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Monday, March 26, 2007

Work Jerks and your Project (Revisited)

A book was written not long back entitled "The No A**holes Rule". In it, the author - Robert Sutton -discusses how "A**holes" a.k.a. "work jerks" can cause major disruptions in the workplace. The author  defines work jerks as "people who pick on those beneath them and leave others feeling belittled and sapped of energy. They use their power to schmooze those above them and beat down those beneath them. Much of the rest of their time can be spent bullying their peers".
My takeaway from the book is that jerks at work have a negative impact on the bottom line. They always cost organizations more than they are worth, and they cause upheaval that is harmful to individuals as well as the organization they work for.
What can we do when confronted with jerks on our projects? When possible we should avoid and ignore them. We can also look for ways to work around their influence and create partnerships with others that are willing to help. If somebody believes falsely that being a jerk will get them to the top quicker, there isn't much you and I can do about it. One thing is certain, we don't ever want to emulate their behavior. Jerks are poisonous, they are detrimental to project progress, and the value they sometimes create is erased by the disruption they cause.
Jerks almost always know they are jerks. They don't believe in Win/Win, they believe in Win/Lose (they must win, others must lose). Jerks are self centered, have large egos, and we aren't going to change them.
Project Management Rule: Project managers have to get the job done in spite of work jerks.
As project managers, we must learn to work with all types of people and get our projects completed on time and on budget in spite of them and their behaviors.
Remember, when confronted by a jerk be patient and respectful. Kill them with kindness. Don't forget that jerks can have influence over your project and career, and they occasionally have good ideas. There biggest flaw is they lack good character.
Project Management Rule: Work jerks don't subscribe to lofty ideas like fairness, cooperation, self-discipline, or integrity. They are reactive, many times "enemy-centered", and concerned about defending their desires and rights.
The bottom line is that work jerks lack emotional maturity. One definition of maturity is the balance between courage and consideration. Companies and organizations need to do a better job of screening for jerks during the hiring process. They need to know that studies have shown work jerks cost them more then they produce. Organizations don't need people in a leadership or any position for that matter that have questionable character, a win/lose work ethic, and a Scarcity Mentality.
Project managers need to have conduct that is based upon principles, high ethical standards, and show integrity in everything they do. If we practice these things we will ensure that we are focused on building and maintaining Win/Win relationships, which is what is required to be a successful project manager.
Work jerks rarely have staying power. They will be here today and gone tomorrow because eventually their conduct will catch up with them. Take heart and fight the good fight. It will pay off in the end.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Traits and Attributes of a Good Leader

I found this article in my archive of documents and thought it was important to post it now. If you have been following this blog for any length of time you know I focus a lot of time and energy on leadership and project management. My favorite authors are Dr. Stephen Covey and Tom Peters. Both have a lot to say on the subject of leadership.

I believe the text below is solely attributable to the Santa Clara University and the Tom Peters Group.

Hopefully someone that is leadership challenged will receive value from reading this.

Traits of a Good Leader

• Honesty - Display sincerity, integrity, and candor in all your actions. Deceptive behavior will not inspire trust.

• Competent - Your actions should be based on reason and moral principles. Do not make decisions based on childlike emotional desires or feelings.

• Forward-looking Set goals and have a vision of the future. The vision must be owned throughout the organization. Effective leaders envision what they want and how to get it. They habitually pick priorities stemming from their basic values.

• Inspiring - Display confidence in all that you do. By showing endurance in mental, physical, and spiritual stamina, you will inspire others to reach for new heights. Take charge when necessary.

• Intelligent - Read, study, and seek challenging assignments.

• Fair-minded - Show fair treatment to all people. Prejudice is the enemy of justice. Display empathy by being sensitive to the feelings, values, interests, and well-being of others.

• Broad-minded - Seek out diversity.

• Courageous - Have the perseverance to accomplish a goal, regardless of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Display a confident calmness when under stress.

