On the Importance of Words…

It is part of our culture at Protegra to carefully choose the words we use to represent ourselves and communicate. It is understood how important the very words are themselves and what they say about us when we use them. For example, we don’t use the term employee or manager as those words imply a hierarchy and categorize people. We routinely create new terms for industry terms not to be difficult, but because we feel the industry terms do not communicate the true intent and possibly communicate the wrong message.

I must admit that sometimes I feel we fuss too much about the terms we use. I have often thought that the discussions would be quicker if we just adopted the terms that everyone else uses. I mean we know that know that we don’t have managers and employees, what would be the harm in using the manager term to just have a common language with other people? We could communicate quicker and there would be less back and forth and miscommunication. Right?

A lesson from my Son on Father’s Day

On Father’s day I took my son and daughter to our favourite place, The Manitoba Museum. Little did I know that my son would teach me the importance of the words we use.

Anyone who has been to the Manitoba Museum probably knows the Buffalo diorama right inside the entrance.

musuem2

As we walked up to it, my son informed his sister that the diorama was depicting a First Nations Buffalo Hunt and the First Nations hunted the Buffalo for food and clothing.

Wow.

As my son talked about the First Nations as we walked through the Museum, the First Nations were talked about with equality and respect. Maybe some of this was due to the absence of terms that in the past created a hierarchy between First Nations and Canadians that immigrated here. Regardless of the cause, I thought about how important the words we choose are. The words can determine the image we portray and whether it is a positive or negative image. I then appreciated the work that has been done over the past decade to implement the First Nations term. In provides my son and daughter a much better image of the respect and duty the First Nations people are owed by the rest of Canada.

And it also reminded me how important words are when we interact with people in our teams and in all aspects of life.

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Are you playing #Project Battleship??? #pmot #baot #agile

I was talking in our co-located room last week on a particularly frustrating day to a co-worker. I enjoy talking to Hanaa as she has an adept analytical mind, great technical skills, and a great sense of humour. A rare find indeed.

Anyway, I was talking about my frustration where some discussions and emails exchanges didn’t seem to be moving forward to solving issues. They seemed to be just playing hot potato with who currently owned the issue. This finally came to a head when I tried to schedule a quick discussion to try to solve an issue and one person just replied back that they couldn’t make that time. I expressed my frustration at the lack explanation or options provided by the person. It was just stated they couldn’t make it, and it seemed it was back in my court.

Hanaa then said “Yea, that can be frustrating – this isn’t battleship”

LOL

Project Battleship

What a great analogy. Or metaphor? I can never keep those two straight.

Anyway, what a great image to keep in mind on projects. I think we are all guilty sometimes on focusing on just getting the issue off our plate rather than ensuring our actions are moving closer to solving a problem. I’ve kept this image in my mind ever since. I use it to guide me with all my actions. Are my actions showing commitment to moving closer to solving problems? Or am I just getting the issue of my plate and not moving it closer to resolution?

The image reminded me that we must always focus on two-way dialogue instead of the sometimes easier one-way email communication. It can be so easy to respond to an email with another email that doesn’t help to solve the problem or move closer to solving the problem. In many instances, additional replies to emails usually move the team away from a solution rather than towards it.

Summary

Do you sometime fall into playing Project Battleship? As team mates we must always ensure our actions move the project forward and not backward or standing still.

Focused, bi-directional communication is the only way to ensure the project is successful. Hiding behind our screens and issuing one directional commands or questions in email are an easy trap to fall into.

The #1 rule of Project Management illustrated by the new Winnipeg Blue Bomber Stadium experience

I am a rabid football fan. Although my favourite team is the Green Bay Packers, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers follow closely behind. The new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is one of the best things to happen to this city in a long time. If it wasn’t for the MTS Centre and the return of the Winnipeg Jets, we could easily say it is the most important event in the last 30 years for the sports community in Manitoba.

I believe that the project to build Investors Group field is a major undertaking that has many complexities that everyone outside of the project are probably not aware of. In this way it is very similar to the issues on a Software Development project which look very simple to fix from the outside. This blog contains observations of someone from the outside without the knowledge and context on the issues.

The blog post is not intended to be negative or pessimistic in regards to the building of Investors Group field, but I am struck with how certain aspects of the project to build the stadium has a direct relationship to what can happen on a Software Development project. It isn’t so much the issues and under-estimation that has caused me to see the similarities, but rather how the issues have been communicated. Every project will encounter issues, but I find the great projects excel in the communication of the issues.  

Communication

This has to be the number one rule for all the great projects I have been a part of. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but bad news delivered early and promptly is usually met with a short-term negative reaction followed by long-term understanding and buy-in. When the ground was broken in May 2010, but excavation was not started until September 2010 the project was already behind the schedule for what the general public thought the construction schedule was. Add to this the subsequent delays caused by other factors and the completion date is now 90 days behind schedule. Perhaps the people on the project were kept up to date on the schedule, but from the outside it appears that the communication to the real stakeholders, the public and season ticket holders, was not done until recently.

I can’t help but think that if the public was made aware of the delay early on, I believe the reaction would now be far more understanding. In this way, I think it is very similar to all stakeholders on Software Development projects. The mantra always is: “Just don’t surprise me”. Unfortunately the fans were surprised by a delay of 3 months after continued assurances the project was on track.

In discussions published about what would happen if the new stadium was not ready in time, there seemed to be an unwillingness to even consider playing games back at CanadInn Stadium. While this may have been a communication designed to keep the pressure on to meet the date, it again resulted in a lack of communication to the true stakeholders. The season tickets holders wondered why the team would not even consider playing back at the old stadium and it appeared from the outside that a contingency plan did not exist to play at the old stadium. I believe that contingency plans existed all along but the problem is that without communication, the dark side of communication appeared on the scene…. perception.

So with the lack of communication, the public made up their own reality in what they perceived could be happening…. and well you know the rest. 

Summary

I harken back to the Mike Kelly days and think of how he used the phrase “Control the message”. I think in Project Management the phrase to use is “Get ahead of people creating their own perception”.

The stadium will be awesome when it is created. I look forward to attending many games and hopefully hearing many updates over the summer months on how the project is progressing…

Now if someone can just explain why they didn’t keep Donny Oramasionwu, I’d be a happy man…