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

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.

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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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/


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

One  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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How Toastmasters Can Advance Your Career February 27, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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Sometimes it is difficult to find the next boost for your career. For a manager or project manager, Toastmasters is a great option. It provides opportunities to enhance oral communication, quick thinking, leadership, and evaluation skills. Skills which prove critical in every leadership profession.

Thanks to Kyle Nishioka @http://www.flickr.com/photos/madmarv/

Thanks to Kyle Nishioka @http://www.flickr.com/photos/madmarv/

The Toastmaster program is not well understood by the general public. Some see it as an elite group of speakers. Some see it as a place to learn to speak. While both of these statements are true, it misses the part of what Toastmasters is.

Toastmasters started as an organization dedicated to helping young men learn to speak publicly. Over time it also grew to develop general professional and leadership skills. The program is well structured to help an individual gradually become comfortable and proficient in at least 4 priceless skill sets:

  • Oral Communication

Communication is ultimately the key in most jobs. Poor communication results in increased costs, lost customers, and perhaps even on the job accidents. With the advent of the electronic revolution, more and more, we are relying on written communication. But written communication has many disadvantages. It is relatively slow. It hides para-verbal queues that humans have developed to help understand intent and meaning. It is difficult to achieve the emotional impact to drive change or get people excited.

Where written communication fails, oral communication excels. It’s rapid. When oral communication is occurring, upwards of 90% of what is being communicated is in para-verbal or non-verbal tones and actions. Emotion can be heard and easily absorbed by the listener.

Despite the advantages, most people have a dire fear of speaking publicly. When people do speak, they are often under trained and provide weak or less effective presentations. In the finance and software worlds, with a few notable exceptions (i.e. Steve Jobs) we often see presentation at its worst.

Toastmasters is a chance to gradually improve your speaking. Initially, they ask you to speak about yourself. Then they incrementally teach you about speech organization, speech writing, using the right words, physical motions, voice, research, visual aids, persuasion techniques, and inspirational speaking. Each skill builds on the previous skills. All the while you will learn to be succinct. Unlike many of the rambling presentations you may hear today, time is critical in Toastmasters. This is just in the first level of speaking, the Competent Communicator. Most people take about a year to two years to complete this program. The 10 speeches step you through each critical concept.

Once you’ve mastered the competent communicator, Toastmasters has numerous advanced programs to help you hone your craft such as technical presentations, speeches by management, or public relations.

  • Quick Thinking

Most Toastmasters meetings will have a “Table Topics” section. Table Topics is impromptu… preparing you for those occasional but unavoidable conversations where your opinion is sought on a moments notice. What will you say? Will you say it well and with conviction? Your opinion counts and you should be able to communicate it in a way that makes a difference.

The key here is practice. By occasionally getting up and talking for 1 to 2 minutes on a topic presented to you without preperation, you develop the skill of verbal agility, an understanding of how to speak “off the cuff” with conviction. Perhaps more important, you develop confidence. Verbal agility is a key skill in interviews, “elevator speeches”, and social banter.

  • Leadership

The second “track” in Toastmasters was a surprise to me. I believe it is also a surprise to many first timers. This program is known as the Competent Leader. It is designed to help people develop leadership skills including organization, mentoring, delegation, running a meeting, keeping meetings on time, and process improvement.

The Competent Leader (or CL) track is focused around the meetings themselves which are difficult to describe unless you’ve been to one. In each meeting, members take on a role such as the “Toastmaster” who acts both as meeting organizer and MC. These roles teach the members important skills, requiring them to be cognizant of time, or prepare certain parts of the meeting.

One of the stops on the CL track requires you to help organize a special event. Another item, as you gain more experience, allows you to mentor a new member. As with the Competent Communicator, each goal is described in detail to help you specifically focus on what you are trying to develop.

Finally, once you complete your CL, there are advanced leadership programs which focus on developing your skills in broader environments and helping the club succeed. Becoming a club, or higher level officer is encouraged. I once read that the best way to develop leadership skills is to lead a volunteer organization. I think this is true, but mostly because it strips away the lie that work isn’t a volunteer organization. Ultimately, all organizations are volunteer organizations, it is just sometimes people at work leave mentally or spiritually instead of physically.

