The Creative Power of Misfits

Have you ever felt like an outsider on your team?

You may just be the most valuable person on your team, according to Adam Grant an organisational psychologist and the host of WorkLife with Ted a podcast about what makes workplaces not suck.

In this episode, Grant tells a story about how Pixar wanted to create another hit after the success of Toy Story, but they didn’t have any more good ideas.

Then Brad Bird, writer, animator and director from Pixar collected dedicated Pixar employees who other people said were a little odd, or difficult to work with, people who felt they had been ignored in the past, but still loved Pixar. Misfits.

This is key, as misfits who don’t care about your company’s cause anymore don’t give their best work or they might just quit.

Bird gathered these misfits and asked them what they wanted to do but hadn’t been allowed to do or hadn’t been able to do because the technology didn’t exist yet. Then told them, that’s what they would do.

The movie they made with this approach was The Incredibles. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but it was a huge hit, their biggest hit at time of release, and is still beloved by millions.

When Should You Use Misfits?

Grant says the best time to shake things up at your company or in your team is actually when things are already going well.

When things are going well, you have the most time and resources, so you can afford to take risks in the hopes of higher rewards.

It is much more common to shake things up once a company or project is failing, but by then it’s often too late. The damage is done.

So when things are going smoothly, you should consider rounding up some misfits and breaking the status-quo.

Why Use Misfits at All?

Doing things the way they have always been done, will not get you anywhere new.

If you want safe, steady results, keep doing what you’re doing.

That said, your competitors are probably taking risks and finding ways to get ahead. Blockbuster carried on as they were and ignored the changing times and technologies, remember them?

Grant cites a study that says that listening to misfits and letting them work on their own ideas has been shown to be as valuable to the company, as an external consultant or expert, but much cheaper, as they already work for you.

How Do You Motivate Misfits?

Motivating misfits can be difficult.

These are likely people who are already disgruntled due to being an outsider or having felt overlooked in the past, so how do you get them to gruntled? Or better yet, excited?

Grant says the best way to fire up some misfits is to tell them that someone whom they don’t respect doesn’t believe in them.

To get a creative team like designers pumped, tell them that the “suits” upstairs don’t think they can do this, that those stuffy executives are having doubts.

This will make your misfits want to prove those people wrong and will do everything in their power to do so.

Don’t Tell Misfits Their Peers Don’t Believe In Them

If you want to discourage your misfits, then use the exact same method as above, but have the source be someone whose opinion they do value.

If you tell your misfit clan that their direct manager or an expert in their field doesn’t believe in them, they will be more likely to believe you and feel deflated.

So be careful with your reverse psychology, your choice of villain makes a huge difference.

How To Stay Motivated After a Big Win

You’ve just made The Incredibles.

You and your team are amazing. You’re no longer misfits, you’re now heroes. Now that you have nothing prove, how do you stay motivated to create your next win?

The key is to make the team underdogs again.

Proving to people you’re worth more than other people think, is what gets pissed-off-employees fired-up.

The difficult part is to make the challenge meaningful.

You can’t just create a faceless enemy, the team needs to believe their villain wants them to fail.

To believe in the goal they are trying to achieve.

Your team needs a purpose.

If this post made you rethink who to put on your next groundbreaking project, please let me know in the comments below.

What is in a Business Case? And Why Your Projects Need One

Is this a Business Case..? No, no it is not.

What are they and why should you care?

A Business Case is a document that the Project Manager can refer to see the project is still useful, still something the users would want and still doable.

This is the fourth post in my PRINCE2 series to learn more about Project Management. The Business Case is one of the Themes of PRINCE2.

Some Jargon For You:

Benefits: Any measurable improvement to the business. Does it make the business better? No? not a benefit. Can you specifically measure the impact of the goodness created? No? not a benefit.

PRINCE2 projects create PRODUCTS, using products creates a change in the business. These changes create OUTCOMES. These outcomes produce BENEFITS for the business.

For some weird reason negative outcomes are called DIS-BENEFITS. I think the creators of PRINCE2 wanted the least catchy name they could think of.

