Earlier this year, Mariusz Kapusta, one of the prominent figures in the Project Management scene in Poland, has done the courtesy of visiting the Netcompany Warsaw office and speaking to us about Project Management.
My intention on inviting Mariusz was to provide the GetOrganized development team with insights on modern Project Management practices. As the GetOrganized product and its sub-components grew more and more complex over the years, it became visible to the team that more investments on Project Management are vital, aside from investments on other (more technical) areas like Analysis, Design, Coding, QA and Documentation.
Prior to the meeting, Mariusz suggested we used a real-life project in order for the team to better visualize the techniques he was going to present, as well as leave the meeting with tangible takeaways. The choice of project was easy: upgrading GetOrganized to integrate with SharePoint 2016, the largest project the team was involved with at the time.
Meeting the team
I had seen Mariusz in action once before, on a day-long workshop at the Warsaw University of Technology. During that entire day the audience was basically “plugged into” his presentation and practical exercises. That workshop was part of a year-long post-graduation studies and the attendees were used to some boring days, but that day was just the opposite of it.
It got stuck into my mind how that day started. There was Mariusz, unknown to everyone, a slide displayed behind him reading “Project Management”, the attendees pouring in the classroom slowly, still carrying their coffee mugs and with the usual dreamy gaze of someone who just had to wake up early on a Sunday morning for a full day of learning.
Mariusz started by introducing himself as someone with a bit of experience on Project Management that would be trying to pass on some of his knowledge in the 8 hours that would follow. He then set to “measure the temperature of the people in the room”, by surveying people’s background on Project Management and their expectations for the day. Then he said something that I won’t forget: “At any moment during the day, if something goes wrong in anyway, I’ll assume it’s my fault, not yours”.
At the short, 1.5 hour workshop at Netcompany, I somehow expected Mariusz would skip the investment on creating such bond with the audience. Mariusz, on the contrary, started by briefly introducing himself and then proposed a game: each person had to tell something personal that the rest of the team wasn’t aware of. After 5 minutes of sharing, everyone was smiling and relaxed, and Mariusz knew everyone’s names and a bit of their background. Then another 5 minutes were spent on surveying the attendees’ expectations for the workshop.
The sample project
Upgrading GetOrganized to integrate with the latest version of SharePoint was a huge project. We already had a draft of the project plan, identified some risks and proposed a buffer. Maciej, the Project Manager, introduced Mariusz and the other attendees to the plan. Mariusz then started drilling into it, starting from the risks.
A major risk that wasn’t part of the original plan and that Mariusz managed to uncover by surveying the people in the room was the possible overhead caused by team members having to switch projects/tasks during the project. GetOrganized is developed in various parallel tracks and there are times when people need to shift around, which we try to minimize.
Another interesting outcome of the workshop was the manner of handling the buffer. Having a buffer is always a good idea, but what is not obvious is that, once things start to slip, one should be very careful whether to use the buffer to cover up for it. Mariusz suggested that using the buffer shouldn’t be done by default. If the plan slipped, even on the initial stages, a part of the backlog (the items with lowest priority) should be removed from the plan, so the buffer remained the same at the end of the project. If there weren’t significant problems throughout the project it would always be good news to the client that there was still time to handle some backlog items.
Climbing to the tree top
Steven Covey in his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” illustrates the difference between leaders and managers with the following analogy (adapted below):
“Consider a team of people tasked with making their way through a jungle. While managers are extremely skilled in bringing down trees and coordinating the work of team members, the leader is climbing on tree tops to evaluate the entire situation. The leader might at a point say ‘We’re in the wrong jungle, let’s move on'”.
On that short workshop, Mariusz helped us surveying the jungle, figuring out the big picture and tracing a strategy that would enable us to make our way out of the jungle efficiently and effectively.
The only plausible answer is “Yes!”
On both occasions I had the chance to see Mariusz in action he repeated an interesting sentence (adapted below):
“When a project stakeholder raises an issue or comes up with a new, not rarely over-inventive, idea, the only plausible way you can answer is by saying ‘Yes!‘. Not ‘Yes, but…‘, because the ‘but’ cancels the ‘yes’ part. Just ‘Yes!‘ and then discuss, in a civilized manner, what are the consequences of the change.”.
About six months have now passed since that workshop at the Netcompany Warsaw office. Over these months the GetOrganized team members have referred back to the learnings from that meeting multiple times on various occasions.
Mariusz’s description on LinkedIn at this very moment is “Solving any problem you may face with planning, engaging stakeholders or project execution”. His technical skills definitely play a great factor in enabling him to achieve that. I believe, however, that it is his soft skills, particularly leadership, but also his ability to understand people, to listen carefully to their needs and concerns, that makes his work outstanding.