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A Project Manager’s approach to Disaster Management

A Project Manager’s approach to Disaster Management

Disaster management is a crucial component in any organizational, corporate or governmental strategic plan. It involves dealing with risks of high magnitude, which may be the result of natural or man-made disasters; and aims for capacity building in disaster resiliency and crisis response.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is an agency of the Ministry of Home Affairs established through the Disaster Management Act enacted by the Government of India in December 2005. The agency is responsible for framing policies, laying down guidelines and best-practices and coordinating with the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) to ensure a holistic and distributed approach to disaster management through the expertise of its members in areas such as, planning, infrastructure management, communications, meteorology and natural sciences. NDMC is mandated to lay down the policies, plans and guidelines for Disaster Management to ensure timely and effective response to disasters.

This looks good on paper. But whenever we have a situation like floods, drought or earthquake, the agency is conspicuous by its absence – the army is called upon to assist, while the state machinery watches helplessly. And to top it all, our most trustworthy force does not have any training in disaster management, apart from a few sessions and the ability to ‘think on the feet’.

So how can the best practices of project management salvage these situations? By applying the time tested techniques of Risk Management.

It begins with ‘Plan Risk Management’. Here we are not talking about abstract plans and detailed studies leading to analysis paralysis, but a practical approach aimed to answer a few basic questions:

  • Define approaches; tools and data sources to be used to perform risk management. A lot of research has already been done and now we can reasonably predict the likelihood of an event before it actually occurs.
  • Define when and how often risk management processes will be performed. Frankly, a lot more discipline needs to go here, so we take a holistic view rather than focus on a few parameters, and maintain a rigor of periodic review at predetermined intervals.
  • Group risk categories based on potential cause of risk. A risk breakdown structure helps identify the sources of risk. A clear definition of objectives helps chart out the action plan. We display a great focus on short-term objectives, completely ignoring the long term ones, resulting in periodic re-occurrence of calamities claiming a huge toll on life and property.
  • Define the lead; support and risk management team members for each type of activity in the risk management plan, and provides accountability by clarifying their responsibilities
  • Estimate funds required, based on assigned resources and establishes protocol for their application
  • Defining risk probability and impact helps establish objectivity in approach
  • Develop a grid for mapping the probability of each risk occurrences and its impact if that risk occurs. Risks are prioritized according to their potential implications for having an effect on objectives defined. A typical approach to prioritizing risks is to use a lookup table or a probability and impact matrix. The specific combinations of probability and impact that lead to the risk being rated as “high”, “moderate”, or “low” importance need to be set up
  • Develop a reporting formats and tracking framework within which the risk management activities are sought to be performed.

Next we need to ‘identify the risk’ and document the same in a ‘risk register’, which needs to be maintained and updated in accordance to the risk management plan outlined above. A risk register contains a list of risk identified (Cause => Event => Impact => Effect); along with list of potential responses.

This is followed by ‘risk analysis’ to ascertain the likely occurrences of risks listed in the risk register. As can be seen, this is a proactive approach rather than a reactive one – aimed at preparing before the disaster occurs, rather than reacting after the damage is done.

The most important part is ‘plan risk response’ in accordance with the broad outline laid down in the risk management plan. Strategies for negative risks or threats include Avoid; Transfer; Mitigate or Accept. Let’s take a minute to examine what this means to us.

  • Avoid: Evaluate whether the situation be avoided? A lot of natural disasters cannot be avoided while a few man-made ones definitely can. The flood situation has worsened due to depletion of green cover (trees) and human settlement in the low-lying river catchment area. We have the requisite laws in place but they have not been implemented effectively due to vested interests of a few. This may need to change for the general good of all concerned.
  • Mitigate: Can the impact be reduced? A resounding yes in most situations if proactive steps are put in place and the people responsible for implementation do their part at the apt time.
  • Accept: Currently we are forced to accept all the risks since there is very little done to ‘avoid’ or ‘mitigate’ the disasters that occur. This can be addressed proactively once the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and adequate authority given (as per the risk management plan discussed previously) to concerned persons for delivering what is expected of them, and holding them accountable for lapses if any.
  • Transfer: we may find innovative ways to transfer the risk, though the avenues available may be very limited.

