Lessons Learned: Why You’d Better

Did you know that lessons learned during a project can be an enormously useful tool for your future projects? Well, I am here to tell you that they are, and here is an example. About a year ago, I was asked to work on a project where my team had to inventory IT equipment at a fairly large amount of sites. I had never done this type of project before but was more than willing to take it on. I had a single team member at the start and he seemed competent, confident, and ready to go.

We started out with a few test sites in which we were able to visit three sites in a single, albeit long, afternoon. My team member and I invited two other guys to accompany us to these sites just to make sure we knew what we were going to need to gather. Everyone understood that the product of this project was going to be an input to a much larger, more significant project a few months later. We were able to gather the data fairly quickly and even brainstormed a few ways to make the process faster, and of course, repeatable. We were good to go … so I thought.

$15,000 in travel and 700 hours of contract labor later, the end product was a spreadsheet containing approximately 1/3 of the data we were expecting. Oh, we also lost months of schedule. OUCH!

Now, we had a transition project starting that was the consumer of the data that the inventory project was to provide. So what went wrong?

1. I did not give the resource enough input to the schedule. I Googled the routes and gave them to him.
2. I did not allow time for any hiccups. I did not take into account the fact that using GPS coordinates does not translate into accurate directions.
3. I did not take into account communication with the sites prior to the visits which made for more than a few access and security incidents.

All of that is a massive recipe for failure, and fail, it did.

But after we looked at what all went wrong, we were able to make up that time during the next phase and not lose any ground. In fact, we finished early!

So, what did we do? We looked at all of the failures from the inventory phase and asked ourselves why they went wrong and how can we do it better. Some of the questions were tough as the answers pointed at the project manager on more than one occasion. As a result of these questions, and of the answers, I engaged the project team more as well as the sites. Everyone had a voice and everyone was on the same page.

Looking at the lessons you learned in previous projects allows you to use hindsight to fuel foresight? Don’t let previous failures be failures. Use those mishaps to your advantage. Turn those failures into success! Remember, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Don’t repeat the failures of the past.

How do you use lessons learned? I’d love to hear your victory tales.

You Need to Practice PM Yoga

I was participating in an interview the other day and a new term (at least to me) popped into my head and then out of my mouth: “You have to exercise PM yoga.” At first I was alarmed that my mouth out ran my brain. While normally, this is a bad thing, that day it ended up being a perfect analogy.

It was being used to describe the fact that in today’s world, project leaders have to be extremely flexible. In the age of “do more with less,” we have to often times wear many hats.

Now. I’m not talking about being an SME and a PM all at the same time. No no no! I am a HUGE proponent of having dedicated project leaders in all organizations. What I refer to here is that a project leader has to be able to move from project to project quickly, and sometimes, even simultaneously.

Most companies do not utilize a project leader to his or her full capacity. My experience has actually been quite the opposite. So, with that in mind, I know what a PM does, I know how to do the work and when to actually do it. I have experience in all of that. What I also know, is that not all projects require a full onslaught of the PMI methodologies and processes. I also understand that not all companies utilize all of these methodologies either. So it is important to find a good balance. We need to be able to structure each project according to the needs of the project and the needs of the entire organization. We need to be flexible in the work we do while bringing enough structure to give it all the best chance for success.

What are some ways you have had to be flexible? Have you ever been too flexible?

Thanks for giving me a few minutes of your day.

Are You Malicious?

Are you malicious? I would put good money on your answer being a resounding “NO” if you are reading blogs about leadership and teamwork. You might Look at it a little differently, however, after reading this, and I hope it will change you at least a little bit.

I have recently been a “victim” (for lack of a better word) to piecemealed data. What does that mean? Well, it means that when I ask other resources for data, I get bits and pieces of the data based on the specific question I asked. If I don’t ask the right question, I don’t get the right data. It can be very frustrating, at times, especially when that data is critical. I have also notice this over the years from other colleagues as well that just don’t want to paint the full picture. It is almost like they are wanting to leave things a bit mysterious.

Sure, I understand that management is often times bound by the constraints of “I can’t tell you yet” and I’m not talking about those instances even though they can be very frustrating at times as well. What I am really talking about are the silos of information that exist in corporations all across the world. Silos can be dangerous to a company. Why dangerous? Well, I believe that giving little bits of information can cause other teams to be counterproductive. It can cause them to go down a path of data mining to get the information that someone already has but is not sharing, or it can cause them to spend additional cycles thinking of the “best way” to ask questions so they get the right answers. Within the same company, a full picture should always be painted when the full picture is what is being asked for. Don’t make it sound as if you’re giving all of the information when you aren’t.

So, I ask you again, are you malicious? If you are holding pertinent information back just because it wasn’t specifically asked for, I say, yes you are. If you are not meaning to be so, then you might take a closer look at how you deliver information. If you DO intend to hold on to information for your own power play (remember, knowledge is power) then I urge you to change your ways because you are causing your company more harm than you can really imagine.

