Compassion is the “Killer App”

Derek Huether, at The Critical Path, wrote a fun blog post about his take on Dr. Seuss Green Eggs and Ham story.

If you don’t know the story, here is a quote from Derek’s post:

Sam offers Green Eggs and Ham to an unnamed character.  This character adamantly states he does not like them. Sam looks for different opportunities and scenarios where the character may enjoy the green eggs and ham.  Every time, he’s dismissed.  I will not eat them here or there.  I will not eat them anywhere! Still, Sam persists. The character finally laments and tries the green eggs and ham.  Guess what?  He likes them.  He likes them a lot!  All of a sudden, he realized all of the scenarios Sam recommended really are perfect opportunities to enjoy green eggs and ham.

Derek brilliantly compares resistance to green eggs and ham to resistance to new ideas and opportunities. He urges us to try new ideas and opportunities before we dismiss them or shoot them down.

Derek’s post reminded me that, just like Sam in Dr Seuss story, we project managers are in the business of selling new ideas and implementing change initiatives. One of challenging situations we often face is when our projects bring about change that some of our stakeholders welcome while others absolutely resist.

Those stakeholders who resist change can be very vocal and never miss an opportunity to voice their strong feelings. This can sometimes negatively impact the morale of your team members and undermine their confidence.

Often those who resist the change will make it clear to you, and in no uncertain terms, that they not only reject the change you are leading but that they also don’t like you personally and will fight you to the end. Exercising leadership sometimes means disappointing people’s expectations in you and having the capacity to deal and cope with the fallout.

Why do people resist change?

In my experience people don’t actually resist change. What they do resist is what change brings with it, including uncertainty, threat of loss, and fear of incompetence.

As long as the underlying threat is not addressed, no amount of effort will be sufficient to remove the resistance to change.

Whether the threat is real or perceived does not really matter because the threat response is the same: resistance. Resistance can come in all kinds of forms and can range from covert sabotage to flat out open warfare on your project and on you personally.

So how do you stay alive?

We did not sign up for this but, in addition to our role as project managers, we are also change agents and change leaders. Whether we like it or not and whether we have what it takes or not, we are responsible for leading change. And leading change means asking people to change their hearts and minds not just their routine behaviors.

In our role as project managers, we need to develop the mindset to expect resistance to change. We also need to develop the capacity to cope with the conflict that results from resistance. When we develop this mindset and capacity, conflict becomes a normal aspect of projects and we acquire a healthy relationship with it.

What does it take to lead change?

To lead change effectively we need to develop the capacity to have compassion for those who are hostile to the change we are bringing about and even to those who attack us personally.

To be compassionate is not soft or touchy feely. It requires inner strength, courage, and self confidence. This is hard.

Having compassion will enable us to be mindful of the consequences of the change we are introducing. It will help us see things from the perspective of those who will potentially bear the losses. Acknowledging the sacrifices they are making will help them see us not as enemies but as allies. And understanding the pressures they are feeling will help us better assess the situation and design more effective ways to help ease the pain.

Compassion is the Project Manager’s “Killer App”. It gives you the capacity to be patient with those who you have not walked in their shoes. And when they attack you personally, compassion will remind you that it is not you they are really attacking. It is what you represent and the losses they fear you will inflict on them. To some, that fear is too real, as real any threat to their mortgage payments, children’s college tuition, and health insurance.

Be like Sam

So with compassion, we can all be like Sam: continue to listen and adapt even when are treated with hostility, never give up or get caught in the drama, and remain humble and committed to our stakeholder’s success thru their change journey.

UPDATE: I highly recommend you check out this follow-up blog post: “Three Steps for Managers to Inspire Action. With Dr. Seuss” by Geoff Crane of Papercut Project Monitoring.

16 Responses to Compassion is the “Killer App”
  1. Geoff Crane
    March 13, 2010 | 7:12 pm

    “Compassion” as killer app. I love it. My friend I think you are absolutely correct. I wonder, though. Compassion suggest the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others and not judge too harshly.

    As PMs don’t we need to take things a step further? Ultimately our primary concern should be action. Stepping into others’ shoes will help us understand people’s reactions, but it either stops there (because we have understanding), or results in very very slow progress (because we try to make them understand). How do we step into others’ shoes and influence an action (barring super powers, which I wish I had hehe)?

    I shall give some thought to this.

    Thanks to you and Derek for some provocative insights! 🙂

    Geoff.
    http://edge.papercutpm.com

    • samad_aidane
      March 16, 2010 | 2:07 am

      Geoff, Thank you my friend for reading this post and commenting.

      Project Management is a constant balancing act isn’t it.

      We as Project Managers are often squeezed between the expectations of those who authorize us to lead the change and the expectations of those who see themselves as potential casualties of change and resist it.

      Those who authorize us want to see action and progress, while we stay on time and budget. Those who see themselves as potential casualties of change need us to help them change at rate they can absorb.

      On top of all this, we often have a fixed budget and deadline that does not reflect the flexibility we need to meet these often conflicting expectations. During the course of a project, it is impossible not to disappoint one or both of them, as they are rooted in fundamentally conflicting priorities.

      In my view, it is the responsibility of those who authorize the change and those who will experience loss from the change (real or perceived) to do the hard “work” necessary to bridge gaps in priorities and/or adopt new ones.

      The “work” involves all the discomfort, stress, and heavy lifting necessary to resolve conflicting values, priorities, loyalties, and interests.

      So what’s the Project Manager’s role in all of this? I see the role of the PM as a catalyst that ensures the focus remains on this “work” and that this work is not avoided, because people will try everything possible to avoid it.

      To avoid this work, authorizers and potential casualties of change will look to the project manager to take sides or do the “work” on their behalf. Succumbing to this to this temptation places the PM right in the center of the crossfire.

      How does the project manager avoid this and manage to stay alive?

