Mike Barnato

Strategy, leadership, organisation, programmes

How to succeed with projects: the good, bad, ugly?

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Here are posts on project management – good, bad and ugly. They are based on my own experience, but I may well have missed something. Please let me know.

It matters because we face tremendous project challenges – Brexit is the biggest de-merger in history and the 3Hs – Hinkley, Heathrow extention, High Speed Rail are massive complex undertakings.

I am not tied to any specific project tools – I just pick the bits from each that I have found useful. But sometimes tools are mis-used.Business & Project Tools and we often neglect Skill transfer.

Here are things that often go wrong Project traps.

What is Project success and why was NOAH as a great project leader?

Do we get the Decision making right?

Projects vary. Here are thoughts on  Transformation, Big public sector IT projects, 

Child Abuse Inquiry   and Outsourcing

Sometime we neglect risk and the need for Agility

How should you group projects together? What about Project focus and

Project Muddle and Overload?

Some of these posts may need review. Please let me know your comments



Image: The Tower of Babel, a classic project failure


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OUTWARDS ENERGYcat-looking-into-mirror-lion

I recently posted on mindfulness and asked about its connection to martial arts.I also asked about positivity, learning and practice.

The first image is from aikido. It’s about focusing outwards. There’s a strong but relaxed stance and energy is being directed outwards, not inwards. There’s also no aggression.

In the second image, the cat looks in the mirror and sees itself as a lion. It is confident, it knows what it is about.

I was reminded of these two images when helping two organisations improve performance, sales and quality. They were a sales group at a private sector brand name motor car manufacturer and a quality assurance group at a government transport regulator. I asked teams at both organisations this question:

What percent of your efforts are directed outwards?

Outwards would be directly concerned with their goals, values, new services and external clients. Inwards would be things like unproductive meetings, office politics.

They didn’t know. So I carried out a simple monitoring exercise based on time recording across different activities.

The answer for both was the same.

80% of effort was focused internally

The reasons were different. The staff at the regulator spent a lot of time on general administrative duties. The staff at the motor manufacturer spent a lot of time with internal customers, particularly the Board asking for reports.

So what?

The findings were a complete surprise to the Board.

Staff lacked confidence and focus.

They spent most of their time on activities other than the ones they were judged on, like quality and sales.

Organisational confusion (how much information did the Board really need?) didn’t help.

Staff were demotivated and were shooting alligators, not draining the swamp.


Make sure the important  is not at the mercy of the trivial.

Make sure 80% of effort, resources and talents are focused outwards.


The image is of Sensei Obata, an aikido master. He is quoted as saying “Aikido movement is forward, forward”. For forward, read outwards.

Goal setting: Man U v Leicester City

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Manchester United have two premier league victories since August 2016.

There’s a lot written on target setting and goal setting in management. What works? What doesn’t? Here’s a dramatically different approach shown by two football managers.

Mourinho, Manchester United manager, was quoted as having this target for the 2016/7 season:

To win every league game.

He commented:

It’s impossible, a very stupid motivation. But if you look at it from a different perspective, it’s what you have to do – improve every match.

Ranieri, Leicester Manager, was quoted as having this target:

To record 40 points.

His comment was:

Don’t laugh! I restart with the same philosophy, the same humility..This is a very good basement, now we have to build the ground floor.

Which target is “better”? Here are some criteria to consider – 4Ms:


Targets should be measurable. Both are. But they are completely outcomes based. They don’t take any account of effort or hard work or luck.


Both are meaningful. One is ultimately aspirational. Perhaps it reflects the idea that if its not challenging it won’t change you.


I don’t think any team has ever won all matches. So whilst audacious targets can inspire, unrealistic targets might demotivate.


Once Man U have lost a game the target can’t be achieved; so it’s hardly motivational.

Is it better to have a softer target that takes away pressure?

Recent results

I watched highlights of Leicester and Man U’s on 30 October 2016. Both drew.

Mourinho was sent to the stands by officials. Man U then had one win in the last seven games.

Leicester also drew. Ranieri commented favourably on the result, not just in terms of the point, but also in terms of spirit and performance.

On November 6 Mourinho was quoted as saying:

We have on the pitch some players with problems. And he also commented on the difference between the brave, who want to be there at any cost, and the ones for whom a little pain can make a difference.


Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) – like those of Mourinho – can be great.

They can inspire, change the boundaries and help people think out of the box.

BUT they can also be demotivating, unreal and unachievable.

What do you think?

