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Fast Pass Plus

Open-uri20150422-12561-1l7bijo_995042b1Last month, my family took a spring break trip to Orlando. We wanted to capture the Disney magic one more time before our kids were out of the house and off living lives of their own. With a high school sophomore in the house, that day is coming faster than we thought. I've always had a Love-Hate relationship with Disney. One of my favorite jokes is that EPCOT really stands for "Every Pocket Cleaned Out Thoroughly." To be fair, Disney is a money-making machine. Their mission statement (2013) says "The Walt Disney Company's objective is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information, using its portfolio of brands to differentiate its content, services and consumer products." No where in there does it promise people will have a good time, or that its customers will enjoy what they consume. They just say they'll produce it.

Our experience this time at Disney was different primarily because of one thing. We've stayed on Disney property before, so that wasn't it. We enjoyed the transportation included in our package, so that wasn't it either. We purchased a park-hopper so we could move around if we wished, and that still worked equally well. So what was different? The Fast Pass. For those not indoctrinated to the Disney experience, the Fast Pass was this amazing trick to avoid long lines. It used to work that you got a Fast Pass to a popular ride when you got into the park. After a certain period of time (generally once you had used your previous Fast Pass), you could get another and another, and another throughout the entire day. A savvy customer could actually plan out their day pretty well and get to ride a lot with this technique. Great idea, right? So let's make it even better with the (drum roll, please) FAST PASS PLUS.

The Fast Pass Plus allows guests to schedule their Fast Passes several weeks in advance. However, once the rides are filled up, they're filled up, and no more Fast Passes are issued. Also, Disney advertises that you can get more Fast Passes when you get to the park. The part they don't tell you is that you can't reserve any more until you've used all the pre-scheduled Fast Passes. It seems everything about Disney - rides, food, activities - has become increasingly over-scheduled. And to be honest, a bit chaotic and stressful (especially if you're a project manager looking to get a vacation from scheduling tasks weeks in advance). At least with the old way, everybody walking into the part started on equal footing at the start of the day.

Believe it or not, this post isn't a dog-pile on Disney. My family still had an enjoyable enough time. We ended up waiting in line a bit more than we would have liked, but we bonded and more or less got to do the things we wanted.  The Disney app is a great tool to tell you wait times on lines, and we leveraged it quite a bit. The purpose of this post is to talk about efficiency vs. effectiveness. As Peter Drucker described it, "Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things." One could argue Disney is both efficient and effective. When you look at doing things right (i.e., using the fewest resources to produce a result), Disney is a master of efficiency. They pack people into their parks and keep them moving and going and riding and eating and watching and buying from park's open to close. And to Disney's credit, they are much more efficient than Universal (we also spent a day doing the Harry Potter thing). The effectiveness part is where I question Disney. Certainly they are meeting their mission, but how happy are the consumers with their experience? Really happy? How many moms and dads and grandparents left their Disney vacation thinking, "Wow, I can't wait to come back!" vs "Wow, I can't wait to get out of here!"? (Based on the number of child meltdowns observed, I'm guessing more of the latter. When my teenager pulled me aside to thank me for great parenting that prevented her from acting like THAT, I knew it was getting it her as well.) Ironically, some of the longest and crankiest lines were those at the very few Fast Pass kiosks around the park, as customers frustratedly tried to make changes.

Will Disney change? Doubtful. Tale as old as time, there will always be parents willing to fork out major dinero to create some magical experiences for their children. But what about your business? In the pursuit of efficiency, what effectiveness are you sacrificing? Have you become the Fast Pass Plus of getting customers through as quickly as possible, only to have those customers have no desire to return? Are you meeting all your project milestones, but churning your project team in the process and making them never want to work with you?

Science Is Not Boring

Science_center_iowaA friend of mine, Pete Jones, runs a popular and useful blog here in the metro entitled Des Moines Is Not Boring. He has done a lot for the community by highlighting overlooked restaurants, events, and attractions to help negate the perception that Des Moines, Iowa is boring. (It's really not boring, by the way; there's always SOMETHING going on.)

However, there's one unfortunate blight on an otherwise not-boring town. Last week, I took my girls to the Science Center of Iowa. We always get a season family pass to the Science Center, the Zoo, and Living History Farms. It's been a few months since I've been to the Science Center, and I hate to say it but I was grossly underwhelmed. Virtually nothing had changed since my last visit. Realistically, little has changed in the eight years it's been open. As a friend of mine put it: "They seem to care more about charging money for IMAX productions and hosting cocktail events than they do promoting science." Another parent recently wrote a blantantly honest assessment of their experience at the Science Center. It seems I'm not alone.

