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Over My Dad Body

MewithgirlsFather's Day is fast approaching, as evidenced by the explosion of ads in my email and social media feeds, everything from power tools to clothing, from beer to sporting goods. I've been at this whole "dad thing" for the better part of two decades now, but I'm still learning. It's an "on the job" training kind of gig.

Now that I'm 50 (how did THAT happen?!?!), I've noticed myself becoming more reflective and observational, appreciating and noting the little things in life that keep it all interesting and lively. So today, indulge me as I do a bit of a brain dump on thoughts about being a dad and watching other dads:

  • Role play - when moms watch their kids alone, nobody refers to them as babysitting. So why do people assume that when a dad is left alone with kids that he's doing exactly that? It's called PARENTING, folks, regardless of which parent is doing it. (But for the record, when most dads are left alone with the kids, the probability of the scene resembling something from Animal House is much more probable.)
  • Single parenting - when either my wife or I have to go from a man-to-man defense to a zone defense with our two daughters, things can get interesting. I can't imagine a life of having to get kids all over creation without support. I've become far more appreciative of the life single parents lead, and I'm much more willing to cut them a lot of slack in helping them reach their goals.
  • Special needs - I've had the privilege of getting to know people whose kids have special needs and I'm pretty sure that's where the phrase "I can't even..." originated, at least from the parents whose kids are seemingly normal (what does "normal" even mean anymore???). What amazing people. Some friends of ours have a bumper sticker that reads "Autism isn't for wimps." A hearty AMEN is due. And they take it all in stride, sometimes even making me feel like a parenting slacker. My biggest challenge? Teenage angst. That's hard enough for this middle-aged dude to navigate, thank you. Regardless, parents of special needs children are superhero status in my book.
  • Aging - some people wait to have children when they are older, and I applaud them. A close friend who is near my age is adopting a newborn, and that baby is going to have a wonderful life. But for me, as I've grown older, I have noticed gratitude in the small things - getting up, walking, bending over, breathing, eating foods I enjoy, independence - that have been robbed from others my age or younger. I'm not taking much for granted these days.
  • Priorities - for the most part, my children ARE my priority. I've made countless career decisions in their favor over the years. I've dealt with pompous and sexist bosses who have asked, "Can't your wife just handle that?" But there are times I've learned that telling myself yes and my children no is actually healthy for them and their development. And I'm learning to shift that balance as they grow older and need to discover their own independence.
  • Legacy - I really don't want my daughters just to be little versions of me. I've had a good life, and I have nothing to prove through my children's successes or personalities. That being said, I don't want my children to grow up to be sociopaths or sycophants either. I'm fortunate: both of my girls have strengths and talents and intelligence and beauty (inside and out). They will change the world, and I'll know (when my time is up) that I had a role in helping them do so, and their legacy will pass on to their children.

Oh sure, there are many other parenting ponderings to pontificate, but you get the idea. When it comes to being a dad, do your best, accept the shortcomings (yours and theirs), and then try a little harder tomorrow. Happy Father's Day to my special brotherhood.

Volvo is on FYRE

"So whatever happened with your Volvo incident from a few years ago?"

The question from an acquaintance who followed my blog struck me as rather out-of-the-blue, so I responded with the prolific and insightful response, "Huh?"

"The engine trouble you had on vacation. Did you ever get reimbursed for the rental and the auto parts? Did they ever follow up with the dealer?"

The incident in question was documented on my blog in the summer of 2013, but I never did blog about the follow-through (or lack thereof). The truth is Volvo did reach out to me and my wife via phone call right after the blog post was published. When I explained what had happened, they promised me they would reimburse me for the $180-190 in unexpected expenses and follow up with the dealer about what had occurred. Even though I sent them the receipts, I never received a check. And in talking with the Volvo service manager a few weeks later, he had never received a call from them. I had written the whole ordeal off as a learning experience, and we are now a Volvo-free family.

I was actually thinking about the Volvo incident again this past week as I watched the news unfold about the disastrous Fyre Festival, the music event in the Bahamas targeting money-plagued millennials. Seems Billy McFarland could use some classes in project management, especially those in setting and communicating expectations. My guess is that his clientele have as much chance of getting their money back from McFarland as I have of getting my reimbursement from Volvo.

Follow-through is such a simple concept, yet one that is so hard for professionals these days. As a project manager, I live or die on that hill with every email sent and every meeting held. For me, it's ALL about follow-through. And I've learned to practice the Tom Peters/Disney mantra of "under promise, over deliver." Some other things that have helped me over the years with my own follow-through:

  1. Be very clear about what "done" looks like. I had the pleasure of hearing magician Andrew Bennett speak a few years ago, and he shared that the word "Abracadabra" is Aramaic for "What I speak is what I create." If you're going to create magic for your clients, you'd better be prepared to create what you speak. Set parameters around the deliverable, but be clear about what they will get (and not get). 
  2. Be very clear about dates and times. "I'll get to this as soon as possible" is fraught with danger. "You will have the first draft in your in-box by 5 PM CDT on Friday, May 5, 2017" leaves very little ambiguity.
  3. Document any assumptions. One of my early mentors used to drill into my head that "assumptions not documented now become excuses later." If there are things out of your control, then say so as well as what the impact of those things are, should they go south quickly.
  4. Don't be afraid of a well-timed "NO!" In my interactions with students and clients alike, I impress on them that "Why" and "No" are the best friends of their vocabulary. In the case of the Fyre Festival, it sounds like there was way too much "yes" that could never ever be delivered.
  5. Acknowledge and apologize when you can't deliver as promised, and reset expectations about what can be delivered and when. When it's your credibility on the line, this one simple act can be huge.

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?

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?

Nationwide is on your (Blind) side

Wow. Just wow.

Sitting there. Watching the Super Bowl. Loathing the Seahawks. Bemoaning the already mediocre set of commericals. And then the Nationwide commercial came on.


Now I'm not going to go down the road of how much of a downer it was. I'm not going to dog-pile on Nationwide for their insensitivity. They claim their goal was to start a dialogue about safety in the home. Very noble. Very necessary. As a parent, I've spent the last 15 years being neurotic about my children.

Two words: audience and setting

Whenever we try to communicate ANYTHING - from commercials on the Super Bowl to telling our kids to take out the trash, from a sales pitch to win a multi-million dollar account to an uncomfortable meeting with your project sponsor when things aren't going so well - one should always consider, beside the content of the message itself, the audience and the setting.

With the audience, to whom are you speaking? (Yeah, duh, but stick with me here.) Is it one person or many? What do they care about? What are their hot buttons? Why should they listen to you? Why are they in YOUR audience? Why should they listen to YOU? What's your past relationship with them? How much credibility do you have?

With the setting, you're looking at the broader context of the message delivery. Are people in the right mindset to hear what you have to say? Are they stressed about other things? Are you using the right channel? The right words? The right tone?

Nationwide failed on both of these tests. When watching the Super Bowl, we expect to see commercials about the misuse of Doritos, about puppies and horses making us want to buy beer (okay, I still struggle with that connection), and about what happens when a Viagra drops into the gas tank of a Fiat (my personal favorite of the evening). We want to laugh, to be amused, to be entertained, and (maybe) to be informed about the actual product.

I can't say whether heads will roll at Nationwide, but the decision-makers need to do a better job of explaining how they dropped the ball on both audience AND setting. They certainly seemed to be blind to both.

Tastes Like Check-In

Fried_chickenI spent a great summer away from consulting work this year. After wrapping up an almost two-year project, I decided to take time for myself. There were home organization projects to do, books to read, and calories to burn, so the project deliverable of the summer was... well... me. It felt great to invest time in myself. As Christine Kane once said, "I'm always impressed with anyone who can stop their life when their life starts speaking to you, when things start falling down around you. You know, most of us, we just think it means that instead of ordering a grande at Starbucks, we should order a venti and go a little harder." Not this boy. After all I've been through in the past five years, it was time to take that "self-imposed vision quest."

Anyway, I'm now back on the hunt for speaking engagements and/or contract projects. One lesson I've learned consistently over the years (and am reminded of constantly the past few weeks) is to pay attention to how people treat me during the initial contact and interview process. The "check-in" process is a great indicator of how things will go. If people are combative and caustic during the interview process, they will act that way during the project. If people are hospitable and friendly during onboarding, that's how they generally act throughout the duration of the contract. Indecision and waffling in hiring leads to indecision and waffling when work needs to move forward. Micromanagement breeds micromanagement. Openness breeds openness. You get the picture.

I had a phone interview a couple of weeks ago for something that seemed like an interesting project. I was very up-front with the person about my skills and abilities over our half-hour conversation. The following week, I found out the person came away with a completely different perception of our conversation and what I could/couldn't do than I remember telling him. I withdrew my name from consideration within the day, figuring if a simple half-hour conversation (and a couple of subsequent emails) yielded such disparity, I could only imagine what a multi-month project would do to my blood pressure.

So it has been a fun trip for my inner anthropologist to observe these people. I'm able to get a fairly accurate reading of their corporate culture before I even step foot in the door. And it gives me the opportunity to say "no" before I ever have to say "yes." There's a lot to be said for first impressions. One of my favorite books is Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, and I've shared with a lot of people the importance of "thin slicing," or taking that first impression to draw conclusions. Our brain's experiences coupled with our gut's intuition is generally spot on.

So what can you do to make the check-in process reflect the type of organization you really are? How can you as an individual align first impressions with reality? Because people are watching you, and they're drawing conclusions about you as well.

Countdown to Zorro

ZorroAs this blog post is being published, my dog, Zorro, is breathing his last. We came to the conclusion this week that his quality of life had diminished, and it was time to put him down. (Our last dog did us a favor and came to this conclusion on her own, saving us this agony.)

It's been a rough week at the Johnson house. A lot of hugs and cuddling with the dog. A lot of tears. But also a lot of laughter and story-telling. We talked about Zorro's quirks. We talked about how his command for "Speak" was "Zorro, use your words." We laughed about how odd he looked when he was on the extremes of his grooming cycle. We reminisced about the first time I met him and brought him home, how he bolted into my car, jumped over to the passenger side, put his paws on the dashboard and looked at me as if to say, "OK, you're my human now. Let's get this show started." His comedic timing was always epic, adding a bark or a snort at just the right point in the conversation. He was a smart, special, affectionate, loving dog.

Continuing from my last two blog posts, the final components of the Heath brothers book, Made to Stick, are Emotions and Stories. If your accomplishment or your message tells a story that resonates with its listeners, and if it inspires something deep within them to motivate them to act, then you probably are set. I started a new project management class last week, and the things that the students seem to remember years after the class are the stories I shared.

