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PDD swag May 5, 2013

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Some things to check out April 10, 2013

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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.

Find your voice at work March 4, 2013

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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?


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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No Post this week. October 17, 2012

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Due to business concerns, I won’t be able to post till this weekend. Stay tuned.

What to do when you fail September 19, 2012

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Recently I was in a meeting where I realized one of my projects was failing. It was ugly. It was well exposed to my boss. I came away embarrassed that we were failing. I came away feeling that I had let people down. Now that the anger, embarrassment, and sulking are done, what are the next steps? What do you do when you fail?

Thanks to Kevin Jarrett @http://www.flickr.com/photos/kjarrett/

There are a lot of approaches to how to react to failure. Some people hit it head on. Some people avoid responsibility and redirect blame. For me the right approach is to quickly try to analyze the problem and then take a different direction. I find that failure means one of two things: either there is something for me to learn or I’ve gotten slack.

If there is something I need to learn, the solution is easy. Analyze the process for what failed and correct it. I see this in about 90% of the cases. By gradually improving my personal processes and my department’s processes, I see growing success both in my career and in my company.

In the second case, some kind of corruption has set in.The decay has allowed something we are usually good at to deteriorate. This can occur at either the team or individual level.It is much harder to deal with than the simple learning situations.Still there are a few steps that can help:

1.       Set aside time to specifically deal with the issue

Failures due to process corruption must be fixed quickly. They are like a disease and rapidly spread if not dealt with. You need time to do the remaining steps and without designated time your day will be absorbed by less critical problems. Time needs can vary widely from 10 minutes to 10 hours to 10 days.

2.       Identify why the corruption has occurred

When I talk about process corruption this simply implies that something that used to work no longer does. There are numerous possible issues. Perhaps you or your team has become careless because you are good at this process. Perhaps you have a morale problem. Perhaps external factors are interfering with the normal process flow. External factors can range from personal issues such as a death in the family or depression to 3ed party issues such as interdepartmental strife or uncoordinated changes by other groups.

3.       Correct the core issue

Once it is identified we need to correct the core issue. Personal issues may require counseling or at least a reminder that personal issues cannot impact work performance. External issues may require meetings or realignment of resources. Moral issues may require a look at team dynamics and how to improve.

4.       Correct the resulting failure

The initial failure that let you know there is a problem left a mess that now needs to be cleaned up. Depending on the severity of the failure time frames can vary.

5.       Look for other related failures.

Process corruption is nasty stuff. The root-cause addressed in 2 and 3 above can often impact other projects and processes. Look at what you or your organization does with a high level focus and try to determine if any other processes or projects have been impacted. If they have, correct them.

Here is a case I have dealt with:

I had a meeting which revealed that a project was out of control and the planning was far weaker than I had led myself to believe. Given that I am a strong project planner and analyst and also given that I saw nothing to indicate a lack of knowledge caused this failure, I concluded that I had slacked off and allowed process corruption to sneak into my daily routine.

1.       I immediately scheduled about 2 hours a day for the next week to isolate and solve the problem

2.       I concluded that a slow schedule and relative quietness had lulled me into a more careless management style. I was allowing uncritical and personal items to creep more and more into my daily schedule.

3.       I restructured my schedule and hardened my prioritization process to make sure I was keeping the critical items in perspective. I intentionally allowed my personal schedule to take a hit until I was convinced that my work process was successful again.

4.       I spent a number of hours analyzing and pushing the behind project until it caught up with where it should be.

5.       I looked over my whole schedule. The strengthened prioritization process in 3 above made sure that critical items stayed at the top of the list. I did find a few other items that had also suffered some neglect and moved them up in priority.

What is a situation where you have discovered process corruption in your organization or yourself? What did you do about it?
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The Final 10 Percent September 13, 2012

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Success and failure are a breath apart. In writing most people quit right before their big break. In leadership and project management, it’s the last 10 percent that make all the difference. Here are three thoughts on how to achieve that critical 10 percent.

Thanks to Paul Jerry @http://www.flickr.com/photos/paj/

Proverbs 12:27 tells us “The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions”. My pastor once taught on this little bit of wisdom and gave it a whole new light to me. How much work is roasting the game compared to the rest of the effort involved in hunting, killing, skinning, and dragging game back home? It is very little work, perhaps 10 percent. Yet a person who doesn’t do that last step loses all the rest of the effort. Roasting the meat tends to preserve it, while the raw meat spoils.

How often do we miss out on success because we didn’t do the final ten percent? More importantly, how do we as leaders guide others to push through the last 10 percent? I would suggest 3 ideas:

1. Establish quality as an expectation and inspect what you expect.

I started my career in quality assurance. Later, I moved into development and delivered my work to QA, quality assurance. I still remember the leader of the QA group. He had an expectation of a certain level of quality testing before an item was shipped to QA. In development like so many craftsmen’s arts we tended to tinker with the code right up to delivery. We sought to make it just a bit cleaner and a bit more efficient.

That QA lead saved me embarrassment dozens of times. I would do some final tinkering. Then, I would be tempted to send the code out without re-testing. After all, I had tested the code thoroughly before that last change, and the change was minor. However, the thought of that manager finding failed code and asking me “didn’t you even test this”, caused me to run one more validation. So many times that last tweak broke the code. It was annoying, but it took my code to another level.

What was operating here? Very simply there was a manager who had high expectations (of everyone, but in my mind of me especially) who simply wouldn’t accept anything less that high quality. I knew that the work would be inspected and flaws would likely come back to haunt me. So I made sure every i was dotted and t was crossed.

You can achieve this too. Define high quality. Inspect the work for that quality.

