India, MBA, Personal, Projects, Thoughts

New challenges (new continent, new airport, new terminal)

It’s been a while since my last post. Lots of things have changed. Suddenly I was pushed out of my comfort zone, something very healthy that we should experience once in a while and now, today, I realise this is the first day in weeks that I’m able to sit and reflect over what has been happening. And I also realise that a dose of personal development is what I currently need. You know my recurrent idea: it’s only when you reflect when you really learn!

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So here I am, resting for a few days in an old strip of coast in Catalonia, a small thousand-year-old country that resists his identity to be dissolved into those huge empires of today and of the last centuries. This coast has witnessed countless invasions, and we’ve also invaded from here, made a Mediterranean empire and, as well, sent the boats that discovered America (yes, we did, although the Spanish Inquisition spent centuries to erase almost every trace of it, and to build a different story from another place that never had a good naval tradition, or good sailors, or even the willingness to discover anything).

But let’s not get into politics, and accept my apologies if I have offended anyone. After all the macro-economic data shows who works and who gets the subsidies in this unemployment prone Spain where some territories send the money for the others to keep procrastinating.

Sorry again. It seems that too much work has taken my knives out. Again, this is not about politics, it’s about entrepreneurship.

And I hate to boast, but this time I’m proud of having commissioned a terminal which with 544.000 square meters is the biggest in Europe, and, opposite to what happened in London or Madrid, it worked the first day. Yes, we did some things differently. Yes, we were also lucky. Yes, we learnt so many things in the process.

Well, the thing was that everything worked from day one. And kept working in day two, three, four and five…

On day six, I’m not sure what happened. I was on a plane. Day seven I was in India. Day eight I was starting a new project there. A local partner, new customer, new airport, new terminal, different continent, different culture, speaking in English 24/7, living in a different place.

And here I am still riding the wave. The beginning of a project is usually tough, specially when you got little time for the wheel to start spinning, specially when everything is different than what you used to have, specially when you’ve spent many years in a huge project, building a new airport from scratch, playing every role, mastering every trade.

This is what I wanted to share with you. I’ll keep blogging, this time from New Delhi, or Gurgaon. I’ll keep working, trying to have a small impact in another terminal: T3. I’ll keep learning, as I passed my MBA second year final exams, which happen to be the last ones. Now almost in my third year, I only need to finish an assignment for that.

And, in the meantime, Barcelona’s T1 keeps working 🙂

Next post next week, back in India…

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b-school, Business, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

On reorganisation and micromanagement temptations in times of crises (holding the steering wheel tight)

Note to the occasional reader: I had this post saved from long ago as a draft and I decided to let it go like it is, I’m in a different mindset now… see next post which is really today’s 🙂

In times of crises, and by this I mean, for instance, when you’re in the latests stages of a project and you spend a lot of time fire-fighting (where have I seen that?), it’s more important than ever to keep in mind the structure of your organisation and use it for good.

What do I mean with that? Well, there are two well know roads that tend to be followed in this kind of situations:

  • Forget about structure and just go straight-ahead-no-matter-what. We are all fighters and we can go down as much as it’s needs to be done. Many senior executives really love to envision themselves as being able to reach the ground level when necessary, even brick layering when they see fit.
  • Focusing on structure: reorganising again. And with this new focus, we forget the problems at hand and we think of organisational architecture. Some senior managers love to envision themselves (again) as not rushed by circumstances but able to keep a cold mind. And with that suspending the activity of the organisation for the sake of more effectiveness and efficiency.

Neither is effective at all.

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The first kind thinks that setting an example is useful, which is not exactly true. You expect a captain able to know every detail about his boat, true, but his main purpose is to steer the wheel. When the conductor of an orchestra starts playing the piano, the rest of the orchestra, mesmerised, feel as if they were directors themselves, and look at the empty place in front of them with scepticism, and the senior manager playing along in disgust. Instead of leading the way, this senior manager is seen as exercising and hipocritical and unsustainable exercise.

Please, don’t micromanage us if you still want our initiative! Otherwise brick layering will turn into brick breaking.

The second group think that it’s trading off time for effectiveness. But in fact is wasting both. Crises are not the best occasions for organisations unless you want to make a crisis-prone organisation.

