Leading Projects: Balancing Rational with Emotion

A start-up or a fledgling organization relies on individual heroism of their people to successfully deliver projects. These team members are enthusiastic, engaged and willing to see the project succeed. They are emotionally connected to the purpose of project/organization. Emotion is the basis of how they operate.

Then the organization starts growing. To manage growth, processes are introduced. New tools are implemented and an org chart with hierarchy is established. Slowly, layers of processes and people are added and focus shifts to processes and practices. So far, so good. The problem is when focus shifts only on processes and practices. When rational takes over the emotion.

Processes and practices are absolutely important for an organization to grow, learn and sustain. But often, project managers focus too much on the planning, scheduling, managing risks and watching the metrics that they forget to focus on people. This results in disengagement (or in other words, dispassionate compliance) where people do the minimum required to get a task done.

Consider this: A study published by Harvard Business Review found that average overrun on IT projects is 27% and one out of six projects had overrun of over 200%. Another study revealed that IT failure rates results in loss of $50 billion to $150 billion to US economy alone.

The cost of an emotionally disengaged team to a project is huge. Organizations have thousands of hours of project management experience. Processes standards are getting better and more mature. Why then are projects still in a problem?

The possible answer, according to me is: we need to balance rational with emotion, process with empathy and practices with people. We need processes for sure, but we also need a strong culture of consistent engagement. We need a project charter for sure, but people also need a compelling vision to subscribe to. We need to understand the requirements of customer for sure, but we also need to understand the emotional needs of our team members. We need skills of our people to go up along as the bars in project progress chart go up. We need experience, but we also need to experiment. We need communication and we need engagement.

Every project we execute is a glorious opportunity to practice leadership, to make a difference in a customer’s business, to nurture the talents of our people. As a project manager, you can make that happen only when you focus on the emotional aspect as much as the rational one.

That, to me is what makes a great project manager and a team great!

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Related reading at QAspire Blog:

Giving Up On Need To Be ‘Rational Always’

As we grow, our belief system firms up with notions of what is right and what is wrong. What works and what not. At work, our beliefs further solidify according to the context we work in. Understanding of data, facts and trends is important because it make us “rational”.

The problem starts however, when we try to be rational all the time. A leader who always takes a rational standpoint fails to inspire people, because people are not always rational. An individual who always goes with conventional wisdom, proven tracks and charted paths quickly becomes “one amongst many”. Parents who drive kids with their own pre-existing beliefs do more harm to kids than help. Purely rational, planned strategies will never allow organizations to have major breakthroughs. A sales professional cannot sell effectively based on data and facts, for people buy on emotion, and then need facts to justify that emotion.

Rationality makes us highly predictable. It does not leave any room for an original thought. If everyone does it, and if it is working reasonably well, we should do it too.

The key is to give up on our urge to be right all the time, and balance structure with chaos. Listening to the rational mind and the emotional one.

Things like passion, faith and belief are mostly irrational. When people take “leaps of faith”, they are seldom based on evidences and numbers. They do it because they are passionate about it and they believe in the outcome. They take a decision and then work hard to make those decisions right. If those decisions don’t go as planned -they learn. That is how we change ourselves, our teams and our organizations – one irrational and original thought at a time.

As Godin says,

Irrational passion is the key change agent of our economy. Faith and beauty and a desire to change things can’t be easily quantified, and we can’t live without them.

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