Here are a couple of things you can try:

  1. Ask questions to make sure you fully understand what is being asked of you.
  2. Be more open with the information that you have. Remember, good leaders help build others.
  3. If you do not have time to tell the whole story, give an overview and tell the person that you are only giving them a small piece of the puzzle they are asking for and schedule some time to give them the whole picture.

Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you been a “victim” of of someone holding on to knowledge that cause you do go down the wrong path?

Have a great day!!  ~Jim

Do You Know What Your people (Are Supposed to) Do?

What kind of people do you have below you that you made decisions on or have influence over? I’m not talking about introverts vs. extroverts, but rather skillsets. This is an age old question. Do you really know what your people do? Sounds like a potentially silly question, but it is very real, and is a problem in Corporate America these days. Think of it this way, you are giving your personnel evaluations for the year (hopefully not for the first time since LAST year) and you have to tell them how they are doing. Sure, you can tell if they’ve accomplished what you told them to accomplish, but … let’s forget the evaluations, let’s take a step further back for just a minute back to goal setting. Let’s paint for just a minute . . . .

If you remember, you sat down a little over a year ago and started to sketch out goals for every one of your employees. You know most of them fairly well but you may only have your own, limited knowledge of what their job descriptions actually mean. You don’t pay much attention, though as you know what your peers say each of the job descriptions mean to them so you go with it. As you map out your team’s goals, you feel confident that they are going to succeed and also be a great contributer to the company’s bottom line.

Fast Forward >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> You are back at your evaluations, and even though your direct reports may have “succeeded” they aren’t truly excited about what you have to say and you, yourself, find something just a bit off. It almost feels like . . . you both actually lost! Time to dig in a little.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< Rewind a little more – even before you did your goal setting, and go back to your hiring process. Let's take a look at what you could have done, perhaps from the very beginning:

As you are working on your staffing plan (you do have a staffing plan, right?) jot down all of the employee types you are going to have under your direction. If you are inheriting a team, you need to do this retroactively. Now that you have your list, go do some research yourself. Don't call your buddy at your last job and ask him what he thinks each function serves – chances are, he's doing it wrong! Do some research yourself and find out what the industry standard is for that position. Look into professional organizations and what they say about the position. Only then, can you do yourself, your company, and your employee a service as you will hire the right person.

So, let's go back to the present. What do you really know about what your people do? Let's look at project managers. This is a title that has many different meanings to many different people. I know what it means to be a PM according to PMI. I have a good understanding of the industry and know what "industry standard" processes are but I am not sure that everyone in my industry does. I once heard someone say "I am a PM, I don't plan things. I get things done, I don't have time to plan." OUCH I wonder how much additional cost was involved in THAT project??? The truth is, that PMs are truly planners, not "doers". If you, as the leader of that PM resource understand that, you are setting that PM up to win and the company to win, and ultimately yourself to win.

I challenge you to do your research before you set your goals for the next go-round. If you find that you've had it all wrong, you are now armed with the right information to help make positive change in your organization. Give your employees their goals utilizing this information . . . if they are willing to accept this challenge, you have a winner on your hands. If not . . . well, I'll let you decide what their new job title should be.

By the way, if you want to know why a PM is a planner and not a "doer" I'll be writing on that very soon.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you have employees that have a "mystery job" that you might need to get in front of?

Thanks for reading and have a productive day!

–Jim

I’ve Failed

How many times have we said that?

How many times SHOULD we have said it outloud but didn’t?

Well, I have failed, and if you’ve read any of my “recent” blogs, you might already know it. We all know that new year’s resolutions are “destined” to be forgotten, and pushed aside. Exercise plans come and go. Expensive equipment sits in the corner of the room and either has an enormous pile of clothing on them or so much dust that we wouldn’t put clothing on them. I recently purchased a house that has a nice “Universal Home Gym” in the upstairs that was left there by the previous owner. He spent a ton of money on it, spent 6 months putting it together, then sold the house, weight machine and all. For the record, no, I do not use it either, but that is a different story. I’m not talking about your average, every day resolution, and I’m not trying to beat up on the previous owner of my house either. I’m talking about the #ONEWORD approach. #ONEWORD was supposed to be different. #ONEWORD was supposed to be revolutionary. #ONEWORD wasn’t supposed to go the way of the stereotypical new year’s resolution. Afterall, I only had to focus on ONE SINGLE WORD, right?

Well, I failed.

