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.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Absolute No

At some point in the project, someone such as an end user will ask if something could be changed or a new requirement be supported. We’re trying to maintain scope, so the answer is usually NO.

You wouldn’t like it so why should the requestor. Look for ways that you can say Yes. It might be more of a qualified yes.

Can you add feature G? “Yes, in the next quarterly release.” Notice that you didn’t say NO. You played with the when factor.

Can we change feature H like this? “We can make these changes which get us closer to your vision, how does that work.” In this approach, you are trying to get a little closer to that vision/request while managing against your constraints (time/scope/cost/insert-here).

THINGS TO CONSIDER: Without breaking your constraints, how can you say yes? This helps build relationships and gets closer to the end product (quality/performance) that the end user wants.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Stakeholder relationships can be pain or gain

A group called the Corporate Executive Board publicized research on how a project manager can influence success. They shared that several areas support success such as methodology, domain expertise, and communication. They emphasized that stakeholder relationships are key to influencing success.

Think about it … if your stakeholder is unhappy, the PM will be distracted with getting the stakeholder happy. The PM might have to do “special” research and other distractions just for a particular stakeholder or small group of them. If your stakeholder is happy, then they can support you and (most of all) stay out of your way so you can get the work done.

Effective stakeholder relationships might not be something easily found in a book. The study suggests mentoring and some level of stakeholder management training. The mentoring aspect allows you to better understand how a stakeholder thinks so you can anticipate concern areas, navigate politics, and direct communication better.

THINGS TO CONSIDER: Stakeholder relationships with the PM can support the project or become a distraction. It’s best to manage them well.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Years ago during my MBA I read the book Getting to Yes by Fisher, Ury, & Patton. The book focuses on conflict resolution and negotiation techniques to create that (sorry for the phase) win-win situation. Maybe it’s not win-win, but they try to manage against lose-lose. The technique is called BANTA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement).

It was a good read. I should have taken better notes though so I could get quick refreshers of the techniques. Isn’t the internet is great … I found a few sites that shared their notes and insights from the book. There are easy, full outlines ( to quick tips (

I don’t have the time to read everything I want. Time becomes a more valuable commodity as I get older (and the family grows). These sites help me get that quick refresher while maximizing my time. If you haven’t read the book, these sites might be good for you.

At the highest level, here’s what I took away from the text.

· Know yourself and others (audience analysis)

· Understand your walk-away alternatives, wiggle room, your relative power, your relative authority

· Understand others’ walk-away alternatives, potential wiggle room, power, and authority to make a decision. Does the person have the authority to make a decision?

· Focus time to understand items of influence

· Listen more than you talk – that’s can be a hard one

· Don’t react emotionally – that can be hard too

· Understand concessions and be open to splitting the difference

Being a Generalist

There are many technical and business functions in my firm. I’ve done many of the technical functions such as development, testing, building hardware, and more. Yet, I haven’t kept current in all of these areas over the years. I keep familiar but not detailed knowledge. For the business functions, I’m familiar and have a deeper understanding when my project deems necessary.

I consider myself a generalist; I have high-to-mid level knowledge of the technical and business domains I support. I don’t intend to be a one person shop that has the knowledge and skills to do everything myself. My brain is only so big. Gathering a team of people provides the needed skills sets and establishes the project for better success – collapses critical path, balancing staffing and resources, and reduces stress.

For my personal training, I focus on having more detailed knowledge in PM tools and techniques. That’s where I can add the most value for the collective team. As a technical and business generalist, I’m familiar with these areas which enable me to ask intelligent questions on process, strategy, risk, and progress. Mostly, I’m able to concentrate on managing tasks and activities (and the people who make the project get done).

I don’t know the intricacies of building a house. However, I know that you need to dig the foundation and frame easily in the process. There are building inspections (external specs/requirements to follow) and many specialties involved (plumbing, electrical, framing, drywall, etc). As I continue with the house project, I’ll gain more specific knowledge. Over time, I’ll better understand dependent and parallel tasks. I’ll understand the flexibility of building inspections and more. I started as a generalist. As the project proceeded, I had the mid (or better) level knowledge of a house project. I gained the right knowledge, at the right time, to get the job done.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kano Analysis

I stumbled upon Kano analysis a few months ago. It provides a nice technique for driving to “real” requirements that drive customer satisfaction.

