Case: The Progress Principle and “Project Digg-Pro”

Modenaton AS is a relatively large company primarily engaged in consulting and support within organizational development, change processes, and ICT systems. Since its inception ten years ago, it has grown and acquired another business, currently employing approximately 80 employees. Apart from certain support functions such as finance, HR, and communication, all employees are associated with departments, each with its own department head.

The employees work on a project basis, delivering services to clients. One of the major projects they will be working on in the future is the digitalization of services for a large client, who has outsourced the entire process to Modenaton AS.

You have been hired as a project manager and will lead this digitalization project, which has been given the working title “Digg Pro.” Your team members consist of a mix of experienced employees and some relatively newly hired individuals, all affiliated with Modenaton AS. In the initial stages of team collaboration, it has been clarified that the team members are generally highly motivated, although a couple of them expressed concerns about it becoming somewhat routine despite being a project.

The digitalization project is planned to span over two years, and it has been provided with relatively broad guidelines by the client regarding the execution approach and framework. The purpose of the project is clear, project objectives are well-defined, and the mandate has been established.

You have been presented with a small excerpt from the book “Project Management – A Value Creation Approach” (2020). In the description of the “Progress Principle,” the following is revealed:

The Progress Principle – Creating Conditions for High Performance in Project Teams
In a permanent organization, it is a significant challenge for leaders to find ways to engage employees and foster job satisfaction. There is, of course, no “quick fix” for such a complex matter. However, recent studies have revealed some factors that are essential in facilitating good job performance, and the keyword is progression. Many of the same mechanisms and factors influence both temporary and permanent organizations. Therefore, after presenting some of the core elements of what Terese Amabile and Steven Kramer refer to as the Progress Principle, we will examine how these factors become relevant for a project manager and a team.
Despite conventional wisdom in management and leadership, it is not only external incentives that drive people to succeed at work. Autonomy, feedback, and managerial support are some of the elements that enable employees to thrive in their jobs. When Amabile and Kramer studied over 200 individuals using 12,000 daily reports, they identified a factor, a key indicator, namely the Progress Principle, which they linked to what is described as the inner work life.

Despite conventional wisdom in management and leadership, it is not only external incentives that drive people to succeed at work. Autonomy, feedback, and managerial support are some of the elements that enable employees to thrive in their jobs. When Amabile and Kramer studied over 200 individuals using 12,000 daily reports, they identified a factor, a key indicator, namely the Progress Principle, which they linked to what is described as the inner work life.

The Progress Principle: Positive, forward-moving performances that act as catalysts and nourishment for further achievement.

Inner work life can be defined as conditions that promote positive emotions, inner motivation, and positive perceptions of colleagues and work.

A positive inner work life leads employees to perform better, with higher productivity and creativity, and to feel happy and engaged in their work. Observing progress is essential, whether it’s a significant breakthrough, goal completion, forward movements, or “small wins.” Two groups of factors influence the experience of progression. One is nourishment factors, which are events that support individuals, and the other is catalyst factors, which are events that support the work itself. Elements within these factors are outlined in this model:

The Progress Principle
Events that signal progress, including:

  • Small victories
  • Breakthroughs
  • Advancement
  • Achievement of goals

Nourishment factors
Events that support individuals, including:

  • Respect
  • Encouragement
  • Emotional support
  • Belonging

Catalyst factors
Events that support the work, including:

  • Setting clear goals
  • Allowing autonomy
  • Providing resources
  • Encouraging idea flow
  • Learning from problems and successes

Some guidelines for implementing the Progress Principle are:

  • Celebrate progress every day. Progress in meaningful work is an event, so celebrate the “small victories” and advancements you and your team achieve.
  • Handle setbacks constructively. When setbacks occur, deal with them constructively and use them as learning opportunities.
  • Provide catalysts and nourishment to support progress. Clearly define goals and provide sufficient resources. As a project manager, focus on encouragement and recognition.
  • Build on progress. Once progression is achieved, introduce new realistic challenges.
  • Minimize negatives. Do not ignore them, but be aware that setbacks have a greater emotional impact than progress. Handle negatives quickly and effectively when they arise.
  • Take the foot off the gas pedal occasionally. Remember that high time pressure requires time and breaks, as well as focus on urgent tasks when necessary.
  • Maintain a digital journal. Keeping a daily journal helps you remember small victories and progress and allows you to record learning opportunities.

