90% of project leadership involves communication.  Leadership skills that motivate people to reach both business and professional goals are critical to organizational and personal success.


View the PM World Journal online for my review of Adil Dalal’s book The 12 Pillars of Project Excellence.

24.02 20130

Learning the Code

Although in today’s market many people are looking for jobs, in the technology field, there is a shortage of talent.  Organizations need talent, rather than resources, because resources cost money, but talent adds value.  Despite a large pool of people looking for work, the market for the technically talented is tight… talent is usually employed elsewhere, and other companies are continually trying to poach our talent. In the face of stiff competition for talent, what should we do to keep our companies moving?  The answer lies in developing our own talent by hiring those with great potential and placing them in an optimal learning environment.  Established talent is expensive and hard to find; however, those promising candidates with great potential can quickly become invaluable in a learning environment. In his book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle talks about how people become fast learners—writers, musicians, math students, chess players, artists and athletes.  Coyle determines that the fastest learner in the world is the kid learning to ride a skateboard.    He describes a kid with a skateboard in hand that starts messing around and before you know it, he is mysteriously skilled without the aid of any coaches, instruction books or classrooms.  Why, you ask?  Coyle’s answer is feedback. Coyle points out that skateboarders learn so fast because they receive a stream of immediate and continuous high-quality feedback… every action creates an immediate and clear consequence.  Mistakes are detected quickly, patterns are intuited and the brain circuitry is quickly built.  Coyle notes that the problem most of the time at work and school is that the feedback we receive isn’t timely or clear.  This lack of feedback causes us to wander and get lost.  The way to develop talent in your organization is to create a superior feedback environment where the right signal is delivered in a timely way. Scrum provides a work environment of intense feedback… interpersonal, co-located  and timely.  Sitting close with workers allows constant conversations that prevent extended periods of work without new information passing between the team members.  Daily stand-ups help keep the team focused on the short-term two week sprint goal.  Demoing the results of the sprint to the product owner at the end of the sprint allows for immediate feedback from the business as to the acceptability and usability of the product created.  The business owner also has the opportunity to take customer feedback and switch the direction of the team on an every other week basis.  At the end of the sprint, the team sits together and talks about ways to improve…discussing what went right and what went wrong.  There is no annual performance review, rather the review happens every two weeks.  This type of interpersonal, timely feedback helps create very usable talent in an organization in a short period of time. As Coyle points out in his book The Talent Code, the same rule applies no matter what industry--the more timely, vivid, accurate feedback you get, the more skill you can build. The scrum framework allows organizations to create a vivid, timely feedback loop.  Fast learners in such an environment will become our most valuable resource.  When we identify the potential in our candidates, we can help them become established talent, and if we provide the right environment, we will produce an environment that retains the talent.            

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02.01 20130

A Cup of Kindness

The end of a year makes us reflective of the past and brings hopeful thoughts for the future.  Hearing Robert Burn’s poem “Auld Lang Syne” represents to many people an act of catharsis, allowing them to release themselves from the past, but the poem also offers an alternative solution to forgetting the past…  “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind”, or should we “take a cup of kindness yet” and toast the auld lang syne?” Many people celebrate the New Year with the tradition of forming New Year’s resolutions.  New Year’s resolutions are used as a way to try to rid ourselves of bad habits…we swear to move past them and never think of them again, but this always is harder than it sounds.  Often a New Year’s resolution doesn’t make it to February…why?  I believe it is because we start the year saying to ourselves what we should not repeat, what we should not do; instead, we should find what is right in our world and vow to continue with that…dwell on the good memories and make more of them. Someone in my life used to talk a great deal about the interesting concept of negative target acquisition.  The concept of negative target acquisition is used to teach people to fly.  The concept speaks of when you focus on the obstacles, then you are more likely to hit them…you should focus on the path not the obstacle.  When you fly towards a tree, if you say to yourself “don’t hit the tree, don’t hit the tree,” then subconsciously you stir towards the tree instead of away from it because it is what is occupying your mind.  Rather, you should say to yourself “lift up and fly to the blue sky, fly to the blue sky,” then your focus immediately shifts to what it takes to be successful.  Dwelling on what is right puts us in the position to aim for limitless possibilities. In the Agile business world, the process of New Year catharsis happens every two weeks.  Retrospectives are an important ceremony in the Agile environment, where at the end of a sprint of work, the team stops to reflect on what went wrong and what went right, both the positives and the negatives.  To be agile means to be adept at change.  Agility requires constant reflection and adjustment, but retrospectives can become like our New Year’s resolutions…just a tradition with little hope of meaningful change.  The ceremony can become a tool to beat ourselves up about things we would like to change but quickly give up.  I believe we should use this time of retrospection to give equal weight to what we are doing right, to focus on the blue sky and to continue on a path moving upward.  We should focus on what went right in the past two weeks and continue that, but this time with even more momentum.  Let’s use retrospectives to move to places that we have never been, instead of ruminating on what is not useful. When we point out specific items we are doing right, then we can focus on repeating them.  To be effective we must look for ways to retain the positive of what we are doing and instill it as a part of the character of our group.  If we solely focus on the negative…not eating those extra calories or not sitting on the coach instead of exercising…we quickly lose our resolve and go back to our old way of being.  To be real, we must focus on what we are doing right and reinforce it within our group, so that we no longer experience negative target acquisition. Both in our personal lives and in business, we will be most successful when we open the door to let out the old and the bad, but primarily focus on keeping the good and building upon it, while letting in the new.  Let’s toast what was good and resolve to keep it with us to guide us to a better future.  Top of mind is what to do right, not what was done wrong.  Take a cup of kindness for what was right.  Celebrate the positive and resolve to continue with it.  Join me in resolving to fly up toward the blue sky.  Let’s place our focus on staying the positive path. Cheers!    