Want an Example with that Jargon?

Jargon is all well and good, but how can we really understand something? With some super sexy context of course.

Output

New Sales System

Outcome

Sales are processed quicker and more accurately than the crappy old system

Benefits

10% cost reduction and 15% more sales

Boom. That is context.

Business Justification

Business Justification sounds very impressive. But what does it mean?

Some more jargon coming your way.

To keep a project being worth the trouble, you must justify the Business Case. The project must be Desirable, Viable and Achievable (DVA). What are these terms? Why do they rhyme?

Desirable: The project balances cost, benefits and risk (not the same kind of desirable as a chocolate lava cake, sadly)

Viable: The project will create benefits for the business

Achievable: The project can be done. It is not some impossible task.

What Makes A Business Case a Business Case?

It is vital that you, as Project Manager, create and maintain a Business Case on any PRINCE2 project.

You must review and update your Business Case after any events or decisions that affect the DVA.

Your Business Case must define how to manage the project so you get the benefits and outcomes the business needs.

You must record all the roles and responsibilities of the project team in your Business Case.

The key idea of a Business Case is why? Y0u must define why this project must be done.

Verifying and Maintaining Business Justification

AKA checking the project should be done and making sure it’s still worth the cost.

For a truly well-managed project you must check it it is still worth the cost at the following times:

  • The beginning of each step in the project
  • The end of each step in the project
  • Any time a new issue or risk is noticed!
  • When a backup plan is created
  • At the very end of the project

Remember, the customer is the ultimate judge of the whether or not the project was justified.

Ensuring and Confirming Benefits are Realised

AKA making sure the project is a success.

Sadly, many systems never get used. A system is not just for Christmas people! Here are some common reasons why a system may not get used:

  • If a project is part of a larger programme, it may not be able to produce all those juicy benefits on its own. You could create a damn good wheel, but the customer can’t drive home in a wheel.
  • The project team could make a fantastic product but not train the customers how to use. Remember the first time you drove a car? Imagine there were no driving instructors and you had to just get that bad boy home. Training matters.
  • People can just lose enthusiasm. Some projects take a long time, the customer doesn’t care anymore or some newer shinier, project comes along. You need to keep their precious attention or your project will crash and burn.

A truly successful project has the products used, not just created.

If you learned something or you want to try your own Business Case now, please let me know in the comments below.

Bouncing Back From Rejection

Being rejected hurts. Sadly, you can’t avoid rejection the rest of your life, but you can learn from it.

You can even improve because you were rejected according to Adam Grant an organisational psychologist and the host of WorkLife with Ted a podcast about how to make work not suck. Listen to the podcast for yourself, it’s got great advice and is told in an interesting and accessible way.

The Best Way to Take Rejection

You can react in many different ways to being rejected. You could cry, you could shout, you could be just brush it off.

Grant says the 2 most common reactions to being rejected are:

  • Blaming yourself
  • Blaming the other person

Blaming Yourself

Blaming yourself seems like an obvious choice. You didn’t get that job because you aren’t good enough. You didn’t get promoted because you don’t deserve to. You were fired because you’re garbage.

This option is not only hurtful, it’s wrong.

You will only damage your confidence and self-esteem by blaming yourself. You won’t actually learn anything useful.

On to option 2 then.

Blaming The Other

You are good enough, that company doesn’t know talent. You did deserve that promotion over Jeff. You aren’t garbage, the company that fired you is.

This feels much better.

You aren’t to blame. The world is. Screw you world!

Sadly, this option doesn’t help you grow either.

If you never see the part you had in your failures, you can’t learn from your mistakes. Learning from our mistakes can be one of the best ways to improve.

So, How Should You Handle Rejection?

The two options you just read about are only the most common, but not the best.

Grant tells us about 3 ways you can accept rejection, that are much more effective:

  • Focus on fit
  • Be Self-Compassionate
  • Take it in your stride

What If It’s Not The Right Fit?

Do you ever feel your job just isn’t what you’re supposed to be doing?

