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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Leadership Lessons from General Colin Powell

All the lessons below were taken taken from a presentation by General Colin Powell. I like them all, and will publish them here over the coming days.

Lesson 1

"Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off."

Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It's inevitable, if you're honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: you'll avoid the tough decisions, you'll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you'll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset.

Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally "nicely" regardless of their contributions, you'll simply ensure that the only people you'll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.

Lesson 2

"The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."

If this were a litmus test, the majority of CEOs would fail. One, they build so many barriers to upward communication that the very idea of someone lower in the hierarchy looking up to the leader for help is ludicrous. Two, the corporate culture they foster often defines asking for help as weakness or failure, so people cover up their gaps, and the organization suffers accordingly. Real leaders make themselves accessible and available. They show concern for the efforts and challenges faced by underlings, even as they demand high standards. Accordingly, they are more likely to create an environment where problem analysis replaces blame.

Lesson 3

"Don't be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment. Elites can become so inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death as soon as they are nicked by the real world."

Small companies and start-ups don't have the time for analytically detached experts. They don't have the money to subsidize lofty elites, either. The president answers the phone and drives the truck when necessary; everyone on the payroll visibly produces and contributes to bottom-line results or they're history. But as companies get bigger, they often forget who "brought them to the dance": things like all-hands involvement, egalitarianism, informality, market intimacy, daring, risk, speed, agility. Policies that emanate from ivory towers often have an adverse impact on the people out in the field who are fighting the wars or bringing in the revenues. Real leaders are vigilant, and combative, in the face of these trends.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Project Managment Culture

Moving your organization to embrace a “project management culture” takes time and patience. A great first step an organization can take is to ensure that their project leaders are trained and fluent in the discipline of Project Management. Also, and most importantly, senior management must understand and embrace the value of project management, and commit to support the process of implementing project management throughout all levels of the organization.

To help change the organizational culture to one that embraces and values project management, it should fund and support the development of a project office, which can help facilitate rolling out this “project management culture”.

Some first steps that should be taken:
  • Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of existing project managers and project support personnel
  • Develop a basic project management training plan for the entire organization to familiarize all with the project management verbiage and practices
  • Identify and provide specialized advanced training for all project leaders and functional managers
  • Develop a project management office (PMO) to provide enterprise coaching, and to develop and manage your organization’s project management methodology
  • In addition to the methodology, the PMO should develop and maintain standard project management templates for the organization to use
  • Ensure that existing projects are audited and meet your organization’s minimum project management standards
  • Setup a program where your PMO provides coaching to less experienced project managers and oversight of all enterprise projects
  • Ensure all projects have Lessons Learned captured
There are many more things that can be added to the list above, but the intent of this posting was to get people thinking about ways to change the Project Management Culture where they work.

To learn more, you can review the book entitled “Advanced Project Portfolio Management and the PMO” on There is a link to purchase the book on the left hand side of the blog.

Until next time…

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Twenty Good Life Tips

Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.

Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.

Do not believe all you hear, spend all you have or sleep all you want.

When you say, "I love you", mean it.

When you say, "I'm sorry", look the person in the eye.

Be engaged at least six months before you get married.

Believe in love at first sight.

Never laugh at anyone's dreams. People who do not have dreams do not have much.

Love deeply and passionately. You might get hurt but it is the only way to live life completely.

In disagreements, fight fairly. No name-calling.

Do not judge people by their relatives.

Talk slowly but think quickly.

When someone asks you a question you do not want to answer, smile and ask, "Why do you want to know?"

Remember that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

Say, "Bless You" when you hear someone sneeze.

When you lose, do not lose the lesson.

Remember the three R's: Respect for self; Respect for others; Responsibility for all your actions.

Do not let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

When you realize you have made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

Smile when picking up the phone. The caller will hear it in your voice.

Spend some time alone.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Does Your Project Still have Value?

Are you working on a project that has diminished in value? Does your project seem like it would have been a good idea if it was implemented two years ago, two years from now? If you are questioning the value of your project think about these things.

What would happen in your company if the project were cancelled?

Does the project link to your organizations strategic goals and/or objectives?

Does the project have visible support from senior management?

Does the project generate excitement?

Is your organization going to gain efficiencies or be more competitive as a result of successfully completing the project?

Is there lots of negative "buzz" about the project?

I'm sure there are lots of other questions that could be asked when it comes to questioning the value of projects. We need to keep in mind that all projects eventually end. Some end when they are completed successfully, and others are terminated early for a variety of reasons.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you must continually communicate across, up, and down the organization to find out what others are thinking about your project.

If the project manager is the only person in the organization that thinks his or her project has value, then the project manager isn't really thinking.

Does your project still have value? A tough question for certain projects, but one that must be answered on a regular basis.

Monday, March 13, 2006

More Project Management Sayings

It takes one woman nine months to have a baby. It cannot be done in one month by impregnating nine women (although it is more fun trying).

The same work under the same conditions will be estimated differently by ten different estimators or by one estimator at ten different times.

Any project can be estimated accurately (once it's completed).