Science is about discovery. It's about not quite knowing what to expect. It's about curiosity. It's about exploration. What message is conveyed to children when they see the same old "attractions" sitting there visit after visit? In total we spent less than hour there. It's a shame. I've been to many children's museums and science museums throughout the country (on multiple occasions). Like science experiments, these other museums evolve. They change the variables. They keep the curiosity alive. It's how they maintain their credibility. By maintaining a stagnant status quo, our own Science Center undermines its own credibility as an institution promoting science.

In my last post, I referred to the Heath Brothers' book, Made to Stick, and we covered how your project scope needs to be simple and concrete. A couple of other attributes to memorable accomplishments are being UNEXPECTED and being CREDIBLE. Are you purposely upsetting people's expectations to get (and keep) their attention? And are you a trusted source of expertise? Your project is competing with every other email, meeting, project, Facebook post, Tweet, and interruption. As a project manager, it is imperitive that you keep your stakeholders from getting bored with you. It is critical they trust you to have the answers (or know where to get them).

One of my more memorable projects was (drum roll) a HIPAA compliance project (crickets... yawn). When it came time to create the training video, we did something unexpected: we created the entire video like an episode of COPS. We demonstrated our credibility by portraying the important messages to the employees. At the same time, we violated their paradigms of what a HIPAA training video should look like. Balancing credibility and unexpectedness, you keep your project valuable and engaging. It means you have people noticing you (for the right reasons). They're curious about you. They're interested in you.

And it doesn't take a lot of effort to do incredibly unexpected things to make your project unexpectedly credible. Find an excruciatingly long 2-hour meeting and figure out how to shave it down to 15 minutes (and still get the same result). You'll be a hero. Take a 10-page hyper-wordy status report and turn it into a 3-page PowerPoint that says the same thing. That will get executives' attention. Adding credible value in unexpected ways is simpler than you might think.

As for the Science Center of Iowa, I hope they can find their mojo again. My kids and I are looking forward to being curious, and engaged, and interested, and...

You Got My Scope All Sticky

This summer, I've made a point to catch up on reading (and re-reading) books I view as critical to enhancing and honing my skills as a project manager. I've talked before about how I like to read two or more books simultaneously and play the authors' thoughts off of each other like an imaginary debate/discussion. Another one of my literary consumption quirks is that I love to read books about 5-10 years after their release.

Let's face it: when a book is released, there's a lot of hype. As an author, I've learned firsthand how much work it takes to publicize a book. The more people who are talking about it, the better. But... how well does it stand up to time? In our constantly-evolving world of fickle attention-grabbers, is it still relevant a few years after release?

200203 Lauren Chocolate FaceI'm just starting into Chip and Dan Heath's book, Decisive, but before doing so, I opted to go back and reread Made to Stick. "Reread" may be too strong a term, as I'll admit I only scanned it at a high level when I bought a copy in 2008. This time, I really dug in, contemplated passages, took notes, and spent some time on it. Moreover, I thought about how it applied to my role as a project manager.

For those who haven't read it, the book is predicated on the acronym SUCCESs (the last 's' being irrelevant, but even they admit the acronym is contrived). According to the brothers Heath, for an idea to stick, it must be:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories (yes, we'll also forgive them for the lack of parallelism on this last bullet)

Still, in looking back on my career as a project manager and using it as a backdrop to the reading, I found the most successful projects I've managed started with scopes (i.e., what we're going to do) containing the elements above). Of these, the most critical have been simple and concrete. Can I as a project manager effectively convey the scope as a Twitter-worthy sound-bite (within 140 characters). I've always appreciated the Henry David Thoreau quote: "An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail." Instead of trying to do a dozen or so things half-way, pick two or three give them the focus they deserve.

If a project manager can help stakeholders at all levels TRULY UNDERSTAND what is happening in clear terms, s/he gets a lot further. I've often used Pepsi's informal mission statement from the early 1990's: Kill Coke. Very simple and concrete. The Heaths tell the story of Jeff Hawkins, project manager for the Palm Pilot. He carried a block of wood the size of his final product to all of his meetings in order to keep the team focused and to avoid feature creep (i.e., scope creep).

A sticky scope is a good thing, and put the effort into it up front. It will be a great investment to keep your project on track through planning and execution.

Value Preposition

Funny-street-signs-arrows-good-luckYes, you read that right... Value Preposition.

We all know what a value PROPOSITION is... that statement telling everyone WHAT you bring to the table. It's been hammered and expounded and pontificated to death. From organizations to individuals, if you don't know your value proposition by now, you've missed the bus.

But what about your value PREPOSITION? You know what a preposition is... think back to your early grammar classes. Prepositions are those "directional" words: to, from, by, for, with, around, etc.

It's one thing to know WHAT value you bring to the table (i.e., your accomplishments), but do you know HOW that value is being conveyed? Knowing the answer to both is key to branding your accomplishments.

