On axiology in project management with Traci Duez Luke Szyrmer
My name is Lukasz Szyrmer. If you are new here, I am the author of the book Align Remotely. I help teams thrive and achieve more together when working remotely. Find out more at alignremotely.com. In this episode of the Managing Remote Teams podcast, I speak with Traci Duez an expert in axiology, or the study of value, in the context of project management. It’s all too common to focus on the mechanics of delivering projects, while missing the whole point of the work in the first place.
In this episode, you will discover:
Traci has been teaching project managers, program managers, and portfolio managers for the past 10 years for the Project Management Institute. how to implement the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) with the human souls that work on your projects and in your organization. Traci uses the little-known science of axiology – the study of value and human value judgment to show leaders how to use all three dimensions of value to create an engaged and productive team.
People matter more than than the mechanics of projects, particularly how they perceive and generate value.
Tracy Duez welcome to the managing remote teams podcast.
Thank you. Pleasure to be here.
Sure. So can you say a few words about how you got into axiology in the context of project management?
Oh, yes. Great question. Axiology was presented to me when I was the director of an it consulting company. I had a lot of project managers that I employed and and it was more from a personal perspective.
At first, when I was introduced to axiology, I took this assessment and I had. Never taken an assessment like that before it took 10 minutes to take and rank two sets of 18 items, and then it spit out this report. Didn’t tell me about my personality or behavioral style. Cause I know how to manipulate that.
I know how to make sure those assessments say what I want it to say, but this one this one I couldn’t trick in any way. I didn’t know how my boss would want me to answer it so that I could show him that I was brilliant. And so I started to look into axiology to say, okay what was this?
Now? I would love to say it was because I wanted to know the science behind it. And I was really curious, but I’m going to be very Frank with you and that it was so that I could manipulate the assessment. The next time I took it. So I could tell my boss what I wanted to tell my boss. But anyways, I found this science and axiology is the science of value and human value judgements.
And I think that’s what project managers do is they create and generate value. And so that’s one side of it. And then the other side of it is it measures how you think and how you make value judgements. Which is the other side of project management from the project manager side in terms of how do I think and how do I make the best choices in the best decisions in order to create the greatest value.
So how did your boss actually reacts after he saw it?
Great question. He didn’t know what to do with it either. My boss didn’t react to my assessment in any way. He reacted to his, and it said that he was a creative genius or something. So he was like, yes, this is the best assessment ever. And that he should be running a strategically running the company. See, I told you guys.
It really measures your capacity to think in a specific dimension of value, it doesn’t measure whether you actually do it or not. So that’s part of it, but he assumed that, because the assessment measured that he’s obviously that way and that we just didn’t appreciate how strategic and how much of a big thinker he was.
Yeah, it wasn’t about me.
Okay. So if axiology is the study of value, then how does it, or you define value then?
That’s terrific question. My background is my degrees in chemistry, which, makes me a little bit of a nerd. I was really a lazy chemist. And so I got into kind of robotics and computers and became a geek, which is how I ended up leading an it consulting firm. And so axiology, while when people look at it, they think, oh, this is like psychological or psychobabble or something along those lines. It’s actually based in math, it’s based in trans finite calculus and set theory. So I told you I was a geek and a nerd. However, it’s also very practical.
It’s very practical. So when it comes to relating to project management and the science is really about three dimensions of value, where most of our lives, we just deal with. With two dimensions of value. And so that’s basically what it taught me and it taught it from a mathematical perspective.
People always say who determines the correct order of these things that you rank? Cause when you take the assessment, you ranked two sets of 18 items and People will say who determines the right? Nobody determines it, math determines it. And so it isn’t based on statistics, which most behavioral assessments are like, they’ll have you rank these things and then you, they go and they observe you.
And then they come back and statistically say, oh Because she did this, or he did that and these measurements match up then statistically that’s relevant. So this isn’t based in that at all. It’s just based in math. And it’s basically, we were asking you does your personal hierarchy of value, which is what we ask you to do rank a hierarchy of that between two sets of 18 items.
Does it match with the mathematical hierarchy of value and then where it does. Is where you have the strongest capacity to see value and to make great choices and where it doesn’t. You have what we call a cognitive bias, meaning your brain has filtered out some of the information that it needs to make a decision, a good decision from that perspective.
