Ben Franklin: The First American Project Manager

Dale Myers' Blog: Think. Plan. Act. Repeat.

Benjamin Franklin was a man of many talents.  Around this time of year, we tend to remember him as one of America’s Founding Fathers. You know, the old curmudgeon that suffered from gout, kidney stones, and a propensity to use the word “whilst.” This of course fails to take into account his other distinctions that included being an:

Author, Diplomat, Economist, Father, Husband, Inventor, Musician, Political Theorist, Printer, Publisher, Scientist, and Statesman.

When he was not working on testing theories of physics, charting the currents of the Atlantic Ocean, or discovering electricity, he was forming the first public library, and the first fire department. This guy truly did it all! And, his daily schedule allowed for 7 hours of sleep and 3 hours for dinner, music, diversion or conversation. Talk about good work-life balance!

But, would Ben Franklin be a good project manager? This is a question I often contemplate…

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The 8 Things About Leadership I Learned From My Puppy

1939568_10203471981707259_791533610534686388_oI’ve really fallen behind with my writing. You could say it’s gone to the dogs. For the past three weeks finding time to write has been impossible. You see, we decided to get a puppy named Cassie. And, for those of you that have barked up this tree, you know that with a puppy around, finding quiet time to write is about as hard as finding your dog’s favorite bone.

But while my writing has suffered, I still think a lot about leadership. This morning I was thinking about the similarities between leading dogs and people. I know this sounds a little strange – but, people and dogs have a lot in common. Both have needs, personalities, and moods. They share a desire to learn, be challenged, feel secure, and receive recognition. Finally, both dogs and people react to different leadership styles.

I’ve think there are 8 leadership actions that drive achievement, growth, and happiness in both people and dogs:

Lead don’t dictate. Nobody likes to be told what to do. Barking orders produces activity but rarely is it optimal. The long-term impact is that people (and dogs) begin to tune you and your orders out. It’s far better to define deliverables, set expectations, provide guidance and coaching – and, let them figure out the rest.

Be clear and concise with your statements. Dogs don’t speak much of our language. When giving requests, you have to make them clear, understandable and easy to follow. People are much the same. Don’t assume that others understand your jargon – or can read your mind. Make it clear; keep it simple.

Be consistent. People and dogs like to know what to expect from their leaders. Moody behavior can create confusion and hesitation that limits productivity. The steady leader gets the most respect from the pack.

Establish boundaries. People (and dogs) often require a lot of your valuable time. Make clear to others that you have responsibilities that go well beyond them. It’s important you define boundaries or you will struggle with your competing priorities.

Keep calm. It’s easy to get frustrated dealing with a puppy – or for that matter employees. In times of stress you need to keep your cool. Take a breath, grab a coffee, or chew a bone. Step away for a few minutes and then return to the action. Employees (and puppies) respect a calm and controlled leader.

Have a plan. Almost nothing happens by chance. You need to have a leadership plan that defines goals, strategies, and actions. Leadership requires planning. You better get good at it because it’s core to delivering results.

Be creative. Like many people, Cassie the dog gets bored quickly. She tends to master commands and then lose interest. So as her leader, I have to constantly find new ways to motivate her. People are the same. Repetitive tasks and responsibilities often make people stale and robotic. Be creative, mix it up, keep it fresh – and, find ways to keep energy levels high.

Make it fun. Look work is mostly, well work! The pressures to perform never let up. So you need to mix in periods of fun – play time. Use your imagination to create fun activities, or better yet, ask your employees to come up with the ideas.

Well, Cassie’s waking from her afternoon nap. A yawn, stretch and tug on her favorite chew toy (Mr. Squirrel), tells me she’s ready for the next challenge. We’ve been working hard on the “stay” command. I’m leading the way with a positive attitude, firm commands and soft treats. She wags her tail and when I command “stay,” she insists on “rolling-over.” Oh well, leading dogs and people is often challenging. But, the reward in helping them to be productive, confident, and happy makes it all worthwhile. “Cassie no, that sock is not a chew toy!” Now, what did I write about keeping calm?

