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Project management hacks for change: Fearless change

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Fearless change – taking your people with you on the journey
APM Conference jointly organised by People SIG and Enabling change SIG
London, 8 March 2023

Project management hacks for change
Trish Thurley and Christine Castle

Trish and Christine presented a series of rapid-fire items concerning quick solutions or easily applied techniques that would facilitate project change. These only took a few minutes each, and were highly interactive.

Hack #1 – the folding arms technique
The audience were invited to fold their arms, as one might do in a project meeting. Normally this is construed as “closed” or “defensive” body language, and closes out discussion. However, the audience were then invited to relax or modify their arm folding; sitting with folded arms is actually slightly uncomfortable, and the relaxation or modification to a more comfortable arrangement - even if it is only a very small change – means a better feeling and a more approachable perspective. In turn this mirrors an adjustment in project delivery style – maybe very minor – to set stakeholders at their ease and enable a much more productive and mutually beneficial project delivery. So the moral of the story is – look for the ways to relax, the minor adjustments you can make, that will enable your project to run much more smoothly.








Hack #2 – the horseshoe technique
In projects change makes people feel uncomfortable. Its sometimes difficult to innovate and hear the voices of the less experienced (but fresh-thinking) staff when the norm is for the more senior staff to bring their ideas and squeeze out any fresh impetus.
So the horseshoe technique involves getting the project team, at a meeting, to sit in a horseshoe arrangement, with a specific configuration.
This could be, for example:

  • From left to right, the gradation in experience, least to most.
  • From left to right, the offering of problem-solving ideas.

Then, working from left to right, and starting with the least experienced (and often more abundant in ideas) make sure the least experienced staff start the discussion of ideas, whilst more senior staff listen, and reflect, and maybe later build on new ideas using their experience and wisdom. This is a way to ensure that the project team own the ideas that will be implemented through the project: change, bringing the whole team along.

Christine and Trish then invited delegates to write their own Project Hacks ideas on post-it notes and attach them to a whiteboard, during the coffee break. This prompted much thinking on behalf of delegates and quite a few ideas and suggestions were shared and discussed.








Hack #3 – DeBono’s hats
This was a re-telling of the more well-known approach by Dr Edward DeBono regarding the wearing of six different coloured hats, as analogies for ways of thinking about a problem, and finding a solution to a problem. The colours of the hats (Blue, Yellow, Black, White, Red, Green) relate to different aspects of decision making, involving big picture, positive, negative, data, gut instinct and new ideas. Different sequences of hat wearing are aligned with tackling different well-defined problems which arise in project management from time to time. Another technique to get the project team engaged and working together to enable change. (More can be found on this topic.) 

Dr Steve Walters FAPM

APM People SIG Committee Member


Read the conference overview and view other presentation reviews.


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