A Gray Day – can we Sue?

What SMART change to the control environment is being made?

I am sure we have all read the report. It does not take long. Once the blame game subsides, what has changed or will change now? That is my question.

Whilst SMART objectives are a little cliché these days, they do still serve purpose when seeking visibility of behavioural change, and thereby regaining trust in systemic failure.

SMART move to avoid committed change…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

Not that much of this report is intended to be anything more than presentation of facts. My concern here is that we have sixty pages that simply gift the tabloid tickertape and headlines a few more inches – but none of that will lead us anywhere meaningfully forward.

This report is a pretty disappointing an output by volume. By quality, the analysis and conclusions are so very weak and devoid on any tangible opportunity to act. And I see nothing coming to challenge that fact.

Painting over the cracks

In the end we are being offered a report that describes a clear dereliction of duty. The greater dereliction here is what is happening beyond this report. The failure to offer SMART actionable change should concern us all.

I present the key wording that foreshadows this coming apathy to change. In essence what this reads is “mistakes were made, but changes are afoot, and you just need to trust us not to do it again“.

All of these quotes are from pages 36 and 37 of the Sue Gray report.

Mistakes were made:

“…attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with the guidance…”

“…failures of leadership and judgement in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office…senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear the responsibility for this culture…”

“…lack of respect and poor treatment of security and clearing staff. This was unacceptable…”

unquantifiable actions taken, thus enabling leadership to once again escape:

“…fragmented and complicated leadership structures in No. 10. I am reassured to see that steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns…embed a culture that welcomes…challenge and speaking up…”

“…changes to the organisation and management of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office with the aim of creating clearer lines of leadership and accountability…”

More time being gifted to avoid measurable improvement:

“…I am pleased progress is being made in addressing issues I have raised…”

“…since then guidance has been issued to all Government Departments…”

“…now these need the time and chance to bed in…”

visibility | behaviour | trust

If this is the direction of change, then we will be no closer to increasing visibility and addressing inadequate behaviours (as intent, belief, action). There can be no expectation of increased trust.

In any other context, this would not stand. Yet here, we all seem powerless to intervene. Let’s at least start with asking the better questions. What SMART change to the control environment is being made, to which you (PM) stand personally accountable for?

Friday 13th

Superstitious cognition, not sense

Happenstance

The human brain is wired to predict future events based upon experience, and short-cut complexity with modelled approximations. It should be no surprise therefore that we read more into happenstance than we should.

I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re sceptical

Arthur C Clarke (maybe)

Not that I am superstitious. I am an INFJ, Type 9, DISC yellow, Sagittarius. That makes me far too sceptical to be categorising coincidence, or be convinced by correlations masquerading as cause and effect.

Change control

…review structures and processes that could make a difference…

Lindsay Hoyle – Speaker of the House

This is a quote from today’s news. In my project world this kind of review is about matching the framework to the range of influence it intends to control. From the world of insuring construction projects I observe this matching of control to need is not done well. In project management academia I think we miss this point when considered holistically. In psychology this assessment of behaviour to aid control is understood in part, but typically only observed in simple settings and in a lab.

Sir Lindsay wrote: “In my opinion, it is time to consider radical action, and review structures and processes that could make a difference…”

“…serious allegations have been made, and we must address them as a matter of urgency. It is imperative we do the right thing by staff and MPs as well.”

BBC “Westminster reform: Lindsay Hoyle and Andrea Leadsom call for urgent changes” 1st May 2022

How control, influence, and intended change interact is what my research is all about. I am researching this in projects of construction. It is what I do in my consulting work. It is how I now orientate my own life.

At its heart, my research is directed toward a simple explanation that enables us all to ask more…

v | b | t

Here are some simple metrics of in applying this to the question of Parliament:

v | b | trust

We are directed toward lost trust. Where there is failed intent, we trust less. Establishing better frameworks for the intended change seems to me the sensible first assumed move to make. It is how to enable the electorate and the stewardship that serves us to regain some shared trust.

v | behaviour | t

We are addressing self-serving behaviour being empowered to serve itself. We are required to challenge innate motivations and compare what is happening to what is required. It instils the accountability of decision-makers and removes the defensive-decision making they hide behind. But more than that it so considers the suitability of their agendas, their capacity and capability, their judgement and the support systems they need. So that leaders can be what they intended to be, as servants to us all; not have what they intended to have, as servants to themselves.

visibility | b | t

We are seeking better visible to us all. An electorate that currently just has visibility of the indifference shown by the power-base. Visibility of deceit, misinformation, and calculations of what needs to said rather than what needs to be done. Legislation passed to protect past error in response to the questions we ask. Repeating evidence of leadership being the opposite of integrity and in not leading by example. What is needed is greater clarity on what is being intended. What vision is being worked towards. And what independent governance from independent source, ensures accountability of all.

