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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.

What Was It Like Back Then?

One of my daughters recently asked me what work was like "back then" (meaning when I started my career).

Enter: one of those dreamy flashback expressions.

Thursday, June 1st... of 1989.

That was the day I started my post-undergraduate career at a "big box" financial services company here in Des Moines. Fresh out of college with a degree in Business Management and minors in Math/Computer Science and in Accounting, I was optimistic and idealistic as I entered the corporate world. I had been hired as a COBOL programmer in their IT department. I was going to change the world in the land of beige fabric cubicles.

(Changing the world may have taken a few years after that... still working on that one... but I know I've made a positive dent here and there.)

I quickly learned that the kind, nurturing bosses we learned about in my management classes were spotty (my first so-called leadership would have made Satan blush). I learned how to pick my friends and alliances. I learned how much voices carry in the land of cubicles. I learned how to play a variety of office politics. I learned how to adapt... quickly. I learned how to spot opportunities (e.g., if your company is paying for 75% of your tuition, you take advantage of it and get your MBA). I learned how to manage personal setbacks (cancer still sucks). I learned that corporate Karma comes back to bite those who deserve it. I learned how to advocate for myself and what hills are (and aren't) worth dying on.

But mostly I learned how to learn. I learned how to listen. I learned how to read people and situations. I learned how to take points A and B and extrapolate to Z. I learned to hone my BS-o-meter. I learned how to say no. I learned to brand and diversify my career. I learned the world is A LOT larger than that young college grad could have ever imagined. I learned that things come full circle (like having many of my first coworkers at my current client, or having my daughter dating the son of another coworker).

The work environment has changed tremendously in the past three decades. Have all the lessons I've learned been easy? Heavens, no. Have they been worth it? Yes, and then some.

To all of you fresh college grads entering the workforce, I hope you have a great time adjusting your world view. I hope you learn some of these same lessons. I hope some of the lessons come easily, and I hope you have to learn some of them the hard way. I hope you remember what it was like at the beginning of your journey. It's fun to look back. 

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?

I Knew I Shoulda Taken That Left Turn At Albuquerque

I always enjoyed how Bugs Bunny got into his messes.  Of course, being the "male of the species" we don't tend to stop and ask directions.  It always seemed as though Albuquerque was the black-hole that sent him into all sorts of zany situations.

Where is YOUR Albuquerque?  (And no, it's probably not in New Mexico.)

Where is the point where a course correction is necessary?

Simply put, here are some pointers to determine when a course correction may be necessary:

  1. Listen to your gut - are you hearing more excuses and blame than results?  Are things "not quite right"?  Are you tossing and turning at night? These are indicators you may have missed your left turn.
  2. Check the data - find out what measures can support your instincts.  It's hard to argue against cold, hard facts.
  3. Admit you are going in the wrong direction - this is a big one.  If you can't admit your project or department (or even your own career) missed the big carrot festival, then it's going to be hard to fix the problem.
  4. Backtrack - don't spend a lot of time on this one (i.e., playing the blame game).  If you can figure out where you went wrong, though, you can avoid it in the future.  In other words, find Albuquerque.
  5. Apologize to the wronged - swallow your ego and admit you made a mistake (even if it's just to yourself).  Asking forgiveness will help you build support for the next direction you take.  It's a big credibility booster.
  6. Determine the end game - where do you REALLY want to go?  What does the future state look like?  How soon do you need to be there?
  7. Identify your resources - who can help you get to the big carrot festival with no bull?  Use your subject matter experts.  People like to be asked.
  8. Start - too often we stay mired in mistakes... either out of shame or inertia.  If you know you're in the wrong place, do something about it.  Don't let it get worse.

As somebody who almost was gored at a bullfight in Mexico, I can honestly say that you really don't want to miss that left turn at Albuquerque.

Honey, I Think My Water Broke

LaurenThose were the words that started my day eight years ago today.  Of course, I had been sick as a dog the night before, and in my doped-up-on-anti-nausea-medication-at-2:45-in-the-morning stupor, my first response to my very expectant wife was "That's nice, dear."  Then the synapses connected.  Any sign of illness disappeared in a heartbeat as I moved into hyper-project-manager mode.  Of course, this was occurring 15 days before our scheduled due date.  First children are statistically late.  We hadn't packed our bags yet.  And even worse for a quasi-techie guy like me... We didn't yet know how to use our new video camera (which explains why the first footage of our first child was shot in "night vision").

Nevertheless, Lauren Elizabeth was destined to arrive on December 2, 1999 at 6:53 AM.  And my life has never been the same since.  At that moment, I attained a new title:  Dad.  It's a role that is a work-in-progress.  I've learned a lot in the past eight years, but it seems like the "education lab" remains open 24/7.  We're on the cusp of adolescence.  There are so many things to think about.  I never feel like I've arrived, and I doubt I ever will.  But that's a good thing in my book.  Complacency and parenthood really don't go well together.

Sometimes, I feel like my children teach me much more than I teach them.  We laugh and read and learn and hurt and cry and run and hug and create and giggle and whisper and shout and love.  And we do it over and over again.  We change the scenery and the mood and the characters and the plot... but the story's ending is always pretty happy.  Parenting is a great work of art on an ever-changing and never-ending canvas.  The only difference between parenting and painting is that the canvas can and does talk back.  It's about give-and-take.  Sometimes it's a win-win and other times it's a "Trust me; I'm doing this for your own good.  Still other times, it's painful enough to say, "You need to make the decision, but I'll be there to help you if you need it."

