About RIck

Rick Wells is VP of Research and Development for Business Processes Inc. His job is developing better ways to analyze high impact issues and tame complexity. He has a B.S. in Engineering Physics, and M. Educational Psychology. He is ABD (all but dissertation) from University of Michigan. He grew up in Toledo, Ohio. He lives in San Diego. He is married with 4 step kids who he loves as his own. He is grandpa to 6.

Critical Thinking & Project Manager Competence

How would you establish these 8 manager competencies for your project teams? 

1. Respecting & Commanding Respect.

2. Developing Support

3. Creating Involvement

4. Results-Orientation

5. Creating Clarity

6. Managing Information & Maintaining Control

7. Organizational Orientation

8. Self-confidence & Flexibility

We received this challenge years ago from researchers who had isolated the competencies associated with successful project teams. The researchers sell assessment surveys to measure competencies, so proactively wanted to be able to recommend how to remediate any weakness.  Here is what we recommended based on our decades of experience helping teams improve thinking collaboration with our workshops. In this article we’ve added the factors other researchers identified with exceptional high performing teams.  We recommend teams (team members and managers) attend workshops together to practice the skills.

Here are our one-day workshops for teams: Systematic Project Management, Systematic Decision-Making, and Systematic Problem-Solving.  And our two-day Critical Thinking for Leaders two-day workshop for project customers/sponsors.

#1 Respecting & Commanding Respect

We’ve found that the whole project team must understand and trust the thinking process that defines, plans and implements the project.  The value the team puts on the process relates to the value the team puts on the project manager. The manager is given respect based upon their own competence and ability to coach, guide and direct team members in an effective and supportive way. Training the full team puts them all on an equal footing.

The process should be useful, simple and relevant to gain rapid and willing cooperation. [Needless complexity can lead to confusion – and confusion to fear.  Fear dampens thinking and elevates negative emotions.]  Clarity is critical to establishing a clear, elevating goal for the team – one of the foundations of the world’s most unified and successful teams. (SAGE: Larson & LaFasto).  Team members must trust the manager to respect them. The manager should demonstrate personal and professional integrity and not pursue hidden agendas.

Critical Thinking Workshop recommendations for manager Competency #1:

SPM COMP-Article.doc/7.2024

Project Management, Decision-Making, & Problem-Solving

#2 Developing Support

Project teams are taught how to identify key stakeholders and determine each stakeholder’s most desired objectives.   This clarifies the project’s purpose, constraints, measures of success, and will help key decisions that arise during the project. Decision quality is optimized gaining enduring stakeholder support. 

Plus, documenting how the decision was made and why invites others to understand and encourages their support.

Critical Thinking Workshop recommendations for Competency #2:

Systematic Decision-Making

#3 Creating Involvement

There are critical thinking processes for solving problems, making decisions and planning the project.  The team translates the customer’s parameters into a step-by-step project plan with each team member’s responsibilities clearly stated and organized. The process reveals opportunities for parallel actions shared among the team to save time. 

Problem-Solving is a structured way to give the team a full understanding of any problem and create interim or corrective actions while avoiding muddled actions. Decision-Making involves the team in thoughtfully making choices.

Three Critical Thinking Workshops for project team Competency #3:

Project Management, Decision-Making, & Problem-Solving

#4. Results-Orientation

The Critical Thinking project management process is purpose driven and fully aligned with the project customer’s desired results. To begin, agreement is secured on the project parameters and the criteria for success. Deliverables are agreed to up front along with their timing.  The action steps are derived from the agreed upon project parameters. Therefore, each action step is directed to accomplishing what the customer wants and what the team agreed to accomplish (i.e. results). Critical Thinking Workshop recommendation for team Competency #4:

Systematic Project Management

#5. Creating Clarity

Project clarity refers to [1] purpose, [2] the action plan to accomplish that purpose, and [3] individual responsibilities for the assigned actions specified in the plan.

Purpose clarity explains the genesis of the project (i.e. Why it is being undertaken.) This gives a context for necessary decisions on what and how things are done.

An Action Plan is created by the manager and team.  It grows from the project parameters agreed to by both the project manager and the customer/sponsor.

Individual responsibilities for specific action steps are agreed to and entered into the project’s Master Plan. Progress is tracked through the plan including initiation and completion dates of each action step. The project manager uses the Master Plan to monitor the project’s progress making necessary reports to the project customer/sponsor.