The most valuable and least used WORD in a project manager's vocabulary is "NO".

The most valuable and least used PHRASE in a project manager's vocabulary is "I don't know".

Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn't have to do it.

You can con a sucker into committing to an impossible deadline, but you cannot con him into meeting it.
At the heart of every large project is a small project trying to get out.

If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

The more desperate the situation the more optimistic the situatee.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.

Too few people on a project can't solve the problems - too many create more problems than they solve.

A problem shared is a buck passed.

A change freeze is like the abominable snowman: it is a myth and would anyway melt when heat is applied.

A user will tell you anything you ask about, but nothing more.

A user is somebody who tells you what they want the day you give them what they asked for.

Of several possible interpretations of a communication, the least convenient is the correct one.

What you don't know hurts you.

The conditions attached to a promise are forgotten, only the promise is remembered.

There's never enough time to do it right first time but there's always enough time to go back and do it again.

The bitterness of poor quality last long after the sweetness of making a date is forgotten.

I know that you believe that you understand what you think I said but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

Estimators do it in groups - bottom up and top down.

If you're 6 months late on a milestone due next week but really believe you can make it, you're a project manager.

No project has ever finished on time, within budget, to requirement - yours won't be the first to.

Activity is not achievement.

The first myth of management is that it exists.

Managing IT people is like herding cats.

If you don't know how to do a task, start it, then ten people who know less than you will tell you how to do it.

A minute saved at the start is just as effective as one saved at the end.

People under pressure do not think faster.

If an IT project works the first time, it is wrong.

If you don't plan, it doesn't work. If you do plan, it doesn't work either. Why plan!

Planning without action is futile, action without planning is fatal.

The person who says it will take the longest and cost the most is the only one with a clue how to do the job.

Planning is an unnatural process, doing something is much more fun.

The nice thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.

Projects happen in two ways: a) Planned and then executed or b) Executed, stopped, planned and then executed.

It's not the hours that count, it's what you do in those hours.

Good control reveals problems early - which only means you'll have longer to worry about them.

If there is anything to do, do it!

If it can go wrong it will - Murphy's law.

If it can't possibly go wrong, it will - O'Malley's corollary to Murphy's law.

It will go wrong in the worst possible way - Sod's law.

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion - Parkinson's law.

Finely chopped cabbage in mayonnaise - Coleslaw.

A two year project will take three years, a three year project will never finish - (anyone know who's law this is?)

Murphy, O'Malley, Sod and Parkinson are alive and well - and working on your project.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Collection of Project Management Sayings

I thought the statements below made a lot of sense, or were humorous. I have many more that I will pass along soon.

Good estimators aren't modest: if it's huge they say so.

The sooner you begin coding the later you finish.

A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.

What is not on paper has not been said.

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

If you fail to plan you are planning to fail.

If you don't attack the risks, the risks will attack you.

A little risk management saves a lot of fan cleaning.

The sooner you get behind schedule, the more time you have to make it up.

A badly planned project will take three times longer than expected - a well-planned project only twice as long as expected.

If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, you haven't understood the plan.

When all's said and done a lot more is said than done.

If at first you don't succeed, remove all evidence you ever tried.

Feather and down are padding - changes and contingencies will be real events.

There are no good project managers - only lucky ones.

The more you plan the luckier you get.

A project is one small step for the project sponsor, one giant leap for the project manager.

Good project management is not so much knowing what to do and when, as knowing what excuses to give and when.

If everything is going exactly to plan, something somewhere is going massively wrong.

Everyone asks for a strong project manager - when they get him they don't want him.

Overtime is a figment of the naïve project manager's imagination.

Quantitative project management is for predicting cost and schedule overruns well in advance.

Good project managers know when not to manage a project.

Metrics are learned men's excuses.

For a project manager overruns are as certain as death and taxes.

If there were no problem people there'd be no need for people who solve problems.

Some projects finish on time in spite of project management best practices.

Good project managers admit mistakes: that's why you so rarely meet a good project manager.

Fast - cheap - good: you can have any two.

There is such a thing as an unrealistic timescale.

The more ridiculous the deadline the more money will be wasted trying to meet it.

The first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time the last 10% takes the other 90%.

The project would not have been started if the truth had been told about the cost and timescale.

To estimate a project, work out how long it would take one person to do it then multiply that by the number of people on the project.

Never underestimate the ability of senior management to buy a bad idea and fail to buy a good idea.

The most successful project managers have perfected the skill of being comfortable being uncomfortable.

When the weight of the project paperwork equals the weight of the project itself, the project can be considered complete.

If it wasn't for the 'last minute', nothing would get done.

Nothing gets done till nothing gets done.

Warning: dates in the calendar are closer than you think.

There is no such thing as scope creep, only scope gallop.

Anything that can be changed will be changed until there is no time left to change anything.

If project content is allowed to change freely the rate of change will exceed the rate of progress.

If you can interpret project status data in several different ways, only the most painful interpretation will be correct.

A project gets a year late one day at a time.

A project isn’t over until the fat check is cashed.

Powerful project managers don't solve problems, they get rid of them.