Stories are universal. They are impactful. They are powerful. We relate to stories (and to their characters); we empathize with their plight. Stories live long after the accomplishment, event, or person has expired. I'd like to share with you one of my favorites: a very short story about story-telling from the book, Kidgets: And Other Insightful Stories about Quality in Education:

A friend of ours is a minister. Years ago, when he was first starting out in the ministering business, he was the pastor of a small congregation in the hills of western Tennessee. He saw himself as a theologian, in the process of getting his doctorate from Vanderbilt University, yet working with simple folks, many of whom could not read or write.

One Sunday, Matty Lou Bird came out of our friend's church, smiling as she always did. She was even smiling when she said, "Brother Rick, we just loves you to death. We just loves you to death. But we don't understand a word you say."

He took it well. He called a meeting of the church elders, determined to get to the bottom of the problem: "This is what Matty Lou Bird told me, and I'm real worried about it. What does it mean?" Joe Stanton, a long-standing elder, didn't beat around the bush - "Well, she's right, preacher. We don't understand what you're saying. We're simple folks. Just tell us a story."

Brother Rick was spending all this money and years of his life to get a great education, a PhD in theology, and all they wanted him to do was tell stories?

For the next six months he did some of the most intense listening he had ever done in his life. He would sit on the porch of the general store every Saturday, in the heat and humidity, and just listen.... Brother Rick learned that if he was going to be an effective preacher, he had better become a story-teller, too. And, in time, he did - PhD from Vanderbilt notwithstanding.

To this day, people in his former congregation come up to him and remind him of a story he once told - a story that touched them, that made them nod and say "amen." They can't repeat the title of the sermon or discuss now it relates to a particular passage from the Bible, but they remember the story. They got the point. (Cotter & Seymour, pp. 19-20)

Zorro now belongs to the ages. We'll miss him (a lot), but we'll remember him through stories. What about you? What stories can you tell to inspire others and help them get the point?

(Note: I wrote this post three days ago while I could actually muster the emotional strength to do it).

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.

Lessons from Vacation: An Open Letter to Volvo

Dear Volvo

I firmly believe you should stop claiming to be the world’s safest car company.

This spring, my wife’s 2006 XC90 needed to have the engine replaced due to bad cylinders. While a little “young” to experience this problem (around 70,000 miles), it’s understandable: these things happen (and it was still under the warranty we purchased at acquisition, so the $10,000 engine replacement was “on the house”).

After having the Volvo back for a couple of weeks, we took it on vacation out to Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. It performed fine across Nebraska and through Colorado and Wyoming, but by the time we hit the Black Hills of South Dakota, there was an obvious performance issue with the engine. We ended up renting a car to make it through the last day of our vacation plans.

That night, I took it to an AutoZone in Rapid City, SD where they diagnosed two of our ignition coils were bad. They only had one in stock and replaced it, and we were able to get home (but not without a lot of noise and vibration from under the hood). I promptly took it back to the dealer. Yesterday, I received a call from the dealership. They invited me back to the shop to look at the engine block. It turns out the root cause of the problem was your technicians had put the wrong spark plugs into our newly replaced motor. Instead of the plugs for a 2006 XC90, you installed plugs for a 2009 S60. (Just to be clear, the engine came this way from Volvo, and this error was not made at the dealership who installed it.) Regardless, an engine head replacement is in the works.

To say it’s a miracle we made it home in one piece from that vacation is an understatement. I shudder to think of the things that could have happened to the motor as well as the places where those things could have happened. The dealership is equally concerned about your lack of oversight.

This was a clumsy error at best. We purchased the Volvo XC90 because of Volvo’s stellar reputation as a safe vehicle. After experiencing the quality (or lack thereof) of our first Volvo, I firmly believe it will be our LAST Volvo as well. You have undermined your brand promise of safety. Putting a damper on the last couple of days of our family vacation is the least of my concerns; you compromised the safety and well-being of my family.

I’m guessing some corporate drone in your public relations or social media department will see this and laugh... or ignore it. It probably won’t go viral among the “mommy bloggers” or the “social media darlings”… but it will continue to make an impression in our lives. The XC90 is being fixed. Within the next few months, it will be traded (definitely for a different brand). But the memory of this experience will live on.

Respectfully Submitted

Timothy L Johnson

Life's A Fitch: A Lesson in the Birds and the Bees

Today, it is man against nature.

Nest_openerThis week, robins followed the number one rule of real estate (Location! Location! Location!) and believed the top of my garage door opener would be the optimal spot to go condo. The problem with their logic is I like my garage door opener in working order, and I do not want bird poop on my cars IN the garage. Hence, I shut the garage door when they were gone, checked to ensure no eggs had been laid, and promptly dismantled their home renovation project. And they came back. And I dismantled. And they came back. And I dismantled. They don't seem to be getting the fact I don't want them.

Concurrently, bees have been making a home near my daughters' swingset in the back yard. Now I'm well aware of the bee crisis, but with a swingset out of commission, my kids might do the unthinkable: stay indoors and bury their heads in electronic devices. Against my ecological best judgment, I went to Home Depot to purchase spray to evict the bees. The clerk seemed aghast I would consider doing such a thing. She suggested I contact a bee keeper to find the hive and eradicate the bees naturally.

"Do you have the name of a local bee keeper?" I asked.

"Well, no," was her response.

"If I give you my address, will you do the phone research and call around and find one and get them there tomorrow?" I countered.

"I can't do that, sir."

"I'll take the spray."

She shrugged as I grabbed two cans and skulked off toward the cash register.

To top off my week, I've been appalled by Abercrombie & Fitch's CEO Michael Jeffies' comments about marketing to skinny people only. As the father of two growing young women, I go out of my way to impress upon them that their identity is not about body image, and that beauty is more on the inside than the outside.

But then I started connecting the dots. Michael and I are both guilty of excluding a group who want to be part of our "club." The difference is, the birds and the bees operate under instinct; humans operate with feelings and emotions. And the birds and the bees don't have money to spend on rent; people have money to spend on clothing.

There will always be "target markets" in business. Conversely, there will always be "undesirable customers." We'll never be rid of the difficult client whose calls go unanswered and whose emails sit dormant because we just don't have the energy to deal with them. (Don't gasp; you know you do it, too.) The taboo "birds and bees" of business marketing is you NEVER specifically call out those you are excluding. In project management, we list our stakeholders, but we never say, "Oh, yeah, we're NOT doing this project for those bean counters and pencil pushers in Accounting." Your accomplishments will always get further in the positive. If your business is going to "reproduce," ignoring the birds and the bees will be a huge mistake. Acknowledge them. Deal with them. Give them alternatives. But (and I say this with experience of one who has now been chased by both birds and bees in one week) don't piss them off. I'm grateful Mother Nature doesn't have a Twitter account.

One solution would have been to pump that hideously toxic Abercrombie & Fitch "fragrance" all over the garage and the swingset, thereby killing the entire environment for a 50-mile radius.


The robins have now found an alternative spot on my property for their nest. They can stay there. And I'll probably call around for bee keepers next week, even though I don't have time. After all, I'd like to think I'm at least one step ahead of Michael Jeffries.

Hop On The Bus, Gus

Megabus_double_decker_frontviewOn my trip to Chicago last weekend, I decided to try something different for transportation. I'm not a fan of air travel for shorter distances, and driving seemed a ridiculous option since parking my car would have cost a prohibitive amount just to let it sit there for three days. My wife suggested I try the Megabus, and since the tickets were pretty inexpensive and it had free Wifi, I figured, "Why not?"

Because I could access my online community during the ride, I decided to have a little fun with the whole experiment, so I began a "log" of my travels on Facebook:

Hour one of my captivity on the Megabus. My captor is friendly enough and the other prisoners are empathetic. The cabin vibrates like a cheap motel room bed with a roll of quarters at the ready. Slow going. Must stay strong.

Hour three of captivity on the Megabus. Stopped in Iowa City to take on more prisoners... er... passengers. Now a VERY FULL bus.

Hour four on the Megabus: instead of taking the more streamlined I88 toll road, they are prolonging the experience for us. The college girl in front of me burst into unexplained maniacal laughter. The pressure must be getting to her, poor thing. They won't crack me that easily.

Hour five in my Megabus Purgatory: for the first time I truly feared for my life. I used the "facilities" in an experience best described as imagining one's toilet mounted on the chassis of a 72 Chevelle going 70 MPH with no shock absorbers There were illegible etchings on the mirror, no doubt the warnings of terror scrawled by the weak.

Entering hour #7 and the prisoners are restless. We've hit the snail traffic on I55 which plagues all equally. It is a cruel Chicago trick to be this close and yet so far. Must hang on to the end of my sentence... trip, I mean.

At first blush, someone from Megabus would probably cringe over this commentary; however, the discussion generated from my friends and colleagues was priceless. For some, they had never heard of the Megabus. For others, they knew my penchant for overexaggeration in these circumstances and enjoyed the humor.

The bottom line: I got people to START TALKING about the Megabus. Some even told me they'd never considered it before, and said they'd be willing to try it. Overall, the experience was pretty simple (especially compared to air travel) and, while a bit slower than driving, allowed me to get a lot of things done in six hours I couldn't have completed with both hands on the wheel.

My question to you in your quest to accomplish great things: what are YOU doing to compel people to START TALKING about your accomplishments? Positive or negative, the communication is important... to you and to them. But the trick is to motivate people to START TALKING. From there, you can manage the conversation, but there's nothing to manage if they don't start.

(On a very positive note about the customer service of Megabus, they responded to my Tweets very promptly. I was highly impressed, and I even downloaded the Megabus app to my mobile. I will definitely consider it for further Chicago travel.)

And for the record, my Facebook post on the way home:

I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus. 
I will behave on the Megabus.

Hack School Project Management

Take 11 minutes and watch this video...


It's refreshing to see a kid like Logan communicate so eloquently. Having taught graduate school for 12 years and consulted for over 20 years, I can honestly say most of the adults I meet can't articulate what they want to be when they grow up.

I've pretty much figured out that being a contented accomplisher is my calling in life. Sometimes this takes the form of speaker; other times it's being an author. But at my core, I'm always a project manager. And as a project manager, I've figured intuitively how to be "hack school" over the years. Logan's description of hack school is spot on:

Hackers are innovators, hackers are people who challenge and change the systems to make them work differently, to make them work better, it’s just how they think, it’s a mindset...

I take advantage of opportunities in my community, and through a network of my friends and family. I take advantage of opportunities to experience what I’m learning, and I’m not afraid to look for shortcuts or hacks to get a better faster result. It’s like a remix or a mash-up of learning. It’s flexible, opportunistic, and it never loses sight of making happy, healthy and creativity a priority.