Overview.  Clarity begins with the first meeting of the project manager and sponsor where the project parameters are agreed to.  Clarity is carried through the team’s developing the project plan based upon the agreed upon parameters.  An evaluation report is included as a final deliverable of the project, so it is clear what was and was not accomplished with team suggestions for the future.

Reaction to unplanned problems and decisions is accomplished with Problem Solving and Decision-Making processes which document analyses.

Critical Thinking Workshop recommendations for team Competency #5:

Project Management, Decision-Making, & Problem-Solving

#6.  Managing Information & Maintaining Control

The electronic forms included with the Systematic Project Management workshop are used to document the parameter agreement with the sponsor and includes the project’s Master Plan used to plan and track the project by the project manager.  The manager has a clear view of how the project is progressing between team status meetings through reference to the online Master Plan.

Critical Thinking Workshop recommendation for Competency #6:

Systematic Project Management

#7. Organizational Orientation

The meaning of the term “organizational orientation” was vague.  But the researchers may be referring to decision making that fits the project into existing norms and does not conflict with current initiatives.  The project manager must communicate this constraint clearly to the team members. 

We should note that our experience is that customers need help in clarifying project parameters (upfront at first meeting).  The project manager needs a means to clarify and manage the expectations of the customer up front.  Phase 1 of Systematic Project Management is “AGREE”.  It supplies the means for the project manager to document the project agreement with the customer.  This agreement is shared with the project team to unify the team’s understanding.

The decision to do a project is more important than how the project is done because if that decision is wrong (based on a false belief) it is likely that nothing can achieve its purpose.  [“There is no right way to do the wrong thing.”] So organizational leaders who create projects should have a strong rational reason for each. (For example, projects to increase sales should be based upon knowing why sales are low and not just be about doing what competitors do.)

Customer/Sponsor: Critical Thinking for Leaders two-days

#8. Self-confidence & Flexibility

The three one-day workshops taken together (Project Management, Problem Solving and Decision Making) equip a project manager and team for #8.

Flexibility is a function of seeing reality and making good choices.  Armed with a complete set of planning, decision-making and problem-solving tools, the project manager will have the means to structure work with the project team and sponsor. Being prepared to think through issues as they arise manifests flexibility.

TEAM: Project Management, Decision-Making, & Problem-Solving

SPONSOR: Critical Thinking for Leaders

The following are psychological needs for members of project teams which the project manager must work with.  These were derived from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Training the team members and managers is necessary to use the required processes for need fulfillment.

  

     Project Team Need [with Maslow’s Hierarchy need]

  1. Clear Elevating Goal [Self-Actualizing]
  2. Participation Role [Esteem]
  3. Full involvement in the process [Belonging]
  4. Trust in: leader, team, & process [Safety]

Critical Thinking & Project Manager Competence

  • Critical Thinking & Project Manager Competence

    How would you establish these 8 manager competencies for your project teams?  1. Respecting & Commanding Respect. 2. Developing Support 3. Creating Involvement 4. Results-Orientation 5. Creating Clarity 6. Managing Information & Maintaining Control 7. Organizational Orientation 8. Self-confidence & … Continue reading →



  • Critical Thinking & Project Manager Competence



  • Leader Thinking Skills

    Collaboration Is Thinking Together Effective Leaders have great thinking habits.  Good thinking distinguishes good leaders from mere title holders with prescribed authority.  Their teams excel because of these leader leverage areas:  thinking competence, coaching team member thinking and creation of … Continue reading →



  • Critical Thinking & Project Manager Competence

    How would you establish these 8 manager competencies for your project teams?  1. Respecting & Commanding Respect. 2. Developing Support 3. Creating Involvement 4. Results-Orientation 5. Creating Clarity 6. Managing Information & Maintaining Control 7. Organizational Orientation 8. Self-confidence & … Continue reading →


  • Critical Thinking & Project Manager Competence


  • Leader Thinking Skills

    Collaboration Is Thinking Together Effective Leaders have great thinking habits.  Good thinking distinguishes good leaders from mere title holders with prescribed authority.  Their teams excel because of these leader leverage areas:  thinking competence, coaching team member thinking and creation of … Continue reading →


