Jon Aikman's Blog

Thoughts on Mediation and Project Management

  • Two recent events, at the opposite ends of the dispute scales, have reminded me that everything is about people.

    The first event was a lecture by a barrister on a particular point of law that doesn’t seem to have any clear opinion attached to it. Examples of case law and opinions were discussed in relation to the meanings of wording in standard contracts and whether a particular case would clarify a hither-to unresolved point of law. The law is made by people to help regulate the way people interact with each other and the law is applied and interpreted by people. Parties in dispute have their own needs concerning how a dispute is settled, but the professionals employed to advise on the disputes also bring their set of needs with them – professional, personal, financial and reputation. All these various peoples’ needs then must be met by navigating a way through a legal system set up by people.

    The other event was a mediation between neighbours about noise, rubbish, pets and children. All the everyday problems arising from too many people living in too small an area. The people involved had their needs to live their lives in peace and free of disturbance from their neighbour. It wasn’t until they recognised each other as just regular people trying to get by exactly the same as they were that they were able to agree to work together to reduce the impact of everyday activities on each other.

    In both cases it was all about people their needs and expectations. In the commercial world this gets hidden by job titles, professional qualification and company/organisation positions. Underneath all that it is still just people trying to work it all out.

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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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