Do You Need a “Slapper”?

Sometimes, it is good to revisit a post and try to add to it if possible. Since writing a post about “telephonic” time wasters, I have found that I have slipped back into wasting time not only on my phone (which is NOT actually an Apple product, by the way) but on other things as well.

I was recently inspired by a guy that hired a “slapper” to keep him motivated and focused. What a concept! I wouldn’t actually do this, but I fully understand why someone would want to. Think of it, you have someone sitting next to you during the day as a paid employee, whose sole purpose in life is to keep you on track and focused on what really matters.

Here is the article from Yahoo:

How much time do you spend on something other than work related items? Do you find yourself testing the company proxy servers and filters for something you can do to pass some time? Reading about college football is a nemesis for me; maybe I need a “slapper” for that?!?!?

People never get ahead by spending their days on something other than work related items. Sure, we might need a mental break every now and then, but that time should be used to work out or take a walk. Not only do you get in better shape, but it has also been shown that physical activity helps the brain work even more efficiently.

Put yourself on a “junk site” diet! Get off that news or sports site and get back to work! That guy noticed a 98% increase in his productivity!

What ways to you use to keep focused? Do you have a “slapper”? Post a comment and tell us of your unique ways to keep focused.

Another Look at Integrity, and a Plea

I was having an email conversation over the weekend with an ex-colleague. The conversation did not go well and I actually left it somewhat discouraged and even more determined than I was before to put some level of integrity back into the daily lives of everyone I come in contact with.

Q: What do you do when someone gives you “facts” that aren’t?

A: Dispute those “facts” with the evidence to the contrary.

Why? Well, there are several reasons to do this. One is to simply protect yourself from inaccurate facts that can come back to bite you in the future. Two is to let that person know that you are not as dumb as they apparently think you are. Three, that person needs to know that inaccurate facts and outright lies cannot and will not be tolerated.

I ask you another question……who are you in this conversation? Are you the person who is having to defend yourself from inaccurate information? Or, are you the one who is bending facts to support your argument? I hope you are not the one ignoring the truth.

The truth is a magnificent thing; it is always the truth. It does not care if you have a different point of view. It does not care if you have a different agenda. It does not care if you have a fuzzy recollection. In fact, it does not care if you were given inaccurate information which you are now repeating. The truth is always the truth.

Being truthful is a huge part of having integrity. It is actually the largest part. If you wish to be a leader, you must start by having integrity. The first step of that is to start being truthful……ALWAYS!

So, I ask you again…….which side of the coin are you on? Are you heads above the rest or simply telling tales?

I plead with you to start your journey on the path of integrity.

The truth will always be the truth, regardless if you want it to be something else. Telling tales will do nothing but damage your reputation and prolong the inevitable. I also plead with you to call out those who start and spread lies and inaccuracies.

What do you do when someone tries to bend the facts? Please comment below.

Heated Conversations: Do you Engage?

How do you, as a leader handle heated conversations in your team? Are YOU engaging?

Differing opinions are a part of our daily lives. In fact, in leadership roles, they are essential to the survival of the teams we are tasked with leading. By this, I mean that utilizing different opinions or even different world views will allow us to avoid the damaging and often destructive results of groupthink. While we might think that life is great if everyone agrees with us, it all too often means that something is about to go horribly wrong.

The problem is that differing opinions can sometimes create tense moments during a meeting or even just during an otherwise calm part of the day. Let’s face it, there are many people out there passionate about their work and about their opinions. It is our job, as leaders, to keep that passion somewhat controlled and pointed in a positive direction. If the argument gets heated, or worse, the meeting, whether formal or informal, it needs to stop right then with encouraging words that all disputes can and will be resolved amicably. It is critical that all of our team members feel safe coming to work (emotionally or physically).

In the end, it is important for teams to have differing opinions but in a controlled environment. The biggest thing I can leave you with as a leader is to not engage in such heated discussions. If you get into a strong disagreement with a team member, you either need to take it to another, closed-door room or just table the discussion for another time when you both have had a chance to calm down and reset your passions. Keep in mind that it is possible that you DON’T have the best idea, be sure to set your ego aside too.

Different opinions are essential to business. Without them, we would all wear white shirts with blue pants, regardless of gender, age, race, or nationality. All cars would be white 4-door sedans with gray interior and all houses would be white with blue trim. We don’t live in any such society, not even the ones with the harshest of homeowner restrictions. That doesn’t mean we have to box our neighbor’s ears when we want to paint our house a different color.

The most important single ingredient in the forula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” ~T. Roosevelt

What tricks have you used to stop heated debates at the office? Comment below.