To change, there has to be the will to change, which will hopefully melt the existing structure and (a small) part of the culture, and a road to follow, a new vision, a new strategy to be implemented that will derive a new structure, that will have to be built and solidified. Does anyone really think that can be done in the rush-hour? I don’t.

What we risk is increasing the chaos, destroying the slowly established learning-by-doing that make the organisations increasingly efficient, is simply a waste of time and energy.

Then, what should we be doing? Structure is still important, yet it should be interpreted flexibly. That doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. Leaders must lead more than ever, inspire more than ever and, if they want managers to be entrepreneurial and problem solvers, they need to keep away from blame orientation at all times and be the first to adopt a problem-solving mindset.

In the moments of stress and crazyness, that’s when you need leader the mosts, to guide, to nurture, to worry about people, or at least to prevent them ending up throwing bricks at each other.

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Aviation, Barcelona, Catalonia, MBA, Personal, Projects, Thoughts

Opening day (the commissioning of Barcelona’s Airport Terminal 1)

Unbelievable we’re already here. After six years of dedicating an important part of my professional life to Barcelona’s Airport, today Terminal 1 is officially born. We’ll listen to the politicians’ speeches on how they made this possible. Maybe they did, but we worked all the way through. And this feeling, this pride, this sense of belonging will carry on with us the rest of our (professional) lives.

A huge, unique project can only be done with the commitment of a group of people. A group of people ready to withstand many pressures and surmount uncountable odds. Very diverse people, some very qualified, some able to star and shine without that qualification.

There are some pass-byers as well. The latter will be all in the official celebration today, even publicly displaying their self-attributed mothering. Isn’t it sad that people that have not appeared in the life of the project, and could have done things to support it, they come now for the medal?

We’ve learnt many things here. We’ve lived through many successes, and mistakes too. Fortunately! You can’t learn if you always do everything well. It would give you a false sense of security that would undermine your judgement.

But even if you make mistakes, you can’t learn unless you can reflect on past experiences. Unless you can evolve. That’s our duty today as nucleus of the project that has created the biggest Spanish airport terminal of all times, the biggest infrastructure that has been built in Barcelona for the last decades. We must make this exercise and learn.

Nothing of this would have been possible without the engineers. People think of architects, but they only make a small part of the project: they don’t make things work. Specially star architects that have seldom appeared during the project and have been more of a nuisance than anything. Till now this was the realm of the engineers. It was our time. Not any longer. Now it’s turn for the airlines and for the people that maintain the airport to work. It’s time for the passengers, for Catalans, to make this terminal their own. This terminal will be the first, and last, thing that visitors to Barcelona, and Catalonia, will see. It’s for all of us.

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Yes, that was yesterday. And I was there. And from the experience I can tell you that I felt that my commitment for this project for so many years had been worth it. I feel as I have participated in something big, something important for my country. And this, in itself, is a reward as well for me.

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b-school, HRM, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

An unexpected impact of the crisis in project management (no, they are not lazy)

As the new terminal in Barcelona’s airport nears its completion and the trials are increasingly successful, we are increasingly dwelling into the depths of this recession / depression. No manager can have the luxury of forgetting the external environment, as it always impact us somehow, somewhere.

Sometimes project managers tend to think that they are insulated from the rest of the world. They have their budget, their plan, their milestones. Of course there’s a great deal of interaction with the customer and the stakeholders, but sensing the environment isn’t usually deemed necessary.

They are wrong.

I’m not talking here of budget cuts, or milestones changing. That could happen anywhere, anytime. I’m here referring back to an old post: Soft and hard human resource management (utilitarian instrumentalism versus developmental humanism) and the concept of the psychological contract.

There are many definitions of the psychological contract. For our purposes, let’s say that the psychological contract is the assumed relationship between employer and employee that includes a lot more than what’s included in the papers: what you’ll do for me, what you expect from me, including the promises I might have made, the way you expect to be treated, and the expectations you have for the future. Those small things you’ve talked with your boss about and the trust you have in him that they’ll be taken care of. If your boss lied to you, for instance, your psychological contract would be shattered, and your attitude with your job would dramatically change… for worse.

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So, what’s in it for construction workers here? They are usually contracted through companies that have a working relationship with the companies that have been awarded the construction contract. There may be two, three, even four layers of agreements between them and the project. They may even work for several contracts, always ready to switch between one form of contract or another, everything transparent and irrelevant to the direction of the project, apparently.