Fit isn’t something you can see on a job description or point at in the office. Fit has to do with the way you feel about the work you do, the people you work with and the places you work.

A bad fit can be:

  • A job that doesn’t let you be creative enough.
  • Colleagues who say you’re too quiet, even though you have lots to say, if they’d just let you.
  • Being stuck in an office when you love being outdoors and active.

It’s possible you were talented enough for a job or promotion but you just didn’t gel well with that team or in that environment.

You aren’t the problem, your fit is.

There will be plenty of places where you do fit in better, so think about why that job didn’t work for you and what parts did work for you. Then use that information to find a better fit.

Self-Compassion

Maybe you were to blame. That doesn’t mean you are garbage. People make mistakes, why should you be any different?

If you can learn to be kind to yourself, then making mistakes won’t be the end of the world. You can take the pain, soothe yourself, then learn from it.

Grant tells us about Post-Traumatic Growth, in which we become stronger because of a large failure or trauma we had in life.

This happens when we have the attitude of “I survived that, so I can definitely survive this“. Like you managed to write that dissertation despite still doing all your other subjects at uni, so you can definitely get through this project at work.

Take It In Your Stride

There are 2 approaches to taking rejection in your stride.

See Yourself as More Than Your Job

First, you can realise that the person rejected only one part of you.

You aren’t your job, or your painting or your dating profile.

You are made up of many different parts.

If you consider yourself a husband, father, surfer, knitter and accountant, then when someone doesn’t like your knitting, they have rejected 20% of you at most. That means 80% of you is left unscathed, which hurts a lot less than 100% of you being rejected.

Remember You Still Have Fans

The second way is to realise that one person rejecting you isn’t everyone rejecting you.

There could 500 people who hate your cooking but there could be 500 or 5,000 people who love your cooking.

Unless your contribution to the world is child-murder, you are unlikely to be rejected by everyone. Take comfort in knowing you still have some fans.

Please let me know in the comments below if this has helped you think differently about rejection.

The 7 Themes of PRINCE2

If you want to manage a PRINCE2 project successfully you must follow the 7 Principles of PRINCE2, follow the 7 Themes of PRINCE2 and use the 7 Processes of PRINCE2. In today’s post, we are looking at the 7 Themes of PRINCE2.

The themes of PRINCE2 describe the qualities that make up project management that you must address to have a successful project. All the themes can be tailored to suit the project (as we saw in the 7 themes of PRINCE2).

The 7 Themes of PRINCE2 are as follows:

  1. Business Case – Why?
  2. Organisation – Who?
  3. Quality – What?
  4. Plans – How? How much? When?
  5. Risk – What if?
  6. Change – What is the impact?
  7. Progress – Where are we now? Where are we going? Should we carry on?

1. Business Case

All projects start with an idea.

The idea should provide something useful to the business. The Business Case is a document that says what makes this project useful.

Wondering why you are doing this project? Check the Business Case.

Need to know if changing the direction of the project will still be useful? Check the Business Case.

Need to know what the end product should look like? Check the Business Case.

2. Organisation

All projects involve people.

Some people will benefit from the project. Some people will manage the project. Some people will create the products of the project.

The Organisation theme tells you all about all the people, who is doing what and who is getting what.

3. Quality

For Projects to have been worth it, they need to be high-quality.

The project manager (PM) must agree with the people benefiting from this project (the stakeholders) and the people making the products, how good the product will be. Then the PM makes sure that level of goodness is what the stakeholders get.

If the stakeholders need a lower cost, then the PM will have to get them to agree to lower quality and vice versa.

4. Plans

For a project to succeed, you must know how to do it and when to do it.

Plans go hand in hand with quality. Once you know what to make, you need to know how to do it well.

The plans are the matched to each person at each stage of the project. Everyone should know what to do and when to do it, regardless of their status.

The PM will also refer to the plans when they communicate updates on the project to the stakeholders. Things going according to plan, is good. Not going to plan and we have a problem.

5. Risk

Projects go wrong. But, you can make it less wrong.