Three possible latent origins of failure

Across each of these metrics we appear to have a failing framework of control in government. Beyond the personalities and party colours of the day, it is to our Administration that we should expect permeant control. I see three likely sources of failure that allow the wrong influences to reign:

1. the control of the internal system is failing

2. failure in the policing, the governance, or assurance of appropriate control

3. the clarity of intended change and to whom benefit is the primary goal

Either way the framework needs to have measure of all. Able to have account of all influences redirecting intended change. Thereby protecting the collectively agreed goals and/or the means to adapt such goal to the novelty of new or that which was previously unknown.

Projects | Within Projects

Whether in politics, or in charges of failure by the United Nations or World Health Organisation. Whether we are considering major projects like HS2 or Crossrail. If we are focused on decisions of priority to feed the hungry, or house the homeless, prevent needless bloodshed; or empower the entrepreneur, realign relationships with Europe, intervene in Ukraine, tackle climate change; or ensure our own growth upon a polluted home. Or, if we are addressing our personal purpose and how best to get there. All such intended change requires the appropriate selection of control, and account for all actor interests that may influence this goal for better or worse.

At its core, that is what is being called for here. At its heart, I contend that this is what we are all really asking for.

Death and rebirth : know thyself

Remembering this guy and reflecting upon what we each rebuild

A family guy

I never grow tired of bringing one of these old photos out.

Peter Griffin doppelgänger

2010. All bought and paid for. Even the suit.

At 100kg, clients could be assured the full weight of the London market was in their corner

Good Friday

Acknowledging the significance of the day, I make serious commentary within the light-hearted tone offered here. Without the Christian faith I once had, this day of reflection upon sacrifice sits no less heavily for me.

This blog presents a brief revisit of where my journey was ten years ago, and upon the folly of some ideas I was generating back then. I hope these messages resonate with a few.

As I approach 50 years of age, my reflective mood is starting to take account of past milestones again. Much has changed since I was taking stock in the build up to my 40th birthday. That man, now ten years my junior, was undergoing redress of a different kind. One much more directed toward an imagined future, but steeped in fear of regret. This time around, reflecting again as 50 years approach, I feel reconnected to that last cycle of resetting a baseline, and also toward those resets yet to come. I am perhaps more psychologically informed this time around.

By the April of 2012 I had made decent progress toward a new goal. A snoring husband was a selfish husband. Whilst my wife was still teaching, her medical condition was our growing focus. Sleep for her was an increasingly premium commodity for health. My snoring therefore had to be stopped. I had been losing weight at a rate of about 1 kilogram per week since the turn of the year. By April 2012 that was really starting to show. New clothes to account for a waist that had diminished from 44 inches to 36. An interim wardrobe replaced the fat-boy clothes. They too were later replaced as more stored energy was being burnt away. By the end of May 2012, I had lost 25 kilograms ~ 4 stone ~ 55lb. Motivation is a curious thing.

That weight fell off via a daily routine of diet and an obsessional interest in rowing. Dropping to 75kg enabled me to classify into the lightweight category of a newly discovered indoor rowing scene. I had found a new talent. My old one was being able to drink more, sleep less, and still get more done than most. My new one was not so much a talent for competitive rowing, I am too short to really excel at that, but I could lose weight as easily as I could pile it on. Rowing also encouraged me to return to lifting reasonably heavy weights. I wanted to see how far I could go. Another boundary edge to find, another type of learning to occupy my mind. A new era had arrived for me – Warren: home of the gym bunny.

Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILs)

Losing weight vs finding self : confessions of a (c)aged MAMIL

Soon I was convincingly wearing rugby shirts again – much as I had in my twenties – and with much the same old belonging to a sport I never really played. My father’s sportier resolve secretly lives within me. A few genes that surface for a while but never for long. This time however, they sat central for much of the decade. I was soon aiming at goal after goal in ever more outlandish charitable endurance challenge. Outlandish because I think I needed to keep doing things others thought unpleasant or out of reach. For example, a marathon on a concept2-ergo is 42,195 meters, and my 3 hours 30 minute time was about average for my age. But how many would ever want to know if they could be that average? I rewarded my lightweight self with a mountain bike (MTB), a sport I did once know a thing or two about.

