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Grit: 4Q16 PM Book Club Review

GritTitle: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Author: Anglea Duckworth
Year: 2016
PMEvolution.com Book Club Review: 4Q16
PM Evolution Amazon Store Ordering Link: Grit
TED Talk (6:09)

Passion and perseverance are obviously powerful, but how do they compare to characteristics like talent? In Grit, Angela Duckworth shares her findings from a career studying factors impacting success. In short, she finds that grit counts twice.

What is grit?
Dr. Duckworth defines grit as passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Conversely, it isn’t talent, luck or short-term intensity. Dr. Duckworth’s timeline for grit extends well beyond project timelines and is measured in years on the low end and decades on the high end. Think in terms of how long it takes to become an Olympic swimmer.

How does grit apply to “short-term” initiatives such as projects?
Fewer and fewer projects have year-long or multi-year timelines because iterative project management methodologies have reduced the timeline for individual projects into smaller chunks of weeks or months. While project timelines have compressed, the broader programs and strategic initiatives they support still extend for much longer periods of time. In many cases, while project team members may rotate in and out due to specific project needs, the sponsor and project manager remain engaged for the long haul. In these cases, the grittiness of the sponsor and project manager can have a significant impact on the success of the overall program or strategy.

Grittiness can play a role at the project level as well. The nature of projects is to do something specific that hasn’t been done before and thus presents are variety of challenges to overcome. The project team a must demonstrate grit in order to creatively solve problems and overcome challenges.

How can project teams become grittier?

Dr. Duckworth gives us some tips for improving grittiness.

  1. Develop a fascination
    • What it means: Have a true interest, curiosity and passion for the subject. Thoughts about it linger in the back of your mind, even when doing other things.
    • Project management application: When possible, select team members who are truly interested in some aspect of the project. In other cases, identify what fascinates individual team members and work to align those individual fascinations with the team’s goals.
  2. Daily improvement
    • What it means: Work on improving every day, often with specific, measurable targets.
    • Project management application: Project managers must often influence team/organization culture, such as when they implement a new project methodology. For example, when an organization is migrating from a waterfall methodology to Agile, daily improvement in understanding the methodology can be as important as making daily progress on deliverables. Track and celebrate daily improvement in such cultural and procedural aspects of the project in addition to typical project deliverables.
  3. Greater purpose
    • What it means: Dr. Duckworth’s research shows that individuals demonstrate higher levels of grit when they feel they are a part of a greater purpose.
    • Project management application: Find inspiring aspects of the project charter or vision and clearly associate the team’s work with achieving those lofty aspirations.
  4. Growth mindset
    • What it means: IQ and other talents are typically seen as fixed aspects of an individual. Grit components such as effort, determination, passion, etc. are typically seen as aspects which can be developed.
    • Project management application: Going back to the Agile example in #2 above, measuring improvements in velocity from sprint to sprint can quantify how the team’s capacity isn’t a fixed amount, but can grow as the team develops.

Discussion Questions

  1. In a two-week sprint culture, is grit really needed?
  2. Is burnout a lack of grit?
  3. What similarities exist between Grit’s “greater purpose” and the key concepts of previous PM Book Club titles, Start With Why and Drive?
  4. Can grit be a team characteristic in addition to an individual characteristic?
  5. What is the “shadow side” of grit on projects?

About Patrick Quirk

Founding Member of PMEvolution.com President & CEO of FOQUS Partners, LLC PMP since 2005

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