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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Projectsteps End of Year Tips, Hints, and Free Advice

Projectsteps End of Year Tips, Hints, and Free Advice

Buy at least one share of Apple Computer stock (AAPL)

Tell somebody you care, and how much they really mean to you. Let them know how they have changed your life.

If you have children, encourage them with love, and let them know they are a blessing to you.

If you live to make more money, get a (new) life!

If you aren't having fun doing your job, move on to something new.

Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes - Tom Peters! (Are you listening BH?).

Embrace change and do all you can to expose unethical behavior.

Don't allow deadbeat managers and/or lazy executives to ruin your career or influence your project.

Gossiping is for children and old women. Don't be a part of the office gossip loop.

Great leaders with ethics and a solid morale center are rare. I have never met one; however I'm sure they exist. Seek them out with everything you have.

Executives have forgotten how to be leaders. Because of this, we have a 200 billion dollar trade deficit, stock option scandals, CEOs going to prison, massive layoffs, outsourcing to India, disloyal workers, and a plethora of corrupt politicians. Make sure before you go to work for an organization you know who is running the show.

Love the unlovable.

Be nutty at work. Somebody will appreciate the break in the monotony.

Find a manager in your company that is doing a bad job and ask them about the middle management shake up that is eminent. Walk away quickly before they can respond.

Look at yourself in the mirror closely for 60 seconds. Feel really bad that you look so old, then remember that life is precious and be thankful to God that tomorrow is a new day.

Challenge authority when it makes sense. Project managers can't be wimps.

Don't respect unrespectable people. Avoid them, workaround them, go through them. They are career killers.

If you like to solve problems and make a difference, work for a non-profit or charity.

Be a blessing to somebody.

Thanks for listening.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Stephen F. Seay, PMP

Monday, December 04, 2006

Strategic Projects and Plans

We have a strategic plan where I work, however we don't have a strategic or portfolio planning office to manage the output of the strategic plan (the projects). A strategic plan is basically an outline for a list of strategic projects. Strategic projects are focused on mid and long term goals and are authorized by senior management. Without a strategic planning office there is not an effective strategic plan, and a strategic plan that isn't effective isn't worth the paper it is printed on.

According to some research, 50-80% of strategic plans never come to fruition. I would bet that most of these failed strategic plans were due to organizations not having a strategic planning office. As I mentioned, my organization has a strategic plan, and while well thought out, it doesn't appear to be very effective at consistently delivering measurable results. I say this because I don't see a project portfolio or list of strategic projects, and there is no organization to oversee these projects at the enterprise level. Also, the projects that do come out of our strategic plan aren't usually very S.M.A.R.T. - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resource Constrained/Relevant, Time-bound.

If your projects aren't S.M.A.R.T they aren't worth planning and executing.

Organizations, especially local governments, can tweak and refine their strategy over time. This can be due to the ever changing political winds, environmental factors, customer demands, changing priorities, resource constraints, a lack of political will, or executive apathy (laziness), but more often it is because of a lack of an enterprise project management focus. Whatever the case, a strategic planning office can help an organizations focus on what is important in regards to the management of strategic projects.

When thinking about strategic projects think about the following:

  • How the projects will be selected?
  • How the projects will be funded?
  • How the projects will be monitored and reported against?
  • How will project audits be conducted?
  • Who sponsors the projects?
One final thing, review PMI's OPM3 (Organizational Project Management Maturity Model) to help you transform your organization's strategy into action.

Also, remember the Strategic Planning Circle - Strategy ---> Ideas ---> Projects ---> Change

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Communication Failure?

When project teams are surveyed at the end of failed projects, poor communications is always cited as being one of the major causes. Why does this keep happening? Why is project communications so poorly executed so often. My short answer is that many project managers are arrogant, inattentive, and oblivious to the feelings and needs of the project team.

Project managers get busy. Many times they don't make time to manage project communications properly. Also, the project manager may think they are doing a good job communicating, but that may not be the case.

Project managers must remember that the project team is made up of individuals. Each person on the team has a preference for the types of communication they like to receive, and each person processes communications differently.

Some things to monitor that may point to poor project communications are:

Trust - Does the team trust you (the project manager)? How do you know? Everybody will not trust you all the time. Team members that don't trust the project manager will not be open in their communications. They will tend to either shut down or challenge the project manager at every turn.

De-motivated - Where are we going? Are we going where we said we were going when we started? Did we clearly state where we were going before we started?

Whining - Despair and anxiety take over the team or key team members. Infighting is prevalent and people are starting to talk openly about the project being a failure.

Incompetence - Team isn't sharing information and learning. Perhaps the team has had little to no training, or the training received was of poor quality.

All the above can be overcome, however it requires that the project manager is listening and changing strategy when necessary to get the team back on track. Just because you are a project manager doesn't make you a good communicator, however ignoring problems like the ones mentioned above will make you a bad project manager.

My two cents are, be a leader. Lead through your communication and your ability to motivate your team to get the job done. Be on the lookout for the above warning signs. When you see signs of the warning signs act quickly, follow-up, then continue to monitor.

Poor project team synergy is the fault of the project manager. There are a lot of incompetent project managers that are hurting our profession because they either refuse to alter their communication styles or are too arrogant to change. My advice to them is to change their ways or leave the project management profession.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Project Management Maturity and You

The subject of Project Management Maturity has been given a lot of press lately. At this year's PMI Global Conference there were lots of vendors selling all kinds of products to help organizations and project managers increase their project management maturity level. As project managers, we need training and tools to help us perform to at our best. Over the years I have evaluated several products to help me manage my projects more effectively. I like two products in particular because they are reasonably priced, and have free templates and processes available on their websites that you can put to use right away.

The products I'm speaking of are:
TenStep's Project Management Process and
PMOStep - Project Management Office process also available from TenStep

I also use a great collection of templates and forms called the Project Management Kit from Method123.

As I said, I own, use, and highly recommend products from both of these vendors. They are the only sites I advertise on this blog because I use them both and can say that they are a great deal for the money.

Now, lets talk about Project Management Maturity.

It is widely agreed that there are five levels of Project Management Maturity.

They are (my definition):

LEVEL 1 - INITIAL- No consistency in the organization's approach to project management

LEVEL 2 - REPEATABLE - There are some project management processes being utilized. There are some procedures developed for managing projects. There are some measures in place to help measure project management performance.

LEVEL 3 - DEFINED - Formal integrated processes are in place and they are agreed upon. There are project management coaches in the organization, and project management training is emphasized and provided to all project managers. Project management procedures are integrated around project scope, quality, time, cost, etc.

LEVEL 4 - MANAGED - Project reviews and benchmarking are formal. Project results are and procedures are benchmarked and used as a basis for improvement.

LEVEL 5 - OPTIMIZED - Continuous improvement is the driver behind project management excellence. Data is used to make decisions. Errors and anomalies are analyzed and patched to support continuous improvement. Project management success is visible to all. Project management skills and a project centric culture is embedded in the organization. Performance and innovation drive the organization towards excellence.

