Episode 125 – Leading Projects: Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice

Episode #125
Original Air Date: 03.15.2021

35 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Kiron Bondale

Are you learning project management from the school of hard knocks? According to Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Our guest Kiron Bondale, PMP, PMI-ACP, PSM II, ICP-ACC, PMI-RMP, DASSM published his first book, Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice – 100 lessons in project leadership, in January 2021. Listen in for some pragmatic, practice-based insights into project leadership in this episode.

Kiron shares actions a PM can take to build team psychological safety. He presents three steps: plan it, live it, and champion it. Kiron talks about building appreciation into team meetings so we’re not stifling the ability to provide constructive feedback. Kiron explains some signs of self-managing, high-performing teams. These include accountability from within, embedded continuous improvement, and unconscious yet effective delegation.

Hear how traditional lessons learned or agile retrospectives can be translated into organizational learning. Too often we focus on onboarding, but we miss important opportunities when someone leaves. Kiron shares three points to consider when someone leaves a project. As we tackle the subject of Risk, Kiron suggests, how we can look at risk through the eyes of our stakeholders. Hear Kiron's thoughts about the practical use of the Delphi Technique in qualitative risk analysis.

Kiron has worked in the project management domain for over twenty-five years and is a senior consultant for World Class Productivity Inc. He is an active member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and served as a volunteer director on the Board of the PMI Lakeshore Chapter for six years. Kiron has reviewed and contributed to multiple PMI standards and practice guides including the Sixth and Seventh editions of the PMBOK® Guide. Kiron has been frequently published in project management, as well as industry-specific journals, and he has been blogging on a weekly basis since 2009.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"When I started my career in project management, I was obsessed with the process side of it, the practices, the tools, the techniques of project management. I wanted to build the world’s greatest schedule. I ignored the people. I forgot that it’s people that deliver project outcomes, not the processes, not the practices."

- Kiron Bondale

"... if we focus on the positives, our energy will go in that direction. Organizations tend to be really good at putting up dashboards of risks and issues. Why not highlight some of the positives, ... make those really visible, very prominent..."

- Kiron Bondale

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The podcast by project managers for project managers. Are you learning project management from the school of hard knocks? Listen in for some pragmatic, practice-based insights into project leadership. Hear advice about psychological safety, building appreciation, organizational learning, risk analysis and much more. Tips to boost your project success and encourage self-managing, high-performing teams.

Table of Contents

01:18 … Meet Kiron
04:53 … Psychological Safety
07:15 … Soliciting Feedback
09:25 … Building in Appreciation
11:22 … An Appreciation Board
13:32 … Accountability from Within
14:31 … Embedded Continuous Improvement
15:04 … Unconscious Yet Effective Delegation
16:54 … Translating Lessons Learned into Organizational Learning
18:12 … Information Radiators for Lessons Learned
19:25 … Psychologically Safe Evidence Based Retrospectives
21:50 … Leader Goes First
22:57 … Retrospect on the Retrospectives
24:00 … When Someone Leaves the Project
25:45 … Building Bridges with Functional Managers
27:02 … Risk Management
27:57 … Risk Management as Insurance
30:16 … Delphi Technique on Qualitative Risk Analysis
31:54 … Words of Advice
32:54 … Get in Touch with Kiron
34:01 … Closing

KIRON BONDALE: When I started my career in project management, I was obsessed with the process side of it, the practices, the tools, the techniques of project management.  I wanted to build the world’s greatest schedule.  I ignored the people.  And I forgot that it’s people that deliver project outcomes, not the processes, not the practices.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Listeners, remember if you’re claiming PDUs, check out our website for the instructions for the new procedure.  I am Wendy Grounds, and in the studio with me is Bill Yates.

BILL YATES:  Hi, Wendy.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Good morning, Bill.

BILL YATES:  Good morning to you.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Today we’re very excited to have Kiron Bondale joining us by Skype.  Kiron is a senior consultant for World Class Productivity,and he’s worked in the project management domain for over 25 years.  He is also an active member of PMI and has served as a volunteer director on the board of PMI Lakeshore Chapter for six years.  And Bill, you’re going to tell us about his book.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  I really enjoyed Kiron’s book.  It’s called “Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice.”  He’s a prolific writer.  He’s been blogging for years.  And he’ll describe what inspired him to write this book.  But this book is really practical, filled with advice for project managers, very topical.  We’re going to poke into some of the examples, but I really encourage people to check it out. 

