Project Management – The Best Day

So a colleague said something interesting to me about project management:

The best day of project management is usually the first day, but I want to show you that the best day is really the last day of the project.

And as I thought about this, I sort of starting laughing to myself and thinking, you know what, I think this guy has something here. 


– Day 1 of a project, everyone is usually all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. 


We’re embarking on an adventure together to build something new for the organization and our customers. 


We’re going to team up and everyone will contribute.


And out of the project sausage maker–poof!–like magic comes a new system or product. 


– But as we all know, things don’t always go so smoothly.


With some projects, the pretty smiley faces of day 1 may quickly turn to ugly frown faces.


There is analysis paralysis, scope creep, conflicting or changing priorities, resource issues, technical challenges, or the sausage just doesn’t come our right–oh sh*t!


Thus, many  projects end up going bust in terms of cost, schedule, or performance. 


That is, they end up costing too much, being delivered behind schedule, or just not meeting the performance requirements. 


You have some projects that never even truly get off the ground, have multiple resets, or get dumbed-down or even cancelled altogether along the way. 


So by the time you reach the last day of the project, many people seem like they’ve been through the project ringer. 


I’m sure that I’ve heard more than one project manager say:

Just take me out back and shoot me!


So when this colleague said that he wants the best day of the project to be the last–in terms of satisfaction with the project (not that that pain was finally over!)–I really appreciated this as an awesome goal. 


We should all look to the last day of our projects as the best–one where we can look back and say: 

Wow, great job everyone!  We really got something great done here–and we did it right!  😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

BIG Difference Between Private and Public Sectors

Sword.jpeg

So I thought this was very telling today about the difference between the public and private sectors…


I was teaching a class and gave the students a challenging scenario and problem and asked how they would solve it.


The class was a mix of leaders and managers from the public and private sectors–this time weighted mostly on the commercial side. 


Typically, the students from the government usually provide answers in terms of lengthy analysis processes, negotiations, vetting and getting buy-in and approvals through many layers of bureaucracy and red tape, as well as getting people to understand the what’s in it for me (WIIFM) value proposition.


However, this time, one the students from the private sector said bluntly, the following:

We can either do it the easy way or the hard way!


So I asked, “What do you mean the easy and hard ways?”


And he answered:

The easy way is that we can try at first to appeal to people, but if that doesn’t work then the hard way is we just do what needs get done.


Again with great interest and curiosity, I inquire, “And how do you that?”


This time someone else answers, and says:

We do “rip and replace”–we pull up the truck in the middle of the night and we rip out the things we don’t like and replace it with what we do, period.


Then I ask innocently again, “So what happens the next morning?”


And the 2nd person answers again, and says:

Who cares, the job is done!


This reminded me a little of the old images of the mob gangster pulling up in the shadows of the night to someone’s door that wasn’t cooperating and applying the baseball bat to the knees!


Yes, it’s a very different and extreme way of getting what you want and when you want it, done. 


Quite a BIG difference between the private and public sector approach to getting thing done!


One one hand, we have the speed and execution of the marketplace versus the more lengthly thoughtfulness and inherent compromises of government and politics. 


What’s it gonna be–some bureaucracy, seemingly endless red tape, and horse-trading or the good ol’ baseball bat to the knees? 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Stop To Think OR Stop Thinking

Thinker

The Thinker.


It’s very important to have time (and space) to sit down and think. 


Not just go through life in the motions–“doing”–because that’s the way we always did it or that’s the way your parents did it, or that’s what your teachers or society told you to do. 


Thinking means we evaluate and assess what we are doing.  Are we going in the right direction?  Are we happy with ourselves?  Are we good people doing good things?  Are there things that we regret and need to learn from and/or course correct. Can we do better and what does better mean? 


I remember at a certain point in my life working very hard, but also feeling like I was in a fugue–and when I “awoke” I couldn’t figure out where the time went to and why I had been sort of numb for a time. Were some things perhaps too raw or painful to deal with (better to shut them off somewhere in a little box) or was I just moving so fast and so hard that I just lost sight of my surroundings and the meaning or lack from it all. 


But then I started to feel and think again. And I knew it because it was like an monumental awakening from a long hibernation through eons of time and space. What precipitated it all, I don’t really know. But when it started coming back–memories, feelings, some satisfactions, too many regrets–I knew that I had been gone a while and wasn’t sure exactly where I’d been. 


