When the time comes to depart from a carefully designed project plan, improvisation is often necessary. In Part I of this series, we explored some fundamentals of improvisation. In Part III, we'll explore the relationship between improvisation and risk management. We now turn to examining improvisation as a group process.
- Avoid the rush to improvisation
- Replanning takes time. And sometimes, replanning requires halting further work. If there isn't time to replan, and if work must continue, improvisation is a very tempting alternative, even though replanning is usually safer and cheaper than improvising.
- The rush to improvisation is often driven by group panic. Ask yourself, are you certain there's no time for replanning? That work really must continue? Sometimes, the rush to improvise is internally driven — we don't want to stop to think. That's a very risky reason for improvising.
- Remember that improvisation is a team effort
- At the point when a decision maker concludes that it's time to improvise, the rest of the team is still following the plan. Since whatever follows is a team effort, improvisation will be more successful if the team improvises together.
- When improvisation begins, all objectives, resource allocations, roles, and responsibilities are subject to change. A thorough group understanding of the new situation and the new approach is necessary for effective group improvisation.
- Devise your improvisation compatibly
- Operational structures of groups vary widely, from hierarchies to heterarchies or clouds. Hierarchical structures are top-down, command-and-control oriented, while cloud structures produce coordinated efforts in a more emergent fashion. An effective improvisational approach uses a style that is compatible with the operational structure already in place.
- For instance, a team that uses a hierarchical operational structure is unlikely to produce a successful improvisational approach if asked to do so using a cloudlike structure. And a team accustomed to an autonomous approach to normal operations will have great difficulty when an improvised alternative is imposed on them by fiat. Choose an approach to developing the improvisation that is compatible with the team's culture. If you must deviate, enroll the team in the deviation first.
- Use sophisticated communications
- Project inception Remember that
is a team effortusually includes extensive group communication to propagate the vision of the project, its importance to the organization, and the roles of all involved. When improvising begins, the resulting project configuration can conflict with much of whatever was communicated at project inception.
- Those conflicts must be clearly communicated. We must communicate the new configuration, the new roles, and the new responsibilities, and in so doing, erase the no-longer-relevant elements of the old project plan. Because coordination is essential to effective improvisation, the need for communication within the team escalates dramatically when improvisation begins. That's one reason why improvisation is so much more difficult for virtual teams.
Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience is rare. In part, it's rare because we usually strive only for adequacy, not for greatness. We do this because we don't fully appreciate the returns on greatness. Not only does it feel good to be part of great team — it pays off. Check out my Great Teams Workshop to lead your team onto the path toward greatness. More info
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More articles on Project Management:
- Nine Positive Indicators of Negative Progress
- Project status reports rarely acknowledge negative progress until after it becomes undeniable. But projects
do sometimes move backwards, outside of our awareness. What are the warning signs that negative progress
might be underway?
- Project Improvisation and Risk Management
- When reality trips up our project plans, we improvise or we replan. When we do, we create new risks
and render our old risk plans obsolete. Here are some suggestions for managing risks when we improvise.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: II
- Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges
that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
- Managing Non-Content Risks: II
- When we manage risk, we usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks at hand
— content risks. But there are other risks, to which we pay less attention. Many of these are
outside our awareness. Here's Part II of an exploration of these non-content risks, emphasizing those
that relate to organizational politics.
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: II
- We know we're in firefighting mode when a new urgent problem disrupts our work on another urgent problem,
and the new problem makes it impossible to use the solution we thought we had for some third problem
we were also working on. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for getting out of firefighting mode.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 24: Understanding Delegation
- It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
- And on January 31: Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
- The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.
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