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The Aftermath May 21, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Project Management.
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Last week I went to the Midlands Professional Development day and spoke on Project Managing the Zombie Apocalypse. It was a wonderful day. They had great courses on leadership, communication, risk, healthcare, and, of course, zombies. They put on a magnificent shindig and I would encourage anyone who has a chance to attend.

Brain Photo
A few things I’ve learned in the last few weeks as I prepared for this meeting:
1. You can project manage creating your presentation. The key is motivating your resource. For me that’s Pizza and Chilli.
2. Work can really interfere with your personal projects. Make sure you build in a buffer. Murphy works overtime when you are supposed to be preparing for a presentation. I actually took the last 2 days off to shine up my presentation and got less than 4 hours of time due to an unexpected emergency at work.
3. If you can add resources into your work pool, you can add some gold plating to your project. It may not exactly be “in scope”, but it’s cool. Thanks to my wife, I went to the conference with a “brain hat” and “vaccine” for those who attended my course.
4. Always have a backup plan. PMI Atlanta cancelled the PDD here in Atlanta. I would have been tremendously disappointed if I had spent all that time putting together the presentation and then never been able to deliver it. Also, PMI Midlands helped create backup plans for their conference. everyone brought their presentation on thumb drive as well as PC. There was even a backup speaker, ready to present, in case someone couldn’t make it at the last moment.

You can find the Paper related to the presentation on the “How to Manage the Zombie Apocalypse” tab. It is no longer password protected.

Are there topics you would like to explore in project management, leadership, or management?

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PDD swag May 5, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Uncategorized.
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Preparing for PDD April 30, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Project Management.
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I’ve been absent last week on site with a client, and this week and next I will be vigorously preparing to speak at the PMI PDD (Professional Development Day) in Columbia, South Carolina, on May 15, and Atlanta, Georgia, on May 18. During the interim, I may post a few items and on May 14 I hope to post my paper for the PDD. How to Project Manage the Zombie Apocalypse: How to Apply Project Management Principals to non-standard problems.

Making Change Easier with “Levers” and “Brackets” April 15, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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A project is ultimately a vehicle for change. One of the problems with projects is that there is an inherent resistance to any change. In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield calls this force “The Resistance”. He submits that with every human endeavor to help others, grow yourself, or make something unique, men find themselves opposed by “The Resistance”. How can we overcome this natural drag that plagues all good projects?

Thanks to homespot HQ at http://www.flickr.com/photos/86639298@N02/

Thanks to homespot HQ at http://www.homespothq.com

The Resistance is powerful. It is also primarily internal. Uncertainty, unclarity, and fear are all aspects of this force. Like gravity, these forces tend to prevent a project from getting off the ground. Once it gets moving, a project is plagued by other forces. Loss of momentum, crisis, and wandering focus work together to get a project off course. We can combat these forces using two similar but different tools.

Levers focus force. They allow us to move things we would normally be unable to budge. When starting a project, one or more levers can overcome initial project inertia.They can also help us drive through crisis. Levers have several characteristics:

  • They are short term
  • They greatly enhance force at the point of leverage.
  • They require significant energy and focus to control.

The best example of a lever I can think of is a diet. It is short term. A true diet cannot last. It greatly enhances the force at the point of leverage. In this case, a diet is enhancing the self control of an individual over calorie intake. A diet takes significant mental energy and focus to control. Left to our own devices, we tend to stray from a diet. Like most levers, diets tend to make very good gains for a very short time.

In projects, levers are usually associated with initiation or crisis events. A customer or sponsor complaint that gives a project a much needed push serves as a lever. A triage list of problems which is used to make sure issues are being dealt with in the proper order can be another lever. A list of ongoing issues with a resource group used to force change in that group is another example of a lever.

Brackets maintain force and preserve structure. They are often used in construction at points of likely failure, to protect the overall structure. They allow us to achieve success for extended periods of time. This is a way to combat wandering focus in a project. It may sound like a habit, but it is not. Once a habit is established, the bracket is no longer necessary. I also call a bracket a “coping mechanism”. It assists someone in maintaining maximum natural force in areas where they are not naturally gifted. Brackets have several characteristics:

  • They are long term
  • They maintain force, but not above the level that is naturally present
  • They require little energy to maintain

The best example of a bracket I can think of in my personal life is the principal to never answer an email while angry. Without this rule of thumb, I can be irrationally angry in my responses. This not only prevents me from burning bridges, but maximizes the effectiveness of my email. It doesn’t make me a better communicator than I normally am, but it prevents me from being worse when under pressure. Most brackets are for places in your life, or your company, where there are natural weaknesses. They help maintain strength in those areas and prevent failure.

