Highland’s Approach to Values-Informed Project Management

When I started working at Highland a little over eight years ago, there’s no way I would have believed you if you told me that I would end up managing projects. That kind of work, I told myself, was for super detail-oriented micro-managers that loved spreadsheets and number-crunching budget nerds.

So how did I end up in this position?

During the first several years of my career here at Highland, I sold technology implementations and custom software development projects. I know there is a stereotype of the salesperson that makes a ton of promises, collects their commission check, and then rides off into the sunset without a care in the world about how the project actually turns out. But I just couldn’t live that way. I was up at night worrying about whether or not I had set realistic expectations for the work being done. I just couldn’t handle it. It was actually torture for me because I wasn’t in a position to actually do anything with the personal care I felt for how the project turned out.

Little by little, I started getting more involved on the projects I sold. I just couldn’t stay away. I worked closely alongside project managers and developers to help make sure that the client’s original business goals didn’t get lost in the shuffle. And before I knew it, I was pulled all the way in.

This past year, I worked on an internal project to help codify our project management philosophy at Highland. I realized that it was our core value of give a damn that pulled me into project management in the first place. Upon further reflection, I recognized that our company values were the perfect way to frame up the commitments we should have in managing projects.

Here’s my take on how Highland’s core values inform how we organize and run projects:

People First

Our work proceeds in a humane way, where people can flourish in their jobs. No death marches. No heroes. Just sustainable and excellent work.

We will establish predictable and humane working expectations for all team members (both Highland and Client team members) in the way we organize how things get done. This doesn’t mean we never work harder to meet a deadline or to get an important thing done for a client, but it does mean that sustainable pace is the goal and the norm.

If we are regularly tapping into heroics something is wrong in how the work is being organized and planned and we are likely overcommitting and when you do this on a consistent basis, the work suffers.

Be Curious

We will ask questions. At the heart of this commitment is the relentless pursuit of being a valued and trusted advisor.

It is a regular part of our work to ask why we are doing things and if we could be doing them better. We will cultivate teams where we think deeply about the work in front of us and do it with consciousness; never as an order taker, or to just get something done.

Biases and assumptions (especially our own) will be questioned and tested. Through curiosity we make sure our projects always proceed from a place of deep understanding.

Give a Damn

From curiosity, give a damn can proceed. By understanding deeply we can engage in a meaningful way with our clients around their goals and intended outcomes.

The main project management process flowing from give a damn is that we will raise risks and our thoughts about how the work could be more effective. We do this on a regular basis.

Be Transparent

The regular practice of project status meetings brings all this together into one of the most important practices we have. We regularly have an intentional meeting with our client stakeholders where we can tangibly demonstrate to them that we care about the outcomes of the project and that we have thought deeply about where we are and where we are going.

This is not an act of business theater, but a deep commitment to always focusing on creating value and being constantly on guard about the challenges we face together.

At the end of the day, the how and the what of our project management includes many industry standard practices (burn-ups, status meetings, etc). But it is my hope that the actual experience of working on a project with us is changed by the why — by our values-informed motivation to create trusting, transparent and valuable relationships.

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