IPMA International Project Management Association
11 January 2019 / 9:00

The ability to change perspectives is a key to success in projects

Your boss is calling you and you expect to get a special project assignment, which was – by your colleagues – already labelled as “mission impossible… too difficult, tight schedule, very limited budget… nobody wants to take responsibility for the project!” Should you reject the assignment and ask for something more feasible.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change!” says Wayne Dyer, an internationally renowned author and speaker in the field of self-development. Maybe the new assignment is your chance to demonstrate your competence in achieving difficult projects, you may learn from such an assignment much more than in others, you may show to your boss how capable you are – compared to others – dealing with such a job. Or maybe your colleagues are envious and want to prevent you from accepting the assignment. All this can be seen through different perspectives. There is not only one (your) perspective, there are many others, which are interesting and eye-openers. Maybe your boss selected you, because he believes that you are the only one to perform this difficult project. Another change is also that through adaptations in the project setting (proposed by you) the project is more feasible and can be accomplished without any problems.

Why do we often consider only one perspective? People tend to focus, simplify the world and develop mental models through education, socialization and experiences collected. These models are providing us with a “perceived truth”, “realistic pictures” of a situation and are driving us into a certain behaviour. We may be trapped in the “anchoring”, a cognitive bias for an individual to rely too heavily on an initial piece of information offered (known as the “anchor”) when making decisions, or follow our “confirmation bias”, a tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs, hypotheses or mental models. Thus, we need to be aware of our mental models and the potential threats that could cause in seeing the world.

“The smallest change in perspective can transform a life. What tiny attitude adjustment might turn your world around” Oprah Winfrey

Changing the perspective is important for success in projects. Firstly, we need to see the perspective of the client, the owner or sponsor of the project, and the various perspectives of other stakeholders, including our own perspective. Secondly, we should be really open to unknown perspectives, start seeing the project through different eyes, and thinking what that does with the project. One example is the strong focus of a project manager on deliverables. Sure, it´s important to deliver what is expected. However, what does the client want the deliverable for? What is the long-term vision, the benefits and impact of the project? It may cause you to not see the forest for the trees. You cannot take all perspectives into account, but it´s important for understanding the “real” situation to analyse the variety of perspectives, prioritise the perspectives through the eyes of the stakeholder expectation or the project requirements and take actions.

It´s interesting to discover new perspectives, through communication with people, through collecting experiences in projects or simply curiosity and learning about new perspectives. People who have various perspectives available are more virtuous, they can (more) easily deal with complex projects as they have a broader repertoire of solutions available.

How can we expand our views and make use of changing the perspective? Simply involve people with different views and ask them about their perspectives, perceptions or view on the project. Or emphasize the analysis of your project more, looking at it through a variety of perspectives (see also Images of Projects and Perspectives on Projects) before you start into performing the project. Throughout the project lifecycle there may be other opportunities of using the change of perspectives, e.g. during conflict or crisis, or change requests.


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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.