Home » Change Management » In Project Management — Patience Is Not A Virtue

Patience is a project management tool that can help us bring about improvements to how we manage projects as well as improvements to the organization as a whole. I discovered that patience was more about waiting for an opportunity to improve things and then jumping on it than it was about waiting for the organization to recognize our brilliant ideas and joyfully adopt them.

I spent 20 years in the Air Force where every three years we would move on to a new job.  This of course, among other reasons, motivated us to work fast and hard to accomplish something useful before being spirited away to the next exotic location.

I found that in pushing hard to get things improved, I made a lot of people unhappy — often some of my bosses.  Needless to say, making one’s boss unhappy is not the best way to make personal progress nor to move up in the world.  However, I was more interested in accomplishing something than I was in maximizing my own progression, so I continued to push hard and successfully achieved significant improvements at each assignment.

Project Management PatienceA few years after I got out of the Air Force I took on a project management role in a Fortune 50 company.  I realized I didn’t have to worry — I hoped — about moving every three years.  I specifically made a conscious decision to be more patient in pushing the ideas and initiatives that I felt were necessary to move the business forward.  I knew a lot about change management and I had significant experience changing large organizations, even when they didn’t want to be changed.  I figured this would be relatively easy compared to the Air Force.

Instead, I watched with great dismay as significant achievements (e.g., on time project delivery, new product quality levels achieved, etc.) often disappeared in the confusion and cacophony of a struggling Fortune 50 company.  While I continued to practice patience over pressure, it became very clear that we had to strike quietly and fast to get an innovation in place and then persevere under pressure to keep it there long enough for it to make a difference (see for example, Project Management Initiative Or Insubordination).

Even after a huge success it might take a few years of patience before we again got into a position to make another major difference.  In more than one case a project we started that showed great potential was subsequently “overrun” by the organization.  The organization, while seeing the potential of the innovative approach, unfortunately then imposed well intentioned but historically unsuccessful management practices on the project, thus essentially squashing the budding project management pocket of excellence.

Patience and persistence are ideal ways to bring about changes and improvements.  However, sometimes we may have to move fast and take some personal risks to effectively help an organization that is struggling with unsuccessful projects and products.  While challenging to do, the resulting business success and the sense of accomplishment are worth the risk.

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5 thoughts on “In Project Management — Patience Is Not A Virtue

  1. Mike Murphy says:

    If one is so lucky to be working in the company that has mindset of continuous improvement, recognize your good fortune.

    For everyone else, there are many ways to get the improvement to happen.

    One technique is ‘planting seeds’ – similar to what folks above have suggested, it’s presenting the ideas for improvemenbt in many forums (different environments and soils), looking to gain allies, who water and fertilize the idea, until you’ve got enough crop that the majority see it as the way forward.

    It is important in the corporate world is not to worry about personal recognition. The lasting improvements mostly come when the powers-that-be decide on the improvement themselves, and direct/lead the improvement. That is usually facilitated if management think it is their idea, and usually hindered if they think they have to give credit to someone else, specially if a peer, and doubly specially if someone on a lower pay scale. Be happy that the improvement was implemented, your job is better; don’t worry that no one recognized it was your idea. Aligned with planting seeds, it’s ok if someone else, on whom you’ve planted the seed, is able to champion the idea and get it done.

    Another view of improvement is understanding that an improvement idea needs to be sold. And as any competent salesperson will tell you, it takes 100 calls to make a sale. To get management to buy the improvement idea, you’ve got to approach it like a salesman. Figure out management’s WIIFM, figure out the best approach, figure out the timing, figure out how to overcome objections. Most importantly, remember that the first sales pitch rarely brings a signed contract. Instead of feeling like a ‘no’ is ‘never’, analyze the interraction, revise the pitch, timing, approach, etc, and keep after it. Take the ‘no’ as “i didn’t make the right pitch at the right time with the right information”. Modify the approach, pick a new time, and keep after it. Don’t just repeat the pitch, that’s not gonna get it. Find new ways, new methods, new scenario/enviornment/timing – eventually, if the idea is good business, you will make the sale.

    Last note for today, if there is anyway to translate the improvement to $$$ (more sales, lower costs, higher productivit, etc), you’re pitch, seed, etc will go farther faster. Doesn’t mean that translating the improvement to $$$ will guarantee the improvement will happen, but does make it far more likely ( 🙂 perhaps 3 sales out of 100 calls 🙂 ).

    ciao,
    mm.

  2. Bruce Benson says:

    Brett,

    I had a coworker ask me how I kept getting the business to adopt my ideas. He said he could not get anyone to pay attention to his. I asked him how well were his ideas helping him get his job done? He said he didn’t have the time to try them out himself!

    So, I applaud anyone who takes their great idea and puts it to work in their work space. I know from my experience that most of my “great ideas” I used and improved – often for years – before anyone else took them seriously.

    I find that I just keep at it and eventually some of the ideas take root and spread.

    Bruce

  3. Brett Ossman says:

    Striving to improve, to me, is probably a key difference in a company that soars above the competition and one that makes do. Now to MOST people, making do is just fine, otherwise everyone would soar.

    In my line of of work as a software (web) developer, I do get opportunities to improve the way I do things. Unfortunately, the team quite often doesn’t adopt the ideas, so the impact is only in what I do, which minimalizes the impact.

    Also, I think often your improvements aren’t recognized as pluses for you, but rather your colleagues are viewed as not up to snuff instead.

    Finding a company that adopts improvements in the culture can be a tricky venture.

  4. Bruce Benson says:

    Agile Scout,

    While one would think the military would be populated with highly assertive folks, I did not observe much difference between the military (at least the Air Force) and the corporate world (both technology focused).

    Pushing hard to bring about changes annoys folks equally in both worlds. The conclusion I reached was that some pushing is required. When I focused only on using persistence and information and/or education to bring about the change, it rarely got legs on its own, and at some point it needed a spark to get it going.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Bruce

  5. Agile Scout says:

    Interesting article. We enjoyed this idea. While it may not work with every employer, certainly coming from the military may have helped with your assertiveness!

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