Picasso QuoteOnce, I was brought onto a client because a person wanted to learn from me as I managed a major project for her organization. A couple of months into my contract, this individual took a seven-week online project management class. Voila... the class turned her into an instant "expert" in project management. She started taking glee in pointing out all the things I didn't do according to her instructor and text book. The problem with her approach was that I was actually getting results by doing things my way. I knew how to do things "by the book" but the difference between knowledge and wisdom is knowing when drop the book. (Purely unrelated, I'm thinking of switching physicians... do you know anybody who completed medical school in seven weeks online?)

A few years ago, Dr. Delaney Kirk sent me an article about the main reason fire fighters die when working on wild fires: When surrounded by flames, they focus too much on saving their tools and equipment and not enough on just running to save their own lives. That really sums up my project management "hack school" mindset. I love tools, by the way. A great project plan can save months and dollars to an organization. A well-written status report can bring critical issues to light. Issues logs cut through office politics. I love tools, but I don't rely on them. What I rely on is the ability to accomplish a successful end result.

So what about you? Are you more "by the book" or "hack school"? How can you start dropping your tools? Who knows? By doing so, you might just grow up to be happy and healthy.

Young and Hungry

I'm at a crossroads with our current house. We've done almost everything to it we possibly can, but should we decide to stay in this house long-term, there are a couple more projects we'd like to tackle. The question isn't really about the projects, but more about who would do the work. We've used one contractor fairly consistently over the past 10 years, but I think we're moving on.


Well, he's no longer "young and hungry."

When we first used him, he was just starting out and was very eager to prove himself in the dog-eat-dog world of contracting. And he did. Which was why we kept inviting him back for more projects. Sunroom. Bathroom. Kitchen. But by the time he reached our basement, things had changed. He was successful. He no longer did (or even directly supervised) a lot of the work himself. He used more subcontractors. And things important to me were missed. And he acted like we - his customers - were more of an inconvenience by merely asking questions. And while the final product was... well... just okay, it wasn't the level of work that made us love what he did and compelled us to keep inviting him back.

It's that way in the white-collar business world as well. I once subcontracted to a consulting firm that was young and hungry. I was one of their first recruits. Those first couple of years were stressful yet exhiliarating. We worked our tails off to prove ourselves as a viable consulting firm. The owner and founder worked even harder to match up projects with the skills and strengths of the consultants. We got larger and more successful. And then he turned over the operations to a salesperson. So much for "care and feeding" of the consultants. At that point, we were treated more like mental prostitutes as the emphasis went from "young and hungry" to "established and self-satisfied."

Young and hungry is a mindset. Young and hungry abdicates lazy satisfaction. Young and hungry celebrates a job well-done, and then turns around and looks for ways to raise the bar. Young and hungry stays in training to become better, faster, stronger, more agile. Last month, Fast Company released its annual list of the 50 most innovative companies. It was interesting who wasn't on the list: Facebook and Twitter. Ubiquitous? Yes. Young and hungry? Not so much.

Young and hungry is not about ego. In proving itself, young and hungry lets the accomplishment trump the personality. We'll let Kim Jong Un stay in North Korea, thank you very much. We have enough little dictators invading our cubicles already. Young and hungry is not autocratic. It doesn't need to be. Young and hungry doesn't backstab or steal credit. Young and hungry doesn't need to issue hollow ultimatums to get its way; young and hungry sets out a compelling vision. Young and hungry invites others along on the journey and attempts to keep them engaged as long as they want to be part of that journey. Young and hungry doesn't delegate; it rolls up its sleeves and welcomes the work.

So where do you fall on the scale? Are you still young and hungry? What will get you back there?

Two Four Six Hate

"I may not have the capacity to love everyone, but I do have the capacity to act as if I do and run my business accordingly..." -Agnes Golden (character in The Radical Leap Re-Energized)

For once, I really wasn't trying to be difficult or contrarian. Really. But nonetheless, I caught the workshop leader off-guard.

I just recently became certified in Steve Farber's Extreme Leadership Institute. So now I am able to deliver his content to my clients, and it's a very exciting prospect. I've been a huge fan for years. But more on that to come in a near-future blog post. While we were going through the certification process, we were spending a great amount of time talking about the first cornerstone of Farber's tenets: Love (the 'L' in LEAP). The love thing is important. It's in the Extreme Leader's Credo: "Do what you love in the service of those who love what you do." It permeates everything an extreme leader is about.

So when I brought up the topic of hate, it sort of shocked our facilitator. But then I explained myself a little. The extreme leader isn't out to specifically make somebody else hate them. We want to love our work, love our coworkers, love our customers, love our projects. But in the process of cultivating love and acting audaciously as we pursue the OS!M, one can't help but have hate as a natural by-product.

2012-11-Creating-Passionate-UsersHuh? Love produces hate? Absolutely. A few years ago, I used Kathy Sierra's branding graphic to talk about personal branding as it applied to gender in the work place, but her model applies universally. If we're going to love, and if we're going to seek to be passionately loved by others, then "hate" will be a natural consequence from the people who not only don't "love what you do"; they're dead-set against it. But the key point is: they've noticed you and what you're doing. You registered with them. You got their attention by being an extreme leader.

But here's where some people break-down in their attempts to be extreme leaders; they aren't comfortable being hated. They want to be liked. By everybody. So they don't act audaciously. They don't prove themselves. And they cop out on love for a mild form of "like" that has all the energetic impact of warm milk.

But in listening to the stories shared by other workshop attendees over the two-day period, and especially hearing the inspiring story from Simon Billsberry, formerly of Kineticom, it became evident that an extreme leader can't love passionately WITHOUT allowing hate to be a natural by-product, either expressing hate for the non-leadership behaviors and values, or inspiring hate from others who don't embrace extreme leader values and behaviors.

I've experienced it more than once on a client site. I bring my own unique (ahem) brand of project management to the table, but I do so to get results and jar my clients from their old habits. But in so doing, I've turned off more traditionally-minded champions of the status quo... some of whom I've won over, but some of whom end up passionately hating my approach... and sometimes me personally. And I've learned to be OK with it. Why? Because there are others who love the results and accomplishment I bring to the table. And then I get to do what I love in the service of those who love what I do... in spite of those who hate what I do.

In your quest to be loved, are you comfortable being hated? I hope so.

Linkin' Lincoln

Lincoln-Movie-PosterOver the holiday break, my wife and I ventured to the theater to catch a showing of Lincoln. First, I have to say it's great to FINALLY have children who are old enough to allow my wife and me to start enjoying movies again (at least ones that don't involve an animated princess of some sort). Second, my wife knows me well enough to sell me on these kinds of films before we go, and she didn't disappoint. She convinced me this movie would provide some great parallels to office politics. Finally, the movie was well made, and I predict many oscar nominations across the board.

But back to the office politics connection. Many of my clients are put in positions of selling ideas - BIG ideas - to their organizations. Sometimes there is popularity and support across the board. Other times, it's a mixed bag. Often, they are faced with a mountain of opposition.

The office politics lessons and affirmations abounded, and this movie reaffirmed why Lincoln's legacy as a leader continues to live on:

  1. Timing is everything - while many thought it best to hold off on such a vote, Lincoln looked at the big picture and saw potential failure in waiting until the war was over. Many often confuse assumed urgency with real urgency. Ask yourself what's driving the need for your accomplishment before rearranging others' priorities.
  2. Watch the message - Representative Thaddeus Stevens understood this when publicly cornered over his views on slavery and racial equality. Sometimes we can say what we really mean and other times we have to temper it in order for our accomplishments to succeed. Walking that fine line between truth and success is tricky.
  3. Divide and conquer - Approaching all the lame duck Democrats at once would have resulted in failure, so William Seward orchestrated persuasive tactics one at a time. In order to sell others on our accomplishments, it can be useful to approach opponents when nobody else is around to derail the efforts... and in such a way that there is something in it for them.
  4. Watch the home front - both Lincoln's wife and son provided plenty of distraction for him throughout the film. Often when dealing with political issues, we become so entrenched that we let other things slide. Remain mindful of EVERYTHING going on around you, even if you can't take action on it at that moment.
  5. Keep calm and carry on - only once or twice did the character of Lincoln have to raise his voice in this movie, and those times were generally with his allies. All others saw the humble lawyer from Illinois. People generally respect a voice of reason over a Chicken Little-esque squawk. Be careful on your delivery in highly emotional situations.

All in all, it was a couple of hours well spent in the theater. And it was easy to see why Abraham Lincoln still holds our attention 150 years later.

Take a Flying Leap

It's "Leap Day," folks!

That one day that appears every four years to extend February even longer than this month deserves. I'm not sure why Leap Day couldn't appear in nicer month, like June when it's warm but not too hot. Or how about October, when the fall foliage is so pleasant? But NO, it's in February. When the weather is cold and slushy at worst; indecisive, at best.

Tavern_Parking_SignSometimes, like the month of February, we really do want some people to just go away, to take a flying leap, as it were. Sometimes, we create rules and procedures or post signs to keep those people away. I found such an instance the other morning when I was going to get my morning bagle. The Tavern is a restaurant here in town that makes one of the best "slider" pizzas anywhere. They're located in a busy strip mall near a very popular deli (not to mention my favorite bagel/muffin spot). I can understand why they posted this sign. The parking over the lunch hour can be downright attrocious. I've had to play parking lot vulture more than once, and I'm sure some of the parking angst has spilled over to their lot.


I've heard a lot of grousing about their sign, and I can understand why. The tone pretty much has all the charm of a porcupine in a barbed wire coat. In trying to accomplish something, they're creating some undesirable consequences; namely, people who might be otherwise be customers do not wish to eat there.

I've talked on this blog before about being engaging with our accomplishments. We want to create the conversation and curiosity to draw others in, not push them away. Granted, there will always be those undesirables we wish to keep away from our accomplishments (or I wouldn't have a job as an office politics consultant). Still, in our efforts to keep away the "undesirables," are we creating messages (rules, policies, etc.) which send the desirable stakeholders away as well? Do we just consider them collateral damage?

Just some thoughts as we wrap up the month.

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!)

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Christmas_MusicI love the Christmas season, but I there's little I love more than the music. There are certain CD's which sit expectantly on the shelf for 11 months, and then get constant airing for a 5-week period.

However, there are certain songs that stand out... primarily because of the way the artist performed them. Some Christmas carols are just tied to the artist... you think of the song, you think of the artist... you think of the artist, you think of the song.