Finally, we have to ‘control risk’ which is a process of implementing risk response plans, tracking identified risks, monitoring residual risks, and evaluating risk process effectiveness on an ongoing basis.

In the words of Michael Jordan – “I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying”

Tags: Disaster management; Process management; Strategic planning; Risk analysis

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Achieving Balance for Equilibrium

The old school of thought aimed at creating a measurable balance among students. Thus everyone was taught the same thing and expected to reach a preset standard. Einstein and Ramanujan amongst others faced a lot of challenge when they adopted this approach. The conventional wisdom which replaced the old school, recognized the inherent strengths of an individual, and endeavored to focus on those, rather than working on the weaknesses. But this approach has also had limited success.

We often debate between two subjects – Science and Art, assuming them to be completely different things rather than being the two sides of the same coin. It is requested from the readers to show some patience before discarding the statement entirely.

Science by definition follows logical thinking while Art is a manifestation of creativity. It is however difficult for one to exist without support of the other – for real success to be achieved in any field.

Let’s discuss about Science first. Inductive reasoning works from specific to more generic terms. It is the process of generalizing the observations into a statement (theory) which is true for a number of situations and which explains the underlying reason for the occurrence to some extent.

Deductive reasoning is the opposite and works from generic to more specific terms. It is the process of extending the theory to explain the real situations encountered. Deductive reasoning is a mechanical process while Inductive reasoning is a creative process, which cannot be automated. Inductive reasoning involves moving from “zero” to “one” (creating a new concept), while deductive reasoning involves moving from “1” to “n” (generating greater understanding of the situation)

Let’s look at Art now. Painting involves a lot of creativity, but a good artist is well aware of the logical aspects of the elements involved. For example, what kind of colors to use, usage of different paper and the brush make different effects. Absence of this knowledge would severely constrain the artist, and hamper true expression of his genius.

Cooking is another example where there is a convergence of Science and Art. The flavor and look of the recipe is indeed the creation of the cook, but he necessarily needs to understand the logical side of the elements, and why they would produce the desired result, like the degree of heat, type of heat, duration of the process, the flavor of ingredients etc.

People often describe themselves as strictly “right-brained” or “left-brained,” with the left-brainers bragging about their math skills and the right-brainers touting their creativity. That’s because the brain is divided down the middle into two hemispheres, with each half performing a fairly distinct set of operations. The brain’s right hemisphere controls the muscles on the left side of the body, while the left hemisphere controls the muscles on the right side of the human body. Winking the right eye is the work of the left side of the brain.

In general, the left hemisphere is dominant in language: processing what one hears and handling most of the duties of speaking. It’s also in charge of carrying out logic and exact mathematical computations. When we need to retrieve a fact, our left-brain pulls it from our memory.

The right hemisphere is mainly in charge of spatial abilities, face recognition and processing music. It performs some math, but only rough estimations and comparisons. The brain’s right side also helps us to comprehend visual imagery and make sense of what we see. It plays a role in language, particularly in interpreting context and a person’s toneThe brain carefully balances and assigns control of certain functions to each side – it’s nature’s way of ensuring that the brain ultimately splits up tasks to maximize efficiency. Most people are right-hand dominant, which is actually controlled by the left side of the brain.

Nature has a way of giving us a lead in some areas, while leaving a lag in other, thus creating a goal to be achieved by the specific individual. It is essential for the individual to overcome that disadvantage to achieve equilibrium, and be what he/she is meant to be, while at the same time improving his areas of strength. An important thing to note is that balance or equilibrium is unique for each individual, and cannot be compared with that of another individual. Thus an equilibrium point for one (say A) may not be the equilibrium point for another (say B).