In project management, often the monitoring and controlling stage serves as our brackets. Scope control, quality control and integrated change control all encourage the project to stay on focus. Process is often another word that can be substituted for bracket.

One more important thing about Brackets and Levers. Each tool has its special purpose. Don’t mix them up or be prepared for either ineffectiveness or disaster. Levers are best used on places where you are strong, to boost performance. Normally using a bracket on an area of strength is a waste. You don’t need assistance in keeping these areas at maximum force. Likewise, using a lever for a long term process is a mistake. Like the yo-yo dieter, you will press forward with success, then fail when you grow tired. Use the right tool for the right job.

Finally, Levers and brackets can be used together. Again, with the diet example, a lever, a diet is used to get forward momentum. Then brackets are used to maintain the momentum. Examples of brackets in this case are workout buddies, a coach, or rewards. Hopefully over time the need for brackets will fade as the activities and attitudes become habits.

Now that you know what levers and brackets are, describe a time when you have used Levers or Brackets or both to help you succeed.

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Some things to check out April 10, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Uncategorized.
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Responsibilities at work have kept me tied up this week, so I figured I’d limit this post to a few cool resources you may like:

Michael Hyatt’s blog and podcast. Michael was the former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing and is one of the premier speakers on leadership and getting your message out there. He blogs at http://michaelhyatt.com/.

Seth Godin is an idea guy. He gives you a unique perspective on business and marketing issues.
You can find him at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/.

A couple of good books to check out:
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a great book on how to deal with the inertia of getting started with something big.

Alpha Project Managers by Andy Crowe is an awesome book dealing with what the top 2% of project managers do that most of us miss. This book is based on scientific research, not personal opinion, and thus has some wonderful insights.

For comments, suggestions of great books or blogs and why you like them, would be great.

Errors Inexperienced PMs Make: Delegation (Part 3) Followup and Closing April 2, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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If you’ve delegated work, several questions still remain. How often and how deeply should you check up on progress? What do you do when the project is complete? How do you make sure that your team finishes the task with excellence?

Thanks to  familymwr @http://www.flickr.com/photos/familymwr/

Thanks to familymwr @http://www.flickr.com/photos/familymwr/

Followup

When you delegate tasks or projects, it is important that you followup. The “inspect what you expect” principal is covered in my post “The problem is at the top. Management is the problem” where I examine some principals put forward by Deming. In a nutshell this principal says that the act of inspection often actually helps generate the results we expect.

A good rule of thumb is to followup once per week, but vary the depth of the followup. Once per month I try to do a face to face deep dive with the participants. They give me a formal status report. Once per month I do a driveby and ask how things are going. The remaining weeks I will shoot an email and ask for updates. Depending on how busy I am and what is going on, my concistency with this varies, but it is a good standard.

Another thing I do is periodic skip level meetings. The key here is that the skip level meetings primary purpose is not to check up on the project. The skip level meetings are intended to assess moral and allow a general discussion of how things are going with the individual. Invariably, however, the health of and problems of the project get discussed. You find out things that your delegates either can’t or won’t tell you.

Each of these check-ins is a dipstick test, it should be brief and painless. However, you must be ready to investigate deeper if something comes up. If the dipstick is dry, and you don’t put a quart of oil in, you may be facing major engine problems down the road.

Closing the delegation

It is important that you take the time and effort to officially close out delegated responsibilities with the team. I have found several projects still active months or even years later because I never let the delegates know that management considered the project closed and they could drop it. Here are some Key principals:

Have a final, formal meeting to close the project. Like the formal meeting to kick off the project this officially takes the responsibility from the delegates. It also removes their authority. This is helpful in them mentally moving past the project.

If the responsibility is operational and thus will never go away, I would suggest having a periodic review of the responsibility separate from reviewing the employee. Business needs change. Goals change. Scope changes. This is independent of how good a job the individual is doing. A periodic review of the responsibility may lead to new approaches, added scope, or even closing down the operation if the business need has changed. Like personnel reviews, this is best done every 3, 6, or 12 months.

Celebrate the close of the delegation. Talk about victories and include them on the persons personnel review. Note difficulties and try to see how to grow the employee into future successes. This step is important in recognizing the growth of our employees and providing next steps.

