How Pervasive Leadership Can Help You Manage Successful Projects

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The project analysis proceeded swiftly with everyone working together. When the team looked at the data six days out, it was sobering: three thousand documents in the repository, most not accessed in more than six months. Three million dollars spent in the last eighteen months, and nothing useful delivered. No steering committee meetings in a year. A turnover rate of more than 50 percent. Inconsistent use of a source code control system, and no defect tracking process or software in place.

The team looked at each other and at Lisle, then away. Some were clearly angry.

“How did this happen?” Sandeep, one of the newer coders, asked.

“A little bit at a time,” Jamey said quietly.

Sandy fumed, “They didn’t listen to us. They never listened to us.”

Lisle could see she was about to start another rant.

“All right!” Lisle said. “Things will be different now, or I won’t continue on the project.” Several people looked up in surprise. “Knowing what we know now, do we still have a partnership to go forward with purpose, commitment, joint accountability, and absolute honesty? Let’s get it out there. Do we think we can turn this around?”

After a period of silence, Jamey said, “I think we can.” Several developers looked at him hopefully. They respected him, and for good reason: He had both technical chops and the ability to understand the organization.

After a heavy sigh, Sandy said, “Yes, I think we can, too. But we have to change the way we’ve been working, and we’re going to need a lot of support from the organization, which I’m not sure we can get.”

“Leave that to me,” Lisle said. “Let’s get a workable plan in place. Let me know the support you need, and I’ll include it in the presentation. I’ll need at least some of you to show up in case I get some tough questions. And, as far as I’m concerned, you can all come.”

They had dug into the project so thoroughly that the organizational issues preventing success had become clear, as well as issues with their own skill sets and work processes. It was time to think locally and act wholistically. It wasn’t as though all of Acme Corporation’s projects were green. About half were red at any given time; this one just happened to be throbbing magenta.

As Lisle worked with the team to flesh out a plan, she also worked on the organizational interests in her presentation. Several key items, if solved for Whistler, could help other projects currently on the skids.

The day of the presentation came, and Lisle, backed by the team, appeared before the head of the PMO, every project manager in the organization, executive stakeholders, and the project sponsor. Dave said he had never seen such a thorough analysis and turnaround plan. Lisle credited the team’s full participation and support.

The turnaround plan was ratified, due in no small part to other project managers speaking up about similar problems on their projects. Whistler was given special latitude as a prototype. The PMO wanted to see if certain changes would decrease the number of red projects at Acme. Eight months later, at Whistler’s final retrospective, the hypotheses and hard work of the team had been proven. Once a complete disaster and organizational embarrassment—the project everyone ran from—Whistler had turned out to be the project others envied.

And Lisle had come to have great affection for the team. Her last day on the job was a bit sad, but the prospect of two weeks in Hawaii made up for it. She’d need the rest. The next nasty mess was out there waiting for a project manager with some moxie.

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About the author

Jean Richardson's picture Jean Richardson

Over the course of nearly 25 years, Jean has become experienced in coaching, agile and traditional project management, requirements and business analysis, and training. Her experience and career path have spanned both traditional and agile methods, frameworks, and cultural perspectives.

The agile leadership model she espouses, Pervasive Leadership, is designed to help leaders set a collaborative context while still meeting their own stewardship responsibilities to the organization.

In addition to coaching and managing projects, Jean has been a Multnomah County Court mediator for the last 13 years and served as a Better Business Bureau arbitrator. She currently serves on the Agile PDX coordinating committee, is co-founder of the Leadership Salon, serves in the role of PMI Chapter Engagement Representative for the Agile Community of Practice in Portland, and is a member of the Portland Chapter mentoring committee.

Her client list includes a wide range of businesses including ADP, Cambia Health Solutions, Chrome Systems, Idealist, Intel, Daimler Chrysler, Mentor Graphics, City of Portland, Oregon State Department of Human Services and Oregon Health Authority, Portland General Electric, Tripwire, and UTi.

She is currently writing Leading Beyond Your Lifetime: An Introduction to Pervasive Leadership, for leaders moving into the new leadership paradigm.

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