I was delighted to discover you can cycle from London to Brighton, “off-road”, over 75 glorious miles of riverside trails, forestry tracks, lung-busting South Downs hill climbs; and concluding with a suspension justifying long and dusty descent to sea level and the Brighton sea shore.

London to Eastbourne is more a cyclocross route than MTB, but I was pleased with finishing 3rd🥉 – a satisfying last minute decision to enter an event starting near to where I live.

I also jokingly claim to hold the record for the fastest Prudential London 100 on a “single gear and single pedal” bike. My one and only experience of this event was undertaken on the single speed commuter bike I bought and rode 40 miles daily, the year Southern Rail seemed permanently to be on strike.

One pedal one gear keep moving

The one gear was my choice, the single pedal however, was not my decision. It sheered off 20 miles into the Pru100 ride. The pedal cage was gracious enough to leave behind the spindle though. And I had remembered to pack my raw bloody-mindedness, so British Lung Foundation got to keep a few grand in generous sponsorship raised.

6 km for this photo plus the 100 km we were promised

As endurance events go however, the most brutal award goes to walking London to Brighton (60 miles or 100 km) – which took four cheery friends 27 blister-filled hours.

That was a blistering pace

MAMIL – Middle-aged man in limbo

Plenty of fond memories there. And plenty of achievement. There is much to be said for the self-confidence to do more and be more. The 100kg me needed to be tamed, and I do wonder what health issues I dodged thanks to my wife’s need of me to be healthier, plus the hubris I found new ways to feed. But, as I now know – there is no health, without mental health.

Hiding in plain sight

That story I do not need to revisit – you can find it here. But there is a bigger point I wish to make. Being in physical shape certainly offered me a new sense of Self, at least for a while. However, Carl Jung would perhaps agree that this is appeasement to persona, not Self. Given my mental health decline through this decade – despite this rebirth of a more physical, less hedonistic, but no less erudite interest – I look back on those many events as delusional, or at best a misplaced escape.

That is probably too harsh, and my pride is none diminished at what I achieved in this domain. There are no doubt many a MAMIL who will present compelling case of the boost to health that exercise offers us all. But my challenge back to you is to consider the manner of the escape. And what it is one is escaping from.

I have no doubt I will sit in a saddle again too. But for me these last ten years represent a gruelling part of a different type of endurance journey, one that more than physical belligerence alone could have ultimately pulled me through. The lesson learnt here is give time to all manner of health, not just that part to which you are seen to be well.

Truth and sacrifice

I recall an insightful discussion late into 2019. Maybe it was November, but even that late it was still before the Sars-Covid19 era was a thing. I was sharing weight loss tales with a dear acquaintance of old. He too had lost weight as his thirties became his forties. He too had still lost heart in what it was he was supposed to do. We both concluded the same thing – no one else really gives a damn how you look – not from the vantage point of being in a stable marriage, and living through middle age. Any interest in look or physical health is really just comparison, favourable or not.

As we both reflected upon his ultimate need to change his life by moving to the country; plus my candid and openly discussed latter-day attempts to not have to face life at all; we concluded that weight loss was worthwhile for personal health, persona or ego, but less relevant than finding your soul. We both smiled knowingly as our discussion landed upon that truth. Two atheists reflecting upon what is still core.

I smile again now recalling that discussion. A tiny bit wiser towards my truth. A little closer to my whole. A little more connected to my sense of purpose. Acknowledging ongoing need to strip away habits, beliefs, wants, and needs. Each of which no doubt served a purpose, but one by one they each just become the obstacle, or the location of the next hole.

Needing less, but being more. That’s the owned meaning of sacrifice. At least to me.

Safe seats

Letting sleeping dawgs lie

13th March 2020. 760 days of lockdown in our house today.

2nd May 2024. 751 days from today. The date of the next general election.

So I guess we’re past halfway…

😤 😡 😠

Habits or chores

Sometimes my only habit is the opposite

I wonder who else finds habits so hard to keep? At least keep for long. Routine for me is tedious, except if it is directing me toward a goal. I know some people who are quite the opposite, to whom the predictability of routine gives structure, comfort, and piece of mind.