It may be the first person who performed it, like Eartha Kitt's "Santa, Baby." Perhaps it's just a song that's not overplayed, like Karen Carpenter's "Christmas Waltz." Maybe, the artist was so ubiquitous that they eclipsed every other artist before them, like Dean Martin's "Baby, it's cold outside." It could be that the artist created a unique sound with the song... Mannheim Steamroller's "Silent Night" or The Blenders' "The First Noel."

What about YOUR accomplishments? Have you made an indelible stamp on what you do? When people see your PowerPoints, do they think of you personally? When they read your status reports, do they automatically hear your voice speaking? When you lead a meeting, does your personal brand of accomplishment shine through?

Think about how you can add your personal stamp on the things you do in the coming year. "Yule" be glad you did.

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.

Communication? Elementary, My Dear Watson

Ears_plugged I just finished having lunch with each of my daughters at their elementary school.  The lunch conversations for each were... um... fascinating experiences. The first lunch was with my daughter, Abby, a kindergartner. Surrounded by diminutive talkers, lunch chat went something like this:

"My brother picks his nose."

"So does mine. It's always green and gross."

"Hey, Abby's dad brought Oreos! Can I have an Oreo?"

"Me too! Can I have one?"

"We fed Oreos to our dog once. He threw up in the minivan."

"We can't bring our dog in the car. My dad won't allow it."

"My mom won't either. She keeps her car shiny."

"Hey, Abby's dad, your head is shiny. Do you use the same stuff my mom uses on her car?"

It was the conversational equivalent of staring into the sun. Or logging onto Twitter. Now contrast that with Lauren's class. Conversation with 5th grade girls goes something like:



"TUH!" (which is more of an exasperated gasp, hard to capture phonetically)

"Like... like... "

"No way"

(Insert numerous eye rolls.)

Very little was actually communicated that a 44-year-old man could follow... but they seemed to understand each other. I doubt Jane Goodall would have done any better.

I was talking with a colleague this morning about communication and how important story-telling is in the art of conveying what you want to say. There's an art to sharing just the RIGHT AMOUNT of communication. Your goal is to be engaging enough that people will WANT to know more about your accomplishments.

Let's take the next three potential bullet points for status reports... all of which are meant to convey information about exactly the same task on the same project:

  • We're late.
  • The testing report was not completed yet again this week because Fred forgot to talk to the IT team lead, who had most of the detail surrounding the report since December, but refuses to discuss it with any of our team because of office politics.  Anyway, after our project sponsor forced the IT team to comply, he called Fred to set up a meeting last Tuesday at 3:30 PM in Room 702 of the East Campus Building.  Fred was called away by his wife to attend their son’s school program (which Fred had also forgotten to make note of), and when he left to go to the program, he neglected to mention anything about the meeting.  So it is now three months since the requirements were completed by IT, and our team still does not have the testing report complete.  Our sponsor will be discussing Fred’s dropped balls with him next week, and this will probably appear in his performance evaluation (at least it had better)
  • The testing report is not complete.  We are now three months behind schedule on this deliverable (originally due 12-28).  Fred is accountable for this deliverable.

The first bullet? Totally fifth grade girl. The second one? Kindgarten all over again. The final bullet gives you just enough information and engages your curiousity to ask intelligent questions.

So what grade is your communication? Are you branding your accomplishments with the right amount of information?

A Head of the Game

Princess_beatrice_hat I admit it. I got up early a couple of weeks ago to watch the Royal Wedding of William and Kate. Before you make me turn in my "man card," in my defense, I live with a complete Anglophile whose mother made her get up to watch Charles and Diana 30 years ago, and who turned our London get-away into the British vacation death march. There wasn't much choice. But personally, I have an appreciation for snarky, biting British commentary, so waking up at 4 in the morning is alright.

I hear that Princess Beatrice is now auctioning for charity the artifact of the day... the one article of clothing that was talked about almost as much as the wedding gown itself: her hat. It was so fun to hear the comments about that hat, ranging from "we found the 5th Teletubby" to "is she going to set it on fire at the reception and have tiny tigers jump through it for entertainment?" Let's face it: Beatrice got noticed. And from what we heard, she WANTED to get noticed. And now she's getting noticed again for selling the beast.

Sometimes getting noticed is hard. You're jostling for position amid a sea of others who also want to get noticed. And sometimes we want to get noticed... but ONLY if getting noticed is all positive, raving praise, happy thoughts of puppies and butterflies and unicorns. Trust me, if your accomplishments get noticed, SOMEBODY will have less than favorable things to say about them as well.

Queen_elizabeth_bum And when you're jostling for position, it can be hard to accomplish what you set out to do. Take for example, my own brush with British royalty five years ago. The Queen was leaving St. James and there was a pressing crowd. My wife gave me her camera because I'm taller than she, thinking it would give us a better vantage for a shot at QE2. Well, the locals had other ideas about my goals for accomplishment. I got the shot of the Queen, but it really wasn't her best side. But I was just another face in a very big crowd, so my desire for accomplishment was compromised (unless the goal was "The Queen Bum" or "A Royal Pain in the Backside").

Bottom line: what are YOU actively doing to get your accomplishments noticed? Are you willing to have some observers NOT love you in order to do something different enough to get the important ones to love you?

(Apple) Pie in the Face

IPad2-Steve-Jobs Virtually all of us want to accomplish something significant in our lifetime.  Very few will make the marks of winning a Grammy or an Oscar, becoming President, or writing a Pulitzer-worthy book.  One of the reasons the people attain such amazing accomplishments (outside of hard work and/or dumb luck) is branding, making their work stand out in a sea of sameness.

Steve Jobs is one of those who can brag (rightfully) about accomplishment, and the branding thereof.  He knows how to get his disciples excited.  People hear the names of Apple or Steve Jobs and there is no middle ground of indifference; both icons are passionately loved OR hated.

Now Jobs and Apple can add "ridiculed" to their list.  Jobs, whose evangelical fervor is touted as the benchmark of presentation skills, seems to have overstepped his bounds with the iPad 2 announcement.  Kudos to Seth Weintraub for taking Jobs to task for his misstatements.

Every term from "being first" to "shipping in volume" appeared to be subjected to an alternate reality.

This is the problem with too many accomplishment brands: they don't KEEP IT REAL.  If I had a dime for every project that promised things the team KNEW they couldn't deliver... SIGH.  I won't even go into the number of "doctored" status reports claiming completed accomplishments (which hadn't even been designed yet).  Call it what you want: spin-doctoring, selling to the masses, or ... er... um... I dunno... LYING?

I'm not going to get on a soap-box of morality with this one. From a business perspective, examine your accomplishments.  Will it deliver what you say it will deliver?  If not, is the message wrong or is the accomplishment flawed?  Your message and your accomplishment had better be in alignment; if not, branding your accomplishment will at best be tainted (at worst, failed).

We'll hope Jobs learns his lesson on fact-checking before his next big launch... the marketplace can be pretty unforgiving.

Accomplishments are a Stitch

Quilts After over 20 years in the business world, much of it in a project management and/or consulting capacity, I think I just stumbled upon the "holy grail" of business knowledge this morning.

The one question I field the most in my career is what one skill an existing or up-and-coming leader needs to have in his or her back pocket to be successful and significant.  (As many already know, it really takes an arsenal of skills to achieve this accomplishment, but humor me on this one and we'll say it can be boiled down to one skill.)

Are you ready for this?

If you encounter an executive who wants to take that ONE training class that will set him or her apart from the pack, here's what you should tell them:


Yes, you read that right: Q-U-I-L-T-I-N-G

As you've noticed, I've been spending a lot of time with my mom recently, and in her desire to "seize the accomplishment," she likes to tackle her favorite hobby: quilting.  So this morning, we cut out some pieces of fabric for a quilt she's making for my niece.

That's when it hit me.  If a leader can master the art and science of quilting, running an organization should be a cake walk.  But let's break this down a bit:

  • Process - at its core, quilting is the process of taking materials and resources, breaking them down into component parts, and reassembling them into something of value.  Isn't that what any organization with a mission and a customer base aspires to do?
  • Resources - any quilter would love the opportunity to pick out her (or his) own fabrics; however, being a very resourceful lot, they also know how to make the best of whatever scraps they have on hand. (They also know which scraps are useless and get rid of them or put them on backlog for a future project.)
  • Pattern - once the fabric is chosen (or thrust upon them), quilters pick the best pattern or set of patterns for their masterpiece.  Experienced quilters have a plethora of patterns at their disposal, and while they may have favorites, can draw from many different styles to fit what's best for the purpose and material. There is no "six sigma pattern" to solve every quilting dilemma.
  • Precision - I watched my mom cutting out squares of fabric; she was exact down to an eighth of an inch. There was no room for variation. Measure twice; cut once. I made a couple of goofs, but she was very forgiving while I picked up the fabric cutting skill to her specifications.
  • Tracking - quilters know how many blocks they'll need, and they tend to track progress block by block. They know what "done" looks like for each stage of the game.
  • Details - even when blocks are assembled individually, and then pieced together, there are still so many other things that make a great quilt.  Things like batting and backing and sashing and stitching all contribute to a wonderful finished product.  Quilters can pick out a quality product by look and feel; they just know.
  • Individuality - every quilter has a special touch, that pride of ownership that makes a quilt uniquely hers (or his). It may be a special kind of thread, or a contrast of color, or a signature move, but there is something about a quilt that makes it identifiable with its creator.
  • Appreciation - quilters know how to appreciate somebody else's handiwork. While a quilt is an individual accomplishment, quilting is a social act.  Sharing patterns, fabric ideas, etc. has been passed down from generation to generation, through sewing circles and state fairs, from friend to friend.  A true quilter knows how to appreciate the accomplishments of another without tearing down or belittlement.
  • Legacy - if done well, quilts outlive the quilter. They serve as gentle reminders that accomplishment is its own reward, that comfort is earned through hard work, and that the longest and greatest legacies are made, not bought.  Quilts are a reminder of our heritage.  They bring us joy that no corporate bottom line could ever achieve, show us wisdom that the highest priced consultant could never attain, and compel us to a creativity that intertwines simplicity with complexity.

So the next time your C-suite asks for some training on doing their job better, the next time a junior executive wants to head off to that retreat in Maui, the next time the boss wants to attend just one more workshop, hand them a needle and thread and send them to the fabric store.  We'll see if it improves their leadership skills.

And to my mother who has made and shared so many wonderful quilts, I am eternally grateful... especially for this latest lesson you didn't even know you were teaching me this morning.


Trudgectory The final element of accomplishment branding is - at the same time - both intimately personal and intimidatingly public:  Does your brand have a DIRECTION?