Meet Kiron

WENDY GROUNDS:  Kiron, welcome to Manage This.  Thank you so much for being our guest.

KIRON BONDALE:  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I really appreciate it.

WENDY GROUNDS:  I want to ask you first, why did you write the  book, and what was your thought behind this book?

KIRON BONDALE:  Yes.  It really was prompted by a challenge my father had given me almost two decades ago now, where when I told him I was thinking about starting a blog, and he looked at me, and he kind of said, you know, blogs are for amateurs.  And this is in the early days, when there weren’t a whole lot of people in the blogosphere.  But he kind of said, you know, forget about these 400, 500-word things.  If you want to be serious, write a book.

And my father and I, we disagreed on a variety of topics over the time we spent together.  But that kind of challenge stayed in the back of my head all of these years.  And when I got to roughly about 500 articles in the blog, I started thinking, you know, rather than having to create something from scratch, there’s enough good content there that it probably begs the question, could I not collate it, curate it, create a book from it?  And having some free time on my hands over the Christmas holidays last year, I decided, hey, might as well commit to doing it, then I buckled down and got it done.

BILL YATES:  That’s impressive, 500 articles.  That’s intimidating, though.  How did you pick through it and figure out, okay, what’s book-worthy?

KIRON BONDALE:  Yeah, that’s a great question, Bill.  It’s challenging because the articles I had really reflect the evolution in my thinking about project management, Agile, different topics that I write about.  And so I would go back and look at an article I’d written in maybe year one, year two, that was a great article.  But you could tell it was getting long in the tooth relative to current thinking.  And so even though something was a good article when it was written doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good article now.

And so actually I would say the majority of my effort in producing the manuscript was actually going through and reading word by word to say, will this article stand up, stand the test of time?  Is it still one that I feel is relevant that way?  So you’re absolutely right.  It was extremely challenging.  Probably the second biggest challenge was figuring out how to categorize the articles that I ended up selecting.  And I kind of tried my best, but some of them just sort of fell into a miscellaneous grab bag at the end.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, I liked that at the end of the book, the miscellaneous.  One of my favorites was some of the lessons of project management from the game of golf. 

KIRON BONDALE:  Various people have now challenged me, now that I’ve put the book out, to say, “Well, what are you going to do for a follow-up?”  And I just don’t think I have it in me to create a book with original content.  So I think I might just end up going back to the well again, digging up another set of lessons from the archives.

But this time I’m really tempted to take one where I’ve used analogies.  So lessons from golf, lessons from baking, lessons from “The Simpsons,” that sort of a thing.  I’ve written probably a hundred articles that are of that nature.  And so once I get to the point where I have enough to choose from, I might just do a book where it’s all the analogies of project management, or lessons that we learn from analogies and metaphors.

BILL YATES:  That’s too good.  Yeah, that was one of the things that cracked me up as I read the book was just how many references you had to movies.  It’s like, I don’t think there was a movie that you referenced that I had not seen and could quote a line from.  So that was a lot of fun for me.

KIRON BONDALE:  The funny thing, though, is now having been writing for 11 years, it’s funny how many of these quotes I’m recycling.  That famous quote from “The Karate Kid Part II,” Mr. Miyagi’s “Best way to avoid punch, no be there.”  The number of times I’ve gone to that quote in different contexts of articles, I never get tired of it.

BILL YATES:  It’s a great quote.

Psychological Safety

WENDY GROUNDS:  One of the things that we wanted to talk about today. For leaders, they’re not only having to confront psychological safety on their teams, but also individually having to consider psychological safety nets.  So what is your advice?

KIRON BONDALE:  There’s a couple of popular models or approaches that have been talked about.  Amy Edmondson works with the Harvard Business Review, has done a great deal of research on it.  Timothy R. Clark’s got a four-stage model that he produced on psychological safety.  I try to really simplify things when I’ve been presenting about it.  Three steps are what I look at.  It’s about plan it, live it, champion it.  As leaders, we need to do those three pieces.

Planning it is thinking about things like, well, how do we set ourselves up for success from the get-go?  So when your team is initially together, and you’re putting together the working agreements, those rules of engagement, ground rules, whatever you want to call them, it’s we bake psychological safety into that.  If the team members don’t know what it is, we spend some time educating them about it.  So that’s an example of planning for it.