These are factors of management too. Groups and teams need to have some discipline and predictability. Routine affords such platforms from which processes can flow. They can however also become the problem, the structure or habit that stands firm whilst we try to grow. It is why we must consider appropriateness of action but also manner of control.

I’ve been preparing for essay writing for about a month. Another month to go. Familiarising myself with the complexity and unsettled science of neurodiversity. Desperate and tragic has been some of my reading around sex and gender differences (or similarities) in cognition. Each presenting recent cases of immense damage we inflict upon others by the bias and false categorisations we bestow. Based upon little more than our steadfastness in doing right. Enabled by old habits or forms of thought that took us far. Now in the way. Stopping the ease to let others grow.

Forgive us who break old habits. The routine no more. Sometimes, occasionally, they are the habits born of customs that we all need to let go.

My blogging habits as daily feed have faltered once more. That’s fine by me. It will not become a chore.

If I had my time again I’d {insert here}

Finding your project

Finding my project
(beardall.blog)

visibility | behaviour | trust

It took me quite some mental rebuilding before I was able to look this question in the eye. Not a day goes by now that I am not reminded of my answer. My answer from asking the right version of myself. It has become my means of innate motivation, intention, direction, and goal. It is how I have defined my project.

For me this is the visibility I needed. To what I direct my behaviours. What gives me a regained trust in myself. From which I have built critical controls to both enable and protect my project goal. From which I now proceed, mindful of external influence, and internal need.

What does this question mean to you?

Projects | within projects

Ssshhhhh … listening is a spectator sport

Less ask: more time to grasp

My ego is still a little raw from my self-flagellations on Twitter two weeks ago. I am observing I am far from alone in being turned upon by a minority voice. But such scenes present a different challenge to our selves. Resist the temptation to ask questions.

Hardly the way of discourse, but I think that is perhaps the point. We should perhaps see ourselves as an audience to presentations. Minimum disruptions, so as not to disturb the flow.

Why do we always think we are ready to ask? Social Media is an angry place. All of us seeking to be heard. It’s becoming louder, and quicker to bring to the boil. As a global society I wonder if we are yet to find our maturity on these platforms. I wonder also if it is not free speech we should be demanding. Not free speech, but freedom to just listen and learn.

That is my realisation this week. That I have been operating under false beliefs. The belief that I am ready to ask questions. To redirect a discussion towards my interest, curiosity, or perhaps even my agenda. Particularly on subjects as emotive, delicate, and incendiary as sexual difference and gender identity. Religion and politics. Dare I also include vaccination here too.

As a majority voice we should perhaps be saying nothing at all. Taking our majority of eyes and ears and putting all to better use. Inviting the quieter voices to speak, plus the angry ones in minority place.

Follow more people you don’t understand. Organisational groups beyond your own identity and kind. Then do nothing. Literally nothing. Other than sit and listen. No questions. No responses. Just take some time to observe, listen, and eventually understand.

Maybe all majority voices should feel compelled to do this. Saying nothing. Until people feel they are being listened to. And not immediately having to explain themselves when seeking a platform on which to take a stand.

Mistakes were made…

…scapegoats will be blamed

Is it possible to see through the manoeuvring that is intended to pass on blame? Particularly when distraction is involved. The origin of the scapegoat suggests we have been societally accepting of this idea throughout history. Accountability must be retained in high office. Prime Ministers and NHS Trusts showing us why we need more transparency and power to intervene.

The original “scapegoat”

This quotation is from Karen Armstrong 2014, “Fields of Blood : Religion and the history of violence”

“Every year in ancient Israel the high priest brought two goats into the Jerusalem temple on the Day of Atonement. He sacrificed one to expiate the sins of the community and then laid his hands on the other, transferring all the misdeeds on to its head, and sent the sin-laden animal out of the city, literally placing the blame elsewhere.

In this way, Moses explained “the goat will bear all their faults away with it into the desert place”. In his classic study René Girard argued that the scape goat ritual defused rivalries among groups with the community. In similar way, I believe, modern society has made a scape goat of faith”

Leadership scapegoats

I give leadership a hard time. Occasionally I step back and ask myself if I am in-fact just projecting my own failings onto others. But not today. Today I am in full rant.

I think we have seen several protracted attempts at such deflection in the headlines today. Leaders who may claim to be victim. Political scapegoats. Alternatively, the case can be made that they themselves have been found to be creating distance to invite a future scapegoat in.

Example one, who is preparing whom for the blame here in party-gate, part IX?

