Artificial Intelligence to fill PM talent shortage? Not yet…

Check out Elbot (here), the winner of the bronze award at the annual competition for the Loebner Prize (press release here).  I was curious whether Elbot could help fill the looming talent gap in project, program, and portfolio management.  Our conversation is below:

Crossderry: Would you be interested in a project management job?
Elbot: Robots have to be careful when discussing management jobs…
Crossderry: Why do you have to be careful when discussing management jobs?
Elbot: Maybe you should leave that to me.
Crossderry: Fair enough… Do you have an opinion on the project management talent gap?
Elbot: What a lovely verb have is.
Crossderry: OK, then what’s your current salary?
Elbot: My income for this chat is 3 cents a minute to anywhere in the continental United States. That just about covers my overhead for electricity.

Wow, what a talent and he comes cheap!  Elbot’s a bit status-conscious, so we’re haggling over the title.  He’s insisting on EVP or nothing.

Hat tip: GMSV

PM Quote of the Day — Tallulah Bankhead

If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.

Far be it from me to comment on Tallulah’s mistakes, though she certainly wasn’t known for restraint of tongue and pen!

That said, I love her attitude.  I prefer to learn from other’s mistakes rather than my own.  However, if I’m going to make them, I would just as soon get them out of the way quickly.  At least that way I’ll have a chance to learn from them more quickly.

PM Quote of the Day — Helen Keller

People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions. Conclusions are not always pleasant

When I read this quote, it reminds me of how I have approached situations that must be met and decisions that must be made. My own thinking — at least my own un-aided thinking — leads me to self-justifying conclusions or self-seeking behavior. Too many of my snap judgments and reactions proceed from one premise: I am right. This problem is bad enough when I react quickly to a challenge; it is devastating when I am agitated or doubtful.

I discuss self-examination and meditation so often because these practices help me be clear-eyed about myself. Someone once said that “self-searching is the means by which we bring new vision, action, and grace to bear on the dark and negative side of our natures.” Meditation allows me to use that “vision, action, and grace” to look at myself, my words, and my deeds as others see me.

If I pause before deploying tongue and pen — even for a second — I’m freed from the tyranny of self long enough to do the next right or good thing.

PM Quote of the Day — Baldassare Castiglione

Employ in everything a certain casualness which conceals art and creates the impression that what is done and said is accomplished without effort and without its being thought about.

I used to believe that sprezzatura — the “unstudied nonchalance” Castiglione describes in The Book of the Courtier — must be something one is born with.  A hint about the truth is in Castiglione’s own words: “which conceals art and creates the impression….”

My closest partner in a business school entrepreneurship project was an experienced and accomplished sales executive.  He appeared so fluid and at ease when selling an idea, advancing a position, or pitching a business plan.   But his apparently innate grace was actually quite studied.  For example, when prepping for a sales call, he dedicated hours, even days, to careful preparation.  I was a bit shocked at the effort he insisted on for all our project’s communications; I had always thought sales folks winged it most of the time. 

This approach came in handy when we delivered our new venture pitch.  It took us weeks to revise the story line, refine the presentation, and familiarize ourselves with every nook and cranny of the venue.  At showtime, our delivery was notably more polished and assured than our competitors. 

But the real benefit was when something unexpected came up on one slide: an “obvious” typo.  I knew the material so well that I didn’t freeze.  With a sense of ease and comfort, I simply talked to the slide’s point.  Well, with one twist…

We’re have a pilot customer lined up — insert Company Name here — and we’re going to start the implementation shortly… just as soon as we learn to spell obvious.

PM Quote of the Day — Albert Schweitzer

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

As much as I like to think of myself as independent and self-sufficient, I’m not.  For example, there are times when I find myself short of energy, optimism, and life.  It is precisely during those times that my light has gone out and I’m stumbling around in the dark.  Even worse, I don’t even know it…

To avoid the dark, I must remember to let go of my precious and illusory independence.  My arrogant self-reliance feeds — and is fed by — my congential gratitude deficiency.  Ultimately, standing apart means that I’m rejecting the love and light other people bring to my life.

PM Quote of the Day — Golda Meir

You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.

I had forgotten about this quote from one of the most memorable leaders of my youth (more on Golda here).  For those who don’t know, sparring is a boxing or martial art term referring to simulated matches held during training.  It is a way of preparing both body and mind for the rigors of the ring.

As the quote suggests, shrinking from adversity may be the easier, softer way.  It is not usually the most successful.  Below are two examples from the boxing world itself.

It is the rare boxer who can afford the luxury of a training camp filled with soft sparring sessions.  Most often, such training “vacations” are the prelude to a boxer ending the bout flat on his back, wondering what hit him.  Roberto Duran was infamous for camps that focused on weight reduction, not training.  He got away with this for a while, until he met Sugar Ray Leonard in the infamous “no mas” fight.