In terms of living it, that’s really saying that as leaders we need to model the behavior we expect from our team members.  And so that means that we need to act in a psychologically safe manner.  So, for example, when a team member brings bad news to us, how we react is extremely important.  We might say the right things.  But if our body language betrays us, and we’re getting red in the face, or it looks like we want to leap out of our seat and throttle the individual, they’re not going to feel really safe about it.

We also want to demonstrate vulnerability.  That’s another way of living it, is showing that it’s okay to be vulnerable.  When we make a mistake, fessing up and saying “Hey, I made a mistake.”  When we don’t know something, saying “I’m not sure.  What do you think?”  That’s a method of showing it’s safe to express vulnerability.

And then, finally, championing it.  An example of that would be having the courage to speak up when you see that someone is eroding psychological safety, whether that’s someone that reports to you as a team member, or it could be actually somebody that’s superior to you.  It might be the project sponsor.  It might be another senior stakeholder.  We need to start to show that we have a zero tolerance policy for activities or behaviors that are going to damage psychological safety.

Soliciting Feedback

 BILL YATES:  One of the things that I struggle with is I may recognize something as, okay, somebody just made a statement or sent out an email that could erode the team’s psychological safety.  But you know what, it didn’t really bother me.  I wasn’t offended by it.  I know this person, and I know how they really intended it, so I’m just going to let it go.  And I think for me one of the challenges has always been my feathers are not easily ruffled.  I think I’ve got a pretty high threshold.  But I have to be more aware of my team and my team makeup.  Not everybody’s wired like me.  So one way for me to model it is really not just for my own personality, but model it for my entire team.  Can you speak to that, or give some advice on that?

KIRON BONDALE:  This is where the linkage between psychological safety and having higher levels of emotional intelligence is so critical.  We need to be self-aware.  We need to be self-managing.  But part of it’s also the awareness of others and where others are, so recognizing that, while we might have thicker skins, there’s others that may not, and that might take something the wrong way, and being plugged into their emotions, plugged into how they think.  And in the early days with a team, with a new team, it’s very difficult because we don’t know who has the thicker skins or the thinner skins.

So that’s where one of the best ways to kind of work through that is to actually solicit feedback.  And maybe it’s after a meeting where you heard something that didn’t necessarily bother you, but it kind of got your spidey senses tingling to say, wait a minute, that may not have sat well with someone else.  Why not follow up with them to say after, hey, you know, so-and-so mentioned this in the meeting.  I just want to check with you.  Were you okay with that?  How did that make you feel?  And by doing that, one, we’re showing concern for the other individual.  We’re trying to empathize with them.  We’re trying to establish a connection. 

But more important, we’re going to get some valuable clues to understand, is this someone that might take the wrong sentence, interpret it the wrong way?  So I think it’s important that, I mean, one, we try to boost our own EQ, and there’s a variety of ways to do that.  But secondly, solicit  feedback, as well.

Building in Appreciation

BILL YATES:  One of the things that you talked about that resonated with me was building appreciation into key team events.  And this was one of the earlier sections in the book.  And I was just like, okay, these are things that I haven’t really thought about before.  I mean, I get the idea of showing appreciation to the team at the right time, in the right manner.  But you talked about building that into some team event.  So tell us more about that.

KIRON BONDALE:  Yeah.  A really great example of this is if we’re doing some sort of a retrospective or a lessons-learned session.  So, now, oftentimes those turn into a bit of a complaining session, either complaining about people that are outside of the room, or finger-pointing at people inside of the room.  Now, we want to make sure that we’re not stifling the ability to provide constructive feedback. 

But to really get people’s heads in the right place, to get them sort of coming from a position of appreciation or a position of gratitude, what I like to start my retrospectives off with is to actually start by asking people to think about who did something nice for you over the last couple of weeks?  Can you think of something where someone helped you out on the team, big or small, it doesn’t matter, and take a minute to appreciate them.

And when we used to work in person, one of the things I used to do when I was an Agile coach is I would bring a box of chocolates into the room.  I would kind of put the chocolates in the middle of the table and say we’re going to go around the room.  And when it’s your turn, grab a couple of chocolates, acknowledge somebody that’s done something to help you out over the last couple of weeks, maybe over our previous sprint, give them a chocolate. 