And so you might not want to use. That thought habit or that perspective to make your decisions. So anyways, it can be very powerful for a leader as well as for a team.
What is, what’s this mathematical hierarchy of value? Exactly.
Let me give you the kind of layman’s. Terms of this value rather than getting in to transplant that calculus and losing your audience, let’s just do it kind of high-level.
So there are three dimensions, hierarchical dimensions of value that everything on the planet falls within. I’ll start with the lowest. So the lowest dimension of value is what we call systemic. And so this deals with. Systems as in the name, but it deals with things we make up in our head. So ideas expectations as well as policies and procedures and rules, that those aren’t things that exist in nature.
We as human beings create them in our brain, right? So a project plan, perfect example is systemic where we’re trying to lay out a system of how things will work. So that’s the lowest dimension of value. Now it’s not worthless. It’s just worth less when you take that system and create something measurable or tangible from it.
So you have your project plan and you create a thing. Yeah, I was in it. You create a program, an application, whatever it happens to be, and now it’s measurable and tangible. And so anything that you can measure, you can sense in some way, see taste, smell, measure. Those are extrinsic. So that’s the next dimension of value extrinsic.
And when we work in project management, I’ve read the different versions of the PIM Bach from a project management Institute. The whole book is almost in those two dimensions of value. What are your best practices? And then what are the metrics? What can you use to measure them? Which by the way, that’s still a system, but when you actually do the measuring that work that’s extrinsic.
And so axiology tells us that those are the two lowest dimensions of value. Again, not that they’re worthless. There is value in all dimensions of value. The highest dimension of value is what’s called the intrinsic. And so I often ask project managers like what’s a successful project. So Luke, what’s a successful project.
How do we determine if a project is successful? So I come very much from a products, slanted angle, and I think it’s largely based on whether or not it was the customer was satisfied. And not necessarily the internal machinations of it. Obviously you don’t want it to be late and all of that, but that only matters to the extent that the customer cares about it.
I love what you just said, because if you talk to. Typical project managers, they’re going to say is it on time? Is it on budget? Is it within scope? That’s determines a successful project. Those things are systemic and extrinsic. And so I ask project managers when I speak in front of the chapters or different organizations as, Hey, have any of you ever had a project that was deemed successful?
That was over budget late. And maybe outside scope and they say, yeah, sure. Yeah, we have you ever had a project deemed unsuccessful that was within scope under budget and on time? Not so much, but yes, there have been people that do that too well. That’s because you’re only measuring in two dimensions of value.
And Luke, what you talked about was is the client happy? Intrinsic is about the personal or spiritual. It’s about the human experience of the extrinsic thing that we’ve created from the system. So every project plan creates a product, something, and it, that isn’t the greatest value that you can get from it.
It’s what does that product do in the lives of the people who are paying for it or the people who are using it? And that intrinsic value is infinitely more valuable than the product itself or the plan that’s used to create the product. Does that make sense? Yeah. I It makes sense to you cause you, you had basically said that early on, but we can show that mathematically.
So the system is a one or a zero. And the extrinsic is a number you can place a value on a pen that I have or an iPhone or whatever. There’s a certain value, a thousand bucks or whatever it is, but that tool, that product is invaluable depending on how you’re going to use it. So taking the iPhone, especially now in the pandemic, that’s the only way we get to see people’s faces sometimes.
And. When my mother-in-law passed away last April, that’s the only way we could say goodbye was through an knife, not, I was one of those frugal people that said, God, who would pay a thousand dollars for an iPhone. Then when it came time to use it in that way and experience that thing, that extrinsic thing in that way, it was priceless.
I’d have paid whatever I needed to pay in order to say goodbye. And that’s how axiology fits into to project management. Although we’ve been trained so often to just focus on the low or two dimensions of value, the extrinsic and the systemic, even our schooling teaches us that right.
Is it just a matter of perspective on that this the customer perspective on to all of it? Or is it more than that?
Yeah, that’s a great question because. It’s a little bit more than that. The whole basis of axiology, if you trace it back to, and I’ll talk about formal axiology, which came about in the fifties and sixties a guy by the name of Robert S. Hartman put this together. And he was it was actually German raised in Germany fled the Nazi regime and. He was a genius. He had a PhD in math, PhD in philosophy. He had a JD law degree just an amazing man. And when he fled Germany, Nazi, Germany, he made it his life’s mission to organize good the way he saw Hitler organized evil, and that.
