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The Humble Project Management Toolkit

A presentation divided into eight parts on the 'humble project management toolkit' - a set of tools which helps us to effectively manage projects in the face of uncertainty. In these presentations I describe the 'Planning Fallacy'- why projects always go over budget, over time, and fail to deliver to specification. I introduce two of the main causes of the Planning Fallacy: our cognitive biases or 'thinking errors' and complexity. I outline the 'humble project management toolkit,' describing some of the many approaches to project planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation that are stored in the toolkit's six 'compartments': 1. Hesitate to encourage reflection; 2. Understand the project's ecosystem; 3. Manage in alignment with the project's ecosystem; 4. Bring in diverse perspectives; 5. Learn constantly; and 6. Embrace uncertainty

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THE HUMBLE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT
FOR BETTER RESULTS IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD
JOHN MAUREMOOTOO, PH.D.
www.InspiralPathways.com
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2
The Planning Fallacy
Part 3
Bounded Rationality
Part 4
Complexity
Part 5
Hesitate to encourage reflection
Doug Wheller on Flickr (CC BY NC SA)

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The Humble Project Management Toolkit

  • 1. THE HUMBLE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT FOR BETTER RESULTS IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD JOHN MAUREMOOTOO, PH.D. www.InspiralPathways.com
  • 6. Part 5 Hesitate to encourage reflection Doug Wheller on Flickr (CC BY NC SA)
  • 7. Part 6 Understand the project’s ecosystem and Manage in alignment with the project’s ecosystem
  • 8. If you want to go fast, go alone if you want to go far, go together. John Mauremootoo on Flickr (CC BY NC SA) Part 7 Bring in diverse perspectives
  • 10. THE HUMBLE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT FOR BETTER RESULTS IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD JOHN MAUREMOOTOO, PH.D. Part 2 The Planning Fallacy www.InspiralPathways.com
  • 11. Wembley Stadium Two times over budget Photo by Forgemind ArchiMedia (CC BY)
  • 12. Concorde Supersonic Airplane Twelve times over budget Photo by Steve Fitzgerald on Wikimedia Commons (GNU Free Documentation Licence)
  • 13. Sydney Opera House Fifteen times over budget Photo by Anthony Winning on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 3.0)
  • 15. The Planning Fallacy From Dina Pomeranz
  • 16. Some factors contribute to the planning fallacy AND HOW WE CAN TAKE THEM INTO ACCOUNT IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT By using the humble project management toolkit
  • 17. THE HUMBLE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT FOR BETTER RESULTS IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD JOHN MAUREMOOTOO, PH.D. Part 3 Bounded Rationality www.InspiralPathways.com
  • 20. The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys. 1876 Sir William Preece
  • 21. I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. Thomas J Watson Sr by IBM. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 1943 Thomas J. Watson
  • 22. 2004 Bill Gates Spam will be a thing of the past in two years’ time.
  • 23. It is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own. ~ Daniel Kahneman: Israeli-American psychologist and 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize Laureate in Economic Sciences
  • 24. Hindsight Bias Human evolution scheme by M. Garde (Original by José-Manuel Benitos) Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • 26. And now for a musical interlude NAME THAT TUNE Available on YouTube Because you need to hear this bit!!
  • 27. It was of course Beat It by Michael Jackson!! “Michael Jackson1 1988" by Zoran Veselinovic BY-SA 2.0 via Commons
  • 28. The curse of knowledge www.reddit.comLR-PTY on Flickr (CC BY NC SA)
  • 29. The curse of knowledge
  • 30. THE HUMBLE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT FOR BETTER RESULTS IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD JOHN MAUREMOOTOO, PH.D. Part 4 Complexity www.InspiralPathways.com
  • 32. Complexity Illustrated The Fish Soup Development Story Courtesy of Ricardo Wilson-Grau
  • 33. The fish soup development story • Lilly, Milly & Billy’s parents discovered their grandmother’s long-lost recipe for fish soup. • The old dusty recipe book listed all the ingredients and exactly how they should be cooked. And they all Lived Happily Ever After Once Upon A Time • Mum & Dad did not have much expertise but they did have some cooking experience. • The family gathered around the table and everybody agreed that the fish soup was the most nutritious and delicious soup in the whole wide world. • The family ate fish soup once a week for the rest of their lives.
  • 34. Inputs or resources  Parents get together fish, fresh vegetables, water, barley, spices, a pot, a source of heat Activities  Mother or father carefully prepare and cook all the ingredients Output  Children are given the most nourishing fish soup in the world Outcome  Children consider the soup delicious and eat fish soup once a week for the rest of their lives Impact  Children are healthy adults The fish soup results chain
  • 35. • In the real world, the results are likely to be much less certain.  Grandmother’s recipe is lost.  The recommended fish is not available in the market every week of the year.  The family’s buying power varies from year to year.  Children are different and change as they grow:  Lilly becomes a vegetarian.  Milly goes on a diet.  Billy is simply rebellious.  Outside factors & actors influence the children – school, TV, friends and so forth  Fish soup alone once a week is not sufficient for good health If only life were so simple!
  • 36. Parents control Inputs or resources  Parents get together fish, fresh vegetables, water, barley, spices, pot, source of heat Activities  Mother or father carefully prepare and cook all the ingredients Output  Children are given the most nourishing fish soup in the world Parents influence Outcome  Children consider the soup delicious and eat fish soup once a week for the rest of their lives Parents worry Impact  Children are healthy adults The fish soup results chain revisited
  • 37. In such a complex situation  The relationships of cause and effect are cannot be known with certainty until the outcomes emerge.  To produce a nutritious soup that their children will eat once a week for the rest of their lives, the recipe is less important than the parents’ relationships with each son and daughter, and theirs with their social environment.  More than cooking experience • parent’s must rely on their • sensitivity and creativity.  And they must accept • uncertainty about the results.