#CONNECT was my word. I was going to #CONNECT with myself, my family, God, and my teammates at the office. #CONNECT was going to take me to the next level of “whateverness.” #CONNECT was supposed to be my revolutionary resolution. Well I think we all see how that worked out for me. So what does this mean really? How does this effect the grand scheme of all things “leadership” or “project management” or “family life” or “spiritual life?” To be honest, it has a huge impact. If I am not connecting, I’m actually disconnecting and that is simply unacceptable. In some cases, being disconnected can push people away, even those that are closest to us.

There is hope, though. You see, we have a chance every day to right a wrong. We have the ability to try again and to start over. Sure, things at home or work may be a little difference because of a failure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that those differences are bad. In fact, sometimes, you get the chance to make them even better. Think of a broken bone. When you break a bone, if properly re-set, it heals and grows back together even stronger than it was before. Our communication has that opportunity too. Take a moment and look at how you can reset your communication with those around you. I encourage you to look at any failure that you’ve encountered, and try again. Even if it hurts a little (pride or otherwise), you can make it better and be stronger than you were before. Tell your team that you’ve failed and that you vow to make it better. Check youself every day and try again. Don’t let a failure get the best of you or let it destroy the team you’ve worked so hard to put together.

Get up, dust yourself off, and go!

Happy second chances, my friend!! Thank you for reading.

How have you dusted yourself off? I would love to hear your story and your comments below.

A New Resolution

Resolutions – well, ’tis the season, I guess. Have you made yours? What sort of resolutions have you made this year? Have you decided to exercise more  or maybe loose a few pounds? Both of those are extremely important and worthy of a resolution. What about vowing to quit smoking? That one is important for sure, especially if you have children. All of these are great ideas for a personal resolution, but what about professionally? Have you given any thought to that?

I’m not talking about resolving to get to work on time more or even to get there ten minutes earlier each day. Yes, these are also important especially if you are consistently late. No, I’m talking about things less tangible and outside of the boundaries of a SMART goal. I actually like the word goal better than resolution, but given the season, I’ll stick with resolution. Try these on:

  • Resolve to be more AGREEABLE. Are you a little “chippy” at the office? Do people find you hard to work with? If you can’t answer those, ask yourself if you find yourself getting into heated discussions often or find yourself getting defensive more than just once in a while. Make yourself easier to get along with. No, that doesn’t mean become a doormat.
  • Resolve to be more ACCOUNTABLE. Yep, I went there. I understand the word accountable can create an unnatural fear in the hearts of many strong people. Think about it though. Accountability isn’t about taking the blame all the time. What I’m talking about is personal accountability. Only you can make sure you are consistently taking care of your own business. When you miss the mark, and you will, take responsibility and watch the trust points start to add up.
  •  Resolve to be a LEADER. Sorry, they don’t all start with “A” even though that would have been cool. You don’t have to be in a “leadership” position to lead. Even if you are “only” a clerk in a mailroom, you can lead. I once had a coworker tell me that we could lead from the bottom. That struck a chord within me and sparked a fire deep inside that cannot be put out. Don’t let your current position make you think you can’t lead…..YOU CAN. So many great things can and will happen when you start to act like a leader. It is time to step up your game.
  • Resolve to be SMARTER. Keep yourself informed and up-to-date. What are the current trends in your field? Chances are you can attend many webinars for free or cheap. A good resource I have found is Twitter. Though much of what you will find are links to blogs like this one, there are some really great articles out there.
For myself, I am going to do all of these things and probably more. I’m going to use the “One Word” approach that many are talking about. My word is CONNECT. I will work on better connecting with my team; myself; my wife and children; and most importantly, with God. That one word encompasses everything I want to work on. I can focus on that one word and use it as my motivation. All I have to do is ask myself of what I’m doing is helping me to better connect.
 
I understand I have violated the rules of setting SMART goals, but these goals, or resolutions, are realistic and might even be considered smart after all.
 
What are you focusing on this year? I’d love to know. Please comment below and may 2014 be your best year yet!

Something Great May be Coming

BOOM . . . it happens!

How do you cope when an adverse situation comes your way and spoils your plans for the immediate future? Recently, a friend of mine lost his job quite suddenly. Not for anything he did, but the company simply decided to take a different approach to the job they were trying to accomplish.

This suddenly adverse scenario provided him with a great opportunity get “down in the dumps” about his situation. After all, he had just gotten a favorable review just two weeks prior and was assured his services were a key ingredient for the success of the project. Sure, he got knocked down, but his response was great.

He woke up the next day, dusted himself off, looked in the mirror and simply said, “That’s okay, I didn’t like the picture on my badge anyway.”

Sour grapes? Not in the least! He is looking for a better opportunity … and hopefully a better picture.

How do you respond to a suddenly adverse scenario? Do you get sad? Do you put your head in the sand and quietly with it didn’t happen? I hope not. If that happens to you, dust yourself off and look for something great to happen next. How you respond may very well determine your future.

I’d love to have your thoughts, please comment below and tell me what you think.