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.
A 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.