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Episode 252: Agile Critical Thinking (Free)

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Episode 252: Agile Critical Thinking (Free)This interview with Anne Pauker Kreitzberg was recorded at the PMI Global Congress 2013 North America in New Orleans.

In this interview with Anne Pauker we introduce you to the Agile Critical Thinking framework. 

We discuss approaches and examples of this techniques and how you can use to influence stakeholders, clarify project definition, urgency, risk and impact — particularly when working on a cross-functional or virtual team. And of course Anne alsol tells us how to apply some of the tools to our everyday projects.

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: Welcome back everybody to the PMI Global Congress here in New Orleans. I'm sitting here with Anne Pauker Kreitzberg.

Podcast Interview

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Anne!

Anne Pauker: Hello!

Cornelius Fichtner: So we met over lunch of all places. This is unscheduled interview and we talked about the fact that you were a presenter and you said: "Well, the topic of my presentation was Agile Critical Thinking - New Approaches and Tools to Empower Project Teams." I said: "Wow! What a great topic! Would you like to do an interview?" Here we are already talking about it. I have no idea what we're going to be talking about. But let's first talk about your presentation from yesterday. How did it go?

Anne Pauker: Well, it was great. I was really, really happy about that because I suppose we had about 200 people in the room and as a presenter you always get a little nervous when you see a couple of people sneaking out the back way. But I was reassured by others that they only have signed up for 2 sessions. So I was really happy because I saw everybody was very engaged, taking notes and I couldn’t be more happy really.

Cornelius Fichtner: Alright! So tell me about the new approaches and tools to empower project teams? What is it all about?

Anne Pauker: Okay! Well, I'm glad you asked because we are very pragmatic at our company and in terms of overdoing. What we notice is that teams of any kind especially when they are cross-functional teams, global teams, virtual teams, teams that are working on, even very, very complex systems or even the simplest items are inherently fraught with conflict. I'd like to think about it as conflict because of course that’s very uncomfortable. But the reality is that perceptions are very different from the very start about what this project is all about, why are we doing it, how are we making decisions, how will my time be spent, that sort of thing.

And so a number of years ago, Charlie and I, Charlie who is my husband and business partner and also a computer scientist and cognitive psychologist by training and I started talking a lot about the problems that he was having working with diverse project teams and all the personality problems that were coming up. And I said: "No problem! I know how to deal with those. You just need an organizational effectiveness expert and we can fix these things." And sure enough that's really what we did.

We came up with this notion of Agile thinking which at its core about learning the techniques of critical thinking whether they apply to decision making, strategic thinking, collaboration or creative thinking.

Cornelius Fichtner: Let me just interject here. When you say 'Agile thinking' does it have anything to do with the Agile movement in project management or is it just agility in your thought process?

Anne Pauker: That's great question. I sort of opened up with that yesterday because I know this audience is very aware of the Agile software development cycle. And so, we definitely borrowed the terminology from Agile thinking. I think it was a momentary glib.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah, okay.

Anne Pauker: So let me just put that together so you can edit it better. Okay. So we know that we definitely borrowed the terminology from the Agile software development cycle but it is not related to it specifically. But the thought is that when most people are taught about critical thinking, they are taught about logic and reason. When they are taught about decision making, the appearance is that this is a linear process where you identify a problem, you look at your alternatives, research it, evaluate way, tah-dah, come to a conclusion.

Cornelius Fichtner: One step after the other.

Anne Pauker: One step after the other and all of us are at some point thought that way of thinking. And what happens is that, that is not in real life how people actually think from a brain theory perspective. It's more of an iterative process of continuous improvement. What we did is we said: "Well, let's try to interject this notion of continual improvement and process refinement into the project system and into the critical thinking process no matter what kind of business problem or issue you're trying to decide. So that's number 1. It's iterative and as you learn probably by this afternoon, things will change and you'll have to rethink the whole thing.

Number 2, that it isn’t just at the beginning. It's really throughout the process. So you just don’t do all of it, the planning and then everything else falls into place. And I think that in a lot of project management and in the processes that are at least written about project management give the appearance that they just, you sort of start today and then that's that. But it doesn’t work that way.

Second thing, we see a lot of psychologists and others who are talking about critical thinking. We know that critical thinking has been identified by CEOs as one of the top 3 or 4 skills that are needed to successfully run a 21st century company. People are lacking in those skills and so people are trying to teach them which is fine.

However to some extent because we have so focused people on process and process improvement, it sort of has a negative effect on people thinking creatively and thinking broadly and challenging conventional thought. So the irony is that all of the good work or let's say the unintended consequence of process improvement is that it has sort of put us into this bind where we have to teach people critical thinking from the start.

Then you add in the other set of complexities, I'd say two other issues. One is that unlike Socratic method and the sort of fundamental belief about critical thinking which is it's based on logic and reason in order to have a deep and accurate understanding of subject or really anything at all. Here again, we run into a snafu which is that most organizations do not make their decisions exclusively based on logic and reason. There is a lot to do with a lot of organizational issues, industry issues, economic, global, societal issues, as well as human factors that also apply --- personalities, agendas, culture, et cetera like that. So no wonder it's so difficult.

Then you add in another element which is that at least within the modern business world, we're having a very rapid pace of change whether it's in technology, business conditions, the economy, the effect of just global, you know just how fast global occurrences can really have an effect in the markets and elsewhere that people have to adapt a lot more quickly than they have had to do in the past.

And so this notion of agility then applies in 2 ways. One iterative thinking and not linear thinking. Second, that it is you have to just build in and know that life in organizations is not perfect and it is bound to change.

Cornelius Fichtner: How do I think iteratively?

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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