Do you have any other ideas about follow up or closing down a delegated project?

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Errors Inexperienced PMs Make: How to Delegate(Part 2 of 3) March 17, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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You’ve finally decided to delegate something. However, you are still worried about the task. How do you make sure they understand what you are asking? How do you make sure you send things in the right direction? How do you cleanly hand it off to the people that are executing the work?

Thanks to Philo Nordlund @http://www.flickr.com/photos/philon/

Thanks to Philo Nordlund @http://www.flickr.com/photos/philon/

In order to delegate a project, put together a clear written charter with scope, timeline, and authority defined. Nothing is worse than going to the first project review and realizing that the team just got it wrong.

Here are some guidelines:

1. It should be a document, spoken directions are just too easy to misunderstand.

2. Define the Goals.
Goals are the desired end state of the project with time frames. They differ from scope in that they are usually broader. You need to define goals because sometimes your scope is wrong. Your delegates should be closer to the project than you and understanding your goals will allow them to notify you when described scope conflicts with the end goals.

3. Define the Scope.
Scope should define what the team needs to do. This can be as broad or as narrow as you like. The key thing is to make sure the detail matches the skill level of those you are delegating to. A highly skilled team might require only broad strokes. (“Find a way to sell this property for $200K more than we bought it for.”) A more inexperienced team might require additional direction. (“Get a property value assessment. Solicit local realtors to find our how we can improve value cheapest. Suggest the improvements, I will approve. Execute the improvements. Put the property on Sale and execute the sale. Report back to me every two weeks.”) If you use a broad plan, you can also require the persons accepting the responsibility to take the broad goals and break them down into a detailed, actionable plan. This is a good strategy as it reduces your prep time and gives them a stake in the project while maintaining your control.

4. Define a Timeline Timeline is really a part of the scope, but it is important enough that I want to mention it separately. Every person has a weakness that might prevent them from completing the project in a timely manner. Some people just don’t work well without a deadline. Others will procrastinate. Others will freeze seeing the work as monumental unless there is an established end date. I personally like to establish several intermediate goal dates as it lets the team know I will be periodically checking up on the project. One key item here, set the dates then allow the team to talk about them and adjust them. If they agree to the time frames, they are committed to them.

5. Define Project Authority
When you define project authority you will indicate if other designated resources have been assigned to the project and how much control the responsible leaders have over them. You will also describes when the leaders need to come to you for approval. With very inexperienced resources you may only allow them to execute exactly to the charter with no variation. With other resources you may find that allowing them to bring you solutions to approve is more efficient. With your most trusted and experienced team members you may only ask to be informed of decisions, giving them partial or complete decision making power. Knowing the amount of ceded authority gives your delegates the confidence to act. Michael Hyatt talks about The Five Levels of Delegation a good structure for defining delegated authority.

Below is a sample Charter. It’s only a piece of a larger document. It could have been improved by having a clearly and separately stated goal from the scope.

Sample Charter

Sample Charter

OneĀ  thing you will notice, is that all of this charter preparation takes time. I have had initiatives languish for weeks because I just couldn’t carve out the time to put together the charter. Despite this, I would encourage you to stand fast and complete the written charter before trying to delegate a responsibility. The consequences of not doing so are a project that travels in the wrong direction. The wasted effort is bad enough, but the real cost is the frustration of your engaged resources who often have to throw away some or all of what they’ve already done.

Tell me about your experiences delegating.


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Errors Inexperienced PMs Make: When to Delegate (Part 1 of 3) March 13, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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Delegation is a hard skill to learn and most newbie managers do it wrong. They over-delegate or under-delegate. They micromanage or abandon responsibility entirely. Ultimately they lose the most important resource, time. Whats the right way for a new manager to delegate?

Thanks to duex-chi @http://www.flickr.com/people/deux-chi/

Thanks to duex-chi @http://www.flickr.com/people/deux-chi/

So you’re a brand new minted manager. The sword has just left your shoulders and you have been sent into the world to slay dragons. Pint-sized firedrakes are not the only lizards on your hit list. There are also huge ancient beasts that make Tolkein’s Smaug look like a gecko. You need troops to accomplish the tasks before you. However, troops do you no good if you don’t deploy them properly.

Here’s a quick guide in three parts to delegating the fight:

When (and why) to Delegate
I think there are several key reasons to delegate.

1. If someone else can do the job better than you, delegate it to them.

A lot of sources will say if they can do the job 80% as well as you, you should give it up. That’s fine, but if you are short on troops you may have to settle with keeping more of the grunt work.