How about you? Do you have a dog? Are there any leadership tools and behaviors that you see get results? Cassie and I would like to hear from you.

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Playball! – Springtime, Projects, Baseball, and Stakeholders

Dale Myers' Blog: Think. Plan. Act. Repeat.

April in North America is a month of transition. As the winter winds begin to subside and warmer air and spring showers bring colorful flowers, our moods lighten and the gloom of winter is replaced with, well…hope.

Spring also coincides with the start of the North American professional baseball season. Yesterday was the first home baseball game of the year for my local team, the San Francisco Giants. Opening day 2014 was an event to remember. The Giants won; the fans left the stadium ecstatic. Optimism for a successful year was high. Even the old-time, cynical fans were left thinking, “this just might be our year to win it all!”

There are similarities to the beginning of the baseball season and the start of a new business project. In the beginning, new projects generate excitement, optimism, high expectations, and maybe a distorted view of reality. Project team members are full…

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How to Market Your Project

Dale Myers' Blog: Think. Plan. Act. Repeat.

The best Project Managers I know have backgrounds in marketing. Wow, did I really just type this! Where did it come from? Usually on the projects I lead, the marketing team members are the ones who show up late for meetings, talk incessantly using jargon from the Harvard Business Review, complain that they don’t have time to complete their tasks, and shoot down ideas because they “won’t delight the customers.” So why do I think marketers make good project managers?

Well, first of all I have a lot of good friends who are in marketing that are smart, creative, organized, and reliable. These traits alone would make them good Project Managers. But, what separates them is they know how to market a project!

You see in my experience, projects need to be marketed. A project needs to be spun into a cohesive and interesting story that is communicated throughout an organization…

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How to Give “Actionable” Feedback (Part 2)

Blog Pic Feedback IILast week, we talked about the power and importance of giving “actionable” feedback. I told the story of the Vice President who gave feedback that was not informative or motivational. There was no clear direction or suggestions on what could be done to improve. It was not “actionable.”

 So this week, I want to focus on “how” to give “actionable” feedback.

The most powerful way to give “actionable” feedback is to respectfully share what you’ve observed, deconstruct it together, and create a vision of a better way forward.

Read Part 1 of this series – “The Power of Giving Actionable Feedback” by clicking on this link

Here are few specific suggestions on how to do this:

  • Be Timely. Bringing up issues from the past (more than one week old) is never motivating. Immediately give feedback while the facts and behaviors are still fresh. Waiting till the next review cycle to raise an issue rarely brings desired change.

  • Prepare your comments. Giving feedback is serious stuff. It can be either motivating or painful to the receiver. So plan what you want to say carefully and be prepared for questions and maybe even a little pushback.

  • Limit the focus. During a feedback session you should discuss no more than two issues. Any more than that and you risk making the person on the receiving end feel attacked, demoralized, or even overwhelmed.

  • Don’t be fake. Positive or negative, don’t mask the issue with insincerity or over-the-top praise. People see through this, and it undermines the message that you want to pass.

  • Make it Regular. Feedback is a process that should be routine. When something needs to be said, say it. People need to know where they stand. There should be no surprises. This is not a once-a-year or a once-a-quarter event. Feedback should be given often – perhaps every week or even every day, depending on the situation.

  • Be specific. Clearly frame the actions or behaviors you want to discuss. State what you observed and felt. Provide examples of what can be done differently in the future. Again it’s important to be specific. Giving general feedback such as, “You did an awesome job,” without being specific on why you liked the work, often seems “shallow,” “mechanical,” and more like “cheerleading.”

  • Answer the “what” and “why” questions. For each feedback issue try to answer “what” you liked (or disliked), and “why” you felt this way. An example, “When you interrupted Bill at the team meeting, I thought it was disruptive. It showed a lack of respect towards our team rule that encourages open dialogue. Your action stopped the dialogue and threw the meeting off course.”

