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Fifty Shades of GRRR

50ShadesofGreyCoverArtLet's be clear: I've never read the book, Fifty Shades of Grey. I don't plan on seeing the movie by the same name. But the title does make excellent pun-fodder for me to post a list (in no particular order) of some of my top project management pet peeves:

  1. Indecisive decision-makers
  2. Passive-aggressive business analysts
  3. Developers who don’t follow requirements and specifications
  4. Project stakeholders who throw people under the bus
  5. The buses that keep hitting project stakeholders, thus requiring risks be written if this event happens.
  6. Status reports that read like stereo instructions
  7. Methodologies (outside of common sense and experience)
  8. Methodologists who act like Cubicle Pharisees
  9. People who drive slow in the passing lane (I’m sure there’s a project tie-in somewhere)
  10. Quality assurance analysts who refuse to log defects
  11. “Well, it’s technically done…”
  12. Micromanaging executives
  13. People who accuse without adequate fact-checking
  14. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I leave you off that distribution list on that message affecting your project?”
  15. Blatant incompetence
  16. Posers who are more interested in climbing than doing
  17. No clear scope statement… and no desire to research it either
  18. No compelling rationale for the project
  19. Passionless projects
  20. Forgetting a stakeholder
  21. Making assumptions with no valid basis
  22. Not documenting the assumptions made
  23. Those who wish to make estimating an exact science
  24. Executives who hold teams exactly to their estimates
  25. No time to plan properly
  26. Not providing the correct resources to develop the plan
  27. Not providing the correct resources to execute the plan
  28. Turning a lessons learned session into a witch hunt
  29. Inability to prioritize (especially where the triple constraint is involved)
  30. Holding a meeting only because it’s Tuesday at 9:00 AM
  31. Scheduling a meeting for Friday at 4:00 PM
  32. Leaders who can’t facilitate a meeting
  33. Blatant, unchecked dysfunctionality
  34. People who talk too much in meetings
  35. Forgetting to say “thank you”
  36. Lacking a sense of humor
  37. Fill-in-the-blank templates… where half the blanks are required but irrelevant
  38. Executive temper tantrums
  39. The genetic cross of the Peter Principle and Weebles: they’ve hit their point of incompetence but keep bouncing back
  40. “Not my job”
  41. “We can’t do that”
  42. “We’ve always done it that way”
  43. Those who equate project management with filling in blanks on a project plan
  44. Those who don’t consider project initiation and planning to be “real work”
  45. “That person” in meetings
  46. Conference callers who don’t know the difference between “on hold” and “mute”
  47. Those who have more stupid answers than intelligent questions
  48. Overabundance of ego
  49. Dog haters… I don’t mind if you love cats, but if you hate dogs, take your Gantt chart and move along
  50. Those who don’t understand project management skills are universal; you can put a seasoned project manager into any well-adjusted team in any industry/environment/organization and they will thrive

What forms of torture would you add to the list?

To Heck With Hecklers

Muppet_statler_waldorfRemember the Muppets?

Two of the most entertaining characters to watch were Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys who sat in the balcony and heckled the other... uh... performers.  Week after week, their comments and barbs continued, yet rarely was there any retribution.

When you are in a meeting at work, do you ever have to deal with Statler and/or Waldorf?  I thought you might.  Most of our meeting places, however, do not have balconies.  The hecklers are right there in the room at the table with you... or are they?

I've noticed that meeting hecklers, while physically present, tend to set up an emotional space between themselves and those whom they are targeting.  They may represent this distance physically as well by sitting in a corner, pushing their chair back, or huddling with another heckler for a side-bar conversation.  When you try to get things done, they interrupt with insults or diversions.

How can you deal with this?  Well, outside of creating a documentary showing hecklers in their natural habitat, you really have two courses of action:

  1. Pull the hecklers into the conversation and turn them into participants
  2. Expel them completely from the conversation

In the cubicle-dwelling organiztion, the second one I recommend only as a last resort after every avenue has been attempted, which leads us back to the first alternative.  Hecklers, at their heart, have a need for attention and a need to be heard.  Those are needs we can address rather easily.  At an escalated level, they have a need to be right and a need to win.  Those are more difficult needs to handle.  First and foremost, give the heckler a brief forum to share his or her thoughts.  "Randy, I perceive that you have something you really want to share with the group.  Can you briefly tell us what you are thinking so we can address it?"  This at least gives the heckler a chance to share.  Of course, you will always have the passive-aggressive type who will decline your invitation and continue with the verbal sniping.  In those cases, I will either call a break or end the meeting and deal with the behavior out in the hallway.