• Straightforward - Use sound judgment to make a good decisions at the right time.

• Imaginative - Make timely and appropriate changes in your thinking, plans, and methods. Show creativity by thinking of new and better goals, ideas, and solutions to problems. Be innovative!


Attributes establish what leaders are, and every leader needs at least three of them:

Standard Bearers

Establish the ethical framework within an organization. This demands a commitment to live and defend the climate and culture that you want to permeate your organization. What you set as an example will soon become the rule as unlike knowledge, ethical behavior is learned more by observing that by listening. And in fast moving situations, examples become certainty. Being a standard bearer creates trust and openness in your employees, who in turn, fulfill your visions.


Help others learn through teaching, training, and coaching. This creates an exciting place to work and learn. Never miss an opportunity to teach or learn something new yourself. Coaching suggests someone who cares enough to get involved by encouraging and developing others who are less experienced. Employees who work for developers know that they can take risks, learn by making mistakes, and winning in the end.


Orchestrate the many activities that take place throughout an organization by providing a view of the future and the ability to obtain it. Success can only be achieved when there is a unity of effort. Integrators have a sixth sense about where problems will occur and make their presence felt during critical times. They know that their employees do their best when they are left to work within a vision-based framework.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Organizational Project Management Best Practices

The term "best practice" is thrown around a lot these days. Many times there is no documented evidence for a practice to be recognized as "best". In the world of project management best practices can be difficult to quantify, and because of this, it makes it difficult to determine which of these practices might work in your organization. Project management best practices exist, however you need to look at the data closely to determine what is best for your organization.

Proven practices that can help an organization improve project management results are:

Establish a formal project management structure

Create measurable, repeatable processes created to form a project management methodology tailored to the organizations needs that is aligned with the Guide to the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge).

Identify best of breed project management tools and technology

Get buy-in and executive involvement in project management

Hire experienced project management practitioners

Develop a formal project management training program

Develop a process to ensure alignment of projects to organizational strategy

Develop a clear strategy for oversight, ownership, and prioritization of projects, programs, and portfolios

If one of the practices above is missing or neglected an organization won't have an effective or efficient project management program. It is clear from readily available data that most organizations do a poor job of ensuring that strategic goals and objectives are aligned with the operational work, programs, and projects. To bridge this gap a Program Management Office, Project Support office, or a similar named organization is required. A properly run project management office can ensure that project management processes and projects/programs are aligned with organizational strategies.

Some areas that organizations need the most help with regarding enterprise project management are:

Organizational project reporting

Project coordination among various groups, departments, and divisions

Resource alignment among various departments and projects

Project process development and management

Project management training

Management of project management tools, templates and processes

To build organizational project management maturity your organization will need to determine:

The current project management maturity level (an assessment)

Determine how and what a new project management organization will function and be measured

Develop or refine project, program and portfolio/strategic management processes

In closing, to develop a high-performing enterprise project management office, an organization requires courageous leadership at the highest levels of the organization. It requires leaders with vision, not personal agendas of building empires.

Finally, don't follow the proven failed strategy of having a Project Management office report to a particular functional group. This model has been tried and has failed to many times, especially in the IT environment. Studies and surveys have shown that the most effective project management groups are independent of functional groups.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Are You Adding Value and Making a Positive Impact at Work?

How are you conducting yourself at work? Personal conduct flows directly from your character. Your character is radiated to others by what you say and do. What you say and do, and more importantly, what you have said and done in the past forms the basis of how others perceive you. Have you lied or used your power or influence to the detriment of others? Have you put personal relationships or interests above the interests of the organization? Have you used your position to get your way by means that were perceived by others to be unprofessional or unethical? If you answered yes, to any of the above, then you are damaged goods in your organization.

Quote: Unless you have deep roots, you won't bear much fruit – Author Unknown

The workplace demands responsible behaviors from all employees, but especially from its leaders. Leaders must be held accountable to what I call the Leadership Accountability Triangle. The three legs of the triangle are: Process, Communications, and Results. When measuring a leader's performance the three legs should be weighted equally.

