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The Ceremony: Power Project Drivers August 21, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.

I have recently been able to attend a number of ceremonies and they have reminded me of a key concept to make projects go better. These formalities are powerful tools that can drive a project forward and keep it going even when it hits bumps.

Thanks to the U.S. Navy @http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnavy/

Why do we want to use ceremonies? The army says the primary purpose of ceremonies are to “render honors, preserve tradition, and to stimulate esprit de corps.” In other words, we celebrate success, make sure that things are done in a repeatable manner, and build team. The girl scouts say it in a different way but mean the same thing, “Ceremonies … pass on traditions, recognize accomplishments, [and] strengthen friendships” (from the girl scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin river valleys.) All of these are excellent drivers of project success.

When we should use ceremony:

·         Assign with Ceremony

I want a project manager to own their project. The problem here is that project management by its very nature lacks intrinsic power. Except in functional organizations project managers rarely can directly hire, fire, or impact their resources. They often have little clout, or only a type of clout they are reluctant to use. Thus, many project managers do not take ownership of their projects. While it is true that “power is never given, it is only taken” most project managers don’t want to hear that.

I once read that project managers are waiting for the day when someone approaches them, has them kneel and dubs them “Project Manager.” Of course this will never happen. Perhaps, however we can create something useful and similar.

I am suggestion that you give your managers projects formally. A formal charter is a powerful thing. It means you put time into it and shows the organization and the manager that you care about the project.  It also provides a structure (or tradition) that lets the project manager know what to expect. A face to face meeting means you have taken out time to address the project. A public announcement lets the organization know that the manager has your backing. This combines the “render honors” and “preserve tradition” ideas of the ceremony and sets the manager up for success.

·         Open with Ceremony

The Kickoff is used for so many different things. Sometimes it is a working meeting. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. But the kickoff can be enormously useful if properly and formally managed.

First, make sure that everyone attends. The kickoff is the initial formation of the team and thus is a good opportunity to start developing the “esprit de corps” needed.
Second, a consistent structure should be used. This establishes an expected “tradition” and standard that allows the attendees to proceed with similar expectations from project to project.

Third, clarify team roles. This establishes what each person is doing and gives you a head start where communications goes.

With these items in mind, you should walk away with everyone knowing what the project is about, what their role is, and who is involved in the team.

·         Celebrate with Ceremony

Celebration is a vital tool in the manager’s arsenal. It encourages engagement and drives workers to excel. Take advantage of celebration opportunities by adding a bit of ceremony. This emphasizes the occasion and increases the value of the event. In my group we do a monthly recognition of an employee who has put forth an effort to help our customers and others on the team. We present them a trophy in our team meeting, tell why they were selected, and ask everyone to congratulate them. The trophy is an artifact from a special celebration last year of the whole team’s success. The employee gets to display it all month. The formality of the ceremony and the symbolism of the trophy is a step above just saying, “Good job.”

·         Close with Ceremony

Projects generally close poorly. This is problematic for a large list of reasons that everyone knows. Poor closing practice leads to lost lessons learned and unclear turn-over to production. Some of this can be mitigated by closing with ceremony. An established process driven close will provide structure to make sure the critical closing processes happen.

Finally, I do encourage you to move slow and go through the ritual. Rituals are important. We learn things. We reflect on what happened or what is going to happen. At the end, we gain closure.

What ceremonies do you observe in your day to day work and life?
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