It is essential for an individual to logically assess oneself for where he is (current status), the balance that can be achieved (goal setting), and the path that needs to be covered (gap analysis). Good mentors provide invaluable advice, as it is extremely difficult for anyone to assess their own self, or to see what one is truly capable of achieving.

Harmony and balance are omnipresent. The journey from a seed to a tree is fraught with challenges, uncertainties – some within control while others outside the circle of influence, yet in some way, it is dependent on the entity in question. Nature has its own unique way of giving an advantage, as well as setting a goal that needs to be achieved.

Let’s commence our journey towards our balance – to achieve our equilibrium point, and be what we are meant to be.

Tags: Strategic planning; Deductive reasoning; Inductive reasoning

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Analyzing a Negotiation

Most people think negotiation is a one step process, which entails going into a discussion and getting the other side to agree (partly or wholly) to what you want. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, negotiation is a 4-step process, which involves planning your negotiation strategy, actual negotiation using appropriate tactics, closing the deal through a contract and lastly performing and evaluating the net result i.e. the outcome of the contract.

Planning the negotiating strategy is perhaps the most important and involves answering the below questions:

  • What questions should I ask to complete my analysis?
  • What are my BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement) and ZOPA (Zone for potential agreement)?
  • How can I use a decision tree to complete my BATNA analysis?

It is important to establish the overall goal of reaching an agreement before actually sitting into a negotiation discussion. We need to identify the issues that are important and its importance with reference to identified objectives

Understanding the best alternative to a negotiated solution and reservation price, which is acceptable, are two vital points to note. Thereafter, we need to know the stretch goal, and the most likely price.

So how does this work? Lets take an example -assume that I want to sell off my existing car and buy a new one.

The car dealer is offering an exchange discount of INR 150,000. I feel that a well maintained car like mine couldget a price of INR 250,000 if I am able to connect with a genuine buyer directly (without involving a broker). The same is validated by prices quoted if I try to buy a similar car. Let’s say that broker charges 10% of the sales value as commission, and if I were to advertise online it would take some of my time and money that I estimate to be worth INR 10,000.

My overall goal is to sell the car, and issue important to me is the price since I would need to make a down payment for the new car.

My BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement) is INR 150,000 i.e. the price the car dealer is willing to offer.

My minimum reservation price is INR 161,000 in case of direct sale or INR 168,000 if a dealer is involved. My stretch price is INR 250,000 – anything more would impact my credibility as a genuine seller, and my most likely price would be around INR 200,000.

With this information at hand, I am ready to negotiate with any buyer, and my aim would be to discover his BATNA and reservation price i.e. the price mentioned above which he would walk away from the discussion. The price range between my reservation price and that of the other party would be the zone for potential agreement (ZOPA).

A decision tree eliminates bias by adopting a mathematical approach using probability of the likely outcomes and the net impact on the value attached to each outcome.

Tag: Strategic negotiation; negotiation tactics; BATNA, ZOPA

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Change Management

This blog is in continuation to my earlier blog on the PMI Virtual Symposium

Let me share what I learnt from presenter Mr. Angelo Baratta, ‘A Framework for Change Management’, which talks about

  1. Definition of change
  2. Dimensions of change – what are we changing?
  3. Laws of change – why change is rarely easy?
  4. Force factors for change – what drives or opposes a change?

‘Change management’ is the most widely discussed concept that one comes across. This concept requires a paradigm shift to which one is sub-conscientiously opposed.

Leonardo Da Vincisaid “he who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.”

“It’s easier for [people] to come up with new ideas than to let go of old ones.” — Peter Drucker

“Change initiatives are time consuming and costly, significantly impacting an organization’s drive toward success. And nearly half of them fail.” — PMI’s The Pulse of the Profession (Executive Summary) 2014

What is Change?

“To make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone”.