      It is a very delicate balance. This is a great topic. I think this makes a great subject for us to explore in our respective blogs in the future.

  2. Shim Marom
    March 16, 2010 | 7:56 am

    Samad, I hope I read your post correctly as I have some reservations regarding some of your comments.

    You state that “project managers are in the business of selling new ideas and implementing change initiatives. One of challenging situations we often face is when our projects bring about change that some of our stakeholders welcome while others absolutely resist”.

    Although I agree with the notion of project managers implementing change initiatives, it seems to me that task of selling new ideas is not quite a project management activity. Project management, as far as I see it, is the task of driving a particular process towards achieving a pre-determined business objective. It is not the PM’s role to convince others that the objective is justified and worth following, but merely to using the mandate given to him/her and drive the realization of that objective.

    I am also not sure I fully agree with your notion of PM playing a role of change agents, at least not in the context of playing a leading role in that process. The responsibility of achieving wide range stakeholders buy-in sits with the project sponsor. The PM can operate in a support role but most certainly it is not the PM’s prime responsibility to ensure that all stakeholders agree with the change.

    Please let me know what you think?

    Cheers, Shim
    http://www.quantmleap.com

    • samad_aidane
      March 17, 2010 | 2:20 am

      Shim,

      First of all, thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I use the term “selling” in the general sense. Anytime our stakeholders are faced with difficult choices, we may have to lobby for (sell) the options that we believe will advance the project business objects and that are in the best interest of the organization, as opposed those options that protect the stakeholders against loss. Often stakeholders may prefer the easy way out from difficult decisions and delay, defer, or avoid making the tough choices. We need to be there to ensure stakeholders are not making choices that dilute the business objective of the project.

      I think in that sense, we are constantly selling new ideas to influence the direction of the project. The sponsor may have the responsibility to sell “what” change to implement and “why” to implement it. But within the project, there remains hundreds of decisions that need to be made about the “how” to implement the change. And I think this is where we spend a lot of time on a daily basis making sure the right business and technical decisions are made that are aligned with the business objectives of the project.

      The other question is: should the project manager play the role of change agent or should they operate in a support role? I think the more complex the project is and the more it requires the stakeholders to change not only how they do their jobs but also their priorities, commitments, and loyalties, the more organizations look to the PM to also play the role of change agent.

      I personally think that, in most organizations, there is a leadership vacuum in regard to complex change initiatives that the PM ends up needing to fill. I think PMs should step in and play this role anytime there is a vacuum. Even of the PM does not have all the skills necessary for the role, I think at least with such experiences and overtime the PM will develop the muscles needed for this work in future projects. Otherwise, it is incredibly difficult to deliver such complex change projects successfully, if the project manager just focuses on their PM duties.

      I would love to hear you take.

      • Shim Marom
        March 17, 2010 | 6:31 pm

        Interesting points mate. One thing I learned over the years is that there are absolutely no absolutes and that no view point is entirely invalid as we all have our own individual observations, experiences and interpretations of reality. In that light I’d like to first of all emphasize my view that although I disagree with some of your comments I nevertheless respect your opinion unreservedly.

        So just a few points:

        1. I’m not sure whether or not we, as project managers have the capacity, nor the ethical or professional responsibility to “ensure stakeholders are not making choices that dilute the business objective of the project”. After, it is the stakeholders who, in their collective wisdom, helped shape the business objectives in the first place. We are given a set of objectives and if these change due to this business decision or another, it’s our job to manage that transition via scope control.
        2. I wonder about your comment regarding the role of the project manager as a change agent. Looking forward to other PM’s comments on this issue. I’ve expressed my view in my earlier comment.

        Keep on writing mate, that’s the only way we can enrich our collective knowledge base.

        Cheers, Shim
        http://www.quantmleap.com

        • samad_aidane
          March 18, 2010 | 12:40 am

          Thank you so much mate.

          You are so right that there are “absolutely no absolutes”. I love that.

          You are also so spot on when you said that we all have our own individual observations and interpretations. I think this is an exciting time that we have these blog posts as medium to have a dialogue to express our ideas and learn about each other experiences. I am thrilled anytime we can engage in these thought provoking discussions and I look forward to many rich and exciting conversations with you.

          Cheers,

          Samad

        • Geoff Crane
          March 18, 2010 | 7:21 am

          I totally dig your perspective on this, Shim. I would agree with you that if we’re dealing with one, maybe two stakeholders, it’s really up to them to decide what the business objectives are for their project.

          When the project becomes larger and increasingly complex, though, I find stakeholders stop agreeing on what the objectives are and start throwing food at one another instead.

          As project managers, we have to get to end of job; and since we’re the ones with the purview of the project, it often falls to us to influence our stakeholders and change their positions such that we can get agreement to proceed. If we don’t do this, our projects can stall.

          New ideas are really solutions to problems that people don’t know they have. In that context, I would agree with Samad that there is an element of “change agent” in what we do, because it’s often the only way to break stakeholder deadlock.

          My two cents anyway! 🙂
          Geoff.
          http://edge.papercutpm.com

          • Shim Marom
            March 18, 2010 | 4:59 pm

            Hey Geoff, I might be accused on being pedantic (but I’ll take the risk nevertheless). Just a few comments re. your comment:

            1. I would agree with the notion that a PM needs to operate as a facilitator, bringing different stakeholders together with the aim of achieving an amicable understanding.

            2. I am a bit concerned about the looseness of the term “our project”. it is only ours by the virtue of the charter given to us by the project sponsor. Ultimately the project really belongs to the sponsor and we are merely the sponsor’s agent entrusted with the task of driving the project to it’s completion. We can largely influence the ‘how’ but to a much lesser degree the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. If the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ are under review and their validity is questionable, strictly speaking it is not the PM’s business to get these issues resolved.

            What do you reckon?

            Cheers, Shim.

