An Intelligent Disobedience Qualification Guide – Part 1 “Disobedience”

November 3rd, 2016

The Mindavation team are often asked if a specific action qualifies as an act of Intelligent Disobedience (ID). The question is a good one, as what can constitute an act of ID in one environment, may be commonplace in another. Challenging a manager is a good example; in some environments this is expected and encouraged, while in others it definitely would be considered “disobedient.”
So, to help those of you who have asked us if something is an act of intelligent disobedience, or are wondering if an action you are considering might be an act of Intelligent Disobedience, here is a guide, starting with the concept of “disobedience.”
First and foremost, if what you are considering is a commonplace activity or behavior in your business, it’s probably not an act of disobedience, and you likely could take action without hesitation. However, you may want to note the topics or areas where the activity is commonplace, and areas where your proposed activity is not typically performed. If you venture into these untested areas, I would suggest doing some analysis homework, as your action could be considered “disobedience” and you will want to be sure it is received positively.
Second, if your proposed action challenges or circumvents the common “chain of command” in your organization, what you are considering is very likely an act of disobedience. Management responsibilities that are challenged outside of “the process” are often taken personally, or as a public criticism, so I would suggest you proceed with caution. The typical recommendation in this case is to take your concern to the manager(s) in the traditional chain of command first, and only circumvent if a positive result is not achieved, or the moral or legal nature of the concern makes addressing the traditional management chain inappropriate.
The third type of action which can be perceived as disobedient is to “go against the flow”, that is, to oppose a standard process during a meeting, or propose a counter argument to a widely held belief. This can raise concerns for a number of people, particularly those that are very process minded, or are uncomfortable with change. Many people can become opponents with this form of disobedience, so it is advisable to gather facts and potentially poll others before voicing your dissenting view.
The last common type of disobedience is the most direct – when you decide to not follow your manager’s direction or you purposefully and intentionally divert from the steps of a mandated business process. This type of disobedience can be the most controversial, but also the most effective when the desired business result is achieved.
With these and any other form of potential disobedience, it is imperative that you do your homework. Understand your environment, your objectives, and your manager’s objectives. These preparatory actions are a significant part of making your action “intelligently” disobedient. We will examine what characteristics help your “disobedience” be perceived as “intelligent” in our next blog entry.

A New Addition to Intelligent Disobedience

June 8th, 2016

For several years I have been discussing the concept of Intelligent Disobedience in the context of achieving business outcomes and managing projects. That is far from the only context in which Intelligent Disobedience is relevant however.

Ira Chaleff, the author of one of our favourite books – The Courageous Follower – has written a book that discusses Intelligent Disobedience from a different perspective. Have you ever wondered why the concept of executing intelligent disobedience is so difficult? Mr. Chaleff provides us with answers to this question.

In Intelligent Disobedience – Doing Right When What You’re Told To Do is Wrong, we learn how we educate ourselves and our children, and how we are taught to obey – too well. Although being taught to obey is important, it is misguided when there is no provision for understanding and evaluating when obeying is not the right thing.

Through the use of crisp stories and citing relevant research, Mr. Chaleff educates us on the influences that have formulated our thinking, which can help us overcome our hesitance when considering acts of intelligent disobedience. More importantly, that same understanding can help project managers and other leaders guide those that work for them, and provide guidance for them to engage in acts of intelligent disobedience. It is the understanding of how one hesitates to engage in ID, that can be applied to help others break through the psychological log-jam.

So, a new chapter in the “thought journey” to explore Intelligent Disobedience is available to you and we look forward to working together and “spreading the message”. I highly recommend you pick up, read and carefully consider Intelligent Disobedience – Doing Right When What You’re Told To Do is Wrong by Ira Chaleff – Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1st Edition (July 7, 2015)

