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Hit the target: How to get quality in projects August 28, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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One thing is sure about business, quality must be both deliberate and timely. Wyatt Earp once said “Fast is fine, but accuracy is final. You must learn to be slow in a hurry.” Earp is perhaps the last word on quality. If you move too fast, you miss your target entirely, too slow and the competition shoots you in the head.

Thanks to the The Knowles Gallery @http://www.flickr.com/photos/theknowlesgallery/

Quality is a funny concept in project management. Part of the problem is that  we have a hard time fitting quality into the iron triangle. Is quality part of the scope of a project or part of the effort of a project? The answer is yes.

Projects are about change. If you don’t know the destination, you will arrive somewhere else. In this way, quality is about scope (what the project is about). How good does it have to be? How long does it need to last? Is it OK if it leans just a little? This is something that we usually understand and do well enough in projects. When we are assuring we arrive at the right destination, we call it quality control.

The results are not all that require quality. If we are to complete projects with consistency, it is important that our processes are held to a standard of quality. Our quality control processes themselves must be analyzed to see if they are good enough. With constant improvement, our work and quality control processes have more predictable and thus manageable outcomes. This is called Quality Assurance.

What are the keys to strong quality control and quality assurance processes? Here are a few:

1. Document Quality Expectations and Communicate Them

The first step is always to understand what we want. Whether you are seeking a less than 10% failure rate on bug fixes or a 9 out of 10 customer service rating; your team cannot meet expectations that aren’t expressed. We also want to know when we have over-delivered. If the client expects a 98% quality rate and we deliver 99.5%, we need to let them know.

2. Have the Front Line Review Procedures

First, the workers know the work. They can tell you what is realistic. Second, reviewing and agreeing to procedures commits people to their success. Finally, the front line sees what happens every day. Sometimes they come up with ideas or expectations that are surprising and take the organization to the next level.

3. Any Quality Assurance/Quality Control Personnel are there to make sure nothing slips through, not to catch problems

Quality is everyone’s problem. Make it clear that the development team has a responsibility to detect quality issues.There are three key benefits to this. First, the earlier a problem is detected, the cheaper it is to fix. Second, by placing the quality burden on the shoulders of those who do the work, your quality team can focus on finer degrees of quality. Finally, sharing the burden of quality helps reduce the natural conflict between quality teams and working teams.

4. Plan Deliberately, Execute Fast

This goes to the heart of “move slow in hurry”. Up front planning which reduces human error and decisions in the moment, greatly increases quality. This is why we write quality plans and quality checklists. In fact, it is why we write checklists at all. If you want a great resource on the subject of checklists and how to use them to maximize quality, I would suggest The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

5. When you are done, sit back for a moment and reflect on what might be wrong

Over the years, I have found that certain thought processes tend to come together after working on a problem. Unconnected issues merge into new patterns and reveal something just on the edge of perception. In my experience, these items come suddenly and clearly into view the second you hit send, compile the code, or sign the contract. If you can, give a completed tasks 24 hours to simmer before communicating completion or signing the contract.

6. Make Quality a point of Pride.

When Quality is a matter of pride, people go the extra mile. I don’t know how many times I tested things one more time or took one last look because I didn’t want to disappoint a boss. Good enough is never what we want to put out. This is key with extroverted personalities like the DISC “high I” and “high D”.

7. Sometimes you have to cut bait.

In gentle contradiction to the previous statement is a caution to be used with the introverted personalities, the DISC “high S” and “high C”. They can work towards perfection forever. They must be reined in to due dates. As an old English teacher of mine used to say, “A paper is never done, it’s just due.”

What ideas do you have with Quality Control and Quality Assurance?
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The Ceremony: Power Project Drivers August 21, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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I have recently been able to attend a number of ceremonies and they have reminded me of a key concept to make projects go better. These formalities are powerful tools that can drive a project forward and keep it going even when it hits bumps.