Mr Raab said the PM had updated Parliament “to the best of his knowledge and his understanding

BBC article here

Is that really the party line? Surely, there is at no point opportunity for leadership to claim this final defence for withholding information – “I didn’t know” – that is not an excuse when you are in charge.

I have argued before that accountability is immovable from the highest office. In this instance, failure to check equals failure to act. That is failure as the servant of the people you represent. Accountability of the senior decision-maker is really that simple. With rightful blame attached.

But what concerns me here is the potential impact if Boris is seen to be a scapegoated leader, because it offers permission to leave all else unchanged. Boris is a scoundrel, and he must go – but what is stopping the next being just the same? We need change – but the system is as much to blame.

visibility | behaviour | trust

First, another example of the ease with which this can be flagged (if we are so inclined). Back to some basic heuristics to check the situation against.

visibility | b | t

A leader who is unable to present clarity because of a failure to look, is acting with neglect by turning the blind eye, or conveniently choosing not ask. We can see this, so should the governance that keeps their decision-making abilities defined.

v | behaviour | t

This persistent behaviour is self-serving. It enables the personal defence of a child. Except this is not a playground. “I didn’t know”, is responded to simply with, “Well you were expected to. It is your job to know.” We can back this up with clarity of permitted and expected processes in senior role.

v | b | trust

Once a failure to perform is highlighted, so inherent trust is eroded. A little lost trust, or perhaps in totality. Either way, this prompts a change.

Any manager will know this. If you have people responsibilities you will know this. The underperformer is now necessarily more closely managed. In 2022 may be in performance reviews, or perhaps the introduction of a performance improvement plan, disciplinary action, or in extreme situations in termination. This may be necessary for the good of the wider team. It may only be fair to them if lesser performance is managed this way. But we culpable too, at least in part, if the right training, the right resourcing, adequate empowerment and oversight offered, and clarity of internal processes that are regularly checked to ensure they reflect what is needed as critical controls.

Anyone with client responsibilities will know this. Any client relationship can reflect this building or loss of trust. A supply chain partner may have contractual remedy or legal ramification ( particularly if there was no trust but contracts enabled trade). Better trust however is built when closer relationships are being fostered. Better trust that goes both ways.

In all cases increased visibility, or corrective behaviour, are required now that we have less trust.

What should support the assumed trust, is the checking. The processes of assurance that may be line manager, peer review, stage gate approval, which is then further supported by spot checking or audit that is expected is actually coming through. How often do we see a lack of governance, procedure, or level of independent challenge meaning things are missed?

I speak at length about this in construction. This is more than dealing with assumed error, this is also adding value as that extra pair of eyes. “I didn’t know” as a leader is to reflect the failure to be aware. Why trust the leader who clearly does not care? This is the leader who is not serving you.

More scandalous dereliction of leadership

Another headline grabber today. This one a National disgrace that has been known of for years. This is the conclusions of catastrophic failures of management detailed in Ockenden report. Also see here, the BBC summary outlining the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust. This is twenty years of negligent leadership, no doubt set against a backdrop of chronic underfunding. Funding however can be no excuse. I am tempted to see this as a twenty year reign of outrageous intimidation and deceit. Worrying in of itself, but it is not standalone to this one Trust – or should we say the antithesis of the word trust.

“The reasons for these failures are clear,” she said. “There were not enough staff, there was a lack of ongoing training, there was a lack of effective investigation and governance at the trust and a culture of not listening to the families involved.”

BBC report dated today {here} quoting the enquiry leader, the remarkable midwife come archetypal bastion of wisdom, Julie Ockenden

This behaviour by this Trust, is absolute failure of the stewardship we demand. Whether they see it coming or not, this must prompt wider change. No leaders gets to say “I didn’t know”, or “I was badly advised”. Not when babies were needlessly dying, and senior people still refused to look, listen, or believe the findings of 8 separate expert opinions, or the bravery and tenacity of the bereaved.

No to delegated accountability

In my opinion, these two very different leadership failures bring us to the same place. Accountability stays at the top, irrespective of whether each and every leader who came and went from this Board of Trustees chose to look. Regardless of whether a PM chose to ask the most basic of questions, and opt to rely upon the defence of “I didn’t know”. And let me be clear, I think Boris did know and does know – but that needs not be debated if we can simply call out the failure in his claims that he at no stage asked.