            • Geoff Crane
              March 19, 2010 | 12:20 am

              I’m going to cop out by saying “our project” means we, like, er, are super great about taking ownership of our work. LOL

              I do agree with you that the sponsor is the ultimate owner of the project. That being said, the sponsor has brought us in, usually, because they needed help.

              (I’m totally digging this convo btw…sorry Samad for filling up your blog page)

              It’s interesting to me you see the “why” and “what” of a project as something that’s really none of our business. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong…that just hasn’t been my experience. (And it doesn’t help that I have a history of shoving my nose where it doesn’t belong bwahahaha).

              I think the value of the PMs involvement in the “why” and “what” comes not at the beginning of the project, where what’s known about scope is being hammered out; but in the middle, where change requests start getting raised, usually because the scope is getting better definition through learning, focus and exposure.

              When this happens, there’s a high potential for stakeholder conflict. As PMs I see we have a choice: get involved in the conflict, resolve it by whatever means necessary and move on…or stop all work, push back to the sponsor and get him to deal with it. “Call me when you’re ready to move on.”

              Resolving by any means necessary often means taking the initiative to work out new and sometimes crazy solutions, and selling the ideas to the stakeholders, which is why I believe in what Samad’s said above.

              However, I don’t think either approach is right or wrong, and there’s merits to both. My background is financial trading systems where stakeholders usually ask me to take out a mortgage on my soul before they’ll hire me. LOL

              Cheers, my friend! 🙂
              Geoff.
              http://edge.papercutpm.com

              • samad_aidane
                March 19, 2010 | 3:00 am

                Shim, Geoff,

                I am loving this conversation. Please keep going.

                I am loving it because it goes to the heart of something that I care deeply about: the PM Mindset and belief system that we need to develop, as we are called upon to lead major change projects in today’s complex environment.

                How do we know when to step back and let our stakeholders do their “work” and when we do need to step in and influence (sell ideas and options to) to help them absorb change when the project stalls?

                To stay alive and be able to sleep well at night, how much of ourselves should we pour in our projects to make them succeed and when do we know to stay detached. And can we really stay detached and yet keep our passion for the work we are doing?

                Our views on these topics reflect what we learned from our diverse backgrounds, experiences, and the scars – paper cuts 🙂 we collected along the way.

                So please keep the conversation going. I am thrilled with all the ideas we are sharing here.

                Thank you guys.

  3. PM Hut
    March 16, 2010 | 10:21 am

    Reading your section on “resisting change” I was thinking that a lot has been said on accepting changes as a fact in any project, but no one has shed a light on resisting changes, and the benefits of doing so (in fact, resisting changes has always been labeled as a bad PM practice).

    PS: I published an elaborate article on controlling change requests, hope you’ll get the chance to read it.

    • samad_aidane
      March 17, 2010 | 2:37 am

      Dear PM Hut,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You article does a good job outlining proper change management process. Thank you so much for this contribution.

  4. Derek Huether
    March 16, 2010 | 11:36 am

    Samad, you are too kind. I appreciate the insights and contributions you give the PM community.

    Yes, we are change agents. We might not have signed up for it, in addition to our roles as project managers or leaders, but it’s what we do. It has become our responsibility.

    Honos habet onus. Honor is burdened with responsibility.

    Be it asking someone to taste green eggs and ham (over and over again) or challenging a customer to make hard (and sometimes painful) choices, we must continue to be patient and persistent.

    It’s the least we can do.

    Best Regards,
    Derek
    http://thecriticalpath.info

    • samad_aidane
      March 17, 2010 | 2:24 am

      Thank you so much Derek. You are awesome my friend!!!

      And thank you for the inspiration you gave me to write this post. I never thought about this story in the way you brilliantly put it. But once I read your post, I looked at the story in a new way and I saw the parallel with what we do as PMs. So thank you and I look forward to more inspirations form you. I will be reading your blog.

  5. […] incumbent upon us to understand others’ reluctance and step into their shoes. He calls compassion the “killer app” for project […]

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Compassion is the “Killer App”

Derek Huether, at The Critical Path, wrote a fun blog post about his take on Dr. Seuss Green Eggs and Ham story.

If you don’t know the story, here is a quote from Derek’s post:

Sam offers Green Eggs and Ham to an unnamed character.  This character adamantly states he does not like them. Sam looks for different opportunities and scenarios where the character may enjoy the green eggs and ham.  Every time, he’s dismissed.  I will not eat them here or there.  I will not eat them anywhere! Still, Sam persists. The character finally laments and tries the green eggs and ham.  Guess what?  He likes them.  He likes them a lot!  All of a sudden, he realized all of the scenarios Sam recommended really are perfect opportunities to enjoy green eggs and ham.

Derek brilliantly compares resistance to green eggs and ham to resistance to new ideas and opportunities. He urges us to try new ideas and opportunities before we dismiss them or shoot them down.

Derek’s post reminded me that, just like Sam in Dr Seuss story, we project managers are in the business of selling new ideas and implementing change initiatives. One of challenging situations we often face is when our projects bring about change that some of our stakeholders welcome while others absolutely resist.

Those stakeholders who resist change can be very vocal and never miss an opportunity to voice their strong feelings. This can sometimes negatively impact the morale of your team members and undermine their confidence.

Often those who resist the change will make it clear to you, and in no uncertain terms, that they not only reject the change you are leading but that they also don’t like you personally and will fight you to the end. Exercising leadership sometimes means disappointing people’s expectations in you and having the capacity to deal and cope with the fallout.

Why do people resist change?

In my experience people don’t actually resist change. What they do resist is what change brings with it, including uncertainty, threat of loss, and fear of incompetence.

As long as the underlying threat is not addressed, no amount of effort will be sufficient to remove the resistance to change.

Whether the threat is real or perceived does not really matter because the threat response is the same: resistance. Resistance can come in all kinds of forms and can range from covert sabotage to flat out open warfare on your project and on you personally.

So how do you stay alive?

