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The Mastering Projects Approach

True North’s project guidance strategies bring a practical, personal, layer of understanding that anyone can apply to any project. They help each project participant define a set of principles that animate and empower their project work beyond simple planning, tracking, and controlling, to produce exceptional real-world results.

Projects embody the entrepreneurial function of our organizations.  They are how we create new products, new technologies, and new futures for our companies. Projects are fundamentally different from ongoing operations.  On-going operations require stability, consistency, and predictability.  Projects demand adaptability, creativity, and discovery. Operations respond to management controls.  Projects require leadership of an entirely different order. 

So why do we continue to disappoint ourselves by applying operations style management techniques 
in unsuccessful attempts to reform our projects? 

Traditional project management methods are modeled after management approaches designed to optimize on-going operations. These methods assume conditions that are rarely, if ever, fully present in today’s project contexts: 

  • Stable and controllable internal and external environments 
  • Predictable, consistent, and schedule-able inputs 
  • Easily exchangeable, readily available resources 
  • Known methods and tools 
  • A known and unambiguous sequence of specific tasks 
  • Known, fully specified output 

The purpose of most projects is to create something that has never existed before within a very different set of conditions:

  • Dynamic and uncontrollable environments driven by rapidly changing customer, market, and resource demands
  • Conflicting requirements, creeping scope, and unreasonable demands
  • Emerging technology, methods, and tools (or at least novel applications of known methods and tools)
  • Scarce, specialized skills held by key individuals with strong personalities
  • Uncertain journeys to unknown destinations, in uncharted territories
  • Shifting, ambiguous, and conflicting objectives

The mismatch between the operational orientation of traditional project management and the real-world needs of innovation is the source of most commonly encountered project difficulties. In an operational context, efficiency -- the comparison of one iteration of the production cycle to another -- is a meaningful measure.  In project work the search for operational efficiency leads us to engage in absurd behaviors such as:

  • Planning and estimating the unknowable 
  • Punishing discovery
  • Staying courses simply because the plan says we should 
The conflicts between our operational understanding of good work and the ground-level demands of project work leave us tangled in unresolvable paradoxes, resulting in death march efforts, disappointed customers, discouraged contributors, frustration, and failure. It does not need to be this way.

The Mastering Projects approach makes explicit these differences between operations, and project work.  These explicit understandings provide the foundation for addressing the source of project difficulties and discovering more useful project guidance strategies.  These strategies provide access to powerful, personal tools for more effectively coping with the unavoidable, real challenges of project work. 

Our Mastering Projects approach proposes models for project work distinctly different from the hierarchical, operational-control models so often employed by traditional project management. Our models provide individuals with the insight they need to succeed in this often baffling project context, even when they are not responsible for managing the overall effort.

Our Mastering Projects offerings include the Mastering Project Workshop and Mastering Project Work.

  • The Mastering Project Work workshop helps each member of a project community, especially the project workers, find their own power and authority to make the project work. 

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