Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A hot new book

As I was reading some of my usual blogs, I came across two different references for the book The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. It's a career guide written in manga, the Japanese style of comics.

Watch the trailer.

Zen and Presentations

Around where I live, the redbud trees are blooming. They are by far my favorite trees. I missed most of their splendor last year because I was in Japan (and missed the cherry blossoms there because I came back home for 2 weeks at their peak). So here's a picture of one.

I came across a great blog site, Presentation Zen. I am working on becoming more active as a public speaker, and this site has some good advice. A particular article that caught my eye compared Bill Gates to Steve Jobs from a presentation perspective. The article talks about the Zen principle of simplicity, or kanso and that "beauty, grace, and visual elegance are achieved by elimination and omission."

The blog post goes on to compare the style of Jobs (visual Zen master) and Gates, who embodies the Microsoft method of presentations that many of us have seen. I'll admit I've even created some like this myself. But next time I put together a presentation, I'll think about simplicity and how to create the most impact with the least amount of stuff in my slides.

On a side note, I recently switched from a Windows machine to a MacBook. I think even the Mac computers have that same Zen approach.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Stuck in an airport

I'm stuck in an airport lounge in Texas, waiting for some weather to clear so I can go home. I had a conversation today with a colleague about what makes projects late (not usually weather).

Our conversation centered around scope creep. Because projects take so long, end users ask for a lot of requirements because they don't think they'll have a chance to get anything else once the project is done. Then they change their mind because it takes so long to deliver what they ask for that the business has changed and now they need something new.

The answer of course is to break the project up; deliver a little at a time. It took me a while the first time I tried to convince a sponsor this was the way to go with a project, but after I successfully delivered a small first release followed by a second release, he became convinced on this approach to running a project. No more huge list of requirements, no more long time periods between gathering requirements and delivering on them, and a happy sponsor. Now if only I could do something about weather delays!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day

It's Earth Day today, at least in the northern hemisphere. It's a day to appreciate the environment and think about what we can do to make it better.

My son is working on an interesting project that is in the spirit of earth day. He's taking an old bike of mine (my first real racing bike) and rebuilding it to be a commuter bike he can ride to work and school. So he's recycling and when he's done he'll be reducing his carbon footprint by not driving as much. For my part, now that the weather has improved, I've started to ride my bike for errands rather than driving. What can you do?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Getting Old

My wife is responsible for the database at the church where she works and they are looking at moving to a new tool. One question she had for me was can a company get to tied to its history and not be able to evolve. My answer was of course.

It’s not just companies; people can do this as well. Are you evolving? As project managers, we can get into ruts, running the same types of projects for the same organization. It’s important to continue to learn new skills. Reading is one way to stay up with the latest trends. Going back to the classroom is another; whether it’s for a formal degree or a new certification. Conferences, like this week’s Scrum Gathering in Chicago are also a great way to hear new ideas (see the DrunkenPM blog for more on this).

In Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about sharpening the saw. What are you doing to keep your saw sharp?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Creativity versus Productivity

My daughter is off competing today in the state finals for a program called "Future Problem Solving." The idea is to take a team of kids, give them some future, real-world situation and have them apply their creativity to come up with solutions.

The competition got me thinking about the balance between creativity and productivity. Early in my career, while still in the military, I received some feedback that I wasn't creative enough. I puzzled over this. I was in the Navy, I just had to follow orders. It took me a while, but I began to realize each of us should bring our creativity to our jobs. It comes with problem solving, creating new ways to approach the work. After all, a project is a "unique endeavor" so it should be approached creatively.

There's got to be a balance though. We can't just sit around all day and brainstorm ideas. Unlike my daughter and her team, who just have to give a presentation on the ideas they come up with, we need to take an idea and make it work.

My favorite approach; if I'm stuck on a problem, I'll get away from my desk. If it's convenient, I'll do something physical like go for a run. Talking to someone else helps sometimes. Whatever approach I take, I know how long I have before I need to get moving on a solution, so I don't get lost being creative.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lean PM

I had an article published today in Projects at Work on Lean Project Management, find it here (free registration required).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Winning Team

Last night, the local university, University of Kansas (KU), won the college basketball championship in breath-taking style. Now I didn't go to KU, but plenty of people around here did, and even folks like me that aren't big basketball fans or KU fans were still watching last night's game and cheering on the winning team.

So what makes a winning team? Having a common goal helps, especially when things get tough. KU had 3 losses late in the season that must have made them question if they could achieve their goal. That's where good leadership comes in to keep the vision alive.

Teamwork is also important in reaching the goal. Everyone has to understand their role as well as the other team member's roles and they have to be able to communicate effectively among themselves.

So how's your team doing? Do you have a common goal to guide your actions? Is everyone aware of how their piece fits into the big picture? When you reach your goal, do you take the time to celebrate? The streets around KU were sure crazy after the game last night.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

More Zen & Motorcycle Maintenance

So I'm still making my way through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I was reading a section the other night about "stuckness." In the story, he's talking about what happens when you're trying to remove a screw and end up tearing the slot. You're stuck, you can't get that screw out.

In Zen, the idea is to reach this point, then your mind is empty because there isn't a solution. You now have a beginner's mind and can start to really understand the problem.

Have you had the situation in a project when you're faced with a decision and don't know the best option? You have too many things running through your mind? When I'm faced with this situation, I like to try to take some time to meditate and clear my mind. Then I can start looking at the problem with that beginner's mind and hopefully make the right decision.