How Project Managers can use agile thinking to deal with complexity and uncertainty

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While all members of a project team contribute to the success or failure of a project, it’s ultimately the Project Manager who is accountable for the outcome. Taking a leading role in the planning, management and execution of a project, Project Managers oversee the entire project scope, and because of the breadth of their responsibilities, they’re expected to possess a varied set of skills, from managing timelines to managing people. While Project Managers need technical know-how, soft skills are often much more important. Leadership, motivation, communication, organisation and problem-solving skills are crucial, as is adaptability. 

That’s because managing a project in any organisation is rarely a straightforward process. While Project Managers implement risk management strategies to reduce uncertainty, no one can predict the future. If there’s one thing that’s certain as a Project Manager, it’s that nothing is certain. Project Managers need to be able to deal with constant change and respond appropriately to any setbacks. 

Great Project Managers roll with the punches and know how to shift strategies as and when required. Adopting agile approaches to problem-solving can help Project Managers remain flexible and adaptable to the changing dynamics of projects.   

What is agile thinking?

An agile mindset refers to a set of attitudes that support an agile workplace, or one that cultivates high-performing teams and delivers exceptional value to clients. This mindset requires someone to possess a number of abilities and attitudes regarding respect, collaboration and adaptability. 

That’s where agile thinking comes in. Agile thinking is the ability to consciously shift your thinking when and how the situation requires it. It’s a mental process rooted in Whole Brain® Thinking – the Herrmann framework that provides a lens into how we think and how we can adapt our thinking preferences. We believe that everyone has the ability to be an agile thinker because everyone has access to their Whole Brain. This means everyone can tap into each of the four thinking preferences. 

For a Project Manager, this might look a little like this:

A – Analyse

This thinking preference is logical and fact-based. For a Project Manager using this mental process, they might concern themselves with what activities in the project will give them the highest return on the teams’ investment of time, money and resources.

B – Organise

This thinking preference is about planning and execution. Project Managers might spend a lot of time in this quadrant, as they need to be skilled organisers. This is the mental process a Project Manager would use when deciding who’ll be on the project team, what the project milestones are, and what actions are required to complete the project. 

C – Personalise

This thinking preference is all about people, another skill that’s critically important for Project Managers. This thinking preference is emotional and would be used when coordinating or motivating members of the project team, or communicating with clients and other stakeholders.

D – Strategise

Strategising is about seeing the big picture. While it’s important for Project Managers to focus on the details, it’s equally important for them to understand the overarching vision. The more complex the project, the greater the need for a big picture perspective because it helps Project Managers not only coordinate all the minor details, but also communicate the vision to team members to drive team cohesion, motivation and performance.  

How can Project Managers become agile thinkers?

While agile thinking is a skill that could benefit all workers, the value for a Project Manager is evident – their everyday requires them to be competent across the entire scope of the project, from managing people on the project team, to planning project timelines, to analysing the best use of resources, and all working towards a single big picture goal. Thinking agility is what turns good Project Managers into Great Project Managers.

But how does a Project Manager become an agile thinker? The key is to think about thinking. Agile thinking requires conscious effort. Project Managers should stop to think about which thinking process is best suited to the task at hand. If they’re briefing a team member on a task, tap into the A quadrant. If they’re planning out a timeline, use B quadrant thinking. Budgeting? The C quadrant would be the most appropriate. Talking to clients about the end goal of the project? The D quadrant. 

When facing a problem or uncertainty, as all Project Managers will, Project Managers should stop to go through each mental process to decide which one will serve them best. It’s also a good idea to seek out people who think differently. A Project Manager might get stuck on a problem because they’re stuck in one way of thinking about that problem. By engaging people who think differently to them, they have an opportunity to tap into different perspectives, which just might help them find a solution to the problem.  

Learn how to leverage Whole Brain® Thinking to become a better Project Manager

The Whole Brain® Thinking framework provides Project Managers with the skills they need to understand their own thinking preferences and tap into the mental processes they need to be great Project Managers. Get in touch with Herrmann to find out more. 

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