Mantra went with him throughout the remainder of his life. And he passed away in 1973 after he was nominated for a Nobel peace prize. So here’s a guy who had to figure out one thing. If he was going to organize it, he had to know what is good. And so how, and this goes to what you were saying in terms of subjective, right?
So how do you know what a good product is? How do you, what’s a good project. Let’s just say you’re running a project, Luke. What’s a good project.
Something that’s serving some kind of needs of a particular person or a group and yeah, and fully serving it, not just attempting to, but actually doing so. That would be my definition.
Yes. And that’s not too far off by the way, from what Hartman discovered, because people, if I were to say, okay, what’s your definition of good. How would you define good.
Good. Okay. Nothing is good when.
Clearly when it’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. This is where people go, look, thank you. Because this is where I went to. It was like it’s not bad. It’s not evil. So we’re describing it by telling you what, it’s not right. We’re giving you a definition. And then some people will say, oh it’s it’s beneficial.
It’s productive. That’s what. That’s what good means, right? It’s it doesn’t cause any harm. Okay. If that is the true definition of good, how can we have a good criminal? Wow.
Because you can say, oh, that guy’s a good criminal, but what are you really meaning? You’re not meaning he’s beneficial. Robin hood is in that category now. Yeah. A good criminal is a guy that gets away with whatever crime he’s committing or she’s committing. That’s what we would consider.
Yeah. Good, good. As an effective, but not necessarily good as in. Good. Not in terms of that, right? If it all depends on how we define the word. Good. So Hartman spent a decade trying to figure out because of this mess that we’d gotten ourselves into here, he’s trying to figure out a definition of it.
And he said that a thing is good. This is what he came up with when it has all the attributes needed to fulfill its purpose.
When it has all of the properties. Needed to fulfill its intention. So now the subject, if part is the intention or the purpose, and then we come up with the attributes to it. So for a good criminal, I’ll just go with the criminal, right? What’s the purpose. The first let’s say they’re they steal stuff, right?
The purpose is to steal stuff and get away with it. And maybe even resell it on the black market, whatever. Okay, great. That’s your purpose? What are the attributes that you need to be a good criminal? And in this case we could come up with some, would you agree? They need to be stealthy. I don’t know what fine black clothing.
I don’t know what it is, but you can just put a little cartoon together. Okay. So thinking of your current project, what’s the purpose? And this is where most project managers, I just want to say fall short, but I don’t mean that it’s intentional or that it’s just that we end up focusing on attributes and properties before we fully focus and hash out the intention or the purpose of the project.
Part of that, I think is just that it’s actually quite hard. you need to do discovery and that costs time, that costs effort, it takes a while before you really get at the essence of the problem that you can solve often. And if you make a plan before you’ve gotten there, then you know, the value of that plan is limited.
Absolutely. And that’s where we see people cutting back as well. We see people cutting back on the discovery and the requirements and coming together to decide, Hey, these are some of the requirements that we have. Are we going for all of them? Or which ones are we really going to focus on? And what’s the clarity around the purpose and the intention of this project. That’s what we need to spend a lot of our time.
There and okay. What are the attributes that we need in order to complete this so that it satisfies all dimensions of value. So that delivers systemically it’s effective, it’s efficient in getting it out. It creates a product or service that is measurable, tangible, according to the parameters that we decide. And then it impacts the lives of the people. Who we want to impact who are going to be impacted by this and focusing on all three dimensions of value here at the very beginning, because the rest of the project will fall out.
And if your team knows very clearly what the purpose and intention of this project is and what the intentions are of it are not, which is where scope creep comes in, right? They start this with make up their own things. What it’s not intended to do now. Those self leading teams that we want. We start to have them because we all go always go back to this purpose or intention and we know what a good one is.
So how do you going back to this discovery? How do you make sure you don’t burn too much of the resources you have on discovery?
Another great question, right? How do you make certain that? One of the key reasons why we either a burn too much or B end up creating a product or service that doesn’t serve our clients full, fully their needs fully is because we don’t Keith Ferazi calls team out.