It is the same with the Board of Trustee. Theirs is the final decision, based upon visibility of any information gap they are prepared to accept. Theirs is the behaviour permitted to turn a blind-eye or to scapegoat staff. Theirs was the opportunity to act and ensure risk, internal control and assurance were functioning as they should. This is the trust we put in them.

I have offered a detailed argument as to why accountability as a concept is best understood if it is deemed only ever upwardly visible {here}. If seniority is permitted to deflect accountability this is when behaviours are free to become distanced from risk, trust can be abused, and visibility intentionally obfuscated. Focus can be distracted toward secrecy, decision parameters hidden, poor leadership rewarded as if good. The solutions are already available, these answers are not new. Existing management theory exists to enable this, with just a modest tweak in making accountability anchored, whilst responsibility moves.

These are the fundamentals of our leaders being our chief-administrators, and being responsible for the control environments that we all rely upon. I sometimes wonder if the administrative realities of leadership are somehow forgotten by some, or perhaps never learnt. There is a reason that the MBA qualification in management has administration attached to the name. There is reason that high office is called the Administrative function. Accountability lives here, whether understood or not.

Let’s get back to managing our leaders – accountability is to blame

We may well have made faith our modern scapegoat, and Armstrong’s arguments in her 2014 book is compelling. I would venture further still. 21st Century political leadership, and indeed invisible and unaccountable leadership in all forms, must be reframed. They are not scapegoats, they are rightly to blame. Failing to acknowledge this is making a scapegoat of us all.

Uncertain relations

My visibility | behaviour | trust in you

My thanks to Chris Bragg for a line of questioning that prompting these prose; Jason Hier for promoting the dialogue from which I repeat my part in here; and Dinah Turner who generated the original visual prompt. All of which started {here}, a discussion on LinkedIn. My thanks also to Bill Sherman. Another LinkedIn thread {here}, one with a challenge I accepted yesterday, and answer at the end of this blog.

Visibility of what? v | b | t in context

Visibility for my project purposes i.e., Visibility | b | t , is addressing transparency between parties. Directed towards what is known and what remains uncertain. In our projects, how much visibility are we sharing one party (project actor) to the next?

This is how visibility relates behaviour i.e., v | behaviour | t , as transparency by one party to the next. This transparency reveals or hides certain behaviour. That could be our intentions, motivations, or actions. Derived perhaps from something as simple as our hubris or belief that we are surely right. Or something more self-interested or malevolent. From these two variables we can ask if we are affording the right level of trust i.e., v | b | trust , to the exchange. Assessing all three presents an indication of collaborative nature, as it relates to all parties supporting the intended change, as project truth.

How are we safeguarding a project from what we do not know?

This sketch, from Dinah Turner, prompted the wider discussion I refer to above. If the dot was the minimal amount of necessary information, Jason Hier teased us with asking what if it was as little as 1%, then let’s respond with the question as a percentage of what? We need to have more awareness to the reality that somethings are not knowable – but that our processes need to have the adaptability to manage these later realisations.

Image used with permission from Dinah Turner

As a graphic to reflect our limited availability of information, what was prompted here was a discussion around making best use of the little information we have. From my perspective (as related to project knowledge), the diagram also presented a third area of interest. (1) the spot of what is known; (2) the assumed everything there is; (3) a challenge to the assumption we can ever bound everything there is to know – beyond the circle. This is what Gigerenzer (2014) would reflect upon when comparing risk vs. uncertainty. It is the difference between working within a closed system vs one that interrelates to more. Or Engwall‘s “no project is an island” from which we can remove ourselves from closed system thinking in any project situation. Combining these two principles, we always have some uncertainty. I suggest the circle in the above graphic houses “the question we asked”. But outside the circle is “the question we wish we knew to pose”. From here we can hope to critically appraise the manner of any decisions being made, for what purpose, and from an information perspective we can ask “based upon what?“.

Being able to seek clarity on what the 1% represents enables better questions. Anyone who knows me, will know that my most likely answer to a question, is another question. This is because a question directs our attention to a set of assumptions and constraints. Are these parameters intended to facilitate an open dialogue, or are they intended to funnel and dissuade a wider perspective? Is this reflecting behaviour of the person posing the question, that we trust to have this right?

It is at these earliest of moments – in defining both problem and constraints – that we can begin to become unstuck. And why we should all therefore be first challenging the question, to see what visibility, behaviour, and trust, is represented. See other blogs on these areas individually, including for example sensemaking and wider problem solving perspectives.