  • 38. The reality of multi-stakeholder cross-cutting projects is substantially complex • The relationships of cause and effect cannot be known with certainty until the outcomes emerge Inspired by Jeff Conklin, cognexus.org Time
  • 41. The humble project management toolkit for better results in an uncertain world
  • 42. THE HUMBLE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT FOR BETTER RESULTS IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD JOHN MAUREMOOTOO, PH.D. Part 5 Hesitate to encourage reflection www.InspiralPathways.com
  • 45. No thanks! We are too busy Hesitate to encourage reflection Unknown source
  • 46. Widen your options Reality-test your assumptions Attain distance before making a decision Prepare to be wrong Use the W-R-A-P Process: Hesitate to encourage reflection
  • 47. THE HUMBLE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT FOR BETTER RESULTS IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD JOHN MAUREMOOTOO, PH.D. Part 6 Understand the project’s ecosystem and Manage in alignment with the project’s ecosystem www.InspiralPathways.com
  • 49. Understand your project’s ecosystem • The project landscape • Project objectives and processes • Organisational practices
  • 50. Manage in alignment with your project’s ecosystem
  • 51. Circles of control, influence and interest Understand The Project Landscape Know your project’s niche Adapted from Outcome Mapping Learning Community resources (www.outcomemapping.ca/) Sphere of interest/concern Sphere of influence Project Sphere of control
  • 52. Place most effort in the spheres of control and influence Outcome Mapping www.outcomemapping.ca/ Project Manage in alignment with the project landscape
  • 53. Understand project objectives and processes Identify what is simple and what is not Simple Complex
  • 54. Planning Monitoring Evaluation COMPLEXIMETER Emphasise planning for the simple aspects of a project Manage in alignment with project objectives and processes Adapted from Ricardo Wilson-Grau
  • 55. A carefully planned system to automate simple tasks John Mauremootoo on Flickr (CC BY NC SA)
  • 56. COMPLEXIMETER Monitoring Evaluation Planning Emphasise monitoring and evaluation for the complex aspects of a project Adapted from Ricardo Wilson-Grau Manage in alignment with project objectives and processes
  • 57. Manage adaptively using a systematic framework The Action Learning Cycle
  • 58. Image from Nadya Zhexembayeva via LinkedIn
  • 59. Understand organisational practices Assess your organisation’s fitness for purpose Viable System Modelling (VSM) 1. Operations 2. Internal coordination 3. External interactions 4. Strategy
  • 60. With project objectives, project processes and the project landscape Align your organisational practices
  • 61. Defence against the seagull effect Jes on Flickr (CC BY SA)
  • 62. THE HUMBLE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT FOR BETTER RESULTS IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD JOHN MAUREMOOTOO, PH.D. Part 7 Bring in diverse perspectives www.InspiralPathways.com
  • 64. If you want to go fast, go alone if you want to go far, go together. African Proverb John Mauremootoo on Flickr (CC BY NC SA)
  • 65. Bring in diverse perspectives Identify and involve partners at all stages as far as possible Outcome Mapping www.outcomemapping.ca/ Project
  • 66. Bring in diverse perspectives
  • 67. Bring in diverse perspectives
  • 68. Bring in diverse perspectives The Six Thinking Hats technique encourages critical thinking in your team
  • 69. Bring in diverse perspectives Reference Class Forecasting
  • 71. THE HUMBLE PROJECT MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT FOR BETTER RESULTS IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD JOHN MAUREMOOTOO, PH.D. Part 8 Learn constantly And Embrace uncertainty www.InspiralPathways.com
  • 73. Learn constantly It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows. ~ Epictetus (55-135): Greek speaking Stoic philosopher
  • 74. Learn constantly (knowledge) (Action) (Awareness)(Acceptance) Using multiple learning modes Elements of Lifelong learning From the European Life Long Learning Institute
  • 75. Practice and teach what you learn Learn constantly
  • 77. We must learn to love change, for it is the only thing that is certain. ~ Tony Robbins: American Self-empowerment Guru Embrace Uncertainty
  • 78. A not very sticky glue A Tablecloth that was too weak A not very effective heart drug Here are some failed inventions Embrace Uncertainty
  • 79. Embrace Uncertainty ViagraCellophane Post-it notes That went on to become massive successes
  • 80. Can seem very scary Embracing Uncertainty BUT Things are a lot less scary When you have a robust navigation system
  • 81. This navigation system comprises of Embracing Uncertainty • Your vision • Your mission • A diverse set of navigation aids
  • 82. Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963 I have a dream! Your Vision is your dream
  • 83. Your Mission The personal contribution we can make to our vision is our mission The mission is that “bite” of the vision statement on which you are going to focus.
  • 84. The Humble Project Management Toolkit can provide us with a robust navigation system For better results in an uncertain world
  • 85. REFERENCES Dan Ariely (2009). Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. HarperCollins Brené Brown (2013). Daring Greatly. How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Portfolio Penguin. Sarah Earl, Fred Carden and Terry Smutylo (2001). Outcome mapping: Building learning and reflection into development programs. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre. Raul Espejo and Alfonso Reyes (2011). Organizational Systems: Managing Complexity with the Viable System Model. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. Bent Flyvbjerg, Massimo Garbuio, and Dan Lovallo, (2009). Delusion and Deception in Large Infrastructure Projects: Two Models for Explaining and Preventing Executive Disaster. California Management Review, vol. 51, no. 2, Winter 2009, pp. 170-193. Atul Gawande (2010). The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Profile Books. Chip Heath and Dan Heath (2011). Switch: How to change things when change is hard. Random House Business. Chip Heath and Dan Heath (2014). Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work. Random House Business. Richard Hummelbrunner and Harry Jones (2013). A Guide to Managing in the Face of Complexity ODI Working Paper, ODI, London. inProgress (2012). Integrated Monitoring: a Practical Manual for Organisations That Want to Achieve Results. Daniel Kahneman (2011). Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin. Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2008). The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Penguin. Ben Ramalingam (2013). Aid on the Edge of Chaos: Rethinking International Cooperation in a Complex World. OUP Oxford, UK. Second Barefoot Collective (2011). The Barefoot Guide to Learning Practices in Organisations and Social Change. Produced by The Community Development Resource Association (CDRA), PSO Capacity Building in Developing Countries and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). Cass R. Sunstein and Richard H. Thaler (2012). Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. Penguin, UK. Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmermann, Michael Quinn Patton (2009). Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed. Vintage Canada Diana Whitney & Amanda Trosten-Bloom (2010). The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A practical guide to positive change. Berrett- Koehler Publishers. Bob Williams and Richard Hummelbrunner (2009). Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner's Toolkit. Stanford Business Books, Stanford, California, USA.