How can and should this impact the project manager and team? It would require some space to outline this properly, but the points and guidelines provided are relevant for a project manager. If you wish to delve deeper into this topic, you can read the book “The Progress Principle” (2011). Although not tailored specifically for project managers, it contains valuable insights they can learn from.

So, you buy the book and get inspired. After reading the book and contemplating its contents, you bring up the topic in the next meeting with the CEO. She shows great interest in the “Progress Principle” and encourages you to implement it in the project you are about to undertake. This means you have significant freedom to set the project’s framework so that you and the team can carry it out effectively. This includes ensuring appropriate facilities such as suitable premises, technical and practical solutions like a dedicated “War Room” equipped with boards, PCs, large screens, etc. Additionally, having the autonomy to reward the team and its members theoretically provides an excellent starting point.

Furthermore, you agree with the CEO to create a work climate in the project “Digg Pro” that facilitates the implementation of the “Progress Principle,” and she wants you to be present at the next leadership meeting to present this. Therefore, you are expected to:

Provide a concise presentation of the “Progress Principle” and explain in general terms what it means for the exercise of the leadership role.

The Progress Principle is about creating conditions for high performance and well-being in a project team. It is based on research showing that intrinsic motivation, autonomy, and support from leadership are crucial for achieving good results and job satisfaction. Here is a concise presentation of the Progress Principle and its significance for the exercise of the leadership role:

The Progress Principle involves creating positive, forward-moving performances that act as catalysts and nourishment for further achievement. It means providing team members with opportunities to experience and celebrate progress, small victories, breakthroughs, and goal attainment. This fosters a positive inner work life, where employees experience positive emotions, intrinsic motivation, and positive perceptions of colleagues and work.

As a project manager, you can implement the Progress Principle by:

  1. Celebrating progress: Recognize and celebrate the small victories and progress both you and the team achieve. This creates positive energy and motivation.
  2. Handling setbacks constructively: When setbacks occur, use them as learning opportunities and address them constructively. See them as opportunities for growth and improvement.
  3. Providing catalysts and nourishment to support progress: Set clear goals and provide sufficient resources to the team. Encourage and acknowledge team members for their efforts.
  4. Building on progress: Once progression is achieved, introduce new realistic challenges to maintain engagement and motivation in the team.
  5. Minimizing negatives: Address negative events and setbacks promptly and effectively when they arise. Handle them in a constructive manner.
  6. Taking breaks and providing time: Recognize that high time pressure can impact the team’s performance and well-being. Take occasional breaks, provide time for rest, and allow team members to focus on urgent tasks when necessary.
  7. Keeping a digital journal: Encourage the team to maintain a daily journal where they can record small victories, progress, and learning opportunities. This helps maintain focus on progress and provides a chance to reflect on the project’s development.

As a project manager, you should be conscious of creating a positive and supportive work environment that promotes the Progress Principle. This involves facilitating the celebration of progress, providing sufficient resources, encouragement, and recognition to the team. By implementing the Progress Principle, you can contribute to creating an engaging and productive work environment where team members experience well-being and achieve excellent results.

Prepare a brief list of things you would emphasize in project work, preferably based on the seven points presented by Amabile and Kramer, and prioritize the top three. What would they be, and how would you justify it?

In project work, I will emphasize the following points, with a prioritization of the three most important based on Amabile and Kramer’s Progress Principle:

  1. Celebrating Progress: Recognizing and celebrating small victories and progress in the project is crucial. It fosters positive energy, motivation, and strengthens the team’s sense of accomplishment. This aspect is highly significant as it creates a positive and inspiring atmosphere, increasing the team’s engagement and efforts.
  2. Feedback and Recognition: Providing regular and constructive feedback to team members is essential for their development and well-being. Recognition for effort and achievements helps maintain motivation and builds trust within the team. This is also important for strengthening the inner work life and creating positive emotions among employees.
  3. Autonomy and Trust: Granting team members sufficient autonomy and trust to make decisions and handle tasks in their own way is vital for maintaining intrinsic motivation and creativity. This aspect allows for individual growth and a sense of mastery while contributing to building a strong and independent team.

These three points are chosen as the most important because they focus on the essence of the Progress Principle and have a direct impact on the team’s performance and well-being. Celebrating progress is critical to sustaining motivation and inspiration within the team, as it establishes a culture where every small victory is valued and rewarded.

