This episode is sponsored by The Agile PrepCast for The PMI-ACP Exam:
According to a study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, leaders who make mistakes are seen as less competent, less desirable to work for and less effective than leaders who do not. However, in a complex business world, mistakes are unavoidable. What separates us project managers from everyone else is that we often aren’t afraid to make mistakes, are resilient and know how to rebound from them. But how?
Carla Fair-Wright (Optimal Consulting - www.opc-houston.com) is a long-time listener of The PM Podcast. She got in touch with me and asked if her presentation, "How to Recover from Mistakes and Keep the Project Moving" might be a good fit for us. Of course it is. In our interview she explains five of the top ten most common mistakes project managers make and how to avoid them.
We’ll discuss techniques from positive psychology and competitive sports that focus on how to quickly rebound from mistakes and, how to cultivate and use a strategic system for mitigating them. You will also learn how to manage your own reaction along with the loss of trust or damage to one’s reputation that can happen.
Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to Episode #226. This is The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com and I am Cornelius Fichtner. Nice to have you with us.
According to a study published in the journal of business and psychology, leaders who makes mistakes are seen as less competent, less desirable to work for and less effective than leaders who do not. However in a complex business world and especially on projects, mistakes are unavoidable. What separates us project managers from everyone else is that we often aren’t afraid to make mistakes. We are resilient and know how to rebound from them. But how do we do that?
Carla Fair-Wright is a long-time listener of the Project Management Podcast™ here. She got in touch with me and asked if her presentation: How to Recover from Mistakes and Keep the Project Moving might be a good fit for us. Of course, it is!
In our interview, she explains 5 of the top 10 common mistakes of project management and how to avoid them. We’ll discuss techniques from positive psychology and competitive sports that focus on how to quickly rebound from mistakes and how to cultivate and use a strategic system for mitigating them. You’ll also learn how to manage your own reaction along with the lost of trust or damage to ones reputation.
And now, make no mistake, you will enjoy the interview.
Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview: Today with Carla Fair-Wright, President of Houston project management firm, Optimal Consulting.
Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Carla and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™!
Carla Fair-Wright: Hello Cornelius. Thank you for having me on the show.
Cornelius Fichtner: Oh absolutely! I always love it when listeners speak up and say “Hey! I’m a listener of your show. I want to be a guest on the show.” That’s always great.
So you suggested that we talk about mistakes, in particular you have a presentation that you have given called “How to Recover from Mistakes and Keep the Project Moving.” So let me begin with the obvious question here. Why do we make mistakes?
Carla Fair-Wright: There are several reasons why we make mistakes. One of them, it’s hard to change. We want to go with the status quo, the bias. We want to avoid the pain of regret.
Another reason that we make mistakes is memory is unreliable. We have what’s called “rosy retrospection”. In other words, we tend to remember things a little bit better than they were.
Another thing that happens that we need to understand is that mistakes are unavoidable. And let me share a story with you. Your perception is economical and this is a true story. There was a man named Bert who went into a bar and he was seated next to a gentleman who was very muscular, broadly built, who had a few too many drinks. The gentleman was saying things to a couple at a nearby table. Bert interrupted him and said: “I think you had a little bit too much to drink. You need to tone it down.” The man turned quickly with his arm raised and Bert defended himself by striking the gentleman. As he struck this man, he noticed as he fell off the bar stool that he had no legs. Then he noticed in a corner was a wheelchair. So what could be a greater mistake than striking someone disabled and why did you not see that? It’s because your perception is economical. You see the things that you need to see. And this is one of the primary reasons that we make mistakes.
Cornelius Fichtner: Before we move on, a quick question here just throw in: Why did you decide to talk about mistakes, to make a presentation about mistakes? I know you have a consulting company, Optimal Consulting. Is this something that you consult on?
Carla Fair-Wright: As a project manager, I do a lot of consulting in the Houston area and I noticed that one reoccurring theme was project manager will make mistakes and they tend to not move forward with it. A mistake is actually an opportunity for you to improve your project management skills, improve your decision making. I see this over and over again. A lot of the things that happen to us as project managers are really learning experiences. It’s how you reframe this.
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! And based on this, I also think that you say that mistakes can make you smarter, right?
Carla Fair-Wright: Absolutely! You can see mistakes in 2 ways. One of the ways is shutting down. I spoke about that earlier. Your brain reacts to this negative feedback as a threat so you shut down.