Notes de l'éditeur

  1. In the words of former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson “Everybody has a plan… until he gets hit.” In this eight part series of talks, I am going to outline a project management approach that comprises of a variety of project planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation tools to help you to achieve better results in an uncertain world – a world in which you can be certain of one thing at least… that you will get hit! Hi, my name is John Mauremootoo. I am a project planning, monitoring and evaluation consultant who provides support for international development projects. I’ve worked in projects in various capacities for about 30 years in over 30 countries in some way, shape, or form. In all this time, in all these countries, I have never ever seen any project go exactly according to plan. But despite this fact, I remain firmly convinced of the importance of planning. As the late US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said “Plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” In this series of talks I will outline some of the reasons that projects invariably suffer from cost and time overruns and do not deliver according to specifications. I will then outline some approaches that can be used to manage projects in these real world situations. I have collected and organised these approaches into what I call the humble project management toolkit.
  2. The ‘components’ of this toolkit are approaches that can help you to: Hesitate to encourage reflection Understand the project’s ecosystem Manage in alignment with the project’s ecosystem Bring in diverse perspectives Learn constantly, and Embrace uncertainty So what makes this toolkit ‘humble’ apart from the fact that first letters of the toolkit’s components make an easy to remember mnemonic? I would like to think of this approach as being humble, for many reasons including the following: It is humble because it acknowledges that the project is only one among many forces that operate in the system under consideration; It is humble because it recognises that the project’s personnel do not have all the answers; And it is humble because it makes it clear that despite every good intention, the humble project management toolkit is not a magic bullet and can never offer a guarantee of success. However, embracing the approaches introduced in these talks does help improve chances of success in a world in which unpredictable change is ever-present and on the increase. This presentation is divided into eight parts. This Introduction is Part 1…
  3. In Part 2 I talk about the so-called “planning fallacy”, why projects go over budget, over time and fail to deliver according to specification… over and over again.
  4. In Part 3, I introduce the concept of bounded rationality, the enemy of rational decision-making. Why we often think a bit like Homer Simpson and how this can affect our project management actions.
  5. In Part 4, I discuss complexity - the fact that in many cases one plus one does not equal two and the implications of this for project management.
  6. Following these introductory sections, I begin to outline the humble project management toolkit in Part 5; as a set of approaches that can be applied to get better results in an uncertain world. H is for hesitate to encourage reflection. I outline the value of ‘getting into the gap’ to facilitate structured reflection as a resourceful alternative to knee-jerk reactions.
  7. In Part 6, I outline approaches we can use to understand our project’s ecosystem and to manage in alignment with this ecosystem. I look at the ecosystem in terms of the landscape in which a project is embedded, project objectives and processes, and organisational practices.
  8. As the African proverb states “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” In Part 7, I introduce approaches to bring in diverse perspectives, in terms of involving multiple stakeholders and standpoints.
  9. In the eighth and final part of this talk, I introduce perspectives that help us to learn constantly, through knowledge exchange, learning by doing, through awareness and through acceptance (of both ourselves and of others); and the importance of embracing uncertainty. In the words of Erich Fromm “The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.” In the next part I outline the project planning fallacy.
  10. Welcome to Part 2 of my presentation on the humble project management toolkit for better results in an uncertain world; in which I set the scene by talking about a project management fact – that projects never go exactly according to plan Just in case you are not convinced, I will present some spectacular examples of very well-known projects that suffered considerable budget over-runs.
  11. Wembley Stadium cost twice its original budget.
  12. The project to build the Concorde Supersonic Airplane came in at TWELVE TIMES the original budget…
  13. And last but by no means least… The Sydney Opera House cost a massive FIFTEEN TIMES more than its original budget!!!
  14. These are well known, but by no means isolated examples of a phenomenon known as “The Planning Fallacy” a term coined by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky. The term describes plans and forecasts are often unrealistically close to best-case scenarios. To paraphrase Bent Flyvberg who has researched on persistent cost and time overruns in mega projects, the planning fallacy states: that projects will go… “Over budget, over time, and under spec over and over again.”
  15. The fact is that plans are, of necessity, over-simplifications of reality, just as maps oversimplify the territories they represent. Here we see our very simple plan that we have produced to help us to reach us to our objective… And here is the reality… which is just a little bit more challenging than we had envisaged!!
  16. So what are some of the factors that contribute to the planning fallacy? I will focus on two key factors – our cognitive biases or “thinking errors” and the complexity of the environments in which our projects are embedded. Taking account of these factors will not result in us producing the perfect plan; but it may help us to become humble enough to recognise that managing exactly as planned is not possible; and that we need to supplement some of the mainstream management approaches, many of which implicitly assume that we live in a highly predictable world. Some of these complementary approaches are outlined in this talk, as tools contained in the humble project management toolkit. In the next part I talk about bounded rationality.
  17. In this section, I will talk about the concept of “Bounded Rationality” which partly explains why projects do not go according to plan.
