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4-D systems - How NASA builds high performing project teams and branch AGM

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The Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Hong Kong branch was called on the evening of Tuesday 20th May 2014. It was pleasing to note that most existing committee members were willing to continue on the committee but some new faces were also welcomed.  

After the AGM, the monthly event was held, as usual, at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.  The presentation was delivered by Jane Sadler of Evans & Peck.  It was well attended by around forty members and guests.

Jane Sadler, by profession, is a chartered accountant with an MBA from London Business School.  She is Evans & Pecks lead for leadership development programmes, specialising in business optimisation and effectiveness. She has 25 years experience in change across a wide range of organisations and industries. 

In the presentation, Jane focused on the causes of project failure, 4-D team development, and motivation of people (particularly in complex projects) with reference to NASA project management. To begin with, Jane identified some factors impacting project management delivery.  

Projects fail for strategic, technical and organisational reasons, but the majority fail because of human factors; 80-95% of complex project failures are due to human error or mis-communication. This is based on research undertaken by the US Governments accountability office and Stephen Johnson who is a NASA project management expert.

Jane then highlighted the typical challenges faced by managers of complex projects. These include little or no training to create effective teams, unproductive client management behaviors, unnecessary conflicts, lack of clarity in roles and responsibility, poor communication, low-margin projects bid, etc., most of which are closely related to human issues.

This is named the social context. Jane mentioned some NASA project failures of the Mars Polar Landing, Hubble Space Telescope, etc. The causes of these project failures are due to poor leadership, careless human error and communication breakdown. These social contexts act as a force field which powerfully influences human behaviors.  

Following this, Jane introduced the key methodology of 4-D System; a team development and performance improvement system for NASA with quantifiably proven results from over 300 projects teams, with more than seven years of data at NASA.  Project team performance has improved by an average of 5 percent per quarter. The system addresses real problems enabling managers to understand their own and team members individual innate behaviors, to improve managers abilities to:

  • set clear roles, responsibilities and authorities,
  • to identify the shared interests of stakeholders,
  • to provide a common language for the team to discuss context and behavioral 'norm',
  • to develop teams in their own work context.

Jane explained that people behaved differently in different contexts. Context drives behaviour with an invisible field. She analysed team and leader performance by four quadrants:

  • Cultivating need to feel appreciated,
  • Including need to feel we belong,
  • Visioning need a hopeful future,
  • Directing need to meet others expectations.  Presentation

At the end, the audience was asked to identify the four innate deciding processes and tick their preference in the worksheet:

  1. Green People-builders care deeply about people creating strong loyalty
  2. Yellow Team-builders build harmonious teams and work with difficult people
  3. Blue Idea-builders are fonts of creative ideas demanding excellence
  4. Orange System-builders are disciplined, focused on control and process

The response was encouraging. Finally, based on the results, Jane analysed their strengths and challenges in each quadrant.

Overall, the audience found the presentation very interesting and beneficial to their daily project management works.



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