Monday, December 18, 2006

The Meaning of Christmas

Our church had an intersting service this week. The minister incorporated the story How the Grinch Stole Christmas into her talk. At first this might seem a bit odd, after all this is just a kid’s story. The point she was trying to make was how Christmas was an opportunity to let our hearts be open to love. We don’t try to find love; we just have to drop the barriers that keep it from finding us. That happened to the Grinch when he realized Christmas wasn’t about the gifts or the food, but that it was about people.

So there’s no real connection to project management here, or is there? Is project management about the tools and technology? Will we be happy if we have a get a great WBS for a present? Or is it about the people we work with?

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Peace!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Thanksgiving was last week here in the US. This is a unique American holiday to focus on giving thanks for all we have. It’s also a time to think about those that may not be as fortunate and how we can help them. For the first time this year, my family (including my 12 and 15 year old kids) and I volunteered to serve food at a church for those that couldn’t afford their own Thanksgiving meal.

As project managers, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer. I have been on the board for the PMI IT & Telecom specific interest group for the past 6 years. There are others in PMI that have volunteered to help victims of hurricanes and tsunamis around the world. Our unique skills at running projects can be a great benefit for people in need. So this holiday season take some time to share your skills by volunteering.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Agile Project Management

“The sage says little and does not tie the people down; and the people stay happy believing that what happens happens naturally.” Tao Te Ching, Chapter 17

I have been doing some work lately with Agile project management, focusing on how to set up just enough process to successfully run the project without creating so much process that it “ties people down.”

I’ve seen projects fail due to lack of planning, and others that get stuck in the planning phase and never really deliver the product. One time I was hired by a company that was trying to launch an internally built sales force automation (SFA) project. The project had been going on for about 6 months and there were lots of programmers hired that were typing away at their keyboards. A huge project schedule had been put together and posted on the wall of the project room, and there was an extensive requirements document; however, it didn’t seem like any real progress was being made. By simplifying the work and breaking it up into iterations I was able to deliver some value to my customer quickly. This first release went out to the field so they could start using it while we kept moving forward with additional features. The key, as is with any Agile project, was to deliver value to the customer quickly.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Servant Leader

“Why is the Sea the King of a hundred streams? Because He is below them.”
– Toa Te Ching, Chapter 66.

This quote expresses the idea of the leader as servant, which has been an idea that has been discussed by many authors such as Robert Greenleaf, Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard and others. How do we, as project managers, serve our teams.

I was on a project one time that as the PM, my main role was keeping the team isolated from “management” so they could do their work. I kept my boss informed on what was going on, so he didn’t have to go to the team for status. I kept other, non-project related work from being dumped on them. I made sure they had the tools they needed to do their work. The results spoke for themselves, the project was on time, on budget, and the customer was delighted with the results.

So next time you’re leading a team, think about how you can serve them to help make them successful. It will make you successful also.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On 9-11

I've seen this quote attributed to Confucius. I thought it was appropriate for today.

To put a World in order: we need to put the nations in order.

To put a Nation in order: we need to put the government in order.

To put a Government in order: we need to put the state in order.

To have a State in order: we need to put the community in order.

To have a Community in order: we need to put the society in order.

To have a Society in order: we need to put the family in order.

To have a Family in order: we need to put the family members in order.

To have the Family members in order: we need to put ourselves in order.

To put ourselves in order: we need to put oneself in order.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dharma and Team Performance

In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra talks about the law of Dharma. He states that each of us has something that we can do better then anyone else in the world, and we will be successful when we understand what this is and follow this path. I came across something similar in Jim Highsmith’s Agile Project Management. He states his opinion as “nearly everyone has the potential to be above average at something. It’s a managers’s job to help them find that something.” I had a boss once, when talking about a poor performer, stated it as “maybe their light would shine brighter on another basket.”

The idea is the same; our team will perform best when we have the right people on the team. So how do you know if you have the right team, or even if you’re in the right position?

I was once in a job that I hated. There were a lot of office politics and micro-management. Because I wasn’t happy, my performance wasn’t at its best. I eventually got out of there and found something much better.