So need to regularly stop and “smell the coffee”–think and feel–not just do like a real dummy or stubborn a*s. 


The dilemma with thinking is too much or too little is that it can be a dangerous thing. 


Too much time to ponder and you can become lost in thought or mired in analysis paralysis. Don’t bother me, I’m still thinking about it. Or perhaps, your thinking can be “all wrong” and messed up–your misunderstanding, misconstruing, not thinking clearly or brainwashed by others–maybe those with good intentions who want you to be like them, who think they know better, who mean well but are misguided when it comes to YOU or are engulfed by their own zealousness, self-righteousness or are even jerks trying to f*ck with you. 


Also, while ample time to think can leave you revitalized, with new direction, commitment, and enthusiasm, the flip side is you can become demoralized or depressed by “it all,” It’s too much, it’s too hard, it’s too meaningless, or even it’s too overwhelming important and meaningful. 


Then there is too little thinking going on in that head of yours, and you are a dumb, numb robot who washes, rinses, repeats…not knowing why they are doing it or maybe even that they are doing anything, just that they are in a state of being. It easy maybe to turn off to the world, to keep running on the treadmill of life, get up and do the same routine day-in and day-out.  Not questioning.  Not feeling.  Not getting hurt or dealing with issues better left for another day. But that’s not living. That’s a life of a sick roaming flesh-eating zombie. Someone just stick that iron rod through that useless skull already. 


Think and live…live and think…go forward as in a directed, meaningful way, and not as the walking dead in pain and sorrow or lost in the abyss of lifelessness. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Fearless = Reckless

Fearless

I took this photo in the Metro in Washington, D.C. 


It says, “Be Fearless.”


Why?


No, it doesn’t pay to be wholly fearful–and paralyzed by anxiety or indecision. 


But it is stupid to be fearless–because being fearless is being reckless. 


It’s good to think about possibilities and consequences–not everything that can go right will and more often then not, as Murphy’s Law teaches, whatever can go wrong often does.


Better to think about what can happen–both good and bad–how to manage the risks and how to maximize the rewards.


Have fear of heaven and of bad things–and try to make them better, where you can. 


Fearless is for those who want to be stupid, act reckless, and end up mortally wounded or prematurely dead. 


Fearsome is for those who want to confront their fears head on, manage them wisely, and make the most of the opportunities in a risk-reward managed way. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Where Did I Put That Action Memo?

Desk Piled High
Lots of people desks seem to look like this.

(Not me though…compulsive neat freak and learned from IBM’s “clean desk policy” early on in my career.)

In analyzing our fight against Islamic jihadists and terrorists, Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal writes:

“In all the photos published of al Qaeda, Islamic State or any other terror groups, have you ever seen them sitting at desks?”

Henninger points out the root of “Bureaucracy” is the French word “Bureau,” which mean desk.

Hence, we in the West are stuck behind desks, while the terrorists are actively working to destroy our freedom and way of life–smashing down doors and wielding AK47s and suicide vests!

We’ve got to stop hiding behind our piled-high desks, analysis-paralysis position papers, endless meetings, and political bickering, and actually do something concrete, meaningful, and strong–to not only deter, but destroy the enemy!

Fear of making a decision or nonsense claims that your still searching for that action memo is something that should get you uprooted from your messy desk with a boot up your a*s!

Wake up, wake up, wake up–enough ho hum, we need some leadership that is bold, patriotic, and heroic to protect what we value so dear.

Don’t you think it’s time to win this war for real?

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Shawn de Raaf)

Government By Decision

What Is Your Decision?

I saw this bumper sticker on a pole in Washington, D.C.

It says “Puppet for President 2012” and I don’t know whether this was referring to Democrats, Republicans, Independents, or whoever.

But it did make a statement about the perceived ability of government to lead and perhaps that someone is “pulling the strings.”

Governance is the act of administering, managing and of course implies leadership and decision-making.

Yet what is driving the American people crazy is that our government seems for all intensive purposes broken, almost paralyzed.

Current reading are of political stalemate, problems that are too big and complex and the compromises too painful after years of excess, where indecision reigns supreme, and with that the popularity of government is at all time lows–10% for Congress and 36% for the President.

Here’s a basic example written about today in the Wall Street Journal: despite a drop in first class mail over the last decade (thanks to email and texting) from 100 billion to fewer than 70 billion pieces of first class mail and cumulative losses from 2006 to March 2013 of $41 billion, we still can’t decide whether to cut Saturday mail delivery that could save over $3 billion a year alone.

