Death March

Early in my project management career, I had the good fortune to work with Julie.  Julie is a few years older than I am and had been a project manager in IT quite a bit longer than I had.  She was tough.  Her blue eyes would lock with yours and look straight into your soul.  When our group did the Myers-Briggs personality tests, my introverted patient architect type personality contrasted with her extroverted world domination leader type.  Julie would talk about big projects she had led.  Her favorite term was “death march.”  “That one was a death march!” she would say with wistful gleam in her eye like you get when you remember your trip to Hawaii – paradise lost.

I’m thinking that Julie wasn’t the only person I’ve known who, admired or feared or pitied by their colleagues and clients, has sacrificed greatly, sometimes unacceptably, to achieve their mission.  There was Tom the budget officer at my first assignment in the Air Force many years ago. I naively admired Tom’s dedication to building the best possible base budget and keeping it up to date (in the days before computer screens) by constantly working late and weekends.  I asked my friend Dave, a somewhat wiser and more experienced Lieutenant than I, how Tom did it.  “Well, he really doesn’t like his wife much, so he’d rather be here” Dave replied.  And there was Harvey, the Pepsi addicted computer programmer for the first system I was ever asked to manage.  Harvey’s company provided the software and system support to our business.  When my boss, another tough guy, wanted something done, he’d yell at me: “Get Harvey Pepsi to do it!” knowing that Harvey lived to code and wouldn’t sleep until the job was done if given free rein to make a change to the system.   I always hated to ask.  I wanted Harvey to have a better life.  Harvey seemed to like his life the way it was.

What do we want our projects to be like?  Is the best project a death march characterized by spouse avoiding hours and caffeine infused diets?  Well, not for me, anyway.  But, don’t we all experience these projects in our careers?  Continue reading

Split Personality

I’m a project management consultant.  Does that make me more a project manager than a consultant, or more a consultant than a project manager?  Or, am I equally both?  Aargh, I’m so confused!  One day I’m like “Let’s get to the bottom of this problem and get it solved!” and the next day it’s “How do you think things are going, what has been or could be better?”  My personality is split!  Help me work this out – I need someone to listen while I rant about which one I am or need to be and why.

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The Room of Requirement

I’m trying, against my usual nature, to be predictable and consistent with my blog. I could be doing better this summer. If you are familiar with a Pacific Northwest summer, you know that you take it when you can get it. Last week and this one we’ve been blessed with both summer weather and granddaughter visits. First the eight year old, and now the five year old. The blog has had some tough competition. But, it has some new inspiration, too.

Reading kids stories, the fantasy world mingled in my mind with the realities of my clients. Sitting in a client meeting to define requirements for new software, my mind wandered to Harry Potter and the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts. Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement, as defined by, “is a magical room which can only be discovered by someone who is in need.” “The Room is located on the seventh floor, opposite a tapestry showing Barnabas the Barmy trying to teach trolls to dance the ballet. To make the Room appear, a person has to walk past the section of blank wall three times concentrating hard on what is needed.”

This makes finding the room of requirement seem relatively easy, but, as Dobby tells us: “Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not…”

Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement magically supplied solutions to his needs. On our projects, it would be useful if a Bridge of Requirements would magically appear. If there’s one thing we should imagine going perfectly on a project, it’s building a bridge between the people seeking a solution and the people delivering the solution.

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The Mt Baker Project Management Institute chapter asked me to present on The Other Side of Risk.  That was great for me for two reasons – a good reason to visit our grandkids near Bellingham (home of the Mt Baker chapter), and a push for me to continue to clarify what I mean by The Other Side of Risk.  I have my new blog and a good gut feel for what I’m trying to say, but how to clearly present it in 50 minutes to a group of peers?  Was I ready for that?  I liked how the presentation turned out on paper, but in the end, I didn’t find out what my peers thought.   On the other hand, it turned out to be a valuable and rewarding journey.

Wisely, the Mt Baker chapter cancelled its meeting.  The northwest finally unveiled summer in all its glory last week.  Sunshine, breezy, and 80 degrees won out over a room with no windows, rubber chicken, and a novice guest speaker.  Risk mitigation triggered on Saturday and I got an email from the Chapter about the meeting cancellation.  That was OK because Marcia and I had a great drive and I had a captive audience to rehearse my talk.  Continue reading

Don’t Give Me What I Asked For, Give Me What I Need!

If I advocate for finding what can go right with your project, and I help you manage the project, I should start with getting a clear understanding of the outcome you expect.  What is the best possible outcome from the time and money and effort you will expend on your project?  Why are you doing it, really?  What will be different, in the best possible way, when you are done?  What do you want the journey from here to there to be like?

Notice, I used the word “outcome,” not “scope.”  I think “outcome” goes beyond “scope.”  Continue reading

“Dynamic Perfectionism”

Sometimes when I work with my clients to understand what can go right with their projects, I ask them to describe the perfect outcome or the perfect process.  I think the word “perfect” invokes a state of mind that removes barriers to or inhibitions in expressing what could be possible.  If you can visualize what it will be like when things are going perfectly, you can get closer to it.  But, “perfect” also makes people nervous.  If I describe the perfect outcome, am I setting myself up for failure?  How do we balance striving for an inspiring picture of what can go right with the risks of aiming high? Continue reading