We're all familiar with the term, trajectory.  We may not know the exact formulas for tracking a trajectory, but we know it's a path with a purpose.  There is a set direction for a projectile, and by golly, that projectile is headed in that direction.

But what if your accomplishments are on a "trudgectory"?  What if you're trying to accomplish things with no direction?  I've shared before about the danger of having a WUHOT on your team.  WUHOTs are not on a trajectory; they're on a trudgectory.  They're slogging through the swirly of failure and mediocrity, hoping that something happens TO them... or happens FOR them.  The term, trudgectory, was coined by a close friend of mine who was on the verge of ending his career working under a vile and venomous excuse for a human being.  Every day was a trudge from start to finish.  Now that he's out from under the weight of the waste of oxygen, he's in a different career, and I've been able to hear and see the energy return... he's a new man... his accomplishments again have direction... and HE KNOWS what that direction is.  He moved from trudgectory to trajectory.

The key for a DIRECTED accomplishment is alignment to something greater than itself.  Mission, vision, values, purpose, or (if you're in a project setting) portfolio will make the difference.  It's all about having the direction set to change the world and make it a better place... even if it's just your small corner of it.

So there you have it.  If you really want to brand your accomplishments, you have to be DRIVEN:

  • Directed
  • Real
  • Identifiable
  • Valuable
  • Engaging
  • Noticeable

And now, when it comes to branding, you can tell people that for the past week, you've been "DRIVEN" in reverse.  Now it's time for you to go VROOM, VROOM on your own accomplishments.  Are you ready?

Toddlers In Suits

"To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius."  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Toddler_suit I suppose I should have known better.  But it really was there for the taking.  And looking back, I wouldn't have done it any differently.

I was interviewing for a project recovery contract, and it was my second interview.  I was facing four members of the C-Suite.  After all, it was one of the top two projects in the company, and they wanted to make sure they had the right person.  One executive asked the question I was expecting:  "How do you like to communicate with executives?"  I don't think they were expecting my answer.  Sure, I could have gone all "text book" on them, but when a critical program is being recovered, you know that there will be difficult discussions with executives on the horizons... and I had to be sure my response would reveal my accomplishment brand.

My answer?  "I'll be honest with you all:  I've become much better at executive communication since I became a parent and realized executives are simply toddlers in suits.  If I give you lots of pretty pictures with nice colors and manage your ADD correctly, nobody gets hurt."  I got the job.

In the coming months, I was able to have excruciatingly frank discussions with them.  When I left the project (on my terms and in my time), I knew I had delivered the value that was necessary to get the project back on the right track.

So the next issue for your accomplishment brand:  are you keeping it REAL?  Are you being authentic, honest, and up-front about issues, status, and progress?  There are a lot of people out there who want to be someone else.  We're nearing Halloween where many will dress in costume.  But what about the other 364 days of the year?  What costumes are you wearing which prevent you from being true to your brand?

Are you able to let others see the "real you" when you're accomplishing something?  Sometimes setting the stage up front by being real will save you a lot of headaches on the back end.

Topless And/Or Faceless

Autumn_trees_barren We had a rather large wind yesterday, which did a number on many of the autumn leaves still on the trees.  Now, many trees are sitting buck naked while the ground is a colorful mural of reds, oranges, and yellows (with a smattering of greens and browns).  Not being an avid arborist, I have enough trouble identifying trees when the leaves are on them... yank off the leaves and I'm toast.  A whole season's budding, blossoming, and leafing productivity gone in a day... and now most of the trees look the same... a topless commodity.

But yesterday's windstorm is today's blog post.  If you're going to brand your accomplishments, are they IDENTIFIABLE as yours?  You've arrived when somebody can look at the output of your labors and say with confidence, "Yup, Fred did that... I can just tell."

I have that experience on a couple of fronts.  The first is on project planning.  Most people who have worked with me know when I've had my hand in a project plan because of the structure and formatting.  On the second front, I've been pushing myself recently.  Working in academia, I've become increasingly annoyed with text-heavy slides.  With that in mind, I've made a concerted effort to drastically reduce the amount of text in my presentations; instead, I show an image and tell a story to make my point.  It makes my message stand out... especially in a never-ending sea of bullet points.

Being identifiable can be negative as well.  Ask Jack the Ripper.  OK, since he's dead and gone, there is plenty of evidence of cubicle career killers lurking around our offices.  I once worked with another consultant who insisted on editing everybody else's work before it went before the client.  It would be one thing if a majority of his edits added value, but it got to the point where we referred to said edits as his having peed on the document (i.e., marked his territory so he could get credit later).

But even worse is having no identity whatsoever.  If your work, your project, your accomplishment looks EXACTLY like everybody else's, why do we bother keeping you on the payroll?  You're just a tree that's lost all of its leaves in a forest of other trees who have lost their leaves.  You're all just a bundle of topless, faceless trunks and twigs with no accomplishment to show for yourself.  Oh well, maybe next spring.

Having an accomplishment that is well branded means that you have "marked your territory" in a positive light.  People are ecstatic to see your stamp of approval.  They know you own it.  They rest assured that the accomplishment is/was/shall be in good hands.  You are the Steve Jobs of your domain.

However, a caveat to being identifiable:  Scott Ginsberg, an expert in personal branding and identity, shares some of his wisdom on this topic: "What identifies you doesn't define you. Don't walk into a room assuming people care about your nametag, when what people crave is the committed heart behind it. Are you living larger than your labels?"  But we'll get to that later.


Goldkey It's great if your accomplishments are noticed, and even better if they are engaging, but when people unwrap your accomplishments, will they find something VALUABLE at the core of your accomplishment's brand?

There are a lot of projects out there that are pure fantasy.  I recently blogged at IowaBiz about this phenomenon, how many IT departments like to drive unnecessary projects through the pipelines... just because they can.  I've observed many CIO's who have authorized projects for "really cool technology" just because of the "bells and whistles."  At one client, I referred to the CIO as "the little engine that shouldn't" because of his ability to materialize non-vetted projects... I don't think he liked the title very much.

But how do we define "value" in our accomplishments?  The dictionary calls it "having desirable or esteemed characteristics or qualities" or "of great use or service," but I don't think either of these really cut to the chase.  Your accomplishment has to be relevant.  In other words, the recipient/user/customer of the accomplishment has to care that you've accomplished something.  If they don't, you have New Coke... or Gap... sure, you accomplished something, but your audience did not find anything of value.  Look at the gripes every time Facebook changes something... you'll see a tremendous lack of accomplishment value.

Often, value is - as Malcolm Gladwell would put it - "thin sliced."  We can just look at an accomplishment and deem it to be valuable.  How?  Brant Fetter made a good observation on his blog:

I think we humans use any kind of cue to assess the value of something. That’s why branding works. Just as someone who has a clean appearance and speaks in an articulate fashion is going to be more trusted initially than others. We try (whether we know it or not) to use this shorthand from gut reactions all the way up to deciding multi-million dollar contracts and mates. Any human knowledge is based on those that go before us, such as science is just one body of work based on the previous.

Whether it's a snap decision or well researched, value will be vetted out over time.  So it's great if your accomplishment brand is noticeable and engaging... just make sure it is valuable as well.  People will notice.

Mastering the Art of the Flirt

Flirt Many, MANY years ago (before kids... before wife... barely into adulthood), I was shopping with my sister-in-law.  We had gone into a men's clothing store, and I was looking around.  The clerk was helping us out, and I remember her being very friendly.  As we left the store, my sister-in-law turned to me and stated: "Wow, I can't believe she didn't propose to you right then and there."

"Huh?" (The typical male response in clueless state.)

"She was completely and totally flirting with you."

"Really?  Cool."  (End of conversation.  Acknowledged with a slight puff of ego.)

If you are going to brand your accomplishments, you're going to have to ENGAGE those who will benefit from your accomplishments (or potentially benefit from them).  To engage them effectively, you're going to need to master the art of the flirt.  While flirting gets a bad reputation for being superficial or lacking serious intent, it does do the one thing you want it to do:  builds curiosity.

To be engaging, you want to draw attention.  That's where being noticeable helps.  But being noticed isn't enough.  You have to create that spark of curiosity.  That sly smile and quick wink that says, "I have something you want."

As a project manager, I encourage other PM's to master flirting in their communication.  You can't barf every piece of information you know on the page and expect people to read it, let alone want more.  If your accomplishments are going to engage others, you need to flirt with their brains to build their curiosity and draw them in.

Look at the next two paragraphs

The testing report was not completed yet again this week because Fred forgot to talk to the IT team lead, who had most of the detail surrounding the report since December, but refuses to discuss it with any of our team because of office politics.  Anyway, after our project sponsor forced the IT team to comply, he called Fred to set up a meeting last Tuesday at 3:30 PM in Room 702 of the East Campus Building.  Fred was called away by his wife to attend their son’s school program (which Fred had also forgotten to make note of), and when he left to go to the program, he neglected to mention anything about the meeting.  So it is now three months since the requirements were completed by IT, and our team still does not have the testing report complete.  Our sponsor will be discussing Fred’s dropped balls with him next week, and this will probably appear in his performance evaluation (at least it had better)
The testing report is not complete.  We are now three months behind schedule on this deliverable (originally due 12-28).  Fred is accountable for this deliverable.

Which one would you rather read in a status report?  They both essentially say the same thing.  But which one does a better job of flirting with your brain, building your curiosity, giving you just the critical facts while engaging you to ask for more?  (The first one just makes my eyes glaze over, and I'm the one who wrote it for sake of example.)

So if your accomplishments and going to be branded effectively, can you master the art of the flirt?  Can you invite your audience into your accomplishments and leave them wanting more?

Sarah Palin is a New York Yankee

Sarahpalin One of the first components of branding yourself and your accomplishments is getting NOTICED.

But what does "getting noticed" look like?  Obviously, you have to be just different enough to knock through the perceptual filters of your audience.  Let's be real here folks:  how many meetings do you attend in a week?  how many emails do you receive?  how many phone calls do you take/make?  You, my friend, are bombarded with a whole lot of stuff vying for your attention.  It's like we're surrounded by a roomfull of ADHD youngest children, jumping up and down, screaming "Hey! I'm here! Pay attention to me!"  That's why Seth Godin's Purple Cow was such a huge seller.

Yankees While I wasn't a big fan of Drake's D+ ad campaign (more due to forgotten constituencies and communication thereto), President David Maxwell did a great job of explaining the concept behind this campaign for its target audience:  high school seniors.  While every other college's brochure had a beautifully composed picture of happy students on a well landscaped lawn under a tree with their laptops, Drake slapped them in the face with a plain blue brochure with a huge white D+.  It grabbed their attention.  It was different enough to be noticeable.  And it has worked with the target audience.