So how do we put together that perfect high-performing team? As the project manager, we need to be enthusiastic about the project. If we’re not sincere, the team will know. The project also has to be aligned with strategy. If we’re doing a project that doesn’t seem to make sense for the company, this to will cause friction. Finally, the rest of the team has to want to be part of the project. If team members don’t want to be there, they aren’t going to perform at their best.

So is your light on the right basket?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ethics versus Morality

I was reading some Buddhist teachings on morality recently. Morality is a foundation of Buddhism. At the basic level, one should not harm others. Beyond this, the next level is to help others. I started thinking about this and how it compares to ethics.

So is there a difference between ethics and morality? Many people might think the two are the same concept. When one digs a little deeper, it will become apparent that they aren’t.

The PMI statement on ethics is straight forward; represent yourself truthfully (including your PMP certification), don’t lie about your qualifications in business, and don’t become involved in any conflict of interests. Nothing new here, is there?

Morality goes deeper then this. Think about “do no harm.” I recently came across a situation where a project manager was leaving their company and the project they were leading. They didn’t do anything to help the organization prepare for their departure beyond spending a couple of hours getting the new project manager up to speed on the day they left.

From a PMI perspective they didn’t violate any ethics, but from a Buddhist perspective, they violated do no harm. They could have better prepared the organization and the new PM for the transition. The project was impacted and the organization was harmed because of their lack of action.

So while ethics are important and a good starting point, a good project manager must go beyond this and use morality in their actions.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

More Tao of PM

Another image in the Tao Te Ching is that of strenght versus flexibility. As oak tree is very strong. The same can't be said of grass. But here in Kansas, when we get a tornado, the grass may bend in the strong wind, but remain unharmed. The oak tree however can be broken by the winds.

So what does this say for the project manager? I once recruited a project manager from another department to work for me. This PM got things done through use of power, primarily via their position. In my department though, positional power didn't carry as much weight as other types of power. In my department, it was more about building good relationships, often referred to as personal power or power through trust. This type of power requires more flexibility and more time to develop.

So the PM was acting like an oak tree, but they should have been acting more like grass to be effective.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Tao Te Ching and Project Management

It's been a while since I've posted. I have been out on vacation in London with the family and then doing a little traveling for work. It's given me time to think about ideas to write about here.

I recently got a new Palm T|X. It's really slick! It has WiFi, so I can surf the internet from my couch without dragging my laptop over. It also plays MP3s, audio books, and I can keep pictures on it. It uses the same memory chip as my camera, so I can use it as a picture viewer.

One application I found for it was a copy of the Tao Te Ching. I have read this book before, and even used it for a presentation on leadership. Now I have it on my fingertips anytime I need some inspiriation.

One image used in Tao Te Ching is that of water. Water is fluid and moves around obstacles, but at the same time wears things down; think of the formation of the Grand Canyon. I think a good project manager is one that recognizes when it's time to move around an obstacle and not try to overcome it with force.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Eighth Step - Right Concentration

The last step in the Eightfold Path focuses on concentration, which leads to meditation. Meditation is part of most religions, but can meditation be applied to work?

I have a problem solving technique I use that falls in line with this step. When I have a problem that needs a creative solution, I start by reviewing the information I have on the problem. I'll then retreat to a quiet place and get comfortable. I take some time to quiet my mind by concentrating on my breath. When I've cleared all my thoughts, I then start reflecting on the problem. Do I have the right problem identified or is there more to it? Do I understand the root cause of the problem? What are the options?

I usually find the answer isn't far away, I just needed some quiet time to figure it out. At this point I head back to my desk and start working on the solution.

So that's the last of the Eightfold Path and its relation to project management as I see it. I don't know what I'll write about next, I'll have to reflect on it for a while.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Six Sigma and Project Management

I recently wrote an article for the Center for Business Practices talking about how Six Sigma can be applied to a project management environment. Read it here.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

PMI EMEA Congress

I've just gotten back home after traveling to Madrid to attend the PMI EMEA Congress. The turnout this year was great! They had over 700 attendees. Madrid was a beautiful city, lots of old world charm. The tapas and cervecas were always good.