An Intelligent Disobedience Failure Story

February 25th, 2015

The use of Intelligent Disobedience is not guaranteed. Successful intelligent disobedience requires doing your homework and understanding the cultures and regulations of the business in which you are working. It also often means you should not “go it alone.” Here is a story of an intelligent disobedience failure from which we all can learn…
A manager with “positive intent” for his business violated the standard approval process before spending money with a vendor to obtain some IT hardware. He did this because it was close to the end of year holidays, and key senior management personnel were absent. He had email confirmations from the leaders affirming his intention to buy the hardware, but all of the signatures on purchase agreements required by his company were not obtained. If he bought the hardware before the year end, the business would save a considerable amount of money. So, thinking the emails were sufficient to allow him to act, he executed a purchase agreement to obtain the hardware.
Once the senior leaders returned from their holidays, they learned of the purchase that was made in violation of process and counseled the offending manager. Although they recognized his positive intent, he got his wrist slapped and was told not to do this again.
About 6 months later, a critical business area urgently needed some technical support, so – again with positive intent – the manager reacted quickly and arranged for specialist technical support to attend to the matter. He figured it would be ok to get the purchase authorization signatures later. What he actually got “later” was removed from his job for a repeat violation of spending authorization procedures.
You might pass judgment on this, saying it was not a good move to dismiss the well intended manager. That is for each of us to decide on our own. The point to be learned here is this…it is not “intelligent” disobedience when you poke the bull in a sensitive spot, twice, without help! Here is what I mean by this statement:
• In the first instance, the manager was doing what he thought best, not expecting the management team to react by counseling him. He “poked the bull” in a sensitive spot and it threatened to charge, despite the fact he was trying to help.
• In the second instance, he also thought he was doing what was right for the business. However, he was “poking the bull” in the SAME sensitive spot” and expected a different result!
Now, I am too enthusiastic about using intelligent disobedience to simply say he should not have “poked the bull” the second time. My concern is that he DID IT ALONE. Before taking that action, he should have learned from his first experience and rallied to get some specific senior management support before violating the procurement process a second time. Instead, he went it alone; he poked the bull…and the bull charged…predictably.
It can be ok to take a “second run” at a sensitive area, the key to “intelligent” disobedience is to rally support if you can, or escalate the sensitivity of the business issue you are trying to tackle with the “powers that be.” Before taking an action that stretches or violates the rules.

Mindavation provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership. We can help you and your teams properly engage in constructive “intelligent disobedience”. For further information, email us at You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at <> or <> .

Want to be Innovative? Think baby steps!

January 8th, 2015

Innovation is becoming a hot topic at the moment, so naturally we want to apply an “intelligent disobedience” spin on this important aspect of business improvement. Our take – forget the big idea, think small!

For many, innovation conjures up the notion of “big ideas” that create drastic changes in the business environment. Although that is true, many “innovations” actually come about through small or notional ideas. Consider Facebook for instance – a huge innovative concept that has changed the way many people communicate. Yet it started with a very “small” idea – putting up pictures of Harvard University students for comparison purposes, and later, as a means of creating a community and to simplify contacting students at the University. All in all, a rather limited idea, don’t you think?

So, if you want to be innovative, look at small improvements to products, easily containable projects that can quickly provide value, or seek to solve that annoying problem that “everyone” talks about in your business, but nobody seems to get around to addressing. These small improvement possibilities provide a readily available source for innovation that is within the grasp of many people in the typical business. Let the “baby step”, the smaller idea, grow into bigger ideas through the “force of common sense” and by making a small aspect of your business or your customer’s business, easier to navigate.

As these ideas grow, true disruptive innovation can come about if they are managed appropriately. The scope of the simple idea needs to remain simple however, even when applied to larger business areas. The excitement the idea might generate could catch the attention of senior management. This is great news, but can be a dual edged sword. This management excitement needs to be nurtured with care. Failing to manage this executive enthusiasm can create a risk where the simple idea can morph into something complicated, losing its appeal.

This nurturing of ideas in a bigger context, called Innovation Management, is a discipline that can be implemented via repeatable processes. There is also a certification path available for Innovation Management. If you want more details, check out this link:

Mindavation delivers workshops on innovation management and product lifecycle management that can help you take ideas from “baby steps” to business changing products.We can also help you integrate these innovation management techniques into portfolio and program management disciplines. For further information, email us at You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at <> or <> 

The Mythical Triple Constraints

November 10th, 2014

The triple constraints familiar to project managers – time, cost and scope – form the basis of much of the literature that discusses project management. Also called the iron triangle which includes quality in the middle of an equilateral triangle, this forms the heart of what a project leader is expected to manage when delivering a project.