We decide who is going to be impacted by this work. And those are the people we talk to. That’s it. And so this is going to be I used to work in pharmaceutical. So this project is going to impact the quality assurance laboratory. And so we’ll talk to the quality assurance laboratory and we’ll talk to.
The people over the quality and we’ll talk to the VP of quality and then that’ll be it. But we don’t talk to finance. We don’t talk to research and development. We don’t talk to any of those folks. And so we end up with a perspective that’s very narrow. Now. I’m not saying that we take the attributes from finance, from R and D from the other marketing.
We don’t necessarily take those as part of our equation, but we take time to go talk to them and say, Hey, this is what we’re doing. Does this, can you see this impact you in any way? And you may get some really amazing ideas that could actually save the quality assurance department. A lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of money.
Yeah, we don’t team out that way typically, because we think it’s going to add more scope to the project. When in fact it doesn’t have to, it may actually take away scope from the project because you may find out that they have a system that you were going to recreate that you don’t need to recreate. No.
I don’t know. So for me, that part of it, how do you know when it’s too much? It, I think we always assume that we’ve done enough and we haven’t and you don’t, it doesn’t need to be a big burn rate to do that. Just include them at the very beginning.
I’m just trying to figure out how to fit it into more of a project framework, as opposed to product as in product there’s concepts like continuous discovery. In certain contexts, it’s going to be much more natural to work towards more of a project. You don’t want to burn a lot of just the lapse time, not even resources, but elapsed time on discovery when you’ve got to go and create value or the sum of it, even if, because then you won’t have enough attributes to actually. Create the thing at the end, that’s going to make the customer happy in the first place.
Part of that loop is also, we tend to focus a lot on it, more so than the team, more so than the individuals and people on the team. Do we typically figure out who on our team can see intrinsic value really well. Can see extrinsic value really well or systemic. I will tell you the answer is typically no, in the tens of thousands of people that I’ve worked with because it’s usually the systemic person who is the loudest. And that’s usually the one that we listened to. It’s the one who understands the systems and the processes and this, and they dig into these details and blind everybody too. The other dimensions of value. And we ended up focusing there on the lowest dimension of value and then the loudest, because they’re usually the most emotional direct demanding, because systemic thought occurs near the part of the brain that is right next to the emotional part of the brain, the rational logic peer in your prefrontal cortex, doesn’t create a whole lot of emotion, but that’s where the extrinsic part.
Of our project is thought of. And then the intrinsic is in the deeper part of the brain where the feelings and emotions are around. What’s this going to feel like when it’s done, what’s this gonna look like? And so certain people on your team have abilities and capacities in each of those dimensions of value.
And. We don’t always listen to them, especially the intrinsic people. Cause it’s hard for them to come up with the words while the systemic guy is going through all of this stuff. Or even the extrinsic is going through all this knowledge and stuff that they have. And and we’re not listening to the other side of it.
Because there’s no place for emotions in business. Is there.
To change topic a little bit and slightly? What about dependencies? So things like resource dependencies or dependencies within a plan in terms of like task breakdown, that kind of thing. How do you see that through this extrinsic view this third view, third eye view,
the third I view the intrinsic. As you’re putting that plan together,
how is that typically accomplished?
Okay. So for example, on the resources side, I think quite often you’ve got a fixed pool of resources in the company you’ve got, would say a handful of projects going on at the same time. And then there’s a certain people whose skills you want on certain projects at certain moments in time.
The thing that I’ve always been trying to avoid in that kind of a context is that we don’t want a situation where the client is forced to accept things that are only possible because of internal constraints, for example, such as resource constraints. That’s just like the resource one, then there’s similar, like ordering task type dependencies, you can also potentially talk about, what are your thoughts?
so I find that, and I don’t know if this is the case for you, Luke, but I find that in many organizations. The project managers are given the project and they put together the plan, and then they’re given access to these resources and then they’ve got to figure out how to use those resources to deliver what they’ve been asked to deliver. And it’s a very non-collaborative problem-solving process to get these things done.
And. I believe in a more collaborative problem solving process where we get together. And we talk about what’s going on and we talk about what this means to the company, what this means to our clients, what this means to the team, because there are some team members who they’re in this bucket of having these certain skills and they’re just tired of it.
