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.
In two weeks, we'll examine how improvisation interacts with risk management. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Shining Some Light on "Going Dark"
- If you're a project manager, and a team member "goes dark" — disappears or refuses to
report how things are going — project risks escalate dramatically. Getting current status becomes
a top priority problem. What can you do?
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I
- Whoever facilitates your distributed meetings — whether a dedicated facilitator or the meeting
chair — will discover quickly that remote facilitation presents special problems. Here's a little
catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- When Change Is Hard: II
- When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance."
But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still
encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
- Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
- We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably
is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
See also Project Management and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 7: Toxic Disrupters: Tactics
- Some people tend to disrupt meetings. Their motives vary, but they use techniques drawn from a limited collection. Examples: they violate norms, demand attention, mess with the agenda, and sow distrust. Response begins with recognizing their tactics. Available here and by RSS on June 7.
- And on June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
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