Projects as time bound intended change

This is a dynamic position, and therefore change. In the modelling idea I have in mind, this is where my attempt to define everything by a project definition comes into play: as time bound intended change. And that any change, even one of enquiry, can be captured by this project definition.

Projects within projects

This also challenges us to consider if our collaborative practices are ever actually aimed at the same project. Or are two project actors working on their own projects and attempting to direct outcomes to their own intended outcome – even if that is at the expense of the other. I have in mind here game theory models that represent zero sum outcomes (winner:loser); or those where lesser outcomes emerge because of failures to cooperate (see prisoner’s dilemma, or tragedy of the commons, as examples).

Other factors are then able to be introduced:

  • direction of influence. Interests directed into the one project, or away from the project and directed instead toward the party with most momentary influence.
  • manner of project control to support the retained inward influence of both the one project aim and protection of all project actors.

These are factors that relate to potential outcomes. The one shared outcome, if we are claiming to be in the one same project. Each factor (visibility, behaviour, trust, influence, and control) the aggregation of contributing factors. So, if a question is asked with a hidden or misguided agenda in mind, the project of enquiry is immediately more likely to fail. Failure because it fails at least one participant, and probably the project overall. Or if the intent was misdirection, there was never a single project with the two parties in mind.

At bigger scale, this is why the inevitable uncertainty that exists is eroding this collaborative endeavour if it is simply defined and offloaded in contract. This is not the same as project outcome control. It is more simply a financial risk transfer with increased likelihood of dispute. Arguably a later revelation that project truth never existed. Only the roughly aligned interests of the two separate projects and outcomes each party was interested in, influencing, and operating with suboptimal visibility, behaviour, and trust.

I would argue this is the default position in construction. As one example where hidden agenda is almost always assumed, even if not shown. Low visibility as data is filtered between commercial boundaries. Malevolent behaviours. No trust. Contracts attempting to replace trust, but therein failing to regain control.

If this observation is accepted, then it offers an rough guide to likelihood of project success. If we see a project with inadequate control of its truth (the totality of visibility, behaviour, and trust) it is a riskier project than it needs to be. It is representing a project at risk of unseen influences, permitting malevolent interests, and abuses of empowerment bestowed. Therein is the prospect of increased potential for dispute, plus missed opportunity to intervene.

Are we one project? My ongoing hypothetical

I am yet to be convinced we can ever truly be one project. It is why this entire blogsite is called Projects | Within Projects. But I do think we can seek to ensure our own projects are more closely aligned. As well as all the other project assessments we undertake, I am suggesting this v | b | t assessment of the many influences, directed at the appropriateness of controls containing them, can be one of those higher level quick indications of the human made threats to success.

This affords a simple question, “why say yes to this project?“. Why as a potential project actor agree to enter this enterprise if the divergent interests are not a central focus of control? Why insure it? Why invest in it? Why be party to it? Why approve it? If one can heuristically identify this increased chance of failure, the questions you ask can all be directed this way.

This is visibility | behaviour | trust as a rule of thumb. A heuristic tool, directed at the overall collaborative interest at a project’s core. A work in progress. One that keeps me returning to first principles, new discourse, and regular revisits to this hypothesis as I go.

Agreed or not agreed – is that my question?

And finally…to the challenge I am responding to.

Can you distil your best ideas down into a simple question?

asks Bill Sherman via LinkedIn

Bill Sherman – a writer of thought leadership, and taking ideas to scale. His post yesterday was quite different. He compared NASA mission statements to those we each set ourselves. He offered contemporary examples of the questions NASA set to define their missions. Each a single question – pithy and capturing the imagination of any five year old or older still living with a sense of wonder. His challenge, which I agreed, is to set my idea into a single question. What is the essence of what this big idea is trying to do?

Bills advises us to be guided by the following:-

What’s your big idea that you’re pursuing?

How are you staying connected to your sense of wonder?

Are you able to explain that wonder to others?

Here’s a quick way to check:

1. Write your big idea in one sentence that evokes joy/wonder.
2. Then, test it out. Ask people what they think.
3. Keep going until people say “wow.”

I will confess to writing this entire blog with this question in mind. So here goes, attempt number one.

Can our modelling of projects be linked, to better guide all scales of intended change?

Version one

Can success or failure be gauged by a simple assessment of external influences and resulting appropriateness of project controls?

Version two

Projects are jeopardised if rogue influence gains control: can we avoid the invitations to fail?

Version three