Like they’re really good at it. I was really good at managing projects and I hated it, but they just kept having me manage and manage more projects because I was good at it until finally I had to quit in order to do something I really wanted to do. And that’s the intrinsic side of it. You can get so much more from people when it’s measured between 40 and 80% more cooperation productivity, and buy-in from people when you see them as human beings, but most of the time in a corporation and in these kinds of environments, we see them as human doings and we are actually lowering their productivity, lowering our delivery,
our effectiveness, are efficiencies because we don’t see them as human beings. And so how can we collaborate more? What collaboration is all around questions. And so we teach a collaborative problem solving process where we bring people together. And not only that, but we understand what a person’s skills are, but also what are their desires?
Who is it that they want to be? Not just, what do they want to do? And why don’t you sometimes when I ask people, who do you want to be? They’ll say yo, no, that’s not. That’s still what you want to do. Who do you want to be? Is a completely different one question. It’s what kind of man, woman, individual do you want to become like at your funeral?
What do you want people to say about you? Do you want them to say, oh my gosh, that Luke, his Gantt charts were priceless. The colors. He had really great risk management plans. Oh my gosh, that Luke was just, this might not be like the top of the list thing you want people to say about you. So what is one thing you want somebody to say about you at your funeral?
And just for instance, I don’t mean to kill you off.
I’m dead. I’m dead. Okay. They’ll say that. Yes. Yeah. How do you want to be described? What kind of words do you want to hear? From your family, from your colleagues, how do you want them to describe who you are?
I think I’ve already heard some of it, but certainly kind is something that seems to come up and it’s something that I try to focus on with varying success, but yeah. Yeah. In that let’s use that as a that’s fine. Absolutely. And so the, every role that you play in your life, you want, you only want to take on roles where you can practice being kind, which is probably almost all of them, but you want to have all of your roles, your extrinsic roles, support, who you want to be intrinsically.
And when we have that matched up, there’s a formula. It says be times do equals have when, who you are aligns with, what you do, you’re going to have great success. You’re going to end your Workday feeling fulfilled. In organizations, when you allow that when you create an environment that allows that to happen. That’s when your question about dependencies, not that there aren’t arguments, Luke don’t get me wrong, but that’s when they take care of themselves because you know what a good organization is. You understand what the purpose of your company is. Then you understand what the purpose of your projects are. So you can understand what good attributes are to those. And then you use the intelligence, the emotional intelligence, as well as the technical intelligence in your organization. To keep everybody moving in that direction.
The other aspect of it is you understand what people want, who they want to be and what they want to do, and you get them all moving in that direction. So dependencies has to do with this collaborative problem solving where you pull everybody together. You talk about the problem. The problem is we have limited number of resources and we have these three high priority projects. Okay. So how can we accomplish our goals for our customers with this constraint?
And you break everybody out, three people into a group, and here’s the question. What’s your solution. What’s your solution. You will end up collectively with a much better solution than any one, two or three project managers could have ever come up with on their own. And people say, oh my gosh, we don’t have time to do that with every question.
Okay, then keep delivering lower level projects, but it doesn’t take that much time. It can take 15 minutes, 30 minutes and you will come out of there not only with a great solution, but with buy-in from the rest of the people, they will feel intrinsically valued. Like you valued them as human beings, not just human doings.
And those are the processes that a lot of companies are missing. And so when I go into a company, these are some of the things we implement and right away, they start to see value from those processes. It’s not just about the technical side in many cases.
How does this apply in an agile environment?
I give talks on agile all the time and how the agile manifesto fits right into The hierarchy of value.
I forget the agile manifesto. Now it’s been a few months since I talked about it. They say, Hey, we value the things on the left, but we do things on the right more. It’s true. Actually, illogically the things on the right are more valuable. Then the things on the left. So it fits very well into that framework and in agile and a lot of when we get into like self leading teams and things like that being able to take a look at. And teach people the hierarchy of value and how to use their best thinking to make choices rather than using their biases to make choices.
But just raising that level of awareness increases the results and productivity seven to 10%, just one simple that level of awareness. I love working with folks who work in an agile environment. Because. It is about short sprints to value, basically.
More and more. I hear the opinion that, especially these big scaled agile frameworks, they’re becoming almost more waterfall than waterfall yeah, precisely because they don’t have that manifesto aspect to it. It’s just super, detailed monitoring and planning out months ahead of lots of teams. This isn’t what it’s about supposed to work. If you really get at the essence of the spirit of it. Even though you’re using the rational the first layer stuff, the system stuff.