We exist as project managers to help our organization improve project performance. In order to help ourselves and our organization's projects succeed, we need to:

Continuously improve our project management processes and procedures

Conduct post project reviews

Benchmark our project results internally and externally

Be continuous learners

Use tools that are relevant to our jobs

Monday, October 30, 2006

Project Change Management

I have returned from Seattle, and PMI put on another great global congress. I'm reenergized about my profession and the opportunities available for Project Managers. If you haven't attended a PMI Global Conference I would strongly suggest you try to attend the next one in 2007 in Atlanta, GA.

One of the things I'm trying to focus on this year is doing a better job of managing project change. Remember, project management is really about controlling change. As project managers we need to control change in order to control our project's scope. If we don't do a good job of controlling change our project will get off track quickly.

Develop a good change management process during project initiation, and utilize it throughout your project.

Some other change management tips:

Capture all requests for change in writing

Have a common process for approving or rejecting change requests

Understand what the change(s) will impact

Understand how the change will impact your costs, schedule, scope, and quality

Make sure you have the right people review the change

If changes are approved, ensure you update any baselines that are impacted by the change

Changes in your project are inevitable, but controlling change is the responsibility of the project manager. Are you in control of your project's change?

Friday, October 20, 2006

PMI Global Congress - Seattle

I'm headed to Seattle for the annual PMI Global Congress. I always enjoy this conference because I'm able to see the latest products the vendors have, and always learn a lot from the various presentations.

I have really been busy this week. I'm in the final stages of implementing an Asset/Work Management system for our IT group and the challenges have been a bit overwhelming at times. I long for the days when I had a strong sponsor and some level of commitment from all stakeholders. I work in a very challenging environment where Earned Value and IT Project Management aren't always highly valued.

I have learned in my current environment that results aren't always as important as managing perceptions.

I have always believed as Project Managers we should be judged equally on what I call the PCA Triangle. At the top of the triangle is a "P" for Process. On the bottom right is "C" for Communication, and at the bottom left is "R" for Results. Remember I said we "should" be measured equally in regards to our overall performance.

Some organizations focus mainly on results when evaluating projects and project managers. This is a big mistake. If I manage a project and make everyone mad, don't communicate up, down, and across the organization, but deliver the project on time and on budget did I succeed? What if the scope wasn't properly captured due to poor communications and lack of process? Will people really embrace the project's deliverables? Will they project even be accepted?

Results are important, but the process you use to get the results and the way you communicate along the way are just as important.

Hope to see some of you in Seattle. E-mail me using the following address if you are in Seattle next week and we can meet for coffee - sseay(at)

Until next week!

Stephen F. Seay, PMP

Monday, October 09, 2006

Projects, Leaders, and Discipline

One of the things that hurt project teams most is the lack of an enterprise (executive) focus and oversight regarding the management of projects. It takes discipline to manage projects, and enterprise project discipline is lacking when executives are disinterested or disengaged. Great organizations (not project managers) manage projects well, and in doing so they have employees with higher morale, they get better project results, and implement projects faster with higher quality.

So why don't more organizations keep closer tabs on their projects at the enterprise level? Some would say the executives are too busy strategizing, and the projects are running just fine without their oversight. I think people that say this are fooling themselves and have little to no project management discipline. The data is clear that projects are delivered faster, cheaper, and with higher quality when projects results are reviewed by the enterprise (executives).

Before we go further, we need to ensure we have a clear understanding of the word discipline. Discipline is the act of encouraging a desired pattern of behavior. George Washington said: "Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable, procures success to the weak, and esteem to all". In other words, discipline is the glue that holds organizations together.

We can't have agile and effective project methodologies or organizational processes without discipline. In short, effective discipline requires effective organizational oversight. Finally, discipline begins at the top and works its way down. Organizations with poor discipline have weak, ineffective leaders at the top. Weak, unengaged, ineffective leaders kill organizations. Can you say Enron?

The lack of project discipline is the fault of all project team members, but the cause of a lack of discipline lies at the top of the organization.

Disconnected, disinterested, and unengaged leadership is unacceptable in any organization. Undisciplined organizations have high turnover, low employee morale, and poor project results. These organizations cheat their investors and customers by not providing the highest level of service possible. Highly disciplined organizations make and keep commitments, manage to clearly stated and measurable goals, and have executives that are engaged and visibly participate in the oversight of projects and day-to-day operations. If you aren't visible, your aren't relevant. If you aren't relevant, you aren't needed.

In closing, dysfunctional organizations believe that the workers are solely responsible for managing projects and other day-to-day work. These organizations believe that the executives should spend the majority of their time strategizing and making policy. This is a failed approach (see General Motors, Ford, K-Mart, etc), and ensures the work, including projects, will take longer than planned and cost more than what was budgeted.

Executive leadership and oversight of projects has been proven to motivate project teams to be accountable, results driven, and focused on achieving a common goal. Good executive leadership provides the glue that keeps teams working together, provides inspiration, exhibits integrity, sets an example for others to follow, and is accountable.

Leadership is action, not position - Donald H. McGannon.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Message by Bob Moorehead

This has been around for quite some time. I thought it was worth posting here for people that haven't read it. Very profound, very true, very sad. 

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways , but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce morec opies than ever, but we communicate less and less. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw away morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

VUGs and Projects

I like the quote by Malcolm Forbes that goes, "You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who can do nothing for them". I have been fortunate over the years to have worked for people that had good character and lived by high ethical standards. At the same time, I have worked with and for people that only care about their own vague agendas, that speak mostly gibberish (technobabble), and refuse to acknowledge the accomplishments of others. I call these people, "VUGs". VUG is an acronym for Vague, Unclear, and Gibberish- speaking.

I'm sure you know a few VUGs. They come to meetings, (they love e-mail) and try to prove how smart they are by using "industry" jargon, corporate gibberish-speak, and what has been referred to as "technobabble". They are generally laid back, often personable, will complement you to your face, and put you down behind your back. They are insecure, generally soft-spoken, power hungry, yet calm in the face of crisis. They blame others, never apologize, and love recognition. When they do try to recognize others, it is usually out of guilt or a sense of corporate duty.

VUGs like unclear (immeasurable) strategies and objectives. They ensure that they can't personally be held accountable because they speak in vague terms and future perfect scenarios. Timeframes usually aren't important to VUGs. In fact, they will never state a definitive deadline for anything that can come back to bite them. They love to delegate, are unwilling to debate, and are usually unable to deal effectively with others because of a lack of self-confidence or guilt from the way they have treated others.

VUGs speak in VUGlish, a language all their own. When VUGs speak what they say rarely has a connection to organizational strategy, is peppered with gibberish, or is a long-winded rambling of disconnected thoughts and ideas linked to immeasurable goals.

So what does all this mean? For the project manager, having a VUG for a project sponsor, as your manager, or as one of your stakeholders is inevitable. How we handle them will help determine how successful we are when managing our project.

As project managers we have to de-VUG our projects. We de-VUG our projects by ensuring that language in our scope documents, project plans, and other project documentation is:

Specific and Clear

Linked to Organizational or Departmental Strategy

Is Written in Plain Language

Is Measurable

Has Definitive Dates (deadlines) for all Milestones and Deliverables

If you are ignorant of the VUGs that can influence your project, your projects could get VUGly!

