Together is Better

A few weeks back I was updating the Book List and snuck in there a little book with a lot of wonderful pictures.  Today I’d like to mention a bit about Simone Sinek’s Together is Better.

There are a few things that a reader will need to accept in order to enjoy this book.  Chief among them are the ideas that a book can be powerful, short, and include pictures.  Once the reader has adopted that premise, the book becomes easy to digest and enjoy.

Inside Sinek’s work are several colored pages of drawings each with brilliant insights that tell a story of a group of friends on a quest to make things better.  In his text he takes the time to articulate and define objects and concepts we often deal with in our complex world while the artwork helps to solidify the message in our heads (people are visual learners after all).

The book is short enough to read on a lunch break and perfect for leaders to leave in the break room to spark conversations.  If it still feels overwhelming after I described it as having pictures, I’d like to also add that my eight year old read it to me one afternoon in about 35 minutes.  It’s a quick read.

Oliver DeMille often talks about having unifying cultural artifacts among groups and how impactful those artifacts on that society that adopts them.  If your group is going to adopt an artifact for reference this one is likely a perfect fit.

The best way for me to endorse this book is to say that if you’re in an environment that has people then, this is probably a book you’ll want hanging around.

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5 Traits of Transformative Leadership

Transformative leadership should be normal in environments that are seeking improvement.  In a recent podcast, Kevin Murphy describes the mindset required to transform an organization.  One exercise he describes is to have members of the organization define the type of behavior that they will exihibit when the transformation is complete.  He further articulates techniques to remind them and encourage them to begin modeling that behavior.  It’s a neat exercise to bring the habits of your future self into the reality you now occupy.

pvsfqg8c_400x400In Nicole Forgensen PhD‘s book Accelerate she articulates five traits of transformative leadership and talks about their impact on on an organization.  The five traits she discusses are:

  • Vision-has a clear understanding of where we are going.  Has a clear sense of where he/she wants our team to be in five years.  Has a clear idea of where the organization is going.
  • Inspirational Communication-says things that make employees proud to be a part of this organization.  Says positive things about the work unit.  Encourages people to see changing environments as situations full of opportunities.
  • Intellectual Stimulation-cchallenges me to think about old problems in new ways.  Has ideas that have forced me to rethink some things that I never questioned before.  Has challenged me to rethink some of my basic assumptions about my work.
  • Supportive Leadership-considers my personal feelings before acting.  Behaves in a manner which is thoughtful of my personal needs.  Sees that the interests of employees are given due consideration.
  • Personal Recognition-commends me when I do a better than average job.  Acknowledges improvement in my quality of work.  Personally compliments me when I do outstanding work.

While Dr. Forgensen’s book focuses on the increased performance of teams in a software delivery environment, my personal experience correlates these traits with an increased performance in other environments as well.

Even if your current organization isn’t ready for transformative leadership it’s a good idea to take these leadership traits you want to exericse as part of your future and bring them into your current reality.

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What 11′ 8″ Can Teach Us About Project Management

maxresdefault1There’s a low bridge in Pennsylvania.  How low you ask?  11′ 8″.  Why is it so low? Because it was built for a train in an era before automobiles were as popular as they are today and before trucks were as tall as they are today.

The railroad company is happy with the bridge, but wanted to protect it from a tall vehicle, so they put up a steel barrier of the same height just feet before the bridge to protect it.

From the railroad’s perspective the problem is solved.

The city didn’t want vehicles hitting the bridge either, so rather than pay for an expensive rebuild they put up signs warning drivers about the height and attempting to direct them to a different route they had invested a lot of money into building where it would be safe to cross.  The city also knows that each person on the road had to pass a drivers test that primarily consisted of knowing how to read and follow signs.

The number of incidents in the video would suggest that people aren’t following the signs the way the city intended.  While this could lead us to start a commentary about drivers, I believe there’s lessons to be learned here about project management.

What does this tell us about project management?

We need to remember the bridge project was successful from both the railroad and city’s perspective.

In both cases the project managers and organizations were insulated from the environment.  Government, and government backed railroads are rarely incentivized to apply the Toyota Principle of Genchi Genbutsu.  One great example of Genchi Genbutsu was when the project manager for the Toyota Sienna decided to take a road trip in the United States.  He didn’t just drive across the country, he drove that model year in all 50 states and noticed just how big the United States was.  He realized that Americans weren’t just using vehicles for the shorter trips common among Japanese drivers, but long, multi-day trips with families and gear packed in the vehicle.  When he was done with the journey he increased the number of cup holders (Americans are also more likely to eat in their vehicles) as well as improved luggage space.

11-foot-8-bridge.jpgFor the case of 11′ 8″ the railroad company didn’t adopt the culture of Go and See beyond the intent to protect their asset.  I imagine that the city’s version of seeing what happened was less about watching it on youtube, and more about seeing the amount of traffic violations issued by the police officers for infractions.  In every case, it’s the fault of the driver, not the fault of the city for not having improved the road.  In general city officials are heavily insulated from their consequences elsewise how could a firefighter in California work more hours than physically exist in a year?

Applying Genchi Genbutsu is best applied with a cultural perspective shared by the organization’s leadership.  That leadership should foster systems that encourage a go and see attitude, but even when leadership isn’t 100% on board a project manager should be routinely going and seeing as much of the project work as possible.  It’s when you see the work and working environment that you can notice positive risks.  Small opportunities to improve add up a lot over the course of the project, and I know people who work harder for empathetic leaders than any other type.

So what can we learn from this?

Americans tend to have trouble trusting road signs.  This comes from years of speed limit signs being based upon arbitrary laws and not actual road designs, constructions signs left up months after construction is finished (sometimes just so fines can increase for law enforcement), and I also believe the font might have something to do with it.

Leadership in a project isn’t putting up a sign and expecting people to follow it.  It’s going and seeing the challenges that people are faced with (like where’s the road I’m supposed to take if it’s not this one) and help them overcome those challenges.  Leadership is about removing obstacles.  The best way to find obstacles isn’t on a report.  It’s from going and seeing for yourself.