Other examples of government indecision are almost too numerous to name:

– Should we intervene in Syria’s civil war that has taken more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions?

– When should we take action against Iranian nuclear facilities that violate nuclear non-proliferation and threaten world peace?

– How should we handle militant Islamic and Al Qaeda threats that don’t seem to dissipate?

– What do we do about the mounting federal deficit with a national debt approaching $17 trillion that is still rising about $2 billion a day!

– With fiscal cliffs, debt ceiling, sequestrations, and cuts to the U.S. credit rating, can we find our way forward?

– What should we do to get people back to work with an employment level of 58.6%, still around the lowest in the last 30 years?

– How do we reign in entitlement spending that needy people depend on, but where nearly half (49%) of Americans households today receive transfer payments, and entitlement spending has risen to $2.3 trillion annually and now are over 60% of entire federal outlays.

– How do we improve morale of the U.S. middle-class when only 33% think their children will be better off than their parents?

– What should we do about so many hanging issues out there–immigration reform, spiraling health care costs, improving our education system, balancing surveillance and privacy, and much more?

However, the ultimate question really is whether no decision is better than a decision?

With no decision, the problems continue to escalate until they sort of magically go away on their own (they are “overcome by events”) or more ominously, they reach epic crisis proportions.

With a decision to act, we may make good decisions that positively impact the situation or we may make bad decisions that have a negative impact, but even with a bad decision, we can monitor the effects and course-correct until we show true improvement.

Decisions often mean winners and losers–and no one wants to lose anything–and there are lobbyists and special interest groups–and no one wants to be voted out of office…so what do we do?

Oh no, I can’t decide!

The reality is that we will will have to make hard decisions or they will be made for us–we will either be the masters of our own fate of the slaves of our indecision.

We can take back control and fix what is broken or wallow in despair and disrepair.

We can act now or kick the can down the road and have much more painful decisions later.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>Balancing Planning and Action

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There are two common problems where immature or dysfunctional governance results in poor performance. When good governance is lacking, either decision makers:

1) Over-think and underperform or

2) Under-think and underperform

In the first case, people are seemingly paralyzed (often in a state referred to as “analysis paralysis”) and are hesitant to make a decision and so the organization stagnates—in a state of perpetual inaction—and underperforms.

In the second case, people don’t think enough about what they are doing—they lack adequate mechanisms for planning, analysis, vetting, and general due diligence—and are too quick to just do something, anything—whether or not it’s the “right” thing—and again they end up underperforming.

Both situations have negative consequences on the organization: In one, people are over-thinking and therefore not doing enough and on the other hand, people are under-thinking and therefore end up doing the wrong things.

Instead what we need is a rational sequence of think, do, think do, think, do—where actions are regular, frequent, and driven by a reflection of what’s occurred, the entry of new inputs, an analysis of alternatives, a vetting process, and the point of decision-making.

This is the essence of good governance and the most basic balance of thoughts and deeds, where thinking leads to action and action feeds back to the further thinking and so on.

In it’s more expanded form, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the father of quality management, founded the Shewart cycle or PDCA (based on the scientific method)—where planning, doing, checking, and acting is a constant cycle of action and reaction:

Here we can see that good governance leads to continuous momentum from planning (thinking) and doing (performing) to a robust feedback mechanism that includes checking on results and acting to analyze and improve on those.

A recent article in MIT Sloan Management review, Spring 2010 called “Learning When To Stop Momentum,” by Barton and Sutcliffe, provides similar lessons from the perspective of overcoming dysfunctional momentum.

Dysfunctional momentum: “occurs when people continue to work towards an original goal without pausing to recalibrate or examine their processes, even in the face of cues that they should change course.”

Dysfunctional momentum fits into the category described above of under-thinking and underperforming. If we don’t “pause and recalibrate,” (i.e. think before further action) we are not going to perform very effectively.

The authors recommend that we do the following to cure dysfunctional momentum (under-thinking):

1) Be humble—“be confidant in your skills but humble about the situation. Even the most experienced experts cannot know how a dynamic situation will unfold.”

2) Encourage skepticism—“it is important that everyone’s voice be heard.”

3) Seek out bad news—“use the acquired information as an opportunity to learn.”

4) Be available—“interruptions force us to reconsider whether we really know what is going on and how well the present actions are working.”