  • Critical Thinking & Project Manager Competence

    How would you establish these 8 manager competencies for your project teams?  1. Respecting & Commanding Respect. 2. Developing Support 3. Creating Involvement 4. Results-Orientation 5. Creating Clarity 6. Managing Information & Maintaining Control 7. Organizational Orientation 8. Self-confidence & … Continue reading →


  • Critical Thinking & Project Manager Competence


  • Leader Thinking Skills

    Collaboration Is Thinking Together Effective Leaders have great thinking habits.  Good thinking distinguishes good leaders from mere title holders with prescribed authority.  Their teams excel because of these leader leverage areas:  thinking competence, coaching team member thinking and creation of … Continue reading →


Leader Thinking Skills

Collaboration Is Thinking Together

Effective Leaders have great thinking habits.  Good thinking distinguishes good leaders from mere title holders with prescribed authority.  Their teams excel because of these leader leverage areas:  thinking competence, coaching team member thinking and creation of a climate of trust to risk disagreement.

Our Critical Thinking framework incorporates research into what distinguishes leaders with excellent reputations as problem solvers and decision makers.  This previous research studied notable successes then reverse engineered them to reveal a common approach. The common thread was a thinking approach that excels and which anyone can learn. This approach empowers teams to apply logical, fact-based questions that focus thinking, pulling together available information quickly to guide needed inquiry.

The process adapts easily to any situation.  No jumping the gun with guesses or needless rushes to judgment or spending time on irrelevant information.  Now any team can organize the available facts and use them to improve their judgments. The analysis is clear and easily understood by stakeholders who are not at the meeting.

[1] CONCERN ANALYSIS: A few key questions separate issues, assess priority and determine the best thinking approach for each issue (team ~30 to 60 minutes).

[2] PROBLEM SOLVING: Describes the problem, define a few high-quality potential causes, and then use the facts to determine the most likely cause before moving on to verification of the true cause (team ~30 to 60 minutes).

[3] ROOT CAUSE TRACKING:  Root causes are problem factories.  But they present golden opportunities to streamline systems and escape the ‘firefighting treadmill’.  Root Cause analysis is how to beat the competition with better processes that take pressure off tomorrow – making tomorrow more problem free. The Problem Solving process [#2 above] is the key to unlocking and correcting root causes. Stop the drama, firefighting and distractions by using a streamlined problem solving process – one that is rewarded and supported by management.

[4] DECISION MAKING:  Whether it’s deciding upon Interim Actions, Corrective Actions, or System Improvements, teams knowing how to make the best-balanced choice is how creative, practical and timely decisions are made (team: ~30 to 60 minutes).

GM – Customized project Endorsement

Richard C. Wells (Rick)
Vice President Critical Thinking
Partner / Business Processes Inc.
POB 1456
La Jolla, CA. 92038

Dear Rick,

I am pleased to write this letter of recommendation regarding the work Business Processes Inc. did for us in the GM Service Technology Group. Our objective at the time was to come up with a method of teaching problem-solving skills to GM service technicians. Our project involved finding a way to integrate problem-solving exercises into a technical training course. The results were very successful. My development team provided the automotive information while your team provided the problem-solving expertise. The development process involved several meetings in which you spent learning what our needs were and designing compatible problem-solving exercises.

The result of this project was an eight-day course for Drivability Technicians called Engine Performance Diagnosis. The BPI Systematic-Trouble-Shooting process was incorporated into one-day of lessons and student applications to bugged cars for their final exam in automotive diagnostics. This course is currently being offered at GM Training Centers across the USA. It is also being offered as part of the curriculum for the GM Automotive Services Apprenticeship Program. Feedback from technicians who have attended has been extremely positive.

The success of this project was largely due to your ability to be flexible and to apply problem analysis to many different types of situations. Your approach in working with the development team was very effective. I enjoyed working with you and appreciate what your company was able to do for this project. If I can be of further assistance, please contact me.

Sincerely,

Susan D. Christophersen
Regional Service Manager
Great Lakes Region
GM-STS DRIVEABILITY.DOCX

HR leaders – Do you really care?

After conducting 100’s of critical thinking workshops and facilitating the analysis of thousands of real organizational issues during those workshops, my opinion is that HR does NOT care if the problems brought up within the workshops they sponsor are solved or that the organization is wasting hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars by not following up on what is discovered within these classes.