  • Evaluation

Toastmasters is about improving yourself, so we evaluate everything. How did a speech go? How did the meeting go? How is the club doing? This might sound intimidating, but Toastmasters has developed the art of gentle evaluation to a science. Concepts like the “Toastmaster Sandwich” (wrapping areas of improvement with positives on either side) help keep things light. Ultimately all this evaluation results in 2 things: 1. You become a better speaker and leader. 2. You become an excellent evaluator.

In corporate America, I would personally say that evaluations range between mediocre and poor. Developing evaluation skills and providing helpful evaluation can enhance your relationship with your employees and your boss. Perhaps equally important, evaluation done right can make change happen.

If you want to enhance your career, toastmasters is an excellent option. If nothing else, stop in and watch a meeting, it’s entertaining, and will surprise you. Toastmasters love visitors.

Let me know what you think about toastmasters.

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How to escape the Dilbert Zone February 19, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in funny, Leadership, Project Management.
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When someone attempts to apply a good idea into the vast reaches of a large corporation, strange pockets of policy tend to emerge. The Dilbert comics are largely about these misfit policies. Try as we might, none of us is immune to this effect. What do you do when you find yourself in the “Dilbert Zone”?

Dilbert Zone

As my leaders and I tried to apply a new corporate policy to our organization, one of them remarked, “I feel like I’m in a Dilbert comic.” The problem was the policy we were trying to implement had been corporately mandated, but it just didn’t fit our group well.

When you discover that you are in the “Dilbert Zone” I see five possible options:

1. Fight the Power

Refuse to follow the policy or ignore it.
This technique can work in some circumstances. If you have a powerful executive on your side who either disagrees with the policy or is willing to fight it for you, you have a shot. If the executive leadership doesn’t care about the policy, there may be no teeth in it. If you personally are willing to spend massive political capital, you might stave it off.
I don’t recommend this approach. All three situations have weaknesses: your friendly executive leaves or is fired; the executive leadership changes their mind and decides they do care; a single person with more influence than you decides to put their two cents in. The only gain in this approach is slowing the policy’s advance. Short of policy change, you will have to fight this battle over and over again till you lose or become CEO.
I took this stance for a time on a financial policy I felt had questionable ethics. I fought the battle a half dozen times before I was given a clear explanation of the corporate decision by those who were in a better position to understand it.

2. Sneak around the Power

Pretend to follow the policy, but don’t. Do the minimal.
Sometimes this is an approach to take, but only when you can maintain your integrity. Some policies are written with large holes in them intentionally, so that those parts of the organization which should slip through the cracks do. Be careful here though, you are putting your integrity on the line. If there is any ethical question, it’s not worth it. Leaders and project managers can only be effective if they are trustworthy. I wouldn’t generally recommend this approach except in special cases.
I have used this as well. For years our organization had a very strict “use it or lose it” policy on days off. This created problems for employees who were prevented from taking days off due to corporate needs. We “worked around” the policy by allowing employees to keep a couple days off the books to be used early the next year, if company needs prevented them from taking their time.

3. Bow to the Power

Don’t ask me why, just do it!
Sometimes you just don’t have an option. . The problem with this approach is that the manager comes off looking either stupid or powerless. It tends to have a temporary negative impact on employee or team morale. The advantage of this approach is it is often where we end up anyway. The team can confront the emotional impact and move past it.
I’ve used this several times. The problem is that Dilbert Zone policies tend to have a cumulative effect, slowly desensitizing the employee to what is worthwhile. I have seen organizations where the project managers have been so tied up in mindless red tape that their ability to actually shepherd  projects successfully was deadened. Even after the red tape was removed, the PMs retained their lack of project focus.

4. Attempt a Compromise with the Power

If you have access to the decision maker who required the policy or the person who is implementing the policy, you may be able to find an agreeable compromise.
This can be a great solution. Often the difference between good policy and bad is in the implementation. The problem is, of course, that if the contact you have changes, or changes their mind, you may find yourself right back where you started.
A good example of this was a recent EPMO Audit we went through. In our audits, project documents  are generally deposited in a sub folder labeled for the stage of the project. (Initiating, Planning, ect…) We talked to the EPMO because for our smallest projects we only had 4 documents required. They went into 3 different folders. The folder structure which helps auditors find a document when they are looking through dozens of docs, was excessive in our case. Our compromise here was a single folder, where all 4 docs would go.