The problem is, in practice, most organisations do not behave this way. Delays in decision making, changing priorities and chronic lack of attention can change the dynamic of how the triple constraints are juggled.

The fact is, most organisations have their own profiles for how the iron triangle is managed. There is typically a priority to the triple constraints and the project manager is wise to interview stakeholders to understand their management preferences.

There are some very straightforward triple constraint priorities. For example, quality is paramount if you are building a new medical device; if you are delivering a product in a regulatory environment that has an explicit deadline, time is most important. In most environments however, the triple constraint priority is not so clear cut. Management behaviour and organisational pressures will change the dynamic of your project and the priority of the triple constraints.

So, we need to remember our training in project management – but not hold on to it too tightly! The intelligently disobedient project leader will understand it is not like we read in PMBoK or the textbooks. There is a priority to the triple constraints – the sides of one or more of the triangle are pliable. Bend the wrong one however and you can get yourself in trouble quickly. By the same token, try to rigidly push all of the triple constraints too strongly as inflexible, and you can find yourself in the same doghouse!

Understand the REAL priority of the triple constraints…and you will be more successful, and less stressed, and that is something we all could use – less stress!

Here is the approach I take to understand the priority of the triple constraints:

Ask your sponsor which of the three sides of the triple constraint triangle is:

  1. the driver for the project; then confirm –
  2. the second one that needs to be optimised; and finally validate –
  3. the third side of the triangle that will change when the others are manipulated. The changes here will need to be accepted OR if it changes too drastically, should cause a re-evaluation of the integrity of the project

Doing this at the start and regularly throughout the project and validating this information with the key stakeholders, will avert the dreaded wrath of the sponsor not getting what they had hoped for from your project.

Mindavation delivers workshops on managing your sponsor and stakeholder management approaches, both of which are crucial in the prioritising of the triple constraints. We can also help you manage other aspects of project management and business analysis. For further information, email us at You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at <> or <>

The ways to cancel a project

August 31st, 2014

There may be “fifty ways to leave your lover”, but many organizations can’t find even one way to cancel or suspend a project. Despite often being ‘the right thing to do’, cancelling a project – or even suggesting that a project should be cancelled – is typically an act of intelligent disobedience. Having a sound, substantial rationale for recommending the cancellation of a project can help.

Here are some commonly accepted reasons for cancelling or suspending a project:

  • Key Stakeholders are not “bought in”. Not only is this a very good reason for project cancellation, but they can also provide you with assistance and support when recommending the cancellation. By the way, this does not necessarily mean the project is not a good idea; it just means important people that are critical for the project’s success aren’t behind it. Time to cancel or suspend the project and regroup.


  • Current business priorities do not support moving the project forward. Business is fluid, and project portfolios need to be fluid as well. If sponsorship, business expertise or technical team members aren’t available to move the project forward it is time to confirm the priorities driving their workload. If their other activities are legitimately of higher importance, it is time to cancel or suspend the project. A project in this situation is a burden and a distraction, versus a vehicle for driving business value and it should be taken off the table.


  • Reacting to a sudden, new business pressure is the “agile” thing to do. I don’t mean running an agile project here; I mean being able and willing to change directions quickly in response to differing business needs. Having the patience to change gears on one item (suspending a project), and “embracing the urgency” to launch a different project or initiative can demonstrate a dedication to your business’ success that many people are unwilling, or find it difficult, to support.


  • Key stakeholder’s expectations are not aligned. This situation is often a silent project killer. Debates that need to be held don’t occur and, after wasting too much time and money, a project dies a fiery death as progress is halted when senior leaders expect the project team to do different things, or place emphasis on different activities. (See our “What we need is a good ole’ knock down debate” blog entry) Projects in this state should be suspended until alignment is reached, or killed if that alignment cannot be achieved and signed off.