5) Communicate frequently—“face to face is the richest medium for communication because…it conveys multiple cues that allow for a range of meaning, and it provides the opportunity for rapid feedback.”

To me, we can also cure dysfunctional paralysis (over-thinking) by tempering the prior recommendations with the following ones:

1) Be bold—be willing to understand the requirements, the options, vet them, and make a decision and move forward.

2) Encourage conviction—hear everyone’s opinions, thoughts, and ideas and then have conviction and take a stand.

3) Seek a decision—get the good news and the bad news, put it into a business case or other presentation for decision makers to act on.

4) Be discrete—manage time with discretion following the phrase from Ecclesiastes that “there is a time for everything”—a time for thinking and a time for doing.

5) Communicate with purpose—communication is critical and often the best communication is directed ultimately toward some decision or action to further some advancement on the subject in question.

The article summarizes both perspectives this way: Dysfunctional momentum occurs not necessarily because people are ignorant, risk-seeking or careless, but because they are human and have as much trouble in controlling momentum as they do in surmounting inertia.”

To address the issues of over- and under-thinking problems, we need to establish policy, processes, structures, and tools for good governance that support people in thinking through problems and making decisions on a sound course of action—leading us to a continuous and healthy cycle of thoughts and deeds, planning and action.

>Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

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Frequently employees face double-bind message in the workplace and these not only impair morale, but also can result in poor decision-making.

One example has to do with whether we should apply tried and true, best practices or be creative and innovative. This manifests when employees bring innovative approaches to the table to solve problems are told, “there’s no reason to recreate the wheel on this.” And then when the employees take the opposing track and try to bring established best practices to bear on problems, they are told disparagingly “ah, that’s just a cookie cutter approach.”

Another example has to do with when and how much to analyze and when to decide, such that when employees are evaluating solutions and they hustle to get a proposal on the table, only to be told they haven’t done enough work or its superficial and they need to go back, “do due diligence, and conduct a more thorough evaluation.” Then when the employees go back to conduct a thorough analysis of alternatives, business case, concept of operations and so on, only to be told, “what is taking you so long? You’re just getting bogged down in analysis paralysis—move on!”

I am sure there are many more examples of this where employees feel like they are in a catch 22, between a rock and a hard place, damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The point is that creating contradictions, throwing nifty clichés at employees, and using that to win points or get your way in the decision process, hurts the organization and the employees that work there.

What the organization needs is not arbitrary decision-making and double-bind messages that shut employees down. Rather, organizations need clearly defined, authoritative, and accountable governance structure, policy, process and roles and responsibilities that open it up to healthy and informed debate and timely decisions. When everyone is working off of the “same sheet of music” and they know what is professionally expected and appropriate to the decision-making process, then using clichés arbitrarily and manipulating the decision-process no longer has a place or is organizationally acceptable.

We can’t rush through decisions just to get what we want, and we can’t bog down decisions with obstacles, just because we’re looking for a different answer.

Sound governance will help resolve this, but also necessary is a leadership committed to changing the game from the traditional power politics and subjective management whim to an organization driven by integrity, truth, and genuine progress based on objective facts, figures, and reason. Of course, changing an organization is not easy and doesn’t happen overnight, but think how proud we can be of our organizations that make this leap to well-founded governance.

>Diplomacy and the Pitfalls of Dictatorship

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Let’s say yes to sound governance, and no to absolute power…

Power is a strange thing: the more you have, the more you want – it’s never enough. It’s an addiction of the soul that often results in poor decision-making and project failure.

I remember a teacher in high school that used to repeat to us the maxim that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Obviously someone has to be in charge and get things done, but there is more than one way to achieve results:

The first and crudest method that we have seen since the dawn of humankind is dictatorship. This is the aforementioned tendency for those in power to collect it, savor it, and protect it—and to want to wield it alone. Often those with power, not enlightened by the benefits of sharing and “checks and balances,” like to hold decision-making power for themselves. While perhaps made “in consultation” with others, it is their decision and theirs alone to make. Thus, decisions by the individual are more subjective, prone to mistakes, and driven as much by gut, intuition, and personal whim as by real facts. Furthermore, those who have to carry out the decisions do not understand them as well and are not as committed to their success because they weren’t fully part of the process.

A better method is diplomacy, when we work with others to strategize, collaborate, and vet decisions. Working with others in this way may often costs more in terms of time and effort upfront to “work though the issues,” but invariably these result in better and less-costly decisions being made in the long run. Diplomacy works especially well when the group you are working with is diverse and can bring a variety of experiences and perspectives to the table. You end up seeing things in ways that you would have missed otherwise.

