The PMI’s Pulse of The Profession Report 2021 concluded “gymnastic enterprises are better able to sense and respond to shocks, drive change, and face the future, knowing that they have the mindset, skills, and tools that it takes to win.”
Back in March 2022, I wrote a blog “Gymnastic IT Project Management as a Service. Agile Beyond Agile”.
I’m not sure whether it was watching the actual gymnastics recently at the Commonwealth Games (Jake Jarman from Peterborough’s four golds were very inspiring!) or the relentless business and operational “shocks” we’ve endured since I wrote that post in March (maybe it’s a combination of both), but I have been thinking about last year’s PMI Pulse report (and my blog) lately and wondering …
Did we become gymnastic enough to thrive?
NEW WORK ECOSYSTEM
Firstly, let’s reflect on that “The New Work Ecosystem” that the PMI report identified. Those responding were asked how they would describe the change in their business over the preceding 12 month period (compared to the year before).
The areas where PMI members were reporting “many/some significant changes” told its own story.
Out in front, almost 7 out of ten cited ‘digital transformation’ (68%) – naturally, in the post Covid environment there had been a fast forwarding of business digitisation. Close behind was ‘business strategy’ (64%), followed by ‘organisational adaptability’ (61%) and then, tied (57%) came ‘innovation approach’ and ‘operational efficiency’.
Given that the body of the PMI Pulse report went on to emphasize the importance of an adaptive culture and the value of the project’s people in a ‘gymnastic’ enterprise, I was surprised that ‘organisational culture’ (53%) and ‘talent management’ (42%) were cited by just over or just under half as areas were “many/some significant changes” had taken place. I’d have expected a more noticeable rate of change here, so I decided to keep an eye on these areas and the power skills identified by the PMI. Anecdotes are not data, but my observations are, I think, worth consideration.
“Real change doesn’t happen without people,” the PMI concluded, “and those people need power skills like collaborative leadership, empathy, an innovative mindset, and the ability to build trusting relationships, developed continuously through a variety of ways.” This quote leads us nicely onto where we are.
I’m writing this post half a year later, and wondering whether the gymnastic, agile beyond agile, people-centred enterprises became a thing that lasted – because the concept excited me! I think it kept many projects afloat in the ‘pandemic season’.
DON’T JUST SURVIVE – THRIVE
I’ll credit the late, great Olivia Newton-John with this insight!
After her recent passing, I heard an archive interview that Olivia had given about her cancer diagnosis on radio station LBC. In it, and I’m paraphrasing, she said that she wasn’t merely going to survive – she was going to thrive.
What a valuable distinction and what a lesson!
The “gymnastic enterprise”, during Covid19, was all about surviving. Back in March 2020, the industry was compelled to reinvent itself in a heartbeat. There had to be a greater focus on outcomes and less attachment to process – the mantra was almost “get it done, whichever way it can be”.
Adopting this mindset, business critical projects could continue, business and strategic goals could be met, and the project management team could function when so much else was not. A business with what PMI would call a gymnastic enterprise, as its beating heart, had the competitive edge. So we’d be nuts not to carry it into the post-covid project environment … right?
Writing for ProjectManagement.com, in his “Changemakers and Gymnastic Enterprises” blog, Aaron Smith wrote, “These gymnastic organizations are empowering their people to become “changemakers” who, regardless of their role, are inspired and equipped to turn ideas into reality. This happens when people continuously get better at what they do, by building a holistic portfolio of skills. And it happens when they’re supported by a strong organizational culture, strong leaders, and a strong talent management function.”
Aaron’s words encapsulate the gains that we made, almost accidentally, during the pandemic.
Did we take a leaf out of Olivia Newton-John’s book though? Did we leverage the lessons that helped us ‘survive’ – to thrive?
A few did but working and talking with project teams, I’d argue that more didn’t.