2. If you can’t get enough concentrated time to execute the tasks of a project, delegate them.

I often find that my day is consumed by meetings. Even the time I do have is in 30 minute to 1 hour spots. This often makes it impossible for me to progress on efforts that require concentrated 2 or 4 hour segments of work. I usually have to turn these items over to subordinates even though I might be able to do them better. Their schedules tend to be more free than mine and they can execute these longer tasks because they can fit them in. The nice thing about this is that you can still review the finished work. This ensures quality and in the end increases your subordinates skill if you coach them properly.

3. If you consistently, despite your best efforts, fail to achieve a task, consider delegating it.

The most likely reason for this failure is lack of priority. You may think it is lack of skill (in which case see item A) or lack of time (in which case see item B), but the most likely reality is that you have the skill and time, you simply cannot get it high enough up the priority list to do it properly. If this is the case you need to first consider how important it is. You have three options: Decide not to do it, Decide it is important enough to do this instead of other things, or delegate it.

My organization does time tracking and one item I have consistently not done well is open new “buckets” for projects. It only takes a few minutes, but I rarely go into the application that does this. It’s only a priority when it hasn’t been done. But it’s ultimately critical to our financials. When I didn’t do it, my people felt neglected. At one time, I asked them to remind me if I didn’t get it done, but that felt wrong. I would certainly be upset with them if they didn’t do what I asked unless I reminded them. So in the end I trained several of my leads to do the work so that if I got tied up I could simply send the work out to them.

A note to servant leaders: Do not confuse delegating with not serving.

I am a proponent of servant leadership. Often times servant leaders want to help their followers so much they won’t delegate. Remember, delegation frees you up to serve more effectively. It gives your subordinates the chance to learn. It prepares the organization to operate without you when you move up to the next level or “win the lottery”. A servant leader serves his people and organization best when he learns to delegate.

When and why do you delegate?


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Sexy Intro’s: How to Get the Wrong Reaction March 11, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Communication.
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Sometimes when we write we try to make the intro, or email subject line, or title, “sexy.” We want it to be a real attention getter. The problem with this is that it often causes confusion, anger, or other unconsidered problems. How do we maximize the impact of our intro while minimizing confusion?

Thanks to Mick Amato @http://www.flickr.com/photos/mickamato/

Thanks to Mick Amato @http://www.flickr.com/photos/mickamato/

The other day, U.S.A. Today had the headline “What do surgeons leave behind?” What does that make you think about? My Mom is a surgeon so I thought about all the sacrifice doctors make. The cost in family time, energy, and emotional stress. My wife assumed that the story was about the medical waste created by modern medicine. What was the article about? It discussed the ongoing and preventable problem of surgeons leaving sponges and other medical implements inside a patient when doing surgery. Imagine my disappointment in finding, not a piece hailing the wonderful work and sacrifices made by my Mom, but instead a piece disparaging the carelessness of the medical profession.

We often cause the same issue. The very title of this piece is a good example. “Sexy Intro’s” makes you think I’m going to be giving out pick up lines. “How to Get the Wrong Reaction” makes it sound like bad pick up lines. Of course this topic is a bit different; I hope that the readers aren’t too disappointed.

Email subjects exhibit some of the worst cases of this behavior. “Emergency!” will certainly get you some attention. So will “Catastrophic Loss” or “Major Error”. However, such email titles are rarely accurate. At best, you get a boy-who-cried-wolf affect, where your credibility is hurt. At worst, you’ve got an angry executive who dug up your boss to explain this “Major Error”.