Operations have likely been perfected over a long time of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

A project is generally new. New is uncertain. Uncertainty leads to things going wrong. Some of these things can be predicted and maybe even prevented.

Managing risk is vital.

6. Change

Projects aren’t set in stone.

Situations in the business change so the projects change to keep up.

This theme deals with changes that can be managed in a project. This could be the PM responding to changes the stakeholders want or the products not suiting the Business Case.

7. Progress

Projects cause things to change, positive change is progress.

This theme explains how the project matches the plans for the project. Is the project performing going well? Does a problem need to be escalated? Is the project as far along as it should be?

Progress also tells you if the project should continue. Perhaps you have spent too much time and money and not got enough results. Ending a project that produces no results is valuable to the business too, in the resources it saves.

The book goes into each of these themes in detail in their own chapters, but now you have a high-level idea of what each theme is and how it’s important to project management.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.

Networking For People Who Hate Networking

Best business-card-swapping-scene ever

Do you hate networking? Does it feel slimy to you? I’m the same. I love making new friends and meeting interesting people, but I hate approaching people only to see how they can help me.

Luckily, Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist, has some great advice for this very situation, in his Podcast: Work Life with Adam Grant.

Become the Person People Want to Meet

If you have nothing to offer, people won’t want anything from you, so they won’t want to talk to you. Everyone wants to know what they get out of every conversation. It’s sad but it’s true. I imagine you’re only reading this because you want to know some networking tips, right?

If you build expertise in a subject, then anyone interested in that subject will be interested in what you have to say. Grant says this is just human nature.

If you want to know what it’s like to live in France, you ask your friend who lived in France for a year. They are someone you see as an expert on living in France.

So if you master a skill or become an expert on a topic, people who know this will seek your opinions and recommend you to others, so your network builds without you doing any slimy self-promotion.

Grant cites a study in this episode where the radiologists in a hospital that were the most knowledgeable in radiology made more friends in the first 9 months of working at a new hospital and went on to have better job roles than their less expert peers.

The second part seems obvious, but think of your workplace, I bet you have or have had terrible managers who got promoted for being an expert in their previous job. Sadly, being a subject matter expert doesn’t make you a great manager though.

What Kinds of Connections do People Make?

Grant describes 2 levels of connection:

  • Low Level: These tend to be transactional in nature. You do something for me, I’ll do something for you. You both get something, but a meaningful friendship doesn’t form.
  • Deep: You will help this person, even if you get nothing in return because you either care about them or share some core values with them. Maybe they want to save the turtles, you also want to save the turtles, so you are happy to help them. Or maybe they’re your mum and you would do anything for her.

I’m at a Networking Event, What Do I Do?

Networking events sound intimidating. Imagine a bunch of suits grinning, boasting about where they summer and handing out pristine business cards. Sounds hideous.

In reality, this does not have to be the case. Just approach the event as a way to meet some interesting people in your field or a field you want to be a part of. Simple.

Quality Over Quantity

You are better off aiming to have 1 or 2 quality conversations. People don’t remember the person who handed them a business card then disappeared the rest of the night.

People do remember the amazing story they heard about your travels through Iceland or the new system you started at work that saved thousands of pounds in admin time.

Be a “mini-helper”

“So what do you do?”. This is the most boring question. You will probably bore yourself by the end of the night if you keep asking it. Instead, ask what problems they are trying to solve.

If you can solve it in 5 minutes, you have made a meaningful connection at next to no trouble to yourself.

If you can’t help, maybe you know someone who can. The value you added then, is the introduction. Now you have made 2 people happy, the person who’s problem will be solved and the person in your network who you just helped meet a new connection.

Give More Than You Take

Grant actually has a whole book about this topic, I highly recommend it and may even do a post about it one day.

Focus on what you can give to other people.

Don’t match them.

Don’t take too much.

The more you give, the more people will value you. The trick is to actually care, people can sense insincerity. So don’t fake it if you don’t care, just don’t do that thing. Do something you do care about instead.

Do you hate networking? Have any of these tips made it seem less horrible? Let me know in the comments below.

