facilitator can ask questions to bring team members' attention to categories that they have overlooked. Querying individual causes leads to the definition of contributory causes, which adds further branches to the diagram. The question "Why?" should be asked three times in connection with each cause.

When the team finds no further causes, it evaluates those found, for example, by affixing adhesive dots, indicating significance, to them. The causes with the most dots are then investigated further in order to conclude a solution.

By using the fish bone creativty technique a problem will be indetified with the help of causes. Causes can be strcutured in five different categories: man, machine, material, method and environment.

Creativity techniques

Brainwriting

Brainwriting and brainstorming are classic creativity techniques. They are often used in project management practice, though in many cases intuitively and without any precise awareness of the ideal procedure. They can be used by individuals or groups to develop creative solutions for very different problems. The aim is for the participants to give their imagination free rein and inspire each other.

Brainwriting and brainstorming are techniques that can be used in the early stages of a project or design process, since the groups often include representatives from all sorts of departments. Therefore, there are more people to provide interdisciplinary input than later on in the project when there is a higher degree of specialisation. The more heterogeneous the composition of the group (e.g. departments, functions, age), the broader is the range of ideas that will be generated. Unusual ideas are more likely to be voiced in heterogeneous groups than in groups comprising experts only. The ideal group size is between two and twelve persons.

The session should not be longer than one hour and half an hour is best. The chairperson of the session should ideally be a facilitator. During the entire session, he should prevent the group from digressing and ensure that the ideas are recorded in a structured manner.

Pro and contra analysis

This method enables the definition of the advantages and disadvantages of a suggestion. The participants consider arguments in two groups and present them to the panel. Then, each group discusses the other group's suggestions. Both argue against the reasons put forward by the other group. Afterwards, the members of both groups evaluate all arguments.

Delphi method

The Delphi method is a structured method of questioning for the preparation of long-term forecasts. Experts in various fields are asked to provide individual forecasts (e.g. forecasts on the development of a specific market). Open-ended questions are used, rather than yes/no questions, so that the person answering has the opportunity to state the reasons for his answer. An assessor then includes the promising results which can be built upon in the next round. Then, each expert provides a more precise forecast based on the input from the other experts. After several rounds, the forecasts will be aligned to such an extent that a recommendation can be derived. The disadvantage of this method is that it is complex and time-consuming. "Yes men", who simply agree with the other experts' opinions, are difficult to identify.

Attribute listing

In the analytical method of attribute listing, the team breaks down a problem into its attributes. The status quo and an alternative state are derived for each attribute.

Morphological boxes

Morphological boxes are used by the group to initially define, analyse and generalise the problem. In the next step, they define the problem parameters (e.g. colour) and incorporate them in a matrix. They attempt to find alternatives for each parameter (e.g. red, green). Each combination of alternatives is a possible solution. In an iterative process, the group then filters out the realistic solutions.

Scenario writing

This method is used to prepare medium and long-term forecasts and is divided into three phases.

  • Phase 1:
    The group analyses the current situation and the subject matter of the forecast, as well as its components and their interrelationships with the environment
  • Phase 2:
    The group elaborates alternative developments
  • Phase 3:
    The group defines the resulting scenarios

Project marketing

Projects need the support of senior management to get funding. They also have to earn the respect of the line managers because they are dependent on them to assign their best staff to the project and they have to earn customer approval to get follow-up orders. Projects also compete with other projects. In this case, the project that makes the most noise attracts the most attention. This is true even if another project is more complex, generates higher profits or is more beneficial to the organisation for other reasons. If you, as the project manager, remain silent, you risk going away empty-handed.

The objective of project marketing is to inform the stakeholders of the project's goals, the approach to achieving these, the consequences (opportunities and risks) and, most importantly, the benefits. It publicises a project and generates maximum acceptance in order to rule out risks due to opposition and information deficits. Project marketing is one aspect of stakeholder communication. In turn, press, media and PR activities are central aspects of project marketing. Those external public activities can be helpful for the future of the project. This includes the proactive development of media contacts, continuity and the ability to react to incidents. Everything published must be well thought out, as it can have not only a positive but also a negative impact on the project and the company. Therefore, everything that is published must be in line with the interest of the target group, the corporate identity and the reputation of the company.

Many project managers are not aware of the content and purpose of project marketing. Many have scientific and technical backgrounds and are unfamiliar with a discipline that they simply call advertising because they don't know any better - and advertising has a negative image. This is one of the reasons why project marketing is often considered to be counterproductive and unnecessary. However, professional, project-specific marketing is just as important as other central methods of project management such as cost budgeting and financing plans. This is why the project marketing team should have comprehensive knowledge and skills, as well as the appropriate character traits. For example, good interpersonal skills are essential.

Summary

To summarise the keywords of that chapter, here is a quick overview:

Technical term Definition
W-questions while solving a problem What
  • does the problem comprise?
  • are all the different elements of the problem?
  • impact will it have - now and in the future?
  • do we have to do to solve the problem?
  • are the consequences if it remains unsolved?
    Who is affected?
    When did the problem first occur?
    Which solutions have already been tried out? Why didn't they work?
  • Brainwriting A problem solving technique that involves creating a comprehensive list of related ideas.

    Test yourself!

    Now it is time to check your knowledge.

    Answer the following questions for yourself. Please take your time and think carefully about what you would answer before revealing the solution.

    What is a team success diary used for?
    • It is a means of consciously recording achievements and adding weighting to personal perceptions of these achievements.
    • To improve atmosphere and motivation.
    • To sustain a positive team sentiment.
    • To prevent "off time".
    • To get the team on the project manager's side.
    • As a report for the executive management.
    What can hinder a project team member in the process of problem solving?

    Obstacles to problem solving

    • when the problem isn't recognized,
    • when the problem isn't understood,
    • when the problem is misinterpreted,
    • when it is not analysed or only superficially analysed,and
    • when different people view it in different ways.
    What approaches to problem solving exist?
    • Data collection (e.g. studies, user reports)
    • Interviews
    • Monitoring
    • Preparation of forecasts
      • Intuitive methods (e.g. Delphi method)
      • Analytical methods (e.g. extrapolation)
    How can problems be presented so all team members gain a better understanding of them?

    By asking "W"-questions

    • What does the problem comprise?
    • What are all the different elements of the problem?
    • Who is affected?
    • What impact will it have - now and in the future?
    • When did the problem first occur?
    • Which solutions have already been tried out?
    • Why didn't they work?
    • What do we have to do to solve the problem?
    • What are the consequences if it remains unsolved?
    Which creativity techniques can be used in projects?
    • Brainwriting
    • Brainstorming
    • Pro and contra analysis
    • Delphi method
    • Morphological boxes
    • Attribute listing
    • Scenario writing
    Where and how would you use the Delphi method?

    For the preparation of long-term forecasts. Promising approaches are optimised in several rounds of questions involving experts. The experts' forecasts deviate less and less from round to round so the resulting recommendation includes input from all the experts.