What do you think? Do you agree, or disagree? Do you know a VUG?

Leave me a comment or e-mail me.

I hereby lame claim to inventing the following words and phrases:

VUG, VUGlish, de-VUG, VUGly, VUGger, VUGliness, VUGinator, deVUGify, Coyote VUGly, VUGstard, VUGnation, StarVUGs, iVUG, VUGoogle

Anybody else have more VUGisms?

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Project Sponsor - The Good and Bad

Most projects cross departmental or enterprise lines of authority, and many projects get funding from more than one source. We all should know that projects are temporary endeavors undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. It is the temporary nature and uniqueness of projects that make the job of project manager so difficult. Project managers must work with different groups of people (stakeholders) to meet project objectives, and usually don't have any much authority to get stakeholders to perform the project work. A strong project sponsor can help the project manager address the people issues (and many more project issues that will arise).

A project sponsor's role is to help make project decisions (formal authority), and he or she is ultimately responsible for the project's success. The sponsor should come from the executive or senior management ranks (depending on the size of the project) and should be influential, a respected politician, and have a track record for getting things done. You don't want a "Political Shark" for a sponsor.

The sponsors authority and stature should be such that they are independent as much as possible of the project's goals and objectives so they can cut through the political landscape to get critical project decisions made.

Sponsors don't just support projects; they support the project manager and project team. They are the project champion and won't allow others to sabotage the project manager, the project team, or the project's goals. They have authority that comes from their title and position within the organization. In order for sponsors to be effective they must have organizational respect, proven leadership qualities, and, be honest in their dealings. As mentioned before, they aren't political sharks, they are adept at rallying the troops (project team and stakeholders), presenting a clear message, and are supportive of the project manager.

Ideal Sponsor Responsibilities

Writes the Project Charter

Help to define Project Team Roles and Responsibilities

Acts as an Advisor to the Project Manager

Removes Obstacles

Reviews and Approves any Statements of Work/Contracts and Planning Documents

Bad Sponsor Characteristics

Too busy to meet with the project manager and project team

Doesn't have time to write a project charter

Won't get involved in assigning project roles and responsibilities

Doesn't have time to approve documents, or delegates all sponsor responsibility to others.

Blames others when things go wrong, and/or won't work to resolve project issue(s)

Always takes credit for any project success

Is surprised when the project's deliverables aren't what they expected

A bad sponsor is a project manager's worst nightmare. Avoid them at all costs if possible.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Project Management and Business Process Mapping

Hopefully, every project manager has been involved at one time or another with helping their customers map their business processes. Business process maps make work flow visible, understandable, and measurable. An important consideration when mapping your business processes is to view them through the eyes of your customers.

Four steps you can take to begin Process Mapping are:

Identify Your Organization's/Project's Business Processes

What are the processes in your organization that your project will impact?
What new processes will be created once your project is implemented?
What are your customers understanding of your processes?
What are the key trigger points of your processes?

Gather required information

Who are the process owners?
What are the processes you've identified trying to accomplish?
What is the level of quality required? Risk?
What are the control points?

Documenting the Processes

What are all the steps of the processes?
What are the objectives of the processes?
What are the inputs and outputs?
What tools or techniques are applied in each process step?
Where does the process begin and end?
Who owns the process?
Who monitors the process?
How we will know it is working?

Analysis (post mapping)

Is the process efficient?
Does it make sense?
What steps are unnecessary?
Is the process in line with departmental or enterprise objectives?
Are there too many approvals or too much rework?
Are there too many delays or bottlenecks?
Is the process efficient? How do you know?
What measures will be put in place to ensure the process is as efficient as possible?

There are many opportunities for problems to occur when mapping processes, but getting started will help your organization to become more effective. Once you become good at mapping your business processes everyone in your organization will begin to understand their role in the organization, what the organization it trying to accomplish, and feel like they are part of the effort to help drive improvements and efficiencies.

There are plenty of books on the subject to help your get started. Click the link below for books that can help.

Process Mapping Books

Monday, August 28, 2006

Important Words

Important Words for the Workplace

The six most important words: "I admit I made a mistake"

The five most important words: "You did a great job."

The four most important words: "What is your opinion?

The three most important words: "If you please"

The two most important words: "Thank You"

The one most important word: "We"

The least important word: "I"

Important Words for Relationships

The six most important words: "I admit I made a mistake"

The five most important words: "You are everything to me"

The four most important words: "How can I help?"

The three most important words: "I love you"

The two most important words: "I'm sorry"

The one most important word: "Us"

The least important word: "I"

I ran across the "Important Words for the Workplace" while browsing my hard drive. I don't know where I found it, but I thought it was very good. Below the Workplace list you will find one my Dad e-mailed me years ago regarding relationships.

I list them here because part of being a good Project Manager is building trust among your team members, and an important part of building trust is being empathetic, and letting people know you care.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Pete's Estimating Laws

Pete's Estimating Laws - A Humorous Look At Estimating

This week's posting was found at Project While meant to be humorous, it has many facts that need to be kept in mind when estimating your project.

1. Everything takes longer than you think (sometimes a lot longer)

2. Thinking about everything takes longer than you think

3. Project Managing and leading a project team is a FULL TIME job, and then some

4. Software Engineers are always optimistic (generally REALLY optimistic)

5. Schedules are (almost) always wrong

6. If you under-estimated an early task when you wrote the WBS (schedule), you probably under-estimated middle and later tasks. Revisit the later phases of the schedule as early as possible when you discover early phase schedule (estimate) errors

7. Business types (upper management) REALLY do use your estimates for planning. For example, head count, money, customer deliverables, shipping dates, ordering materials, scheduling manufacturing lines, advertising timing, etc. Be able to express your level of confidence on various estimates when you provide them to others

8. Initially, a good schedule estimate is 80% confidence for near term deliverables, 60-80% for long-term deliverables. Revisit the schedule and revise your estimates after the Initiation Phase (Kickoff) and again after the Design Phase to improve on these early confidence levels

9. Don’t let yourself be bullied into committing to something you cannot achieve

10. Don’t bully someone else into committing to something they cannot achieve

11. Notify “Need To Know” people AS SOON AS POSSIBLE if there is a significant problem or potential problem in meeting the schedule. Remember that there was a certain degree of optimism in the schedule originally. Note: It's an art to not over-do this

12. Let team members know that you, the project manager, expect early notification of schedule problems as a courtesy. You decide on the severity or risk of the problem and its impact to the schedule, what actions to take, and what contingencies are appropriate

13. Most people’s estimating skills improve with experience; some don’t

14. Learn your own estimating flaws and compensate for them. Then learn the flaws in your new estimations and compensate for them. Repeat continuously while employed as a project manager

15. Learn others' estimating flaws and learn to compensate for them. Mentor them on improving their flaws and then compensate for their improvements. Repeat continuously while they are on your project team

16. In some environments, some people are hedging their estimates, some people are expecting them to hedge the estimates and some people are doing neither. It’s an interesting problem to get all of them to stop this behavior and have people give honest, best-effort estimates. Laws 14 and 15 are useful for dealing with this variability while you are working to get your team members to be more honest with you. Laws 13-16 are part of the "people aspects" of the project management job - like it or not, we have to deal with these "real world effects" on the projects we manage

17. Be wary of anyone who wants 100% confidence in an estimate. 90% confidence is an exceptional human achievement for any complex task, even with extremely good data

18. Look up the word “estimate” in the dictionary. You may find it useful in a meeting

Friday, August 18, 2006

10 Unbreakable Rules for Project Success

10 Unbreakable Rules for Project Success
Mark Lilly and Tim Rahschulte

Why do so few projects succeed? Despite the decades of increasingly complex attempts to manage projects, far too many managers overlook the 10 Unbreakable Rules for Project Success. As outlined below, these common sense guidelines hold the key to increasing your success rate and delivering greater consistency across your project's lifecycle.

