Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat: The role of respectful dissent in Project Management

March 24, 02:35 pm - 03:15 pm AEDT

Today’s Portfolio/Program/Project (P3) Managers are faced with a rare and overwhelming abundance of counsel: there is a growing litany of available literature recommending or proposing ‘future-fit’ P3 systems and practices, new maturity frameworks and models, new (and generally subjective and selective) insights on ‘best practice,’ and appeals to embrace ‘transformative’ (proprietary limited) technology. Despite this, one of the most powerful, contextual, and efficient Project Management success factors remains an effective team culture – especially one which incorporates respectful dissent. Portfolios, programs, and projects will rarely be successful if challenge is confined to specific events (such as de-briefs, lessons learnt and pre-mortems) or made the responsibility of specific teams (such as Risk, or Finance).

It must remain a priority and continual effort of the P3 Manager to actively foster a culture where curiosity and respectful challenge is both encouraged and celebrated. With a culture of curiosity, teams will be empowered to non-aggressively challenge implicit or unspoken assumptions, or probe areas of potential organisational blindness; respectful dissent takes this further by moving into a space where a contest of ideas is explicitly valued and the most rigorously tested options rise to the surface – serving as a potent foil to optimism/pessimism bias and to groupthink.

The aim of this presentation is twofold: to identify key benefits of respectful dissent in Project Management based on multi-methods insights (including drawing from military practices of ‘Red Teaming’ and ‘Contributory Dissent’), as well as to share key practical techniques a P3 Manager may adopt in cultivating psychological team safety in general and actively fostering curiosity and respectful dissent more specifically.

Head of the PMO and Digital Delivery - Sydney Metro
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