  • Use the “I” word. Use phrases like, “I saw this…,” as opposed to, “You did this…” Making accusation statements often puts the receiver on the defensive which can limit their ability to listen. Clearly state what you saw and frame the issue from your perspective.

  • Criticize in Private. No one want to look bad in front of his/her peers. It’s belittling and demeaning. If you have something critical to say, close the door, and have the conversation in private. This way, they can focus on what you’re saying and not on what others are hearing.

  • Use the sandwich technique. When you need to be critical, start first with something that was well done. Then state what needs to improve. Finish with something positive about the person. This technique is useful for those who are sensitive or already hold themselves to high standards.

  •  Follow-up. Sometime receiving “critical” feedback can be hard. I like to check back a day or so later after giving feedback to see if there are any lingering doubts, concern, or questions. I ask the person receiving the feedback how they felt about our session. I let them know that I’m available if they have further questions. The point is to insure communication channels are open.

Some find giving feedback to be hard since it can raise emotions for both giver and receiver. The key to controlling emotions is to create an environment where feedback is viewed as a crucial component of development. If the receiver realizes that feedback is valuable, and it serves their best interests, then they will welcome the input.

Before giving feedback make sure you remind yourself why you’re doing it. The purpose of giving feedback is to improve work quality or performance. You won’t accomplish that by being unclear, harsh, overly critical, or offensive. You get the most from people when your approach is focused on positive change.

I hope this 2 part post helped you to understand the importance and the mechanics of giving “actionable” feedback. I encourage you to try the suggestions given here and experience the power of giving feedback. Please feel free to share comments of what you have learned.

Read Part 1 of this series – “The Power of Giving Actionable Feedback” by clicking on this link

 

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The Power of Giving “Actionable” Feedback (Part 1)

MP900341388I listened intently to the Vice President as she passed me in the hallway, “Nice job on that business case. It gave me something to work with. I’ll clean it up, shorten it, and then show it to the board. Good work!” In her mind she’d given feedback that should have informed and motivated me. What I heard did just the opposite. Why? Because the feedback I was given was not “actionable.”

I’d worked and struggled with the business case for over a week; finishing it up the prior evening well past 2 a.m. I wanted feedback as this was something new to me, a little outside my comfort zone. The feedback I received raised more questions (“something to work with,” “clean it up,” “I will shorten it”) than it answered. It gave no clear direction or suggestions as to what I could do to improve. An important opportunity for learning was lost.

Read Part 2 of the series, “How to Give Actionable Feedback,” by clicking here.

The objectives of “actionable” feedback are to influence future behaviors and improve quality of work. They can be achieved by offering praise or correction. In either case, you are looking to either reinforce or alter how someone does something in the future based on learning from the past. The primary goal is to provide an opportunity for improvement to those receiving the feedback.

Giving “actionable” feedback is a powerful and important function of being a leader. It’s a critical component of development. There are four key benefits:

  • It makes your job easier. The receiver will ultimately act in ways that you want, and deliver what you need.
  • It makes their job easier. The receiver will know where they stand. They’re not guessing or worse, thinking something is ok when it’s not.
  • Allows growth and development. They learn how to handle different situations and develop confidence in themselves to do so effectively.
  • It builds loyalty. Helping others to learn and grow builds loyalty as they see you’re working for their best interests.

The key to giving “actionable feedback” is to be specific. Feedback becomes actionable only if there are examples of what was done well or what could be done differently in the future. My VP could have said that my business case needed to be shorter by “x’ pages. Or, that I should have elaborated on the section describing the project benefits. Maybe, I just needed fewer words; so a little more aggressive editing was required. In any case, the receiver must leave the conversation with firm ideas, and specific examples, of what to do in the future.

The same approach is used when praising performance as you want to reinforce what was done well (so that it gets repeated). My VP could have stated what she specifically liked about my business case. Perhaps she could have said, “Your financial analysis was well done, complete and easy to understand.” With this feedback I would surely continue to use the same model.

