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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.

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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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