I’m not fully utilizing Kano analysis yet; I’m not jumping into the deep end of the pool. As a starting point, I’ve refocused my requirements prioritization/justification techniques. I use the following labels – 1 Must-Haves and cancel the project if I don’t have these, 3 Differentiators in the market place, and 5 nice-to-haves. I allow for some ambiguity by using a 5 point system instead of a 3 point system.

If I get weighted too much in the 1 Must-Haves, then I delve into some Kano-type questions to help justify that level of must-haves. Kano suggests using a multiple question approach to double check answers, come at it from different ways. Questions styles could involve exploring boundaries or implications of taking-away to name just a few. This tries to understand if this is an indifferent requirement where “out of sight out of mind” does not impact product satisfaction. On the flip side, does adding this feature increase customer satisfaction. For instance in MS Word, I’m guessing that the Web Layout feature was not a must-have in Word 2003 original version. It’s a good differentiator from similar products but there were likely more important features to deliver successfully with proper quality.

Search the internet for Kano analysis and see what insights you find.

Creative Communication

I’ve learned that some people don’t like to talk during meetings. Some don’t want to interrupt, it may be tangential, unsure if others would want to hear it, or generally more reserved.

At my firm, we have an instant message (IM) program available. When people are calling into meetings from their desks, I periodically get questions and comments via IM. We then decide via IM if we want to share more broadly at the meeting. IM can be a good tool to share information and let the PM introduce the topic or contributor.

Why only do this for conference calls? At my firm, many people bring their laptops to meetings. For those who don’t want to raise their voice publicly, IM can be a good tool to share information and let the PM introduce the topic or contributor.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Parking Sign

At the 2007 AYE (Amplify Your Effectiveness) conference, I met a nice gentleman named Michael. In the QA Testing (software quality assurance) field, he’s known as the Braidy Tester. Michael has great insights and creative methods to get you thinking. And sometime just to get you smiling. Michael will write QA Testing lyrics to accompany tunes that we are familiar like Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" or Van Halen's “Finish What Ya Started.”

You don’t have to be in the QA Testing field to appreciate the Braidy Tester. Recently, he posted a Parking Sign (click the link) and asked readers to write requirements about the sign content. It was a great exercise in ambiguity and context/domain-knowledge assumptions that we sometimes build into requirements (or parking signs). He shared the results and his brainstorming techniques. He shared some good heuristics such as emphasizing different words and using synonyms to view other interpretations. Take a few minutes and read that blog article and maybe more.

Friday, February 15, 2008


With having a new baby, it’s harder for me to do everything that I once did. Working long hours, sleeping in on weekends, working out 6 days a week, volunteering as much, fancier cooking, any baking, traveling, and so much more. My family has always been my first priority and it just needs more time now. A lot more time.

There were always things that I “didn’t have time for.” Cleaning the house more often, tending to the lawn more frequently, corresponding with more far away friends, blogging, reading that book for pleasure or work, and more. I don’t let these things weigh me down anymore. I give myself permission with no self-guilt trips or second thoughts. It’s a conscious decision. I give myself permission to pick up my son from daycare and spend time with him instead of going to a work happy hour. Sometimes I give myself permission for the happy hour. I give myself permission to blog during lunch 1-2 days a week instead of going out to lunch or working through lunch.

I have 2 friends from separate parts of the country. Recently, they both used that same phrase too – “I give myself special permission.” Kirsten will admit that she’s more comfortable “doing it herself.” Delegating is nice but it’s easier for her to do it herself – team of 1. Over time, she has felt the consequences – stress, not able to do as much as she wanted, not always the best person, running late which affects others, and more. She now gives herself permission to ask for help. It is definitely a conscious decision (and against her nature). She’s not able to rewire herself to be fully comfortable so she gives herself permission. This has reduced her stress and made her feel that she’s accomplishing more.

