By Sue Dyer
Man has sought to forecast the future since time
immemorial. Can you imagine how the cave man must have looked upon the
landscape to try and predict where his next meal might appear, or his
next threat? Astrologers, fortune-tellers, economists and
meteorologists all try to offer up “predictability” over what is
to come. The problem with predicting the future is that we are at each
moment, and with each effort, changing it forever!
The opening of Hong Kong’s new
airport provided a great example of what happens when seemingly small
events join together to produce a large, catastrophic effect.
The first flight was due in at 6:30 am. The airport
authorities were exhausted from their efforts to move to the new
airport over night.
A number of passengers had trouble finding their luggage.
The Flight Information Display boards were blank or displaying
incorrect information. People
coming to meet arriving passengers could not find their gates or
determine their time of arrival; departing passengers had similar
Passengers were not provided the boarding gate numbers that are normally
printed on boarding passes. The same lack of information effected the
airline staff who didn’t know where to report for duty.
Arriving aircraft experienced delays in having a gate assigned or a
place to wait. Things began to back up.
Parked planes were sent steps and busses to unload passengers.
Only Three Ramp Handling Operators were there to take care of bags. But
there was no information on which carrousel the bags were to be
assigned. This led to around 6,000 bags lying around the baggage claim
People, stranded for hours in the terminal, found that many of the
public phones were not working. Cell phones didn’t work because the
network was overloaded. The air-conditioning did not function
properly. Toilets were
filthy and some overflowing due to the overcrowding. Certain
escalators did not work so people had to walk up stairs to find
overcrowded restaurants filled with overflowing garbage bins.
And you thought you have had bad days! It is not an
exaggeration to say that the airport was in pandemonium for several
days. So how in the heck can we begin to predict and manage complex
organizations and complex projects so that they don’t “crash and
burn”? The answer may lie in learning how to manage chaos. Here are
Tip #1: Know
Things Will Get Off Course and Make Course Corrections:
When NASA sends a rocket into space it is only on target 5% of the
time. The other 95% it gyros back and forth toward its target. When
the rocket veers off course (which is most of the time), you can bet
that is it not a surprise to NASA. They have feedback mechanisms that
tell them where the rocket is at any given moment so they can make
course corrections. What kind of feedback or accountability system do
you have for your projects or organizational initiatives? A monthly
Scorecard offers regular feedback and allows you to take the
“pulse” of the project/initiative, then you can make course
corrections to assure that you hit your target(s).
Tip #2: Tap
Into The Collective Wisdom of Your Team: Having worked with over 1,000 project teams, I have
seen first hand, and trust explicitly, that there is a “collective
wisdom” in a team. This wisdom is available to help you to know what
is needed to succeed, to know how to solve the problems that you face,
to help you continuously improve. The wisdom is there if you ASK. Many
project managers or leaders don’t ask because they feel they are
“supposed to” have all of the answers and don’t want to show
weakness. The truth is that we see problems only from our own
perspective. Problems usually have many facets that we simply don’t
see. Your team, focused on solving your problem, can offer
breakthrough ideas that will make you the hero. This is especially
true for large or complex problems where knowledge resides in many
Maintain A Strategic Vantage Point: When you are down in the trenches all you can see
is what is in front of you, behind you, and the walls of the trench.
It is impossible to steer your team to success from this
vantage point. I remember visiting the island of Santorini in Greece. Up on the
highest cliff they had carved marble “viewing” benches into the
side of the mountain. From there they could see in all directions.
They could see any threats that might be approaching from land or sea.
They could see someone who might need help. They could tell how life
was proceeding in the village. In order to steer your team toward
success you must have a strategic vantage point. This means you
can’t be in the trenches. Many times I see leaders and project
managers getting lost in the details of a specific issue or
requirement and losing their direction. When this happens they can’t
steer their team, nor can they see the impending crisis.
Tip #4: A
Two-Headed Cow Doesn’t Know Which Way To Go: Have you ever driven past a pasture of cows
grazing on a hill? Have you ever noticed that they all face the same
direction? They are a herd. They move as one unit. What would happen
if there was a two headed
cow leading the herd? It would see two different paths and have two
different ideas for how to proceed. How would it ever decide on what
direction to go? While this analogy may see absurd, many teams with
two or more leaders are being led in many directions at the same time.
I also see many projects with NO discernable leader. There is no one
in charge, no one who is the visionary, no one who has the authority
to resolve the problems. Impending chaos is only part of the problem.
This lack of leadership also creates “entropy”, meaning that
instead of synergy you are actually losing momentum and wasting resources.
Chaos happens. It is a product of nature and will
always happen. The larger the project or initiative, the more chaos
will be created. You can’t manage these efforts in the same manner
as you have in the past. You must seek out new ways to take the
“vital signs” of your project at regular intervals so that you can
wrap your mind around the entire project, or initiative, and steer it
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