When you start a meeting that way, everyone’s starting with the right kind of a mindset and attitude.  And even if they’re coming into the meeting stressed and frustrated or annoyed at each other, it’s kind of a moment to sort of say, yeah, they’re not that bad.  They’re good people.  And then it makes the meeting a lot more productive from that perspective, I find.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, you give me chocolate, I’m going to start working well for you.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, yeah, that’ll work with me.

An Appreciation Board

BILL YATES:  Kiron, one of the other things that you brought up related to appreciation that I thought was really clever, and this works with virtual teams, is create an appreciation board.  So what do you mean by that?  What would that look like?

KIRON BONDALE:  Yeah, for sure.  And this is something that translates equally well, as you said, to the physical or the virtual world.  An appreciation board is very simple.  It could be a simple whiteboard or an online collaboration space where we could either prepopulate it with some emojis or emoticons that people can choose from, or we let people be creative themselves.  And we kind of use it like a big thank you board, where when somebody does something that was nice, you kind of acknowledge them right away.

Of course you’re going to tell them.  You’re going to provide them that one-on-one recognition.  But it’s a way of posting it publicly to kind of say, you know, hey, Bill helped me out with this awesome review on Amazon.  I post that up there.  It makes me feel good as the giver of that gratitude.  It makes of course the person receiving the recognition feel good.  But it also creates that culture of appreciation where folks see it, and they kind of think, wow, someone’s being recognized for something that, you know, it’s pretty small.  Wait a minute.  This other person did something that I thought was much bigger.  Let me write about that.  And it kind of creates a bit of a snowball effect, is what I found.

BILL YATES:  Very good.  One of the things that we like to share in our weekly meetings with the team is any time we get over-the-top feedback from a student, you know, somebody’s had success after a class of ours, I think you’re making me mindful to think, okay, we share those verbally in the meeting, but then it kind of goes away.  So, you know, thinking of how do I capture those so that we can be reminded of those things. 

KIRON BONDALE:  There’s a great quote that I’ve, again, gone to the well on a few times, which is, “Where focus goes, energy flows.”  And that’s the key.  It’s like if we focus on the positives, our energy will go in that direction.  Organizations tend to be really good at putting up dashboards of risks and issues.  Why not highlight some of the positives, as well, and make those really visible, very prominent, so using information radiators, whether those are physical or virtual, to highlight the great stuff that’s happened, that team members have done, that stakeholders have done for us.  I think that’s just a really positive message.

Accountability from Within

BILL YATES:  Yeah, keeps the morale up.  One of the posts that you brought into your book, that I thought was great to share with our listeners, you talked about signs of self-managing, high-performing teams.  And I’ve got to tell you, I thought a little bit about Lencioni when I was reading this, and some other authors, too.  But these are so perfect for project teams.  The first one is accountability from within.  So tell us what is that about.

KIRON BONDALE:  For sure.  Accountability from within means that we live up to this higher standard in spite of who’s looking, or even if nobody’s looking.  It’s really easy to be accountable when there’s a manager, a leader in the room that’s saying, “Thou shalt be psychologically safe.”  But when that leader leaves the room, when the scrum master or the Agile lead, the PM, when they’re off sick, does the team continue to hold themselves up to that higher standard?  That’s kind of what I was getting at with that.  We know that we have a really good, self-disciplined, self-managing team when they will continue to operate in the same fashion when no one’s looking.

Embedded Continuous Improvement

BILL YATES:  Okay.  What about – you talk about embedded continuous improvement.  Tell me about that.

KIRON BONDALE:  Absolutely.  What I mean by that is, rather than have to have sort of events, ceremonies, artificial means of telling people, hey, it’s time for us to think about what we could do better, continuous improvement needs to be baked into everything we do.  It’s those continuous improvement between the gaps, I like to say.  We see something that could be improved, we have a quick chat with our team members.  We make the change right there.  It’s really embracing that concept that we’re always striving to get better.

Unconscious Yet Effective Delegation

BILL YATES:  And another one that resonated with me was you describe a really high-performing team as a team that, when a new task or responsibility is presented to the team, they just figure it out.  You know, it’s pretty natural for them to delegate that.  There’s not like one person having to look at it and say, okay, leave me alone in my office, and I’ll come back out declare our next step forward.  It’s like the team figures it out.  Talk about that.