  • The project just isn’t heading in the right direction. Our colleague Peter Harrison is fond of saying,” it is not the dollars you HAVE spent, it is the value you will get from the NEXT dollar you will spend that should drive your decisions.” If the project is not moving forward on a path towards delivering business value, you need to correct its course or cancel the project. This is the most difficult of cancellation reasons, as it is frequently perceived as a defeat, and could jeopardise jobs. However it is the high integrity thing to do…PMI members-check your ethics commitment here! If the project is not helping the business, and you continue to pursue the project, you may not be acting in a “high integrity” fashion.


Mindavation delivers workshops on sponsorship and conducting difficult conversations, both of which are crucial in the cancelling of a project.We can also help you recovery a troubled project so possibly, you won’t have to cancel it. For further information, email us at You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at <> or <>

What we need is a good ole’ knock down debate

July 1st, 2014

As one of our clients was lamenting recently, a statement he made struck me. He said ”the launch of this project was proceeding so well, and then this debate suddenly surfaced!”

When I heard this, I was actually relieved. One of the more significant issues with projects is that people think they will be easier than they actually will be. Many people don’t understand that a significant change will occur as a result of the project, particularly when it is early in the project lifecycle. As the project moves forward, often the protests and angst surface later when you are on an agreed schedule, have contractors punching time against your project budget, and can’t easily afford delays.

So, I was indeed relieved to hear the debates had started early. Project launch is the perfect time to surface and address the stressors that project change brings to an organization.

Here are a few tips to trigger early, productive debates around your projects:

• Layout the “final result.” Statements that can be helpful are “so when we are done with the project your department will do x, y and z differently. How do you intend on transitioning Carla, Sal and Paul from their current roles to new ones?” These questions can help you show the substance of the change sooner versus later.

• Find potentially conflicting stakeholder objectives and propose specific targets against those objectives. If your stakeholder in marketing wants to spend 20% more with a target of increasing their customer base by 40%, that may sound like a good deal. However, if your comptroller has an objective to cut any increases in spending across the board, the 20% increase from marketing won’t sit well. These situations need to be tabled early; and the debate fully conducted!

• Take the end customers view. Ask, “will these changes be transparent, or what needs to be done to ensure they are transparent to your customers?” If the changes AREN’T intended to be transparent, ask “how are you going to educate and transition your customers to the new processes and approaches?”

• Where is the budget coming from, is it funded, and when is it available? One of the best ways to have a sponsor or stakeholder say “no” – versus you having to veto something – is to ask about the available funding. Nothing is totally free, so budget impacts need to be understood and discussed earlier versus later.

Seeking conflict as a means of resolving potential disagreements before they become bigger project issues is a great way to ensure your stakeholders understand the road ahead of them. It can also reduce your overall project risk, and keep you from being in the middle of a management battle over what YOU are doing.

Mindavation provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership and managing conflict appropriately. We can help you and your teams design and set up your projects to achieve better outcomes. For further information, email us at You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at <> or <> .

Guaranteeing our Work as Project Professionals

June 9th, 2014

A daunting concept has been rattling in my mind recently…and it has been rattling loud enough for me to restart this Intelligent Disobedience blog. I look forward to sharing and hearing your thoughts on these entries that I intend to post on a regular basis!

We fully expect a guarantee for the work we receive from a plumber, electrician, or our automobile mechanic. However, guaranteeing our work as project professionals is not something we hear about – nor even contemplate – very often.

On the one hand, my brain is screaming out – but the circumstances are different! We have minimal control of the environment in which we work to deliver projects. In contrast, a plumber has very few variables out of his control, and can quickly and easily test his results and adjust things as required.

But, my mind keeps ticking over…on the other hand, what if we DID have control of the project environment variables or we could pose a set of conditions that – if they were established and remained in place – would inspire us as project professionals to guarantee successful project delivery? What would those conditions look like?

