A few months ago I did a post on my experiences many years ago at a day camp in West Des Moines, Iowa; and how those experiences shaped my project management philosophy. Lately, I’ve gotten a few notes and comments on that post from former day campers. One (a vice president at a manufacturing company) gave me a call and we reminisced about the pea green pond (and its monster), snipe hunts, the big brown bus, Shady Creek and the woods, and swimming at Camp Dodge pool. What struck me was that our great experiences were still a positive influence on our lives. So, what can we learn from day camp that helps us on our projects?
I’m almost three weeks into a new job. This job requires me to build stronger relationships between a complex business environment and its IT providers. No one has had this same job for this business before, so I’m figuring out how to do it. Among many startup considerations, it requires me to consider how much to read vs. how much to act. I’m looking back to old advice and advisors for wisdom.
Early in my career I was lucky enough to participate in a 12 week leadership and management training in the US Air Force called Squadron Officers School. About a thousand junior officers (I was one in 1977) gathered at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama for intensive physical, military, and management training. Among many memories and takeaways I retained was a small foldout card with a few management models we had learned about. One was the read/act model. It illustrated the need to build strengths to both read and act; and to judge and balance the need for reading and action in any new situation. I did a little Google research on Read/Act and found only one website. It gives me the impression that the concept was developed at SOS. Here’s the link. This site is more involved than the core concept I remember. What I remember is that many officers err toward action with bad results, so we needed to build our read skills. If we tend to be readers (like me), then we need to work on balancing reading with acting. It’s situational and intuitive. I’m in a new situation. Continue reading
“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream…” C.S. Lewis
A constant theme in my work life has been to redefine myself every 4 years or so. I’m not sure why it happens, but it’s always worked out well. Maybe it’s why I like project management and consulting. This work is about redefining things.
Last week I started a new job. I’m not an independent consultant anymore. Now, I’m an employee of the State of Washington. Again. I spent the first 20 years of my career in the public sector serving in the Air Force and working for Washington State. Those were good years, but I wanted to see more of the working world. I wanted to know if people in the private sector worked smarter, harder, or more productively. After 18 years being part of private companies and owning one, it’s apparent to me that people are the same everywhere. Everyone is willing to work hard for something and others that they believe in. Continue reading
I often say that imagining perfect outcomes is a useful step in defining project scope. I ran across two things this week that say this message is misguided. I still think I’m right. Let’s work through it.
If you haven’t seen a post from me on imagining perfect outcomes, here’s the idea. We often miss opportunities to achieve benefits on a project because we focus on controlling scope and risk. At the start of a project, I want to be sure we imagine perfect outcomes in terms of getting what we want; and getting it in a way that helps the organization and its people grow. These opportunities should be included in our scope. I think using the word “perfect” helps make this happen.
Here are the two things I ran across this week:
- A story on NPR called “Can Skinny Models Undermine Your Dieting Goals?”
- A TED talk linked to by Todd Williams on LinkedIn by Scott Q Marcus called “Striving for Imperfection: Finding Happiness as an Imperfect Being”
As my career evolves, I’ve moved from project manager roles to roles where I oversee and assess projects. I think doing this productively requires balancing cold objectivity with optimism and encouragement. It also has to balance an independent perspective with collaborative input. The challenge is ensuring that the assessment identifies strengths and problems, encourages improvement, and doesn’t weigh down the project while requiring accountability. After all, being assessed is a powerful thing.
Think about it. Few things cause as powerful an emotional response as being judged. The coach says “Nice play! Your footwork is really improving.” You feel great; motivated to get better. You think about the input and accept the positive encouragement. The coach says “No, you aren’t paying attention! You have to learn the play and be in the right place.” This brings out a more complex response. You may resist criticism. You may think about what you were doing right and are mad it wasn’t noticed. If you are singled out, you may be embarrassed. If the coach is fair and you respect him, you may more readily accept the comments. But they can still hurt.
Here’s a lighter hearted example to give you something to think about. Over the holidays we visited our grandkids. My five year old granddaughter, Amberly, loves games and role playing. We were playing catch with an indoor soft Frisbee. I was admiring how much her ability to catch and throw had improved in the last few months. Our game had changed in an interesting way, though. Where it used to be that any throw was a good one, now we tried to make straight catchable throws. I’d say “good throw” or “good catch, Amby.” She’d say “good throw” or “good catch, Grampy.” It got more interesting when Amby decided, out of the blue, to keep score.
In the world of leadership blogs encouraging managers to be leaders, I have a tiny niche where I encourage project managers to develop consulting skills. This week, to balance my tendency to be a non-conformist with how most people look at things, I’ve been thinking I need to put all the leadership, management, and consulting skills into context with one another. Maybe you will add my little niche idea to the more obvious links between project management and leadership if I can come up with a good sports analogy and a cool managerial model. So, here’s the “Five Tool Player” model for successful management of projects and organizations.