5. Find a way to make the policy benefit your group

I think this is the best option. The corporation’s job is  not to make policy fit into your projects. In a way, they don’t care about your projects. They don’t know enough or have the right perspective to make the policy help you. Generally the policies have broad goals such as consistency or quality. It is up to us as managers and project managers to find ways to make corporate policy benefit us.
I have 2 examples. In the first example, the organization had essentially Bowed to the Power. Policy was treated as check boxes required to get to the other end of projects. Executives saw EMPO policy as an annoyance and regarded project managers primarily as those who kept that annoyance away. What we did was find ways to have EPMO policy benefit the projects, the project managers, and the executives. This helped morale and made the policies something more than they were.
The second example is with the organization I lead now. EPMO has delivered more requirements. We have so far leveraged this change into giving us greater visibility into activities across the base. We are hoping to find ways to leverage the new documents to improve our customer facing activities and leadership visibility. That is much better than another useless requirement.
What do you think is the best way to deal with the Dilbert Zone?

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How to Manage the Zombie Apocalypse February 11, 2013

Posted by thefieldgeneral in funny, Leadership, Project Management.
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I’ve always said that Project Management can be applied to nearly any problem. What about something unique, say the zombie apocalypse.

Thanks to Britt Selvitelle@http://www.flickr.com/photos/bs/

Thanks to Britt Selvitelle

No, I am not decrying the evils of TV and what it does to your brain. I am asking you to prepare for the inevitable. Whether it comes from a mad cow like bacterial infection, or some strange umbrella corporation experiment, or even aliens, it is coming. Don’t believe me? Did you know that the CDC has a site dedicated to zombie apocalypse preparedness? Whether you believe or not it, is a very interesting project management problem. How do you put together a project to maximize your chances of survival in the case of the end of the world.

As project managers, we seem to be at a strong disadvantage for survival in Zombieland. Project Managers are not (most of us) Navy Seals or survival experts. What we are, however, are trained, expert strategists who specialize in moving people safely through change. What could be a bigger change than the walking dead in the streets. We just need to approach this as a standard project with ramp up time, execution, and closing.

1. Scope
Like any project we need to understand the scope. Is survival the goal? How long will we need to survive? Is it part of our plan to try to rebuild society?

Let’s say that our goal is to survive 3-4 years. This should be enough time for defacto governments of at least a feudal type to reemerge. We also should consider that members of our team need to have sufficient skills to be highly valued in that society.

2. Tasks

Now that we have our target, probably our second most critical question is what sub tasks need to occur to achieve the goal. Essentially this is our work breakdown structure or task list. Here are some ideas:

  • During ramp up get healthy. 
    Medical services will be defunct during a zombie invasion and may not recover for decades or centuries after the zombies are gone. Get your team as healthy as possible pre-event. If possible also develop high levels of cardio and strength fitness to better cope with the strain of the collapse itself. After all the old adage applies, I don’t have to outrun the zombie, I just have to outrun you. (See rule number 1.)
  • Secure Physical Resources during ramp up.
    Stockpile some food, weapons, and medical supplies. Batteries, gas supplies, and other power sources can be critical as well. Water is a must. You can’t go overboard here because you don’t know the commencement date of the disaster and do not have infinite money. Do so quietly as you don’t want it widely known that you have supplies when everyone else is scavenging.
  • Secure personnel resources.
    Pick a team that you can trust. Ideally the team would have diverse skills: medical, combat, logistics, cooking, engineering, and sanitation. The team has to be small enough to feed for an extended length of time but large enough to provide some degree of security.
  • Secure knowledge resources.
    Books on mechanics, first aid, weapon maintenance, gardening/farming, chemistry, and other documentable skills could be useful during and post collapse.

3. Create a Plan
Put it all together. Who are the resources? What are they to do pre-rampup, during the collapse, and post collapse. Document it, print it, and put it somewhere safe. Post z-day there is likely to be no electricity to pull that document off your laptop.