Well, here is my first pass at what the conditions would have to be to consider this “unconsiderable” risk:

  •  A sponsor with a stake in the game, the authority to bring and keep resources on the project, the funding to sustain the project appropriately and the time to provide regular support and guidance;
  •  A project schedule in line with the priority of other projects in the portfolio and the BAU support needs of the organization;
  • An “all cards on the table” truth environment where project issues and risks could be discussed openly without hidden agendas clouding the situation;
  • Documented and agreed upon project outcome priorities and success criteria, clearly summarized in 100 words or less (rather than embedded throughout an 85 page project charter). These would have to be signed off by all major stakeholders including senior managers, customers and representative end users of the project outcomes;
  • Skills in the project team, with experience in the business or technology area required to produce the project’s product(s);
  • Enthusiastic “change champions”, at a 15:1 ratio to those affected by the changes brought about by the project;
  • The ability to produce project products every 90 days to ensure the project requirements and results do not become “stale or outdated” over time;
  •  Adequate time and funding allowed for project management – 15-18% of the overall task time projected to produce the project’s products and lastly;
  • The ability to reassess all of the above conditions every 45-60 days to ensure the “guarantee” would remain in place.

Maybe I am painting a picture of “project management heaven” here…but I can say this: whenever I am asked to deliver a project, I usually work on establishing these criteria before I reach for the computer and open up my project scheduling tool, or start working on any other project artifacts. And when I can get a reasonable picture of these criteria– the project results are consistently good.

And if your project doesn’t meet all of the above criteria, you can have a meaningful conversation with your sponsor about the risks your project will bear – and you just might get a few more things to get your project closer to a “work guarantee” situation.

So what conditions have I missed that prevent us from issuing a “work guarantee”? I look forward to your thoughts!


Mindavation provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership. We can help you and your teams establish and drive projects in a more ideal set of conditions. For further information, email us at  You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at <> or <> .

Are you serious about collaboration?

March 7th, 2013

Milestones are a key part of a project manager’s arsenal, helping affirm schedule control and facilitating easier reporting to senior leaders. Typically, project managers focus on deliverable production when building milestones, which is reasonable. However, the focus on deliverable based milestones can reduce the focus on other important aspects of the project. With collaboration being a significant focus in projects – especially in a world trying to be “agile”, collaboration items not only need to be included in the milestone reporting by project managers, but they need to be KEY milestones requiring special attention, especially in the early and later stages of the project.

Why this prominence? As businesses seek to move faster and produce project results more quickly, ensuring that project teams and the clients they serve have common views becomes more important, but also more difficult. All stakeholders should be focused on creating a product that is easily and readily usable when produced by the project team. Effective and timely collaboration is critical for this to occur. Delays in achieving effective collaboration should be clearly indicated as potential delays in producing complete products, or in partial production of expected outcomes. To highlight deliverables with milestones, and not highlight collaboration tasks equally can serve to reduce the emphasis on the need for successful collaboration. In turn this may place undue and potentially risky focus on simply delivering things on time, versus delivering the RIGHT THINGS that will be usable by your clients.

Are you using the right set of milestones on your projects? Is your organisation focusing on the wrong things because of the milestones you publish and track?

Mindavation provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on communication techniques, including the use of milestones, and has been doing so for over 13 years.  For further information, email us at <> . You can learn about all of the Mindavation offerings at <> or <

Low Hanging Fruit

November 29th, 2012

We have all said it to ourselves, often many times. It would be easier if I just fixed __________. (fill in the blank as you see fit).  Things would be easier if we just standardised or worked on getting _______ right. (Go ahead, you know you have an answer for that blank too!)

As we talk with clients across the globe we often hear the phrase “we have picked all of the low hanging fruit.” Additional savings it seems can only be found through more pervasive and difficult change initiatives. Our common response to this claim is, “I doubt it – let’s see if we can find some opportunities.” Although these larger change initiatives can result in positive results, it is rare that we don’t find savings in those “nagging business process improvements” that can be easily identified by project managers and their team members.

Sometimes it is fixing a neglected estimation process (have you established a habit to go back and check your actual cost and time consumed against the original estimates?).  In other instances it is establishing a quick, concise project review process to consider suspending or cancelling projects that have drifted from their original purpose or have outlasted their useful life in some manner.

It is rare that additional savings can not be found; and in this pressure filled economic environment every advantage should be sought to balance budgets, increase profits or decrease costs.

Are you struggling with budget pressures?

We can help you find or fix the hidden (sometimes) fruit in your project management and delivery processes.


Mindavation team members have been involved in program & project delivery for over 20 years.  Our consulting services include assistance in the planning, transition and execution of project and change management programs. For details, email us at

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