Managing uncertainty and harnessing ingenuity

Team Building in India

Team Building in India

Too often most certified project managers become consumed by, ‘by the book’ project guidelines or by PMBOK. What very few project managers can do – which makes the difference between project manager and international project manager (and thereby determines the level of success on particular projects) – is to manage uncertainty and harness ingenuity (the prime metaphysical skills of project management). For whatever reason, these traits are not instilled within all project managers (possibly because they require long-term focus). You only have to look at the Exxon Valdez disaster to see what I mean (it could have been avoided).

consistently motivate the team towards daily quality improvements

On the metaphysical plane, an international project manager interacts on levels which are not written about in text books. They are driven by very potent goals. The activities which form this interaction allows them to form a bond with the project (to recognise different types of intelligence, attune to variant behaviour patterns and to consistently motivate the team towards daily quality improvements). These disciplines allow for them to become aware of all aspects of the project. So much so that even a micro-change would alert them to take corrective or complimentary action. In this way, for example, they limit the amount of uncertainty that resides within the project and contain it through an advanced form of project, programme and portfolio management (advanced enough to push the team and themselves beyond their limits).

these techniques are not considered as profitable skills

Ingenuity management for example, the true source of a project’s success is stored in the minds of the project stakeholders. For whatever reason, this knowledge usually remains dormant – quite possibly because the techniques for harvesting them have not yet gained popularity. Equally worrying, these techniques are not considered as profitable skills, so they are not taught  in mainstream management educational programmes, such as the MBA. They will do eventually, because organisations will see evidence of this harvesting technique in the form of the ’Super-normal’ profits this hidden knowledge will produce when cultivated. On some projects, this has already begun.

use the ingenuity of Soichiro Honda

Whilst consulting at Sainsbury’s I had to investigate why it had lost £3million worth of equipment and if possible locate it. In the process of the project, I renamed titles of the retail infrastructure team, and got them (and myself) new business cards with their new titles. Do you know what happened? That team transformed itself into those new titles virtually over night. For example, they changed their previous procurement habits (which had created the £3million loss) to fall in line with their new titles. All I had done was to use the ingenuity of Soichiro Honda to transform the procurement habits of a team that were highly resistant to change the way it had done things for the past 5 years. A few months later we eventually recovered the lost £3million worth of equipment, and avoided pending supplier lawsuits. My point, wherever you find ingenuity, cultivate it into your projects. The results will astound you.

building on and around people’s abilities rather than limiting them

Organisations will be transformed embracing diverse intelligences, and build upon its employee’s unique abilities – once the techniques for ingenuity management become common practice. Sir Ian Gibson, formerly Chief Executive of Nissan, puts this better, “As organisations we must become increasingly able to change quickly and easily. This means building on and around people’s abilities rather than limiting them for the convenience of recognisable roles.” For some organisations in different countries this model is being achieved. I have worked in organisations where the structure is flat and great emphasis is normally placed more on the individual, rather than upon the title he/she holds or the department they are in. Moulding and coaching a team member’s talents takes time because even they may not know they have them. Once you do this, then the hidden dynamics of your project will fall under your control.

everyone is intelligent in some way, if only we could recognize it

Management of ingenuity is tied to the recognition of the multiple types of intelligence that all of us possess, but is seldom recognised within the organisation. Professor Charles Handy’s book ‘Inside Organizations’ lends much more to the metaphysical plane, “What is important is the possibility, I would say the probability, that everyone is intelligent in some way, if only we could recognize it. It is the tragedy of much of our schooling that we are led to think that logical intelligence is the only type that matters“.

visualise and realise the extraordinary profits

Hence, organisations have little to no realisation of the hidden potential residing within the minds of its stakeholders because its Managers are not taught to recognise it. Whilst ‘logical intelligence’ remains the de-facto measurement criteria inside many organisations, they will never be able to visualise and realise the extraordinary profits they could attain from the remaining intelligence types. Professor Handy lists these as; “Spatial, Practical, Physical, Intra-Personal and Inter-Personal”.

Professor Charles Handy, and Dr. W. Edwards Deming, have been proven correct

The deliveries of impossible projects are being achieved in exactly this way. Speaking from absolute experience, I have no doubt that Professor Charles Handy, and well before him, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, have been proven correct in their postulations; at least as far as my projects are concerned in respect to; Sainsburys, Mobilkom and PwC. Without their insights, it is doubtful I would be writing this, and I remain thoroughly committed to using them on my future projects.


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