Which leads me to the second aspect of getting noticed:  you have to be comfortable with being hated.  Kathy Sierra's model of strong branding says it all.  If you are loved or hated, you're getting noticed.  We don't like the "being hated" part very much.  It makes us uncomfortable.  We just want to be loved, and if that's not attainable, we want to be liked.  Being liked is not a strong brand.  Ask Sarah Palin.  If you agree or disagree with her politics, she continues to be noticed.  And people love her or hate her.  And she's pretty cool with either side of the equation.  Same with the New York Yankees.  If my Facebook and Twitter traffic is any indication, there are A LOT of people who hate the Yankees (either that, or the Rangers have generated a TON of ad hoc fans suddenly).

What about you?  Are you getting noticed?  Are your accomplishments?  Why not?  Well, are you only tackling the "popular" projects at work?  When it comes to making a decision, are you always playing it safe?  Are you comfortable with being hated for doing what is right?  Are you putting yourself out there with how your projects and accomplishments are being branded?  Are you infusing a part of yourself into your projects?  I've mentioned before the time when I was put in charge of a HIPAA training project (insert yawn here).  I went out on a limb and did the whole training video like an episode of Cops.  It was a hit with the client, because it was different enough to be noticeable.  Make your accomplishments noticeable.  It will help you be more noticeable also.

Brand Flakes

Branflakes In the world of accomplishment, there will always be perception.  It's a two-edged sword.

That's why it is so critical for every professional to own his or her personal brand.  I've been a big fan of Mike Wagner for years.  What he has done for company branding with his DIRTY model is brilliant.  It's been proven over and over:  companies with strong brands are more successful.

But what about you as an individual?  Do you have a brand?  (Psssst... the answer is "yes")

If you are going to achieve "Carpe Factum" you'll need to figure out how to brand yourself... and your accomplishments.

Unfortunately, many out there think they can accomplish great things without managing their individual brand.  Many of the letters I've answered on Office-Politics.com have been caused by individuals who have let others define their brand for them... and discovered it too late.  They've flaked out on owning their own identity.

We can create check marks to denote our accomplishments... but are we owning the story, the perception, and identity behind them?

What do you think?  Do you have a grasp on your personal brand?  When something great is accomplished, do those around you say, "I could tell that was YOUR work. Congratulations!"?  Branding yourself and your accomplishments applies to everyone from superstar CEO's to custodial staff.

Over the next few posts, let's figure out what it takes to brand ourselves... and our accomplishments.

And I Approve This Message

I_approve_this_message The political ads are in full swing... fast and furious.  At the end of every campaign commercial, you hear the same droning candidate voice-over: "I'm so-and-so, and I approve this message."  Some of the commercials represent such poor logic that I wonder how a rational, ethical human being could possibly approve of this poor substitute for sound rhetoric... if they REALLY knew what was being said.

But let's pull it back to you.  You're trying to accomplish a "win" and you're communicating a lot of things to people, both implicitly and explicitly.  So, if you had to stop and think about what the real message is, do you really approve it?

Are you managing those who are trying to carry your message forward to others to ensure that what people are hearing is what you intended them to hear?  Are you paying as close attention to the medium or channel of the message, so that an email blast doesn't replace a one-on-one face-to-face meeting.

We're all bombarded with messages... so much so that we're filtering out those we don't want to handle.  Are your messages making it past the "crap filter"?  I was reading Ed Decker's blog post on political ads; he's one of many who are just tired/angry of the current establishment.  Is that how people feel about you in the office?  Do you feel that way about somebody else?  What can you do about those messages that are being inadvertently shared?

How can you get your personal branding back to the point of "I approve this message"?  Doing so may make the difference between success or failure on your accomplishments.

Think Like a (Real) Blackbelt

Jimbouchard I love meeting new people on my journey through social media.  Many of them have the same drive for accomplishment I do, but they have a slightly different take on it.  One such individual is Jim Bouchard.

Jim's brand is about learning to "think like a Black Belt" - and no, I'm not talking the wimpy little Six Sigma type, either.  Jim is a real, honest-to-goodness martial arts stud, semi-pro-football player, and all-around leadership sherpa.  He applies his passions to business and helps other leaders learn to apply the principals of martial arts to their careers and organizations.

Jim and I had a chance to converse on his PowerPod - we talked about his book and about our philosophies of life and accomplishment.  Check it out.  But more importantly, check Jim out.  You won't be disappointed in the least.

By the way, Jim has a new book coming out soon.  I highly recommend you keep your radar up for it... promises to be every bit as amazing as Jim himself is.

Street Cred

WorkerWithHammer It's been a little quiet from me the past couple of weeks.  (Well, many of you were on spring break, so I doubt you missed me all that much... after all - tequila shots and warm breezes were calling.)

The past month has been fun for me.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm now contracting full time as a project manager.  Yes, it is fun... this is the kind of stuff that gets my adrenaline going.

While the schedule has been an adjustment, the activity is just like riding a bicycle.  Project plans, status reports, meeting minutes, issues logs, risk management.  You never forget.

Some have asked me why I took a detour from the speaking and writing to go back to a full-time cubicle-dwelling contract for a few months.  (The reality is that it isn't much of a detour as I still have a speaking schedule, and I'm in talks about my next book, but I digress.)  The biggest reason I agreed to take on this contract can be summed up in two words:  "street cred."

It's the same reason a successful actor agrees to do an independent film at a reduced rate, or why an athlete will join in a pick-up game of ball.  As a project manager, I never want to get too far away from my roots.  I don't want my expertise to be academic.  As a Chief Accomplishment Officer, I'm wired to DO, to PERFORM, and to ACCOMPLISH.

So for a few months (as long as my client and I agree that I'm adding value to the project and to the organization), I'll stick around.  I'll share some knowledge.  I'll learn a few new tricks myself.  And more importantly, I'll maintain my street cred.

What are YOU doing to maintain your credibility in your field?

Past The Romance

Hairy_Valentine Any blogger can write a gushy post on Valentine's Day.

It takes a "real man" to write about the day after.

Seriously, folks, we can talk about loving our jobs, our projects, and our accomplishments when "love is in the air" and everyone holds hands and sings at the end of the day.

But how do we feel the love when the romance is dead and all the happy gushy feelings are on the 75% off clearance shelf?

What do you do when the love is dead in our workplace?  Well, here are a few ideas:

  • Ask why and how - what path did your work environment take to get here? Was it one toxic co-worker? Is it a bad policy? Did the project not make sense? Can you isolate the root cause(s) of the dissatisfaction?
  • How long - has the current environment always existed? If not, how long did it take to go downhill? Was it overnight (it rarely is)? Can you still reverse the trend? (If so, see the bullet point above.)
  • Control freak - do you and your colleagues have control over the culture and environment? Can you call a "come to Jesus" meeting, or is it the elephant in the room of which everyone is aware but nobody wants to discuss? If you can't fix it all, what steps are in your control? Will it take baby steps or a quantum leap?
  • Feet to the fire - ally yourself with others who want change and hold each other accountable for the behavior shifts that need to occur. Set timelines and goals. Touch base and figure out where you're slipping.
  • What have you done for me lately - there may be some who don't want you to succeed or who feel threatened. If you can demonstrate you are moving in the right direction, you can champion your own changes.
  • Keep the romance alive - workplace changes are like marriage.  If you only wait until special occasions like retreats and appraisals (or anniversaries and birthdays), you will be in trouble.  Culture is a day-to-day personal branding decision.

Start feeling the love again... at least for the next 364 days.

His Name Is Ken

Ken_doll Maybe it was a byproduct of too much togetherness over Christmas break.  Perhaps it was caused by a decade of being outnumbered by the fairer gender around home.  Could have been too much eggnog.  Who knows?

My younger daughter got a new Barbie dollhouse from Santa.  So of course, every Barbie had to come and inhabit this new abode.  It was like big plastic sorority (complete with all of the requisite drama whenever that many Barbies get together).  And - oh yeah - there was one Ken doll amid all of them.  All was well.  The girls were playing together.  They were having fun.  They were using their imaginations.  And then the fateful event occurred:  my older daughter asked my younger daughter for the Ken doll:  "Abby, would you please pass me the boy Barbie?"

I snapped.

"Excuse me?" I started.  "Did you just call him a 'boy Barbie'?  His... name... is... KEN!  Yes, he may be the ONLY boy in a sea of plastic estrogen... BUT HE HAS A NAME!!!  HE HAS AN IDENTITY!!  He is NOT a boy Barbie.  He has NOT been sucked into the vortex of pink."

I found three pairs of eyes staring at me in shock at my tirade.  I shrugged and went back to my little cubbie of testosterone, my small corner of maleness.

In a sea of consistency and sameness, we all have a little bit of Ken in us, don't we?  We all have a personal brand just waiting to get out, but everybody else wants us to wear their personal brand.  We want to convert our gray cubicles into a tropical rainforest.  We want to wear brightly colored polka-dots in a sea of navy blue pinstripes.  We long to be different, to be significant, to be noticed.  In short, we cringe at the thought of being called a "boy Barbie."

So what are YOU going to do in 2010 to brand yourself?  Or are you just another boy Barbie?

But What Does It LOOK Like?


“I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.” -E.B White.

When the Register published their interview with me a few weeks ago, I included this as one of my favorite quotes.

Since then, a few of my friends have challenged me:  OK, how do you change the world?  Exactly what does it look like?

It does sound rather lofty, doesn't it?  I've always been one who wanted to make a difference.  When I first read Steve Farber's work, it brought it into a little more focus.  Changing the world is not a grandiose scheme (at least it doesn't have to be).

Case in point:  Last month when my mom was in the hospital, I was walking across the skywalk with a new dad who was about to take his daughter home.  I was sharing how much fun it was to have daughters, and he confessed he had been hoping for a son and wasn't quite sure about raising a girl.  My response:  "Are you kidding??  From here on out, you will be known as Prince Daddy.  If you play your cards right, there will always be one female on the planet who thinks you are the coolest, smartest, neatest, funnest, and bestest man out there.  You will be the benchmark by which she judges every other male.  You will melt when she kisses your cheek.  You will learn the backstory and bio of every Disney Princess.  Your heart has been physically removed from your chest and now is her permanent squeaky toy.  You will NEVER know a world without unconditional love."  His entire demeanor changed, as he admitted that nobody else was telling him that.  Now, maybe I changed the world (at least for that one little girl) by telling him that.  Maybe I didn't.  But I tried.  I hope her world will be different and he'll be an amazing father.