  18. We humans, even experts in our fields, do not behave rationally much of the time. Just look at all the overweight doctors, stressed-out psychiatrists and divorced marriage guidance counsellors out there. We are not, on the whole, like the hyper-logical Mr. Spock from Star Trek. This is hardly news to any of you and yet many project management models and project planners seem to ignore this simple fact. Nor, however, do most of us behave as irrationally as…
  19. Homer Simpson from the Simpsons; seen here admiring his fine physique in the bathroom mirror! So we exhibit bounded rationality which differs from perfect rationality because of our: Subjective mental models of the world; Our competing needs and desires; Limited information; and our limited time. So our behaviour is somewhere between that of the hyper-rational Mr. Spock and the delusional Homer Simpson… Personally I have much more empathy with Homer!!! To illustrate the fact that it is not just Homer Simpson who can get it spectacularly wrong, I have a cherry picked the following failed predictions from the inexact science of futurology.
  20. In 1876, Sir William Preece the Chief Engineer of the British Post Office said “The Americans have need of the telephone but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” In 2015 there were probably seven billion cell phones in the world, as many cellphones as people!!
  21. In 1943, Thomas J. Watson, founder and long-time CEO of IBM stated “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” I recently went to an induction day with my son at Aberdeen University where I learned that most university students possess five computers or computer-like devices each.
  22. Getting more up to date; in 2004, Bill Gates confidently asserted that “Spam will be a thing of the past in two years’ time.” Well, over ten years on, a healthy daily diet of spam still makes its way into my inbox. This is not surprising considering probably over 100 billion spam emails are sent out every day! I am not highlighting these examples to ridicule William Preece, Thomas J. Watson or Bill Gates. I have selected these examples precisely because these people have all been very successful in their fields. Yet despite this fact, their predictions were ludicrously off the mark. But it is highly likely that none of us would have fared any better than these three gentlemen, given the information available at the time.
  23. In the words of Daniel Kahneman… “It is much easier, as well as far more enjoyable, to identify and label the mistakes of others than to recognize our own.” So why are we so poor at prediction and why do we consistently fail to recognise this fact? I highlight several reasons, starting with some cognitive biases or “thinking errors”.
  24. There is “Hindsight Bias” that confuses the certainty or apparent certainty with which we can explain the past, with our ability to predict the future. The famous ‘march of progress’, which traces the evolution of Homo sapiens from our monkey-like ancestors, portrays a simple linear progression; when in fact the pattern looked more like an intricately branching tree. In our simple abstraction we have chosen to ignore the vast majority of the branches. History, for obvious reasons, teaches us what happened and why; not what did not happen and why not. Imagine how different the world might look if Adolf Hitler fulfilled his ambitions and become a successful artist; Ronald Reagan became a top actor rather than a B movie star; or that Nelson Mandela had been executed rather than jailed following the 1964 Rivonia Trial? Those are scenarios we do not normally consider because they did not happen. But could they happen if we were able to re-run the tape of history? And what possible consequences could have ensued? By successfully ‘postdicting’ the things that actually happened, we are lulled into a false sense of certainty when pre-dicting what will happen. And predicting is essentially what we do when we plan a project... and we tend to have unjustified confidence in our predictions.
  25. “Confirmation Bias” is our tendency to give greater weight to information that confirms our existing beliefs. I have to get at least one football-related example in every talk I give and this is the one for this series!! In October 2011 Chelsea captain John Terry allegedly uttered a racist comment towards Anton Ferdinand of QPR, during a heated exchange in a match at QPR’s ground Loftus Road. Terry was absolved of racially abusing Ferdinand in court but was found guilty of racial abuse by a Football Association hearing. Is John Terry racist? Definitely YES according to QPR fans who will point to the Loftus Road incident. Certainly NOT according to Chelsea fans who point out that Terry is captain of a side composed of footballers from all around the world and of many races. In other words: We see what we want to believe. And rather than acting as impartial judges –carefully weighing up the facts; we act as lawyers for the defence or the prosecution depending upon our preconceptions. Preconceptions and confirmation bias can lead us to assume that everybody we interact with shares our views. Failing to appreciate that this ain’t necessarily so can contribute to over-optimistic estimates of the time and effort required to achieve our objectives.
  26. And now for a musical interlude – I will tap a tune on my desk and I would like you to name that tune. This “musical interlude” does not come across on Slideshare. You can hear the “music” on the YouTube version of this presentation on Part 3 of this presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3QTJGXPvu0&index=3&list=PLawVCq50R4YTOzInpmXhu0tf-9VGhKJUP
  27. If you are like most people on the planet, then you almost certainly did not recognise that the tune was Best It by Michael Jackson. It probably sounded more like mangled Morse code than the King of Pop. But for me… it was obvious, because I could hear the song in my head as I (not very expertly) tapped the rhythm on my desk. You have just been subjected to a miniature version of a Stanford University study, in which graduate psychology student Elizabeth Newton assigned people to one of two roles: “tapper” or “listener.” The tappers were asked to tap the rhythm of a well-known song on a table and the listener’s job was to guess the song. The listeners guessed correctly only 2.5% of the time; but the tappers predicted that the listeners would get it right 50% of the time. In other words, the tappers’ estimate of their ability to get their message across was over-optimistic by a factor of twenty. The tappers got their message across one time in 40, but they thought they would get it across one time in two.
  28. What you witnessed was another enemy of decision-making – ‘The Curse of Knowledge’ – the fact that once we know something it is very difficult to ‘unknow’ it; and once something becomes our knowledge, we often assume it to be common knowledge. Take Big Bird from Sesame Street. Once you have seen how he works you will never see him in quite the same light and over time you might come to think that what you know about Big Bird is known by everybody.
  29. Giving and receiving directions is a classic example of the curse of knowledge in action. As somebody who is “directionally-challenged”, I for one can empathise with the bamboozled looking pedestrian in this cartoon. The curse of knowledge results in us failing to ‘fill in the blanks’ when we discuss topics about which we are highly knowledgeable. This can cause confusion and misunderstanding among our colleagues, many of whom will not have not trodden the same experiential path as us. In the next part, I examine complexity - another reason why projects fail to go according to plan.