KIRON BONDALE:  Some of the best teams I’ve had the occasion to see – and whether that’s sports teams, teams that you see in movies, or actual project teams – are the ones where they can handle whatever you throw at them.  There’s none of that sort of pause where they get into the analysis paralysis, or where the big brain’s got to run off.  They just kind of look at it and say, hey, who’s best equipped to deal with this?  Boom.  They grab it.

And there’s no ego involved.  The team is truly flat when it comes to that sort of decision-making.  And they say, fine, I know you’re better at handling this than I am.  You take over, and you do that.  And it works just really, really well.  I think it’s the natural extension of moving from a push to a pull to a true flow model where it’s just effortless.  There’s none of the work management overhead that we get with teams where we’ve got to figure out who’s doing what and who’s best suited for what.  It just flows.  The work just flows.

And I always like to use a couple of analogies.  One is the 1980s show “The A Team.”  That was a team that they could handle it, I mean, in episodic fashion every week, didn’t matter what the challenge was.  Four very different personalities, but they gelled so well together, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  The other example I would use is the Rolling Stones, I mean, performing for so many years that, again, they’ve been there through thick and thin together and they can just produce magic in their road shows that other bands just struggle to be able to do.

Translating Lessons Learned into Organizational Learning

WENDY GROUNDS:  Another topic that we wanted to talk to you about today is learning from our projects, you know, whether it’s a traditional lessons learned, or whether we’re talking about Agile retrospectives.  How do we translate that into organizational learning?

KIRON BONDALE:  Learning at the team level, if we can’t translate that into organizational knowledge, into institutional learning, I think there’s a great opportunity that we lose there.  And I look at knowledge management as being similar to quality management.  What we need to be able to do is have a leadership team that creates a system that encourages institutional learning.

Let me just give you one example of that.  One of the big challenges that we face on projects is you get to the end of a project, you have all these great ideas, these great learnings, but there isn’t enough time to curate them, to scrub them, to make them available for the whole organization to really exploit and leverage because the team members are in a rush to get to their next project.  In fact, they might even be overlapping their next project with the previous one.

Organizations that commit to organizational learning or institutional learning, they’ll make sure there’s that time for effective knowledge transfer, and they will actually commit staff, a certain percentage of staff, to spending time learning and sharing what they’ve learned.  That’s an example of where the organization lives learning as opposed to doing learning.

Information Radiators for Lessons Learned

BILL YATES:  You mentioned an information radiator early in our conversation.  And one of the things that you point out with the lessons learned is just the practical advice of, okay, once we’ve captured this information, how are we going to put it out there where the team can see it?  So you talk about information radiators even involving lessons learned.  How have you see that play out with project teams?

KIRON BONDALE:  Lessons learned is – I always call it the “oxymoron.”  We don’t learn the lessons generally.  And one of the reasons behind that is how do we go about putting that information at the right time in the hands of the right people?  Information radiators are a good approach when you’re dealing with smaller teams, when you’re dealing with a limited number of folks in the organization that are going to pick up on the knowledge just through sort of osmotic learning.

But my preference is to say that if something is really, really important, bake it into your standards and practices.  That way people don’t have to go hunting for it like the needle in the haystack.  It’s built into a template, or it’s built into a wiki or somewhere where, as part of doing their job, they’re going to encounter this nugget of information, and it’s going to help them do their job.  So as opposed to you could set up the world’s greatest knowledge management system, but just because you build it doesn’t mean they’re going to come and get it.

Psychologically Safe Evidence Based Retrospectives

BILL YATES:  Two other quick points that you made on effective retrospectives you talked about.  Back to that thing of safety, you know, it has to be a psychologically safe place, and it has to be evidence driven.  So talk about safety and some examples of being evidence driven where I feel I’m not accusing people, I’m just sticking to what’s transpired in a project.

KIRON BONDALE:  So the safety element is critical because learning usually involves a certain amount of pain.  When mistakes are made, we want people to not be embarrassed, to not feel social stigma in sharing what maybe even they themselves could have done better.  Without that psychological safety, what you tend to see in lessons learned session is people go after the low-hanging fruit, the very obvious things that went well or things that could have been improved. 

But to me, those are ones that we don’t really need to spend a lot of effort or waste people’s time on because everybody knows those.  It’s really the more subtle ones that are only going to come through people doing some introspection and then feeling very open to sharing what they have learned, even if it means that they’re expressing vulnerability.  And the only way you get there is through psychological safety.