Shawn owns a consulting business. He’s a great guy, level-headed, and a big F (Feeler) in Myers-Briggs terms. He doesn’t want to impose on people. Yet he needs to sell his services. Shawn gives himself permission to ask people to buy his services. This is helping to make him more successful.

THINGS TO REMEMBER: Sometimes you need give yourself permission. You accept the consequences and path chosen and not chosen. Consciously choosing to give permission is empowering. It allows you to break from your norm and be more than yourself.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why do I write this blog?

Many years ago I read the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham. He shares that we are made up of innate talents/strengths, gained knowledge, and learned skills. Innate talents are things that you do without thinking. They are who you are.

After taking the test (free with a book purchase), I said yes these are me. Some of my top talents were Maximizer, Developer, and Connectedness. Maximizer and Developer focus on improving people and processes and challenging/cultivating them to meet their full potential. Connectedness centers on the notion that things happen for a reason. I share my thoughts and this blog because I want the next generation to be better than this one. To do that, I need to share because we are all connected.

And there’s more … in the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, he shares this view on what makes an effective leader. He has a 5 level hierarchy of leadership ability. At level 4, we have an effective leader. While successful and able to accomplish great things, this leader looks out for him/herself – a very much me-focus and everyone works for me. At level 5, we have an executive. Level 5 leader matches professional will with personal humility. It’s less about me and more about the organization. They attribute their success to good luck and good team, rather than personal greatness. These leaders look for success in the future, when they are not here. The organization continues to success when the “genius” (current leader) departs. I share this blog because I want the next generation to be better. I want you to succeed and create more successes.

When we’re not at war, why do our soldiers train? To be ready when called. I want to empower our future leaders. We could work on a team together sometime in the future. You could work on a project where I benefit like a new vehicle, phone, MP3 player, medical device, or professional training.

It’s like a parent-child relationship. The parent gains gratification knowing that the child was able to do better than his generation. My father would tell me stories about growing up on the farm, needing the livestock and farm to have food on the table. Grandma and grandpa worked (and worked hard) but it was hard to manage a family with 5 kids. Penny pinching and saving were needed at times. Christmas was hard at times. Growing up for me, we didn’t have these challenges. Dad had built a family that was able to do better than his youth. We had our challenges but they were slightly beyond the prior generation. I remember my grandparents being proud of what my dad accomplished. Now that I have started a family, I see the cycle continue – doing a little better than my youth. And I see my father being proud of what I’ve accomplished (and continue to accomplish).

I want the next generation to glean something from my experiences and thoughts so it can be better. We can have broader success in the future. I want to see the children of PM grow up and succeed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tongue Fu!

What is sharper than a knife? What can hurt more than a punch in the gut? What can sting and hurt longer than a hive a bee stings?

Words. The old phase is right … words cut at you; words hurt. Words can cause emotional pain which can last longer and hurt stronger than physical pain.

We don’t normally intend to hurt others. Yet, there are some nuances that can hurt which we might not realize. Subtle word choices can cause resentment vs building rapport. Can build relationships vs create conflict. Can make people comfortable vs making people defensive.

In his book What Got You Here Won’t get You There, executive coach Marshall Goldsmith devotes two chapters to this topic. One of his best practices focuses on limiting destructive comments – eliminating those needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty. Another is more specific and subtle – don’t start with “no”, “but”, or “however.” These small words can put people on the defensive. Goldsmith believes that the overuse of these qualifiers secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong.”

In his book, Tongue Fu!, Sam Horn shares his thoughts on martial arts for the mind and mouth; words to lose and words to use. Like Goldsmith, Horn suggests subtle word choices that promote positive, constructive conversations. Horn’s goal is to “create light, not heat.” Here are some examples.

