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Are You Building Your Accomplishments?

Lego_cf_logo Remember playing with Legos as a kid?  Wow, you could build ANYTHING!  The only constraints were your imagination and the number and type of blocks you had.  And if you had enough of the first, the second was never really anything that could hold you back.  As a child, I was designer and builder (and supreme ruler) of great cities and vast empires.  There was nothing I couldn't accomplish with a nice box of Legos.

How about now?  Do you still design and build and accomplish?  Do you still see all of the possibilities as endless?

Really.

Really?

Why not?

So we may not get out a box of colorful plastic blocks to accomplish something great, but we still have blocks and we still have accomplishments.  What's getting in your way?  Could it be the same things that got in your way as a kid are still haunting you as an adult?


  • The blocks don't fit the plan - remember when you'd get this really great kit of Legos and there might be one or two blocks missing (and you wouldn't find out until the most inopportune moment)?  FRUSTRATING!  We experience it often now, don't we?  We have our great plans, but the resources aren't there for us to achieve them.  Too often we give up.  But why not solve it like we did when we were kids?  Find a way around the gap.  Borrow from another kit.  Adjust.  Write pointed letters to Legos Headquarters explaining the situation and then waiting weeks for the part to show up.  But however we did it, we never let missing parts make us stop.

  • The plan doesn't fit the blocks - some of us have all the resources in the world, but we don't have any plans to tell us how to use them.  Conversely, we may have aspirations of the building great empires, but only have the little 100-piece starter kit.  So we may have to create (or adjust) our plans to fit what resources are available to us.  Maybe we bring in our friends who have a different perspective to help us shape the direction of the activity.  Perhaps we scale back our plans or expand our plans.  Maybe we call a time-out and play with something else until an idea comes to us.

  • Annoying siblings and pets - who out there didn't have an annoying brother growing up?  Sometimes, siblings and pets had a way of "taking away" things that didn't belong to them and messing up your grand designs of Lego-laden afternoon.  So you'd have to go on a Homer-esque quest to conquer and retrieve.  Now that we're adults, we still "let" others take things away from us.  Sometimes it is something tangible like a project or a budget.  Other times, the stolen accomplishment is less obvious but more serious.  Things like our confidence or our self esteem or our vision or our inner compass get misplaced, and we must retrieve them if our accomplishments are to be achieved.  How much fight do you have in you to search out your accomplishment?

We're starting a new week, folks.  What's your accomplishment?  Do your parts match your plan?  Are you prepared to find what's missing and fight for it?  Cool!  NOW GO BUILD SOMETHING GREAT!

Hope Floats

Hope_ministries "When you learn from the experiences of others, you compress time." -David J. Burrier, Chief Development and Community Relations Officer, Hope Ministries

I really enjoy my project management MBA class at Drake.  It's not just because we learn all of the standard project management life cycle phases (which we do).  It's not just because we get a grip on the different roles involved in a project or that we cover some interesting real life project experiences (which we also do.

No, I think the reason I really like this class is that I get to feel like a not-for-profit Santa Claus.  Those who have read this blog for a while know the final project:  work with a local charitable organization within the community.  In the past, my classes have worked with United Way of Central Iowa, Blank Park Zoo, and many other worthwhile organizations.

This fall is no different.  We have the pleasure of working with the Thrift Store from Hope Ministries, a great organization serving the homeless in Central Iowa.  They operate completely without any government funding (and therefore without any government interference).  They are passionate and compassionate, caring and sharing.  They have some very cool business challenges for my students, and the next twelve weeks will be an eye-opening education in the world of project management... and community.

Stay tuned!

Not Right Now

Stopwatch Anybody who wears the title "Mom" or "Dad" is very familiar with the phrase, "Not right now."  It's our noncommittal safety net when we don't want to give our child a "yes" or "no" answer at the moment.  It's our "Let me think about this one before I answer" contingency plan.

I personally love "not right now" because it gives me a reason to pause and catch my breath, an excuse to stave off a decision when I don't have all the facts or the mental bandwidth to process the facts that might be in front of me.

I use "not right now" whenever my system is affronted with too many demands.  I use it when I've been blind-sided or offended and I need to process my next steps.  I use it when the output decision is low priority compared to the other things in my life.

"Not right now" is not merely a stall tactic, nor is it passive aggression.  I will give an answer, and I expect to be held accountable for providing an answer.  I just can't or won't give it at this exact moment.