4. Train/Prepare your resources
In any project, other than creating the plan, I think this is most important. Given decent moral and a good plan, resources generally perform as well as they are trained. Look at your skills and close gaps with training. First Aid and basic boy-scouting skills are invaluable. Combat and hunting skills will keep you alive and fed. Every resources needs to know how to handle a firearm. I’m sure you can think of other things. Remember, as project mangers, our skills will not suffice to DO the project work. We need to augment them to make us effective (and survive).

5. Execute the plan.
When the collapse occurs it will need to be recognized and reacted to. Will you hole up in your home? Travel to some secure location?

Have a first, second and third preferred options. Plan the work, then work the plan. This gives you the opportunity to focus on flexibility in the moment, not planning.

6. Closing the plan
What’s your endgame? Sustainable living somewhere? Joining up with a large enough local government that recovery is possible? Have a target in mind. You may have to adjust this as things play out, but having a target will help you make quick decisions.

Project Management can be used to help manage any change, even the end of the world. The key is thoughtfulness and preparation followed by strong leadership.

What have I’ve missed that you would do to execute this most important of all projects?

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Why you should stay in your current position 3 to 5 years October 24, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership.
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In America we are driven to success. Money and power entice us to seek promotion and raises. This concept of always pushing for the next thing, can rob us of the valuable experiences of the current thing. Sometimes staying put, moving sideways, or even going backward is required for ultimate success. Patience and discipline lead to a greater reward. This is why you should plan on being where you are for 3 to 5 years.

Thanks to Amanda Yepiz @http://www.flickr.com/photos/trazomfreak/

I sometimes regret moving up too fast.  Some lessons are easier to learn at lower levels of the profession. Once you bypass those lessons by being promoted early, they become almost impossible for you to learn. They become gaps, weak spots in your skill set that may plague you for months or years.

There are 5 excellent reasons why you should wait 3 to 5 years before seeking promotion from a position. Of course, if you’ve got a “fries with that” job, it is not unreasonable to seek something better sooner.  But barring a job you can’t stand, here are the 5 reasons:
1.Opportunities abound
Many people feel that if they are not on the lookout for the next good thing, they will miss out. Assuming that you have to take opportunities when they show up or you will miss out isn’t necessarily helpful. It is a perspective thing. Are opportunities rare or plentiful? I submit to you that opportunities abound. They may not always be what you expect, but they will come when the time is right.
2.It takes around 5 years to develop true expertise.
According to Michael Hyatt, it takes about 10,000 hours to develop true expertise. This is about 5 years of work. This makes sense to me. Everyone starts out at an Apprentice level skill. Apprentices require significant supervision, training, and help to be consistently successful. It takes a year or two to move from Apprentice level skill to Journeyman. Journeyman can do all basic activities with consistent success. With sufficient assistance a Journeyman can perform well with all but the most complex projects. It takes another 2 to 4 years to move from Journeyman to Expert. Experts have mastered the basic and specialized skills of the job. They have begun to develop the subtle skills of Mastery that cannot be grasped without a firm foundation. They consistently perform well in projects. After reaching an Expert level of skill most people will move up, but some will stay in that position eventually developing true Mastery after 5 to 15 additional years. Masters have developed such a high level of skill in their job that their effectiveness often seems to be magical. The way to optimize your effectiveness at higher levels is to achieve at least true expertise at each level in the organization.
3.Organizational value increases exponentially as you remain in a position
Sometime after your 3ed year in a position, assuming you are progressing well, your value moves from slight incremental increases to an exponential gains. Mangers can back off and let you operate as you’ve learned all the basics. They can rely on you for more important and risky projects. This accelerates learning and visible successes.
Value acceleration occurs again after expertise is achieved. Masters at their craft are priceless. The key here is to watch your interest and passion. If your passion for the job is waning, it is time to change. If your passion is sustained, it may be you’ve found your nitch. Most Careers have two paths, Mastery and Leadership. One will sustain your passion, the other will eat your lunch. Pick wisely.

