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Puppy-Proofing Your Project

Fergus_PuppyA few months ago, I reported that our furry family member, Zorro, had gone that great Milkbone Factory in the SKy.

Since we are "dog people," I figured it wouldn't take us long to add another pet to the mix. We had discussed waiting until spring to get a dog, figuring potty training would be a lot easier. However, when this adorable pooch arrived into the world (on Abby's and my shared birthday, no less), we knew it was fate that Fergus Geronimo Johnson would be a part of our family. And so the week of Thanksgiving, he entered our lives and we haven't looked back.

It's been a while since we've had a puppy in the house. After Zorro, I quipped that I like my dogs as I like my cars: certified pre-owned. So we've all had some adjusting to do over the past couple of months to keep Fergus and our belongings safe and sound. As with most things in life, this experience got me thinking about new projects within the organization, and there are some parallels to acclimating a puppy to the house and getting your project onboarded smoothly:

Alpha Dog - your puppy will probably latch onto one person in the house as the "leader of the pack." Fergus looks to me for a lot of his commands and needs. In the same way, your project needs an alpha, preferably your project manager, although one could argue the sponsor is an even better alpha. An alpha's job is to protect the puppy and provide guidance and direction.

Toxic chemicals - we have tried to lock up all the dangerous chemicals around the house to keep Fergus away from them. This is an area where many organizations fail in protecting their puppy of a project. Toxic employees can kill a project as well as the morale of the project team. Get rid of them or isolate them if they won't change their ways. By the way, people do not become toxic overnight; they've probably been that way long before your project came on the scene. Do something about them before you bring the project into the organization. In the same vein, a new project is a good way to find out which company policies and procedures may not be safe for your organization's new accomplishments.

Put away the valuables - puppies can do a lot of damage with their sharp little teeth, so putting up shoes and spraying furniture and picking up miscellaneous toys and papers is a good play. The puppy doesn't know it's causing harm; it's just doing what puppies do. In the same way, a project introduced to an organization is trying to accomplish its scope, but it may not realize what harm it's doing to other parts of the organization. Running pilots or prototypes before rollout can allow your puppy project to wreak its havoc in a safe environment.

The Kennel - many puppies are "crate trained" as owners work during the day. The kennel is the puppy's safe haven. It contains the chew toys and bedding. Provide your project team with a safe haven where they can work together without distraction. A dedicated conference room or office for higher profile, more involved projects can help a team considerably.

"Accidents" - there will be times when the puppy can't hold it in any longer. When accidents occur, simply redirect the puppy to the correct actions and don't freak out. Eventually, the puppy gets it. In the same way, things go wrong on projects. If you play the blame game and freak out with every issue or risk event, people will learn to hide their messes rather than learn from them.

So congratulations on your organization's new project. Give it lots of love and direction and consistency, and it should flourish into a happy, fuzzy accomplishment.

The Holman Expectation Curve

Holman_expectation_curve I posted this on Iowa Biz over a year ago, but I think it's worth revisiting.  One of my colleagues, Lyle Holman, created what he calls the Holman Expectation Curve of Project Management.  At the beginning of every project, fantasy is very high and reality is low.  The two start creeping toward each other as time progresses throughout the project life cycle until they collide in an uncomfortable moment referred to as the OMG point, followed very closely by the "Come to Jesus" meeting (CTJ).

One corollary I added to Lyle's insights is the maturity of timing.  A mature organization will have the OMG early in the project life cycle (i.e., the initiation or planning phases).  A less mature project culture will wait until potentially the closing phase before having this epiphany that what was promised is not what is going to be delivered.

I posed this question to my project management students last week, but I'll let you in on the fun:  how do you expedite the OMG for your project and your organization?  Having frank discussions all along help... and having them frequently (because sometimes - just sometimes - executives don't listen the first time you tell them something... go figure).

So what do you think?

A Turkey Treat For Thanksgiving

In our quest to Carpe Factum, sometimes our good intentions meet wtih disastrous results when we don't consider all of the factors involved.  Nothing speaks of this better (or more hilariously) than the classic WKRP in Cincinnati Episode where the crew does a turkey drop to wish their listeners Happy Thanksgiving.

