Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Dog and a Polar Bear

I recently started reading the book the five keys to mindful communication by Susan Gillis Chapman. In the beginning, she tells the story that goes with the pictures that you can find here. As she tells it, Churchill the dog was tied to a stake outside a cabin somewhere in the Arctic. The owner (National Geographic photographer Norbert Rosing) spotted a polar bear coming towards his dog. The owner knew he was already to late to do anything, so he grabbed his camera. What came next surprised him. Churchill didn't get defensive; he started wagging his tail playfully as the bear approached. The bear didn't act aggressively either, he responded to Churchill's behavior and started playing with him. As the story goes, the bear came back on several occasions to play with Churchill. 

This story is a great lesson for how we communicate. If we get defensive, putting up a wall, our conversation will be different than if we are open and engaging when someone approaches us. Early in the book, Chapman talks about how we need to pay attention to how we respond and have an open mind. She talks about moving away from "Me-First" to "We-First" in our relationships.

This last idea started me thinking about Servant-Leadership. A project manager that practices Servant-Leadership thinks in terms of how they can help the team before they think about themselves. They are aware of their team's needs and they listen.

So next time you are in a conversation, stop and be aware of how you are communicating. Are you really paying attention to what the other person is saying or are you going on the defensive and preparing your next response? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mobility and the Project Manager

I read a blog post today about mobile BPM (business process management) written by a colleague of mine, Scott Francis. Scott and I have worked together on BPM projects over the past few years. Having recently purchased the latest iPad, his post got me thinking about how mobile technology is changing the world of project management, or is it?

I am taking over a program after the first release went to production. The user stories are all in a cloud-based PM tool, organized in iterations and releases. So when I created a card board and put the user stories on post-it notes and stuck them up there, my developers made fun of me…but they have been keeping it updated without any prompting. So the question is, how much technology do we need? Can a project be successfully run with just a white board and a stack of post-it notes?

I will always take the simplest solution. When it comes to managing a co-located team, a cardboard is very effective. You can take a quick look and know exactly the status of the iteration. If you have 2 days left in the iteration and a bunch of cards in the column for waiting user acceptance, you know where you need to focus you time. One of the principals of Kanban is to make your process visible, and a cardboard does this very effectively, even if you're not using Kanban.

However, in a program like I'm running, with multiple iterations and releases, you need something more comprehensive to keep track of everything. We planned our next iteration this week. We were using our on-line tool to have a view into all of the stories. As we whittled down the stories for the next iteration, it let us know how many points we had selected, so we knew when we were within our velocity.

Going back to Scott's article, from a mobility standpoint, I carry my iPad around with me all day. I use it to capture notes in meetings, rather than using pen/paper. With Evernote, my notes are available on my laptop when I get back; or even my iPhone if necessary. I can also access our PM tool thru the iPad, so I have our plan at my fingertips, regardless of where I am. It's this instant access to information that makes the mobile tool valuable.

So, what's your favorite approach/application for managing projects?