Rule #1: Know what you are doing

Take a deep breath and a half step back. See where it is you wish to go and know what it is you are trying to accomplish. See how it may be coordinated or in conflict with other project efforts across the organization. Focus to the point where you can be deliberate.

Rule #2: Know why you are doing it

Just as it is important to understand what you are doing, it is equally important to understand why you are doing it. This adds perspective and dimension that the project exists for reasons beyond itself. Research has shown that when a project results in deliverables that are designed to meet a thoroughly documented need, then there is a greater likelihood of project success. So managers should insist that there is a documented business need and justification for the project before they agree to consume organizational resources in completing it.

Typically, projects are born from one of two notions: (1) there is an external force such as a market demand or opportunity, or (2) there is an internal force such as operational inefficiencies or manufacturing throughput problems. Either reason requires a project focused work effort. But from a project perspective you need to know why you are doing what you are doing. This has impact on creating metrics, identifying stakeholders, and (possibly most important) creating a comprehensive plan for execution. Is the project necessary? Does it align with the organization's purpose and achieve major goals and objectives for the firm? Can you see the positive change it has on the organization and its customers? If yes, proceed.

Rule #3: Be prudent, honest and prepared

No organization has unlimited time and funds, so be prudent and deliberate with each project task and action. Do not waste people's time for it is precious and expensive and as such should be spent on positive and productive endeavors.

There has not been a single project that has succeeded under the guidance of the dishonest and yours will not be the first. Trust in your team. Be proactively upfront and honest.

Remember Louis Pasteur, "Chance favors only the prepared mind" so forever be prepared. Projects are too dynamic to depend on luck and chance to guide your way. Prepare to fail. Prepare to be surprised? Prepare for the 'what-ifs' you are sure to face throughout the lifecycle of your project. And, prepare to succeed.

Rule #4: Play to your strengths

This rule takes on many themes. But in short, know what you know. This is true when looking at the organizational level and the project level work. How well do you remember your Economics from college? In 1776, Adam Smith argued that trade is a zero sum game in his great work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations. Attacking mercantilist assumptions, Smith explained differences in countries based on their abilities to efficiently produce goods, making way for the idea of absolute advantage. This advantage is apparent when a producer of a good is more efficient than any other, thus gaining a superior edge over competitors.

This theory still holds true today and is applicable not only from country to country as Smith argued, but also from organization to organization. The point is, focus on your core competencies and outsource or partner as much as possible with experts who posses a superior advantage.

Rule #5: Know how to navigate

You need a plan and need time to plan. You must be able to envision the final result of the successful project, break that result down into manageable milestones or phases of work and define the critical path to each milestone. This means breaking down the vision of the project into understandable pieces for everyone on the team.

Some enterprises follow a predetermined methodology for all projects. Many enterprises do not. If you do not have a project methodology, know there is no easier way to fail than by just winging it. The next easiest way to fail is to manage every project in a different way. With this approach, you are sure to achieve lackluster performance and retain zero project-based knowledge. Find or create a methodology that works for your organization's business and within your culture, then manage and refine it as you grow.

Your plan needs to break down each work effort, allocate appropriate time for full completion of each task and assign an owner responsible for successfully accomplishing the task. Please note: you, as a project manager, need to understand that individuals responsible for task completion must have the knowledge, skill and tools to achieve their tasks.

Knowing the who, what, when is not confined to only the project team. What about the stakeholders? They have roles and responsibilities too and therefore need coordinating. Whether they are acknowledgers, advisers, critiquers, or vetoers/approvers, you have to coordinate their efforts and make sure they understand what they need to do, why, and when.
Projects are fluid, dynamic, real. Hence, unexpected events are sure to arise and deviate the team from its original plan. These occurrences do not mean the project outcomes are destined to be lived out only in the theories of blue skies. Rather, they are mere occurrences that must be addressed by intelligent people who can navigate precisely through problems and issues.

Rule #6: Know how to communicate

It is imperative to know how to communicate effectively, whether it is written, verbal, visual, body language or the like. It may be better to know that assumptions run wild on project teams; and assumptions foster perceptions; and perceptions create an errant reality. This is what will challenge your communication skills. Since teams are comprised of individuals, all with unique thinking capacities, you must be able to communicate to a diverse group of folks with differing perceptions, beliefs and cares. To best communicate, do so in detail and be colorful. That is, quantify your statements and use examples and stories when possible. And, make sure your statements are based in fact.

To keep the team informed of project work underway and forthcoming events, sponsor regular project meetings and share regular project status reports and/or scorecards. Remember, projects do not always remain on course. To that end, not all communication is favorable. If bad things happen, communicate the bad and reinforce the risk/issue mitigation plan that is in place. Do not shy away from needed any communication, but know when to stop talking and get back to acting upon the information just shared.

Rule #7: Know how to succeed

Projects are meant to succeed. They are meant to make organizations better and customers more satisfied. The first step to satisfying all project stakeholders is to believe you will succeed with the project, and instill that mindset into your team members.
All projects ride on three pillars of strength: people, resources and knowledge. When you have professional personnel, enough time and money, and the right information, quality results ensue from each project engaged. However, if you have too few or too many of these, you will struggle or worse.

Further, projects tied to a key organizational goals or major objective seem to have a greater chance of success. If your project is not tied to an organizational goal, refer to Rule #2 and make sure you understand why you are involved with the project.

A positive attitude is a must. Project leaders and team members must believe a project can succeed or it never will. As well, the organization must be set up to succeed, with every project underway addressing the goals of the firm. As each project succeeds it reinforces the organization's goals and strengthens its chances for success.

Rule #8: Know how to fail

If you want to fail, compromise one of the three pillars described in Rule #7. Trust me, compromising any one of the three will do just fine.

This rule is not meant to be a way out of difficult projects. Again, projects are supposed to succeed. This rule, rather, is here to get you to know what to look for in a failing project and be able to respond quickly with the mitigation plan. Projects fail for many reasons: lack of commitment from senior management; no clear vision; deliverables are not defined; no plan for success let alone quantified risk mitigation; decisions are made based widely on assumptions rather than business data and fact; stakeholders are passively involved; no understanding of a work breakdown structure; and poor communication.

