PM Quote of the Day — Herb Kelleher

A company is stronger if it is bound by love rather than by fear.

Saying “No” the right way

A colleague of mine, Schalk Klee, has a couple of posts of interest (Schalk’s blog is here).  I had forgotten to link to his original post on saying “No” as a PM (here), so his follow up post on when and how to say “No” (here) was an appreciated reminder.  Schalk highlights the balance that must be struck:

We all know that good scope management and customer focus are both critical success factors for value adding projects and in a professional service environment there is always the sales focus as well.  How do I balance this?

This is where I believe the art of making a deal comes into play.  This is a skill that a “good” project manager has to develop.  How do I give my client what they want without putting myself into a worse position?  Creative thinking, negotiation tactics and customer focus all need to be combined. 

Deal-making and negotiation skills are not emphasized enough in most PM career paths; frankly, I could stand brushing up on them myself!

It’s a start to know you have a problem…

Good to be back from break.  Over the years, I’ve found that the paradox of a really good vacation is that by the end I’m raring to get back home and off to work.

Yesterday, I saw a great WSJ article on the travails of Toyota (here) that shows even great companies stumble — the company is facing its first operating loss in 70 years.  The author highlights recent quality issues and strategic missteps, especially over-expansion of capacity.  Toyota is taking steps to fix these issues, though

[t]he best news for Toyota is that [President Katsuaki] Watanabe seems worried.  As he told the Reuters news agency last February, before the current crisis struck: “I’m constantly trying to drive home the message that long-lasting success is elusive.”

Earlier in the article, Mr. Watanabe laid out the challenge in starker terms: “It’s a kind of emergency that we’ve never experienced before.”  The same challenge lays ahead for me and many of our firms.  We will need to make wrenching personal and organizational changes to survive and thrive. 

To that end, I expect to spend much of 2009 exploring how to prepare ourselves for the needed changes.

PM Quote of the Day — Herbert Spencer

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation

I’ve always liked this quote and I happened upon it last night again.  Regardless of Spencer’s  (somewhat unearned) academic infamy as the father of Social Darwinism, it was other aspects of his thought that penetrated the way we think today. 

In particular, Spencer emphasized the ability of individuals to learn and discern.  His attempt to integrate 19th century concepts of evolution into this idea of perfectibility — an attempt to merge “nature” and “nurture” — ended up obscuring that optimistic message behind the more arbitrary and harsh ideas of natural selection.  

His suggestion here, that everyone could use the ideals of scientific enquiry to progress and improve, highlights the most attractive dimension of his thinking.

Ugh…this sounds like a toxic culture

I  liked the tone of this post by Johanna Rothman (here).   Of course, she doesn’t include some facts that might help w/ conclusions — e.g., I don’t know what the progress of the program was/is — but here’s my two cents.

The replacement program manager has been telling people to do this task and that one, not providing context, and has been holed up in his office creating the ultimate Gantt chart.

I’ve seen this syndrome enough to worry.  I never like to see program managers holed up for very long, though apparently he does come out every once in a while…

He yells, but I have no idea why he’s upset. 

I’m not a “yeller” — I’m 6′ 4″ (192cm) and 240 lb (110 kg) and am scary enough when I’m calm. But on the rare occasion I yell. It isn’t a button I like to push very often, and not just because it is impolite and uncivil.  It ultimately is ineffective when used much at all.

If you measure or assess people on how they perform certain tasks, such as yelling at program staff, or how well people work on a task in isolation, you will get what you measure. But it won’t be what you want. 

I have worked in a culture like this; the boss was expected to be brusque and even belligerent. Oh, and he/she should be directing every minute part of projects and operations.  Not my “cuppa” and I wasn’t there long…

How to get “Movin’ on up…”

If I paid you to think, you could cash your check at the penny arcade.

If I paid you to think, you could cash your check at the penny arcade.

John Baldoni’s post (here) identifies one of the leadership lessons I’ve had to re-learn continually — letting go of my self-image as the “go-to” or “indispensable” person.  It saps my team’s effectiveness when I don’t remember to step back from my tendency to want to know it all (and to “show that I know” to all).