Enjoy a chuckle...

Happy Thanksgiving

The Raven Revisited

My apologies to Poe fans everywhere:

Once upon a year-end dreary, while I pondered weak and weary
Over many internet fantasy football's newly posted score
While I muddled, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping
As if some one gently rapping, rapping at my office door.
"Tis some janitor," I muttered, "tapping at my office door -
Only this, and nothing more

Ah, distinctly, I remember it was in the bleak December
With year-end data lying around me, piled high upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my org shart full of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore
For the fair and just project sponsor whom the C-Suite called Lenore -
Downsized here for evermore.

And the massive piles of data rustling, of each deadline bustling
Thrilled me, filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
"'Tis some janitor demanding entrance at my office door -
Some late janitor emptying trash from at my office floor -
This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger, hesitating then no longer,
"Yo!" said I, "You want my waste basket, my trash, and nothing more?
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my office door
That I wasn't sure I heard you" - here I opened wide the door -
Darkness there, and nothing more

Deep into cubicles peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing
Doubting things no mortal project manager did before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token
And my thoughts of project sponsors lost made me whisper, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and cubicles echoeds back, "Lenore!"
Merely this, and nothing more.

Back to my computer turning, while my CDs still were burning
Soon my email made the tapping sound, much louder than before
"Surely," said I, "email, you ox, something in my Windows in-box
Let me see then, what the message, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this strange email explore -
Tis an email, nothing more!"

Wish I could relive this odd tale, when I opened the strange email
Coming from the pompous head of Division Number Four
No apology nor excuse here, only threats and strengthened fear,
But this email came and perched on my wallpaper of Al Gore -
Perched upon ice caps melting just above my data store -
To be read and nothing more.

Then this simple email filing made my sad fancy into smiling
By the grumpy and the grouchy face unfortunately I wore.
"Though I sit here quite unshaven, over all my data slavin'
Ghastly grim and common email wandering onto my data store -
Tell me what thy purpose!"
Quoth the Scope Creep, "Do some more!"

Startled by my peace now smitten by reply so curtly written
"Doubtless," said I, "what he utters adds upon our project's score
From some sadistic master whose unmerciful disaster
Makes us work faster and harder than we ever did before
Said the email, "Do some more!"

Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To this message which now threatened my performance score
In my chair I sat reclining, here now thinking of resigning
On the messy desktop's shining pile of crap from Division Four
But their manager, his message pressing me like ne'er before -
Quoth the Scope Creep, "Do some more!"

Then I felt the air grow stronger, stinking from durations longer
Made so by unnecessary tasks whose purpose shook my very core
"Jerk!" I cried, "how dare you do this, throw my project scope amiss
Now that I no longer have my fair and just sponsor named Lenore
Why, oh why, this kind of action from my dear and downsized Lenore?"
Quoth the Scope Creep, "Do Some More!"

And the email, never scrolling, all my changes now controlling
On the wallpaper of melting ice caps in honor of Al Gore
And his words have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming
Taunting, haunting me over the shadow of the downsized Lenore
And my sould from out that shadow lies floating on the floor
Shall ne'er be lifted till I do some more.

The Fantasy Project League

Every sporting season brings with it another league from a parallel universe... the fantasy league.  This is where people get to "play Frankenstein" with their sport and build the perfect team specimen.  I'm always amused by the fervor with which sports addicts approach this little scenario.  They amuse me.

But maybe I shouldn't be so condescending about it.  What if... and mind you, I'm just saying what if... we project managers could do the same thing?  Who would be on your fantasy project team?  (The rules are simple... pick anybody... living or dead... fictional or non-fictional.  Once somebody has been chosen, they're off the roster for another person's team.)

Charlton_heston_plays_mosesFor example, as my ideal project manager, I think I would choose Moses.  Relatively level headed, he's able to lead massive resources over long durations.  Although, the long duration would have been a lot shorter if he and his team had just listened to their Project Sponsor in the first place.

PetraeusFor the project controller, how about General Petraeus?  After all, can that man write a status report that gets people talking?

