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Yesterday's News

Michael_jackson I'm sorry... I just have to take a break from revisiting Race Through the Forest to ask a simple question:

Governor Mark who?

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (winner of the 2009 "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" award) has to be thanking his lucky stars.  The prima dona of yesterday's top news stories didn't even make the top 30 minutes of the Today Show.  If he even gets mentioned today, it will be a miracle.  He won't need to resign.  Our attention deficit disorder society has already forgotten him.

On the other hand, you have to feel a little sorry for Farrah Fawcett.  Her final shot at publicity, the one event that usually assures a celebrity of decent coverage, gets eclipsed because the King of Pop dies the same day.  The poor gal can't catch a publicity break.  (Caveat:  I say this all tongue in cheek.  As a cancer survivor and with all my family has gone through, my heart actually goes out to her family.)

When I was doing my webinar on Wednesday, somebody asked what to do when another person in the office keeps stealing credit.  I answered that each person is in charge of his or her own publicity, and they need to make people aware of accomplishments.

Publicity and buzz are very fickle mistresses.  Sometimes we want our accomplishments forgotten quickly.  Other times, we may hope to endure.  What you need to learn about this is twofold:

  1. You're in charge of your own publicity.  As a professional in a sea of cubicles, you cannot rely on a media blitz to make your accomplishments known.

  2. You can only milk it so long.  Once the buzz is done, it's done.  You can't draw it out any further than other people are willing to hear about it.

Most of the time we like to have our accomplishments heralded... unless you happen to be the governor of South Carolina.  Then we rely on the short attention span of others to help us survive.

Book'em Danno

First published in April 2006

Book library My first book hits the shelves in three weeks.  My publisher and I currently talk almost daily as last- minute marketing and distribution issues are being discussed and resolved.  It still all seems a little surreal.  To list the emotions of being published for the first time would take a year's worth of blogging.  The only thing to which I can reasonably compare it is the birth of a child.  I watched both of my children enter the world, and it is a truly humbling experience.  To see a being that you helped to create breathe her first breath, make her first sound, and start interacting with the world around her is frightening and amazing and exciting.  I put my heart into Race Through The Forest over the past two years.  My blog-master, Mike Sansone, suggested I write a few posts providing some background on how this book came to be.

For starters, I've maintained a love-hate relationship with business fables over the years.  They are great mind candy for when I want a fast nugget of wisdom that doesn't require a lot of mental digestion.  (However, I'm generally a person who loves to wrestle with what he's reading.)  My future as an author came into focus over a weekend in May, 2004.  My wife was teaching a satellite graduate class for our alma mater, Drake University, and had asked me to escort her for the weekend (she recognized that I needed a change of scenery).  Having recently purchased Raving Fans, that would be enough reading material to get me through a short weekend away.  It's really hard to argue with the premise of the book.  Blanchard and Bowles are right:  Differentiating oneself in the marketplace through exemplary customer vision and focus is key in today's world.  It was the whole "fairy godmother" thing that made me shrug my shoulders.  And the concepts were right out of Common Sense 101.

(Of course, I've had a bone to pick with Ken Blanchard for years.  One Minute Manager.  Yeah, right.  When somebody publishes the One Minute Neurosurgeon and the One Minute Class Action Attorney, maybe I'll bother to take the One Minute Manager seriously.  Yo, Ken, it's a LIFETIME JOURNEY.  I also take offense at some of the "For Dummies" books, but I digress.)

As a project manager, I began wondering why somebody didn't write a decent business fable on project management.  At least then there would be a business fable that people could read and then go back to their desks and actually use.  Then the light bulb flashed.  Why don't I write a decent business fable on project management?  And Race Through the Forest was conceived.

Lessons Learned:  With what are you currently dissatisfied?  Why are you dissatisfied?  What can you do to change it?  What change of scenery do you need to view the problem in a new light?  Any other first time authors out there care to comment?

Author's Footnote:  It's been three years and I still feel the same about business fables.  Steve Farber is about the only one I've read who can really write one that is engaging, challenging, and entertaining.  And even though it's the second time around for this book, I still have the same level of excitement and emotion.  July 1 is the release date, and the new link is up!


Originally Published March 2006

Dumbest_person I "accidentally" stumbled over a new acronym when I wrote my book on project management.  I'm making it my mission to make it part of the American vernacular.  The term is WUHOT, and it stands for "Walks Upright, Has Opposable Thumbs" - you know, your basic run-of-the-mill biped.  A primate who navigates (barely) on two legs, preferably without dragging the knuckles.  We're not asking this person to create, to lead, or (God Forbid!!!) to think.  And so this person doesn't.  He or she survives and endures in the world of corporate lingo, not having been deselected by the evolution of organizations.

In Race Through The Forest, my WUHOT has a name:  Reece S'Orce.  Ha!  Can't pull anything over on you... you got that word play right away.  In their generic terms, those breathing assets on our team are called resources.  Especially harsh is to call them head count.  Not humans.  Not people.  Not mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces or nephews.  Certainly not dreamers, aspirers, creators, doers, reachers, builders, makers, thinkers, or liaisons.  Nope.  Just resources.  We would not want to differentiate them in any way.  Sure, they may have skill sets, but we don't care.  Not in our own tidy world of making them fit into our project plan like a square peg into a round hole.  And we wonder why the only thing good we can say about them is that they "walk upright, have opposable thumbs."