The topics were across the board from an introductory explanation of how to calculate slack on a network diagram to advance techniques for conducting reviews during software development projects (waterfall and agile). One of my favorite papers, by Dr Al Zeitoun my friend Janet Burns was titled "Cocktail Napkin Project Management" providing a simple approach for project management for people that aren't professional project managers.

I think it's time for me to go study a cocktail napkin or two. Cheers.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Seventh Step - Right Mindfulness

The other day when I was running, I was thinking to much about some challenges at work and missing the fact that it was a beautiful spring day, the sky was brilliant blue, there were trees and flowers blooming. I was already on my way home before I noticed what a great day it was.

Right mindfulness is talking about having a clear mind. It means noticing the fine details even while in the middle of diversity. It's noticing the flowers in spite of the problems at work. It means not doing things that serve the ego.

As a project manager, this ties into leadership. Anyone that has led people has probably faced performance issues with them occasionally. I know I have in my past, and it did occupy my mind to where I didn't appreciate the flowers. While these issues must be dealt with, we can't take them personally. We have to address the issue objectively, work through a solution, and then move on. So clear your mind and take a minute to smell the flowers.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Sixth Step - Right Effort

It was tough for me to see an easy tie between this step and project management, which is ironic because this step is about not taking the easy way out. Maybe that’s the tie. Shortcuts aren’t the answer to life’s questions, so should they be the answer in project management?

A key step early in a project is understanding the scope of the project. What is it that we are going to deliver? What are the deliverables? This is not the time to take a shortcut. In order for the project to be successful, we need to carefully work through this problem. That’s the only way we’ll find the true answer.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Fifth Step - Right Livelihood

As I was researching this step of the Eightfold Path, I had to reflect on my own career. Like most (or all) people, I've had jobs I've loved and jobs I've hated. When the alarm goes off in the morning, do you say "not again" or do you jump out of bed, eager to start the day. These days, I am eager to get to work (and yes, we are hiring).

Project management can be be rewarding or frustrating. A lot of times we are expected to do things without the official authority. We don't always get the resources we need, and yet we are expected to deliver. But when a project is delivered successfully, what a feeling of satisfaction.

The right livelihood doesn't necessarily mean we seek out a job because it is more morally correct. It has to do with how we approach our job/career. We need to go out and do our best, not for reward or recognition, because that is feeding our ego. We do our best, because it's the right thing to do. Then we will see the stress dimish and find satisfaction.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Fourth Step - Right Action

It's easy to do the right thing, isn't it? We wouldn't rob a bank or embezzle millions in our company (Enron or Worldcom not withstanding). But what about those smaller, less significant cases of maybe not doing the right thing. Where do we draw the line? Is it really a big deal if the procurement officer got a couple of tickets to the football game from the vendor? No one was really hurt, and besides, their product was best, wasn't it?

The fourth step of the eightfold path is right action. If we do the right thing, we will be in harmony, while if we do the wrong thing, even if seemingly insignificant, we will be in opposition with nature. As project managers, we need to apply insight to our decisions so that we follow the path that will progress our goals, spiritual or otherwise.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Third Step - Right Speech

Speech is like a bell, once it is rung, it cannot be unrung. Once we say something, we cannot take it back. Equally important as what we say is the motivation behind our words.

All projects will have meetings. This is a great opportunity to practice Right Speech. We need to consider how we contribute to the meeting and why. Do we shoot down someone else's suggestion because we don't like them (even if the suggestion was good)? Do we speak our mind just to stroke our own ego? Next time you're in a meeting, think about what you say and why.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Second Step - Right Thought

The second step in the eightfold path is right thought or purpose. From a Buddhist perspective, this means keeping an eye on your spiritual goals, especially when life happens and throws you off track.

So what's the parallel to project management? The idea is to keep an eye on the big picture, and don't get bent out of shape when minor problems arise on the project. A good project manager will plan out the project in advance, but also know how to adjust the plan as the project moves forward. Change is not a bad thing; it just needs to be managed with the end goal in mind. The vision of the project should remain the same, even if some of the details change.