Bob_the_builderThe risk manager is easy:  Bob the Builder.  All he ever says is, "Can we fix it?  YES WE CAN!"  I really want that go-to/can-do mindset on my project team.

HermioneSubject matter experts?  Hmmm, I suppose it would depend on the project, but how about a team of Leonardo da Vinci and Hermione Granger (Harry Potter fans know who she is).  After all, you want people who really know a lot about a lot of stuff and aren't afraid to tell others how much they know.  Perhaps throw in some of Albert Einstein's humility just to make them bearable.

MacgyverFor the project office manager, my pick would have to be MacGyver.  Richard Dean Anderson's character could make anything out of duct tape and discarded wire, and I want that level of innovative scrappiness when devising our project templates.

Jesus_nazarethThe project sponsor is the toughest of all.  Maybe Jesus.  He was able to set a vision and then entrust it to others to execute and knew when to get out of the way.  He also knew when to kick some Pharisee tail, when they tried to sabotage his project.

OK, that's MY fantasy project team.  Who would be on yours?  Let the games begin!

The Next Big Thing?

OK, the ink isn't even dry on GUST and the release date is still a week off, and people are asking me about my next writing project.  To be honest, I don't want to think about a next writing project; however, an author must always stay "fresh" and "on top of his readers' requests." To accommodate these inquiries and requests, I've prototyped the cover for what I think is the end-all-be-all book that won't even stay on the shelves:


Can you tell I'm feeling a little squirrelly today?

Naming Conventions Gone Awry?

1danceskevin01I recently watched the movie, Dances With Wolves, yet again as I was surfing through cable channels.  I've always been fascinated with the Native American ritual of assigning a descriptive name as part of the rite of passage.  What do you think would happen if we started doing the same thing to project managers when they earned their certification?  Then we could really get a good feel for those with whom we're dealing.

  • The risk management meeting would be canceled because Runs With Scissors would get into an argument with Afraid of Germs.
  • Another office politics situation blows up because somebody let Doesn't Play Well With Others design the motivational program.
  • Rambles Incessantly would have a difficult time getting anybody to schedule a requirements conference call with him.
  • Darts From Decision would annoy the entire project team because she would never sign off on a deliverable.
  • Sleeps In Meetings probably would never be asked to facilitate the upcoming executive off-site.
  • Driven By Data might put everybody to sleep with his 17-page daily status report.
  • Don't even get me started about asking Paralyzed By The Status Quo to document the latest change request.

Hmmmm... maybe it's best to just leave things as they are.  Helps keep the mystery alive.  What "rite of passage" characters do you have to work with?

But Can They "Play Dead"?

SitsquatTo the folks at Overheard In The Office, I say, "Try this one on for size!"

Sometimes having fun with my client's overdependence on acronyms and technical jargon has unintended consequences (hilariously funny nonetheless).

I'll try not to be too technical here, but bear with me on this paragraph... it's worth it.  We were in a meeting last week to lay out the timeline for testing the software that our project is implementing.  If you recall my previous post about Subject Quality User Acceptance Testing (SQUAT), there is another phase of testing called System Integration Testing (SIT).  Two other events in our timeline are a data load, where we put all the data into the system so we have something to test, and then there is a system "freeze" at the end of the year, where nothing is allowed to be implemented so it does not mess up year-end processing (common practice).

OK, so we were in the testing timeline meeting when the following statement was made... with a straight face...

"If we can load before we SIT, then there will still be time to SQUAT.  However, if it takes us 2 to 3 times longer to SIT, then we won't be able to SQUAT before the freeze."

Dead Silence as the statement sunk in... and you can guess what happened next.

So maybe you had to be there.  Corporate types still make me laugh.  Have a great weekend.

But My Mom Already Knew This About Me...

SlobwinnerThanks to John Koetsier and his team at bizhack, I've been awarded the title of SLOB.  I'm truly humbled (in more ways than you can blog about) to be called a Startling Loquacious Outstanding Blogger, and I only hope I can live up to the expectations.  I'm in some very good company:  Seth Godin, Mike Wagner, Duct Tape Marketing, and Horse Pig Cow.