If your project seems to be slipping away, review this list and enact change. Get back on course. Deploy a sense of urgency and strive to succeed! If despite your valiant efforts the project is beyond repair, learn from it. Glean the invaluable knowledge of failure and next time you can avoid these missteps on your way to success.

Rule #9: Know when the project is over

At the end of each phase and at key milestones throughout the project's lifecycle, the project is atop a fulcrum and is poised to continue or not. It is at each of these major points that the project manager and other sponsors need to pay close attention to the metrics and dynamics of the project. Are the goals being met? Has the environment or reasons for the project changed? Can we still succeed? It is at these points these questions must be answered. If all is well, the project goes on. If there are concerns, the project may be better off coming to a brisk halt.

Do not be afraid to stop a project if the reasoning for continuing is no longer sound. It is far better to terminate a project early than to push through to the end with a product or output that satisfies no one and has cost the organization dearly. And, this says nothing about what it does to the project team's psyche. If it is not going to work, kill it. Your time and money are better spent on some greater cause.

Rule #10: Know how to learn

Your project is not a success unless you can learn and share your knowledge with others for the organization at large to grow. Learning is constant. It is an asset to be leveraged and a sustainable differentiation for the modern day organization. It is undoubtedly true, knowledge is power. The only means in which knowledge is derived is through the process of learning. Learn to create knowledge. Leverage knowledge into power.

The success achieved from project management is more than simply enacting a methodology standard or carrying out a set of template-driven exercises. Success, rather, is achieved through the intelligent application of sound principles guided by experienced project professionals. If this sounds like common business sense, it is. As measured, all successful projects have similar attributes for us all to learn from.

These are the unbreakable rules of project management.

ProjectSteps Note: I found the above document in my Project Management Library of Whitepapers and found it made some great points. Do you maintain a personal library of Whitepapers, Website links, etc? You should. Of course, a Project Management library does you no good if you don't reference it on a regular basis.

Monday, August 14, 2006

PMI World Congress - North America

Anybody out there going to the PMI Global Congress in Seattle? If so, how about if we meet up at the reception below? Never too early to plan.

You are invited to a private reception …

PMI and its co-sponsor the International Institute for Learning, invite you to a networking reception exclusively for Project Management Professionals (PMP®) while attending PMI Global Congress 2006—North America.

Sunday, 22 October 2006
7:30-9:00 p.m.
Room 6-A
Hors d'oeuvres and beverages will be served

At this reception you have an exclusive opportunity to network with your PMP colleagues, share project successes and discuss the next big project… In addition to the opportunity to attend this reception, the North America Congress offers you over 80 educational sessions to get the most up-to-date project management areas of focus.

Make plans to attend the PMP Reception, find out more about other congress events, register to attend and mark October 22 on your calendar.

See you in Seattle!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The 4 Disciplines of Execution - Part 4

I have edited the last 3 postings on this topic because I noticed that while I described everything about the Disciplines, I never listed the Disciplines themselves. Sorry for the confusion. Like I said, I updated the prior postings, and have listed the 4 Disciplines below.

They are:

1 - Focus on the Wildy Important

2 - Create a Compelling Scorecard

3 - Translate Lofty Goals into Specific Actions

4 - Hold Each Other Accountable - All of the Time


Discipline 4 - Hold Each Other Accountable - All of the Time

"Knowing others are counting on you raises your level of committment"

Maintaining commitment to the goal requires frequent team accountability. Traditional Staff meetings won't suffice. You need a better process for engaging the team and reporting on results - the WIG Session.

Key Things to Remember

* Wildly important goals - focus is on WIGs, real work gets done, team focused.
* Triage reporting - quick reporting, socre board reviewed, follow-through, successes celebrated.

* Finding Third Alternatives - problem solving, 1+1=3, wisdom of group.

* Clearing the path - a stroke of the pen for me, "A+" behavior, asking for help.

Click here to read a short article about the 4 Disciplines of Execution wrtiten by Stephen Covey

Friday, August 04, 2006

4 Disciplines of Execution - Part 3

This week's entry is a continuation of my previous posting regarding what Dr. Stephen Covey calls the "4 Disciplines of Execution". This text is taken directly from FranklinCovey's "The 4 Disciplines of Execution Quick Reference".

"To achieve goals you've never achieved before, you need to start doing things you've never done before"

Discipline 3 - Translate Lofty Goals into Specific Actions

It's one thing to come up with a new goal or strategy. It's quite another to actually put that goal into action, to break it down into new behaviors and activities at the front line.

Key Things to Remember

* Think new and better. Often, we expect different outcomes while continuing to do the same things. New results often require a creative new behavior. Identify new or better behaviors by replicating pockets of excellence (what's being done superbly well already) or by creating them from imagination.

* Plan weekly. Break down your team's top goals into weekly bite-size chunks. As you plan your week ask yourself, "What are three most important objectives I must accomplish this week to move the team's goals forward?"

* Plug into your planning system. Schedule into your planning system the vital few things you must accomplish each week.

Knowing and doing are two different things.

Makes sense to me. I have always like the old project management saying, "What is not is writing has not been said". Maybe we should change that to, "What is not in writing doesn't get done".

Any comments?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

4 Disciplines of Execution - continued

This week's entry is a continuation of my previous posting regarding what Dr. Stephen Covey calls the "4 Disciplines of Execution". This text is taken directly from FranklinCovey's "The 4 Disciplines of Execution Quick Reference".

Discipline 2 - Create a Compelling Scorecard

Measures and a scoreboard ensure that people have the same understanding of goals. Turn your measures into a compelling scoreboard that is accessible, visual, engaging, doable, and concise.

Key Things to Remember

Types of Measures

* Lagging - provide an historical look at past performance

* Leading - provide measures that are predictive of future results.

* Real-time - show where things are right now. They allow corrective action to be taken immediately to affect the outcome.

Measurement Credibility Checklist

* Accurately tracks progress toward the goal

* Inputs cannot be easily manipulated

* Can be influenced by the team

* Drives the right behaviors

* Tracks outcomes as well as activities

* Is truly achievable

* Has no unintended consequences

* Value of measuring exceeds cost of measuring

For more information on the "4 Disciplines of Execution", click here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Dr. Stephen Covey is one of my favorite authors. His books, writing, lectures, and course offerings are well worth reviewing. As I was looking through my bookshelf I came across a CD and short brochure around what Dr. Covey calls the 4 Disciplines of Execution.

Over the next few weeks I will go through each Discipline. Today, I will talk about Discipline 1.

As taken from the "4 Disciplines of Execution" brochure:

Discipline 1 - Focus on the Wildly Important

To achieve results with excellence, you must focus on a few wildly important goals and set aside the merely important. Choose to do a few things with excellence rather than many things with mediocrity.

Key Things to Remember

Too many goals, conflicting or not, lead to confusion, burnout, decline in quality, and loss of focus".

Align your goals with those of your organization as well as the key teams you work with".