  30. Welcome to Part 4 of my presentation on the humble project management toolkit for better results in an uncertain world; in which I talk about complexity, a phenomenon that combines with cognitive biases to ensure that multistakeholder international development projects operate in environments of high uncertainty.
  31. Complexity is a property of systems composed of multiple interacting subunits, which combine to produce a whole that is not simply the sum of the parts. Complexity is everywhere – both in nature and in man-made systems; yet commonly used project management tools like the so-called “logical” framework matrix (or logframe) implicitly assumes that real world phenomena such as disease management, conflict resolution and climate change follow consistently predictable cause and effect patterns.
  32. Complexity can be illustrated by… The fish soup development story, a tale I learned from evaluation guru Ricardo Wilson-Grau
  33. Like all good fairy stories it starts like this: Once Upon A Time Lilly, Milly and Billy’s parents discovered their grandmother’s long-lost recipe for fish soup. The old dusty recipe book listed all the ingredients and exactly how they should be cooked. Mum and Dad did not have much expertise but they did have some cooking experience. The family gathered around the table and everybody agreed that the fish soup was the most delicious and nutritious soup in the whole wide world. The family ate fish soup once a week for the rest of their lives. And they all lived happily ever after THE END…
  34. Using the language of project management, the fish soup development story can be conceived of as a “Results Chain” or logical series of cause and effect from inputs to impact. In terms of inputs or resources - the parents get together fish, fresh vegetables, water, barley, spices, a pot, and a source of heat. In terms of activities - Mother or father carefully prepare and cook all the ingredients. The output is – that the children are given the most nourishing fish soup in the world. The outcome is – that the children consider the soup delicious and eat fish soup once a week for the rest of their lives. And the impact is – that the children are healthy adults
  35. If only life were so simple! In the real world, the results are likely to be much less certain. Grandmother’s recipe is lost. The recommended fish is not available in the market every week of the year. The family’s buying power varies from year to year. Children are different and change as they grow: Lilly becomes a vegetarian. Milly goes on a diet. And Billy is simply rebellious. Outside factors and actors influence the children – school, TV, friends and so forth And fish soup alone, once a week is not sufficient for good health.
  36. Now that we have embedded the fish soup development story in the real world, we can revisit the results chain Inputs, activities and outputs are substantially under the parents’ control Parents can influence outcomes And when it comes to impacts… parents worry!!!
  37. In such a complex situation The relationships of cause and effect cannot be known with certainty until the outcomes emerge. To produce a nutritious soup that their children will eat once a week for the rest of their lives; the recipe is less important than the parents’ relationships with each son and daughter, and theirs with their social environment. More than cooking experience parent’s must rely on their sensitivity and creativity. And they must accept uncertainty about the results.
  38. And to reiterate, the reality of multi-stakeholder cross-cutting projects is substantially complex. The relationships of cause and effect cannot be known with certainty until the outcomes emerge. So this neat stepwise results chain becomes much more messy in the real world
  39. Inputs become available before the plan is produced The plan is brought forward (actually it is usually the reverse… but never mind) There are multiple activities, some of which go according to plan, and others which do not Some outputs and outcomes are a result of the project, others are not, while some are a result of project and non-project activities. Some outcomes support the project’s vision while others do not.
  40. So what can you do to manage projects in a world in which cognitive biases and complexity are the norm? You could scream, and I have done so on many occasions, but a more constructive response would be to…
  41. Use the humble project management toolkit for better results in an uncertain world. In the next part, I introduce the compartments of this toolkit, starting with ways in which we can hesitate to encourage reflection.
  42. Welcome to Part 5 of my presentation on the humble project management toolkit for better results in an uncertain world; in which I talk about the compartments in the toolkit itself, beginning with H for hesitate to encourage reflection.
  43. Using the tools in the toolkit, cannot remove uncertainty but they do provide a way of thinking and managing that helps us to make sense of this uncertainty. However, these tools are not a magic bullet; so following this approach does not come with any guarantees. But I feel that at the very least it offers us resources that can help us to become more responsive to the realities of this world; rather than ploughing on with a simplistic and unrealistic management framework. The humble project management toolkit comprises of six interacting ‘compartments.’ Hesitate, to encourage reflection Understand the project’s ecosystem Manage in alignment with the project’s ecosystem Bring in diverse perspectives Learn constantly, and Embrace uncertainty The toolkit’s ‘compartments’ do not form a linear sequence but rather, serve as an aid memoire to remind us of the need to take certain actions throughout the lifetime of an intervention – although the exact nature of the actions chosen will depend on the situation. The ‘sequence’ has been used because it combines to produce the mnemonic “humble” and humility is at the heart of all the approaches advocated. For example, it is humble to state up front that success is not guaranteed, it is humble to understand that the project is only one among many factors in the system, and it is humble to acknowledge that change is not a one way street - with all the expertise and answers flowing from the project to the so-called beneficiaries.
  44. H is for hesitate to encourage reflection. A hesitation or a pause allows you to step back… From the daily, deadline-driven dramas - to see the bigger picture and act in a more resourceful way. You are probably all familiar with the scenario portrayed in this image – when you are caught on the treadmill of being extremely busy, but apparently getting nowhere. Many people would say that this is a modern day phenomenon brought on by the accelerating pace of change… but perhaps it has been like throughout our history?
