Everyone’s Right

Youve been there before. You’re in a meeting and someone is very passionate about how they see a situation. They escalate their volume. Soon there’s a misunderstanding and someone else matches passion for passion, but they don’t share the same perspective.

Two people may walk on a path but their destinations aren’t always the same.

It’s entirely possible to pause a conversation that is going badly. During the pause I remarked how both people were right and encouraged them to see it from the others perspective.

It worked.

I only hope someone is around to pause the next meeting where I become passionate.

No Offence

Months into the project the tracts I was working on managing were lagging behind.  My inexperience, cultural barriers, technical challenges, and resources all contributed to a series of delays.  No one on the team had any issue with the way I’d been handling things because I kept them in the loop and help set proper expectations.

There was a great deal of anxiety about the delayed deliverables since so much was depending on them.  A meeting was called for lunch in a company that treats lunch time as a sacred break to give their employees time to refresh and we started breaking out the details on my deliverables.  A lot was done, but without the complete set of work the dependent tasks could not be performed and tested.

A passionate meeting ensued.  The whiteboard basically looked like it had graffiti on it.  Tables were drawn.  Dates were discussed and debated.  People were using their outside voice inside to make sure they were heard.  At the end of it the Product Owner pulled the leadership team aside and recommended that the primary PM own my effort and serve as the single point of contact.

By the time I got to the cafeteria my boss, who had scheduled the meeting, asked me how I was feeling about it.

I told him that I wasn’t offended at all.  We’d reached the point where the delay on my workstreams were impacting the overall project and that the primary PM needed to be intimately aware of what was going on so he could find opportunities to move his dependent steps forward as it becomes possible to do so.  I’m still managing, but now I’m feeding that PM my information at every update instead of just our normal cadence during the week.

I’m not sure how things would have changed if pride were a part of the equation, but I don’t imagine it would have made things any easier.  I think it was better to spend the time to focus on the work at hand and not on placating someone’s hurt pride.

No offense?  None taken.

Kill Your WIP

WIP = Work In Progress

Work In Progress is a large enemy of productivity. It exists even in the home. My 8-year-old is an expert of WIP. During the school season she would wake up at least 90 minutes before her bus would leave. She would start her hair, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and making her lunch. She wouldn’t actually finish any of these things. She would just start them and rotate from one to the next inserting other tasks (playing with the dog) along the way.

Usually about 15 minutes before the bus would leave a kind parent would hover and follow her every step of the way. Eventualy she’d be able to focus and get one thing done, then another, and another, until finally the whole list was complete and she’d head out the door to her day.

“Finish what you started, [daughter]!”

While there are many different techniques to address WIP when it comes to addressing them in your personal life, you might start by just looking for opportunities to finish what you started.

While you’re at it, you might want to ask yourself if what you’re doing is productive, or if you’re playing with the puppy.

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How I Made This

I can’t art.

My YouTube feed showed me that the Slow Mo Guys were spinning records until they broke.  I decided that the breaking frames looked beautiful.

So I took the frame from their video and took a screenshot:

record_spin_screenshot

But I didn’t want all the background noise.  I just wanted to get the outlines and to do that I needed to convert the bitmap to a vector.  For that I used InkScape.

After InkScape selected the right bits I deleted the unwanted parts (had to ungroup first) and ended up with this:

record_spin

Ah, but that background was a bit ugly and I like dartkable.  So I brought it into darktable and tweaked the color settings to end up with this:

record_spin

Now that I’ve done it and typed about it I can see there are better ways to do the workflow.

Interesting how defining processes gives you the perspective to find opportunities to improve the processes.

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.