One of the legs I will focus on today is Communications. It is irresponsible behavior for project managers and organizational leaders to communicate important topics exclusively using e-mail. When this happens, what they are saying is you and/or your group isn't worth their time.

EMOTIONAL OUTBURST: E-mail is a poor choice to use when relaying important project and/or critical organizational communications. Using e-mail exclusively to relay vital information shows a true lack of leadership and poor management skills.

My opinion is, ditch the e-mail when you need to communicate something important. You aren't so important that you can't take the time to pick up the phone or make a personal visit to communicate an important message. To put this in a real-world light, I have seen multiple situations where departments/divisions were radically reorganized and the leader(s) decided to communicate the change via e-mail. This was a cowardly act, and a horrible example of leadership. I call it Absentee Management by Design.

PERSONAL RANT #1: If you have something important to convey, make a personal visit, or at a minimum pick up the phone. Also, if it isn't worth your time to visit or call, then it probably wasn't that important. If I'm not worth some of your time, your message isn't worth much to me.

Organizations that are successful find ways to communicate effectively and inspire their staff. One way to do this is to create and live by Win/Win Agreements and relationships.

To have a Win/Win relationship you must have:

Desired Results: what will be done and when will it be done (negotiated)

Resources: people, money, organizational

Accountability: performance standards, measures

Consequences: good and bad

Win/Win agreements are about mutual understanding. If you want to understand others, you must listen to them. Not hear them, but listen to them. We can't communicate effectively unless we are listening to each other. If you dictate to me, I stop listening to you. Acknowledge me and validate my feelings, and I will listen to you.

PERSONAL RANT #2: E-mail isn't an effective two-way communication tool. I can't "hear" you and you can't "hear" me because were not talking.

Win/Win agreements require mutual respect. Organizational and personal wisdom are also an important part of crafting effective Win/Win agreements.

I'm sure we can agree (or maybe not) there are lots of "smart" people in our organizations; however smart people don't usually do the hard work. In fact, my experience has been that intelligence rarely equals wisdom. Wisdom is what we must seek when crafting Win/Win agreements. Wise people are your organization's greatest assets; because they are great listeners and are open to new ideas. To quote from, "wisdom is the ability, developed through experience, insight and reflection, to discern truth and exercise good judgment. Wisdom is sometimes conceptualized as an especially well developed form of common sense".

In closing, be wary of what I will call the e-mail preacher. E-mail preachers use the computer as their pulpit to preach their sermons. Remember an effective preacher is a great teacher. Effective teaching doesn't come from a keyboard. It comes from human interaction, a shared learning experience, where there is a feedback loop and an opportunity for face-to-fact dialogue and debate.

PERSONAL NOTE #3: I'm not impressed by the e-mail preachers. If I want to hear a speech (one way conversation) I will attend a political rally.

A visible leader that inspires by example and is available, engaged, and is aligned with the organization's mission and interested in the well-being of his/her subordinates is a rare commodity, but is still sorely needed in today's organizations.

As Stephen Covey says "If you can't inspire others than you are an impediment to progress. Satisfied needs do no motivate. It's only the unsatisfied need that motivates. Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to validated, to be appreciated".

PERSONAL RANT #4: You can't get validation or inspiration from leaders that communicate important messages via e-mail. Those that aren't seen aren't relevant.

FREE ADVICE TIP # 1: Ensure your behavior is driven by principles not expanding your powerbase. Make commitments, make promises, and then keep them. Acknowledge mistakes quickly and make amends. These are the signs of a true leader. Once done, you can effectively enter into Win/Win agreements.

Lastly, weak leaders, whiners, blame agents, and chronic complainers are commonplace in today's organizations. However, you can choose to take a higher road and make a difference. You can always find something wrong with something or someone; instead, reward somebody for doing something right.

Be an inspiration, not an empty suit or just another talking head.