Source: Sunday Times August 6 2016; Match of the Day 30 October 2016, Times 7 November 2016

UPDATE: 27 November 2016. Manchester united has 20 points, Leicester has 13 points. This is the fewest United points at this stage of the season since 1989.

Connecting Mindfulness & Martial Arts?

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I am new to mindfulness.It helped me emphasise fun and deal the stress of being diagnosed with oesophagus cancer in 2010.

I came across it when reading Dale Carnegie’s book “How to stop worrying and start living”, first published in 1948. He talked about living in, and paying attention to, the moment. I liked his phrases – letting go of dead yesterdays and unborn tomorrows.

And I like mindfulness credos like:

  • Appreciate what you have, not what you don’t;
  • Do more of the things you like doing;
  • Focus on the present (not the past or not on the future);
  • Feel the grass, smell the flowers, see the colours; and
  • Life isn’t a rehearsal.

Martial arts

I am not new to martial arts. I started aged nine and have practiced three very different styles. Judo (a competitive Olympic sport), aikido (a largely non competitive martial art with a philosophy) and krav maga (street self defense).

Mindfulness and martial arts

At first sight martial arts and mindfulness are very different things. Certainly mindfulness is not a sport or used for self defence. Or is it? I started to wonder if there is a connection and some things in common. For example:

Recognising simplicity. Complex techniques aren’t much use for self defence because you lose your complex motor skills when facing fear.

Less is more. Bruce Lee didn’t fear the person who had practiced a thousand techniques once; but he did fear the person who had praised one technique a thousand times.

Remembering to breathe. You can’t do martial arts if you run out of puff.

Being aware. Awareness is important for personal safety and often avoids problems.

Doing things without thinking. Getting them into muscle memory.

Flow. When I do martial arts I am completely absorbed and in the moment.

What do you think?

Image by Britt-knee, nanny snowflake. She is siting in a local Buddist temple.

Positivity, practice & learning

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Liam Byrne, ex  UK Treasury Minister  left a note warning that there was no money left as Labour left office.

Widely ridiculed and at a low ebb, he is reported today to have been inspired by the Samuel Beckett quote:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

It’s a great reminder about positivity , proper practice  and learning from failure.

There are some limitations however. If you are going to fail, don’t fail at hang gliding. And at some point if you are in a hole, stop digging.

FLY MO: Mo Farah, role model, revisited

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UPDATE: I wrote this piece four years ago. Then Mo Farah had just won two Olympic gold medals. He has now done it again and achieved the “double double” and is now only the second man in history to retain both the 5k and 10k Olympic titles. He has won 7 consecutive global or Olympic distance finals. Now Mo Farah CBE, (next Sir Mo?)he is the UK’s greatest ever distance runner.

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I was pleased that Mo Farah won two Olympic gold medals, for the 5, 000 and the 10, 000 metres. The first British athlete to do so. There are two reasons for special celebration:


Mo is a team player. He really went for it whilst encouraging his training partner, Galen Rupp of the USA, to do well.

He has a great sense of humour and he is modest. He attributed his success to “hard work and graft”. Compare him to his friend Usain Bolt (“I am a living legend”).


Mo arrived from Somalia as a child with little English and is now part of the establishment.

He is an example of shared space (he wrapped himself in the British flag) and own space (he is a Moslem and prayed on the track after winning.)

Picture from Nordiques’ photostream. I like the caption. It  was: “It was taken on 2 June 2012, before the Olympics, with Mo Farah on the right. The original caption was ‘I was lined up right behind them.’ But I was of course, wearing a blazer, tie and orthopedic shoes.

Are we obsessed by appearances?

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Don't jump to conclusions for blog

UPDATE October 10 2016 Lady Judge, Chairman of the Institute of Directors is quoted as saying: Seventy percent of first perceptions in based on how you look, 20 percent is how you sound and only 10 per cent is based on what you say.

I first wrote this piece six months ago. I thought that we might start getting away from an over fascination with appearance and skinniness. And avoid jumping to conclusions about appearance.  But perhaps not.

We are obsessed by appearances. We judge a book by its cover.

Women and men resort to the 3Ps – plastic (fillers), poison (botox) and photo shopping to look “better”. It was different.

And use corsets and starvation diets.

“..in the evenings, it’s peopled with gentlemen of a certain age, accompanied by ladies of a surgically enhanced uncertain one.”

“Getting to the top is as much to do with how you look as what you achieve.”

When can we get back to “fit, not thin”?

Sources: Image by the Hiking Artist. Quote 1: Review of Rowley’s restaurant by Andrew Baker, Daily Telegraph, March 7 2015. Quote 2: Schumpter, The look of a leader, Economist 29092014