Communication is important in IT projects. And communication is difficult. A conversation with Leonhard Limburg, managing director of the QUI, Society for Quality and Innovation mbH, about the particular challenges of management and communication situations in IT projects.
Michael Schenkel: Mr. Limburg, we have known each other for a few years now. You support people and organizations to take over new tasks by designing learning and development processes. This normally happens in the form of a project. I know that you do martial arts. Have you had to use your martial art actively in a consultation before?
Leonhard Limburg: No, not actively as a response to a physical attack. I have practiced and taught Aikido for many years and it’s a lot of fun. And of course there are many consulting and coaching situations where I use it. We often speak of the Aikido principle, it is very simple (laughs): use the energy of the attacker and channel it in constructive ways. This thought also helps me with complex tasks in businesses.
Michael Schenkel: What is a typical complex task in an IT project?
Leonhard Limburg: People in projects, especially in IT projects, find themselves in a temporary, exceptional case. They are under a lot of pressure to succeed, to implement a hitherto unsolved problem with a limited time and budget, successfully. And this pressure is always getting higher and higher.
Michael Schenkel: This situation familiar to every project manager and probably most project participants.
Leonhard Limburg: Yes. And of course the challenges are more diverse in practice. Maybe the cooperation between new team members takes place in multiple locations. Maybe there is a language and cultural difference. Maybe new organizational forms of cooperation are looked for or the processes of the software development are being “newly designed.” In the end, it comes down to different interests meeting each other and other clashes. But if using and understanding differing perspectives is successful, then everything can be put back together again.
Michael Schenkel: That sounds quite complex indeed. If you are called in to support in such a situation, who are you supporting, exactly? The project manager, the team, everyone together?
Leonhard Limburg: It is important to have a clear assignment. Clear in the sense of a common understanding of the goals and results of the collaboration. That sounds trivial. But it is often unclear what should be concretely improved through collaboration in the project. This is often the case when deploying new software – and this is understood as a project goal. The question has to be concrete: “What should improve through the deployment of this software?” And all the project workers should have a common understanding here. So I work according to the situation with the project leader and the team. And there it all depends on using all competencies and steering them in one direction. Like in Aikido!
Michael Schenkel: It must be advisable to bring you on board as soon as possible, isn’t it?
Leonhard Limburg: Yes, that is ideal indeed. But in reality it is often the case that businesses have had bad experiences and only start to look for support relatively late. Only when this support leads to an improvement in the situation do most businesses think about being active at the beginning of the next project.
Michael Schenkel: And what do you offer then?
Leonhard Limburg: We have had very good experience with a concrete workshop. We call it “Special management and communication situations in IT projects”. A sensible subheading would be “Learning through reflection on concrete project situations.”
Michael Schenkel: What are the particulars of this workshop?
Leonhard Limburg: In exceptional circumstances, people are under stress and often don’t take the time to prepare and follow up according to existing challenges. Here, our workshop comes into play: in a protected framework, we offer project managers the possibility to bring selected situations from their project practice and to reflect on them under professional mentoring and to prepare themselves for the real challenges of the project work.
Michael Schenkel: How does that look? Can you give me a concrete example?
Leonhard Limburg: A classic is the next team meeting or the project kick-off. In a project meeting, a lot of time and potential is often squandered – be it a classical project meeting or an agile standup meeting. Both require preparation and follow up. And because the project management has “no time,” the last meeting would have finished about an hour later than scheduled, with lots of unnecessary discussions and complaints. And the mood within the team hasn’t been good for a while. So the project management decided to work on this theme in the next project meeting with the team. Such a situation can be worked out and prepared in the workshop. Then the degree of difficulty is optionally scalable.
Michael Schenkel: And does it align with the concrete situation on the ground?
Leonhard Limburg: Yes, exactly. That way the participants take the most suggestions with them. Theoretical discussions are not bad, but when it is about real situations, participants’ commitment is a lot higher. It is about the solution to their challenges and not about a thought-up example of any old example firm.
Michael Schenkel: Are you sure that you don’t need Aikido now and then?
Leonhard Limburg: (Laughs) Completely sure. It’s about changes. Changes to being together. Changes to yourself? That is not easy and is sometimes also really difficult. That makes the protected framework that we offer project managers in our workshop all the more important. Like in Aikido, we use the available energy of all project participants together to reach the project goals with united strengths. Learning with all senses from reflected experience. In a trusting atmosphere. In Aikido we call that “jiyu waza”.
Michael Schenkel: Where is Aikido from?
Leonhard Limburg: From Japan.
Michael Schenkel: I saw that you have a Chinese proverb on your website: when the wind of change blows, some build walls and others build windmills. Do the wall builders come to your workshops? I would assume that the people who built windmills would prefer to exchange information on how they can overcome the walls.
Leonhard Limburg: There I can only speak for myself personally: I steer my attention to the themes that I find interesting. That helps me to find the way or another wall. So I try to use these walls in project management instead of running against them. That’s why our workshops are about learning from and with each other. And participants’ feedback shows me that this is the right way to go.
Michael Schenkel: Mr. Limburg, one last question: which dan do you have in Aikido?
Leonhard Limburg: I did the second one two years ago. There are still a lot, up to ten. But luckily, there are no competitions in Aikido, so formalities are not so important.
Michael Schenkel: Thanks for the lovely conversation and information.
Leonhard Limburg: My pleasure, thank you too.
Leonhard Limburg supports management staff, employees and teams in their concrete working environments. Conception and realization of products and processes together with customers and partners is then an important part of his work. More information about Leonhard Limburg can be found at http://www.qui.de/