Focus, Not Tunnel Vision!

Posted by Gerry Martin on 20 February 2013

When it comes to IT project management, what is the difference between “tunnel vision” and “focus”? I guess the obvious answer is that the former is what other people think we have and the latter is what we think we have! Seriously, though, I am sure there is a serious element to this question as I have heard it several times over the years.

A literal definition of tunnel vision is the ability to block out all external factors, to concentrate fully on the light at the end of the tunnel (insert your favourite oncoming train joke here). We could argue that this is exactly what we want in our project managers – a singular focus, not distracted, driving their project towards a finishing point. But although these traits may seem inherently good, is there a less positive angle to explore?

The downside of “tunnel vision” is that our project environments are not usually like tunnels at all and we cannot simply black out the parts of our ecosystems that do not suit us. Let’s explore this angle: is it possible that our stakeholders have other priorities, our delivery teams have other commitments, our people get sick, de-motivated, disinterested, and - while important to you - your deadlines and even you achieving your bonus may not have the same importance to others?

I’m reminded here of my first attempts at distance sea swimming. Stand on the shore, take aim at the first buoy, dive in, and swim like mad. At the end of the swim someone said to me, “Were you on the same course as us?” The lesson for me was the need to look up every few strokes to re-aim and re-calibrate. While I was managing the parts of the swim in my control (arms, legs, breathing), I wasn’t managing the external influences (wind, tide, other swimmers).

So how can we as project managers maintain our laser-like focus while keeping in touch with the external factors that can seriously impact our success?

In order for us to manage the bigger picture we need to understand it. We need to be aware and be interested. What else is happening in our environment that could be a distraction? Newsletters, business updates, team meetings, and staff briefings are all great opportunities to listen and learn.

Project sponsors and stakeholders are generally very busy people, so consider how they like to communicate and work to meet those needs. Do they want to meet early or late, beginning of the week or the end? Do they like detailed communications or a summary? Text or graphics?

What about the other project managers’ goals and timelines? Can you collaborate more effectively? It can be very useful to schedule regular catch-ups to discuss potential shared or conflicting priorities.

What about our project team? Who are they, what are their personalities, how do they like to work, what do they do outside of work, what makes them tick?

Your project will impact more people than you think, and more people than you think will impact your project. In short, the key to your project management success is Continuous Collaboration and Communication.