Thursday, 1 June 2017

Why project working will be the future of work

One of my favourite analogies when talking about projects is the orchestra. I'll explain why in a few moments. first I want to make the point that project work will be the future of work even within big organisations. Certainly in the world beyond their walls. Organisations will not survive for much longer with massive, multi-layered hierarchies. 
I've helped quite a few projects get off the ground from as a facilitator. I tend not to get involved as project manager as I get bored too quickly. After all everyone knows I can't sit still for two minutes. In my facilitator role I've noticed patterns over time that project managers should avoid if you want success. For example the initial enthusiasm for the project wanes after a while. This is often because people believe that they have to be at every meeting for its duration. This often means sitting through hours of stuff that's totally irrelevant to you before it gets to your (very short) bit. This leaves those professionals who wait to say their piece frustrated and bored. 
Well here's the thing an professional orchestra is full of very skilled individuals. But they don't all play together all of the time. A skilled conductor will bring the instruments in when required at exactly the right moment to play their part. Now clearly the orchestra generally stays put for the rest of the symphony. But for my analogy we'll imagine they can go do something else when they're not required. 
So not everyone all at once! Of course they all play from the same score. And I liken this to the project plan. A good composer will arrange things to make it  easy for the musicians to know exactly whats required. The top line melody works in my mind like the technical plan. With other parts such as the bass clef dovetailing below. This reminds me of the relationship between technical tasks and public engagement for example. The engagement timing and objectives will be different to the technical ones. Consultants and freelancers come in when required not for the whole time. I've sat through some dire meetings in my time but this doesn't have to be the case.
They all play from the same score! The other thing I've noticed over the years is a lack of commitment to see the project through. For an orchestra it is crucial that all the roles filled and they stay through rehearsals right up to performance and possibly beyond. I am staggered at how many people turn up to a project induction and seem surprised when I ask if they can commit to the project. Of course if you get the plan right people are happy because they are not asked to commit to all meetings all the time. So this makes it easier for them to spread their expertise across a range of projects.
The audience are out there eagerly awaiting your performance. Except they're not. Well not if you don't tell them. A good stakeholder engagement plan is vital. That means don't just send out stuff but engage properly (about which I may cover in another blog).
This will be the future of work. It will because people want to work less, that is they want to work in a less structured way. Most people view work negatively. Trapped in the hamster wheel of 9-5. Autonomy over when and how much to work changes lives. Project working, is the answer to this. 
People feel under utilised not stretched or challenged by their work. Project working is also the key to this. When they get involved in a range of projects they are able to use their skills and be rewarded for them. Some projects may be more challenging than others and for the players, even within organisations, this is a good thing
Small project teams of experts work best. A small team of 3 to 5 people is the optimum size. Of course when you need to draft in others to play their part this group can grow and contract. I worked recently on a project with a core team of 3 that were interacting with a partner group of around 35. The key decisions and actions were controlled and maintained by the core 3
Projects end. This is refreshing for the people involved. They work with new folk. They get new opportunities to flourish and they can vote with their feet if they don't fit in.
Great examples are appearing of companies and organisations who work in new ways and epitomise this approach take this feature in Stylist magazine. I love this example. Send me more if you have them.
I've also seen other good analogies for project work, making recipes or building a house. What's yours?






Friday, 24 March 2017

The Organisation is dead! Welcome to the gig and gadfly economy

The organization is dead and this is why 

Competition in the same field will inevitably lead to organizational death for some

I sat at a conference recently listening to representatives from organisations trying to work out how to work together to save the planet and it's endangered species. It was painful, a bit like listening to dinosaurs trying to work out how to avoid extinction. The future of conservation organisations is dire. This is also reflected in the future of many other large institutions. 

The organisation is dead! you heard it here first. 

The point that they seem to have missed is that people are no longer joiners. They no longer want to be part of the grey horde that subscribes to, or works for some archaic behemoth. If you look at social media behaviour people are predominantly gadflies. Yes, the demographic that currently supports environmental organisations might well join them. But the generations following behind them flit from one issue or campaign to the next in the click of a mouse button. What those organisations need to ask is how should we work together within the emergent gig economy to capture the wave of clicktivism? They need to harness the enthusiasm of social movements, they need to be lean and agile in other words adaptable, they need to go where the action is. The modern workforce will abandoned the traditional organisation. More than a third of Americans are already freelance and loving it. They move happily from gig to gig, they do not spend a lifetime devoted to a one trick pony job. If you extrapolate this idea for the modern charity or trust, people do not choose one and stay with it for life. 

Do this now!

When I was a humble undergraduate I joined the green movement at University of Plymouth. It contained and was courted by many of the popular charities and trusts eager to harness the enthusiasm and idealism of youth. To their credit, what came to be known as 'Green Umbrella' took them all onboard, allied itself to none of them and instead campaigned on a new issue each month. Each organisation could put forward a topic, members of the umbrella would vote on which to take forward that month. Serious campaigns followed with a great deal of energy for the month. Students loved it, the variety and currency of issues keep the group fresh and excited.

Is this a way forward for the big organisations?

Maybe but I think they need to drop some old adversarial practices, stop competing and think about how they will work together. I think the big single issue organisations will die, just like Kodak was defeated by digital photography. In many respects this will be a good thing. Diversity is after all what many of them are campaigning for. Lets focus on the problems, prioritise them and then put all of our energy in to a month of serious campaign effort. Could this happen? I suspect not because at present they can't even agree who should be in the room, let alone the issues. RIP organisations, you're too stale, too big and faced with decisions you choose inertia. Stricken by fear of offending the current member demographic and obsessed with staying part of the establishment.