If There’s No “I” In Team, How Do You Spell “Initiative?” Part 1 of 2

Ok, I know – again with the really trite and annoying title…still – what I want to write about this week is a thought that perhaps all of us as Project Managers have had when it seems that every day we have to push and shove and cajole and beg for any effort at all from our team – even on the most obvious and basic project tasks:

Can one kill a team’s initiative by over-managing a project, or does the lack of a team’s initiative from the beginning cause one to over- manage the project?

Heady stuff, I know…

I started to ponder this subject the other day as I was preparing for a “Lesson’s Learned” review on a recent project.  The project, overall, was what I would consider an “eh” in terms of success.  Fairly late from its original schedule estimate…over budget…scope crept in and out a little…but we did get the project done and folks were starting to reap the benefits.  All in all – a solid 6.5 or 7 on the 1-10 scale.

So in starting to write down what went well and what didn’t, my thoughts somehow turned to the concept of initiative  (I honestly don’t know why – I think I had just been reading about it in some business book).   I thought back on the last 12 months, and asked myself who on the project team had shown/taken true initiative – gone above and beyond without being asked, done something extra that moved the project forward, came to the front of the line and asked, “What else can I do?”

No one…Not one person, or act, or incident came to mind…

Was this really possible?  In over a year, had no one – really – shown any initiative?   Ok – there was one time when one person did some additional coding – took it totally upon himself without being asked – and created functionality that helped us along.  But that really was it.  For the most part, the project team waited (wanted???) to be told what to do and when to do it, then executed those specific tasks, and went on to the next.  And this became how we managed the project – this week you have these three things to do…then we’ll move on to the next three…

Is this a good model?  Should we plan our projects down to the level of assigning daily tasks so our team members don’t have to think about what to do? Ever?  Does that lead to the delivery of the BEST products? The most predictable products?  Does the acceptance of – or dare we say demand for – initiative during project execution lead to success? Should our team members expect that they will have to “take things into their own hands?” Or expect thing to be handed to them? Or – both?

Quite a few questions…in Part 2, I’ll discuss the answers…at least my answers…

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