Today I visited my uncle probably for the last time.  I talked with his wife and his kids and his grandkids.  I've known him as part of my life for almost 43 years.  Will he be written up in history books?  Nope.  Will there ever be a Ken Burns documentary on him?  Most likely not.  Did he change the world?  You bet he did!  He left a legacy of love, hard work, commitment, loyalty, and fairness that those around him will carry forward.  The world around him changed because of his actions and character.  And he affected other worlds.  And those worlds affected still others.

Changing the world, surprisingly, looks a lot like living your life... day to day... with purpose... with focus... and with love.  And there are days when looking at yourself in the mirror at the end of it all... and smiling... is really the best accomplishment.

Are You a Good Consultant Or a Bad Consultant?

Eddie_haskellIn my profession as a consultant, I've found that the mere term conjures up some very powerful images.  There's the do-nothing-cut-and-run consultant who promised one thing but couldn't (or wouldn't) deliver.  There's the parasite consultant who burrows in and makes himself (or herself) into a can't-live-without-commodity.  There's the Eddie Haskell consultant who ingratiates himself to the higher-ups but treats the rest of the staff with disdain.

Then there is the consultant who adds value, makes himself obsolete and gets the heck out of the way so the organization can accomplish what it must.

Dorothy_glindaI've always liked the line from the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy first arrives in Munchkinland and Glinda's first question to her is, "Are you a good witch or a bad witch?"  Even Munchkins are curious about new outsiders.

All consultants have to bear the weight of the reputation of our profession.  I've also been in the hiring position of consultants, and here are some of the things I look for:

  • What have been the length of the contracts at prior companies?  If the length don't match the types of projects, it sends up a red flag.  If a consultant jumps from client to client after a few weeks, they may be damaged goods.  If they have overstayed their welcome and lasted for years at a given client, I know that getting rid of them may require an exterminator.
  • What is the consultants frame of reference when talking?  Do they ask more questions about you and your needs as a potential client?  Or do they talk about themselves and their capabilities and how great they are.
  • What are their accomplishments vs. their contributions?  It's subtle, but did the consultant play a lead role at getting things done or were they a contributor who held a much smaller piece of the puzzle.
  • Are they good story-tellers?  Being able to provide tangible examples from their past about handling past client challenges is a big plus for me.  If they are talking in generalities, I get nervous about what they can provide.  Their ability to tell stories also tells me if they can be a good presenter in front of an audience.
  • While it's not fair to judge a consultant based on a salesperson, I do look at the sales staff.  What appears to be the relationship between the consultant and the salesperson?  Are they partners or do they appear to be adversarial?  Body language and word choice are two good indicators here.  Also, is the salesperson looking to make a buck to fund his or her next sports car, or are they really looking to build a long-term relationship with you as a client?

Just like witches, not all consultants are wicked.  In this soft economy of selecting the best person who can provide you the most value for your consulting dollar, it's important to get what you pay for.

What are your consultant-hiring best practices?

The Brand of Carpe Factum

KnotI'm very fortunate to know, not one, but three amazing brand consultants all living right here in Des Moines.  I've talked about Mike Wagner and Drew McLellan plenty of times, and have shared how much they have done for me and my career.  Last week, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Mark True of REL.  Little did I know that the lunch was going to begin with a pop quiz.

"Tim," he began.  "I thought I knew what you did with this project management stuff.  But you focus on accomplishment and a whole lot of other issues.  What is your brand story?  How do you tie all these things together?"

It's pretty simple.  Carpe Factum is about accomplishment - always has been, always will be.  But there are three elements of focus here:

  • Systems Thinking - How do you design your accomplishments?
  • Project Management - How do you achieve your accomplishments?
  • Office Politics - How do you remove obstacles blocking your accomplishments?

All three are interdependent.  All three are interrelated.  All three help you seize the accomplishment.  I think Mark gave me an 'A' on the pop quiz because my answer seemed to appease him (and when it comes to branding, he's not an easy man to appease; he asks really tough questions and expects good answers).

What about you?  Do you know how all of your products and services tie together to support your brand story?  How would you do with Mark's pop quiz?

It's a Mall World After All

I'm a big fan of dichotomy and paradox.  The more opposite and contradictory things appear to be, the more they seem to appeal to me.  I've always been drawn to contrast, though.  Not conflict, mind you... contrast.  Maybe that's why the only TV show (at least, the only show that is purely driven by entertainment) that's grabbed my attention in the past five years has been Dexter... imagine, a law enforcement forensics expert who's also a serial killer.  Like I said, it's that kind of paradox that just grabs my attention.

Mall_merle_hayFor those who have been reading my blog for a while, you may remember the disastrous experience my students and I had with Merle Hay Mall last year during an exercise for my Creativity class.  The security guards and the mall's general manager couldn't have been any more unpleasant if they'd tried.  So I have to admit I was holding my breath when the class exercise came around this year.  I decided not to give Merle Hay another chance to win me over, so I thought I'd give Jordan Creek Town Center a try.

Wow!  Was I bowled over by the difference in reaction.  Martha, a delightful person in the mall management office, was not only friendly about my request to let my students hold their scavenger hunt at her mall, she simply effused enthusiasm.  Then she sent me their "Electronic scavenger hunt permission request form," and I almost fell out of my seat.  Instead of chasing away potential customers like Merle Hay Mall did, Jordan Creek proactively anticipated the need.  Within one business day, I had another positively enthusiastic response.

MalljordancreektowncenterDuring the exercise, the security guards were friendly and helpful with my students, providing them with direction and assistance.  The mall's store employees joined in the fun as well.  The result?  My students this year felt like the experience was a great enhancement to the classroom learning experience.  By contrast, my students last year felt defeated by the experience.  Same exercise.  Very different results.

What is my point of sharing this story?  Well, Merle Hay Mall is asking the government for tax-funded grants to upgrade their mall so they can "stay competitive" against places like Jordan Creek.  Maybe they are trying to solve the wrong problem.  Perhaps a replacement of mall management might be a good first step to draw in customers and make the place more inviting and fun.  I know enough community stakeholders who have had equally dismal experiences in dealing with the mall staff.  It could be that a shift in focus would better serve the mall - and the taxpayers - in seizing their desired accomplishments.

What do you think?

Eh... Whatever

Talk_to_the_handThis morning I groaned as the thermometer read a whopping twelve degrees BELOW ZERO.  Hence, after dropping the girls off to start their day, I decided to treat myself to a bagel before my morning conference call.  I stopped into my friendly neighborhood Panera, and was mildly annoyed to see a CENERGY van parked lopsided across what normally would have been 2-3 parking spaces in front of the building.  I parked further out than I cared to in the coma-inducing arctic cold and trekked into the building to get my morning treat.

On my way out, the driver of the van in question was getting into his vehicle.  "Nice parking," I commented to his obvious lack of skill.  I tried to make it sound playful and teasing, but I'll admit there was probably an underlying tone of annoyance.  His response?  "I slid on the ice on the way in and just figured... eh... whatever."  Then he was in his van and off and running, oblivious to any inconvenience he may have caused anybody else.

Now, I don't know what CENERGY does.  I don't recall ever spending money with them.  However, if I'm representing my company's brand in any capacity, it's certainly NOT going to be accompanied with an "Eh... whatever."  While I'm a law-abiding citizen and a fairly even-keeled guy, if I'm wearing Drake gear or Carpe Factum wear especially, I make sure that I'm on my absolute best behavior.  My brand is showing to the world, and the last thing I want is somebody thinking that "eh... whatever" is good enough for me.  Brian Phillips has a great article about quality and apathy and making claims.  He makes a good argument that there are times when good enough is, really, good enough.  But I'd be willing to bet that not even Brian would let his clients hear him saying "Eh... whatever."

Now, a small parking indiscretion on a frigid day really doesn't warrant a major chastising in my book.  But I wonder about the values of this technician.  Does he approach his job with an "eh...whatever" attitude?  Or (to his defense) was it just too cold in his book to fix the problem for a quick trip into the shop for breakfast on-the-go?  I can understand that.  But I really hope it is not indicative of a larger organizational-cultural issue.  I'd hate to think of an entire organization of "eh... whatever" drones serving the public at large.

There Are Some Who Call Me "Tim"

TimenchaI've always taken issue with my name.  Tim Johnson.  There's only... what... a zillion of us on the planet?  No offense to my parents... they sort of came with the name "Johnson" so that wasn't really up for debate.  And the name "Tim" was a relatively commonly regularly-overused name back in the mid-sixties... why not?  Actually, as I've gotten older, I have found I prefer my given name, Timothy, over the shortened version, but still... not helping much in the distinguishing factor.

Let's review, shall we?  In the Tim/Timothy Johnson category, there are a Senator from South Dakota, a Congressman from Illinois, the Director of Antz and Over The Hedge (now I know why I liked that movie so much), the producer of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, the medical editor for Good Morning America, and the Correspondent for the Washington Bureau's Beijing Office.  A few of the lesser known in the all-inclusive club of Tim Johnsons are an associate music professor at Ithaca college, a linebacker (for either Baltimore or Oakland, but he's not showing up on either roster), the captain of the New Zealand Wheel Backs Wheelchair Rugby Team.  And let's not forget the rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird... his name was Tim Johnson also.

Growing up, there was a Tim Johnson a grade ahead of me who managed to get into more trouble than Imus at a Diversity conference.  During my undergrad years, there was a sociology professor, and we got each other's mail on a regular basis.  There's around two dozen of us in the Des Moines metro phone book, with whom I've been confused on the basis of credit ratings, arrests/legal issues, mail, and death (yes, I supposedly died a couple of months ago, prompting a plethora of ads for memorial stones to arrive at our house).

AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRG!!!!  How does one develop a personal brand in a crowd this large?  (Minus, of course, the recently deceased one.)

Two things:

  1. I blog.  This alone has catapulted me to the top page Google searches on both Tim Johnson and Timothy Johnson.
  2. I am who I am.  Before I was hired on at Drake, I ran into Dr. Delaney Kirk (who was instrumental in my hiring).  She was my professor way back when, and we had not seen each other or talked in about six years.  When I commented my surprise that she remembered me among all the names and faces, she gave me that deadpan look for which she is famous and simply replied, "Tim, when somebody rides a skateboard into my classroom as part of their final presentation, I don't soon forget them."  I guess my personality creates its own unique brand...  (lest we forget the bunny suit)... enough said.

What about the rest of you?  Even those with less-than-common names... what are you doing to promote your personal brand?  Will people remember you in six years?  What about in six days?  Six minutes?  Just some thoughts to ponder on a Saturday night.