Use the Importance Screen (reference to CD) to help identify your wildly important goals

Click here to view Importance Screen

Create Sell-Crafted Goals

* Specific and clear

* Explicitly linked to corporate strategy

* Plain language

* Bite-size chunks

* measurable

* Deadline-driven

For more information click here to go to Franklin Covey's website.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New PMI Standards

The Project Management Institute has released two new standards. They are:

The Standard for Program Management

The Standard for Portfolio Management

As stated in the Standard for Program Management, "The Standard for Program Management aims to provide a detailed understanding of program management and promote efficient and effective communication and coordination among various groups. With its ability to help assess the variety of factors linking projects under one program and provide the best allotment of resources between those projects, this standard is an invaluable tool for program and project managers alike."

In the introduction the Program Management Standard states: "The Standard for Program Management provides guidelines for managing programs within and organization. It defines program management and related concepts, describes the program management life cycle and outlines related processes. This standard is an expansion of information provided in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge."

It appears on first glance that both Standards will be an excellent resource for all project managers. You can purchase them both at the PMI website

Your comments are always welcome

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Vacation is Over, but what a Ride!

Some photos from my vacation are included below. I rode the Harley to Cartersville, GA, Fontana Dam, NC, up and around the Blue Ridge Parkway, on to Asheville, NC, then back home. The weather was great, the scenery incredible, and the break from work much needed. Hopefully the photos will tell part of the story.

Mountain View

Flowers in the Mountains

Devils Courthouse - Blue Ridge Parkway

Another View

Motorcycle Project Dude

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Vacations are Projects Too!

Well I'm off for vacation on Saturday. I'm riding my Harley-Davidson to Atlanta and staying for a couple of days with a friend, then moving on to the Road King Riders Rendevouz in Fontana, NC. After a couple of days of riding in the Smokey Mountains I will ride to Asheville, NC for my sister-in-laws wedding.

In order to make sure the trip is as uneventful as possible, I have created a checklist of things to do and take, as well as pre-planning my route. Additionally, as part of the pre-trip process I have completed a maintenance and safety check on the motorcycle, and ensured I have my insurance, registration, and other paperwork required for the trip.

While taking the time to plan the trip won't guarentee success, it should reduce the chances of problems while on the road.

What out for Motorcyles, they are Everywhere! Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 05, 2006

Quotes from Tom Peters

As many of you know I'm a big fan of Tom Peters. I own a couple of his books, and I like to review materials on his website from time to time. Below you will find several quotes and bits of wisdom that I have gleamed from Tom's writings. Hopefully you will enjoy them as much as I have.

In any public-sector business, you must become an avid student of "the politics," the incentives and constraints, mostly non-economic, facing all of the players. Politicians are usually incredibly logical if you (deeply!) understand the matrix in which they exist.

Risk Assessment & Risk Management is more about stories than advanced math i.e., brilliant scenario construction.

Don't waste your time on jerks, it'll rarely work out in the mid- to long-term.

Under promise (i.e., don't over-promise; i.e., cut yourself a little slack) even if it costs you business; winning is a long-term affair. Over-promising is Sign #1 of a lack of integrity. You will pay the piper.

There is such a thing as a "good loss", if you have tested something new and developed good relationships. A half-dozen honorable, ingenious losses over a two-year period can pave the way for a Big Victory in a New Space in year 3.

Keep it simple! (Damn it!) No matter how "sophisticated" the product. If you can't explain it in a phrase, a page, or to your 14-year-old ... you haven't got it right yet.

Don't hold grudges. (It is the ultimate in small mindedness, and incredibly wasteful and ineffective. There is always tomorrow.)

Little People often have Big Friends!

Work hard beats work smart. (Mostly)

Phones beat email.

Obsess on ROIR (Return On Investment In Relationships).

Scoring off other people is stupid. Winners are always in the business of creating the maximum # of winners among adversaries at least as much as among partners.

Your colleagues' successes are your successes. Period.

Lend a helping hand, especially when you don't have the time.

Don't get too hung up on "systems integration", first & foremost, the individual bits have got to work.

For Gods sake don't over promise on systems integration it's nigh on impossible to deliver.

It's Relationships, Stupid; Deep and from multiple functions.

Don't over-schedule. Running late is inexcusable at any level of seniority; it is the ultimate mark of self-importance mixed with contempt.

"Preparing the soil" is the first 98 percent. (Or more.)

Be kind. It works.

Opportunism (with a little forethought) mostly wins.

"Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes."

Integrity. Credibility. Humanity. Grace.

Strategic planning is the last refuge of scoundrels

Focus groups are counter-productive

All information making it to the top is filtered to the point of danger and hilarity

"Success stories are the illusions of egomaniacs (and "gurus")

If you believe the "cause & effect" memoirs of CEOs, you should be institutionalized

"Top teams" are "Dittoheads"

"Expert" prediction is rarely better than rolling the dice

Statistically, CEOs have little effect on performance

Success kills

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Water is Full of Sharks

In the past, I enjoyed reading the book, "Power and Politics in Project Management" by Jeffrey K. Pinto (and still review it periodically). One section of the book has had special significance for me of late. I have to admit that I'm not a very good politician. I have learned over the years that playing politics is a skill set I need to work on. As mentioned in the book, we need to be aware of all political behaviors (Naive, Sensible, and Shark) and react to them appropriately if we are to keep ourselves from getting in to trouble.

One behavior I have had the unfortunate experience of witnessing lately is that of the Political Shark. These types of people have certain character traits that if not recognized can negatively impact our careers. These sharks know how to play the self-serving political "game" and don't mind leaving blood in the water. They are experts at manipulating the system to get their way and have no interest in serving anything but their own desires. They have loyalty only to themselves and their own goals.


To quote from the book, "work with them (sharks), and one is likely to be used and manipulated; get between them and their goal and their behavior becomes utterly amoral." "The only cause these individuals espouse is their own."

The author goes on to make an important point; Sharks "enter organizations with the express purpose of using politics and aggressive manipulation to reach the top."

As summarized in the book, Sharks are:

* Opportunistic

* Self-serving and predatory

* Manipulators that will use fraud and deceit when necessary

* Bullies that will misuse information and use others to service their own means

Do you know or work with or for a shark? What can a project manager do to ensure these types of individuals don't negatively impact their projects?

Here are some things to keep in mind:

* Be aware that sharks exist in your organization

* Know who the sharks are and avoid them whenever possible

* When working with sharks, be very careful not to become their prey

* Learn to be politically "Sensible"

* Be a good negotiator

* Expand your network and be fair and honest in all of your dealings

* Be comforted in the fact that Sharks will eventually move on to new feeding grounds

It is unfortunate that political sharks are so prevalent in organizations. They offer little value to the organization other than to serve their own means. Occasionally sharks do good things, but the cost of their behavior will always be a disruption to the organization. The benefit is rarely worth the cost.

Don't trust a shark. Don't turn your back on them and don't take them lightly. Remember they are self-serving and will stop at nothing to satisfy their appetite. I have seen the damage they can do first hand and I know they are indiscriminate in the way the feed. Even though we have to swim with the sharks, we don't have to become their victims.

