Archive for January, 2008

‘Fighting’ With a Very Important Stakeholder Could Extend Your Life

Posted by Peter on Jan 29 2008 | Articles

Your spouse is important

My wife is a very important stakeholder in any project that I run. She can certainly influence me during the execution of a project, especially if I have to work long hours away from home. Occasionally we might even disagree over what I should be doing, so I was interested to read the preliminary findings of a study by Researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and its Psychology Department, who say that fighting with your spouse can actually be good for your health, while people who bottle it all up can die earlier.

They studied 192 couples for 17 years, and found that the couples fell into four categories: where both partners expressed anger when they felt unfairly verbally attacked, where neither partner expressed their anger, and one category each for where the wife suppressed her feelings and where the husband did so.

Ernest Harburg, lead author of the study, said in an interview.”I would say that if you don’t express your feelings to your partner and tell them what the problem is when you’re unfairly attacked, then you’re in trouble,”

The study found that those who kept their anger in were twice as likely to die earlier than those who don’t. There were 13 deaths in the group of 26 pairs where both partners suppressed their emotions, as opposed to only 41 deaths in the remaining 166 pairs.

So it seems that the act of suppressing the emotions of either yourself or your spouse is, eventually, very bad for you. I will mention this study to my wife the next time she yells at me, and see how she reacts when I yell back at her (in the interests of science, of course).

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Selecting Your Project Team

Posted by Peter on Jan 24 2008 | Articles

The members of your Project Team are, of course, important stakeholders in any project. They have a high influence on the outcome of the project, and their careers, bonus payments, and status can depend upon a successful outcome of the project.

So how do you identify and choose the ‘best’ people for your team? I’ll bet you were thinking that you would always go for the highly competent person over a likable person of lesser skills? Well, think again. In a study published in July of 2005 in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Fool vs. Jerk: Whom Would You Hire”, the article describes four different types of colleagues:

1) The Competent Jerk - Who knows a lot but is unpleasant to deal with;
2) The Loveable Fool - Doesn’t know much but is likable and a delight to be around;
3) The Loveable Star - The best combination of likability and competence; and
4) The Incompetent Jerk -The unpleasant and useless combination.

Unsurprisingly, the research showed, everybody wanted to work with the lovable star, and nobody wanted to work with the incompetent jerk. Things got a lot more interesting, though, when people faced the choice between competent jerks and lovable fools:
“We found that if someone is strongly disliked, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people won’t want to work with her anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer. And this tendency didn’t exist only in extreme cases; it was true across the board. Generally speaking, a little extra likability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with. […]”

So there you have it. Likable but less competent people are preferred team members over ‘jerks’, who generally have a repulsive personality and would presumably drag your entire team down with them.

This effect was also studied recently during the 2007 annual Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Race in England, as reported in The Economist. Team work is essential to winning a boat-race, and the Cambridge crew (who won) were being observed by Mr. Mark de Rond, a management theorist from Cambridge’s Judge Business School, to see how each member of the team interacted with their peers.

The lesson: Teams that like each other also seem to work better together.

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Expensive Product = Good Product

Posted by Peter on Jan 21 2008 | Articles

Extremely Expensive and Rare Singapore WineA study has been done that shows just how important your project stakeholder’s expectations can be when they evaluate a product.

The study was done by researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Stanford’s business school, as reported last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, who discovered that the pleasant sensation experienced by people when tasting wine is directly linked to its perceived price, and not to the actual quality of the wine.

They found this by scanning the brains of 20 volunteers who were tasting wine. The volunteers were told that the five wines they were tasting ranged in price from $5 to $90, whereas there were actually only three wines, and two of them were served at different prices.

The researchers found that when the volunteers were told that the higher priced wines were being served to them, more blood and oxygen was sent to a part of the brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex, whose activity reflects pleasure. The effect was the same regardless of the actual wine served, and was confirmed by follow-up testing that included members of the Stanford University Wine Club.

This does seem to explain how some expensive modern art can attain legendary status among collectors, whilst appearing to be a pile of junk to the uninitiated. The collector, having paid a fortune for the pickled sheep or blank canvas, really does believe it is beautiful.

So we need to be aware of the very powerful effect of marketing and expectations on people’s perceptions, in order to ensure project success.