And that’s why I’m really very firm when it comes to things like retrospectives.  It’s by the team, for the team.  We don’t want to involve any external players because it’s very difficult to hold them to that higher standard.  If we keep it within the team, you end up getting a lot more benefit and value out of the exercise.  When it comes to being able to get evidence about a learning, I always want to say that evidence provides context to help people decide if a lesson is going to apply to them or not.

One of the biggest drawbacks of lessons learned is the information captured sounds good, but how do we know if it really fits the situation that we find ourselves in?  If we provide the context in terms of evidence, here’s the specific parameters of what happened.  Here’s some data.  This has happened three times on this project.  So there’s a trend there.  That starts to increase the likelihood that someone would say, yeah, that actually makes sense to me.  That fits the world I’m in.  If you throw something out there as a generality, and it’s based on the subjective opinion of somebody, yeah, it’s my opinion, your opinion.  Should I adopt it; should I not adopt it.  So we want to take that empirical approach to the data we gather, even when it comes to our lessons.

Leader Goes First

BILL YATES:  Kiron, one of the things that I’m a big fan of, is the leader goes first.  So in these retrospectives, I’ve just found that you get such a better response and more richer feedback if that leader goes first and says, okay, guys, I’ve got to tell you, this is something that I blew.  I just did not do this well.  Let me share why I made this decision or whatever it may be.  And then let’s pick through this together and come out with a better action plan for next time.

It’s an area that I think as leaders of projects we need to be reminded of.  Let the leader go first in those retrospectives.

KIRON BONDALE:  Absolutely.  And I think it’s important to clarify that we’re really talking about when it comes to something where there’s vulnerability, potential for embarrassment, definitely lead by example.  But when it comes to let’s say a decision that needs to be made or providing an opinion about something, I would actually say don’t speak first.

BILL YATES:  That’s a great distinction, yup.

KIRON BONDALE:  Let them speak first so that you’re not kind of softly censoring them.  But definitely, when it comes to getting somebody to get outside their comfort zone, if we go first, it shows them that, hey, the leader is willing to do this.  I can also follow.

Retrospect on the Retrospectives

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  You made the point we need to retrospect on our retrospectives.  Let’s say every three weeks we have a retrospective.  Why don’t we go into our calendars and say, okay, every six weeks I’m going to look back at those past two retrospectives and see what went well, what didn’t go well.  And maybe to invite another person outside of my team who can be trusted to just sit there and take notes and not participate otherwise.  And then they can give me feedback to say, okay, here’s some improvements that you guys could make to this process that you’re doing. 

KIRON BONDALE:  And I think that applies to almost any event that we do in the life of our projects on a recurring basis.  So whether you’re dealing with predictive Waterfall type delivery or adaptive Agile delivery, there’s going to be some recurring events that you run.  Could be a status meeting.  It could be retrospective, a daily standup.  Doesn’t matter.  If you don’t inspect and adapt those, very quickly your team is likely to start to complain about them.  They’re going to become disengaged.  It’s important that if we want to use that Agile mindset, we want to inspect and adapt how we deliver the project.  And that includes those recurring events.

When Someone Leaves the Project

WENDY GROUNDS:  Another thing that is mentioned in your book is when someone leaves, you mentioned three actions to undertake.  Can you run through those for us?

KIRON BONDALE:  Yeah.  And the reason for that article was we oftentimes do a really great job of onboarding somebody to our project.  We introduce them to the team.  We go over our ground rules, and we assign them a buddy.  But when they leave the project, it’s kind of like don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  And I think we really miss some great opportunities by doing that. Both for the individual and for the team and for ourselves as leaders.  So the three points that I like to make there are, one, recognize.  Recognize what they have done.  It doesn’t matter whether their tasks were small, whether they’ve had some great achievements.  Recognize their contributions to the project.  And do that in a public manner.  Publicly recognize them.

Secondly, solicit feedback.  If you had to work with me again in the future. If we had to do a similar project again in the future, what might we do different?  Always a great idea to ask that question. Especially because we know on projects sometimes people leave in the middle of a project.  They don’t wait till the very end of the project when they leave us.  If they leave in the middle of a large project, and then we try to pull them back in at the very end to say what do you remember. Chances are they’ve forgotten it.  Before they go, get that feedback.