Keep your friends close, but the sharks closer.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Project Challenges

I just received the latest addition to my project management library. The book, The Wiley Guide to Managing Projects is big (over 1400 pages), comprehensive, expensive, and has more information than I could absorb in a lifetime. While I wouldn't recommend the book for everyone, I would say that it covers just about every aspect of project management in enough detail to make it a book you should consider having on your desk.

I have been very busy with a large enterprise project that has been a real challenge. As project managers we have all been in the same boat regarding managing projects that have taken on a life of their own. We have the knowledge, experience, and lessons learned from past projects to manage these projects effectively, yet our current project(s) aren't going as planned. Are you managing "change"?

Project change and the associated problems/opportunities they create are all part of the project management game. Changes to project scope can improve project results, however it helps if we can anticipate these changes so we can manage them more effectively.

Project change requires that we communicate and anticipate. Failure to manage change can result in project failure and cost overruns. Additionally, relationships can be damaged and careers ruined. Needless to say, these things happen to project managers everyday.

So what do we do when faced with the big project challenges? My advice is to keep plugging away and rely on your experience, knowledge, perseverance, and project management fundamentals to get your projects back on track.

Any war stories you have can be added to the comments section.


Stephen F. Seay, PMP

Keep fighting the good fight.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Good Project Management Websites

The list of useful Project Management links was found on the forums over at

REPOST - Cleaned up Links and Formatting

The new eProject eLounge (A great source of blogs, forums, download, and other info)

100 Rules for Project Managers (Some great gems of project management wisdom from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.)

12Manage – Management method, models and theories

4PM – Free project management knowledge library

AllPM - Project Manager's Resource Center

ASAPM (American Society for the Advancement of Project Management)


CIO Magazine (Good information for a variety of subjects including project management.)

CM Today - Configuration Management News

Cutter IT Journal

Defense Acquisition University 4 PMs

Earned Value Management

Effective Meetings

e-Programme - Portfolio Management Web Site

GanttHead - Developed for PMs by PMs

HrGopher - Good HR information for everyone

Information Systems Specific Interest Group (PMI)

IT-Director.Com, information for the IT Director

itmWEB, IT Management information

ITtoolKit for Managing Technology, PM Toolkits and information

The wisdom of Max Wideman


MIT's Project Management Resources

NewGrange - Center for Project Management

PM Boulevard

PMI (Project Management Institute)

Portfolio Management Forum

PowerPointers - Creating Effective Presentations

Product Development & Management Association

Project Development Disciplines from Paul Allen

ProjectHero - Real World War Stories

Project Magazine - Free Online Resource

Project Management Forum

Project Management W3 Site

Project Manager Today

Project Smart Resource Centre

Projects @ Work Magazine

Service Level Management

The Software Engineering Laboratory (NASA)

Software Program Manager's Network

Software Project Management Sites

SoftwareDioxide - Ecosystem 4 Software

StickyMinds - Resource 4 Building Better Software

TechGuide - Practical Guidance for IT Pros (BNET)

University of Washington Project Management Guidelines

Virtual Project Management & Teams

Workaholic International Network

Software Projects Org

IPMA (International PM Association)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In Project Management, Criticism is Inevitable

Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. Aristotle, Greek philosopher and scientist

Many of you probably know that every now and then I can be critical of a situation or type of person. Evidence of this fact can be seen in last week's posting or others regarding teams, executive apathy, etc. One thing we can all learn about criticism from others - "if you expect criticism, you will seldom be disappointed when you receive it" - Author unknown.

We know that not all criticism is constructive. Many types of criticism are destructive and that is what I want to talk about. Destructive criticism is something you receive that offers virtually no value, and comes from people that don't have your best interests at heart. Sometimes the criticism may have some merit, however when speaking about destructive criticism, the presentation wasn't communicated effectively or was only meant to do harm.

Remember, criticism is just an opinion, but if offered constructively it may be valid and helpful.

Keep an open mind when being criticized. Don't let the criticism control you or change what you think about yourself. Ask yourself, can I learn anything from the criticism? Can I change anything? Should I change?

I don't take criticism well, and I tend to discount those people around me that criticize others too much. I need to take my own advice and learn to be more accepting of criticism, especially when it is constructive.

Some rules we should follow regarding criticism:

Never criticize another behind their back. Keep in mind what Stephen Covey says and have "respect for the absent".

If there is nothing to be learned when you are criticized it is best to ignore it and move on with your life.

Responding to criticism that has no value will only reduce you to the level of the person doing the criticizing.

Don't let deceivers deceive YOU!

Monday, April 24, 2006

E-mail + Blackberrys = Frustration

Have you ever been in a meeting and watched people take their attention from what is being discussed to respond to a message on their Blackberry ? Does anybody else find this to be distracting and just plain rude? Are the people using Blackberrys and the messages they receive so important that they must take their attention away from you or others to respond instantly to their e-mail? I think not. These users will claim that they are listening to you and paying attention; however, that has proven not to be the case.

The overwhelming majority (99%) of people can't read and effectively listen simultaneously. The ones that say they can are the ones you need to worry about. They aren’t listening and that can hurt your project.

A recent research report out of King's College, London, claims that e-mail use has addictive aspects and that it causes a temporary IQ drop of up to 10 points-—a bigger drop than that caused by inveterate pot-smoking! Add to the e-mail mix an addictive, on-the-hip, always on device like a Blackberry, and this lapse in intelligence can affect meetings, projects, and your ability to effectively do your job.

Some Blackberry users I know are addicts. Just like a smoker, when the urge strikes out comes the Blackberry. They don't see the harm. They are being productive, responsive, accountable, saving time, money, etc... In meetings or conversations they are a distraction, an annoyance, and not giving you and others their full attention. They are out of touch and oblivious to what is important.

You have seen the scenario; whenever the device buzzes, chirps, or rings everything around them ceases to be important except the message on their device. They must respond and must respond now. Is this behavior acceptable now? If we were having a conversation and you picked up a book and started reading, or turned on a nearby television and started watching and changing channels wouldn't that be a sign that what I was saying wasn't important?

Hopefully one person (besides me) will read this message and change their behavior. When I see senior management or leaders exhibit this type of behavior it makes me wonder how they would feel if I exhibited this behavior when they were talking.

Turn off the Blackberry during meetings or leave them at your desk. . You aren’t that important and neither are the messages you are reading!

End of rant...

Comments welcome

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Leadership Lessons from General Colin Powell - Last in Series

Lesson 13

"Powell's Rules for Picking People:” Look for intelligence and judgment, and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done.

How often do our recruitment and hiring processes tap into these attributes? More often than not, we ignore them in favor of length of resume, degrees and prior titles. A string of job descriptions a recruit held yesterday seem to be more important than who one is today, what they can contribute tomorrow, or
how well their values mesh with those of the organization. You can train a bright, willing novice in the fundamentals of your business fairly readily, but it's a lot harder to train someone to have integrity, judgment, energy, balance, and the drive to get things done. Good leaders stack the deck in their favor
right in the recruitment phase.

Lesson 14

"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt,
to offer a solution everybody can understand."