If we are going to create Carpe Factum organizations, we'll need to find a way to get past the WUHOTs.  While they may not agree, firing them might be a good start.  If you think that is unduly harsh, you would provide the same courtesy to lunchmeat and salad dressing that had lived past their expiration dates.  Why not give the same consideration to people who are not useful to your organization?  Most WUHOTs are not evil by nature.  Just misunderstood.  Zombies in a field of people who probably fit better into their jobs, cultures, and environments.  Some are victims of the Peter Principle.  Some are merely burnt out.  Some were promoted for all the wrong reasons.  Some were hired because of their relationships in the network.  Perhaps voting them off our corporate islands will force them to find a new reality.  One where they can shine... and dream... and accomplish.  Who is preventing your Carpe Factum?

Author's Footnote:  I'm pleased to announce that in the past three years, more and more people are accurately identifying the WUHOTs on their team by the proper term... and doing something about it.

Continuing the Race...

RTTF_2nd_Ed It's almost here.  Today, the second edition of Race Through The Forest - A Project Management Fable heads to the printer.  So by Independence Day, you should be able to order it on Amazon (and you local folks should be able to purchase it at the same book stores as always).

For those who have been asking where and how to order, I'll get my site updated as soon as the new Amazon listing is up.

This week, I will re-run some of the same posts I did back in 2006 when the book was first released.  I'll also put up some new material that the second edition has which the first edition did not:

  • How to write a status report

  • How to create a project plan

  • How to distinguish between red, yellow, and green status colors

  • How to create and issues and risks log

  • And many other useful and fun little nuggets along the way.

I'd like to take a moment and thank everyone who made the first release enjoyable, who shared how the book has helped them, and who just encouraged me along my own race.  I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Shell Game

Ammo_shells As long as we're talking about law enforcement ironies, another event occurred this past week here in Des Moines.  A local man was threatening suicide, and Polk County Sheriff's deputies were called to assist in the stand-off.  Eventually, the decision was made to end the stand-off by shooting the man with a "Less-Than-Lethal" bean-bag round.  This ammunition is intended to stun and hurt an individual, allowing them to be subdued more easily.  The unfortunate part of this decision was that somebody mixed a live round in with the bean bag rounds, and the shot intended to end the suicide attempt caused the end of his life.  His funeral was Friday.

Again, even the most unfortunate of ironies can teach us a thing or two about how we operate on a day-to-day basis.  You may be trying to help out on a situation, but if you are not paying attention to HOW you are trying to help, you may end up causing even more harm.  I did a quick blog search on the phrase "unintended consequences" and yielded some interesting results:

  • Freakonomics saw problems in the networks of "secret and hidden" fiber optics cables running throughout Washington DC.  Due to our fear of terrorism, they're so secret that our own maintenance guys do damage to them because they don't know they are even there.
  • Nate Hagen had a great essay, asking whether all of our crisis blog posts are doing more harm than good if people take knee-jerk reactions to a problem, which in turn creates more problems.

  • The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette brought up problems with solar power and how it messes with other delicate balances.

  • Iran's recent election didn't go unquestioned as we consider where the power will really lie, and how will the regime fit in with the US stance.

  • James Joyner, in his attempt to show us the impacts of political finance, generated the best quote about unintended consequences:  "It is a truism that well-intentioned attempts by government to curb bad behavior often spawn unforeseen and perhaps worse behavior."  (You can substitute any other system for government and it would still be a truism.)

  • And finally, Mike Larson discusses the unintended market consequences of our government's bailout mentality on the broader economy.

Whether or not you agree with their specific assessments is not the point of this post.  Each of these people, in their own way, has just demonstrated that somebody is putting a live round in a gun where they think they are shooting something less-than-lethal.  Every situation mentioned above is a potential suicide standoff about to end in disaster.

This is why understanding systems thinking is so critical in our society right now.  There are a lot of shell games occurring (as witnessed above), yet few people are taking a step back to look at these individual systems from the 50-thousand foot view.  And this is not a specific diss on the Obama administration; these problems have been growing for decades through executive and legislative branches controlled by both parties.

The bottom line?  Pay attention!  You need to clearly understand your inputs (all of them) and the impact each one will have on the outputs of your specific system.  This is the truism of which Joyner spoke.  It applies in business, in churches, in government, in education, in families, in friendships, in phone calls, in text messages, in personal finance, in fitness, in nutrition... you name it:  it's a system.  If you're a player in the system, then you'd better PAY ATTENTION and figure out how it works.

Otherwise, your good intentions may not be less than lethal.

Regulating Corpses

 Mummy Every once in a while, a news story crosses my computer screen that makes me simultaneously cringe and chuckle.  For example, New York police ticketed an illegally parked van... numerous times... only to later discover there was a corpse inside.  Um... no wonder he wasn't motivated to move his vehicle.

