Continuous Improvement: What We Can Learn From Project Personalities

It is interesting how each project develops its own personality.

Some projects have a very positive personality. Communications are great. The project chemistry is great. Everyone on the project seems to click. Other projects are sleepers. They just seem to get done without anyone who is not involved noticing. Then, other projects have more challenges to them. They demand the attention and focus of management and other resources beyond the normal project team.

If an organization is not taking on all of these types of projects, then it is not growing in its ability to take on more work and develop its people for the long haul.

The projects with the great personality are the ones that build organizational confidence and pride. They are the ones everyone points to as legacy projects and as milestones, as what “we can accomplish as a team.” They prove what can be done when the entire project team is pulling in the same direction; when there is mutual respect and appreciation for what each partner does in the execution of the work. These are by no means easy projects. Often, they are the most difficult by many metrics. But the spirit of the project itself, which is inherent in each of the team members, empowers the team to overcome the obstacles to success.

The sleepers are the core of the organization. They measure what the organization does on the average. If you discount the milestone legacy projects and the challenging projects and just look at the rest of the work done, you can assess where the organization is going over time. If those projects are bigger and more complex than they were five years ago, then the capacity for volume and complexity within the organization is growing. Make no mistake however. The sleeper projects are not without their challenges and difficulties. But they get handled largely by the project team without a lot of fanfare and angst.

The challenging projects are the ones that test an organization the most. While the projects with the positive spirit energize the team and the company, the challenging projects can de-energize them. You spend time trying to reverse negatives, or at least mitigate them, instead of generating positives. They can be real downers.

Yet, taken as a whole, a growing organization will encounter all three personalities in their project mix. It is what they do with them that counts. How does each project contribute to the success and growth of the organization? Some will contribute to the legacy of the organization and are heralded as great accomplishments. They are the ones that get awards and are featured on websites and other marketing materials.

The challenging projects with the negative energy will focus the organization on learning. Sometimes, the lessons are what we need to do differently. Sometimes, the lesson is to reinforce project controls that were not deployed due to inexperience or complacency after so many successful “average” projects.

The point is, each project plays an important role in the growth of an organization, as long as the organization recognizes the role it plays and seeks to build from what we learn on each project. Management’s role here is to make the most out of each experience, spread the knowledge gained by each project, and endeavor to ensure that the knowledge is properly utilized by the entire organization.

Continuous learning and continuous improvement is the lifeblood of a growing origination. Project experience is a great teacher if you allow it to be.

“Information is not knowledge.”

Albert Einstein

“Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.”

Vincent Van Gogh