A superior baseball player is often called a “Five Tool Player.” This player excels at:
- Hitting for average
- Hitting for power
- Running bases with speed
The epitome of five tool players is generally thought to be Willie Mays. Mays is near the top of all these categories for all time. Also, Willie Mays’ had an inspiring good natured approach to the game that drew respect and admiration. Willie put it all together to make his team and his organization more successful.
How do we become the Willie Mays of project managers? We should aspire to develop five skills as well. Here’s a picture:
“Try to leave this world a little better than you found it.” Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts)
When we manage a project, do we leave our organization and the people involved better than we found them? Is this our responsibility as a project manager? I think it is. Preparing to talk about “The Other Side of Risk,” it struck me that this is part of what I’ve been trying to say.
“With great power comes great responsibility” (Spiderman’s Uncle Ben). Great power and responsibility means taking risks. Turning risks into success requires awareness, acceptance, and management.
What inspired this great wisdom, you ask? My new scooter and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
My little 50cc Kymco scooter was the source of my first scooter inspired post, “50cc’s of Patience,” last June. With my 50cc scooter, I was less concerned about risk and more aware of the gap between capacity and expectations. My Kymco served me well, but a year of experience left me wanting and ready for a ride with more potential and staying power. So my fun and economical two stroke chainsaw on wheels found a new happy home and I traded up to a 2010 Honda SH150i.
The Honda is 150cc’s of awesome power and efficiency (really!). The new Honda scooter is faster and cleaner. It’s fuel injected and has a catalytic converter. It gets the same great 90 MPG as the Kymco and is dramatically cleaner per the EPA. It cruises lazily at 40mph with speed to spare and easily totes my 150 pounds plus office backpack up the steepest of hills without strain. It’s more steady and secure in the swirly winds of a busy arterial. I love it.
But, just as I got over confident with the Kymco’s ability to max out at 40mph and suffered some engine push back, I could risk getting over confident with the easy speed and handling of the Honda. I was warned of this when I first started riding. Hearing about my scooter, friends’ responses were so consistent I thought I’d become Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” asking for a BB gun (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”) I’d hear “Motorcycles are dangerous.” “People don’t see you.” “I used to do that but I don’t anymore. It’s not safe.” Clearly, my new power and responsibility required heightened risk management. Fortunately, my motorcycle safety class covered the topic of risk with surprising sophistication. Continue reading
As a project manager you often have a lot in common with a consultant. Understanding how consultants contribute to organizational change and use influence to lead teams is valuable to us as project managers. I talked about this a while back in “Split Personality” because I often fill both roles on different projects at the same time. Dan Rockwell’s “Leadership Freak” post today brings me back to the topic.
I think there are two primary reasons a project manager should also be a skilled consultant. First, as a project often changes its organization, a skilled consultant will find ways to engage people and build on their strengths to help bring about the change. Consulting skills help us see opportunities beyond the stated scope of the project, and balance the strong project management focus on the triple constraints and risk mitigation, in order to achieve project objectives. In “Split Personality” I covered this aspect of the project manager consultant overlap and offered some consulting approaches that can help project managers achieve a balance.
The second reason a project manager should have an understanding of consulting skills is that both roles often lead from behind. As a project manager, you may have limited influence over your organization; or even over your team. Your success depends more on your ability to influence than on your positional authority. No other role depends more on the need to influence than that of consultant. As consultants, we want to bring about positive change, but by definition we have to do so without authority. Consultants have to influence their teams and their organizations because they can’t control them. So, project managers and consultants share leadership challenges and depend on their ability to influence. What skills help us get better at influence? Continue reading
Sometimes idealism runs rampant. At least in my brain. My last post wrapped up with the comment: “we project managers need first to be collaborators through and through.” Just the phrasing makes me think that I was deeply engaged in idealistic self indulgence. Not a bad thing. But, all things need balance.
Dan Rockwell’s “Leadership Freak” comes through again with a relevant reinforcement; and this time a counterpoint to balance my rant. Today’s Leadership Freak post “When Collaboration Doesn’t Work” does a wonderful job helping us deal with the situation where we want to collaborate but it isn’t working. Collaboration, at least the ideal of collaboration, isn’t always the right answer to getting where we need to go.
Read Dan’s post and then think about what it’s saying about collaboration. I think it’s saying that collaboration, like leadership, is situational. There is always an opportunity for collaboration, it just presents itself in different ways and calls for different approaches and levels. Sometimes we collaborate fully when the parties share values, bring diverse perspectives and expertise, and are seeking a strategy for a long term solution. Sometimes we are at odds in many ways but still need to get something done. Here we may collaborate minimally, or hold at bay those who would use feigned collaboration as a weapon against progress.
I really like Dan’s post as it give us insight into how to temper an idealistic view of collaboration with the realities of the situation.
Thanks for reading.
Copyright Glenn Briskin and “The Other Side of Risk” 2012