And then the final item is, if they’re someone that is actually transitioning their role to someone else, so their work is not done. But they’re being pulled into some other activity, and they need to do a transition, plan for the transition.  Make sure there’s enough of an overlap to enable them to work hand-in-hand with whoever’s taking over their role.  Make sure there’s a clean transition of things like access controls and documents and whatever else. So that the new person that’s taking over that previous departing person’s responsibilities isn’t feeling left in the lurch that way.

Building Bridges with Functional Managers

BILL YATES:  Kiron, that is so key.  And I think from my experience that usually takes a little bit longer than I would estimate.  So this goes back to the tip that you made before about just giving functional managers or departmental managers that may oversee or be controlling those resources, let them know. Let’s say we’re moving Lee from our project team.  You’re going to move him back to a department responsibility or to another project.  We need time for Lee to get all that information into the next person or people that are going to take that over.  So let’s be sure we schedule that.

KIRON BONDALE:  That’s a really great point, Bill.  And this is why one of my biggest, biggest recommendations for project managers is build bridges with functional managers before you need them.  From the get-go, if you know you’re going to be drawing people from certain teams, meet with those functional managers.  Start to build those bridges.  Build those relationships with them.  And then, once you’re going to make that formal request to get some folks to join your project from those teams, sit down with them.  Build those ground rules.  What are those rules of engagement?  How are we going to show mutual respect to one another? 

If I’m going to need more of that particular person, I’m going to be letting you know proactively.  If you need to yank this person from my project, please let me know proactively.  And if we establish those rules of engagement at the beginning, there should be no surprises later on.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Which brings us to risk management.

BILL YATES:  That’s right.

Risk Management

WENDY GROUNDS:  Risk management is another topic we like to talk about.  Kiron, what advice can you share with us?

KIRON BONDALE:  Well, first and foremost I think I always quote Dr. David Hillson’s definition for risk:  “Risk is uncertainty that matters.”  And it’s such a powerful definition because it underlies so much of what’s wrong with the implementation of project risk practices in organizations. That we look at risk through our eyes when we need to be looking at it through the eyes of our stakeholders. That are going to be doing something with these risks that we’ve identified, analyzed.

  If we don’t look at it through their eyes, when we hand them a risk response plan, or we’re telling them, hey, this is a risk we have to avoid, you need to do something, they’re going to be like, hey, doesn’t seem to be that important.  Doesn’t matter to us.  That’s why we need to walk a mile in the shoes of our senior stakeholders. Position risk information in a way that’s going to get them to sit up and show a real sense of urgency about it.

Risk Management as Insurance

BILL YATES:  Kiron, one of the things that really had me laughing in the book was when I read your analogy.  So here I am as a project manager, wanting to dedicate appropriate resources to risk management.  And I’ve got a sponsor who could just care less about investing any time in risk management.  They see it as, well, if your team’s doing anything related to this topic of risk management, they’re not actually getting work done.  You had an analogy about a house.  Share that with us.

KIRON BONDALE:  For sure.  So if we think about risk management as being insurance for your project, think about an asset like a house or a car.  So when you meet one of these difficult stakeholders that doesn’t want to invest in risk management, ask them, do you own a house?  If they say yeah, of course I own a house, do you buy house insurance every year?  Do you pay the premiums on house insurance?  Chances are they’re going to say for sure.  Then you might want to ask them, over the life of owning that house, let’s say you’ve had the house for 10 years, estimate how much you’ve spent on that insurance. What percentage of the value of the house would that represent?

I would argue that over the life of owning an asset, chances are you’re going to spend anywhere between 5 to 10% of the value of the asset on insuring it, if you add up all the premiums.  Why do we do that?  Well, it’s to save us in case there’s a rainy day.  It’s to protect us from the impact of unintended consequences, known unknowns.  And that’s what risk management is for your project.  A project is an investment your organization is making to achieve some outcomes.  Wouldn’t you want to insure that?  That’s how we position risk management.

BILL YATES:  That’s awesome.  That could be an interesting conversation, too, because then you may really see inside the intentions of that sponsor.  Yeah, we don’t really care that much about this project.  I’m about to kill it.

KIRON BONDALE:  Absolutely.  And that’s why, when I’ve been faced with that situation when I used to lead projects, and I would get that really difficult sponsor or customer that still didn’t want to invest any efforts in risk management, I would say, you know, that’s totally fine.  We’re going to identify risks.  But then I want you to sign on the dotted line that you are assuming all responsibility for the impacts from any realized risks.  And to this day I have yet to encounter a customer or sponsor that’s willing to sign on the dotted line.  They usually backpedal at that point.