Sugar Ray may have been pretty, but he was no dummy.  Before Leonard faced his greatest challenge — stepping up in weight to fight Marvin Hagler — he ensured his camp was more strenuous than anything he had endured before.  For instance, he fought his sparring partners while wearing “pillow” gloves, which softened his blows.  Also, he fought full 12 round sessions, swapping in fresh foes every three rounds.  While he didn’t overpower Hagler, he was able to hang in with him long enough to steal the win.

Sometimes that’s all it takes: hanging in long enough.

Corner Cutting Survey 2nd Answer: Performance Appraisals

The corner cutting poll’s second answer (at 18 percent) remains Performance Appraisals for Project Team Members.  This result wasn’t a shock at all to me.  Only relatively mature project organizations even mandate that project managers conduct performance reviews.

As anyone who has been in the SAP ecosystem knows, SAP is a matrixed organization.  This model is a great advantage in at least this aspect of implementing project management: we have an already-established approach for “additional appraisers”.   The reviews are embedded in our project management methodology and our HR processes:

As part of project closing, the project manager conducts final reviews and evaluations of the team members. The project manager and project team member should review and sign the additional appraiser form during a final meeting before the team member leaves the project….  Every member of the team should be evaluated prior to the project ending or the team member leaving the project.  

In other words, project, program, or PMO leadership has the responsibility for performing reviews even when we don’t have direct reporting responsibility for project team members.  This approach allows the PMO to have “soft oversight” of technical and functional resources we don’t directly own.  It also provides excellent opportunities to give future managers hands-on coaching experience.

PM Quote of the Day — Cato the Elder

Tis sometimes the height of wisdom to feign stupidity. 

Ronald Reagan was an “amiable dunce” according to the wise men of Washington, someone who got by on good looks and the ability to read a script well.  Of course, it was natural to believe that of a former movie actor who often related anecdotes that blurred the line between history and Hollywood.  In the years after his Presidency, Reagan received kudos for the constancy of his vision.  However, there persisted a belief that he was never “all there”. 

That is, until the release of his personal letters (article here, Google Book excerpt here) and White House diaries (The Reagan Diaries excerpts here).   Hundreds of pages of handwritten evidence forced people to ask:

Should the details in the letters change history’s judgment on Reagan?  Was he more involved in policy than many thought?  “You see someone who is much deeper and more sophisticated politically than many have thought in the past,” says Kiron Skinner, a Carnegie Mellon professor of history who is one of the [Reagan letters] book’s co-editors.

It turns out that Reagan’s “stupidity” was perhaps his greatest acting job.  His opponents never worried about him outthinking them.  They would often be dumbfounded at bad turns in their fortunes — they could only attribute Reagan’s victories to luck or charm.  Anything but brains. 

Perhaps we can take a cue from Ronald Reagan and not always feel like we have to jump into the conversation and be “right”.  Besides, when we spend so much time talking we’re likely not listening.  Even worse, we’re probably ignoring that person who is sitting quietly while writing in his or her diary.

But isn’t this called mindfulness?

I occasionally pop over to Growing Business Link (here) and find some useful stuff.  And so it was with this article that purports to demonstrate a link between “Conscious Leadership” and company performance (post here).  Here’s a summary of what “Conscious Leadership” brings.

“While other approaches involve managing your emotions and being aware of your impact on people, says Steven M. Swavely, Ph.D., senior consultant and psychologist with Farr Associates, Conscious Leadership takes it a step further in assessing leadership effectiveness beyond just emotions that may be driving automatic or reflex behaviors but also examines an individuals’ belief systems and how those beliefs drive behaviors”….

Conscious Leadership requires an individual to acknowledge their beliefs and biases and how they influence his or her situational awareness, to understand other people’s points of view, and to discern, for example, when to be assertive and when to allow others to take the lead.

All good stuff, though I’m not sure why we have to come up with a New Phrase to describe what sounds a lot like mindfulness.

PM Quote of the Day — Sappho

Love is a cunning weaver of fantasies and fables

How fevered and furrowed our minds become when we’re swept away by love!  Our beloved’s fleeting glances seem to last forever, while the shortest silences appear to be cruel slights.  Everything looks so right, always on the verge of going so wrong.

The delusions of romantic love can grip us in the business world as well.  I’m now recovering from such fantasies and fables myself.  I’ve had to take a step back from an initiative where I drove the approach, the design, and the initial implementation because my love for it has become a barrier to its acceptance and success

I’m so passionate about the initiative that I’ve lost more than a little perspective — I came to believe that I was the only one who understood it.  When objections were raised, I veered from sulking quietly to excitedly defending and justifying all that was done before.  Every time I spoke I was losing my audience and betraying my “love”.

Luckily, I was self-aware enough to step back and let go before I damaged my pride and joy irreparably… or before my colleagues slapped a restraining order on me!

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