We did not sign up for this but, in addition to our role as project managers, we are also change agents and change leaders. Whether we like it or not and whether we have what it takes or not, we are responsible for leading change. And leading change means asking people to change their hearts and minds not just their routine behaviors.

In our role as project managers, we need to develop the mindset to expect resistance to change. We also need to develop the capacity to cope with the conflict that results from resistance. When we develop this mindset and capacity, conflict becomes a normal aspect of projects and we acquire a healthy relationship with it.

What does it take to lead change?

To lead change effectively we need to develop the capacity to have compassion for those who are hostile to the change we are bringing about and even to those who attack us personally.

To be compassionate is not soft or touchy feely. It requires inner strength, courage, and self confidence. This is hard.

Having compassion will enable us to be mindful of the consequences of the change we are introducing. It will help us see things from the perspective of those who will potentially bear the losses. Acknowledging the sacrifices they are making will help them see us not as enemies but as allies. And understanding the pressures they are feeling will help us better assess the situation and design more effective ways to help ease the pain.

Compassion is the Project Manager’s “Killer App”. It gives you the capacity to be patient with those who you have not walked in their shoes. And when they attack you personally, compassion will remind you that it is not you they are really attacking. It is what you represent and the losses they fear you will inflict on them. To some, that fear is too real, as real any threat to their mortgage payments, children’s college tuition, and health insurance.

Be like Sam

So with compassion, we can all be like Sam: continue to listen and adapt even when are treated with hostility, never give up or get caught in the drama, and remain humble and committed to our stakeholder’s success thru their change journey.

UPDATE: I highly recommend you check out this follow-up blog post: “Three Steps for Managers to Inspire Action. With Dr. Seuss” by Geoff Crane of Papercut Project Monitoring.

16 Responses to Compassion is the “Killer App”
  1. Geoff Crane
    March 13, 2010 | 7:12 pm

    “Compassion” as killer app. I love it. My friend I think you are absolutely correct. I wonder, though. Compassion suggest the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others and not judge too harshly.

    As PMs don’t we need to take things a step further? Ultimately our primary concern should be action. Stepping into others’ shoes will help us understand people’s reactions, but it either stops there (because we have understanding), or results in very very slow progress (because we try to make them understand). How do we step into others’ shoes and influence an action (barring super powers, which I wish I had hehe)?

    I shall give some thought to this.

    Thanks to you and Derek for some provocative insights! 🙂

    Geoff.
    http://edge.papercutpm.com

    • samad_aidane
      March 16, 2010 | 2:07 am

      Geoff, Thank you my friend for reading this post and commenting.

      Project Management is a constant balancing act isn’t it.

      We as Project Managers are often squeezed between the expectations of those who authorize us to lead the change and the expectations of those who see themselves as potential casualties of change and resist it.

      Those who authorize us want to see action and progress, while we stay on time and budget. Those who see themselves as potential casualties of change need us to help them change at rate they can absorb.

      On top of all this, we often have a fixed budget and deadline that does not reflect the flexibility we need to meet these often conflicting expectations. During the course of a project, it is impossible not to disappoint one or both of them, as they are rooted in fundamentally conflicting priorities.

      In my view, it is the responsibility of those who authorize the change and those who will experience loss from the change (real or perceived) to do the hard “work” necessary to bridge gaps in priorities and/or adopt new ones.

      The “work” involves all the discomfort, stress, and heavy lifting necessary to resolve conflicting values, priorities, loyalties, and interests.

      So what’s the Project Manager’s role in all of this? I see the role of the PM as a catalyst that ensures the focus remains on this “work” and that this work is not avoided, because people will try everything possible to avoid it.

      To avoid this work, authorizers and potential casualties of change will look to the project manager to take sides or do the “work” on their behalf. Succumbing to this to this temptation places the PM right in the center of the crossfire.

      How does the project manager avoid this and manage to stay alive?

      It is a very delicate balance. This is a great topic. I think this makes a great subject for us to explore in our respective blogs in the future.

  2. Shim Marom
    March 16, 2010 | 7:56 am

    Samad, I hope I read your post correctly as I have some reservations regarding some of your comments.

    You state that “project managers are in the business of selling new ideas and implementing change initiatives. One of challenging situations we often face is when our projects bring about change that some of our stakeholders welcome while others absolutely resist”.

    Although I agree with the notion of project managers implementing change initiatives, it seems to me that task of selling new ideas is not quite a project management activity. Project management, as far as I see it, is the task of driving a particular process towards achieving a pre-determined business objective. It is not the PM’s role to convince others that the objective is justified and worth following, but merely to using the mandate given to him/her and drive the realization of that objective.

    I am also not sure I fully agree with your notion of PM playing a role of change agents, at least not in the context of playing a leading role in that process. The responsibility of achieving wide range stakeholders buy-in sits with the project sponsor. The PM can operate in a support role but most certainly it is not the PM’s prime responsibility to ensure that all stakeholders agree with the change.

    Please let me know what you think?

    Cheers, Shim
    http://www.quantmleap.com

    • samad_aidane
      March 17, 2010 | 2:20 am

      Shim,

      First of all, thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I use the term “selling” in the general sense. Anytime our stakeholders are faced with difficult choices, we may have to lobby for (sell) the options that we believe will advance the project business objects and that are in the best interest of the organization, as opposed those options that protect the stakeholders against loss. Often stakeholders may prefer the easy way out from difficult decisions and delay, defer, or avoid making the tough choices. We need to be there to ensure stakeholders are not making choices that dilute the business objective of the project.

      I think in that sense, we are constantly selling new ideas to influence the direction of the project. The sponsor may have the responsibility to sell “what” change to implement and “why” to implement it. But within the project, there remains hundreds of decisions that need to be made about the “how” to implement the change. And I think this is where we spend a lot of time on a daily basis making sure the right business and technical decisions are made that are aligned with the business objectives of the project.