When you make a conscious choice to give feedback you empower others to be productive and effective. Done properly, giving “actionable” feedback won’t be agonizing, or daunting, and the more practice you get, the better you will become at it. It may never be your favorite way of communicating with others, but it can make you a more respected, influential, and even sought-out leader. That’s powerful feedback we’d all like to hear!

Still stuck on agonizing and daunting? Next week we’ll discuss the mechanics behind giving “actionable” feedback. I hope you check back on this site next Monday, March 24, for Part 2, “How to Give Actionable Feedback.”

Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you give “actionable’ feedback? What tips can you share?

Read Part 2 of this series on feedback, “How to Give Actionable Feedback,” by clicking here.

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6 Signs Your Project is Headed for Trouble!

dale“I have a bad feeling about my project,” stated a young, high-tech Project Manager on a call last week. It seemed that all the project indicators were positive: the project plan was on schedule, expenses were within budget, the issues log and backlog reports were manageable – even the PMO had given the project a green (positive) rating on the last scorecard. Yet, something just did not feel right. “But, I’m not sure why,” he said in a worried voice.

Over the life of a project, there are often warnings that don’t show up on traditional measures like scorecards. Experienced Project Managers can sense problems that are not easily viewed. And, they know where to hunt for the clues.

Read my most read post, “The 7 Things They Don’t Teach You in Project Management School,” by clicking here.

Most of these warning are behavioral; people in and around a project just start acting differently. Experienced Project Managers read these changes and react to head-off problems before they become trouble.

The 6 signs of pending trouble are:

  • Project team members are missing team meetings. This is never a good sign. Sometimes, it’s an indication of a lack of discipline in a project. Often, it’s a sign that team members are distancing themselves from the initiative. Perhaps they see a problem or a fatal flaw, and they don’t want to be associated with failure. Whatever the reason, a Project Manager needs to address this, and fast.
  • Stakeholders are quiet. Conventional wisdom says that a quiet stakeholder is a happy stakeholder. I disagree. If stakeholders are not complaining about something, then there’s potentially a major problem. Checking-in frequently with key stakeholders is always a good move. They often see or hear things before you do.
  • Issues Log is not growing. The addition of new entries in the issues log is a sign that work is ongoing, and that learning is happening. If the log is not growing, then the opposite is happening, which can only mean trouble is close.
  • You have to pry task completion data from your team members. It’s critical for Project Managers to be monitoring task completion (or non-completions) data. When task owners are slow to update the completed task list or report on their performance, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong, and the Project Manager better pay attention.
  • Your sponsor starts asking about specific project details. Sponsors are usually experienced, and well connected. They have great “noses” to smell problems. If you sponsor starts poking around your project, looking into the details, such as upcoming deliverables, then perhaps they suspect something is wrong.
  • Finance team member is starting to sweat. Most large projects have a finance person attached to the team (someone has to watch the money). Most finance people have an uncanny ability to detect problems. If your finance team member is asking questions, and looking for additional information, then maybe a problem is looming.

A Project Manager cannot be everywhere on a project. Often projects have long durations, hundreds of resources, and thousands of tasks. Sometimes, a Project Manager is juggling multiple projects, further diluting the attention that can be given to a project.

Experienced Project Managers have to be able to sense problems, and detect when something is amiss. They know to engage the project team, the sponsor(s), and key stakeholders, to listen for indicators of concern. They encourage others to share their knowledge and impressions – so that bad news can be openly and quickly addressed.

Is the project managed by my young technology client doomed to fail? I certainly hope not. He was able to sense that something was not right – which is often half the battle. He just needs to learn how to read the hidden signs of project problems and work to head them off, before they escalate into major issues.

What do you think? Are there non-traditional problem indicators that you use? I’d like to hear from you.

Read the award winning post, “The 7 Things They Don’t Teach You in Project Management School,” by clicking here.

 

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