For me, my perspective on seeing that happen, exactly what you described is because it’s more from an emotional standpoint, people are afraid. And so they believe that if they get all of these months and months planned out in advance, we have something to which to hold people accountable and that makes them feel good that they have somebody to yell at when the value isn’t delivered.
I believe I’m going to yell at people. Yeah. And excuse me. Fear has a lot to do with what you’re talking about because agile isn’t meant to be that way. You have to trust in order for agile to work. Yeah, absolutely.
How was this approach relevant for team leads or leaders?
For leaders themselves, this is all about self-leadership. And I think a lot of times we want to go learn leadership skills when we can’t even lead ourselves. How many times have you said, oh, you know what, I’m going to start. I’m going to start my exercise program on Monday. Because you can only start things on Monday. For some reason. I don’t know why you can’t start on a Thursday or whatever, January 1st.
Yeah exactly. And so we can’t even lead ourselves to do the things that we say we’re going to do, but we’re going to learn leadership skills in order to lead others. And I think that putting the cart before the horse, as they say sometimes gets in our way and it erodes our confidence.
And so we think, oh crap, I can’t even eat a salad instead of those big burgers or whatever. Even though I told myself I was going to, how am I going to lead this team? When you become a better self leader, leadership naturally flows from that. And that’s what this can help with figuring out what’s going on up here in a way that allows you to be a better, you.
Which allows you to do better things and then have greater success.
During the last year, has there been any difference in terms of how it applies to remote teams compared to how it used to be?
What we’re discovering? As a use of this over the last year is really helping. And this may not be directly associated with specifics of project management, but it’s just of people in and employees.
And we’ve really looked at it from a mental wellness perspective because we’ve noticed that teams that previously were thriving are now. What they call languishing. So it’s not that they’re depressed or terrible. But they’re not thriving either. They’re not flourishing, they’re in this language.
And so what this, what we’ve found is that this, our tool helps people understand what’s going on up here and how to shift their perspective so that they can see. See ways to thrive in ways to F to flourish and really increase their own emotional intelligence of what’s going on. So emotional intelligence, I believe in a model where thoughts create emotions.
And emotions, give us the energy to take action. And the action leads to our results. I call it a tear model T. And so a lot of us see our actions and we see the results. We see the top of this model, but the emotions and the thoughts, we don’t really have any insight into. And so this assessment gives us optics into our thinking.
That’s creating these emotions. And once you can see that you really are able to. Look at it and make your own choices and decisions and get out of the languishing and shift into the flourishing again. That’s fascinating. Yeah.
When you get started within you company that you’re working with or somebody wants to just even get a sense of, is this the right approach? What do you do or what should they do?
One of the things that as I talked to, I don’t know how many, it’s over 70, 80 PMI chapters around the world.
One of the things that I do is I offer a free assessment so that you, that assessment, that Dr. Hartman put together that measures how individual people think and where they think the best, but also where you might have some cognitive biases. I offer a free assessment and a, like a really short. It’s four, 15 minute videos course that shows you how to use the report. This report, isn’t about putting you in a bucket it’s about helping you understand how you think and how to use your cognitive assets better.
by the way, in this assessment, unlike personalities and all that, you don’t need to share your results with other people because this isn’t about.
Your boss treating you in a certain way, because you’re a green or you’re a yellow or you’re, whatever. This is about you taking accountability and responsibility and ownership of your, of yourself, of your thoughts of your talents and bringing them to the world. So what we do is we assess your team and we compile the results.
And I can get a link for your listeners to just go try it out, take that phrase and you’ll learn more through that process. We can probably put it in the, we just put it in the show notes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. It’s pretty simple. It’s my VQs VQ. M Y V Q S because as we measure value judgment, quotients.com and then we’ll put slash.
Great. Where can people reach out to you to find out more other than your survey?
Then my survey LinkedIn is usually the best place to to reach out to me, just I don’t know that there’s too many other Tracey do as it’s Tracy with an eye out there, but delete, reach out to me on LinkedIn. And and then we can continue the conversation and you can ask any questions there as well.
I’m there almost, so that’s the best way.
Great. Thanks a lot.