But, what used to be the reality for them, that they went from one thing to another always having things to do and always earning money in one form or another, no longer holds true. Their expectations have dropped and, for many, next destination is unemployment. They won’t get bulky severance pays as many other layoffs. They will be simply be no longer required and no longer invited to participate in the next move. They will be have unemployment compensations, of course, but I bet they will be lower, for many reasons, than those of other kinds of workers.

So it’s no wonder they psychological contract has been shattered as well, as they expected to be able to keep living as they had been living. Not anymore.

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And when is that going to happen?

The scary thing is that this is going to happen whenever they finish their job.

So, where is the motivation to finish as soon as possible? Do you think their intentions are aligned with the timeframe of the project’s direction? Obviously they are not. If they are not paid lump sums but depending on the days spent working, which is the usual contract as the lump sums are in higher layers, they will take as much time as they can. And with that they will also shatter part of the psychological contract.

I have been observing this effect. And this feeling is dangerously infectious as workers from one contract see workers from others procrastinating as much as they can. Moreover, this has no easy solution, as the usual ways of control are not responding effectively as they were never designed to overcome this threat or to better manage people, but to apportion and divide the value of the contract between several companies. 

Sometimes, when we are thinking of leading our team to peak performance, we are forgetting to look around and realise how things are changing. We can name them however we want, but we can’t forget that, layers below, there is not a collection of resources: they are people.

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HRM, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

Listening (a reflection induced by a beacon)

Yesterday I took a few hours away off the hectic drumming of the new terminal to concentrate on a new project that I am leading: a new control system for the runways and taxiways lighting system for Barcelona’s airport, that happens to have the biggest beacon lighting system in Spain, bigger than Madrid’s.

This project has a very important difference to many other things I’m doing. It’s not focused on the big opening day but the completion date is one year later, in 2010. That means we can focus on understanding the problem, building a team, applying a methodology, generating buy-in with the final customer, expliciting the acquired knowledge and incorporating the best practices into the organisation.

We are also going to standardise the application. Coming from a bespoke application, it won’t be easy but my intention is to be able to build an standard that the organisation will be able to use in its 40-something airports. Closed applications are a thing of the past, we all know it but, instead of paying lip-service to it, this time we’re going to do it.

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But, what was important is the personal reflection that arose after our working session. Just forgetting fire fighting for a while and listening to somebody that knew a great deal about the system and discussing various proposals of what we could be doing for our initial project viability analysis.

It felt so good. Listening, learning. I’ve been getting these kind of sensations thanks to my Henley MBA, but it was great to have the same sensation coming from an engineer’s discourse. Focusing in the input instead of the output as I’ve grown accustomed to be lately.

We all need to be able to take long perspectives into a project. Be able to plan, and consider alternatives. To flex our creative muscles and deploy our energies into constructing something new, more effective, something built constructively not on the unstable foundations of pressure.

We all need to sit back an listen, as humble as the boy (or girl) we all still carry inside, and learn something from people that know more than us. Be able to capture that elusive gist that will enrich each and everyone of us. Coming humble from humus, or ground in Latin, and humilis from lowly, every manager needs to be humilis habitu humilis et actu,  that means humble in dressing (or garments) and in its way of behaving to be able to trascend the manager-administrator role into leading the project’s team to success.

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b-school, Barcelona, Blogging, Management, MBA, Personal, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

Blogging from the Opera (blogging with Figaro)

Less than two weeks into an important milestone for the airport’s operational readiness and less than three weeks from my marketing and business environment exam, I find myself blogging from el Liceu, Barcelona’s opera house. Amidst this quagmire that my daily job has been turning into, I still could scape to enjoy Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. It really sounds strange in English instead of Italian’s: Le nozze di Figaro, ossia la folle giornata.

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Yes, the second name for the opera is “the day of madness”. That’s how I live my days at work now. Trying to cope with unmatching requirements, trying to sync reality with political requirements. But, as I like to say, reality is too stubborn for that. And we always end up crashing with a concrete wall which we could have avoided. But that’s second nature to us, humans. Why is it that reality ends up resembling just another opera buffa?