That happens a lot in corporate America.  We create rules and regulations and penalties and punishments, but rarely do we look inside the van to figure out what is the root cause of the problem.  We address the outputs we observe.  We don't stop and ask WHY the van is illegally parked.  Obviously, not one single ticket issued changed the fact the driver was dead.

This is a systems thinking issue.  Instead of addressing the inputs to the system, we keep trying to change the outputs by repeating the same ill-conceived feedback which falls on deaf (or dead) ears.  I wonder how many cops even thought about LOOKING INSIDE the van.  (Can I hear a rousing chorus of "D'OH"?)

I know a lot of corporate employees who are nervous because there is not enough work to do to keep them looking busy.  I double dog dare them to go through their employee handbook and look for policies which are the equivalent of ticketing a corpse-driven van.  How do you find a corpse-targeted policy?  Here are a few pointers:

Once you find these corpse policies, create an intelligent business case for changing them, along with new solutions, and an implementation plan that will get management's attention (i.e., dollars and cents).

Aw... Nothin' Much

Bear_hammock I just came from the Central Iowa Bloggers' gathering at Panera, and I had a few people ask me what I've been up to recently and how my summer looks.  My standard answer was that I wasn't up to much, which I suppose (in my world) is accurate.

But since people are asking, here is a smattering of things happening:

  • Got a great write-up from marketing guru Chris Abraham on my third book (SWAT).  We finally have a release date: January 10, 2010.  Now that life is calming down on many other fronts, can complete all of the editing and formatting and advance praise collection and final cover design stuff, so we can obtain printed copies by next month.  Chris was very kind with his praise, and I appreciated his taking the time to read it.

  • Wrote an article for Modern Analyst (awesome website on business analysis stuff) on how business analysts can deal with office politics.  Adrian Marchis runs an amazing site with all kinds of useful information for the business analyst crowd.

  • Was a contributing author for Franke James' new book on office politics, Dear Office Politics:  the game everyone plays.  If you've not checked out her site before, you really should.  There are new office politics situations being posted from every industry from all over the globe.  Chances are good you will see a familiar experience there.  The cool thing about the book is you get both a book and a game, so you can discuss office politics with your colleagues and learn how each other deals with various situations.

  • Was a contributing author for How Business Gets Done:  Words of Wisdom by Central Iowa Experts.  I authored the project management chapter.  The book was compiled by the Business Innovation Zone and should be released soon.

  • Will be offering a webinar through The Project Management Bookstore on office politics on June 24.  This crowd has been great, and I look forward to working with them on this.  There are 1,000 seats available, and they assure me they almost always fill up every seat for their Author series webinars.

So those are just a few things keeping me occupied and out of trouble this summer... since you asked.  For a guy whose mantra is to "seize the accomplishment" it's a pretty light schedule.

Build It and They Will Climb

200904 SERT Training (1192) I was with the SWAT team a few weeks ago when they were practicing building entries (I've learned more ways to enter a building through watching them).  The team had just acquired some new collapsible ladders, and the command staff wanted them to practice assembling the ladders quickly (i.e., within seconds), positioning them, and then using them to enter through a window.  The toughest part to practice was the building, followed by the positioning.  The two were interdependent, since the height of the ladder and the window against which it would be placed had an impact on each other.  The decision of "where" and the ability of "how" were tied together closely.

I've been in the "post-college" career world for exactly 20 years as of today.  The SWAT exercise made me think of some professionals' career management skills.  We talk a lot about climbing the ladder of succcess, but many seem to think that the magical career fairy is just going to shove the ladder in our path so we can start climbing.  Not so.  The reality is this: we need to take the same approach as my tactical law enforcement friends.  If we're going to climb the career ladder of success, we'd better be prepared to build it and figure out which wall it should be leaning against and how high to position it.  THEN start climbing.

One of the first questions I ask my graduate students is "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  You'd be surprised how many have not thought beyond the next promotion they think they're going to get.  I'll be fascinated by their answers this fall given the current state of the economy.  There are so many employees living in a state of fear that their job is about to be eliminated.  I was having this discussion with friend and colleague Lisa DiTullio a couple of weeks ago about the atmos-fear in many companies.  I've met so many people who are afraid to leave and simultaneously afraid that they won't be allowed to stay.  These are the people who have let others define their career ladder.

I contrast this with my friends and acquaintances in the consulting and social media communities.  We meet for breakfast the first Friday of every month, and the energy is through the roof.  No fear.  No uncertainty.  We're all busy and productive and happy.  Often, our only complaint is lack of down time.  We see the current economy as a challenge to be overcome, a problem to be solved, or an opportunity to be capitalized.  This is a group of people who have built their own ladder and are climbing it at breakneck speed.

Juliet Wehr Jones has provided some excellent career development advice at the Career Key Blog.  Great stuff!  All of her points she poses boil down to one single question:  who is building YOUR ladder?  Your career is the longest-running accomplishment of your life (next to breathing).  Do you own it?  Is this an accomplishment you are seizing or have you delegated it to others?

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