I have my own opinion as to why, but I want HR professionals to share their thinking.  Please answer two questions: First: “Are you interested in working on this and making a difference for your organization?”  Second,  “If not, why not, what barriers do you see to taking action?”

There are exceptions to the above which unfortunately has become the rule.  But, exceptions are few. The typical HR and HRD professional whether manager or specialist does nothing that we can detect to make sure the gems discovered in the workshops actually benefit the organization.  Perhaps this is because most training classes are not like ours, they don’t have a direct impact on current realities, they work through improving more general attitudes or capabilities whose effects are difficult to measure (e.g. Emotional IQ or Communication Skills or Seven Habits of Successful People)?

How do we know that action is not being taken on high impact problems?  After all it could be that fantastic things are happening when the participants return to their work duties and report to their manager – how would we know?  We are confident that is not happening spontaneously because when we return to conduct the next class, the new participants identify the SAME problems that were already analyzed in previous classes!  The new analysis confirms the old. And this pattern continues for months and even years within some organizations and typically on the bigger, higher impact issues, ones that require management involvement to address.  We have many workable solutions to address this problem, but first HR needs to care and be willing to collaborate with us. We can’t do it alone.  HR is typically our point of entry into the organization.  However, we often find ourselves all dressed up with no where to go.  We are not granted permission to follow-up with stakeholders or problem owners.

Would somebody PLEASE help us to understand what is going on?  It is not unusual for one single problem to be worth more than the whole training budget for the year and participants analyze 3-4 of these problems in every workshop.  Yet, our appeals to our HR contact stir nothing detectable, crickets?

Companies in any country must run better, smoother and effectively in today’s competitive world. They can’t afford to leave “money on the table” while turnover, layoffs, disappearing research funds and rapid change affect every industry.  Step one is caring enough to look into this, communicating the newly discovered root causes of issues that are delaying production or draining organizational resources.  We want an internal champion for this most worthwhile cause.  No matter who we contact with our value proposition at a prospective organization, we get directed to HR or HRD (often called the Talent Development department.) – stuck with someone who has no bottom line incentive to do something, to risk being an advocate.

“Thinking clearly” is a competitive advantage one that can show immediate results.  Let’s work together to leverage what participants are discovering, like clockwork, workshop after workshop!.  Training can have a very large, visible and powerful impact on eliminating some of the most troublesome issues your organization is facing.

Guarantee!  Our training will return every training dollar x10 or our training is free.  Now it is your turn to step up to the plate.  I am asking not to waste the discoveries individuals are making in our workshop!  Together we can do this.

ADDENDUM: Here’s a theory that helps make some sense of this phenomenon of no action!  At www.infed.org/thinkers/argyris.htm the article: Chris Argyris: Theories of Action, Double-Loop Learning and Organizational Learning (key aspects of his thinking) seems to apply directly.  Argyris also has a book: Overcoming Organizational Defenses.

In brief:  Most organizations, especially unexceptional and poor performing ones, are Model I learners.  These are characterized by defensiveness, self-fueling processes, and escalating error.  Feedback loops inhibit detection and correction of errors.  The model one learning organization itself can begin to function in ways that act against its long-term interests.

[As I understand, Model I is based upon single-loop learning where the governing Values (objectives) are used to limit action to safely protect self and others unilaterally against change, to control the environment and the task unilaterally.  This so the organization can carry on its present policies and procedures.  Learning that threatens any of this is kept in individual memory and not organizational memory.]

Double-Loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that modify an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives (culture?).  Model II learning organizations use double-loop learning.

[It appears to me that the leaders of such organizations have Theories-In-Use updated to be compatible with the evolving current reality as revealed by the experience of people solving problem, defining root causes, taking corrective actions and observing consequences.  Organizational memory is complete and accurate as reflected in the organization’s policies and procedures.]

I hope this helps!

 

 

Tip For Project Creators

There is a need for project creators to learn how to better delegate projects to project teams. Part of the current difficulty is that what are being called projects are actually problems to analyze or decisions to be made. Problem Solving and Decision Making are not amenable to the standard project management tools. Projects, to put it simply, are decisions that have been approved and now must be implemented. Tools for defining action steps, scheduling, tracking and managing projects are what Project Management Professionals (PMPs) learn.

