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The Rodney Brim Blog

Project Management, Psychology & New Rules

June 26, 2014

Hi, I’d like to let you in on a little secret.  In our research 95% of the organizations and teams that buy project management software… (drum roll), don’t end up using it very well, and don’t get the results they were projecting.  We see it every day.  We sell project management software, and are well aware that the correlation between buying software and a change in behavior is meager at best.

Perhaps you’re saying, “That’s no secret, I already guessed that!”  Well, here’s an even bigger secret, “Being successful at project management is mostly dependent on using the Right Psychology, not the correct project management methodology.”

That’s probably heretical to put out there.  It probably would make it worse, if I told you that being successful at introducing project management, or should we say improved, software based project management, into any team inevitably surfaces unresolved adolescent issues?  And that those same issues, if not addressed, successfully sink the effort?  Really sounds psychological doesn’t it.  Wish it wasn’t true, but it is, and you don’t have to have a background in psychology like I do, to see it.

By-the-way, most people that talk about their successful companies or project management efforts don’t understand or write very accurately about the psychology they employ.  Let me pull one recent article to pull in an outside view and illustrate.

It’s an interesting article about Ryan Carson, the CEO of Treehouse, and how to rapidly grow your company, make millions and only work 4 days a week. Here’s the link: http://qz.com/197060/to-grow-your-company-and-make-millions-start-working-four-days-a-week/

Do you ever read stuff where someone corroborates what you’ve been talking about for years?  Well this article does that in a way.  If Ryan was nearby, I’d give him a big hug.

Here’s two things I want you to pull from his success story so you can apply them as well, then we’ll talk about the psychology involved.

1. “At the end of each day, every person on a project enters a simple “status” for what they did that day on the project and chooses a % complete for their role in the project.”

That may sound like a task or process, but pull back the cover and think about that from a psychological stand-point.  Here’s an observation posed as a question: What’s the difference in the psychology between “you can work on stuff and you don’t have to bother documenting what you’ve done, versus you can sign up to work on anything that fits you, but you have summarize what you’ve done each day”?  It’s huge right.

The first psychology rings of … well you fill in the blanks.  BTW it’s the way most people work in most companies.  What if your team worked with Ryan’s psychology?  Not to mention a 32 work week schedule?  So there’s the expectation, the requirement that everyone update… every day.  The benefits extend from personal, (hmm…, exactly what did I get done today?) to the collaborative and informed work group (anyone who needs to know can pull up my update and be instantly informed).

Here’s another point from the article:

2. “We’ve banned using email internally. Because email is push instead of pull. Instead of going out and pulling the information I need, when I need it, email allows others to push information on me, by copying on emails I don’t need to read, when it’s convenient for them. Therefore I spend the majority of my time trying to clear my inbox, doing things that are important for other people, instead of advancing my priorities.

Besides freeing up time spent on managing information, what’s the psychology behind that, when you think of managing projects?  It’s simple right.  You shouldn’t have to be force-fed to stay up-to-date, you should be responsible to go get the latest updates, when you need them, to make sure you’re on target with your work.  It’s like merging into a busy freeway… you’re expected to look before you pull over.  Simple psychology, isn’t it?  But what a difference from how most people approach having everyone work from the same page at the office.

He also makes a great point about the fact that “95% of all communication at Treehouse is written. We avoid facetime meetings and phone calls whenever possible.”  But I need to switch gears to wrap, so read his article, you’ll get some thought provoking ideas.

Here’s just one blind spot in the psychology of the article about Ryan, so you don’t get tripped up, before I wrap up.

Here’s the quote: “The overarching theme here is this: We treat our employees like the responsible adults they are. We let people set their own priorities and communicate when it’s most convenient for them.”

Sounds good, sounds very open and accepting, except it isn’t exactly how he’s working. – Instead of letting people communicate when it’s most convenient for them, he has them post daily status updates.  Whoops. – Instead of letting people post emails, which is convenient for a majority of most work forces we see, he has them not use email, and instead “ping” each other to announce the intent to create an instant message conversation.

Double whoops, the psychology behind all that improvement it a little more limiting, or should we say self-selecting, then the psychology of “we let people communicate when it’s most convenient for them.”  But here’s the important point.  If you change just a couple of fundamental rules about how you communicate information, it can change the game in terms of overall productivity, not to mention ability to get projects completed… as long as you weed out people who don’t operate within the new rules you’ve defined.  And as the article indicates, the benefits include the feeling like you’re working with “adults” and less need of being “managed.”

Bottom Line: Simple basic rules are essential for any operating environment.  Changing the rules on status updates and use of email, represent two fundamental process and psychological changes that can have enormous positive impact on productivity and project completion… if you only employ personnel that operate within your operating rules.

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