OK, OK, I know this is going to sound academy-award-speech-ish, but I have one person who really deserves to be recognized and thanked for my blogging recognition:  my blog coach, Mike Sansone.  The fact that he has two clients who are SLOBs should say a lot for his business blogging prowess.  If you are thinking about business blogging, quit screwing around and hire him (unless you're going to compete directly with me, then ignore that).

Thanks, John, for the recognition.  I'll wear the title proudly.

I Will Call Him Squishy

Dnjf Anna Farmery at The Engaging Brand recently had a fun post called Bring Projects Alive, where she talks about a project her team named in the past.  (Thanks, Steve, for sending me the link.)  What a great thought:  personification of our projects.  So... for all of you out there who have named children and pets, what would you name your project?  Would you give it a cool name like Blade or Jagger?  Something conservative like Beatrice or Cecil?  Or something ridiculous that would get it beaten up on the project playground?

I'll tell you what:  we'll have a little contest here.  Post a comment telling me what you would name your project (current or past) and at least 1-2 sentences explaining why.  A week from now, I will select the most creative one (if I get enough, I'll select the top 2 or 3).  Each of the winners will receive a free autographed copy of Race Through The Forest.  I can't be the only one having all the creative fun on the blogosphere, so tell your friends and let's be goofy.

Butt Blinkers

AnatomyGenerally speaking, I think the human body is an amazing invention, and I'm thankful to my Creator for the overall design (well, OK, I know I have a washboard stomach under there somewhere; somebody just left the laundry on it).  There's only one question of anatomy I have for my Maker when I meet Him on Judgment Day:  Why didn't you add "butt blinkers"?

I get very frustrated when I'm walking behind somebody and they suddenly veer in front of me or come to a screeching stop, causing me to brake in frantic pedestrian style to avoid collision.  Let's face it:  If we were in cars, we'd be exchanging insurance information by this point.  Instead, if they have any courtesy whatsoever, they might grin sheepishly and apologize.  Most of the time, they are oblivious... or worse yet, rude.  I just think that God, in His infinite wisdom, could have designed blinkers on our posteriors that are hardwired to our brains, just to signal our intentions.  Of course, this suggestion creates a plethora of other issues, further confirming why He is God, and I'm very much not.

The issue of setting expectations, of communicating changes in expectations, and of making decisions based on expectations has been hitting my radar screen recently.  Patti Digh, one of my favorite blogging philosophers, had an insightful post about change and setting expectations in life.  DJ Dunkerley posted a rather amusing tongue-in-cheek assessment about project success and failure based on how much you know about tasks and how well expectations are set.

In project management, we're told that 90% of a project manager's time is to be spent communicating with various stakeholders.  I would add a corollary to that:  90% of the communication time is invested in constantly setting and resetting expectations.  Nobody likes to be blindsided... by unexpected project consequences or by walking-impaired invididuals with no butt blinkers.  Even bad news is a bit more palatable when we have an adequate heads up.  How well are you doing at setting (and resetting) expectations???

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Project Management Family Feud

Dawson I was reading Mary Schmidt's recent post on the Family Feud TV game show and how she applied it to marketing.  For those of you who have not yet discovered her blog, it's a worthwhile visit.  She is spot on about Richard Dawson - his era was the best that show had to offer.  The show really is all about context and association, two things that are necessary to a project manager, but yet which too few of us allow ourselves to do on a regular basis. Anyway, the idea of listing the top five of any category really got me thinking:  what if we had project managers as contestants on the show?  I can just hear Richard belting out the following:  100 project managers surveyed and the top five answers are on the board...

  • What five things would a project manager most like to have during a tense steering committee meeting?
  • Which five meetings would a project manager most likely keep on his or her schedule?
  • What five skillsets would a project manager look for in virtually every team member?
  • If you were on a sinking ship with your entire project team and infrastructure (yeah, yeah, I know, some of you are thinking, "what do you mean, 'if'?"), what are the five things or people you would be most likely to save to keep your project moving forward?
  • What five blogs should every project manager read?

And our survey says... ... ... ???  I'll look forward to your responses.

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