Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two heroes dealing with uncertainty

Last weekend I was surprised by the persistence of my children which made me proud. Even thinking at that moment how they dealt with the situation makes me still give the proud feeling. Perhaps there are some similarities between their situation and projects we have to deal with.

A few weeks ago my son asked me to join a family event organized by his sport club. The event was a cycle tour through our region. As my children like to cycle in our neighborhood, the thought this was a good idea. So we decided to join that event without knowing what situations we would face. My son is 8 years old and my daughter 6 years old and as normal healthy children they complain whenever. I already calculated that a tour of 20km would be possible for my children to succeed without fewer complaints.

When starting the tour I asked what distance we have to cycle. The organizations claimed it would be between 30 and 40km. After a short discussion with my wife we decided that it would be acceptable although it was raining a bit.

During this day we had to face some challenges:
- not knowing what route to follow as after each track ended with a new piece of the map
- not knowing where to finish
- not knowing what whether to face with
- not knowing what quality the roads would have
- not knowing the unknowns on the route

During the day my children didn't complaint at all, although there were reasons to do. They already made me proud as at the end it turns out we cycled over 60km. Cycling this number of meters is already hard for a person who didn't touch a bicycle for a few years, imagine how hard it has to be for those children on those little bikes.

Afterwards it made me think why we succeeded and why they didn't complaint.
The following reasons came to my mind:
- They accepted the uncertainty
- They trusted me as guide
- We helped them by pushing them when wind was tougher or roads are steeper without they asked for it
- We listened and watched when we assumed they needed a short break
- We called the organization when we got lost
- We decided not to participate in the last track and go straight forward to home. Although we had to cycle still about 10 km. Cycle straight home is better then keep playing the last game with the risk to lose direction and stop more often which would cost a lot of energy
- We rewarded them by telling how good they are doing, how proud we are
- We focused on the beautiful environment instead on our burdens

When looking at these reasons I see some similarities with projects I delt with. Perhaps you also were in projects when things are getting tough people are starting to complain. To avoid this perhaps the following actions can be taken by the project manager/ test manager:
- Make people aware of a certain uncertainty so acceptance is easier
- Make it visible when you ask for help and for what reasons
- Help your project members before they start complaining, reducing the pain before they feel it can help avoiding focusing on that feeling
- Make the team focus on what is happen in the big picture instead of focusing on what goes wrong
- Don't stretch their capabilities for to long, give them a break, although there is time pressure
- Keep telling them when they do things right
- Be open, don't focus on the problems you have as management, keep eye for their situation
- Make the fun happen

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