Put On Your Thinking Hat

Unproductive meetings are the bane of project manager’s lives. Bad meetings waste a great deal of project management time and company money. But it is not having athinking hat meeting that is the problem, rather the way the meeting is co-ordinated.

Despite the rise in technology, meetings are still an essential project management tool and without them special projects or new initiatives quickly become impossible to manage. Project meetings are fundamental to share information, plan and develop ideas, and build collaboration.

Project meetings typically involve people from different departments - and this is where the root cause of the ineffective meetings problem arises. As a project progresses and new initiatives are developed, the initial project requirements will certainly change. New constraints may emerge and peoples’ roles change as a result of these. Unless the changes are carefully managed, then the common ground that was established at the start of the project breaks down. The result is that the project meetings degenerate into confusion, tension, and arguments - which in turn results in delays and ultimately derailment of the project plan.

The challenge facing project managers is to maintain a sufficient level of “who knows who knows what” within the team. This is hard enough in a normal team environment, but in project teams it is exacerbated by the fact that people are required to collaborate on activities involving significant uncertainty and tight time constraints as well as the fact that individual’s capabilities may not be fully known and culture norms not necessarily shared.

What is needed is a tool that will help project team members assess the state of the common ground between them and fix any issues that might be detected. The aim is to improve clarity among team members so improving productivity during and between project meetings.

One such tool is the Six Thinking Hats model by Edward de Bono. De Bono developed the model because he believed that the key to successful meetings was the deliberate focusing of the discussion on a particular approach as needed during the meeting. Thus, each of the six hats describes an approach to thinking that helps to co-ordinate group discussions and provides a means for the project group to think together more effectively.

The six hats are:

The blue hat. This is the process management hat and ensures the group understands and agrees the goal and the subjects to be discussed.

The white hat. This is the where factual, pure information is looked at by the group

The red hat. This signifies emotions. When doing red hat thinking the project team discusses intuitive or instinctive gut reactions and do not have to justify these. Red hat thinking allows issues to be aired openly so they can be addressed.

The black hat. This is for discernment and logic. Black hat thinking helps the group understand and identify reasons to be cautious and conservative

The yellow hat. This is for optimistic but logical thought. It helps the team identifying benefits and seek common ground.

The green hat. This is for creative thinking. It is the hat used when “brainstorming” is being encouraged – with idea generation is favoured over practicality or evaluation.

Because everyone in the project meeting is focused on a particular approach at any one time, collaboration and shared understanding is encouraged. The problems that arise when person A is reacting emotionally (red hat thinking) whilst person B is trying to be objective (white hat thinking) and person C is being critical of the points which emerge from the discussion between person A and B (black hat thinking) are reduced.