Change is a complex concept comprising 3 distinct dimensions:

  1. Target object(s) changed within some context: the thing that is changed
  2. Resulting performance factor changed (speed, cost, risk, etc.)
  3. Change in value to some stakeholder

Most projects list down the features/functionalities that need to be achieved in their scope document. This is the Target object mentioned above.

Performance factor also captured in the scope document is the ancillary goal of achieving reduction in the time taken for the process under examination, reduced cost, reduced risk or improved quality. This is independent of the feature discussed in the target object above.

Finally change in value to the stakeholder identifies the parties who would benefit from the exercise (project), and validate if the benefit is actually perceived to be occurring by the stakeholders.Failure can happen in any dimension

  • Target Object: Result failed to achieve the stated objective
  • Performance factor: Result failed to impact time/speed, cost, risk etc.
  • Value to stakeholder: Result did not convince the stakeholder.

Success must be in all dimensions for the project to succeed.

Target object is normally at the project level, performance factor on the program level, and value to stakeholder at the portfolio level. So it’s important to understand the larger picture when undertaking the project, who are the stakeholders, and how would the project create value for the clients/end users.

For example, let’s say the project aims at adding new features and making the output more reliable, but it fails to reduce the time taken by the end users, which is one of the objectives. Here the project has failed at the performance factor. If on the other hand, the project meets the target object as well as the performance factor, but the stakeholders/clients/end users do not perceive any value addition, then the project is a failure at the portfolio level, since the goals are not aligned.

Universal Laws of Change/Motion (Newton)

1st: Persistence (inert, moment): tend to keep going

Status quo =Lowest energy option

Change has cost always

2nd: Energy/Power: figure out how much it will take

F= ma (how much force do you need – objective)

3rd: Reciprocity: change elicits response

From stakeholders, these laws cannot be broken.

Let’s decode the above laws to somethingeasier to understand.

An organization/individual continues to function like it/he/she has been doing in the past, unless there is conscious effort to change the behavior or process. So the continuance of the behaviors actually is the lowest energy option, and hence the processes remain unchanged unless force is imposed for change.

The veiled benefit is that processes once established remain constant and do not change frequently on their own, which if they did, would create a new challenge that would be difficult to address.

The amount of force depends upon the extent of change desired.

All changes elicit a response (implicit or explicit) from the stakeholders, based on their own assessment of the change and its perceived impact on their own state of affairs. If the change is thought to further their own ends, they would support it, even if it is expected to adversely impact them, they would oppose it. If they are yet not impacted, then they would be neutral to it.

The people supporting the change would provide the positive thrust, while those opposing it would increase the resistance. The task of the project manager is to increase the positive thrust, decrease the resistance, and convert the neutral to favorable if possible.

Factors of Change (energy required/available)

Technical (1st & 2nd), the objective will be what is needed and the target is object

Social & Economic (3rd) – human

–subjective: who is engaged -value to stakeholder

Technical factors deal with the viability of the project, and covers the target object/scope of the project.

Social and economic factors look at the impact assessment of the change on the stakeholders and are entirely the human component. They determine whether a particular stakeholder will support the change, oppose it or be neutral to it based on the perceived impact on his social or economic condition.

Interaction of dimensions, laws, factors object

Total Cost Required = Object change cost + Resistance costs

Forget clichés: change is difficult; people resist change

Only constant is change.

Develop practice grounded in theoretical framework:

  1. Dimensions: Object, Performance, Value
  2. Laws: Persistence, Power, Reciprocity
  3. Factors: Technical, Social, Economic

For each business process in scope:

  1. Identify each change object
  2. Connect each object to one or more performance factors
  3. Connect each factor to one or more stakeholder
  4. Develop Stakeholder Value Impact G&L (Gain & Loss: +, 0, -)
  5. Impact assessment
  6. Reduce energy required for the target change (uncouple)
  7. Increase positive stakeholder impacts
  8. Reduce negative stakeholder impact
  9. Convert neutral stakeholders

I will be sharing the thoughts of the other speakers so do remember to look it up.

Tags: Change management; Object change cost; Resistance costs