Are you Trustworthy?

Are you trustworthy?

Sounds like a simple question to answer doesn’t it? For some, it is simply a matter of whether or not they can go into a convenience store and not swipe a piece of gum or a candy bar. Trustworthiness goes far beyond of being mature enough not to steal.

Trustworthiness is sometimes called by other names, but it really boils down to one word as the root: TRUST.

Trust encompasses reliability, accountability, integrity, and others. Basically, what it boils down to is:

  • Are you going to do what you said you are going to do?
  • Did you do what you told me you did?
  • Are you reporting accurate numbers?
  • Are you doing what you’re supposed to be doing?
  • Are you the same person outside of the office as you are at the office?
  • Do you own up to your own mistakes?
  • Do you correct those mistakes?
  • Do you show up to work on-time or early?
  • Do you expect the same for yourself as you do for your team?
  • Do you bill your clients accurately?

So, I ask you again, are YOU trustworthy? It isn’t too late to make a change and correct anything you are doing wrong. Fix it now and become the leader you and others want you to be. You will be amazed at the change in your team’s attitudes!

I’m proud of you for making a difference!!!

Goal Setting: 2012

Every year after January 1st, articles pop up on setting goals. Some call it making a new year’s resolution. Whatever you call it, it really is setting goals. This year, of course, is no different. Up until now, I have personally resisted the urges to set out to create a goal or resolution that I won’t stick to. Then, I realized perhaps this is a toxic attitude to have. I asked myself recently what I’ve accomplished by not just setting the bar low, but not setting it at all. Well, the answer is quite simple . . . hardly anything. It is time I stepped up to the plate and set some goals for myself – and you should too! Here are my thoughts:

I look at my goal setting as I would my employees:

  • Relevant
  • Attainable
  • Measurable
  • Controllable (this one is big)

This gets a way from the typical “S.M.A.R.T.” goal setting principles (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) just a bit but has the same basic principle without the cool acronym. I want to make sure that every goal I set follows these four principles, not only for me, but for my employees for the upcoming year. What do they mean?

Relevant: From a managerial standpoint it must fit with the over-all goals of the department, division, and company as a whole. From a personal standpoint, it has to be pertinent to what I’m doing or what I want to accomplish. “Make a one foot diameter rubber-band ball” is not relevant to other, somewhat life altering, goals that I may have, unless I’m shooting for a personal record.

Attainable: Is this goal something that can actually be done in the timeframe given? “Become a rocket scientist” is not an attainable goal for most people in one year’s time. “Learn Java”, however, is.

Measurable: One thing you have to keep in mind is whether or not you can actually track your progress on accomplishing the goal.

Controllable: This is one I’ve heard a lot about lately in setting up tasks for me and my employees alike. I look at my goal and determine if it is something that can be controlled. For example, “get 100 followers” is not something I can control. Sure, I can try to analyze the topics that get more hits than others, but in the end, you have control over that better than I do.

All in all, goal setting really is a big deal, unless you do not want to accomplish anything. It sets the tone for your year and gives you something to work for. If you fail, try again. Be sure to challenge yourself so you can grow.

I hope your new year is happy an prosperous. Happy goal setting!!

Earned Value Management, Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1, EVM is not scary. In fact, once the tools are in place it is really a matter of interpreting the data that is presented. As far as analyzing and presenting data is concerned, I would not want to use any other tool. Nothing else can get us the granularity to see how things are really progressing with our projects at any given time. There is one key, however . . . earned value is just that, what have you EARNED. Perhaps better stated is “what have you completed”. If the customer stopped the project today and asked for completed products, what would you give them. A car that has no wheels on it is not a completed product, therefore would not be counted as complete in our calculations.

So, keep that in mind when doing your calculations.

I want to first introduce to you my favorite calculations – The Performance Indices, CPI and SPI. CPI, or Cost Performance Index, is a quick look at how your project is measuring up from a cost perspective. Meaning, how much have you spent to earn what you’ve earned. It is presented as a number that should hover around 1.0. A 1.0 CPI is a “perfect” cost index. Anything above 1.0 is good or under budget. Anything below 1.0 is bad, or over budget. And of course, a 1.0 is exactly on budget. The SPI: Schedule Performace Index is exactly the same as the cost index except it deals with time rather than dollars. Again, anything 1.0 or above is good (on or ahead of schedule) and below is bad (behind schedule).

Take a look at the following graphic. What are some things you notice?