The 7 Principles of PRINCE2

The principles of PRINCE2 are what make a project a PRINCE2 project. The principles are not designed to be ironclad rules, but rather a guide on the best way to approach projects.

The PRINCE2 principles are:

  • Universal – They can be applied to any project
  • Self-Validating – They have been proven to work by being used in many projects over a long time
  • Empowering – Knowing you are working with effective tools gives you confidence in your work.

What Are The 7 Principles?

The 7 principles I will describe in this blog post are:

  • Continued Business Justification
  • Learn from Experience
  • Define Roles and Responsibilities
  • Manage by Stages
  • Manage by Exception
  • Focus on Products
  • Tailor to Suit the Project

Continued Business Justification

The project manager must make sure the project is still going to provide a positive value and is still needed by the users at each stage of the project.

Cutting a project short that won’t be worth the time, money and effort is good, because it frees up that time, money and effort for projects that are worth it.

Learn from Experience

  • Beginning – Learn from similar previous projects
  • During – Learn from what has happened so far on the project
  • After – Learn from the project once it is finished

Defined Roles and Responsibilities

Everyone on the project needs to know what they should do and what they should not do. This stops people wasting time, money and effort doing the same work, or work someone else is better suited to.

Everyone also needs to know the best way to communicate with other people on the project. Got some remote workers? Best to know upfront, so you can arrange to speak virtually or on the phone.

Manage by Stages

A “management stage” is a single block of the project, like gathering requirements or developing the welcome screen.

Shorter management stages are easier to control, larger ones require less direct management, so can be reduce the workload on the Senior Manager (only really applies to huge projects).

PRINCE2 projects all have at least 2 management stages:

  • Initiation (the start)
  • Anything after that

The end of each management stage is when documents should be updated and the project should be checked to see if it is providing enough value to be worth continuing (Continuous Business Justification)

Manage by Exceptions

Set boundaries for the project, that if passed, mean it has failed and should end. Generally these have a little wiggle room.

The most common exceptions are:

  • Cost
  • Time
  • Quality
  • Scope
  • Benefits
  • Risk

Focus on Products

Projects that focus on producing something are more likely to be successful. You can justify to a client an application you have built much more easily that some generic improvements you made to worker productivity. A product is thing that has been made.

Agreeing on what the final product will look like with users make it less likely they will be unhappy with the final product as they told you that’s what they wanted. It also helps to stop users adding new features and ideas through the project, which can lead to the project never finishing because there’s always one more thing.

Tailor to Suit the Project

All projects are different, so make sure you adjust your project management accordingly. If the project is smaller and simpler you may be more hands on, if the project is large and complex you would likely need to delegate more and keep track of people rather than getting stuck in yourself.

Now you have a top-level definition of the 7 principles of PRINCE2, do any of these sound wrong to you? Do they sound right to you? Has it changed the way you will manage your projects? Let me know in the comments below.

How to Manage Projects: An Introduction

Projects are everywhere. You have to solve a problem for a client? That’s a project. You want to build chairs in your spare time? Each chair is a project. You want to write a series of blog posts? Those posts are a project. But how do you manage a project to make sure it’s a success? I don’t know. So I am going to learn about it from “Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2” and share what I learn with you.

Time For Some Jargon

What is Prince2?

PRojects IN Controlled Environments. I realise that doesn’t tell you much, but the whole book is about PRINCE2, so we will have a better answer at the end of this series of posts.

What is a project?

PRINCE2 defines a project as: “A temporary organisation that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed business case”. Seems unnecessarily wordy to me.

A Project is something you (or a team) do in a limited amount of time to make something valuable. It’s that simple.

The Power Of 7

PRINCE2 loves the number 7. There are:

  • 7 Principles – What makes a project PRINCE2
  • 7 Themes – What must be managed to make a project successful
  • 7 Processes – What must be done at each stage of a project and when to do it

That is the exciting journey that lays ahead. Projects are the best way to create positive change, so learning how to make them a success seems like a worthy goal. Come back next time to read about the 7 Principles in detail.