      The other question is: should the project manager play the role of change agent or should they operate in a support role? I think the more complex the project is and the more it requires the stakeholders to change not only how they do their jobs but also their priorities, commitments, and loyalties, the more organizations look to the PM to also play the role of change agent.

      I personally think that, in most organizations, there is a leadership vacuum in regard to complex change initiatives that the PM ends up needing to fill. I think PMs should step in and play this role anytime there is a vacuum. Even of the PM does not have all the skills necessary for the role, I think at least with such experiences and overtime the PM will develop the muscles needed for this work in future projects. Otherwise, it is incredibly difficult to deliver such complex change projects successfully, if the project manager just focuses on their PM duties.

      I would love to hear you take.

      • Shim Marom
        March 17, 2010 | 6:31 pm

        Interesting points mate. One thing I learned over the years is that there are absolutely no absolutes and that no view point is entirely invalid as we all have our own individual observations, experiences and interpretations of reality. In that light I’d like to first of all emphasize my view that although I disagree with some of your comments I nevertheless respect your opinion unreservedly.

        So just a few points:

        1. I’m not sure whether or not we, as project managers have the capacity, nor the ethical or professional responsibility to “ensure stakeholders are not making choices that dilute the business objective of the project”. After, it is the stakeholders who, in their collective wisdom, helped shape the business objectives in the first place. We are given a set of objectives and if these change due to this business decision or another, it’s our job to manage that transition via scope control.
        2. I wonder about your comment regarding the role of the project manager as a change agent. Looking forward to other PM’s comments on this issue. I’ve expressed my view in my earlier comment.

        Keep on writing mate, that’s the only way we can enrich our collective knowledge base.

        Cheers, Shim
        http://www.quantmleap.com

        • samad_aidane
          March 18, 2010 | 12:40 am

          Thank you so much mate.

          You are so right that there are “absolutely no absolutes”. I love that.

          You are also so spot on when you said that we all have our own individual observations and interpretations. I think this is an exciting time that we have these blog posts as medium to have a dialogue to express our ideas and learn about each other experiences. I am thrilled anytime we can engage in these thought provoking discussions and I look forward to many rich and exciting conversations with you.

          Cheers,

          Samad

        • Geoff Crane
          March 18, 2010 | 7:21 am

          I totally dig your perspective on this, Shim. I would agree with you that if we’re dealing with one, maybe two stakeholders, it’s really up to them to decide what the business objectives are for their project.

          When the project becomes larger and increasingly complex, though, I find stakeholders stop agreeing on what the objectives are and start throwing food at one another instead.

          As project managers, we have to get to end of job; and since we’re the ones with the purview of the project, it often falls to us to influence our stakeholders and change their positions such that we can get agreement to proceed. If we don’t do this, our projects can stall.

          New ideas are really solutions to problems that people don’t know they have. In that context, I would agree with Samad that there is an element of “change agent” in what we do, because it’s often the only way to break stakeholder deadlock.

          My two cents anyway! 🙂
          Geoff.
          http://edge.papercutpm.com

          • Shim Marom
            March 18, 2010 | 4:59 pm

            Hey Geoff, I might be accused on being pedantic (but I’ll take the risk nevertheless). Just a few comments re. your comment:

            1. I would agree with the notion that a PM needs to operate as a facilitator, bringing different stakeholders together with the aim of achieving an amicable understanding.

            2. I am a bit concerned about the looseness of the term “our project”. it is only ours by the virtue of the charter given to us by the project sponsor. Ultimately the project really belongs to the sponsor and we are merely the sponsor’s agent entrusted with the task of driving the project to it’s completion. We can largely influence the ‘how’ but to a much lesser degree the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. If the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ are under review and their validity is questionable, strictly speaking it is not the PM’s business to get these issues resolved.

            What do you reckon?

            Cheers, Shim.

            • Geoff Crane
              March 19, 2010 | 12:20 am

              I’m going to cop out by saying “our project” means we, like, er, are super great about taking ownership of our work. LOL

              I do agree with you that the sponsor is the ultimate owner of the project. That being said, the sponsor has brought us in, usually, because they needed help.

              (I’m totally digging this convo btw…sorry Samad for filling up your blog page)

              It’s interesting to me you see the “why” and “what” of a project as something that’s really none of our business. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong…that just hasn’t been my experience. (And it doesn’t help that I have a history of shoving my nose where it doesn’t belong bwahahaha).

              I think the value of the PMs involvement in the “why” and “what” comes not at the beginning of the project, where what’s known about scope is being hammered out; but in the middle, where change requests start getting raised, usually because the scope is getting better definition through learning, focus and exposure.

              When this happens, there’s a high potential for stakeholder conflict. As PMs I see we have a choice: get involved in the conflict, resolve it by whatever means necessary and move on…or stop all work, push back to the sponsor and get him to deal with it. “Call me when you’re ready to move on.”

              Resolving by any means necessary often means taking the initiative to work out new and sometimes crazy solutions, and selling the ideas to the stakeholders, which is why I believe in what Samad’s said above.

              However, I don’t think either approach is right or wrong, and there’s merits to both. My background is financial trading systems where stakeholders usually ask me to take out a mortgage on my soul before they’ll hire me. LOL

              Cheers, my friend! 🙂
              Geoff.
              http://edge.papercutpm.com

              • samad_aidane
                March 19, 2010 | 3:00 am

                Shim, Geoff,

                I am loving this conversation. Please keep going.

                I am loving it because it goes to the heart of something that I care deeply about: the PM Mindset and belief system that we need to develop, as we are called upon to lead major change projects in today’s complex environment.

                How do we know when to step back and let our stakeholders do their “work” and when we do need to step in and influence (sell ideas and options to) to help them absorb change when the project stalls?

                To stay alive and be able to sleep well at night, how much of ourselves should we pour in our projects to make them succeed and when do we know to stay detached. And can we really stay detached and yet keep our passion for the work we are doing?