Another way to respond is as a wake-up call. Your brain hones in on this negative outcome and it sees this as an opportunity for problem solving and you get very creative and you start to see things and work with problems in a way that’s different than what you were doing before. It’s a growth opportunity.
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! Now in your presentation, you have a list of the project management 10 common mistakes. Now, we’re not going to go through all of these, we selected 5 of them. What we’re going to do is I’m just going to read out what the mistake is that we make as project managers and then you can tell us a little bit more about that particular mistake. And in the end of course, well, the presentation is called ‘how to recover from mistakes’ then we’re going to go in to the recovery process. But first I think it’s important that we look at these mistakes and talk a little bit more about them. So mistake number one is Preparing an ambitious schedule and I think everyone has done that.
Carla Fair-Wright: Oh, we’ve all done that. It’s not just a question of progressive elaboration. We know that as we go through a process of project management that we are going to discover things that we didn’t consider earlier. Well what I’ve seen before over and over again is the ambitious schedule. And the problem with an ambitious schedule is that the client thinks it’s realistic and they want to hold us to that. So it’s a double-edged sword. Not only are the milestones that have been set are they going to slip because it’s not possible? We’re looking on the positive side. We’re not looking at the realistic side.
Cornelius Fichtner: Right! That’s once again the rosy glasses, right, that we have there.
Carla Fair-Wright: Exactly! We go back to that. Everything’s going to work out in the end. Everything’s going to come in on time. If it does slip, we all add that 20%, you know they tell us to put the 20% in.
Cornelius Fichtner: Exactly. But you know, there’s another danger that we have. Maybe you have prepared a schedule that is not ambitious but then management comes and cuts it down for you, and instead of standing up and saying” Hey wait a minute, this doesn’t work.” You accept the ambitious schedule and you make that mistake.
Carla Fair-Wright: That’s true as well.
Cornelius Fichtner: Yes. Then another mistake in your list is Ignoring problems. What do you mean by that?
Carla Fair-Wright: We tend to look at things in a way that when we have a problem, when an issue comes up, sometimes we think that it’ll go away. If we just ignore it long enough, it will go away. Well this really is for us, we know that we need to resolve problems early before they become bigger and we also need to understand that this tendency to ignore problems, it comes from a fear and it’s the fear of being found wanting. It’s the fear of making the wrong decision. It’s the fear of failure that’s driving that.
Ignoring the problem, it’s not going to go away. It’s probably going to get worse. I mean it’s very rare to see a problem just disappear without being handled and managed properly.
Cornelius Fichtner: Right. Next is Failing to share accountability with functional managers. Now I find this an interesting one because often in my projects at least, functional managers were only marginally involved in my projects. So how do you see this? How do we fail to share our accountability with them?
Carla Fair-Wright: One of the things that we need to keep in mind is that we should be negotiating for deliverables rather than people. Both the PMs and the functional managers have accountability for the success or failure of that project. Now, there are times when perhaps the structure of the company or the structure of the organization that you’re in doesn’t support that. You may have to go to executive management and state your case. But it’s very important that functional managers feel that they are part of the project. They share responsibility for the success or failure.
Cornelius Fichtner: The next mistake is Failing to understand what stakeholders and sponsors want to hear. Now that’s an interesting one. Tell me more about this.
Carla Fair-Wright: I see this all the time, the dashboard, the dashboard. When we’re looking at our metrics, we need to make sure that we understand that these are the metrics that the stakeholders want to see. We don’t understand what they’re trying to tell us. We’re not processing that information. We need to give them the information that they want in a manner that is consumable for them be that via report or the all-important dashboard. We need to provide that to them the things that they want to see and hear so that they can use their own tracking instruments as well.
Cornelius Fichtner: Right. And the fifth and final mistake we want to look at here is Not fully understanding requirements. I think this is probably the biggest one.
Carla Fair-Wright: This is huge Cornelius. It’s not sourcing that subject matter expert. The person is there, idea is they have given us guidelines for gathering requirements or determining what the true requirements are. We have so much information available to us to make these decisions. But we tend to use our own interpretation of what the requirements are. This is something that we need to move away from. We need to use those subject matter experts.
Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! So we looked at 5 mistakes and of course each one of these mistakes will lead to different outcomes. Some will lead outright to project failure. Others will just lead to communication issues and problems with the sharing of the resources and all that but in the end, the mistakes have been made. We all make them still. And now we want to move on. We want to recover. We want to learn from them. So how do we learn from our mistakes?