BILL YATES:  You put them in a corner, and they go, okay, okay.  We need some of this.

KIRON BONDALE:  Absolutely.

Delphi Technique on Qualitative Risk Analysis

BILL YATES:  When I think about the Delphi technique, I usually don’t associate that with risk management.  You had an interesting take.  It’s kind of like adding peanut butter and chocolate and coming up with something pretty amazing as a dessert.  Tell us about using Delphi and qualitative risk analysis.

KIRON BONDALE:  So qualitative risk analysis. A very common practice for teams is to assess the probability and impact of the risks that have been identified.  And it’s very common to use either a low/medium/high or a very low/very high and so on kind of scale.  The challenge is these are subjective terms.  And we recognize that about qualitative risk analysis, that it is subjective.  But how do we overcome then the biases that occur when you ask a group of people to evaluate something subjectively?  That’s where Delphi can help us.

So one approach a project manager could take is let’s say they’re working in person with a group of their team members.  Hand everybody three cards.  One card’s got low, one card’s got medium, one card’s got high on it.  As we discuss each risk and we ask the team. “What do you think the probably of occurrence is,” have them simultaneously vote. 

So basically as soon as we say “One, two, three, vote.” They hold up the card that reflects their understanding of the probability.  And if there is a variation, then we ask maybe one person that picked low and one person that picked high to explain why did you feel it was low or high?  And then either we land on what the rating is, or we go through another round of voting.  By doing that, we’re able to overcome that bias called “anchoring” where the first person that speaks anchors everybody else their evaluation.  That’s just one practical usage of Delphi.

Words of Advice

WENDY GROUNDS:  Kiron, you’ve shared some good wisdom and advice with us and with our audience.  If you could tell your younger self as a project manager something, what advice would you give to yourself?

KIRON BONDALE:  Focus on the people.  When we think about delivering projects or making changes in organizations, it tends to fall across people, process, technology is the way we tend to think about it.  When I started my career in project management, I was obsessed with the process side of it, the practices, the tools, the techniques of project management.  I wanted to build the world’s greatest schedule.  I ignored the people.  and I forgot that it’s people that deliver project outcomes, not the processes, not the practices.

Sure, you need those.  But if we had to go back to the Agile Manifesto, I would always say it’s individuals and interactions over processes and tools.  That is such an important, important point for young project managers to think about. Focus on those soft skills, build those relationships, keep those stakeholders happy with you.  That’s where you can get your project success, not just by building the world’s greatest Gantt chart.

Get in Touch with Kiron

WENDY GROUNDS:  Kiron, if our listeners want to reach out to you and hear a bit more about the work that you’re doing, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?

KIRON BONDALE:  Yeah, absolutely. A couple of ways of doing it would be either to subscribe to my blog, which is at kbondale.wordpress.com.  Or they could certainly visit my LinkedIn profile.  As far as I know, there’s only one Kiron Bondale out there.  If they search for me, I’m sure they’ll be able to locate me.

BILL YATES:  Well, Kiron, thank you so much, first of all for this book.  This is an outstanding book, and I highly recommend it for those in the project management space.  It’s definitely something that you don’t have to read from start to finish for it to make sense.  You can pull value from this just by literally jumping page to page and topic to topic.  And so I encourage people to check it out.  And the title says it all:  “Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice.”  Boy, that’s project management; isn’t it?

KIRON BONDALE:  And that’s why I tried to focus it on pragmatic, practical advice to help practitioners. Whether they are new to the profession or whether they’ve got many projects under their belt.  Chances are there’s a lesson in that book that’s going to be of value to everyone.

BILL YATES:  I agree.  Well done, sir.  And keep writing.

KIRON BONDALE:  Thank you so much.  I really appreciate it.


WENDY GROUNDS:  Thank you for listening to Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in next time for our next episode.  In the meantime, we’d love to have you visit us at Velociteach.com to subscribe to this podcast, see a transcript of the show, or if you have any questions about project management certifications in general, we’re here for you.

Listeners, you’ve also just earned some Professional Development Units by listening to this podcast.  To claim your free PDUs, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through the steps.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

  edigitaltranscription.com  •  02/27/2021  •  edigitaltranscription.mobi    

One response to “Episode 125 – Leading Projects: Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice”

  1. Tammi B says:

    Thank you

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