  45. If this cartoon is to be believed, even our caveman ancestors had problems taking time out of their busy days to appreciate the benefits that could accrue from doing something differently. As you can see our friend has just invented the wheel, but his colleagues feel that they are too busy to take the time out to reflect on how much more efficiently they could move their rocks using the new technology. There is a decision-making process I like to use that encourages reflection. It is called the WRAP Process…
  46. The WRAP Process has been developed by authors Chip and Dan Heath and is detailed in their excellent book Decisive – How to make better choices in life and work. By the way, this process applies to significant decisions such as hiring and firing, organisational restructuring and strategic partnerships; not whether to buy a cappuccino or a herbal tea! W stands for widen your options. So instead of fixating on a single course of action it is good to investigate a range of options; instead of either-or solutions it might be possible to go for and-both solutions, and it is always useful to look at the potential for win-wins rather than win-lose options. R stands for reality-test your assumptions – Will a practice successfully implemented in one situation work in another? Can a novel approach be piloted in a new situation, so that you can learn what does and does not work? Are there others who have undertaken a similar approach, with whom you can consult on the pros and cons of the proposed action? A stands for attain distance before making a decision. This includes the time-honoured reflective practice of ‘sleeping on it’… because things will always look different in the morning. A technique I learned via the Heath Brothers is the 10/10/10 tool invented by business writer Suzy Welch. 10/10/10 invites us to imagine the effects of our decisions at different points in the future: What will I feel about this decision in 10 minutes, in 10 months or in 10 years? This is an excellent way to force us to attain distance when considering our options. P stands for prepare to be wrong. Practically all management books talk about the importance of learning from failure; yet our egos and the culture of many organisations, do not make it easy for us to admit that we have made a mistake. Our individual and collective egos can collaborate to ensure that we keep throwing time, energy and resources into a project, long after we should have bailed out; causing us to act in a manner more befitting of a desperate gambler than a prudent decision-maker. But help is at hand… and there are some tools and techniques to help us to ‘know when to fold them’ (in the words of Kenny Rodgers). Setting checkpoints to remind us to assess project progress to date is a useful way to help us to see if things are working or not. A checkpoint could be when the project has spent $50,000 on a certain activity, or six months from now when a progress review will take place. These checkpoints trigger an assessment, when the decision to carry on, quit or modify an activity can be taken. A technique I use when undertaking risky actions is “bookending” which involves estimating best case (“upper bookend”) and worst case (“lower bookend”) acceptable scenarios. If things get worse than the worst case, then it could well be time to bail out! In the next part, I outline approaches we can use to understand our project’s ecosystem and to manage in alignment with this ecosystem.
  47. Welcome to Part 6 of my presentation on the humble project management toolkit for better results in an uncertain world, in which I talk about the toolkit compartments U & M.
  48. U is for understand the project’s ecosystem and M is for manage in alignment with the project’s ecosystem. We are all part of an ecosystem with connections, interactions and relations with other actors and factors. In the famous words of the English poet John Donne “no man is an island, entire of itself.” We have some power to change this ecosystem but this ecosystem also has the power to change us. Managing a project without regard to the ecosystem of which it is a part is like transplanting an organ without giving due consideration to the recipient’s immune system. In such instances, the chances of rejection and other complications are very high.
  49. So it is very important to understand your project’ ecosystem. This Roman coin features the two-faces of Janus; the Roman God of Doors. You might think that Janus was at the back of the queue when Jupiter was handing out the Godly duties. But doors were revered Roman mythology. The door is symbolic, as a place from which you can look both back and forward; hence Janus’s two faces. The first month of the year, January is named after Janus as it is a time when we look back at the last year and forward to the next. In terms of ecology, Janus symbolises looking both inwards and outwards. Using a simultaneously inward and outward focus, I want to examine three aspects of the project’s ecosystem: The project landscape – the milieu within which the project is embedded; Project objectives and processes: Objectives being the change to which the project wishes to contribute; and processes - how the project seeks to contribute to the intended change; and Organisational practices – how the organisation that implements the project maintains its fitness for purpose, so that its own behaviour is in alignment with the system of which it is a component.
  50. In terms of managing in alignment with the project’s ecosystem, I think this cartoon perfectly illustrates the fact that we often fail to consider ourselves to be part of the change process to which we wish to contribute. The audience is very keen when the UN leader asks them if they want change But there is a palpable loss of enthusiasm when he asks them if they want to change.
  51. In terms of understanding the project landscape, it is very important to know your project’s niche – or the location and function of the project in the landscape within which it is embedded. In terms of social actors, one can consider this niche as circles of control, influence, and interest. This is a concept used in the ‘Outcome Mapping’ system for project planning, monitoring and evaluation – a system I find very useful and use extensively in my work. The project is embedded in a landscape that comprises of many social actors. The project more or less controls the actions of those who are responsible for project implementation. This is the project’s sphere of control. But a project does not, or at least should not, exist solely for the benefit of the project implementation team! So this implementation team interacts with others, who they hope to directly influence. These individuals and institutions constitute the project’s sphere of influence. Beyond this sphere of direct influence, there are other social actors that a project seeks to indirectly influence. These individuals and institutions constitute the project’s sphere of interest or concern. As you will remember from the Fish Soup Development Story, this is the parent’s sphere of worry!! You will also notice that the arrows of influence are double headed because influence is a two-way street. Those implementing a project are change agents but they need to be open to changing as well.
  52. In terms of managing in alignment with the project landscape; it is advisable to place most effort in the spheres of control and influence, where you are best placed to make a difference. Of course, as is clear from its name, you are still interested in the sphere of interest, concern or worry; but your ability to directly affect change in this sphere, at least in the short term, is limited. This understanding of our limitations when it comes to what we can and cannot control has been expressed succinctly and poetically in the three lines of the ‘Serenity Prayer’ that have been made famous by its use in Alcoholics Anonymous: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change The courage to change the things I can And the wisdom to know the difference
  53. When it comes to understanding project objectives and processes; it is important to identify what is simple and what is not, because… in the words of systems thinking experts Bob Williams and Richard Hummelbrunner "Managing everything as if it is simple is ineffective and managing everything as if it is complex is inefficient." So when it comes to simple situations; those in which there is high predictability and widespread agreement, we can put a lot of effort in the planning process, as a well-constructed plan, should under most circumstances yield the desired results. In such circumstances, ongoing monitoring of project activities (‘what gets done’) and results (‘what gets achieved’), can be relatively light, as it is essentially a box ticking exercise. This is also the case for the periodic evaluation process; which assesses parameters such as the relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, sustainability and impact of an intervention.
