"Innovation is CREATIVITY that ships" (Steve Jobs). Not a PowerPoint slidedeck.

Drawing a page from my experience, I have observed that, depending on the organizational culture, the rigor of project management practices (PMBOK) seem to lose traction and are not widely adopted. In a world of short attention spans, engaging the project team to review progress and update the plan is sometimes very challenging. Often the Project Manager is left alone in maintaining a project plan (MPP file or other format). Culturally there is an overwhelming appetite for ambiguous status updates rather than data driven insights using a project management tool. Stoplight colors that have no definitions are assigned, based on “gut instinct,” to describe project health. Style over substance and adhocism has veered to become the norm at the expense of disciplined project management and clear delineation of accountability. As an illustrative example, the status report of a runaway project claims that the team is “creating an execution plan that is dependency-driven, resource-loaded, viable and risk aware” (in the absence of a project planning process this is an imaginary plan). 

Using this business situation as a frame of reference, I put myself in the shoes of a General Manager running such an organization. I reflected on the nature of the conversation in the GM’s staff meeting.


A text analysis of the narrative of the problem-based conversation often consists of $5K words at the helicopter level, confirming that there is a lacklusre appetite for managing by walking around.

  • We have growing pains in terms of being to “land” this project
  • Need to ensure “alignment”
  • Looks like there are execution challenges in that “space”
  • Operationally how do we sustain those efforts?
  • We are going “one step forward and two steps back”
  • Need to make prioritization streams are cleaner and prevent any flare ups
  • There is a looming dark cloud where we go quiet
  • Let’s “leverage” the meeting next week to discuss those topics
  • Need to restart the “rhythm of the business” and build our “muscle”
  • “What is preventing you that is blocking you from executing?”
  • Need to understand the business model changes
  • What does the balance of the program look like?
  • How do the stakeholders want to “consume” the information?
  • There are increasing conflicts between headquarters and the subsidiaries as a result of the pain points
  • We need to engage in a dialogue and ensure “alignment”
  • Many of the business processes are not functioning now; they seem to have a lot of noise. Let’s make sure that the “water is flowing through the pipes”
  • The customers’ patience is running thin
  • We are not moving fast enough and seem to playing catchup
  • Are we holding ourselves “accountable”?
  • Need the next level of insight
  • Both time and complexity are constraints
  • At which “altitude” are we talking about?
  • Need to do a “reboot and reset” on the plan about how we get there and make sure that it is well orchestrated
  • Need to setup a different type of “cadence”
  • Need to “change the game”
  • Need to figure out from a “leadership perspective” how to “reboot”
  • This is a collective challenge about how we tackle this together as leadership team
  • We need to be in “flying formation”
  • Need to get a pulse of the issues impacting the program
  • We need to orchestrate some common motions
  • Let’s “double click” to the next level of detail

The goals of a General Manager include the following:

  • Seeing the linkages and interconnections across the organization
  • Managing through other people
  • Leading the business through turbulence: globalization, impacts of the changes in market boundaries, and shifts in technology

Viewed through the lens of an astute General Manager, the current state of project portfolio management does not create value in an uncertain world of increasing demands and shrinking resources. Falling into the trap of “hurry sickness” ends up achieving little or lasting value for the organization.

The aspiration of a GM running a global enterprise is to unlock sustainable, profitable organic growth on a global scale. This calls for doing less and being more Solution Focused (SF).

Although the GM had a Chief of Staff, I realized that the direct reports needed coaching to find their swing like the Boys in the Boat and foster a growth mindset.

A growth hacker is “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”

Key Question

From a growth hacking perspective, how can we refactor the high-level (50,000 feet) General Management talk and use a Solution Focused (SF) approach and make this endeavor a coaching conversation using $5 words?

  • The SF coach has a bias for simplicity and reframes $5K words into $5 words that can be understood by the talent pool.
  • The SF coach works with the coachee to help establish ground rules, priorities and reserving time to think.
  • The SF coach encourages the coachee to learn to work smarter and not harder.
  • The SF coach acts as a sounding board and constructively challenges the coachee to adopt new perspectives and ideas around people and organizations to help her/him forge connections across functional areas.
  • The SF coach also helps the coachee understand and integrate consistency, cohesion, and alignment across many moving parts in the business unit.
  • The SF coach works with all the direct reports of the General Manager to examine their hidden curriculum of work and assess the mutual agenda between their own goals and desired contributions intersect with the organization’s needs.
  • A SF coach helps the coachee learn to identify and solve gray-area problems.
  • The SF coach also helps the Chief of Staff to become a force multiplier and reach extender for the GM’s strategic value.
  • The SF coach helps the coachee become a conscious leader who is connected with his (her) people at an operational level (descending from the helicopter level).

Pivotal in a GM’s realization is that all the direct reports as a leadership team cast their shadow on the company. This is the cornerstone of the GM’s succession planning endeavor.

Guided by a SF coach, the coachee (individual in the GM team) can  embark on her (his) personal transformation journey by developing an inquisitive mind and an acquisitive learning ability (“learner’s license”).

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