GYMNASTIC TRIPLE BACKFLIP
There were three main areas were teams fell off the gymnastic high beam…
1 – Having explored and excelled in alternative ways of working, they’ve defaulted their ‘factory setting’ processes.
If you enjoyed gains by pivoting to Agile in the pandemic, why return to your pre-covid comfort zone and rely just on waterfall. If a hybrid approach worked for you in survival mode, why push the reset button and go back to the ‘back-in-the-day-way’?
To be clear, it isn’t as simple as just moving away from waterfall, instead it’s about more measured, balanced thinking and a tailored approach for your current project or task and again for each project and task thereafter.
Maybe project teams are overthinking. During the pandemic there was such a bias to action that our thinking had to be done more quickly. Perhaps, the more you think, the more you risk a type of cognitive bias to creep in. Teams have expressed thoughts like “the way we’ve done things for years worked ok, and while the way we did things in the pandemic was amazing, maybe it was of its time, so let’s go back to the safety of how we used to work”.
2 – Talent has slotted back into a pre-pandemic mindset of what their role is.
The gymnastic enterprise environment encouraged growth in business acumen across the team – people became more rounded in their approach to their role and the part it played in achieving the business outcome.
We were all like that NASA janitor stopped by JFK in 1962! President John F. Kennedy visited NASA and during his tour of the facility, he met a janitor who was carrying a broom. The President asked what the janitor did for NASA, and (rather than pointing at the broom and asking “Really?”) the janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
During the pandemic we were all that janitor! Actually, we can bring this janitorial metaphor even closer to home! During the pandemic, when we went back to the office, we were all breaking out the sanitising wipes to clean our desk, keyboard and mouse. It wasn’t just the cleaners working to that objective of cleanliness – it was all of us!
In how many other areas are we now back in our corners, just doing our thing?
3 – For some, there’s less conscious focus on what the PMI called “power skills”.
The gains in leadership, ownership and communication were considerable. I remember noticing that all projects were more transparent, there was a collaborative leadership mindset and a people-first attitude. It really bubbled those “power skills” (collaborative leadership, communication, an innovative mindset, ‘for-purpose orientation’, empathy, etc) to the surface.
Power skills are drivers of outcome, without realising some enterprises I’ve been working with have reverted to a greater reliance on process.
Both are important! It’s just the gymnastic outcome focussed way seemed more intuitive.
I just asked a colleague to help me explain this and he compared power skills to the force in Star Wars (run with this). Processes will achieve for you what you want to achieve (getting an X-Wing out of a swamp, for instance) but the long way! Using the force (enhanced instinctive power skills) is the quickest, most enjoyable and (ultimately all round) most rewarding way.
All of this is anecdotally interesting, it’s perhaps not representative of the industry across the planet, perhaps a PMI Pulse report will revisit the topic as I have – I’d love to hear from you – especially if you maintained your ‘gymnasticity’. Incidentally, back in March spell check told me I’d invented a word in ‘gymnasticity’, which, in itself, literally underlines how new this concept is! By the way, if the gymnastic enterprise does take off as a global norm – remember where you read the word ‘gymnasticity’ first!
Anyway, the point of returning to this topic is to remind you where Stoneseed and I can fit into this gymnastic approach!
Stoneseed’s PMaaS (Project Management as a Service) was designed (and has evolved) for this very need. This heightened level of flexibility, demand driven solutions, empowerment of talent, ability to pivot (wherever and whenever needed), all while maintaining structure and governance are baked into the PMaaS DNA.
In conclusion, Ron Immink wrote for projectmanagement.com that a gymnastic enterprise is one where “the workforce is agile, the supply lines are agile, the operating model is agile, the working capital is agile and investor capital is agile. Where, as an organization, you can switch things on and off. The enterprise is agile enough to in deploying the workforce in any way it needs (capacity, roles, location). The enterprise can turn off supply and demand. It can move its cost base up and down. The enterprise can creatively deploy capital.”
Stoneseed’s PMaaS model could not have asked for a better elevator pitch!