  54. It is desirable to develop a carefully planned system to automate simple tasks such as templates, checklists, activity logs and tracking tools - the stuff of classic project management. My poster child for automating simple tasks is Vivi the Mauritian streetside fast food vendor. He produces the same product to the same standard day after day, at an extremely rapid pace. His product is always to hand, as are his carrier bags and other materials, and he can always access the correct change when it is needed. Vivi’s queues of customers are long but you get served quickly; in contrast to many of his competitors who have not developed an automated system and take much more time. In project management, the development of systems to automate simple tasks - such as certain types of meetings, and reporting obligations - can free up time and energy for the more challenging aspects of project management.
  55. When it comes to the complex aspects of a project; it is not possible to plan with such great precision, because there is a high degree of uncertainty and disagreement, when it comes to objectives and the actions required to achieve them. In such cases, it is extremely important to emphasise monitoring and evaluation, which will help us make sense of what happened and the outcomes to which our actions contributed. Intensive monitoring and evaluation allows us to capture both planned and unplanned, positive and negative outcomes. The information from our monitoring and evaluation efforts can then be fed into the planning process.
  56. This systematic process of planning, action, monitoring of what happened, reflection upon what happened, learning from our understanding and replanning, is known as the ‘Action Learning Cycle.’ The Action Learning Cycle is the basis for a systematic adaptive management framework. The Action learning cycle can be mapped onto my three standard evaluation questions: What? What was done? What was not done? Who did what? And, what were the results of what was done? So what? What is the significance of the activities and results? and Now what? Given what happened and its significance, what should we do in future to ensure that we can build on our successes to date? So adaptive management, is a systematic evidence-based framework for flexible decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. It is NOT an excuse for making things up as you go along.
  57. This is NOT an example of adaptive management!! This is just laziness, pure and simple!!
  58. The third aspect of the project ecosystem I would like to talk about is organisational practices; because no organisation is a hermetically sealed entity standing outside the ecosystem. So we need to understand how well aligned our organisation is with the ecosystem of which it is a part. One way of doing this is by using ‘Viable System Modelling’ (or VSM for short), in which we assess our organisation’s alignment with its purpose, projects and landscape, by breaking down the organisation into interacting subsystems; each of which is analogous with sub-systems in the human body. There are the day to day operations such as production and distribution which could be thought of as an organisation’s musculoskeletal system. There is internal coordination and monitoring, ensuring that the organisation’s components interact in a coherent manner. This coordination system is analogous with the human nervous system. There are external interactions, the connections to the outside world such as communications and intelligence gathering, which can be thought of as the organisation’s eyes and other sense organs And finally there is strategy and policy which is analogous with the human brain.
  59. Viable System Modelling serves as both a diagnostic and a design tool, so can be used to help an organisation adapt its systems, so that they more closely align with project objectives, project processes and the project landscape. An organisational development approach I find particularly useful in this respect is ‘Appreciative Inquiry’, which seeks to design systems around people’s best experiences. It represents a bottom-up approach to organisational development, in which we seek to know, show and grow bright spots or good practice in organisations and projects; so that we get more of what we want… and less of what we don’t want. Appreciative Inquiry does not deny the negative, rather it invites us to be sensitive to the people we work with and the context within which they live and work. As a consultant, I find Appreciative Inquiry to be an excellent approach as it ensures that you draw upon people’s own experiences as a point of departure, rather than coming in with a preconceived recipe for change. It helps to validate the client’s experiences, so honours what has been done up to now, rather than ripping apart or marginalising current practices, by focusing on the existing situation as a ‘problem’ and imposing an external ‘solution’.
  60. In this way, Appreciative Inquiry serves as a defence against the so-called Seagull Effect – the name given to the (common) phenomenon of consultants flying in, landing, liberally spreading their external ‘wisdom’ over the heads of others, and leaving a mess that needs to be cleaned up by those who are left behind! In the next part, I introduce approaches to bring in diverse perspectives in terms of involving different stakeholders and viewpoints.
  61. Welcome to Part 7 of my presentation on the humble project management toolkit for better results in an uncertain world, in which I talk about compartment B.
  62. B is for Bring in diverse perspectives. Nobody knows everything and everybody knows something; and even if this cliché was not true, no project manager can get very far if they do not involve others and take their perspectives into account.
  63. In the words of the African proverb If you want to go fast, go alone if you want to go far, go together.
  64. Identify and involve partners at all stages as far as possible. However, you may not be able to directly discuss things with all those you hope to influence for a whole variety of reasons. In some projects, such as those that aim to tackle corruption, increase transparency, or reform legislation; there may be distrust and hostility between the project team and those they seek to influence.
  65. However, even in such circumstances, it is still important to at least make an effort to understand the perspectives of these groups. It is also very valuable to understand the diverse perspectives of those in the project implementation team; all of whom will have unique experiences and viewpoints which, if heard, may help to enhance the success of the project. It is important, though not always easy, to encourage critical thinking in your team.
  66. People tend to be deferential towards hierarchy. An example of this relates to Alfred Sloan, long-time CEO and Chairman of General Motors who once interrupted a committee meeting to ask the question: “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here?” All the committee members nodded. In response, Sloan said “Then, I propose we postpone further discussion on this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps understand what this decision is about.”