Another issue plaguing project teams is shifting or conflicting priorities or worse the “everything is top priority” disaster. Multi-tasking kills timeliness.  At any given time there can be only one top priority project, although that honor can change to adapt to evolving contingencies.  But, there should be no confusion on what the priority is now.

In SUM: Organizational leaders – don’t send people to get their PMP certificate unless you are able and intend to define projects for them to do.  Application of critical thinking skills to make high quality decisions and uncover root causes of problems is a prerequisite to launching any project.  Don’t abdicate that role and launch a series of vague initiatives requiring other skills.  The tool sets are distinct having different purposes.

College Texts on Critical Thinking?

The college texts I’ve reviewed are filled with logical syllogisms and examples of rhetorical manipulation techniques- but mostly about what NOT to do or what to look out for.  Nothing on how to think better to understand the world and how to gain understanding to find root causes and make better decisions.  They offer a deep education in labels but do not offer a useful process to guide thinking.
The evaluation of argument content is not about creating valid understanding or a good argument.  It’s focus is on how to criticize other people’s arguments.  So, students would become great at criticism of others but weak in creation themselves.  It is really difficult to be creative if you are worried about what not to do.  Like Bob Dylan wrote in one of his songs/poems,  “Some people don’t have much food on their table.  But they got a lotta knives and forks and – they gotta cut something.”
RCW

TOP 5 BEST BUSINESS NOVELS

TOP 5 BEST BUSINESS NOVELS

Chosen because they succeed at teaching powerful concepts while entertaining the reader.  Read ALL is my recommendation.

  1. The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
  2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.
  3. The GO-GIVER by Bob Burg and John David Mann.
  4. The PROJECT MANIFESTO by Rob Newbold and Bill Lynch.
  5. Leadership Simple by Steve Morris and Jill Morris.

Buffers one or all?

(This POST was submitted by Michael McGinty an expert consultant on Critical Thinking and Project Management.)

Eliyahu Goldratt is credited as the author of the Theory of Constraints – a powerful concept which created something of a revolution in process improvement.  He applied these insights to project management in his book Critical Chain.  Here at BPI, we share some of his key insights with project leaders when they attend our one-day workshop in Systematic Project Management.

Goldratt teaches us that one of the best ways to ensure projects don’t violate their deadlines is to re-think our treatment of buffers.  What people typically do, unconsciously, is they build in a buffer for every action step in their project.  For example, let’s say that based on our previous experience, we know that a particular task usually takes about 3 hours to complete.  However, when we create our project plan, most of us will allocate more time to complete that task – you know, just to cover our bases.  So, the task that usually only takes us three hours to complete might instead be scheduled to take five hours.  And we do this for every action step in our plan, which stretches out the project timeline.  We unconsciously set our project deadlines based on a ‘worst-case scenario’ with these frozen buffers.

Goldratt teaches there’s a way to guard against this but without putting your plan at risk.  He says to schedule the average time it takes for each action step, and then build your buffer into the back end of the project.  So, a task that typically takes three hours is scheduled for exactly three hours.  The additional two-hour buffer is built into the tail-end of the project.

You might ask, “Why is that any better?  You’re still allotting five hours for that step!”  That’s true, but the location of the buffer is crucial.  When buffers are built into each step, the time is not available to help other steps.  And, if something actually does get done on time, other people/resources are not ready because they didn’t plan for it to get done “early.”  By scheduling the average time for each action step and collecting the buffers in one place, other people can be prepared for a quick hand-off to the next task plus they can dip into the common project buffer when needed – that’s what it’s there for!

In this way, Goldratt’s techniques are helping companies complete projects in what seems like ‘record-time’, 50% less time or better is not unusual!  But for those of us in-the-know, it’s just ‘average time’!

Critical Thinking about Health!

Corrective action is focused on the cause of problems. Interim action attends to the effects of a problem. And muddled action does neither.

Question 1: What type of action is it when your doctor prescribes medicine to block production of cholesterol (in your liver) and lower your total cholesterol number? Or when the doctor prescribes a medicine to drop your blood pressure?

Question 2: Is there a risk involved in only dealing with the effects a doctor can measure (cholesterol, BP) but NOT taking corrective action against the underlying disease process causing those numbers?