Jon Aikman's Blog

Thoughts on Mediation and Project Management

  • Eating together is a basic part of being human that spans all cultures and environments. It is well established in religious beliefs – the “breaking of bread” of Christianity, the Breaking the Fast at the end of Ramadan for Muslims - and “feasting” has been an activity enjoyed by all cultures over the centuries. In Western business society we seem to have forgotten this most basic of ways of people being able to bond as a group. “Lunch is for wimps” was the theme for the corporate go-getters like Gordon Gekko from the film Wall Street. For most people lunch on a working day is functional, an intake of calories to see them through the rest of the day, a chance to escape the work environment and their colleagues for a while. Are we missing something?

    Food and eating can in a business environment can be so much more. You only need to see the way people come together and connect when cakes are brought into an office on birthdays. I realise that I have unconsciously used food to bond with people at work for years. I can’t claim any great psychological understanding for this, just my own love of food! To read more see my guest blog at The Project Whisperer

    In Eastern business cultures personal bond and trust are far more important than they seem to be in the West. When I worked in Indonesia for 6 years I was slow to realise that the meals out I enjoyed with my client, architects, contractors and anyone else that offered to show me real Asian food weren’t to help me “settle in”. Weekend invitations to bring my family to vast breakfast buffets weren’t to help me “see the city”. They were getting to know me, forming bonds that then become hard to break. It’s much harder to fall out with someone you have shared meals with, got to know as another human being and part of a family known to you.

    I would be interested to hear from anyone with experiences of using food to build rapport and trust.

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  • A recent case in the Technology and Construction Court, Walter Lilly v McKay has been creating a flurry of comments about the legal principles. I have read about what the case means for concurrent delay and legal professional privilege but as a project manager and a mediator What really interests me is, how did it all happen?

    As a project manager one of my concerns in protecting a client’s interests is to avoid disputes. Although I don’t know the particulars of this project, there doesn’t seem to be anything technically challenging or innovative about the construction, there were no hidden surprises or unusual circumstances. It seems to be the old story of differing expectations and lack of communication.

    So, while the case seems to offer new perspectives for the legal profession for me it only reinforces basic principles of dispute avoidance. Basic principles of making sure the appropriate contract is used, costs and progress are
    monitored and controlled and above all else proper
    communication takes place at all levels at all times so that everyone involved knows what to expect.

    I offer a project management service to clients that are not familiar with the construction process and how the construction industry operates. Cases like this highlight why such a service is necessary. Whatever clarification of legal principles this case might bring about it doesn’t change the fact that disputes should be avoided. I keep my clients away from disputes because all that happens is that they fund the clarification of legal principals instead of funding a cost effective building.

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  • Napoleon Bonaparte, self-crowned Emperor of Europe, military strategist, would-be invader of England and…. Project Manager?

    On starting a new campaign his thoughts were: ”The first principal of a Commander-in-Chief is to calculate what he must do, to see if he has the means to surmount the obstacles with which the enemy can oppose him and when he has made his decision, to do everything to overcome them” If  ‘Commander in Chief’ means ‘Project Manager’, ‘enemy’ means ‘unexpected’ and ‘he’ means ‘he/she’, this is a good description of what a project manager has to do.

    As well as identifying objectives, making realistic estimates of resources required, time durations and anticipating what could go wrong, Napoleon’s skill was to react and adapt to situations as they arose. He considered a plan to be important but more important was the “Man in the Plan”. Estimates of time and resources can be inaccurate, things happen that can’t be foreseen, other people don’t do what you expect or hope they will do. Very soon a plan doesn’t fit with what is really happening.

    At what point do you need to make adjustments to the plan, re-write the plan, re-assess the objective or just carry on trying to make the plan work? That is where the “Man in the Plan” becomes important. The Project Manager that can make the right decision at the right time, consider views from the project team, re-plan, communicate the plan and inspire and motivate the Project Team to overcome difficulties would meet with the General’s approval.

    Of course being Emperor of Europe also needed certain personal qualities that most of us can only hope to have so many of - attention to detail as well as the larger picture, ability to concentrate for long periods, lack of need to sleep, passion for a task, ability to quickly judge strengths and weaknesses in others and the quality of inspiring total loyality and devotion to him and his endeavors. I’d be happy to have half of his qualities as a Project Manager!

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