Keynotes – Exercising Agency

The following keynote presentations draw upon the material contained within Mark’s most recent book, Exercising Agency.

The book—and these presentations—explore the challenging and messy process of initiating strategic projects. They examine the politics, process and personal agency that together effectively support bring projects to life. They illuminate the middle space that exists between strategy and project management, shining a light on an important but seldom explored process.

Yes, I Am Allowed To Do That! The Confidence To Take Action

Project managers are in a unique position. On one hand, they are leaders of change, charged with steering major strategic initiatives that can have significant and long-term impacts on the organizations they work for. On the other hand, the box they live in on the org chart is often far removed from the apex of the hierarchy. So how much power do we have? How much license are we allowed to take? Where does our freedom and independence start and stop, and when do we cross the line into ‘career limiting move’?

For many organizations, the answer is ‘it depends’. Which raises the next question: what, exactly, does it depend on? The answer is an intriguing blend of culture, process and personality. The environment of the organization – and the autonomy, authority and independence of the individual project manager – both play a role in determining how much freedom to act exists.

In this presentation, Mark Mullaly explores what it takes to navigate our organizations in order to take the actions necessary in order to succeed. Drawing on recent research into decision making, organizational change and strategy, he shares the insights necessary to assess just how much freedom exists to act – and how to exercise it. You will explore just how much power and freedom you have to act, and how to exercise this license in a way that is responsible, effective and allowed. You’ve got nothing to lose — and a surprising amount of flexibility to gain.

Process, Structure & Agency: Investigating the ‘Project Shaper’ Role

How we make decisions has long been the subject of research, debate and discussion. As part of his doctoral thesis, Mark Mullaly investigated how individuals support and influence making project initiation decisions. Starting with behavioural decision making in general, and the theory of ‘decision making as rule following’ in particular, Mark researched the actual practices involved in how large-scale project investment choices get made by individuals working in organizations around the world. He explored the organizational and process influences on project initiation, as well as the role of the individual decision maker, to understand the complexity that underlies what are arguably the most important decisions for project success – how they get started the first place.

In this presentation, we look at the role of the ‘project shaper’. This role has been suggested to exist in many organizations to champion project opportunities as they move from idea to approval. Existing research hypothesized the presence of the role without actually demonstrating whether it was really present, or the influence that it has on getting projects to the point of initiation.

Mark Mullaly explores how previous researchers thought the role of ‘project shaper’ existed, and the role it was presumed to play. He shares the insights that emerged from his own research regarding the role of ‘project shaper’, as well as the other individual forces that bring to bear in supporting project initiation decisions. Finally, Mark places the role of ‘project shaper’ in the context of the larger forces that are seen to influence the decision making process, in order to identify the degree that it contributes – and what is still missing – in being able to solve the problem of how project initiation decisions really get made in organizations.

Getting Started: An Informed Guide To Project Initiation

Managing the project initiation process is no where near as straightforward as most processes would imply. The path to getting any one project initiated is a labyrinthine maze of process, politics and organizational culture. The path through this maze is not constant, and often feels like it has to be re-learned for each and every project.

For all of the challenges, however, there are strategies that, when understood, can make the process easier to manage and more effective.

As part of his doctoral thesis, Mark Mullaly investigated how individuals support and influence making project initiation decisions. Starting with behavioural decision making in general, and the theory of ‘decision making as rule following’ in particular, Mark researched the actual practices involved in how large-scale project investment choices get made by individuals working in organizations around the world. He explored the organizational and process influences on project initiation, as well as the role of the individual decision maker, to understand the complexity that underlies what are arguably the most important decisions for project success – how they get started the first place.

This presentation explores the various models that support navigating the project initiation maze (as well as those that lead to obstacles and dead ends). The third and final instalment exploring Mark’s research, it provides concrete strategies that can be applied in assessing the organization and its culture, evaluating our capabilities and determining how to most effectively steward the initiation of a project. Mark introduces a comprehensive theory of how effective initiations get made. That theory is your roadmap through the labyrinth; why not avoid the monsters and find out more?

Decision Making: Because Those Are The Rules

There have been a number of studies recently regarding the influences on how people make decision, looking at behavioural, psychological and neurological factors. A very promising but comparatively unexplored area of decision making research suggests that social rules play a significant determinant in how we make decisions. Regardless of our own preferences, we internalize our environment, the roles that we play within that environment and what expected behaviour looks like within those roles, do decide how we will decide.

Sometimes the rules we respond to are formally articulated. In many cases, they are informally established and simply reflect ‘the way we do things around here’. All too frequently, there are a number of different roles – and rules – that could potentially be relevant in a given decision making situation. Understanding that there are rules – and how they are developed, how they are shaped and how they evolve – is a critical factor for any decision maker, or any observer of organizational decisions.

Join Mark Mullaly as he explores the impact of social rules on how we make decisions. There is no rule that says you have too, of course. But if you’ve ever wondered why people do things ‘just because’, or how the conventions of ‘this is how we do things’ got established, this presentation will have a lot to offer.