When the time comes to depart from a carefully designed project plan, improvisation is often necessary. In Part I of this series, we explored some fundamentals of improvisation. In Part III, we'll explore the relationship between improvisation and risk management. We now turn to examining improvisation as a group process.
- Avoid the rush to improvisation
- Replanning takes time. And sometimes, replanning requires halting further work. If there isn't time to replan, and if work must continue, improvisation is a very tempting alternative, even though replanning is usually safer and cheaper than improvising.
- The rush to improvisation is often driven by group panic. Ask yourself, are you certain there's no time for replanning? That work really must continue? Sometimes, the rush to improvise is internally driven — we don't want to stop to think. That's a very risky reason for improvising.
- Remember that improvisation is a team effort
- At the point when a decision maker concludes that it's time to improvise, the rest of the team is still following the plan. Since whatever follows is a team effort, improvisation will be more successful if the team improvises together.
- When improvisation begins, all objectives, resource allocations, roles, and responsibilities are subject to change. A thorough group understanding of the new situation and the new approach is necessary for effective group improvisation.
- Devise your improvisation compatibly
- Operational structures of groups vary widely, from hierarchies to heterarchies or clouds. Hierarchical structures are top-down, command-and-control oriented, while cloud structures produce coordinated efforts in a more emergent fashion. An effective improvisational approach uses a style that is compatible with the operational structure already in place.
- For instance, a team that uses a hierarchical operational structure is unlikely to produce a successful improvisational approach if asked to do so using a cloudlike structure. And a team accustomed to an autonomous approach to normal operations will have great difficulty when an improvised alternative is imposed on them by fiat. Choose an approach to developing the improvisation that is compatible with the team's culture. If you must deviate, enroll the team in the deviation first.
- Use sophisticated communications
- Project inception Remember that
is a team effortusually includes extensive group communication to propagate the vision of the project, its importance to the organization, and the roles of all involved. When improvising begins, the resulting project configuration can conflict with much of whatever was communicated at project inception.
- Those conflicts must be clearly communicated. We must communicate the new configuration, the new roles, and the new responsibilities, and in so doing, erase the no-longer-relevant elements of the old project plan. Because coordination is essential to effective improvisation, the need for communication within the team escalates dramatically when improvisation begins. That's one reason why improvisation is so much more difficult for virtual teams.
Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience is rare. In part, it's rare because we usually strive only for adequacy, not for greatness. We do this because we don't fully appreciate the returns on greatness. Not only does it feel good to be part of great team — it pays off. Check out my Great Teams Workshop to lead your team onto the path toward greatness. More info
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More articles on Project Management:
- Team Thrills
- Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience
is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
- The Injured Teammate: I
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is very ill or has been severely injured. How do you
handle it? How do you break the news? What does the team need? What do you need?
- Nonlinear Work: Internal Interactions
- In this part of our exploration of nonlinear work, we consider the effects of interactions between the
internal elements of an effort, as distinguished from the effects of external changes. Many of the surprises
we encounter in projects arise from internals.
- Scope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
- Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable
to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion
of control" — might provide explanations.
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: II
- We know we're in firefighting mode when a new urgent problem disrupts our work on another urgent problem,
and the new problem makes it impossible to use the solution we thought we had for some third problem
we were also working on. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for getting out of firefighting mode.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.