                Our views on these topics reflect what we learned from our diverse backgrounds, experiences, and the scars – paper cuts 🙂 we collected along the way.

                So please keep the conversation going. I am thrilled with all the ideas we are sharing here.

                Thank you guys.

  3. PM Hut
    March 16, 2010 | 10:21 am

    Reading your section on “resisting change” I was thinking that a lot has been said on accepting changes as a fact in any project, but no one has shed a light on resisting changes, and the benefits of doing so (in fact, resisting changes has always been labeled as a bad PM practice).

    PS: I published an elaborate article on controlling change requests, hope you’ll get the chance to read it.

    • samad_aidane
      March 17, 2010 | 2:37 am

      Dear PM Hut,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You article does a good job outlining proper change management process. Thank you so much for this contribution.

  4. Derek Huether
    March 16, 2010 | 11:36 am

    Samad, you are too kind. I appreciate the insights and contributions you give the PM community.

    Yes, we are change agents. We might not have signed up for it, in addition to our roles as project managers or leaders, but it’s what we do. It has become our responsibility.

    Honos habet onus. Honor is burdened with responsibility.

    Be it asking someone to taste green eggs and ham (over and over again) or challenging a customer to make hard (and sometimes painful) choices, we must continue to be patient and persistent.

    It’s the least we can do.

    Best Regards,
    Derek
    http://thecriticalpath.info

    • samad_aidane
      March 17, 2010 | 2:24 am

      Thank you so much Derek. You are awesome my friend!!!

      And thank you for the inspiration you gave me to write this post. I never thought about this story in the way you brilliantly put it. But once I read your post, I looked at the story in a new way and I saw the parallel with what we do as PMs. So thank you and I look forward to more inspirations form you. I will be reading your blog.

  5. […] incumbent upon us to understand others’ reluctance and step into their shoes. He calls compassion the “killer app” for project […]

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Compassion is the “Killer App”

Derek Huether, at The Critical Path, wrote a fun blog post about his take on Dr. Seuss Green Eggs and Ham story.

If you don’t know the story, here is a quote from Derek’s post:

Sam offers Green Eggs and Ham to an unnamed character.  This character adamantly states he does not like them. Sam looks for different opportunities and scenarios where the character may enjoy the green eggs and ham.  Every time, he’s dismissed.  I will not eat them here or there.  I will not eat them anywhere! Still, Sam persists. The character finally laments and tries the green eggs and ham.  Guess what?  He likes them.  He likes them a lot!  All of a sudden, he realized all of the scenarios Sam recommended really are perfect opportunities to enjoy green eggs and ham.

Derek brilliantly compares resistance to green eggs and ham to resistance to new ideas and opportunities. He urges us to try new ideas and opportunities before we dismiss them or shoot them down.

Derek’s post reminded me that, just like Sam in Dr Seuss story, we project managers are in the business of selling new ideas and implementing change initiatives. One of challenging situations we often face is when our projects bring about change that some of our stakeholders welcome while others absolutely resist.

Those stakeholders who resist change can be very vocal and never miss an opportunity to voice their strong feelings. This can sometimes negatively impact the morale of your team members and undermine their confidence.

Often those who resist the change will make it clear to you, and in no uncertain terms, that they not only reject the change you are leading but that they also don’t like you personally and will fight you to the end. Exercising leadership sometimes means disappointing people’s expectations in you and having the capacity to deal and cope with the fallout.

Why do people resist change?

In my experience people don’t actually resist change. What they do resist is what change brings with it, including uncertainty, threat of loss, and fear of incompetence.

As long as the underlying threat is not addressed, no amount of effort will be sufficient to remove the resistance to change.

Whether the threat is real or perceived does not really matter because the threat response is the same: resistance. Resistance can come in all kinds of forms and can range from covert sabotage to flat out open warfare on your project and on you personally.

So how do you stay alive?

We did not sign up for this but, in addition to our role as project managers, we are also change agents and change leaders. Whether we like it or not and whether we have what it takes or not, we are responsible for leading change. And leading change means asking people to change their hearts and minds not just their routine behaviors.

In our role as project managers, we need to develop the mindset to expect resistance to change. We also need to develop the capacity to cope with the conflict that results from resistance. When we develop this mindset and capacity, conflict becomes a normal aspect of projects and we acquire a healthy relationship with it.

What does it take to lead change?

To lead change effectively we need to develop the capacity to have compassion for those who are hostile to the change we are bringing about and even to those who attack us personally.

To be compassionate is not soft or touchy feely. It requires inner strength, courage, and self confidence. This is hard.

Having compassion will enable us to be mindful of the consequences of the change we are introducing. It will help us see things from the perspective of those who will potentially bear the losses. Acknowledging the sacrifices they are making will help them see us not as enemies but as allies. And understanding the pressures they are feeling will help us better assess the situation and design more effective ways to help ease the pain.

Compassion is the Project Manager’s “Killer App”. It gives you the capacity to be patient with those who you have not walked in their shoes. And when they attack you personally, compassion will remind you that it is not you they are really attacking. It is what you represent and the losses they fear you will inflict on them. To some, that fear is too real, as real any threat to their mortgage payments, children’s college tuition, and health insurance.

Be like Sam

So with compassion, we can all be like Sam: continue to listen and adapt even when are treated with hostility, never give up or get caught in the drama, and remain humble and committed to our stakeholder’s success thru their change journey.

UPDATE: I highly recommend you check out this follow-up blog post: “Three Steps for Managers to Inspire Action. With Dr. Seuss” by Geoff Crane of Papercut Project Monitoring.

16 Responses to Compassion is the “Killer App”
  1. Geoff Crane
    March 13, 2010 | 7:12 pm

    “Compassion” as killer app. I love it. My friend I think you are absolutely correct. I wonder, though. Compassion suggest the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others and not judge too harshly.