Our Six-Sigma-infested business world is not on good terms with "not right now."  The phrase means a lag in the system.  It creates inefficiency.  It's not "lean" enough for fast-paced processes.  We tell people we want to do a root cause analysis, but we want it yesterday and we want it accurate.

I love systems thinking guru Peter Senge's story about the "Beer Game" exercise he gave his students.  You get to see firsthand why and how fast decisions lead to wrong decisions.  And you get to see why and how those wrong decisions compound themselves further down the line.

One question I've started asking religiously whenever a demand is presented is "When do you need this by?"  Then I take some time to negotiate a response.  If I make demands of others, I try to build in their "not right now" time for them.

"Not right now" will do one thing for you if used correctly:  it will improve your over-all effectiveness.  By delaying things of lesser priority, you can now focus on the really important things in your life and bring them to fruition.

If you are shooting for an accomplishment, you'll need to learn to embrace "not right now" on occasion.  It will save you a lot of anxiety... but maybe not right now.

Like a Bowl In a China Shop

Ncaa-bcs-championship The economy.

Green and sustainability initiatives.

Terrorism threats.

Healthcare debates.

Oil prices and energy reform.

Education changes.

Crime.

Poverty.

BCS Football overhaul.

Huh?

It seems Representative Joe Barton has a burr in his saddle.  And he has too much time on his hands to think about said burr.  It's a longstanding joke that if the opposite of "pro" is "con" then the opposite of "progress" must be "Congress."  Unfortunately, this story about Congress spending ANY amount of time on college football goes beyond a joke... it's a travesty.  (Mind you, I enjoy college football.  No, it doesn't define my life, which makes this post easier for me to write.)

In the world of accomplishment, there are always competing demands for our attention.  When we're doing requirements gathering, we know how to sort out "need to have" requirements from those that are "nice to have."  When we have to make triple constraint project trade-offs, we know that either time, scope, or cost is going to take it in the shorts in favor of something more pressing.  Maybe we need fewer lawyers and philosophy professors running our country and more project managers.

So what about you?  Are you spending time on the REALLY IMPORTANT accomplishments, or are you playing dress up with Don Quixote?  Make a list of the things on your planner for the upcoming week.  Now ask yourself if the world, your life, your job, your family, your project, or your employer would collapse in a flaming ball of massive failure if any one of those items WASN'T completed.

Just a thought to start out your week.

It's August 23rd. Do You Know Where Your Project Is?

John_stoddard_cancer_center OK, busted again.  Another two week lag.  I alluded to some things going on in an earlier post, but after a comment I received this past week, I figured it best to lay it on the line for you, my readers.

When the summer started, I had made plans to step away from consulting for a couple of months to focus on my books.  Race Through the Forest entered a successful second printing last month, and it appears to be selling well.  SWAT - Seize the Accomplishment will be going to print before Labor Day, allowing me plenty of time for marketing before its release date in January, 2010.  What I didn't anticipate at the beginning of summer was yet another project, one where my participation was mandated... out of duty, out of love, out of necessity, out of care, out of need, and out of concern.  My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Now for those who have read this blog for a while, you know that my family is no stranger to the "Big C" - we wished we'd never met it, but sometimes it just happens.  I'm considered a subject matter expert in a few areas:  project management, office politics, creativity, etc.  Handling cancer is a topic on which I wish I were completely ignorant.

Anyway, back to the comment.  One of my well meaning friends asked me how it felt to have the summer off from project management to enjoy myself.  I know they meant nothing bad from the comment, and that it was well intentioned.  However, the more I thought about it, the more irked I found myself becoming.  Let's get this straight:  Not all projects occur in cubicles, in laboratories, or at construction sites.

Every single one of my project skills has been put to the test this summer:

  • When it comes to communication (90% of a project manager's time), there have been discussions with surgeons, oncologists, nurses, attending physicians, siblings (my sister walks on water, in my assessment), well meaning relatives and neighbors, and clergy.  We have to craft our messages for the audience and the time and hope for the best.
  • The resource management aspect has been critical.  Again, my sister and I have done a fairly decent job of picking up a lot of transportation to and from appointments and handling some things around her house.  We've learned to rely on friends and relatives for those times when we both had to be attending to other things, and we're blessed that Mom is surrounded by so many willing and helpful people.
  • On the issue of scope management, we're learning new terminology every day as we talk with Mom and her doctors about what treatments work and which ones don't.  While there is no "requirements document" that can blanket every cancer case, we keep up on the adjustments and check the results with the precision of a Six Sigma Master Black Belt.
  • Wanna talk risk management with me?  OK, when fevers spike and blood counts drop and a 9-day hospital stay occurs unexpectedly, you get very good at having "what if" discussions about contingency plans and scrapping current plans for new ones.  Flexibilty is as critical as oxygen at the moment.
  • Finally, time management and prioritization skills are put to the test.  I'm addicted to accomplishment.  There's no wing at the Betty Ford Clinic for over-achievers.  But I'm becoming better at telling other people and things in my life "no, thanks" and "not right now" - it just doesn't fit.  I wish there were more project managers who knew how to keep their scopes simple and focused.