Thanks to the U.S. Navy @http://www.flickr.com/photos/usnavy/

Why do we want to use ceremonies? The army says the primary purpose of ceremonies are to “render honors, preserve tradition, and to stimulate esprit de corps.” In other words, we celebrate success, make sure that things are done in a repeatable manner, and build team. The girl scouts say it in a different way but mean the same thing, “Ceremonies … pass on traditions, recognize accomplishments, [and] strengthen friendships” (from the girl scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin river valleys.) All of these are excellent drivers of project success.

When we should use ceremony:

·         Assign with Ceremony

I want a project manager to own their project. The problem here is that project management by its very nature lacks intrinsic power. Except in functional organizations project managers rarely can directly hire, fire, or impact their resources. They often have little clout, or only a type of clout they are reluctant to use. Thus, many project managers do not take ownership of their projects. While it is true that “power is never given, it is only taken” most project managers don’t want to hear that.

I once read that project managers are waiting for the day when someone approaches them, has them kneel and dubs them “Project Manager.” Of course this will never happen. Perhaps, however we can create something useful and similar.

I am suggestion that you give your managers projects formally. A formal charter is a powerful thing. It means you put time into it and shows the organization and the manager that you care about the project.  It also provides a structure (or tradition) that lets the project manager know what to expect. A face to face meeting means you have taken out time to address the project. A public announcement lets the organization know that the manager has your backing. This combines the “render honors” and “preserve tradition” ideas of the ceremony and sets the manager up for success.

·         Open with Ceremony

The Kickoff is used for so many different things. Sometimes it is a working meeting. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. But the kickoff can be enormously useful if properly and formally managed.

First, make sure that everyone attends. The kickoff is the initial formation of the team and thus is a good opportunity to start developing the “esprit de corps” needed.
Second, a consistent structure should be used. This establishes an expected “tradition” and standard that allows the attendees to proceed with similar expectations from project to project.

Third, clarify team roles. This establishes what each person is doing and gives you a head start where communications goes.

With these items in mind, you should walk away with everyone knowing what the project is about, what their role is, and who is involved in the team.

·         Celebrate with Ceremony

Celebration is a vital tool in the manager’s arsenal. It encourages engagement and drives workers to excel. Take advantage of celebration opportunities by adding a bit of ceremony. This emphasizes the occasion and increases the value of the event. In my group we do a monthly recognition of an employee who has put forth an effort to help our customers and others on the team. We present them a trophy in our team meeting, tell why they were selected, and ask everyone to congratulate them. The trophy is an artifact from a special celebration last year of the whole team’s success. The employee gets to display it all month. The formality of the ceremony and the symbolism of the trophy is a step above just saying, “Good job.”

·         Close with Ceremony

Projects generally close poorly. This is problematic for a large list of reasons that everyone knows. Poor closing practice leads to lost lessons learned and unclear turn-over to production. Some of this can be mitigated by closing with ceremony. An established process driven close will provide structure to make sure the critical closing processes happen.

Finally, I do encourage you to move slow and go through the ritual. Rituals are important. We learn things. We reflect on what happened or what is going to happen. At the end, we gain closure.

What ceremonies do you observe in your day to day work and life?
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“The problem is at the top; management is the problem” August 13, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Uncategorized.
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“In God we trust; all others must bring data.”

“You can expect what you inspect.”

“The problem is at the top; management is the problem.”

These are interesting quotes from W. Edwards Deming. Today, I’m going to explore how they can help you keep your people and your projects on track.

“In God we trust; all others must bring data.”