2. Search for the missing 10 percent

A lot of times the problem is that people either don’t know how to roast the game, or don’t realize that they are not doing it. Part of process and project refinement is discovering where this 10 percent is missing. How do we improve our quality?

Every failure is a learning experience. If you treat it this way instead of shaming or punishing your employees, you will find more information and honesty coming your way. You will be able to spot and correct the errors. Finally, your people will become tied to you. There is real personal capital in forgiveness. “Holding someone accountable” for something they had little or no control over simply causes mistrust.

A final thing, your resources and your leaders are going to fail. If you are going to grow them and stretch them, they will fail. We grow many times more rapidly from failure than from success. You’ve got to be a strong enough Manager or Project Manager to accept some of those failures in order to make your people stronger.

3. Create processes that drive the final 10 percent

The key to long term success with the final 10 percent is process. In general the number of lazy people is relatively low. Even introverted people-oriented personalities, who do have a temptation towards laziness, will perform when placed in the correct process or system. Most employee under-performance is due to either a resource that has been placed in the wrong position or a bad process. Three quick things to consider to drive the final 10 percent:

Make sure you constantly improve your processes. Look for gaps and enhance them.

Make sure your team knows these processes. Under trained team members are setup to fail.

Establish project and task reviews to let the employees know that adherence to process will be examined. When you inspect work, you will get what you expect.

What story comes to mind when you hear “do the final 10 percent”?
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This weeks post will be a bit late. September 11, 2012

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Gave the keynote speech at PMI Atlanta last night, so I am running a bit behind on the blog. Stay tuned.

“The problem is at the top; management is the problem” August 13, 2012

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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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On vacation July 23, 2012

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I’m on vacation. Stay tuned next week for the High I post.

Leaders Don’t Type Angry – How to avoid email disasters. June 24, 2012

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Once I sent an angry email to Veggie Tales. Yes, the wonderful cartoon guys who enchant children with bible stories told by talking vegetables. I hope that some sort of glitch caused that email to never arrive. I suspect, however, that Bob the tomato and Larry the cucumber would love to give me a piece of their mind.

The fast pace world of email and text is here and it will not be going away any time soon. Decisions, arguments, and accusations fly real-time, 24/7, across the globe. How does a leader remain effective in a world where split second decisions are locked in computer systems forever?

If you want to have effective, disaster free emails, three main things are required:
1. Email Structure: Should be brief and reviewed.
2. Email Delivery: Leave out Humor and arguments. Deliver bad news personally.
3. Crisis Emails: Need to be reported early and clearly.

Email Structure:
Make Emails what they are. Emails are Memo’s not letters. That means that emails should be short and to the point.
• Try to use simple words if possible. I once sent an email to my staff complaining that we were ignorant of a certain process. There was an uproar as people objected to me calling them stupid. If I’d said I was concerned because people didn’t know the process, it would have been just as effective and would have missed the mess.

• Avoid abbreviations unless the memo is for internal use only. People may not know your alphabet soup.

• Always spell check your emails. It’s a single click and nothing says sloppy like an obvious misspelling in an email.

• Always re-read your emails. Re-reading your emails can point out grammar errors and word drops that your busy fingers missed while you were typing.

• Questions to senior leaders – Keep them extra short.
The more senior the leader, the shorter your emails need to be. When I was younger, I often needed to request information from a Senior Vice President. This principal was made very clear. I could predict response time fairly accurately to be 1 week for every 2 sentences of the email. If the email ever exceeded 6 sentences, the email was lost in the abyss and was never returned.

• Information emails to senior leaders – Layering.
To provide digestible information to senior leaders use information layering. Keep your initial analysis very brief 2-4 sentences. Reserve 2 sentences to explain that deeper dives into the analysis are provided further down in the email. Then provide a bunch of space between the initial message and the deeper analysis. Managers triage their email, and an email with a lot of text will often get saved for later analysis. This is when it vanishes into the email abyss.

Email Delivery: Keep Emails from becoming professional embarrassments.

• Do not email someone who doesn’t know you personally or professionally. Get introduced first unless the issue is critical or you are soliciting. Emails from unknowns are easier to misinterpret and are often misdirected.

• No humor or arguments in emails.

o Emails lack emotional clarity. More than 90% of communication is verbal or tonal. All of this is lacking in an email. Thus an email intending gest can be taken as an insult. An argument intended to be logical and analytical can be taken as angry.
o They last forever. Anything poorly stated is there forever.
o People tend to attach the worst possible emotion to emails. I’ve known at least 2 co-workers I think are best classified as “robots”, no emotion. None-the-less, I have heard numerous complaints about emails from these two that were everything from harsh to sarcastic. In every case, divorced from the wrongly placed emotion, the emails were fine.

• For bad news always pick up the phone.
o Most “bad news” items are complex. Calling gives the receiver a chance to clarify questions with you before they escalate or make an uninformed decision.
o Symbolically sending an email when something bad happens means one of 3 things.
I am too busy to call you. (Translated: Do not approach me for clarification before acting, you cannot reach me anyway. This is a great way to increase you escalations to senior management.)
I’m afraid to tell you in person. (Translated: I’m a wimp who either doesn’t have the authority to help or is afraid you will beat me up.)
I cannot reach you. This is a legitimate reason to email. Your email should also mention why you did not call.
o Always recap the bad news phone call with an email. Now that you have short circuited many of the problems above, document what was said.

Crisis Emails:Act appropriately with Crisis emails

• Report early. Colin Powell remarks “if you ask yourself should I call someone, the answer is generally yes and 5 minutes ago.” The rule is the same for email. I understand the hesitancy; we want to keep noise down with our superiors. If your boss gets blindsided, however, it’s going to be far worse.

Describe an email that you wish you had back or had sent earlier, and how you could have handled it better.
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