Friday, August 22, 2008

They didn’t ask for it

As a project manager, I’m a herald for change. And sometimes “of” change.

While I may be optimizing a process … trimming the fat … minimizing manual activities to “improve” the process, many times the people being affected didn’t ask for it. The management teams and decision makers requested it. Many times it could mean reduced workforce – loss of someone’s job.

Year’s ago I heard the term “change inflictor.” It reminds me that there can be consequences to my change actions. It also reminds me that there is a human side to change. Within the project, I add the task of re-purposing staff and assign it to the mgmt of the affected group. They have the responsibility to help find other positions for those who want to be retained. It doesn’t always work it, but a conscious effort is made.

Change can be viewed from different sides. For some, the glass if half full – positives of the change. For others, half empty – loss of a job. As a PM, you need to understand the different sides because you could be inflicting a change on someone.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Two people can look at a piece of art and get different impressions or interpretations. We can do the same with situations. All men learn early never to ask a woman “when is the baby due” because she might not be pregnant.

Appearance and interpretations of appearance is tricky. When someone cuts you off in traffic, you probably say or gesture something to recognize it. It may not be a nice response. However, he was at work when his wife went into labor and he needs to get to the hospital fast. Wouldn’t you do aggressive driving in the same situation? However, we don’t know why. We only know that we were cut off. We add out interpretation which could be right or wrong.

Virginia Satir’s congruence principle highlights that we need to balance self, other, and context. We need to understand all pieces to provide the best interpretation.

I recently worked with someone who drove me nuts. Lori kept “shutting doors” and was hard to work with. When I applied the congruence principle, I looked at when Lori works best and then I noticed it … Lori was not quick on her feet. Her default response was belligerence and shutting doors. She needed time to digest information before responding to it. I started applying this, giving her a heads up about meeting topics and decisions needing to be made. She became much easier to work with. Notice that she didn’t change … I changed my approach of working with her.

As a manager, I cannot just assume why a person’s performance has declined. Rich was a top performer. He always exceeded his marks. Yet, he has slipped the last 2 periods. He must be slacking. Let me give him a push to fix it … WRONG APPROACH. I had a meeting with Rich. I shared that I noticed his performance decline (non-defensively). He shared that he recognized the decline but he was distracted by a tough divorce. I didn’t know. This was a time of support, not push.

The great thing about the congruence approach is it sounds like common sense. Yet, sometimes it’s hard to find something that’s right in front of you. Practice it today to help it become more habit and common sense.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Like Who You Are

Sometimes project activities might make you stretch how you manage projects. You don’t compromise your ethics, but work within your personal constraints. You might not feel comfortable asking staff to work weekends, but sometimes you need to do that. You might not feel comfortable giving harsh feedback but sometimes it’s needed.

In the end you still need to like who you are ... you are the only one that has to be with yourself every second of every minute of every hour for the rest of your life. If you cannot like yourself, then it might be time to look for a new job.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Time boxing

Recently I was given a project which was researched months before I received it. There were some research artifacts but not anything really comprehensive. As a good PM, I decided to create a charter. However, I didn’t want to slow down the project (high visibility).

I applied a time-boxing approach. I can be a perfectionist, trying to get the wording and organization just right. With time-boxing, I gave myself 5 hours across 2 days to complete the charter. The process promoted time management, right-sizing the documentation, and “not over-doing it.” I created the charter with the information available and didn’t try to find all the little details. If I didn’t know something, I acknowledged it as a follow-up for the requirements/prospectus/scoping document phase.

THINGS TO CONSIDER: Time-boxing can sometimes save you from yourself, allowing you to focus on the important pieces and being time-driven.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oz Principle

Most of us are familiar with the Wizard of Oz. Four characters believe that they are missing something and need the wizards held to find it. In the end, the wizard only reinforces that they already had those traits and qualities but didn’t realize it.

The story might be familiar from the Wizard of Oz but it’s also something that you might see every day. My niece says she can’t ride a bike without someone holding on to her (until I let go and she notices she’s riding by herself). At work, they say something cannot get done because we don’t have the staff (until you ask for volunteers who work late to get the work done).

Some people see the glass as half empty. They are reaching for something or someone (the wizard) to follow, to solve their ills. Organizations bounce from the latest management philosophy to another, trying to find that silver bullet. By the way, it usually doesn’t exist.

At some point, you have to the take ownership and accountability. My manager doesn’t have time to help manage my career – so manage it yourself. I need a mentor but we don’t have a mentoring program– so find a mentor yourself. My manager never puts me on good, visible projects – so tell the manager a project you want (how else will they know).

The book The Oz Principle : Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability (ISBN 1-59184-024-4) helps explain this victim mentality, see the yellow brick road out of this mentality, and let you be your own wizard. A nice book summary can be found at .

THINGS TO CONSIDER: It’s time for that cowardly lion to roar; you are your own wizard and have the power to control your destiny.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Cost of Perfection

I worked full-time as I attended MBA classes. I balanced work, dating, family, socializing, volunteer work, and school. I’m a person who likes the A. One semester, I worked on a big work project where I worked 50-65 hours per work for a few months while I took two MBA courses. As I tried to balance my life, I noticed the relative large cost/time increase to get the A. Then I remembered the most important thing … A’s are axcellent, B’s aren’t bad, and C’s still pay cash; my company reimbursed for C’s and above. I was getting the education I wanted and matching my effort to the grade. I was happy with B’s.

In my prior quality assurance/testing career, you learn there’s a point of diminishing returns of continuing to test. You can find 80% of the defects but it costs a lot more to find that remaining 20% because they are more hidden or exception. It could take just as long (if not longer) to find the last 20% of the defects than it took to find the first 80%. QA finds a balance between time and accepting the remaining risk.

In my firm, I see requirements gathering phase of a project taking a really long time. It’s the first stage of the project after kickoff and it tends to go longer than planned. Maybe we need to improve the requirement brainstorming and gathering technique effectiveness. It also could be that we’re trying to be requirement perfect in an imperfect world. Are we getting the bang for the buck of not proceeding until “all the requirements” are gathered? (Yes, this is a waterfall type project.)

I like the lean (or agile) approach of time-boxing. Users/Customers will tell you what’s most important first. These are things they are most familiar. Time box the requirements phase to say we will close this level of requirements gathering on x date. As the project progresses, the users will identify new/revised items that came to mind. They could be seldom exceptions or special functions for specific events like year end processing. You can introduce these through change control or have requirement entry points. I might have missed the bus at stop 1, but I can still catch it at stop 3.

THINGS TO CONSIDER: Time box requirements gathering to balance against the point of diminishing returns. Use change control or requirement entry points to manage those missing or unspoken requirements.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

20 Questions

Have you seen the 20 questions game ( )? Radica created a handheld version which is very entertaining. Wikipedia shares that this began as an artificial intelligence project. Over time, it has progressed as the program learned.

The way this works is that you think of anything and then let the game begin. Usually within 20 questions, the game will guess the object you were thinking about. It could be a ball, baby, Dalmatian, salt, or more.

Why do I bring this up … the questions that are asked highlighted a good requirements gathering technique. The questions attempt to understand what it’s not as much as what it is. It divides the population of potential answers then continues to refine/divide until there is a small population remaining.

When you go out for lunch or dinner, what is easier to highlight … what type of food you want or don’t want? For most people, it’s usually easier to identify what you don’t want. That dramatically reduces the population of potential answers.

Some users are the same way. They have trouble articulating exactly what they want but they can tell you what they don’t want. With that data, you can refine your product to better meet customer needs and expectations.

THINGS TO CONSIDER: During requirements gathering, try to understand what the customer doesn’t want.