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Happy 2016!

Happy 2016!
“A year from now you will wish you had started today.” -Karen Lamb
Happy 2016? What kind of an error is that? It is NOT an error. Imagine that it is already 2016. Pushy of me isn’t it? Here you are just getting settled into 2015. What I am really asking you to consider is have you already placed some of your plans on hold? Did you make big promises to yourself as the year began only to push them to the side after the glow from the New Year began to dim? I am not talking about the inevitable lose weight, eat better, exercise more type of resolutions. There is nothing wrong with those goals, as long as you are realistic with them. I am talking about those secret big plans you have for yourself. The move you have been considering, the novel inside of you just waiting to be written, the new classes you want to take or the advanced degree you wish to seek. You consider them at least once a year and for some reason you push them aside. You decide you do not have the time or money to go back to school or that if you move you might not like your new job or your new home. Yet they keep coming back to you, these secret plans and dreams. They might not even be secret; you might occasionally discuss them with your friends. They smile and nod knowingly as you discuss your story line for that novel that you never seem to write. Where would that novel be today if one year ago you had started to write? Even if you deleted more than you had written, that novel would be on its way to become a reality. Sure, sometimes big dreams happen all at once. But not everybody wins the lottery. Most of us reach our big goals by starting out with some simple steps. Don’t delay your start because you do not have everything you need to complete your plan, get started now. You have probably read or seen this quote, which is often attributed to Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And in honor the fact that today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day: "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase." Start today!
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Who is REALLY Wrong Here?

maintaining a solid working relationshipIf you are afraid of being lonely, don't try to be right.” ― Jules Renard The client was late providing their training materials to the team. Jonathan, the project manager was only mildly alarmed by this delay. The reason he was not more upset about the delay was the fact that he and the team had seen the training materials before and because the requirements called for only minor updates to be made to the materials. Pushing the client to meet the deadline was a delicate balancing act. Jonathan did not want to alienate them, but he also would not stand back and say nothing. His point person within the client’s organization had been friendly but evasive. They were having some difficulties, they would make the go live date, but they would definitely be late with their training materials. He assured Jonathan that it should be no big deal because Jonathan’s trainer had taught using these materials in the past and the changes were minimal. It turns out it was a big deal. The materials were late AND they had been dramatically revised. Jonathan now had a very upset and panicky trainer in his office, with three days to go until the training class and classes already booked with another client during each of those three days. Jonathan’s mind was spinning with all kinds of thoughts about what he could have done and what he should have done. But what he needed the most right now was to calmly and logically sort things out. Here is what he knew:
  • A group of people were expecting a class to start in three days
  • His trainer was supposed to give the training
  • The materials were completely different than what was agreed upon
  • He did not have a resource who could either update the materials or update them within the next three days
  • Even if he did have a resource available, the amount of work required made it absolutely impossible to complete the updates within three days
It was not a fun situation. Jonathan picked up the phone and called his contact at the client site. He calmly and carefully explained the dilemma. The materials were not as expected and were not as agreed upon. He worked very hard to make his statements factual and not personal. Despite Jonathan’s best efforts his contact was quick to tell Jonathan that he was wrong, he misunderstood the requirements and everything was as it should be. Jonathan paused and then referred to the information he had been provided and shared why he and his team had interpreted it in a certain way. He stated that it was unfortunate that the requirements had been misunderstood and apologized for any role that he might have played in the misunderstanding. After a few minutes his contact stopped being on the defensive and conceded that perhaps they had both been victims of unclear communication. He went on to acknowledge that if the materials had been delivered on time, the situation would be far less upsetting and far less challenging. It was at this point that Jonathan and his contact overcame a barrier. Instead of becoming trapped in finger pointing and throwing around blame, together they kept the issues impersonal and together they accepted the fact that both sides had played a part in the misunderstanding. You know what else they did together? They worked out a solution that allowed the training to be delivered as scheduled in three days, without requiring anyone to do the impossible. Of course this also means that they continued to work together on many future projects. It was not about being right or wrong, it was about maintaining a solid working relationship.
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Do YOU Know or Do YOU Understand?

Charles-Kettering-Quotes-2There is a great difference between knowing a thing and understanding it. You can know a lot about something and not really understand it.” - Charles Franklin Kettering Mary Carol understood what the team meant when they said that their sponsor was challenging. Almost the entire team had told her that at first their sponsor would be very nice and easy to work with, but they warned her that the longer she worked with him the more his difficult side would show. She would return from meetings with him and share his feedback with the team. For two months he had been very supportive and helpful. Still her team members would look at her and say, “Just wait, you will see.” They all had stories to tell about how he had lost his temper during presentations or delayed project completion because he did not feel ready to move ahead or about how one time he insisted on reading all of the individual test result reports to ensure that the testers were doing a good job. She knew that they were not making it up. She just did not have any first hand experience with his behavior. It occurred to her that maybe he was changing or that he did not have any issues with her. She could not understand what might have caused this seemingly reasonable people to behave as others described. Perhaps the stories had grown more dramatic with time. Then one day she was meeting with him to discuss project status. She informed him that a mistake had been made in the estimates and that it would take about 3% more budget than anticipated. He leaned back in his chair, took a deep breath and then began yelling. Mary Carol cannot even remember everything he said. She just remembers sitting there petrified and realizing that now she understood what her team members were talking about. Until her sponsor lost it with her, Mary Carol simply knew that he had a reputation for over the top behavior, when she experienced it herself; she really understood what her team members had told her. It is like knowing that fire burns versus seeing it burn something. (Hopefully not YOUR hand.) And while you never wish difficulty on anyone, sometimes it is necessary to have an experience with fire in order to move from the concept or knowing that fire burns to the actual understanding of the power of fire. Or in the case of Mary Carol and her sponsor, the difference between knowing that her sponsor could be difficult versus understanding what difficult really meant. Ultimately her understanding of his difficult behavior could lead to her being able to have a better working relationship with him. Instead of simply knowing that he can be difficult, she can begin to understand the types of situations that trigger his difficult behavior and perhaps she can better plan for her time with him. Perhaps she could have even lead with helping him understand the reason for the 3% budget variance and then told him that there was a budget increase. She could have started the meeting with describing the situation with an eye for helping him reach the understanding that more budget was needed. It really can be handy to come from a place of understanding. Of course intellectually we all know that. Right? Happy New Year! Peace.
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The Story of the Leather Wrapped Village