4.Seek responsibility, not position or money.
Responsibility is the key to advancement. As I’ve moved up in the company I want people who I can count on beside me. Having a better resume or getting promoted doesn’t make you more reliable. Taking on and succeeding at a responsibility without being promoted shows both competence and loyalty.
Also, if your boss is even remotely sane and you are doing a good job, he can’t complain about you asking for more responsibility. He can get frustrated with demands for position or money even if you are doing a stellar job. You can safely seek responsibility. Trust me, if you are successful, the money and position always follow, eventually.

5.Wait until you are invited to move up
Here is the final piece of advice. Don’t push the promotion. The worst possible career move is to ask to move up when you aren’t ready. When you’ve been doing the job for 2 or 3 years, start looking into what you want to do next. Assuming you’ve reached Journeyman level and become a reliable star for your manager, you can enlist your boss as an ally to get you ready. This is to get you ready, not make it happen. Most likely between year 3 and 6 one of three things will happen.

      Your boss will move up and pull you up with him. (Remember, he gets credit for your success too,,, if he’s got enough star players, his chance of moving up is substantially increased).
      Your boss or his boss will find an opportunity that fits your next step.
      An opportunity will move up will pop out somewhere laterally within the company.

Have you ever had a time when you wished you had been more patient before pushing for promotion or a new job?
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The simplest way to make your business succeed or fail. October 10, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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I recently had an awful customer service experience with Laureate Medical Group, an Atlanta health care provider. This reminded me how critical Customer Service is. The only more critical issue is the product itself. The thing is, improving the product is hard and complex. Providing good customer service may not be easy, but it is relatively simple.

Most people think of customer service and certain negative thoughts pop into their heads. Phone Trees, Call Centers, and being on hold are all popular images.”Musac”, the poor imitation music that plays endlessly while you are on hold, sort captures the image as well. I used to call into one offshore call center that played a stylized version of the theme song from the good, the bad, and the ugly while you were on hold. I always wondered if the managers of that call center were just clueless, or if they were trying to tell me something.

Customer Service does not have to be depressing, however. In fact, most of us serve customers, internally or externally, every day. Customer Service is ultimately providing a service or support to an individual or company. Doing this well requires a focus on the customer’s needs and a thorough understanding of the product or service you are supporting. Everyone has customers. They may be people who are paying for your service. They may be your manager or another department. Serving those customers well is critical to business success.

Why is it important that we provide excellent customer service?It is the simplest long term way for customers to gauge their importance to your company, to build good will with those customers, and to sell them more product.

A customer that feels valued is likely to stay with you. A customer that feels unvalued is likely to leave. Customers tend to have significantly more exposure to non-sales components of your company than to sales. No matter how your sales people try to make them feel important, the day to day actions of your non sales staff say more. Don’t forget, even internal customers can be lost. It’s a sad day for a company when one department outsources the activities of another department because of ongoing quality issues.

Solving problems for a customer tends to build up good will. Many customers will even accept an inferior product if the service makes them feel important. Please don’t misunderstand me,it is not enough to feed the clients ego. Many companies teach their people to listen and nod and do nothing. This may work with some customers, but the savvy folk will recognize that you are not helping them. Nothing says you don’t matter like ignoring a customers need.

Seth Godin talks a lot about permission marketing. That concept is a little more complex than I can go into here, but the key to the concept is that your best salesmen and your best prospects, are your happy satisfied customers. Finding a customer is hard and expensive. Selling something new and useful to a satisfied customer tends to be easy. You have their attention and their trust. Apple is a great example here. I like their products, but their customer service has blown me away. After a couple of interactions, I am a fan

Word of mouth is another critical sales value that a satisfied customer will provide. Anyone who does high end sales or sales of non-tangibles like insurance or investments will tell you that a personal reference increases their likelihood of making a sale tremendously. Thus satisfied customers not only buy more for themselves, they recommend you to others.

The reverse is also true and even more powerful. Negative customer experiences are amplified through the megaphones of Twitter and Facebook. Frustrated consumers are no longer limited to telling only their friends and acquaintances. They can now scream it across the World Wide Web. Most major companies have taken to monitoring these mediums to help limit the damage dissatisfied customers can do.

Finally, the processes and policies of your company are designed to make customer interaction consistent and high quality. Think for yourself and do the right thing. Don’t be a robot and allow a broken process to drive away a customer.