Either way, leaving the heckler in the balcony is not a good thing.  Either invite them down to the stage or have security show them the door.

Managing Bulldozers

MeetingsThe meeting is happening.  You're zipping plowing chugging stumbling through the agenda when somebody starts dominating the conversation.  The reasons for the domination may vary, but most often, you find these people want a couple of different things:

  • Attention - being a youngest child, I can appreciate this.  However, there's a time and a place, and meetings are not the place for rabid attention seekers
  • Ego - but enough about me, let's talk about me.  This person may feel as though s/he is the only one with something relevant to say.
  • Urgency - Perhaps there's a time frame or perceived importance factor... this one may have some relevance to the situation.

Regardless of the reason, it's Mutiny on the Bounty, and you're the captain who's going to go down with his ship if you don't rein in the situation quickly.  As Peg Kelley, meeting facilitator extraordinaire, shared on the InfoMean blog:

When you’re in a car on a trip, the easy ways to ruin the experience are to get stopped by the police when you disobey the rules of the road or to have the passengers fighting and complaining. The same is true of meetings. Let people know what the guidelines are. Do your best to keep the dialogue moving forward. Listen to all viewpoints, but don’t let one view dominate the others. Manage the time and discussion so that speakers change and participants are engaged. If you’re bored, so are others. If you’re tired of a particular voice, you’re not alone.

BulldozerWhich leads us to the need for a strategy... how can you as a leader or facilitator manage the renegade and runaway bulldozer who is threatening to monopolize your meeting?

  • Summarize - encapsulate what they've said and then call on somebody else - by name - specifically to get another view point.
  • Parking Lot - if the bulldozer is getting off topic, validate that you heard them by "parking" their comment on a separate sheet of flipchart paper you keep in the room for tangential items
  • Scribing - it's hard to talk while you're writing.  If I know that I have a potential dominator who needs to be in the room but won't add tremendous value, I make them the scribe.  This keeps them busy enough so they can't participate to their normal level.
  • Uninvite - don't let the person come back if s/he doesn't change the behavior (last resort).

Those are just a few suggestions.  How do you manage your meeting bulldozers?

Top Image from Despair.com

Home Court Disadvantage

BballWe've all been there.  Somebody schedules a meeting for us to

  1. Solve a problem
  2. Come up with a creative new idea through brainstorming
  3. Share status
  4. Build requirements
  5. Set direction through strategy or mission/vision statements

Then they schedule the meeting in Conference Room 302 in Building Z.  And everyone shows up to the same gray-beige room with the same laminate wood table and the same cushioned chairs and the same white board... and they come up with the same ideas as before.


Penina Finger of Fantastic Machine has an amazing post that addresses this very issue.  In it, she shares how somebody she admired scheduled meetings in Conference Room C, which was code for a cafe outside the office.  She realizes that when you put people in the same environment, they're going to come up with the same solutions, regardless of how you exhort them to "think outside the box."

Here is Des Moines, I've been made aware of some really creative meeting places I didn't even know existed.  For example, the local Harley-Davidson shop has a conference room (based on availability).  What genius!  In almost every meeting, there's going to be some testosterone-driven male who will be drooling over the merchandise (of course, not to be sexist here, I'm meeting more and more women who lust after the vroom-vroom of a motorcycle every bit as well as their male counterparts).  Another place that has conference facilities is a local horse stable.  Again, jarring people out of their current locations is a great approach.  One of the favorite classes of my Drake creativity students is not even in a classroom, and I'm not actively involved.  I send them on a scavenger hunt.  That one night teaches them many more lessons in many creative ways.  I think I've mentioned this before, but when I was writing GUST, I hit a nasty wall of writer's block.  I stepped back and gave some hard diagnosis to the problem.  Then I terminated my contract with my current client because I realized it was draining my spirit.  After a week of "client detox" I went to the mall and did some people watching for an evening.  I came back and wrote the last four chapters and the epilogue in one week.  All from a change of scenery.

So... are your meetings generating the "same old stuff"?  See what moving them to a different location does for you.

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