    As PMs don’t we need to take things a step further? Ultimately our primary concern should be action. Stepping into others’ shoes will help us understand people’s reactions, but it either stops there (because we have understanding), or results in very very slow progress (because we try to make them understand). How do we step into others’ shoes and influence an action (barring super powers, which I wish I had hehe)?

    I shall give some thought to this.

    Thanks to you and Derek for some provocative insights! 🙂

    Geoff.
    http://edge.papercutpm.com

    • samad_aidane
      March 16, 2010 | 2:07 am

      Geoff, Thank you my friend for reading this post and commenting.

      Project Management is a constant balancing act isn’t it.

      We as Project Managers are often squeezed between the expectations of those who authorize us to lead the change and the expectations of those who see themselves as potential casualties of change and resist it.

      Those who authorize us want to see action and progress, while we stay on time and budget. Those who see themselves as potential casualties of change need us to help them change at rate they can absorb.

      On top of all this, we often have a fixed budget and deadline that does not reflect the flexibility we need to meet these often conflicting expectations. During the course of a project, it is impossible not to disappoint one or both of them, as they are rooted in fundamentally conflicting priorities.

      In my view, it is the responsibility of those who authorize the change and those who will experience loss from the change (real or perceived) to do the hard “work” necessary to bridge gaps in priorities and/or adopt new ones.

      The “work” involves all the discomfort, stress, and heavy lifting necessary to resolve conflicting values, priorities, loyalties, and interests.

      So what’s the Project Manager’s role in all of this? I see the role of the PM as a catalyst that ensures the focus remains on this “work” and that this work is not avoided, because people will try everything possible to avoid it.

      To avoid this work, authorizers and potential casualties of change will look to the project manager to take sides or do the “work” on their behalf. Succumbing to this to this temptation places the PM right in the center of the crossfire.

      How does the project manager avoid this and manage to stay alive?

      It is a very delicate balance. This is a great topic. I think this makes a great subject for us to explore in our respective blogs in the future.

  2. Shim Marom
    March 16, 2010 | 7:56 am

    Samad, I hope I read your post correctly as I have some reservations regarding some of your comments.

    You state that “project managers are in the business of selling new ideas and implementing change initiatives. One of challenging situations we often face is when our projects bring about change that some of our stakeholders welcome while others absolutely resist”.

    Although I agree with the notion of project managers implementing change initiatives, it seems to me that task of selling new ideas is not quite a project management activity. Project management, as far as I see it, is the task of driving a particular process towards achieving a pre-determined business objective. It is not the PM’s role to convince others that the objective is justified and worth following, but merely to using the mandate given to him/her and drive the realization of that objective.

    I am also not sure I fully agree with your notion of PM playing a role of change agents, at least not in the context of playing a leading role in that process. The responsibility of achieving wide range stakeholders buy-in sits with the project sponsor. The PM can operate in a support role but most certainly it is not the PM’s prime responsibility to ensure that all stakeholders agree with the change.

    Please let me know what you think?

    Cheers, Shim
    http://www.quantmleap.com

    • samad_aidane
      March 17, 2010 | 2:20 am

      Shim,

      First of all, thank you for taking the time to comment.

      I use the term “selling” in the general sense. Anytime our stakeholders are faced with difficult choices, we may have to lobby for (sell) the options that we believe will advance the project business objects and that are in the best interest of the organization, as opposed those options that protect the stakeholders against loss. Often stakeholders may prefer the easy way out from difficult decisions and delay, defer, or avoid making the tough choices. We need to be there to ensure stakeholders are not making choices that dilute the business objective of the project.

      I think in that sense, we are constantly selling new ideas to influence the direction of the project. The sponsor may have the responsibility to sell “what” change to implement and “why” to implement it. But within the project, there remains hundreds of decisions that need to be made about the “how” to implement the change. And I think this is where we spend a lot of time on a daily basis making sure the right business and technical decisions are made that are aligned with the business objectives of the project.

      The other question is: should the project manager play the role of change agent or should they operate in a support role? I think the more complex the project is and the more it requires the stakeholders to change not only how they do their jobs but also their priorities, commitments, and loyalties, the more organizations look to the PM to also play the role of change agent.

      I personally think that, in most organizations, there is a leadership vacuum in regard to complex change initiatives that the PM ends up needing to fill. I think PMs should step in and play this role anytime there is a vacuum. Even of the PM does not have all the skills necessary for the role, I think at least with such experiences and overtime the PM will develop the muscles needed for this work in future projects. Otherwise, it is incredibly difficult to deliver such complex change projects successfully, if the project manager just focuses on their PM duties.

      I would love to hear you take.

      • Shim Marom
        March 17, 2010 | 6:31 pm

        Interesting points mate. One thing I learned over the years is that there are absolutely no absolutes and that no view point is entirely invalid as we all have our own individual observations, experiences and interpretations of reality. In that light I’d like to first of all emphasize my view that although I disagree with some of your comments I nevertheless respect your opinion unreservedly.

        So just a few points:

        1. I’m not sure whether or not we, as project managers have the capacity, nor the ethical or professional responsibility to “ensure stakeholders are not making choices that dilute the business objective of the project”. After, it is the stakeholders who, in their collective wisdom, helped shape the business objectives in the first place. We are given a set of objectives and if these change due to this business decision or another, it’s our job to manage that transition via scope control.
        2. I wonder about your comment regarding the role of the project manager as a change agent. Looking forward to other PM’s comments on this issue. I’ve expressed my view in my earlier comment.

        Keep on writing mate, that’s the only way we can enrich our collective knowledge base.

        Cheers, Shim
        http://www.quantmleap.com

        • samad_aidane
          March 18, 2010 | 12:40 am

          Thank you so much mate.

          You are so right that there are “absolutely no absolutes”. I love that.