Effective leaders understand the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Stupid. They articulate vivid, over-arching goals and values, which they use to drive daily behaviors and choices among competing alternatives. Their visions and priorities are lean and compelling, not cluttered and buzzword-laden. Their decisions are crisp and clear, not tentative and ambiguous. They convey an unwavering firmness and consistency in their actions, aligned with the picture of the future they paint. The result: clarity of purpose, credibility of leadership, and integrity in organization.

Lesson 15

Part I: "Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.” Part II: "Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut."

Don't take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don't wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late. Today, excessive delays in the name of information-gathering breeds "analysis paralysis." Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk.

Lesson 16

"The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise."

Too often, the reverse defines corporate culture. This is one of the main reasons why leaders like Ken Iverson of Nucor Steel, Percy Barnevik of Asea Brown Boveri, and Richard Branson of Virgin have kept their corporate staffs to a bare-bones minimum - how about fewer than 100 central corporate staffers for global $30 billion-plus ABB? Or around 25 and 3 for multi-billion Nucor and Virgin, respectively? Shift the power and the financial accountability to the folks who are bringing in the beans, not the ones who are counting
or analyzing them.

Lesson 17

"Have fun in your command. Don't always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you've earned it:
Spend time with your families. Corollary: surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves, those who work hard and play hard."

Herb Kelleher of Southwest Air and Anita Roddick of The Body Shop would agree: seek people who have some balance in their lives, who are fun to hang out with, who like to laugh (at themselves, too) and who have some non-job priorities which they approach with the same passion that they do their work. Spare me the grim workaholic or the pompous pretentious "professional;” I'll help them find jobs with my competitor.

Lesson 18

"Command is lonely."

Harry Truman was right. Whether you're a CEO or the temporary head of a project team, the buck stops here. You can encourage participative management and bottom-up employee involvement, but ultimately the
essence of leadership is the willingness to make the tough, unambiguous choices that will have an impact on the fate of the organization. I've seen too many non-leaders flinch from this responsibility. Even as you create an informal, open, collaborative corporate culture, prepare to be lonely.

“Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Leadership Lessons from General Colin Powell Continued...

Lesson 7

"Keep looking below surface appearances. Don't shrink from doing so (just) because you
might not like what you find."

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It's an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms. It's a mind-set that assumes (or hopes) that today's realities will continue tomorrow in a tidy, linear and predictable fashion. Pure fantasy. In this sort of culture, you won't find
people who pro-actively take steps to solve problems as they emerge. Here's a little tip: don't invest in these companies.

Lesson 8

"Organization doesn't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds."

In a brain-based economy, your best assets are people. We've heard this expression so often that it's become trite. But how many leaders really "walk the talk" with this stuff? Too often, people are assumed to be empty chess pieces to be moved around by grand viziers, which may explain why so many top managers immerse their calendar time in deal making, restructuring and the latest management fad. How many immerse themselves in the goal of creating an environment where the best, the brightest, the most creative are
attracted, retained and, most importantly, unleashed?

Lesson 9

"Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing."

Organization charts are frozen, anachronistic photos in a work place that ought
to be as dynamic as the external environment around you. If people really
followed organization charts, companies would collapse. In well-run
organizations, titles are also pretty meaningless. At best, they advertise
some authority, an official status conferring the ability to give orders and
induce obedience. But titles mean little in terms of real power, which is the
capacity to influence and inspire. Have you ever noticed that people will
personally commit to certain individuals who on paper (or on the organization
chart) possess little authority, but instead possess pizzazz, drive, expertise,
and genuine caring for teammates and products? On the flip side, non-leaders
in management may be formally anointed with all the perks and frills
associated with high positions, but they have little influence on others, apart
from their ability to extract minimal compliance to minimal standards.

Lesson 10

"Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it."

Too often, change is stifled by people who cling to familiar turfs and job descriptions. One reason that even large organizations wither is that managers won't challenge old, comfortable ways of doing things. But
real leaders understand that, nowadays, every one of our jobs is becoming obsolete. The proper response is to obsolete our activities before someone else does. Effective leaders create a climate where people’s worth is determined by their willingness to learn new skills and grab new responsibilities, thus perpetually reinventing their jobs. The most important question in performance evaluation becomes not, "How well did you perform your job since the last time we met?" but, "How much did you change it?"

Lesson 11

"Fit no stereotypes. Don't chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best
accomplishes the team's mission."

Flitting from fad to fad creates team confusion, reduces the leader's credibility, and drains organizational coffers. Blindly following a particular fad generates rigidity in thought and action. Sometimes speed to market is more important than total quality. Sometimes an unapologetic directive is more appropriate
than participatory discussion. Some situations require the leader to hover closely; others require long, loose leashes. Leaders honor their core values, but they are flexible in how they execute them. They understand that management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.

Lesson 12

"Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier."

The ripple effect of a leader's enthusiasm and optimism is awesome. So is the impact of cynicism and pessimism. Leaders who whine and blame engender those same behaviors among their colleagues. I am not talking about stoically accepting organizational stupidity and performance incompetence with a "what,
me worry?" smile. I am talking about a gung-ho attitude that says "we can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best." Spare me the grim litany of the "realist," give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.

Next time I will publish the last of General Powell's Leadership Lessons

Monday, April 03, 2006

More Leadership Lessons from General Colin Powell

All the lessons below were taken taken from a presentation by General Colin Powell. I will publish more of them here in the coming days and weeks.

Lesson 4

"Don't be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard."

Learn from the pros, observe them, seek them out as mentors and partners. But remember that even the pros may have leveled out in terms of their learning and skills. Sometimes even the pros can become complacent and lazy. Leadership does not emerge from blind obedience to anyone. Xerox's Barry Rand was right on target when he warned his people that if you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant. Good leadership encourages everyone's evolution.

Lesson 5

"Never neglect details. When everyone's mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant."

Strategy equals execution. All the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can't be implemented rapidly and efficiently. Good leaders delegate and empower others liberally, but they pay attention to details, every day. (Think about supreme athletic coaches like Jimmy Johnson, Pat Riley
and Tony La Russa). Bad ones, even those who fancy themselves as progressive "visionaries," think they're somehow "above" operational details. Paradoxically, good leaders understand something else: an obsessive routine in carrying out the details begets conformity and complacency, which in turn dulls everyone's mind. That is why even as they pay attention to details, they continually encourage people to challenge the process. They implicitly understand the sentiment of CEO leaders like Quad Graphic's Harry Quadracchi, Oticon's Lars Kolind and the late Bill McGowan of MCI, who all independently asserted that the Job of a leader is not to be the chief organizer, but the chief dis-organizer.

Lesson 6

"You don't know what you can get away with until you try."

You know the expression, "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission." Well, it's true. Good leaders don't wait for official blessing to try things out. They're prudent, not reckless. But they also realize a fact of life in most organizations: if you ask enough people for permission, you'll inevitably come up against
someone who believes his job is to say "no." So the moral is, don't ask. Less effective middle managers endorsed the sentiment, "If I haven't explicitly been told 'yes,' I can't do it," whereas the good ones believed, "If I haven't explicitly been told 'no,' I can." There's a world of difference between these two points
of view.

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.