·The lesson here is simple. No matter how trusted or knowledgeable the source, they need to prove their case, and prove it so you can understand it. There are a couple of good reasons for this:

  • Proving the case will deepen the presenter’s knowledge of the case, thus exposing flaws and circumstances never examined.
  •  Proving the case allows the approvers to understand the reasoning behind the case. Managers often have different perspectives on a situation and can demand research in directions the presenter would have never thought of.
  • Demanding proof and understand for project managers and managers who are not in the daily nitty-gritty gives them authority.
  1. If you are managing technical, high-end resources (Doctors, Computer Techs, Programmers, Lawyers, Architects, ect…) they often believe that the project manager or manager is simply there as an annoyance. If you don’t believe this is true please read a few copies of a Dilbert cartoon.
  2. Managers and project managers are actually important to maximizing success. The problem is they often lack credibility with the technical resources. The only way to overcome this is to understand the system, solutions, and problems. The purpose of understanding is not to provide direction, but to ask questions. The external perspective that the manager provides leads to questions that are sometimes “dumb” but sometimes simply not considered. These questions often lead the technical team to a simpler, more elegant solution. This ability to shift the project in a better direction ultimately results in additional credibility and authority for the manager.
  • Finally proving the case leads to better managerial decisions. Sometimes you have to tell your best folks “No” or “Do more research”. You should only do this with understanding.

“You can expect what you inspect”

I have also heard this quoted as a directive “Inspect what you expect.” You must inspect a percentage of the work you delegate. This is NOT a platform for micromanagement. Here are the advantages:

  • When you inspect, your people know what you assign is important. For a lot of bosses, the delegation method is “fire and forget”. Have this done in x days really means that the task is not important enough for my direct attention. So, as long as it appears to be done, it’s ok. The problem with this is occasionally the bottom falls out.
  • When you inspect, your people know WHAT you expect. Communication is hard. What does “do this task” mean? Do I spend 2 hours on it or 20? What quality level is required? Inspection allows you to examine if the task meets your vision. Note: it doesn’t have to be HOW you would do it. It does have to be equal or better quality.
  • When you inspect, it gives you real world examples to praise during reviews, either because they were done right or because the employee grew during instruction.

“The problem is at the top; management is the problem.”

When an issue occurs, 90% of the time, the system is at fault. The person involved is either under-trained or conditioned by the system to make bad choices. Whose problem is this? It is Management’s problem. I’m not saying we don’t hold our people accountable. However, if you first approach problems as systems problems, you will have a lot more success. Why:

  • Changing people is hard, fixing systems is relatively simple. Even bad apples often straighten up when faced with system changes that will expose their problems. Assume, until proven otherwise, that an error is a flaw in the system, not a flaw in the person. Focus on fixing the system. (70% of issues in my opinion).
  • So how do I know it’s a person problem? One way is to examine others with the same job or similar jobs. If someone is far under-performing similar personnel, we next need to look at whether they are sufficiently trained. (20% of issues in my opinion).
  • Given sufficient training, my next question is “Are they in the right job?” Sometimes an introvert gets stuck in a sales job. When this occurs it’s time to talk about job changes or different approaches that fit the employee better.
    • Some people are just not performing. This too is generally a systems problem, but may be out of your control. (home life, health, or upbringing). These situations result in performance plans.

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Fly with the Eagles. Taking high C’s to the next level August 7, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Personality.
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High C’s are generally easy to spot. They are your technicians. Details are in their blood. Perfection and organization drive them. The C is symbolized by the eagle. They are precise, powerful achievers who effortlessly soar to heights of excellence.

Thanks to Pat Bell @http://www.flickr.com/people/pmbell64/

High C


1. Excellence – C’s are motivated by excellence. They tend to be very skilled in whatever field interests them. Nothing less than perfection satisfies. They will achieve more than expected and push the team to achieve things far beyond what people think is possible.

2. Creativity – C’s are detail people. One of the odd side effects of this is they tend to be very creative as well. I suspect their creativity is simply the C seeing connections and combinations that the rest of us miss.

3. Conscientiousness – C’s value truth and are extremely hard on themselves. They will kill themselves to keep a promise. They will do their job without monitoring.