I firmly believe that every employee is responsible for customer service. It’s our job to put the “Wow” into the customer experience as Michael Hyatt says. We need to make our customers feel valued, solve their problems, and act to make things work for the customer when processes are broken and not serving the need. If we do these things, we’ll see higher customer satisfaction and our customers will buy more product and tell their friends to buy from us as well.

Have you ever had a customer service experience that left you saying “that’s a great company, I’ll buy from them again”?

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What to do when another department is screwing up. September 25, 2012

Posted by thefieldgeneral in Leadership, Project Management.
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In business we often work in silos. When a businesses is segmented like this, it can make it very difficult to resolve problems. What do you do when you have a problem with another department?

Thanks to Vic @http://www.flickr.com/people/59632563@N04/

When problems crop up between business units the temptation is to shoot off an angry, frustrated email explaining your position. Don’t! This is almost always the wrong solution no matter how strongly you feel that your team is in the right. In these cases I have found that there are 3 basic steps that will provide you maximum control of the situation.

1. Assume responsibility for what you can
One of the standard fallouts from interdepartmental problems is “finger pointing”.  A key piece of information here is that often the accusations flying back at you are true. The other department probably has as many problems with what you are doing as you do with them. You need to beat them to the punch. Look at your own operations. Where have your failures made the problem worse? Identify them, document them, and own them. If you find that you have no problems, look harder. You missed something.

In one project a team of mine was having issues with the technical team correctly carrying out their requests. After they complained to me about it, I asked the lead of my team to look at the requests themselves. We found that they were often poorly written and unclear. They were also frequently submitted later than ideal. Understanding this led us to the conclusion that there was a lot we could do to alleviate the issues.

2. Change what you control

The thing that you as a manager need to remember is that you are not a victim. In most cases you can either resolve or mitigate the problem internally. Take mitigation steps. This provides you 2 major advantages. First, you can execute the internal changes more rapidly with less resistance. Second, if the problem escalates, you can show clear intent and action to address the issue.

Once, while doing a series of system implementations, we found that an internet banking group we were working with was consistently miss-configuring their side of the system. We reacted by adding a preemptive quality evaluation to the configuration. We added a double check of our requests to make sure our communication was clean. Then we wrote a document with the step by step implementation steps. It was their problem, but we were the ones dealing with the fall out.

3. How to change what you can’t personally change.
If you’ve identified your issues and implemented your solutions, but you still are having significant problems, it may be time to change the other department. Remember, this is only if you are still having significant issues. Every time you go out to change another group you are taking on significant risks.  If you upset or anger the other department with your meddling, you may end up with even bigger problems. The conflict could spread to an even wider group of departments. Managers talk, and your issue with a department of a business group could spread to the whole group. Beyond the risk, also keep in mind that you are spending personal political collateral to make the change. If you push a minor change now, you may not have the political strength to get a major change pushed through later.

If you are determined to proceed do this:

  • Carefully document the ongoing instances of the problem. The needs are different based on severity, but you need to be able to show that the issue has happened over time (I’d say a month or two in most cases) and is not a fluke (at least 3-4 cases or 10% of cases)
  • Setup a personal meeting with the manager of the other department
  • Outline the issue, what you have identified as issues on your side,and what you have done to mitigate these issues
  • Outline the evidence showing that this is an ongoing problem, and not just a fluke
  • Ask for the managers help in solving the problem. Do not suggest a solution unless they ask you for suggestions. They are the experts in their field and you will be surprised how often they will offer something better than you expected.
  • If they refuse to help, let them know (nicely) that you will need to escalate the issue. Inform your boss of the intent to escalate and repeat the above procedure with the other department’s boss. A lot of managers hate escalations, but it’s hard to get angry at you if you’ve given them plenty of opportunity to act and given them a heads-up.
  • Finally, whether they help or not, the other manager may have additional mitigations or issues for you. You don’t need to address them at the moment, but you do need to address them. This shows that you are willing to act on the other department’s behalf, which builds you significant political capital.

This may sound like a lot, but it keeps relations between the teams good. More importantly it works. Most of this process can be used for interpersonal conflicts as well.

Have you tried any of these techniques to deal with interpersonal or interdepartmental conflicts in the past?

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