          You are also so spot on when you said that we all have our own individual observations and interpretations. I think this is an exciting time that we have these blog posts as medium to have a dialogue to express our ideas and learn about each other experiences. I am thrilled anytime we can engage in these thought provoking discussions and I look forward to many rich and exciting conversations with you.

          Cheers,

          Samad

        • Geoff Crane
          March 18, 2010 | 7:21 am

          I totally dig your perspective on this, Shim. I would agree with you that if we’re dealing with one, maybe two stakeholders, it’s really up to them to decide what the business objectives are for their project.

          When the project becomes larger and increasingly complex, though, I find stakeholders stop agreeing on what the objectives are and start throwing food at one another instead.

          As project managers, we have to get to end of job; and since we’re the ones with the purview of the project, it often falls to us to influence our stakeholders and change their positions such that we can get agreement to proceed. If we don’t do this, our projects can stall.

          New ideas are really solutions to problems that people don’t know they have. In that context, I would agree with Samad that there is an element of “change agent” in what we do, because it’s often the only way to break stakeholder deadlock.

          My two cents anyway! 🙂
          Geoff.
          http://edge.papercutpm.com

          • Shim Marom
            March 18, 2010 | 4:59 pm

            Hey Geoff, I might be accused on being pedantic (but I’ll take the risk nevertheless). Just a few comments re. your comment:

            1. I would agree with the notion that a PM needs to operate as a facilitator, bringing different stakeholders together with the aim of achieving an amicable understanding.

            2. I am a bit concerned about the looseness of the term “our project”. it is only ours by the virtue of the charter given to us by the project sponsor. Ultimately the project really belongs to the sponsor and we are merely the sponsor’s agent entrusted with the task of driving the project to it’s completion. We can largely influence the ‘how’ but to a much lesser degree the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. If the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ are under review and their validity is questionable, strictly speaking it is not the PM’s business to get these issues resolved.

            What do you reckon?

            Cheers, Shim.

            • Geoff Crane
              March 19, 2010 | 12:20 am

              I’m going to cop out by saying “our project” means we, like, er, are super great about taking ownership of our work. LOL

              I do agree with you that the sponsor is the ultimate owner of the project. That being said, the sponsor has brought us in, usually, because they needed help.

              (I’m totally digging this convo btw…sorry Samad for filling up your blog page)

              It’s interesting to me you see the “why” and “what” of a project as something that’s really none of our business. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong…that just hasn’t been my experience. (And it doesn’t help that I have a history of shoving my nose where it doesn’t belong bwahahaha).

              I think the value of the PMs involvement in the “why” and “what” comes not at the beginning of the project, where what’s known about scope is being hammered out; but in the middle, where change requests start getting raised, usually because the scope is getting better definition through learning, focus and exposure.

              When this happens, there’s a high potential for stakeholder conflict. As PMs I see we have a choice: get involved in the conflict, resolve it by whatever means necessary and move on…or stop all work, push back to the sponsor and get him to deal with it. “Call me when you’re ready to move on.”

              Resolving by any means necessary often means taking the initiative to work out new and sometimes crazy solutions, and selling the ideas to the stakeholders, which is why I believe in what Samad’s said above.

              However, I don’t think either approach is right or wrong, and there’s merits to both. My background is financial trading systems where stakeholders usually ask me to take out a mortgage on my soul before they’ll hire me. LOL

              Cheers, my friend! 🙂
              Geoff.
              http://edge.papercutpm.com

              • samad_aidane
                March 19, 2010 | 3:00 am

                Shim, Geoff,

                I am loving this conversation. Please keep going.

                I am loving it because it goes to the heart of something that I care deeply about: the PM Mindset and belief system that we need to develop, as we are called upon to lead major change projects in today’s complex environment.

                How do we know when to step back and let our stakeholders do their “work” and when we do need to step in and influence (sell ideas and options to) to help them absorb change when the project stalls?

                To stay alive and be able to sleep well at night, how much of ourselves should we pour in our projects to make them succeed and when do we know to stay detached. And can we really stay detached and yet keep our passion for the work we are doing?

                Our views on these topics reflect what we learned from our diverse backgrounds, experiences, and the scars – paper cuts 🙂 we collected along the way.

                So please keep the conversation going. I am thrilled with all the ideas we are sharing here.

                Thank you guys.

  3. PM Hut
    March 16, 2010 | 10:21 am

    Reading your section on “resisting change” I was thinking that a lot has been said on accepting changes as a fact in any project, but no one has shed a light on resisting changes, and the benefits of doing so (in fact, resisting changes has always been labeled as a bad PM practice).

    PS: I published an elaborate article on controlling change requests, hope you’ll get the chance to read it.

    • samad_aidane
      March 17, 2010 | 2:37 am

      Dear PM Hut,

      Thank you for your comment.

      You article does a good job outlining proper change management process. Thank you so much for this contribution.

  4. Derek Huether
    March 16, 2010 | 11:36 am

    Samad, you are too kind. I appreciate the insights and contributions you give the PM community.

    Yes, we are change agents. We might not have signed up for it, in addition to our roles as project managers or leaders, but it’s what we do. It has become our responsibility.

    Honos habet onus. Honor is burdened with responsibility.

    Be it asking someone to taste green eggs and ham (over and over again) or challenging a customer to make hard (and sometimes painful) choices, we must continue to be patient and persistent.

    It’s the least we can do.

    Best Regards,
    Derek
    http://thecriticalpath.info

    • samad_aidane
      March 17, 2010 | 2:24 am

      Thank you so much Derek. You are awesome my friend!!!

      And thank you for the inspiration you gave me to write this post. I never thought about this story in the way you brilliantly put it. But once I read your post, I looked at the story in a new way and I saw the parallel with what we do as PMs. So thank you and I look forward to more inspirations form you. I will be reading your blog.

  5. […] incumbent upon us to understand others’ reluctance and step into their shoes. He calls compassion the “killer app” for project […]

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