Managing Project Starship

Dr. Mae Jemison, Principal of the 100 Year Starship project (and former astronaut), was asked by New York Times columnist, Dennis Overbye, if she would go on a lifetime voyage to the stars.  She said “Yeah” adding that “It makes a difference who goes with you.”  To make the long voyage, she says that “We will bring our culture along with us.”

starshipThe 100 Year Starship project (www.100yss.org) was established recently by a group of stellar people to imagine and plan a real trip to the stars.  After all, imagining, planning, and completing our trip to the moon triggered research and implementation of television, the Internet, satellite communication, revolutionary medical procedures, and even cultural movements that have changed our lives.  Once started, the trip to the moon and back was completed in a matter of days.  The 100 Year Starship project is imagining a trip that will take a generation or more.  Reading about it, the thing that jumped out at me was not that the project has to find amazing technological breakthroughs; it’s that they have to figure out how people on such a trip can live and work together productively.  They have to think about (from www.100yss.org): Continue reading

The First Question to Ask on Your Project: “Can we do this?”

Dan’s post provides a guiding principle for finding what can go right on your project: you have to ask. Too often projects start off with the scope, schedule, and budget predefined. The charge is “We can do this!” Then we don’t or pretend we did. A project starting this way spends it’s time and energy protecting itself with risk mitigation, change orders, and blame shifting. Starting, as Dan suggests, with “Can we do this?” gets the team to explore the challenge, it’s strengths, and opportunities for needs to be met in a realistic way that improves the organization and its people. Thanks, Dan!

Moving from Planning to Doing on Your Project

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.

waiting for the right timeEarly 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

Who’s the Quarterback on Your Project?

“The Buck Stops Here” – plaque on President Harry Truman’s desk.

Watching the national championship college football game earlier this month (for my international readers, that’s American football, not soccer), I saw a great example of the need for clear roles and responsibilities among decision makers.

Football, perhaps more than any other, is a sport where complex relationships require clear roles and responsibilities.  11 offensive players line up against 11 defensive players.  On each play, several players may call out plays.  Key players have responsibilities to read what is going on and then shout instructions.  From a fan’s perspective, it seems to go pretty well and it’s fun to watch players adjust based on calls from the quarterback, the center, or the middle linebacker.  But, sometimes it doesn’t go well.

alabama QA fightAlabama was leading Notre Dame 42 to 14 near the end of the game. You’d think the Alabama players would be relaxed.  Alabama had the ball, lined up, and quarterback and the center started calling signals.  The quarterback was suddenly very annoyed.  He stood up and jumped around behind the line yelling instructions.  He was angry.  The players looked confused.  The result was a delay of game penalty. The center stood up, the quarterback screamed something in his face, and the center gave his quarterback a shove.  All this from a team with an insurmountable lead about to win the national championship.  The TV commentators, shaking off their surprise, explained that the coach and quarterback were both known for being intense perfectionists.  Clearly, it paid off in their performance.  Just as clearly, we can note that a team striving for high performance can suffer if the leaders get confused about their roles and responsibilities.

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Productive Project Assessment

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.

Amby measures

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What If You Couldn’t Fail?

This post is a holiday gift to all of you who have read my blog during 2012, its first year.  The blog has been a gift to me.  I’ve been able to sort out what’s important, what works for me, what I want to do next, and share it with you.  Some of you even find it helpful.   That’s the best part.  I will keep blogging.  Please keep reading, commenting, and sharing this with others who could use it.

I saw this story on the news this week.  A wonderful thing happened when a teacher asked his students:drivingdream

“What would you do if you couldn’t fail?”

This struck home for me.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I ask you to explore perfect outcomes to your projects.  Too often we are afraid to ask “What would the outcomes be if this project went perfectly?”  We want to control scope and risk.  But, limiting our options before we consider perfect outcomes limits our opportunities.  Looking for perfect outcomes and opportunities is “the other side of risk.”  Of course, we have to balance our dreams with our capabilities as we take each step forward.  But, as this story points out, when we envision an opportunity and our dreams are clear, our capabilities can grow to meet them.  Click the picture above for the newspaper story, and the link below for the video on King5 TV.

http://www.king5.com/news/local/Glacier-Peak-students-driven-to-make-classmates-dream-come-true-184355201.html

Please enjoy this story and have a wonderful holiday.

Thanks for reading and warm wishes.

The picture is by Jennifer Buchanan from the article in The Herald.

Seek Perfect Outcomes

I encourage project managers to seek perfect outcomes before narrowing the scope of their project.  This helps find what can go right on a project.

I love it when Dan Rockwell backs me up (even inadvertently).  Check out today’s Leadership Freak post:

“8 Ways to Choose Wide Over Narrow”

He starts with:

4 perils of narrow:

  1. Shuts down rather than turns on.
  2. Closes off rather than opens up.
  3. Rejects rather than explores.
  4. Pulls back rather than reaches out.1953_wide_tie

I think this post reinforces my thoughts about finding what can go right by looking for opportunities for perfect outcomes and journeys.  So, don’t be afraid to go wide.  Enjoy.  Thanks, Dan.  Here’s the link to Dan’s post:

http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/8-ways-to-choose-wide-over-narrow/#comment-56701

Thanks for reading.

Giving 51% on Your Project

In the last week I spoke with three new project managers.  They were all in organizations that practiced limited or no project management.  Each was frustrated with how hard it is to be a project manager where the boss just wants to get stuff done.  The boss says “we don’t have time to do project management!”  You’re thinking “we don’t have time not to…”  What to do?

lady trampMaybe the answer is to meet halfway.  Meeting halfway can be helpful in marriage and consulting, why not in our projects?

Did this happen to you on your wedding day?  Older married male guests catch you alone, put their arm around your shoulder, and share a nugget of wisdom that will ensure wedded bliss.  It happened to me.  Not all were nuggets of gold, but one was.  Continue reading

Awareness

We’ve been visiting family in Iowa over Thanksgiving.  More eating going on than blogging.  But, inspiration is everywhere.

At Thanksgiving, we recognize what we are thankful for: family and friends, our way of life, things that make us safe or happy, and opportunities for abundance.  So, Thanksgiving could be an exercise in awareness.  By gathering together and recognizing what we have to be thankful for, we become more aware of what we have.  When we focus on this, it makes our lives better and more productive.

As project managers, we have the same need.  We have to be aware of our strengths, our assets, and our opportunities or we can’t make use of them.

I can think of times in my life and observations of others’ where we’ve focused on our problems and lost sight of our strengths.  It makes you unhappy and unproductive.  A good friend and coach described it as “getting into our crummy (we used another word) little box.”  In that box, you only see what is wrong and not what is right.  You focus on problems rather than the things for which you can be thankful.  The problems seem to be overwhelming because they are all you can see in the box.  Awareness is how you get out of the box.

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