Learning new rules almost always involves unlearning the old ones

“For managers bogged down with operational problems, recognising patterns in the way they work, communicate and problem-solve may allow them to redesign their systems to achieve more effective results.” Pattern Making, Pattern Breaking, Ann Alder (2010)

I am continually surprised by how little organizations understand about their culture and the unwritten rules that their employees work by. On the other hand, if you are very focused on what you are producing it can be counter-intuitive to take time out to look at how you are producing it. Yet, this reflection on organizational rules and patterns of behaviour is one of the building blocks to enable change and innovation.

rostyslav-kondrat-mxuwZ15w_U8-unsplash.jpgHabit, culture and learned behaviours all have the effect of ‘anchors’ on change. Unless you can find them and release them, there is no way that your ship is ever going to move from its current mooring.

Let’s look at the issue of data, which is the subject of the Major Projects Association’s next Knowledge Hub Live event on 26th September.

On the one-hand, we increasingly recognise the intellectual argument that major projects need new patterns of working behaviour that involve collaboration, sharing, learning from data and analytics but our reason is not enough and an organization’s expressed desire to change will always be trumped by the anchors of current practice:

  1. Reason tells us that data and digital is now as valuable an output from a major project as the tangible building, piece of engineering or infrastructure that the project is creating but because that valuable remains intangible, we struggle to recognise it.
  2. Over the last 60 years, organizations have succeeded through acquisition and then protection of their intellectual property. Ownership is power. Exploiting our IP commercially, that’s always been part of the game but the idea of pooling some of these perceived assets in exchange for reciprocal benefits, that’s a stretch!

“Loss aversion – people prefer avoiding losses versus acquiring gains (Kahneman and Tversky1979). In other words, people are willing to take more risks when they are going to lose something. In project management it is associated with risk aversion and risk tolerance when decision-makers evaluate possible project gains and losses” ProjectThink, Lev Virine and Michael Trumper (2013)amy-reed-49ZXvCLerUo-unsplash

  1. Projects are essentially left-brained activities, associated with reason, engineering and control. We have never considered ‘serendipity’ or ‘unplanned luck’ as part of professional project management. Consequently, the idea of being able to generate unexpected insights from the use of artificial intelligence and automation is inconceivable.
  2. Major projects are governed, regulated and controlled to within an inch of their lives. The main strategy for protecting an organization from the risks of breaking the rules in some unintended way, is by keeping everything within the firewall. What clients, contractors or regulators don’t know about how you are managing your projects can’t hurt you. Pooling data requires that you deliberately break the firewall.
  3. Organizations working on major projects are essentially highly competitive. Winning new business is a tricky and expensive activity that involves tendering and beating your competitors. Data pooling might offer competitors an insight that enables them to get ahead.

“In order to make a ‘good’ decision, sometimes risk attitude needs to be intentionally managed to override habitual/normalized patterns or behaviour or to change perspectives that have been biased by erroneous, conscious or subconscious influences.” Managing Group Risk Attitude, Ruth Murray-Webster and David Hillson (2008)

These five examples are only that, examples. Every organization will have its own set of written and unwritten rules which have grown up over time and are influenced by the nature of the industry within which they work; the strategies they have pursued and the mindset of those leading them.

aditya-chinchure-hyN9aU9Tm-c-unsplash-1So ask yourself:

  • What are the rules that your organization lives by?
  • How do they help or hinder you to deliver complex projects in the increasingly challenging, ambiguous and uncertain environments as we approach the 2020s?
  • What is your organizational strategy and the processes by which you might identify and unlearn the old patterns of behaviour that will, without question, act as brakes and anchors to any attempts to modernize, innovate or otherwise change?

Need some therapy on this?

Join us on 26th September for
MPHKLive: The Project Data Challenge in the Bentley Academy, London or via simultaneous webinar.

Not something you’d have considered taking part in, in the past? Surprise yourself, you may even unlearn something!

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