This weekend, I start teaching a new semester AND the first pilot site of my project goes live. For weeks, I've been wrestling with questions about my customers, students, and stakeholders. Am I doing this TO them, FOR them, or WITH them? The answer is all three (depending on what the "this" is).

But it's still an important question to consider. If you do things TO your customers, will they resent it? Everytime Facebook makes a major change, the posts are littered with complaints that they don't care about the users. If you do things FOR your customers, do they perceive it as patriarchal or an entitlement? Or are you accomplishing significant milestones WITH your customers in the spirit of partnership? Another possibility is doing things AROUND or NEARBY people who may not be your customers now, but are watching your current value PREPOSITION to see if they want to do business with you.

Just some thoughts as we collide coast into our weekend.


GOP_Candidates_2012After tonight, Iowa becomes relatively irrelevant for another 2-3 years. Forgive me if I seem rather callous about that, as it is a great privilege to kick the tires on the candidates for leader of the free world. With great power comes great responsibility, as the Spiderman movie stated. However, usually by caucus night, most Iowans are ready to bid adieu to all of the attention.

Unlike four years ago, this is a 1-party caucus (oh, sure, the Democrats will hold a caucus, but good luck getting anybody to attend). It's pretty much all about the Republicans, and they've provided enough of a circus this election cycle. I will admit: I sort of geek out on all of the political analyses, the rhetorical analysis of advertisements, the jockeying for position, etc.

What's been interesting this time around is the value statement of each of the candidates: we have the social conservative crowd (Perry, Bachmann, Santorum), the overhaul government crowd (Gingrich, Paul), and the electable crowd (Romney).

Yes, that's a little tongue-in-cheek. Evidently, being a candidate who campaigns on ideals is too scary these days. We've developed a couple of different camps of those who want to "shore up the base" and those who want to win the independent vote. If the candidate is perceived as "too scary" they are discounted.

A candidacy is an accomplishment of sorts with the outcome of winning as the goal (either the nomination or the election). So branding the accomplishment is always key, and one of the important things about branding is the value statement. I'm not going to go so far as to say which branding value statement is the "right" one as value is exceptionally subjective. The candidate I perceive as being the "right one for the job" would make somebody else want to wretch. 

I see this occurring on projects occasionally. Two people are on the same initiative but have two vastly different views of what "winning" looks like. It usually results in an OMG moment when fantasy and reality collide.

As a project manager, it is YOUR responsibility to ensure that all key stakeholders who have a "vote" (actual or implied) are in agreement with the "win." It may require multiple means and multiple meetings, but getting project stakeholders on the same page. (But, as in everything, it is possible to go too far to make your point, as seen with many of the candidates. And to the Perry, Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum, and Romney camps: Please quit calling my house every 10 minutes!)

Snow What?

The_weather_channel-logo-DB93243CF2-seeklogo.comI'm about to give up the Weather Channel.

And while I'm at it, I think HGTV and the Food Network are about to be purged from my time wasters as well.

It's really not too much of a stretch for me at this point, as those are about the only television channels I watch (except for a little cocktail of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC when there's a major news story occurring).

Hgtv_logoTwenty years ago, I was a major television hound/couch potato. Life, home ownership, job, kids, and other fascinations have taken the place of television over the years. So now, I only like watching shows where I learn something to better myself, learn a skill, or just be better informed to tackle my immediate world tomorrow. That's why I settled on weather, food and home improvement as my interests.

Food_network_logo_But the Food Network only seems to run competition shows in the evenings, and quite frankly, I don't care who's a better chef than whom... just give me the recipe and the technique. The Weather Channel is all about documentaries of chasing tornadoes and spelling gloom and doom for the earth's climate... all I want is the local forecast on the 8's. And don't even get me started on the plethora of House Hunters which has replaced all the cool design shows that could show even the most hopeless oaf how to paint a room to make it look better.

Sometimes, when we're really good at something and really popular for doing it, we mess with the formula which gained us our popularity. When that happens, those who appreciated us for what we did well, they lose heart and go find value elsewhere.

What accomplishments are you "tweaking" that are best left alone? What fans are not coming back because you've lost your value? How are you messing with otherwise successful projects, changing the scope so nobody wants them? In your quest to seek new audiences for your accomplishments, are you alienating those who applauded your existing accomplishments the loudest?

Bargain Basement Project Managers

Blue-light-specialEvery once in a while, I run into potential clients who just don't get it.

They assume a project manager is a commodity that they can take off the shelf, spray, wipe, and put away, thereby fixing their organizational messes on an ad hoc basis.

