Dysfunctional PM Discussions

Have you ever been engaged in conversation with others and, although you are on the same topic, you aren’t quite communicating, it seems the points being made are running in different directions, it seems the more you talk the more divergent the conversation becomes, it seems the conversation is becoming pointless.  Project management discussions can foster such disconnections.

On a recent morning I attended the monthly PMO (Project Management Office) Breakfast sponsored by PMI-Silicon Valley Chapter (www.pmisv.org).  The intent of this gathering (and a “PMO”) is to be the point where business management meets project management.  However, the attendees, as usual, were very heavily weighted from the project management side, because they know something is wrong with the business process and they are looking for solutions to fix it; they are challenged to execute their projects, as charged.

The group’s discussion reinforced my opinion that the problem is not just the business managers’ lack of understanding of project management and its place within the organization, but it is in part due to the project managers themselves.  The classic Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip: “We have met the enemy and he is us”.   Although we are all project managers, purported executers of the same body of knowledge, witnessed by our professional certifications, we are challenged at time communicating with each other.  For example, at one point in the meeting, a discussion of organizational change was ensued relative to the “business of project management”, however some of the 30+ participants interjected comments on project change control, at various points.  Two distinct topics on change intertwined to make no holistic sense.

As unique individuals we all have a set of cognitive biases, thus a different set of lenses through which we view things. What was happening in the breakfast discussion is a classic case of the anchoring bias, thus, the word “change” to some translated to organizational change and for others to project change control.  Each subgroup had a different reference point anchoring their perspective on the conversation.

The example I cite is not unique. There are many other project management related words/phrases that can trigger a similar dysfunctional conversation, like program manager, methodology, project management process, PMO, etc.  In a gathering of project managers, you may have individuals that deal with construction, software, health care, pharmaceutical, electronic hardware, automotive, large/complex projects, small/simple projects, global projects, etc.  Our individual experiences form our cognitive biases, yet we come together under the collective umbrella – Project Manager.

Next time you engage in a conversation with another project manager, check you anchoring biases at the door; listen with the intent of understanding not just the content of the message, but also the speaker’s perspective/reference; question what you don’t understand, instead or trying to fit their square peg into your round hole reference; speak to clarify both your content and reference point; and make it a learning experience for all.

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