  67. One way to help bring in diverse perspectives, so that people can disagree without being disagreeable, and to represent perspectives of those who are not present in the meeting; is the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ technique developed by Edward de Bono - He of lateral thinking fame. The Six Thinking Hats technique encourages critical thinking in your team by helping them to toggle between a range of perspectives. In a meeting the six, differently coloured, thinking hats are shared among the team or all the team uses a single hat in turn. Each hat corresponds to a certain way of thinking. The white hat is associated with logic, data and information, to identify what information is available and what further information is needed. The red hat is associated with feeling, intuition and emotion – which are important factors in decision-making, but ones that are often marginalised in western culture, which tends to value rationality above emotion. The yellow hat represents the optimistic or sunny viewpoint on the issue in hand. In the language of bookending, those wearing the yellow hat are focused towards the upper bookend. The black hat is the inverse, relates to critical judgement; and is focused towards the lower bookend. The green hat is for creative thinking and the generation of new ideas, and;
  68. Another way of bringing in diverse perspectives is to use “Reference Class Forecasting” which involves finding out about the experience of others who have worked in similar types of projects, so that the group can learn from these experiences. Although reference class forecasting seems like a no-brainer, it is seldom carried out very thoroughly. As far as I know, it was not done for Wembley Stadium, Concorde or the Sydney Opera House; the three megaprojects that featured in Part 2, in my Project Planning Fallacy ‘Hall of Shame’. Even those who should know a lot better, have admitted to blind spots when it comes to reference class forecasting.
  69. In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” Kahneman recounts an anecdote about a team he assembled in Israel to develop a high school curriculum and an accompanying textbook on judgement and decision-making. About one year into their work, Kahneman realised that the team had failed to look at the base rates of those who had developed similar products before. So he asked the Dean of the Hebrew University’s School of Education, who was the team member with the most experience of other similar projects, about how long the process took in comparable circumstances. The Dean’s reply was disconcerting. He stated that about 40% of such projects were never actually completed, and those that were took at least seven years. The team had estimated that it would take them from one and a half to two and a half years to complete the process and they had never contemplated failure at all. But perhaps they could be faster than average if they were more able than average; so the Dean was asked how this group compared to the others. He thought for a while. Below average, was his response… but not by much! The committee considered this information for a while, and then proceeded to ignore it and returned to their old estimates as if nothing had happened. As things turned out the text book took nine years to develop… and it was never actually used!! In the next and final part, I introduce the remaining two compartments in the humble project management toolkit: Learn constantly and Embrace uncertainty.
  70. Welcome to the eighth and final part of my presentation on the humble project management toolkit for better results in an uncertain world, in which I talk about compartments l and E: Learn Constantly and Embrace Uncertainty
  71. L is for Learn Constantly and to facilitate this learning, it is important to cultivate an open mind.
  72. In the words of the Greek speaking Stoic philosopher Epictetus “It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.”
  73. It is now widely accepted that learning is something that is not restricted to formal teaching and training environments… I like the model of multiple learning modes as used by the ‘European Life Long Learning Institute’, which represents different types of learning which include: Traditional modes of learning through knowledge dissemination; and Action learning or learning by doing; which has come to prominence in recent years… but also; Learning by being; by being constantly aware and therefore receptive to learning at all times; and Learning by living together, by honouring and accepting the perspective of others thus opening yourself to learning opportunities; a perspective I introduced earlier when talking about Appreciative Inquiry in Part 6. As mentioned, learning by doing is a fantastic way to learn as is learning by teaching. This does not have to be teaching in the formal sense but can involve communicating to others about what you know and what you do.
  74. So use every opportunity to practice and teach what you learn. The precise figures on average retention rates after learning through different processes - from being a passive recipient of a lecture to teaching others - are subject to dispute… but the message is clear. Practice and teach for deeper learning.
  75. And now for the final compartment in our humble project management toolkit. E is for Embrace Uncertainty. It should be pretty clear by now that I believe that we live in a highly uncertain world, and I hope I have marshalled enough evidence to convince you of this fact as well. So rather than resisting the inevitable, it is more resourceful to embrace uncertainty, and to tap into the opportunities it provides.
  76. In the words of Tony Robbins… “We must learn to love change, for it is the only thing that is certain.” The value of embracing uncertainty can be illustrated with some examples of ‘silver linings’ or opportunities that could have remained hidden in the ‘clouds of failure’ forever if it were not for the ingenuity of those who decided to delve a little deeper.
  77. Here are some failed inventions: A tablecloth that was too weak; A not very sticky glue; and A not very effective heart drug.
  78. That went on to become massive successes The tablecloth that was too weak went on to become cellophane - which is used in hundreds of millions of homes throughout the world; The not very sticky glue spawned the post-it note - which is used in millions of workplaces throughout the world; and The not very effective heart drug became Viagra - which is apparently very popular with millions of men, and quite possibly women throughout the world!!! So embracing uncertainty can pay dividends
  79. Nonetheless, embracing uncertainty can seem very scary; especially when you have been immersed in the false notion that certainty is the rule, and not the exception. But things are a lot less scary when you have a robust navigation system.
  80. This navigation system comprises of your vision, your mission, and a diverse set of navigation aids. The vision describes something bigger than ourselves that guides, motivates and inspires us, and to which we can contribute.
  81. One of the most compelling vision statements of all time was Martin Luther King’s 1963 ‘I have a dream’ speech in which he outlined his vision for equal rights and justice for Americans of all colours. King knew that he might not live to see his vision become a reality; and also that he alone could not make it happen; but he could, and did, make a powerful contribution to the vision through his life and his work. This personal contribution was King’s mission
  82. The personal contribution we can make to our vision is our mission. The mission is that “bite” of the vision statement on which you are going to focus. A project vision and mission are important tools in the humble project management toolkit…
  83. Which can provide you with a diverse set of navigation aids that can contribute to the robust navigation system that will help you… to embrace uncertainty… In a world of cognitive biases and complexity. For better results in an uncertain world
  84. And finally… here are a few of the many books and articles I have found useful in the preparation of this series of presentations.