Let me give you some examples:

  • The head of a financial services firm hired me to manage the launch of a new product for him. I had to drag him kicking-and-screaming through the project plan to create something feasible and usable. Once he had a project plan documented, he let me go stating he could "manage it from here."
  • A strategic consulting firm kept stringing me along that they were going to engage me but "now is just not the right time" because "we're just not quite sure how you'll fit into our plans" yet they kept pinging me with various questions to help them market to their clients.
  • On a rather large and involved software project, a major client kept delaying until their next major milestone, stating they wanted to wait to bring me in so they could save money by doing as much of the up-front work themselves.

Let's just say that all three wound up in various levels of failure. Project management is a full life-cycle engagement. A solid project manager will understand the business needs creating the project up front, will be able to merge tasks and resources into a usable plan, and will be knowledgeable enough to execute against the plan they've created. Take away any one of those three, and it's like removing a leg from a 3-legged stool.

As project managers, sometimes (even in a rough economy) it's in our best interest just to walk away. Sometimes politely by saying, "I don't think this project is a good fit for me at this point in my career." Sometimes it takes harsher language. It's always OK to fire a client (even a potential client) who doesn't get it. Sometimes I'll let the client think that firing was their idea. Regardless of how it's done, I'm not going to waste skills and talents on a client who won't appreciate them and maximize them. (To my current client, don't worry, you're safe.)

As professionals, we all owe it to ourselves and our respective industries to protect our craft, our accomplishments, and our skills.

Is it time to fire your client?

Now That's Just Cold

Frozen_dead_guy_days I know, I know... I'm on vacation in the Rockies... I shouldn't be blogging... but this one was just too good to pass up.

My best bud and host for the weekend, Maury, took me on a field trip to Nederland, Colorado this morning after I arrived. Evidently, many years ago, a man named Bredo Morstoel thought it would be ... um... cool to try cryogenics. The problem is that he didn't know all the nifty liquid nitrogen tricks that Walt Disney did to "enhance immortality" ... so he relied on ice... lots of it... constantly replenished.

So every year around the beginning of March, the town of Nederland holds a festival to celebrate this lunacy: Frozen Dead Guy Days.

Um... yeah...

Who'd be so silly, right?

How about your boss? Your VP? Human Resources? Your company? Your church? Your political party? They celebrate frozen dead guys every day. They call them policies, procedures, processes, sacred cows, if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it, paradigms, platforms, doctrines, ideologies and numerous other silly euphamisms. Things that the company or organization or "movement" has long since outgrown and decided are no longer relevant or add value.

And yet we celebrate them. They've become frozen in our minds as a reality. We can't imagine life without them. So we don't.

I'm torn on this one... I absolutely LOVE the irreverence of this celebration. The annual posters are collectors' items.

Would I personally celebrate a frozen dead guy? As my clients and students find out daily, I personally prefer to melt the ice and plant them in the ground.

Just some Friday silliness to share with you all.

Know Your Terrain

DSC_0068 This summer, I decided exercise needed to be my focus. I had been eyeing this contraption called a Trikke for over a year, and so I figured it was time to hunker down and get serious. Of course, I've had an absolute blast riding it, and have dropped about 20 pounds in a couple of months. The health benefits of riding one are numerous... except, of course, when one crashes.

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding with the local dealer/trainer when he shouted "Follow me!" and took off down the hill and over a bridge. I complied. The only problem was that I was going too fast at the bottom of the hill and didn't notice the bump at the edge of the bridge. I lost control of the Trikke and wound up on my backside. No broken bones but a few bruised ribs (and other bruised unspeakables). My buddy described the crash as both "wicked" and "spectacular" (interesting word choices). Then he reminded me of one of the three cardinal rules of riding a Trikke: "Know Your Terrain."

As small as the wheels are on the Trikke, even the smallest crack or patch of sand can send a rider flying. So watching 3 feet, 10 feet, and 30 feet ahead at all times can help avoid the pain later. That was my problem... HE knew that particular parking lot quite well; I didn't.

"Know Your Terrain" helps when branding your accomplishments as well. I started a new project today with a new client. I'm going to be expected to learn the terrain quickly - the project scope, the personalities, the culture, the hot buttons - to avoid crashing my accomplishment. Obviously, knowing the terrain does not preclude learning new terrains. Still, being familiar with the landscape helps before one gains speed too quickly. Besides, if you don't know your terrain, you'll eventually end up being a burden on somebody else, who will help you limp to the nearest x-ray machine and bottle of ibuprofen. Knowing your terrain means you know how to add value to those around you. My buddy, Mike Wagner, calls this the "sweet spot" of branding. Steve Farber refers to it as "do what you love in the service of those who love what you do." However you put it, you'd better know your terrain.

So what about you? Do you know your terrain well enough to surf the concrete smoothly? Or are you going too fast to handle the bumps, loose gravel, and cracks of your accomplishments?

Something to think about before the weekend.

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