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08.12 20120

All You Need is Love

As the holiday season approaches, our thoughts often times become nobler than they are during the rest of the year, and we turn our hearts and minds to the celebration of love and respect for fellow man.  Milton Mayeroff defined love on a personal level as  “the selfless promotion of the growth of the other.”  Mayeroff stated that “when you are able to help others grow to become the best people they can be, you are being loving---and you, too, grow.”  Showing love is critical to finding happiness in our personal lives; however, surprisingly to some, love also has tremendous significance in a business environment. This concept of love and business is detailed in a book I read a while ago that had a huge impact on my thoughts about business interactions.  The book, called “Love is the Killer Appby Tim Sanders, defines love in business terms and directs us to take the spirit of love into our everyday work lives. Sanders definition of “bizlove” states that it is “the act of intelligently and sensibly sharing your intangibles with your bizpartners.”  “Bizlove” is about creating value for your business partners, where “the value of you inside a situation is greater than the value without you.” Sanders promotes that the “bizlove” intangibles most valuable to your “bizpartners” include knowledge, networks, and compassion.  Sanders’ first intangible involves learning to not only “value-add,” but more specifically to “knowledge-add.”  Sanders defines knowledge as everything that you have learned and continue to learn while you are doing your job and all you have taught yourself by reading every moment you can find the time.  Sanders further details that knowledge is every piece of relevant data and information that you can accumulate through observation, experience and conversation; however, he points out that knowledge is most easily obtained through books.  A person who continues learning is growing in value in the marketplace and maintaining his or her relevance in the work environment. Sanders’ second valuable intangible is networks.  A person’s network includes his or her entire web of relationships.  Sanders notes that even if we accumulate all of the knowledge in the world, if we have no one to share it with, then it is of no value.   Our knowledge is only valuable when it is shared with our networks.  According to Sanders, if you organize and leverage your relationships as a network, you will generate long-lasting value beyond bank accounts.  The Law of Network Effects states that the value of a network explodes with membership and that explosion exponentially grows as new members are added.  The people we know lead us to new opportunities. Sanders’ third and final intangible is compassion.  While knowledge and networks are built over time, compassion is immediately open to all because everyone can share with others how much we care about them.  According to Sanders,   “the ability to involve ourselves emotionally in the support of another person’s growth” demonstrates our humanity.  Compassion entails celebrating people’s accomplishments and/or showing sympathy for someone’s problems.  Information, both positive and negative, about people can spread very quickly in today’s business environment. Others perceptions of us as human beings determine our success because people have choices about who they work for and about who they buy services from.  Sanders remarks that it is not always important what people think of you, but it is important how people feel about you.  People long for compassion, and the tougher times are, the more important that it becomes to show your humanity.  As the world becomes more competitive, we compete for people’s emotions along with their business. At this time of year, it is important to remember to nurture the business relationships around us—coworkers, customers, and business partners. When we fail to nurture the relationships around us, we miss the opportunity to prosper and to find contentment and joy in our work environments.  Tim Sanders believes that the “kill-or-be-killed” mentality does not take us far into today’s business environment.  The better approach is to spread love by using every available moment to increase your knowledge, to connect with people and to spread love with intelligent enthusiasm and compassion.   As we move forward into a season of celebration, I recently was reminded how important it is to be passionate about the present, hopeful for the future and forgetful of the past. “Bizlove” demonstrates such emotions through sharing---knowledge, networks and compassion with those around us.  The business world of today rewards “smart, generous and kind” coworkers, customers and business partners.  