Thinking Out of the Box Set

During last night's lecture in the Creativity for Business course, the conversation shifted to story-telling as a means of getting in touch with your creative side.  We're all story-tellers, whether we know it or not.  Every time we create a PowerPoint presentation or write a status report, we're really telling a story.  One of my favorite blogospheric story-tellers is Valeria Maltoni.  Maybe it's her Italian heritage or maybe it's just her natural self... whatever it is, each of her blog posts weaves a fascinating story, allowing us to see the fabric of her soul as well as the business point she's making.

One of Valeria's posts from last November continues to jump around in my mind.  In it, she describes some of her favorite musicians from her native region in Italy.  I loved her introduction to her post:

"Each conversation follows a rhythm. There are the exchange of the speaker's tempo, which includes pauses, the listener's attention range, and the pitch of the words to the tune this rich combination stimulates. When we connect with someone, the rhythm seems effortless as we are immersed in the flow together. Every so often, there is a special someone who manages to arrange a different kind of experience and the result changes us forever."

Anyway, back to last night's class.  As we talked about the role of story-telling, I asked my students if their life were made into a movie, what would the soundtrack sound like?  What artists and songs would be included?  My personal soundtrack CD cover might look like this:

AlbumcoverThe next point really surprised them.  What would happen if they were asked to create a sound track for their project?  For their department?  For their division?  For their company?  What songs would be included?  What genres?  What artists would they select to represent their culture?

I'm not going to tag specific people and make a new meme virus.  But I'd like to challenge a few of my fellow bloggers to track-back to me and share with their readers their personal or their project soundtrack.

Muy Logo

Those who have exchanged emails with me recently have noticed a different look and feel to my tag line.  Yes, I have a new company name, new logo, and new title.  We'll get to those in a second.  First, let's back up.  I have a little story to share.

DpsAlmost four years ago, one of my former students approached me with an opportunity to do some leadership training at her company.  While I'm an independent consultant, I had been subcontracting to the same company almost exclusively for a couple of years.  However, I had not given much thought to branding my own consulting.  With this opportunity to do something on my own, I figured I'd better get a logo.  After all, that's all brands are, right?  Just find a cool logo.  (Boy, did I have a lot to learn.)  Anyway, Delta Project Solutions was born.

Fast forward a couple of years.  I had the opportunity to meet Mike Wagner.  We were both friends with Delaney Kirk, and she just knew the two of us would hit it off.  She (as always) was right.  One day, after Mike and I had become better acquainted, he asked me about how I had arrived at Delta Project Solutions.  I sort of hummed and hawed and wasn't really able to articulate a solid answer about it.  He then challenged me about some of my passions... what really made me tick as a consultant?  That I was able to answer quite easily.  I enjoy project management because of the thrill of completing something big and complex.  I'm passionate about creativity because of the excitement of seeing somebody create something new and fun and innovative.  I'm fascinated by office politics because of their impacts in helping (or hindering) people who are seeking to reach a goal.  And I love systems thinking and process improvement because it's rewarding to see my clients evolve into something better, using all the "parts and pieces" at their disposal.

Carpe_factum_2Mike scrutinized me for a minute, as if he were a doctor trying to diagnose a patient.  Then he said one of the most profound things I've ever heard in my career, "Tim, you are wasting your time marketing yourself as a project manager."  At first I was offended.  After all, I'd been consulting in project management for ages.  I'd served on the local PMI board.  I was certified in project management.  Who was this guy to tell me I wasn't a project manager?  Before I had a chance to argue with him, he finished his thought, "You're an accomplishment manager.  You love accomplishing things and helping other people accomplish things.  Sometimes those accomplishments are projects, but not always.  Now go think about your story in the context of accomplishment."

Wow.  My company was barely two years old, and already it was having an identity crisis.  So I played with the idea.  I got out my scented markers.  I did some mind-mapping.  I toyed around with some concepts.  Mike's words played around in my head, haunting and taunting me.  What was my story?!?!  Who said I needed to have a story?  I just wanted a cool logo and some customers that could help me earn a living.  However, in my gut and in my soul, I knew Mike was right.  After all, the projects on which I'd been working up to that point had mostly been cubicle-dwelling.  The few projects which had really excited and energized me had encompassed all of my passions... all of which culminated in... well... ACCOMPLISHMENT.

That's when the concept of "Carpe Factum" was born.  I was having a conversation with friends about the idea of accomplishment.  How it brought life and energy to people.  Then somebody made an interesting comment about something in Latin, which another person jumped on to tease him about using a "dead language."  As you've read before in this blog, my synapses connected in an odd and unusual way.  Living concept.  Dead language.  What an amazing paradox.  To express the idea of pouncing upon an accomplishment in Latin.

Carpefactum2Quite a few months have passed.  The blog began.  My first book was published.  My second book is on the way.  It became time to let Carpe Factum become the identify of the company.  It was time to really give it the overhaul it deserved.  After going through all of the paperwork with the state, I worked with a wonderful design company who really gave visual life to my story.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.   You'll be seeing a few changes to this site over the coming weeks, but I wanted to give you all a glimpse of the story behind the changes.  A brand isn't about a logo (if you think it is, then you are "muy logo").  It's about a story.  More specifically, your brand is about your story.  You're the story-teller, and your customers are your audience.  The logo is merely a backdrop.  I owe Mike a lot more than he knows in helping me discover my brand.  If you find that your career, your professional life, your company, and your brand are lacking something, you might want to attend Mike's workshop on the Branding Imperative this Saturday.  Who knows?  You might find you have a really cool story to tell as well.

What Does A Good Evangelist Go For These Days?

BillysundayI read one of Mike Sansone's recent posts with keen interest.  It seems his love affair with Panera is coming to a rocky end.  Of course, I could have told him that they were all a bunch of WUHOTs, but it's an unspoken rule around guys that you don't diss another guy's "significant other" to his face... even if that significant other is an underperforming restaurant that doesn't care about its customers.

It's still shocking that Panera would treat someone like Mike so poorly, though.  Don't they realize who he is?  The King of Conversation.  The Lord of Links.  The Duke of Dialogue.  The Prince of Pings.  The Baron of Blogs.  And more importantly, he's been one of their chief evangelists for many months.  He's been the pulpit-pounding preacher of the Panera gospel.

Evangelist1This reminds me of a past situation with one of my Drake MBA classes.  We had the opportunity to pilot some new whiz-bang software.  The owner of the company was anxious to break into the educational market, and the software had some functionality that my students could leverage, so it seemed like the perfect fit.  I worked with the owner directly for weeks prior to class.  We communicated expectations to the students, and all of the stakeholders were excited about the possibilities.

Then disaster struck.  On the first day of class, the software company owner decided he was only going to support one of the project teams, instead of the entire class.  Hence, 80% of my students would be without technical support on new and unfamiliar software (which turned out to be not nearly as intuitive as originally claimed).  When I communicated workarounds to this issue for my students, he flew off the handle (publicly), accusing me of undermining the integrity of the pilot and his own credibility.  His unprofessional communications soon became evident to the students (by his doing, not by mine), and all of the students quickly ceased using his software and also ceased all conversation with him.  That's when it got really interesting.  He started name calling, accusing Midwesterners of being stuck in their ways and not willing to embrace change.  Over all, he just left a bad taste in everybody's mouth.

During the final class debrief, we talked about how we had turned the pilot-gone-bad into some great teachable moments for the students.  We talked about how this owner could have turned things around by acting professionally, apologizing, and working collaboratively with me and the other stakeholders.  Moreover, many students commented what a lost opportunity this company had.  Some of them said they initially liked what the software had to offer, but the owner's behavior changed their minds.  This was a class of over 30 students who represented Des Moines' largest employers.  And many of them went back to their employers and communicated never to allow this software to ever darken their doorways.  One comment in class summed it up best, "(He) had the opportunity to make 35 evangelists; he did that but they're all communicating a different gospel."

One comment.  One screw-up.  One action.  One offense.  Credibility and customer commitment are delicate balancing acts.  We'll see if Panera can pull their collective heads out of their (ahem) ovens before the evangelical movement passes them by.

Do You Own Your Project?

Au12prize1bMy blog buddy, Phil Gerbyshak, is moving into his new house today after years of apartment dwelling.  Congratulations to Phil and Kim for taking that big leap into home ownership, and I wish you both many years of happiness and prosperity as you "make it great" at home!

Phil's move from renter to owner started me thinking about project managers and other project team members.  How many people on projects are "just renting space" rather than actually owning their projects?  Ownership is at the heart of the Carpe Factum mentality.  One cannot seize an accomplishment if one doesn't have a feeling of ownership over the results and the process to get there.

Borrowing a page from Mike Wagner's play book on brand ownership and also looking at the four phases of the project life cycle, let's see how well you're doing on project ownership.

  1. Is your Project Initiation RELEVANT?  Have you done the due diligence to select a project that is important enough to the organization to be on the books?  Many organizations have a lot of "really swell ideas" that are merely renting space on the project radar screen but nobody seems to care because they don't contribute to the organization's mission and strategy.  Make sure that your project fits BEFORE it becomes a project.
  2. Is your Project Planning DIFFERENT?  Too many project managers and executive sponsors rush into the execution phase, barely armed with a task list because the perceived pressure to get things done is so great.  When writing Race Through The Forest, much energy was spent detailing the initiation and planning phases.  If a robust project plan is created, a strong risk management structure is implemented, and a mature infrastructure of documentation and standards and change management is communicated and followed, your project will be noticed for being different from the others.  You'll be managing your project instead of merely reacting to it.
  3. Is your Project Execution TRUTHFUL?  Because few people spend time on adequate planning, considerable fiction-writing talent is wasted on project issues logs and status reports.  A true project owner will admit when things are not going well, not to "indict the guilty" but to identify the problem and solve it.  Be up front with your project stakeholders; your integrity and reputation depend on it.
  4. Is Your Project Closure INVITING?  You and your team have spent all this time managing the project and now it's time to implement it.  Have you adequatly involved the users and stakeholders of this project solution so that they feel involved and invited to indulge in the bounty of your efforts?  Many projects fail during this phase because the project team forgot to invite those who would be using the project solution by providing change management, communication, and training.

Is Your Project YOURS?  Do you own it?  Or are you merely renting space in a cubicle until something better comes along?

NOTE:  Mike Wagner will be presenting a workshop on Owning your Project Brand at the Project Management Institute Central Iowa Chapter's Professional Development Day on October 20, 2006.  I would highly recommend you register for the event and come and hear him and many other great speakers.

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