I know people who have been parenting a lot longer than I have.  They do it really darn well, and they make it look so easy.  They look like they've never shed a tear over worry or uncertainty or inadequacy.  I know that deep down somewhere there must be feelings of insecurity, but they don't show it.  But then I get the perfect affirmation from my daughters to let me know that I must be doing something right:  a hug and an "I love you, Daddy."  And I think back to my wife's life-changing words at 2:45 in the morning eight years ago.  And it feels good to be a parent.

(Happy Birthday, Lauren.  Today was your big day, but you gave me the greatest gift of all.)

Mind The Gap

Londonunderground Wow.... London was incredible!  I've accumulated enough information on British History to blog examples of project management and office politics for many posts to come.  The monarchy has nothing on modern-day corporations when it comes to running - or ruining - an organization (be it a Medieval land, a not-for-profit, or a huge conglomerate).

My wife was an incredible tour guide, packing in the truly must-see events and activities into 10 days.  I teased her a lot about the "vacation death march" but the trip would not have been the same without her knowledge of where to go and how to get there.

Mind_the_gap Speaking of how to get there, there was a sign on the London Underground to "Mind The Gap."  It's all part of a safety campaign to get people to pay attention when entering and exiting the train.  (Another thing I liked about the Brits; in America, we'd simply say "Caution!" or "Watch Out!"  They're much more polite about their admonitions.)  Of the millions upon millions who ride the subway each year, there were 53 injuries last year.  Not a bad average, but still not good enough for those managing "the tube."

Upon closer inspection, "mind the gap" is really more of a life philosophy than just a simple subway safety sign.  Each of us is someplace in life, and we're all probably trying to get somewhere else.  The gap is the distance between those two.  Failure to mind the gap means missed project deadlines and overdrawn budgets.  Failure to mind the gap also means unaccomplished goals and ignored dreams.

Underground_map For Londoners, the Underground is so second-nature that many of them don't even notice the gap... "minding" it is almost thoughtless.  Still, when somebody doesn't mind the gap, it can mean a subway line is down for hours and the other lines are clogged due to the overflow.  For those of us on life's journey, ignoring the gap comes with other consequences like missed opportunities and failed projects.

"Mind the gap."  Not a bad lesson from a subway station.

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Across The Pond

Bigben_1 My apologies for not posting more this week.  You see, I've been transported to a parallel universe since Wednesday and am trying to make heads-or-tails out of it.  Well, that's partially true.  I'm "on holiday" in London right now, and not being the travel hound, I'm figuring out a few things fast:

  • The "tube" subway system is very logical to navigate
  • They all say "toMAHto here and if you say "toMAYto" they look at you like you're from a parallel universe
  • The "look both ways before you cross the street" admonition from Mom applies doubly over here
  • London is a city of paradox:  old yet constantly reinventing; traditional yet trendy; relaxed yet bustling; utilitarian yet glitzy
  • I have no future as paparazzi:  one sighting of the Queen only yielded an average photograph of her backside.  What self-respecting magazine will buy a picture of Her Royal Highness's rear entering her car?
  • Make sure your carry-on luggage includes essentials for two days... especially if you're flying Northwest

There will be other lessons as well, but for the most part, it's been a wonderful adventure and a much needed get-away for the wife and me.  Will keep posting as I have time.

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Failure The picture is compliments of www.despair.com and for those of you who have not discovered it yet, it's a treasure trove of humor for those of us who have become a bit cynical to the culture of Successories lip service.  The reason for sharing this is to introduce you to a fun and informative blog.  Michael Krigsman was kind enough to backtrack to Carpe Factum this weekend from a recent post.  His blog, Rearranging the Deck Chairs (think Titanic) is a fun blogosphere romp through what is wrong with projects today.  Michael has some great insights, and I'm glad he introduced himself.  Have a great weekend.

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Resurrecting the Habit

Cybex After an extended hiatus caused by the realities of life, I decided it was time to get back into the habit of working out.  My workout schedule and routine, when set, are fairly consistent.  Wake up at 4:30, dressed and to the Y by 4:55, 100 ab crunches, 40 minutes on the exercise bike, come home, do the power cords, then get the kids and myself ready for our respective days.  Hence, my body has had to adjust to a new sleep schedule and relearn my old workout routine.  The two words that best describe my current existence are "ow" and "yawn."

(By the way, kudos to Rick, Cecilia, Steve, Mary, and the other folks working out at the Y at that ungodly hour for your warm reception back and your encouragement this week.  It's been great seeing all of you again and catching up.)

Project rigor is also a habit, and it can be a painful habit to adjust, but it's equally rewarding in the end when followed faithfully.  I was on a project a few years ago where I was working for an alarming scattered manager who informed me that she did not want me to write a weekly status report, monthly would do.  While I protested, she made it quite clear that it was not time she wanted "wasted" - there were other things to do.  Against my better judgment, I followed her lead.  When things "went south" on the project, she had me over a barrel as the needed documentation was not there.  I started doing weekly status reports as part of the project recovery and she terminated my contract as the frequent documentation surfaced the fact that she was the bottleneck of the project's problems (which explained her earlier resistance).  Oh well.  It was a good lesson learned.

Artifacts such as status reports, project plans, and issues logs are the lifeblood of a well-run project.  If your project is fully staffed with Carpe Factum poster children who are all over-achieving accomplishment-mongers and who trust and respect each other, then you can come and talk to me about relaxing the project rigor.  Now, where did I leave my heating pad?  Ow!

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