Yet here I am. Everyone needs a place to hide. And that’s mine today. I even could open my computer in the bar in the basement, use my HSDPA connection and write this lines while sipping a coffee. Watch the old ladies ingest huge quantities of sugar and chocolate in different shapes and colours. Isn’t life nice after all?

The thing is that when I began the MBA I promised to reflect. And these latter days have been so amazing. So many different things happening from a global perspective, at work and even a personal perspective. And I don’t want to feel that the many things that flow around me just do that: flow. I need to capture some of them. I need to retain, absorb, think, grow.

They say that experience is everything, that you actually learn by doing. And that is a blatant lie. Well, you learn, true, but only in a mechanical way. As Figaro doesn’t actually learn about Almaviva until he actually sees him fishing in his waters, or Almaviva doesn’t learn about behaving until his infidelity is publicly exposed. The aristocracy depicted, ridiculised here didn’t learn on time to change. Until it was too late. Pierre Beaumarchais saw his play censored in France, only to be played in 1778, with the French Revolution almost at the doors…

You learn when you think about what you live. When you think of improving what you’ve already learnt to do mechanically. When you make it grow inside of you. When you go one step further to accepting what is already established, what is already known. When you apply something more than common sense. When you’re not scared of rethinking something that is already working (apparently).

When I give project management classes, I always stress how important is the “post-mortem” analysis at the end of the project to clarify not only what we have done well but also what we could have done better and what we have learnt from the experience. Now I feel that the end is too far, too late. It must be done now and again, in a continuous process of taking a step back, getting perspective, digesting, and then going in again with regained strengths that will not hold us back from stepping out of the comfort zone. Every manager should take some time to learn now and then.

And now, let’s enjoy this opera 🙂

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Business, HRM, Management, MBA, Project Management, Projects, Thoughts

From Madrid to Barcelona’s olympic port (and a captain)

Some weeks are so hectic that you simply don’t have time to write. And if you do, it’s not because you’ve had the chance to sit back and reflect about something, but because you have some free time in-between things to be done. That’s the case for today: a few free minutes.

The day began in Madrid, in the Indian embassy, queuing for such a simple and stupid thing as a visa. It’s incredible how certain processes are still done as the last century, or even the previous one. The fact is that if you want to travel to India from Barcelona, first you must go to Madrid to get your visa. The alternative is waiting around three or four weeks to have it.

And if you went there without a warning, you’d be astonished to know that they only issue a limited number of visas, clearly outnumbered by the people that need them. So the queue starts around two hours before they open. By the time they unlock the doors, there’s enough people waiting to fill the entire waiting room. If you arrive at ten, just forget the visa. Come back tomorrow (in Spanish “vuelva usted mañana” although the Indians speak more English than Spanish). And that’s the only way for the 46 million inhabitants of Spain to visit the 1,100-million-people country.

Well. I finally made it. I was sixth on the line. Then, to the airport to take a plane back to Barcelona. And from the airport to one of Barcelona’s marinas: the Olympic port, built for Barcelona’s Olympics 15 years ago.

From air planes to boats: time to sail. That’s why I am here for. I am to renew my sailing licenses and, following legal requirements, I need several navigation hours with a captain instructor. A good way to ensure that people actually know about boats before granting them the right to sail them. That’s what I am here for.

Time for the final comment. Where is management in all this? Well. Ask it to Captain Marcos Rivera. In a ship, there’s only one captain. Such affirmation is something that we tend to forget. Authority is not a very popular value these days. It is still necessary nonetheless. Someone has to decide. There must be someone in charge, asessing the risks, analysing and drawing conclusions, and then, finally, deciding.

That doesn’t mean that he (or she) is the only one to think. That would be a great loss of value, rationality, thinking capacity, a loss of options. Empowerment is still essential (and compatible), as it is dissent. But there’s a limit to it. And when the captain decides, the others must follow.

Have you ever felt that, in a project or a workgroup, the problem was that the decisions were not actually being made? Or being enforced? Have you ever felt that authority was missing? That indecision and ambiguity was undermining the whole execution? That’s when a good methodology for making decisions is needed.

There’s a time when every task becomes critical: just give it enough wandering time and you’ll see. IT comes a time when further procrastination is no longer possible. That’s when a chieftain is needed.

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