walkingOnEarth-Globe-1Where would I possibly find enough leather with which to cover the surface of the earth? But (just) leather on the soles of my shoes, is equivalent to covering the earth with it….” The above expression has also been expanded to a story or analogy which deepens the lesson. A the story goes, there was once a kingdom where all of the people walked throughout the land barefoot. Even the king and the queen did not wear shoes. Most of the time when the king and the queen left the palace, they were carried on a litter. But one day the queen wished to walk. Reluctantly her attendants lowered the litter and she climbed out. As she walked through the village she cut her foot on a sharp stone. She quickly realized that this must happen to all of her loyal subjects. Dismayed she asked her advisors what could be done to prevent her people from cutting their feet. Her advisors told her that perhaps the entire area could be wrapped with leather. In this way the sharp stones would be covered. The queen and her entourage returned to the castle and began making plans to cover the village and surrounding areas. The court jester watched all of the planning with amusement. There were long and serious discussions about the size of the village and the amount of leather that would be needed and how to attach the leather firmly to the ground. Finally the jester could take no more and he called out, “Instead of wrapping the earth with leather, why don’t you all just cover your feet?” After a moment of stunned silence, they all realized that the jester was in fact no fool and he was right. With the proper protection on their feet, the villagers could walk anywhere. Well rest assured that this is not my attempt to sell you a new pair of shoes. Here’s a thought, you can spend your time trying to coat the earth with good strong leather. Then you would be able to walk barefoot anywhere and everywhere and never cut your feet. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Wouldn’t you like to walk around knowing that you had full protection all of the time? Sorry, but you can’t. Of course this is wildly impractical. You can’t cover the earth with leather and protect your feet at all times. You can protect the soles of your feet so that no matter where you walk, you are prepared and you are protected. You know this is about so much more than your feet, right? You can try to spend your life controlling the people and situations around you so that you never get hurt. In fact you know people who do just that. You recognize them because you call them control freaks. Or perhaps you recognize them because you see that they are afraid of new situations or new places or new people or new food. Trying to control all of the people and experiences around you is as useless as trying to cover the earth with leather. Why not use your time and energy to strengthen yourself? Prepare yourself for the inevitable life challenge. Build up your skill at dealing with difficult people; be prepared to meet that tough day, head on. How? You can start by recognizing that the only thing you can control in any situation is yourself. You control your thoughts and your actions and your perceptions. Once you accept this and you strengthen your responses to the challenges in your life; it will be as-if you have placed strong leather on the soles of your feet. You will be protected no matter where you step.
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Good Project Management is ALWAYS in Style

Project Management always in styleWe don’t need to trouble you with a request for a project manager; we are using an iterative approach, and project management cannot be used.You could have heard a pin drop. One of our technology managers had basically said, “Thanks but no thanks,” and he was saying it to the Project Management Office (PMO) director. Without batting an eye, the director asked for a description of this iterative process. In fact, he said he wanted to learn about it because if we had a whole team of project managers who were no longer needed we could redeploy them elsewhere. Why would we pay for a team of people who were not needed and did not add value? Blithely unaware of the trap he had just set for himself, the technology manager described how every iteration was a mini-project of its own and how each mini-project would accomplish a small part of the project. Future iterations would build on the previous iterations. It was faster and more efficient and would provide better quality. It was too soon to know how many iterations would be needed or what would be accomplished in each iteration, but definitely the cost, schedule, scope, and quality goals would be met. You probably know how this ends. This particular project floundered. Cost and schedule targets changed quite a few times. The vice president stepped in and stated that this project could not continue without a project manager. The point is not that iterative approaches don’t work: of course they work. This is not about trying to show that a Waterfall approach is better. The best approach is the approach that fits the nature of your projects and allows you to deliver a quality result within the desired budget by a specified date. The result... the beginning of a stronger relationship between the PMO and the technology team. Any project manager could not have saved this project. The project manager who helped steer this project to success came with experience in iterative methodologies. He was hired from the outside and interviewed and selected by both the technology manager and the PMO director. He knew how to balance the strengths of the iterative approach with the strengths of project management. The result was a showcase project—an example for future projects and the beginning of a stronger relationship between the PMO and the technology team. Good project management is like the little black dress: it is always appropriate and always in style. For more stories on transitioning from Waterfall to Agile, be sure to check out ‘Waterfall to Agile’ a free eBook brought to us by AtTask, you can find it here: http://unbouncepages.com/agile-53187/
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