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09.11 20120

A Tale of Agility

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

One of my favorite children’s books is called, The Three Questions, based upon a story by Leo Tolstoy.  In the story, a young boy wants to understand the best way to conduct himself and to find a way to always know the right thing to do. The boy wants to be good and seeks to understand (1) When is the best time to do things? (2) Who is the most important one? (3) What is the right thing to do? In the story, the boy first seeks advice from his three close friends, and then, after being given conflicting advice, seeks advice from a wise old friend to answer his three questions about life. The boy’s questions are universal questions, and we can draw parallels of these questions with those we ask ourselves as we go to work each day… how can I meet all my deadlines, who is the most important one to please of all my stakeholders, and how should I conduct myself at work?  There is much debate in the project world about priorities and how to set them for projects--- Should goals reach far into the future or be kept within a short window? Who should we work to please on our projects…management or the customer? How should we accomplish goals…by authoritarian means or with participative styles?  To address these questions, I have adapted this story to the context of the state of project management in companies today.  Here is the story as I tell it… Once there was a Project Manager who wanted to understand the best way to run projects and always do the right thing.  In order to select a methodology to utilize in his career, he decided that he needed answers to three questions:  (1) When is the best time to do things?  (2) Who is the most important one? (3) What is the right thing to do?  To obtain answers to his questions, the Project Manager asked three of his friends for advice.  The first friend was a project manager who relied upon traditional waterfall methodology.  The second friend utilized iterative development processes, and the third friend used scrum methodology. The Project Manager approached his first friend with the question of when is the best time to do things?  The first friend replied that to know the best time, one must plan in advance.  The second friend responded that to know the best time one must watch and pay close attention.  The third friend replied that to know the best time, one is not able to pay attention to everything himself so he needs a pack to keep watch and help decide what to do. For the second question of who is the most important one, the waterfall friend answered that the most important ones are the ones highest up in the organization.  The iterative development friend replied that the most important ones know how to fix problems, and the third scrum friend replied that the most important ones are the customers.  For the third question of what is the right thing to do, the first friend answered that it is meeting baselines; the second answered that it is having fun at work, and the third answered that it is following the rules. After contemplating his friends’ very different world-views, the Project Manager decides to seek the wisdom of a trusted mentor.  When he arrives at the wise mentor’s office, he finds his mentor writing a 4-year project plan for the implementation of a project supporting the long-range revenue objectives of senior management.  Seeing the tremendous amount of work laying in front of his mentor, the Project Manager begins to help his mentor with his work. As the Project Manager and his mentor are working on the project plan, a distressed product owner can be heard talking outside of the office.  The product owner has learned that a customer needs to significantly change the software that is being developed in the 4-year plan; the features being developed do not meet the customer’s needs.  The Project Manager rushes out of the office and gets the details and comes back, saying that the plan will need to change to meet the customer’s new requirements.  The pair immediately begins to work on a new phased development plan to address the customer’s desired changes, with the first phase being completed within the next 12 months. Again, a few hours later, the Project Manager and his mentor are interrupted by a commotion outside the office.  This time the Project Manager learns that the product owner just found out that the customer will not need the software that is being developed any longer; the competition has already built a competing product at a cheaper price.  The Project Manager returns to the office with the product owner and the development team, and the group sits down and develops a new minimum viable product that the group will test with the customer in two weeks. The next morning, the Project Manager was happy that he had helped friends but felt disappointed that he had not gotten the answers to his questions.  The mentor explained to the Project Manager that his questions were answered.  He explained that if the Project Manager had not helped the mentor with his project plan, then he would not have heard the product owner’s distress and not been able to help; therefore, the most important time was the time spent in the mentor’s office; the most important one at that time was the mentor, and the most important thing was to help with the project plan.  Later, when the Project Manager found the distressed product owner, the most important time was the time spent helping the product owner; the most important ones were the product owner and the development team, and the most important thing to do was take care of the customer and give them what they needed. The mentor’s wisdom, along with that of Tolstoy, was that “the most important time is always now; the most important one is always the one that you are with, and the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”  The story illustrates how our priorities must shift based upon the conditions under which we operate.  We must closely examine local conditions and determine what is the immediate need and act upon that need, always looking to be of assistance to those around us.  To achieve success, we must ever strive for goodness and usefulness in the present and adjust our thinking to current conditions.  We must shorten our time frame of thinking so that we can deal with the present conditions, and we must utilize collaborative leadership to serve the team that we are with, verses utilizing authoritarian power to accomplish outdated goals.  When we think in the present and give respect to those we are with, we are able to work to accomplish goodness with and for those around us.        

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