Working through the decision process with others on a governance body (councils, boards, committees)—with individuals representing the universe of our stakeholders—provides a solid mechanism for all perspectives to be heard and for decisions to be scrutinized and challenged before being implemented. This is what good governance is all about.

Of course, there are occasions when diplomacy may fail and governance bodies may become dysfunctional. When groups fail to work together, dictators can sweep in and take over or, on the other hand, there can result endless bickering, a state of analysis paralysis, and no decisions being made at all. This is why governance must be well defined, structured, have an end-to-end process, and clear roles and responsibilities.

Although sometimes dictators can be brilliant and effective in getting things done and we can all think of business leaders who fit this style, too often these individuals can become drenched in their own “absolute power”—falling victim to ego and selfishness, and making decisions that are not in the best interest of the organization. This is a condition that must be countered with solid, structured organizational governance, in which decision-makers work with others collaboratively and share in the decision-making process, and the collective interests and those of the organization as a whole are put above those of the individual. In this way, diplomacy protects us from the whims and errors of dictatorship.

This is one of the nice things about our system of government, where despite the many strong differences of opinion and results that we may not always agree with, the system of checks and balances results in governance by the people for the people, where everybody has a chance to participate and be heard.

>A Healthy Dose of Skepticism

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To believe or not to believe that is the question.

Very frequently in life, we are confronted with incomplete information, yet by necessity, we must make a decision and act—one way of the other.

Sure, we can opt to wait for more information to trickle in, but delay in action can mean lost opportunity or more painful consequences.

The turmoil over the last couple of years in the financial markets is one example. Many people I talk with tell me they felt something was going to happen – that the stock market was heading off a cliff. Those who acted on what they perceived, and moved their financial assets to safety (out of the stock market), are certainly glad they did. Those who hesitated and waited for the painstaking days of 500 point drops wish they had acted sooner.

In relationships, sometimes those who fear commitment and don’t make a move to “tie the knot” may end up losing the ones they love to the arms of another. On the other hand, making serious commitments before really knowing another person can end up in painful heartache and divorce.

Similarly, with technology, we often hear about the “first-mover advantage.” Those who recognize the potential of new technology early and learn how to capitalize on it, can gain market share and profitability. Those who jump aboard only once the train in moving may end up just trying to keep up with the Joneses.

These days, not only must we make decisions based on incomplete information, but sometimes we don’t even know if the situations we face are actually real!

Daniel Henninger, writing in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal (22 October 2009) wrote: “The ‘balloon boy’ floating over Colorado last week got me thinking of…[Air Force One] photo-op airliner flying around lower Manhattan last April at 9/11 altitude…it’s getting harder to know what’s real and unreal in a world that always seems to be slipping slightly out of focus.”

He reminds us of the “sensation” that Orson Welles caused in 1938 when he announced, on a “‘reality’ radio broadcast,” a Martian invasion. The response was widespread panic.

With all the chicanery and half-baked ideas and products and services being marketed and sold—whether to get on reality shows or for salespeople to “hit their numbers”—people have become cynical about everything and everybody. Mistrust is not longer for New Yorkers anymore.

The realization has hit us that most things we confront are not simple fact or fiction, but rather shades of gray, and so we shy away from taking a definitive stand, preferring instead perpetual limbo or “analysis paralysis.”

This cynicism is embodied in a CFO that I used to work for that was mistrustful of everyone—almost habitually, he called people inside and outside the organization, “snake oil salesman.”

In corporate America, we often call the art of shaping people’s perceptions “marketing” or “branding”. In politics, we typically call it “spin”. And a good marketer, or “spinmaster,” can overcome people’s skepticism and actually influence their perception of the truth.

As an IT leader, though, we can deal with incomplete information as well as “spinmasters” effectively. And that is by treading carefully, gathering the facts and testing reality. This is what market and competitive analysis, pilots, and prototypes are all about. Test the waters, before making a full forward commitment.

We can’t be swayed by emotion, but rather must vet and validate—do due diligence, before we either duck out of the fray or leap into action.

Leadership lesson: Act too harried, and you risk making serious mistakes. React too slowly or with too much skepticism, and you will not be leading but following, and your legacy will be truly unimpressive. Listen to what others have to say, but make your own call. That is what true leadership, in an IT context or anywhere, is all about.