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The Role Of Luck And Skill In Our SuccessIf you have a good analytical process [insight 1], are aware of behavioral issues [insight 2] and organizational issues are not a problem [insight 3], then you typically can develope a pretty effective process.  If you’ve done that and you get a bad outcome in the short term, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and you go back at it the next day because over time the process will lead to success.  Michael Mauboussin, The Role Of Luck and Skill in Investing, AAII Journal, Sept 2013.

The problem with the consulting profession, at least as I practice it, is that too often those folks who hire me have to be told that they are in fact half the problem that needs to be solved.  A better way to put it is that improvements to their personal management practices will be half the solution to the existing problems.

The key here is that success is not about luck if we have a well considered process we are following. However, as the quote above alludes to, if we have a good analytic process (say based upon past project performance) and recognize our own mental biases (don’t panic when things go bad) then the odds are in our favor that we’ll, over the long run, get to the success were seeking.

The catch is the third insight which, simply put, says if someone is messing with our process, then that is one of the primary reasons for failure.  I’ve said the same thing often and summarized it as:

success = people + processes + tools – bad habits

And the insight is that all too often, the bad habits that undermine how well we could do are often squarely in the court of management — often senior management — as well as in the collective culture and habits of the organization.

I recall two historical happenings with respect to senior management.  Zen Buddhism became popular in China when the Shogun adopted it and Christianity became popular in Rome when the Caesar adopted it.   There are two insights here.  One is that there first has to be something to be adopted and then second, it sure helps the effort when the top person in the organization makes it their own.

However, when this power in the hands of influential or senior folks is not well exercised (e.g., “always give them less time then they ask for!”) then no amount of great people, processes or tools will succeed.

One of my more convincing indicators of this relationship is the times I’ve directly removed or indirectly influenced the removal of a manager and then their old organization flourished, otherwise unchanged, when the manager went elsewhere.

If we have a great approach to how we do our projects, the odds are in our favor — even as things inevitably go wrong — that we’ll bounce back and end up with a successful project.  This does presuppose that there are no other forces too strong that are pushing against that success, even with well meaning intention.  So before we throw out the way we are doing business, make sure we’ve reduced or eliminated those bad habits that might be preventing a perfectly good process from achieving surprising success.

See for example The One Perfect Project Management Methodology

Is there some particular influences that are preventing your projects from being as successful as you know they can be?

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