I have a few projects under my belt over the past two decades.  There have been fun projects, intense projects, scary projects, screwed up projects, cool projects, and complex projects.  This project doesn't take place within cubicle walls, but it uses all the skills.  I've said for years that project management is universal, and this just supports that premise.  Some day I may have the summer off from project management.  Aw, who I am kidding?  Project management isn't a job; it's a lifestyle choice.

Vindication of High School Geometry Teachers Everywhere

OP_boat1 You remember when your high school geometry teacher kept telling you to learn all of those theorems because some day you would actually use it?  And your thought was "Yeah, right.  Not in a million years."  Well, I've got news for you:  she was [gasp] right.

In my last post, we talked about a lack of focus.  I pondered why the elderly can only discuss illness.  I have not received any death threats, seen any angry mobs with pitchforks, nor been the target of pellet guns loaded with Geritol.  But the practical applicataion still stands:  why can't people stay focused on what's really important?

Simply put, they're not in the same BOAT.

OP_boat2 Yes, BOAT is in all caps for a reason.  It stands for Balanced Organizational Alignment Triangle.  Here's how it works.  You're a hard-working professional trying to do your job.  Every day, you go into the office and do hardworking job things (insert your own Doh-Dee-Doh sound here).  However, preventing you from success is some knuckle-dragging neanderthal.  Guess what?  They probably perceive you as the roadblock to their success.

This "hindrance factor" is caused by the distance between your goals and the other person's goals.  Now before you get all finger-pointy on me, ask yourself this:  How far are both of you from the ORGANIZATION'S goals and mission?  (Or maybe those of the project, department, or team?)  If you are both light years away from where everyone else is going, you're naturally going to be distanced from each other.  Now, since all of my readers are good little corporate soldiers, we'll pretend that you're in alignment with the mission of the organization... but the knuckle-dragger is still off on his own.  Guess what, that still doesn't help the hindrance factor.  You're both going to have conflict with each other.

OP_boat3 So, how do we vindicate your high school geometry teacher AND bring peace to your organization?  (Thought you'd never ask.)  Maybe the two of you should start a dialogue about what's important to your team.  Start talking about how much you understand the shared direction of the department.  Figure out if anybody has shared a strategy statement with you.  Or better yet, you can purchase GUST, and use the handy-dandy surveys in the back (one each for employee level, management level, and executive level).  I bet that would get some really good talks going.  Only by aligning yourselves to a common goal can you align yourselves more closely to each other and reduce the conflict that is hindering your company.

Now call your geometry teacher and apologize.

Dead In Their Tracks

Ekg I've been hanging around a lot of older, more seasoned individuals recently, and I've noticed something:  they talk about illness a lot.  I'm not talking just passing comments here and there; it's one-up-man-ship of the highest caliber.  This is a continuous competition.  And the playing field is wide open.  They don't just talk about their own illness.  Anybody who's ever been on the periphery of their radar screen who has had so much as a sniffle is fair game.

I'm curious if they receive an "illness bingo card" with their AARP membership, and once they bring up so many ailments so they earn an illness bingo, they can turn it in for a prize.  Or they're just conversationally working themselves up for the inevitable.  I'm just speculating, mind you, but this pattern has revealed itself in numerous settings over the past few months.  I just can't ignore it.

Since I'm still entrenched in my forties and have plenty of more pleasant conversation topics left in me, I'm scratching my head trying to figure it out.  Of course, I still can't understand why American Idol tops more conversations than the economy, or politics, or things we can control and make better.

With office politics, I see this misplaced focus a lot as well.  People get really hyper over cubicle space.  They get worked up over who had lunch with whom.  They fret over who got a bigger raise or who spent more time in the office with the boss.  It seems we all have things we like to focus on, and many times, our focus is diverting us from more important and critical issues which we really can impact.

Hang around for the next post.  I have some thoughts about this phenomenon.

(Disclaimer:  My mother has asked that I state that - while she has plenty of reason to be one of the aforementioned individuals - she does NOT fall in this category.)

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