Feedback and recognition are essential for creating a positive work environment and strengthening the inner work life. Through constructive feedback, team members can learn and grow while feeling appreciated and acknowledged by the leader. This fosters an atmosphere of trust and collaboration.

Autonomy and trust are also crucial for the team’s success. When employees are trusted to make their own decisions and carry out tasks in their own way, they experience a greater sense of responsibility and autonomy. This stimulates their intrinsic motivation and allows for creativity and innovation.

While all seven points are important, these three prioritizations are central to creating a positive and productive work culture that promotes progress, well-being, and excellent results in the project.

Then the CEO mentions that she has browsed through the book “The Project Leader.” There, she came across something about the “Project Leader’s Compass” and the idea of the project leader “looking inward.” She asks you to prepare a brief presentation on this topic for the next time you have a structured conversation and be able to present:

What is meant by the “Project Leader’s Compass,” and what does it mean for this project?

“The Project Leader’s Compass” is a metaphor used in project management to describe a guiding principle or set of principles that direct the project leader throughout the project. It involves looking inward and reflecting on one’s own values, attitudes, skills, and leadership style to effectively lead the project in an authentic manner.

In the context of this project, “The Project Leader’s Compass” means that as the project leader, you should be aware of your role and leadership style. It is about having self-awareness and understanding how your behavior and actions influence the team and the project’s progress. By looking inward, you can reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, values, and preferences, and then adapt your leadership to achieve the best results.

This is particularly important in a project like “Digg Pro,” where you have been given significant freedom to set the framework and create a work environment that promotes progress. By looking inward, you can identify which leadership qualities and attributes will be most effective in achieving project goals and creating a positive work environment.

Furthermore, “The Project Leader’s Compass” can help you be authentic and consistent in your leadership. When you are in touch with your inner values and have a clear understanding of your skills and preferences, it will be easier for you to make decisions, communicate effectively, and engage the team meaningfully.

Additionally, “The Project Leader’s Compass” can also be beneficial in challenging situations or when facing obstacles in the project. By looking inward, you can find strength and guidance in your personal values and skills, thus handling challenges in a more effective and authentic manner.

By using “The Project Leader’s Compass” in this project, you will be able to be a leader who understands, motivates, and engages your team in a way that creates positive progress and well-being. It will contribute to building trust, inspiration, and effective collaboration in the project, thereby increasing the chances of a successful implementation of “Digg Pro.”

In the “Look Inward” part, it’s all about the leader themselves, which is you. What strategy will you adopt to take care of this during the project implementation? What will you particularly emphasize, and what is the rationale behind it?

To ensure the “Look Inward” aspect in project implementation and ensure that I, as the project leader, am mindful of my own needs, values, and development, I will emphasize the following strategies:

  1. Self-Reflection: I will allocate time for regular self-reflection to evaluate my own efforts and leadership style. This may involve asking myself how I handle challenges, how I communicate and interact with the team, and whether my actions align with my values and the project’s goals. Self-reflection provides an opportunity to identify areas where I can improve and take necessary actions.
  2. Continuous Learning: I will prioritize continuous learning and personal development. This may include reading relevant books and articles on project management, attending relevant courses and workshops, and seeking guidance from experienced project leaders or mentors. By updating my knowledge and skills in project management, I can better address the challenges and needs of the project.
  3. Supportive Network: I will seek support from a network of colleagues, both within and outside the organization. This may involve regular meetings or conversations with other project leaders, where we can share experiences, give each other advice and support. Having a network of like-minded individuals can help keep me motivated, provide outside perspectives, and offer opportunities for further growth.

The rationale for these strategies is that as a project leader, it is essential to be mindful of my own development and well-being. By prioritizing self-reflection, I can be more aware of my actions and their impact on the project and the team. Continuous learning will help me stay updated on best practices and develop my skills as a project leader, which, in turn, will contribute to leading the project more effectively.

A supportive network will give me the opportunity to share experiences, receive advice and support from other project leaders who have been in similar situations. This network can provide me with new insights, perspectives, and opportunities for further growth and development.

By implementing these strategies, I will be able to take care of my own well-being, growth, and development as a project leader. This will, in turn, have a positive impact on project implementation by creating a conscious and engaged leader capable of handling challenges and leading the team towards success.

This case is taken from the book “Verdiskapende Prosjektledelse” – 2022, 2. Edition, by Torgeir Skyttermoen og Anne Live Vaagaasar.

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