  • AND instead of BUT – Allows you to connect instead of cancel
  • NEXT TIME instead of SHOULD – Coach instead of criticize
  • PLEASE instead of YOU HAVE TO Request instead of order
  • CAN instead of CAN’T – Devise instead of deprive
  • DO instead of DON’T – Specific what you do want instead of what you don’t want
  • SPECIFICS instead of EXTREMES – Specify and request what you do want

While it is a little word here or there, it does make a difference. Learning to respond positively takes practice. Our habits of reacting with the BUT and SHOULD words have been ingrained. Start practicing today. Over time, new habits will emerge.

TAKE-AWAYS: Sometimes it’s not the big changes that make the most impact. It can be the smaller ones. Subtle word choices can create light in an otherwise dark conversation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Career Planning

Recently, I got an invitation to meet someone via LinkedIn, a networking website. It was an HR person (recruiter) from a local insurance company. To date, I used LinkedIn to keep up with friends and totally forgot about the job opportunities and other career pieces of it. While I was not interested in the position, it did remind me that my resume was out of date. Not just in content but style too.

Reading online and some recent Business Week articles showed me a good direction. My old resume talked about what I specifically did at those jobs. Not good. A prospective employer doesn’t want to know what you did at other jobs and what you did at 4:30p each day. A prospective employer wants to understand how you can add value to their company. I revised the content of my resume, taking this into account. I also tried to remove industry specific contexts to highlight transferable skills and results. I focused on successes/accomplishments and the complexity involved. I gave these as examples of what I could accomplish at their company. I also showcased areas where I am the leader or champion for my organization.

Prospective employers want to understand transferable skills. How are you at negotiating, collaboration, and other competencies. I took notes of these so I can promote them in the resume or cover letter for the specific position. Don’t under-estimate the cover letter. You can use the cover letter to elaborate and highlight pieces on the resume – use the cover letter strategically. This can help provide that traditional 1 page resume while still emphasizing what you want.

Now I have a generic resume ready. I’m not looking for a new position. I like my current position and employer. However if an opportunity arise inside or outside the organization, I want to be ready.

TAKE-AWAYS: You never know when a career opportunity might arise. Be prepared. Keep your resume up-to-date, reviewing it at least twice a year. Focus your resume on how you can add value for a prospective employer. And don’t under-estimate the power of the cover letter.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


As I move up the organization, my word and name alone do not have the power that it did at lower levels of the organization. That’s understandable. My credibility will increase as I prove myself at higher levels of the org. Until then, I need alliances and associated credibility/power.

I’m a person who does not complain alone – I complain and try to do something about it. I took a Gallup strengths test several years back where the results showed that 2 of my inherit talents (without trying) are development of people and processes. While I don’t have HR responsibility for my current project team and other coworkers (who could a future team), I still want to help them grow. Earlier this year, I presenting a mentor program idea to my VP and he said that I could pursue it further. Recently, he approved proposing it to the CIO.

As I was building the mentoring strategy, I reviewed it with our HR department who gave me good ideas and helped me link it to the HR mgmt directives to which people are accountable. When I reviewed the strategy with my VP, I told him that I worked with the HR dept and explained the feedback. The strategy and my personal credibility got the strategy approved to propose to the CIO. My VP gave me some good advice … take my HR Director with me as I present to the CIO. I will gain associated power and credibility. If there are questions from an HR standpoint my HR person can answer them, showing support from multiple sides.

Over time, I’m learning better when I should speak and when I should just shut up (and let others speak). While a PM has some good credibility, others hold credibility too (and we want to let them shine and be heard). Do we feel the code is ready for implementation … the user or QA Tester could have more credibility to answer. Sometimes a title has more power so you might need a VP to address a topic in a meeting.

You might notice that I started interchanging credibility with power. Credibility is a type of power. Power can be abused though. It’s taking me time to understand and navigate these waters. I hope you can learn from my travels.

TAKE-AWAYS: Know when to leverage other’s credibility. The PM alone is not the most powerful player on the team. The most powerful player is the team as a whole (team members, stakeholders, and sponsors) and you should leverage your team and individual credibility when needed.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

2 cents

As I moved to larger and larger projects, I noticed that I needed to be in the details less. It was hard. I’m a details guy at heart. However, I worked long hours, couldn’t balance meetings with doing work too, was personally always on critical path, and generally stressed.