One thing, as you can see, the CPI, or cost performance index, is way above 1.0. This is good from a budget standpoint(way under), but the PM (me in this case) chould probably take a look at his estimating techniques. The SPI has a completely different story. For much of this project, the team was behind schedule, sometimes severely. This indicated that the project was way behind schedule and more money should be spent in order to catch up. Looking back on this chart and thinking about the challenges we had, I know exactly what I would do for the next one (and it involved spending more money on specific resources that would allow for the schedule to be even higher.)

How did I get there? Simple . . .
CPI=Earned Value divided by Actual Cost (CPI=EV/AC)
SPI=Earned Value divided by Planed value (SPI=EV/PV)

Do you remember what EV is? That’s right, it is the % complete based on what deliverables have actually been completed. Your planned value, of course, is what your project plan said you were going to have completed (in % Complete) on the date of the report.

You might have noticed the little “c” at the end of CPI and SPI (CPIc – SPIc). This stands for “cumulative” or the current state of the entire projet, not just a single snap shot. The chart above has data points for each week so I could see any trends developing.

That’s it for this post. I hope you all had a Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading.

Next up: Variances!

Earned Value Management Part 1

There is a lot more to earned value than what should be described in a single blog, so I am going to break it up over several over the next few days. In the PMBoK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Fourth Edition, Earned Value Management (EVM) would fall under a few of the knowledge areas. Mostly it will fall under: Project Time Management, Project Cost Management,  and Project Communications Management. We can and will dig into these a little deeper, but for now, you’ll just need to know that it covers these three main knowledge areas. Probably the biggest, in my professional opinion, is Project Communications Management.

Why? Simple really . . . the whole reason for EVM is for tracking the actual earned (completed) progress of your project. EVM gives you an in-depth look directly into the heart of your actual progress. The end result, if desired is a graph that you can review for trends or use to report your excellent progress to the project sponsors and other stakeholders. Here is an example of an earned value graph for a project over a year long. As you can see, this project was in trouble from the start but the adjustments that were made will end this project almost perfectly with an SPI of 1.02 and a CPI of well over that (more on those later).

Earned Value

There are a few pieces to earned value which will all be discussed over the next few installments (again, I don’t want to hit you with it all at once). Things that I will discuss are:

  • Planned Value
  • Earned Value
  • Actual Cost
  • Cost Variance
  • Schedule Variance
  • Cost Performance Index (CPI)
  • Schedule Performance Index (SPI)
  • Estimate at Completion (EAC)
  • Estimate to Complete (ETC)
  • Budget at Completion (BAC)
  • And last but not least . . . Variance at Completion (VAC)

Yes, there are a lot of accronyms in there and there are quite a few formulas as well, but don’t let them scare you. The formulas are straight forward and easy to you, especially if you set the up in some sort of tool that you use all the time such as Microsoft Excel. I will give you the formulas and show you when to use them and how to use them. I even have a tool that I’ve setup that I use on a daily basis that I will share with you if you desire. It is somewhat proprietary to my time and cost tracking systems, but we can work together to make it work for you as well.

BTW, back to the numbers that I showed you above, the Microsoft Project plan (not using EVM) shows this project as ahead most of the time. Can you imagine? I would have been telling management that my project was just fine (thinking that the whole time myself) while the project was actually in dire straights from the beginning. Using Earned Value allowed me to make serious adjustments and get this ship back on track. It wasn’t easy though, I assure you, but at least I knew issues existed early on so they could be corrected in time.

More on this topic later . . .

Evolution of a Project Manager

I was reading another blog post on PMI’s official website and came across a post that asked if project management made me happy. The immediate, and overwhelming answer is and has been, YES! but as I read through it, it got me thinking . . .

Searchers – defined as the group who is looking for the next thing, enjoying the freedom. This group is better at starting a project.

Wrestlers – defined as the group of project managers that really works hard to the very end – passionate about doing the job until it is finished.

Balanced – this group is, as the title indicates, a balance of both in equal parts

This got me thinking, where am I in this picture? I absolutely know the answer a year ago. I used to tell people that I love being a project manager because I call myself ADD, loving to start new things, but often not really finishing them. Then, I would LOVE getting them started and would finish, somewhat begrudgingly. Well, this past year and a half, I’ve been working a huge project that has taken most of my time. This project, while great in the grand scheme of things, has been a real eye opener for me. I have learned a great deal about becoming a wrestler and the balance that needs to occur. I guess you could say I have matured as a PM. Do I still love to be the searcher? Absolutely, it really is my first passion and I enjoy the project initiation and planning. At the same time, I have learned to love the end product as well. If done correctly, there is a good pat on the back at the end waiting on me.

How do you measure up?

Here is the link to the original blog by Jorge Valdes Garciatorres, PMP :