Link to a CNET News article on the subject and the Stanford news.

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Airbus A380 and Project Stakeholder Management

Posted by Peter on Jan 16 2008 | Case Studies


Although the Airbus A380 aircraft is a wonderful achievement, it’s also the product of a very troubled project. The project to design, build and deliver the world’s largest passenger aircraft was delayed by two years, and lost a total of 2 billion euro in profits for the Airbus consortium.

This is a very interesting project from a Stakeholder Management perspective because of two things:

Aircraft Wiring

1. The main reason for the delay seems to be associated with a communications breakdown between the two main factories manufacturing the A380, leading to incompatible wiring being produced. Both sides thought they were correct: “my wires are OK, they just don’t plug into your wires!”. Apparently, much of the wiring had to be removed and new wiring fitted, causing a long delay.

Applying Project Stakeholder Management, and paying more attention to relationships, might have avoided this kind of difficulty.

Here’s a link to an interesting account of the troubles during the A380 project.

Here’s a short extract from an article in the German magazine Spiegel Online in February 2007 that shows just how bad the project political situation between Germany and France had become: “EADS’ newly drafted turn-around plan called “Power 8″ is little more than thinly laced French economic patriotism. The proposal would keep French jobs safe before the country’s April elections by axing about 10,000 mostly German positions and selling off factories near Hamburg”. Scary reading for the German stakeholders, and not helpful in resolving the project difficulties.

2. Now that the A380 has already been delivered, it’s being hailed in the press here in Singapore as a “milestone in aviation history”. Doesn’t that sound like an attempt to make the A380 look like a big success all along? This is a great example of managing stakeholders after a project has been delivered, to turn around the image of the product and make everyone happy.

At the end of 2007, the first SIA A380 had made 130 flights, with around 950 hours of flight-time. Interestingly, the second A380 landed at Singapore Changi Airport a few days ago on Saturday 12 January 2008 without much fanfare.

There was also a rather embarrassing incident last Friday with the first A380, which slipped off the tarmac onto a grass verge at Changi Airport, Terminal 3, whilst being towed into position for takeoff to Sydney, Australia. All 446 passengers had to get off the plane and make alternative arrangements to travel to Australia, while SIA ground crew rescued the aircraft, which was undamaged. Project Managers are aware that there will always be some initial technical difficulties with the introduction any new product or service, so this is only to be expected.

Notice that the incident has been reported to ‘The Relevant Authorities‘ in Singapore. These ‘relevant authorities’ will, no doubt, be part of the project stakeholder management strategy.

We can’t possibly know if the arrival of the A380 on the aviation scene is really ‘historical’, as history will be written much later and by other people. My personal view is that the A380 will dominate the long high-density routes for many years to come.

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Definitions - ‘C’

Posted by Peter on Jan 14 2008 | Definitions

More definitions of project management and associated terms, to help with project and stakeholder communications:


(a) Business card, or Namecard.

(b) Major source of deforestation due to the extraordinarily high number of cards acquired in any given day.

(c) Status symbol with a meaningless and inflated job title.

“Casual Friday”

(a) The policy of allowing employees to dress informally every Friday.

(b) A seemingly good idea that always ends up with the management sending out an email to describe exactly what employees are and aren’t allowed to wear.


(a) Carbon Copy, or an email option where people can be copied with all the recipients being aware.

(b) Something that micro-managers like you to do, so they can keep a detailed watch on you at all times “Copy me on all your emails to keep me in the loop”.

(b) The classic way of covering yourself, by copying everyone on an email just in case they might ever be involved.


(a) Hard.

(b) Great way of describing your weaknesses. Would you rather say “I have no idea what I’m doing” or “I’m finding this project quite challenging”?


(a) To become different or undergo transformation or alteration.

(b) The introduction of new and annoying policies. A great opportunity for consultants.

“Conference Call”

(a) A phone call involving lots of people.

(b) Long and boring event seemingly designed to test your attention span, during which nothing gets done.

“Constructive Feedback”

(a) Negative feedback that is presented as being useful and for the team-members benefit.

(b) Very subjective, as the term is applied by the person who is delivering the feedback, and not by the unfortunate person who has to receive it.

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