John is riffing on a while paper from Scott Elbin’s firm (the firm’s site is here, Scott’s Next Level blog is here).  I won’t recapitulate the post; John’s summary (below) is effective enough on its own:

[L]eaders accomplish little by themselves; they can accomplish much by working with others. Those who are in positions of identifying and grooming next generation leaders would do well to select managers who know how to achieve results through the actions of others. Competency will get you promoted one or two rungs on the ladder; working with and through others will open doors to senior leadership.

Not forgetting the talent that comes with an acquistion

Another post inspired by Mary Adams at the IC Knowledge Center, this time on value from M&A.  Her post (here) links to a roundtable discussion of intellectual capital issues from Mergers and Acquistions magazine (here).   Very interesting stuff…

However, I was quickly drawn to the article on page 60 about ensuring you get the most out of acquired talent.  As I’ve posted before, finding excellent talent has been one of the pleasant parts of the Business Objects acquisition.  Based on that article, I’m double-checking my plans and incentives as we deepen our integration.

The “that’s not my role” delusion

I very much liked this post by J Schwan (here) about the dangers of over-specialization.  Some of the comments miss the point — J acknowledges the value of domain knowledge — which is that a role-bound workforce conspires against:

  1. Understanding how to optimize the whole vs one’s part.
  2. Remembering why one is doing a project in the first place.
  3. Accountability for results.

As J notes, it is easy to hide behind a “work to role” facade.  But that’s all it is, a facade and a thin, deluded one at that.  To be blunt, strictly bounded roles end up becoming jobs that get outsourced or automated.  I can’t imagine wanting to working in such an environment anyway.  

J paints a picture of a healthier technology workplace:

Sure we all have roles we prefer to play. I love technology architecture work, and if I’m working on a project that’s going to require more than a handful of people, I’ll bring in one of our PM gurus, because frankly, I’m not that great of a project manager. But I do know the difference between a Gant Chart and a Sprint Queue, and when it makes more sense to use one versus the other to manage a project. And I like the fact that our PMs understand the difference between a web server and an application server, and that our BA gurus have no qualms about doing QA work or rolling up there sleeves to fix some simple bugs if that’s what the project needs. 

Hat tips to Eric Brown (here) and Bas (here).

PM Quote of the Day — Heraclitus

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.

Theyre beautiful... just dont try to say anemone ten times fast, though.

They're beautiful... just don't try to say "anemone" ten times fast, though.

I recently went back to Sappho for a second quote, so I figured it was only fair if I went back to male Greek for my next “return engagement”.

I got to see the truth of this quote this weekend when my son helped me plant some bulbs.  He helped me with some anemones, which are a bit annoying to plant because one can’t tell top from bottom (so you plant them on their “side”).  However, for Jon it was a most excellent (and dirty) game.  He challenged Daddy to a planting race, then rebuked Dad when he slacked on his planting form. 

Needless to say, we got 100 in the ground lickety-split.

PM Quote of the Day — Thomas Babington Macaulay

Nothing is so useless as a general maxim

I wonder how much irony Macaulay intended when he came out with this epigram.  As every schoolboy knows, he would occasionally tie himself in knots when displaying his cleverness. 

To me, he’s getting at the danger of relying on a generalization so much that it becomes stereotype.  I had a good definition of the difference on my laptop, but I can’t find the file with the exact quote.  However, I found the distinction drawn here to be useful:

A stereotype is an ending point. No attempt is made to learn whether the individual in question fits the statement….  A generalization, on the other hand, is a beginning point. It indicates common trends, but further information is needed to ascertain whether the statement is appropriate to a particular individual.  

We can’t live without generalizing, or at least I can’t.  I need to make educated guesses about how to navigate the world and its individuals all the time.  In some ways, I believe prejudice is a crime of laziness.  It happens when I can’t be bothered to look past the archetype to the individual beyond.

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