This is the point where I started leading by guiding principles. I cannot be available 24x7 to the team – meetings, different time zones, vacation, and more. At the beginning of the project, I establish project guiding principles to help guide the team when they have questions.

I also noticed that to support guiding principles, I also needed to enable confidence in the team so they could be self-sufficient. The team needed to be confident in their own knowledge and less dependent on me. I started answering questions less and asking the team to answer each other’s questions or directing them to the guiding principles. It can be hard. Again, I’m a details guy at heart.

A Businessweek article showcased a book that helped, What Got You Hear Won’t Get You There. It highlighted that past practices that make you successful might be less useful as you continue up the organization. One that spoke to me was “Don’t add too much value.” By being the answer man, people were less self-sufficient. I don’t need to give my thoughts on everything. In addition, as you get higher in the organization, simple brainstormed ideas can be interpreted as edicts that the team should follow. Need to be careful of the power you have.

When I catch myself giving too many answers, I literally pull out two pennies. You see it coming … I can only give my 2 cents worth. For questions directed to me, it reminds me to try to get the team to answer first before I give my thoughts. Sometimes I can be very passionate about a topic where I need to constrain myself from dominating the discussion – I literally can only give my 2 cents worth. I think … if I can only give 2 responses in this meeting, am I willing to give up one of my cents. It helps me evaluate the value that the comment will have.

TAKE-AWAYS: Watch adding too much value. If you keep answering all the questions and have to be involved everything, the team will be dependent on you; you will be on critical path. To build a self-sufficient team, you need to manage how much value you add – don’t add too much value.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Managing your stress

I learned a few years back that if I don’t manage my stress, I am less effective manager and leader. The first step was to understand what causes me stress. My topic 3 stresses were: overwhelmed by email, surprises, and feeling like I didn’t accomplish anything today. Once I identified these, then I could attack them.

Overwhelmed by email. I applied a “focus” approach. I use Outlook as my email client. I setup email rules to send email to specific folders. I have folders for each project, general work announcements, industry news, and a I-can-get-to-this-when-I-can folder. To help with this, I put a prefix on my emails to help the routing. When things appear in my inbox, I move it the appropriate folder. Then I can be focused when I read my email. I can go to project-A’s folder and be focused on that project. Then I can go to project-B and so forth.

With Outlook 2003, it has multiple colored flags. I flag emails for follow-up. I have my own system which denotes priority and allows me to priority/focus my time on the more important follow-ups first. I put a blue flag on emails that should be documented and shared more broadly. To help with that, I publish bi/weekly project team notes. I encapsulate the project team meeting and other decisions (and emails) for the time period. It provides an easy recap of events and decisions. From a historic perspective, the notes are handy to show previous decisions that could now take change control to overrule.

Surprises. It’s easier to address an issue if you’ve thought about it before. I do heavy risk brainstorming. I’ve mentioned in some previous blogs that I have a recurring Outlook task that appears every 3 weeks – “brainstorm risks.” I go to a quiet, few distractions place. I bring the project plan, last status report, project binder, and more. Then I brainstorm what can wrong from now to the end of the project. More importantly, I brainstorm varying mitigations to reduce the impact or eliminate the risk. Now when team members come to me with an issue, I might have already brainstormed it or something close to it. I can be calm (and help calm the team) on how to deal with the issue.

Feeling of non-accomplishment. It’s anal, but I print my Outlook calendar every day and set daily goals and prioritize them. I use a highlighter because colors can help give relevance to me. (Yes I can be anal, otherwise known as a strong J in MBTI). Orange is a must do today. Red is urgent. Yellow is important. Green is done. At the end of the day, I can see how many of each category I was able to do. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. One more piece … I identify 2 main categories – goals and opportunities. Goals are things that I want to accomplish today. Opportunities are items that I would like to do if I have time. Today’s opportunities could turn into tomorrow’s goals.

TAKE-AWAYS: Know what causes you stress and manage it.