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:
- Toxic Projects
- A toxic project is one that harms its organization, its people or its customers. We often think of toxic
projects as projects that fail, but even a "successful" project can hurt people or damage
the organization — sometimes irreparably.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: I
- Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges
do they face, and what can we do about them?
- Guidelines for Sharing "Resources"
- Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided
responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they
share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
- Wishful Interpretation: II
- Wishful "thinking," as we call it, can arise in different ways. One source is the pattern
of choices we make when we interpret what we see, what we hear, or any other information we receive.
Here's Part II of an inventory of ways our preferences and wishes affect how we interpret the world.
- The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we
tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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