4. Scouting and Analysis – C’s detailed focus comes into play. It allows them to accurately forecast anything. Thus, a C can give a team forewarning of trends, problems, and solutions that others see too late to react to.

5. Organization –C’s can, at a glance, see how something should be organized to produce a particular efficiency. Note, this does not include prioritization.


1. Social Awkwardness (Criticality and Shyness) – C’s tend to be socially awkward. There are two reasons for this. First they are annoyed by the lack of perfection around them. This leads to a tendency to be critical. Second they are terrified of the lack of perfection they see in themselves. This tends to make them shy. They tend to avoid the lime-light.

2. Inflexibility – C’s are the worst about change. They build coping mechanisms to deal with the imperfect world around them and change disrupts those processes. (and in the C’s opinion the changes are generally not the right ones anyway).

3. Emotional Fragility – C’s tend to internalize feelings. They let them build up until they explode. They also understand intensely their own flaws and struggle with criticism. This leads overall to an emotional brittleness.

4. Analysis Paralysis (Perfectionism) – C’s have a difficult time making decisions. This is because they want the decisions to be perfect, and there is always insufficient data. The end result is analysis paralysis and ultimately tardiness with delivery. They also have difficulty prioritizing because in order to be perfect, everything must be done right.

Dealing with C’s

C’s see the world in a different way. At times, they almost seem to live in an entirely different world. They are not people-people. They are over-achievers. You see them most in jobs that require precision: Engineering, Computers, Science, Medicine, Law, and the Arts. They don’t tend to be team players, but excel as specialists. The highest C’s would prefer to see no one, hide in an office all day, and do their job. However, if you want a job done right, give it to a high C.

Healthy Vs. Unhealthy

Only an unhealthy D is more disruptive than an unhealthy C. Unhealthy C’s tend to take criticism to an artistic level. They have given up on perfection. This can lead to a loss of excellence, success, and conscientiousness. The behavior spirals and often leads to depression that further exacerbates the behaviors. Pulling a C out of this is very difficult because by the time it shows externally, the C has been spiraling internally for a long time. The best method is prevention. Strangely, the best prevention is the very thing the C is not looking for, companionship and fun. C’s don’t seek it out, but it is the thing they need to keep them out of the dark patches. A C that has fallen into a deep spiral may require professional counseling.

C’s as employees

C’s are the absolute hardest employees to manage. They are fragile, critical, inflexible, and generally incapable of moving forward without someone else helping them to move past perfection. On the other hand, C’s can literally do things that the other people can’t. They come up with solutions that other people cannot see. They do work that seems impossible, impossibly quickly when the pressure is on. C’s take your organization to a level that it cannot reach without them.

Key Management Thoughts:

1. Involve C’s in your decisions – What’s the point in having this wonderful, perfect, analyst if you don’t ask their opinion. Also this gives them the lead time to be ok with the changes when they come.

2. C’s lead better from the middle – D’s and I’s make your best top level leaders. S’s Make tremendous middle managers, retaining critical personnel like no one else. Pure C’s lead best from the middle. More accurately, they lead best from an advisory position. High C’s can lead in other roles, but it tends to be dissatisfying to them as they must focus on politics or interpersonal interaction instead of what they most enjoy: achieving tasks, creating new ideas, and mapping out strategies.

3. Be careful mixing C’s and I’s – They tend to annoy each other. A critical C is one of the few things that can anger a bouncy I. An optimistic I will grate on the nerves of a C who sees all the imperfections around them.

4. C’s take a LONG time to develop to their full potential – This is because they are ultra-careful and take every step. But if you are patient and expend the effort, they become amazing.

5. Help keep their heads down – C’s when exposed do things that cause their heads to be taken off. I have numerous stories of C’s who said the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. While the D might ignore social rules, often the C just doesn’t realize they exist.

C’s can be the funniest personalities because they see the world in a different way than the average person. Do you have a story about a high C you would like to share?

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