Here are some suggestions on how to get the attention you need without getting the wrong attention:
1. Be Specific.
Most misinterpretations occur due to too little information. “Loss of Data” is quite different than “Recoverable Loss of Data from drive D on Server X. Anticipated recovery 4 hours.” Most execs are going to read the title and decide whether to dig deeper. The first item forces them to search (probably on the blackberry) for the real issue. The second gives it all to them in a sound bite and they can intelligently decide to dig deeper or not. “The things doctors leave behind in patients after surgery” would have clarified the meaning of the newspaper article for me.
2.Leave out unspecific adverbs
Catastrophic, Bad, Horrible, Faster, Slower, are all weak choices of words in a subject. Adverbs are words that describe the degree of a verb or adjective (or adverb). It is hard to make clear and specific value statements in a subject line. Each person interprets them differently. (What does faster mean to you?)Leave out the adverbs. Your English teacher will remember you fondly and you won’t be making arbitrary value statements.
3.Be Careful with Department Specific Jargon.
One department in my company has “RED MEETINGS! MANDATORY!” This just irritates me. First of all what is a “RED MEETING”. Second, it’s not mandatory for me, we don’t even report to the same person till we get to the Senior Executive VP of a 35,000 employee company. It always makes me think, do I have something important to do at that time, like lunch.
4.Do not bold, !!!!!, or otherwise emphasize your message
If your reader cares enough to read your email or piece, they will at least glance at the subject/title. Unless you have a pre-established system, Bold, Underlined, or emphasized!!!!! text is very annoying. It is probably not a good idea to get your audience in a bad mood before they’ve read your important email. They will be mad at you, not the problem.
5.Think about audience context before sending stuff out.
As in my example with the newspaper story, my context totally changed my interpretation. Take a second to consider your reader’s context. How will they take your message? You will still get occasional confusion, but taking a moment to consider the receiver should help.

Have you ever sent an email who’s subject was confusing or read something that turned out to not be what you expected?


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Find your voice at work March 4, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Uncategorized.
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How do you find that unique quality that will take you to the next level? Writers, singers, and speakers often talk about finding your voice. Voice is that special thing that differentiates you. One of the judges on the hit TV show The Voice once said, “I am listening for something unique.” He means someone who has skills and talent, but has found something defining. In professions we also have a defining quality, a Voice. But how do you find it?

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Thanks to Grant@http://www.flickr.com/people/visual_dichotomy/

Professionals tend to develop along a predictable course. They start as novices. Then they gain skills and expose talents. As these skills and talents develop they slowly move from apprentice to journeyman skill level. As journeymen, they start to specialize. These specialities are what I would call their professional Voice.

To develop your Voice you need to experience. There is no shortcut to development. Shortcuts are invariably routes that lead only back to the beginning. Here are some suggestions to help you find you profession Voice:

1. Go with the flow
Chase whatever your boss puts in front of you as hard as you can. A good boss is invaluable to developing your Voice for three reasons:
A. It is their job to make the best use of you.
Their broader experience and different perspective helps them identify where your skills are maximized. You may say that he gives you difficult stuff to do. What you don’t know is that others find that task impossible. Over time, that impossible task becomes easy to you, and bang, you have a specialization.
B. It is their job to broaden you.
A good boss is always looking for additional skills and options for their people. Thus, they will have you try new things and see where you excel.
C. It is their job to keep you engaged.
Ultimately keeping a good employee is priority number one. Yes, your boss may stretch you with new experiences. He may use you to achieve the tasks you are good at. But what he’s really looking for is what do you love. If he can find something that you are good at and love, he’s found something special.
2. Ask for responsibility
The biggest mistake young employees make is in pursuing money. Money always follows responsibility. Bosses who don’t take care of their highly responsible employees have problems because they cannot retain them. I won’t go as far as to say that you should never ask for money, but it’s very close to never.
Ask for responsibility. It changes your manager’s focus from managing you to developing you. It increases their trust. Additional responsibility of any type can help develop your personal skill-set.
3. Self Examine and create a strategy for weaknesses
In the end, you have to assess your own experiences. Your boss can be a great sounding board, but you really need to look at yourself. What is the personal skill set you bring to the table? Where are you weak? How do you deal with those weaknesses. Can you train them? Can you avoid them? What work roles fit you best? If you are strong in leadership but poor in details, you may be more suited for a managerial position. If you hate politics but love to see results you may find the individual contributor roles more to your liking. Keep in mind, that manager or contributor, highly skilled people are well paid and can lead. Don’t take the manager path, if your Voice is in contribution.

4. Self Examine and seek experiences that sharpen your key skills and broaden your skill base.
Ultimately your Voice is more about what you are strong in than what you are weak in. That is what will define your career. Once you’ve determined your strengths, make them stronger. You can do this through experience and training in strength areas. Don’t just do the work. That is easy and will not let you grow. You need to analyze it and figure out what you can do better.
Also, broaden your skill sets on the edges. If one part of your professional voice is you are great at keeping disgruntled clients from escalating. The next step may be to become great at turning them around and making them happy. Perhaps, it’s about how to keep disgruntled peers from blowing up. Search the edges of your skill-set for other things you can develop.

As your Voice develops you will find that senior staff and your managers rely on you more and give you more leeway in your specialty. That is the reward of finding your special Voice. Freedom.


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