The Gorilla asks: “To FTE or not FTE? That is the question.”

Or why I choose to be a full-time coach.Monkey-Yorick

“Explain to me again why we’re going to be renaming projects ‘missions’ and our teams are now ‘squadrons’?”

My boss waved his hand vaguely, “It’s the new consultants we brought in. Bunch awesome hot-shots. Their workshop was totally eye opening. I mean the military has been running fast projects for decades. Why didn’t we think of it sooner?”

‘Because we’re a data processing company with absolutely zero to do with the military’, I thought.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I think we should roll their recommendations out. You’re the coach, what do you think?”

What did I think? I tried to fathom the depths of his question and failing that I went with the obvious. “Well it’s hard for me to say. I didn’t go to the training so all I have is this promotional flyer you just handed me.”

My boss nodded gravely. “Yeah, that was unfortunate. But you’re a contractor so the company can’t send you to training.” He clapped his hands on the desk, and pushed himself to his feet. “Tell you what, spend some time Googling it and give me an assessment tomorrow. I’ve got to get to the strategy planning meeting.”

I started to open my mouth only to have my boss wave me to silence. “I know, I know. It would be so much easier if you could be in the meeting. Confidential company data and all though. I’ll brief you on what you need to know tomorrow.”

And with that he was gone, leaving me in his office staring at the flyer of some consultant, who I didn’t get to talk to, that I was supposed to give my opinion on how to implement. I buried my head in my hands and contemplated becoming a beat farmer.

“Hey,” the voice was deep and earthy “was that your boss I just saw walk into a conference room with those Fly Right Consultants?”

Oh my day couldn’t get any worse. Not only was my own personal gorilla here to torment me, he was telling me even the consultants get to go to the meeting I should be running. “Go away Hogarth, I’m not in the mood.” 

“Yeah well how do you think I feel. You try explaining to the security rhino why you need a security pass when you’re just the figment of a contractor’s imagination. You’d think a fellow hourly guy would have some sympathy for my plight.”

I hadn’t sufficiently tuned out Hogarth and what he said pierced into my brain, jumping me into action. “Holy …., I forgot to put in my time card!” I started to jump from my chair only to be stopped by Hogarth’s massive hand in front of my face.

“Don’t worry, I turned it in for you this morning?”

I blinked. “This morning! It’s 6:00 pm how can you know how many hours I worked today?”

Hogarth gave a dismissive shrug. “It’s not like that matters, you know they’ll only pay you for forty hours no matter how many you actually work.”

Not for the first time I came to the conclusion that being a contractor sucks.

 

Agile Contractor, Agile Consultant, Agile Coach, the continuum

There are several paths to becoming an agile coach (leader, champion, guru, insert your adjective of choice).  The most common path starts first with being a scrum master and then moving up into being an agile coach. A less common path is doing program management in an agile organization and moving from there into agile coaching.

What about once you are an agile coach? What then? How will you collect your paycheck? What is your place in the organization? As I see it, there are three paths one can take as an agile coach. Coach, Consultant, Contractor. Let’s review how these work, their pros and cons.

Full Time Agile Coach: A full time coach is perhaps the rarest form of agile employee you will find today (2016). While full-time scrum masters are not uncommon, the coach is more often a consultant or contractor with a sharply limited engagement. And I see this as a tragedy. The full-time coach is perhaps the most effective and cost-efficient solution a company will find.  Sure, being a full-time coach does not offer the short-term satisfaction that consulting does. What it does offer is stability, trust and the ability to make real changes.

Benefits of being a Full-Time Coach: Longevity and trust. As a full-time coach you are not under the tight time windows so often imposed on consultants. And being full-time means you have the time and position to build trust with your teams, manager and company. In a good company (life’s to short not to work for good companies) you have the time to get to know your teams and build up relationships and trust before you start getting into the deep work of agile coaching.

Downsides of being a Full-Time Coach:  You’re in the system. When you are inside of a company, reporting into the management structure and working within the politics, you lose a certain amount of authority and power. You can’t call on the “hero for hire” aura to push through your ideas. You may know the exact right thing that needs to be done. That’s great, now you have to convince  your management. It can be a frustratingly teeth gnashing feeling to know and not be able to do. You also have to get used to change moving slower. Your company isn’t losing you at the end of the contract and working hard to push everything through.

Consultant Agile Coach: As a consultant you can feel like one of the Magnificent Seven (either the Samurai or  Western version). You are hired for your specific expertise and when you come into an organization your word carries a voice of authority that can sway the course of CEOs much less the rank and file employee. You need to speak that authority fast though and you need to make it stick because you won’t be around for long.

Benefits to being an Agile Consultant: The “Expert” aura. Companies pay good money to hire consultants. Something about investing lot’s of money in you means you’re listened to; given access to people, meetings, and information; even given a certain amount of authority to make changes.  It’s a really big advantage. It is however pretty much your only advantage.  Yes, it is common for consultants to know a lot and have a deeper set of experiences than your average Full-Time or Contract Coach. This is not a benefit though, it’s just a recognition that currently the consultant space draws a high percentage of the top tier coaches. The other advantage of being a consultant is shared with contractors, that being “control of destiny”. A consultant, particularly the independent consultant, gets to pick and choose their clients and can choose to work or not work. A full time coach doesn’t get to say “I don’t like this team, I’m not working with them.” A consultant can do this (though if they do it too often they find their phone stops ringing).

Downside of being an Agile Consultant: The agile consultants are heroes, therefore they are expected to work miracles. The miracle they are usually expected to work is to make a difference in a vanishingly short time window. Ninety days in not an uncommon duration for a consulting engagement. Ninety days is a brutally short time window to get anything done in. In, The Ninety Day Gorilla, I talk about how a full time employee should practice the mantra “Do no harm” in their first ninety days. For a consultant the money often runs out by the time ninety days are up and if they haven’t made some kind of impact, they won’t be asked to come back again. Worse yet, the client will talk to their friends and those friends are no longer potential clients. If you can’t hit the ground running, cure world hunger, make the client happy, all in three months, consulting may not be for you.

Consultants also come in two major flavors, Independent and “Firm”.

The independent contractor is the ultimate in self-determination. They hang out their shingle on the power of their name alone. You hire that one person and bring them in for their expertise. If you’re lucky and wildly successful (Jeff Sutherland, Joe Justice, Mike Cohn) you can afford a staff to help you. Otherwise you are coach, bizdev, bookkeeper, scheduler and receptionist all in one.  You’re also always chasing the next paycheck. Even while helping profitable client A, you’re actively working to land client B, D and C.

“Firm” consultants work for a larger organization. In agile some of the big names are SolutionsIQ, Leading Agile, and Thoughtworks). Agency consultants have some more security than the independent and much more than the contractor. If you’re good, the firm will take care of you. You will probably get benefits, bonuses and a certain amount of immunity from the “what’s my next gig?” panic. You might even end up on “bench time” where you are being paid to do mostly nothing (write training, blogs, help with BizDev).

Contractor Agile Coach: Where as the Consultant is hired “hero”, a contractor can often feel like they were picked up at the local “Henchmens ‘r Us” outlet. A contractor is hired as an hourly employee that works within a company’s normal organizational structure. They are contracted through an outside agency who issues their paycheck and benefits (if applicable). They report to a manager within the company they are contracted to. Thanks to past legal cases, contracts are always for a fixed term so as to not ever imply the contractor is an actual employee. Depending on the company the max term usually ranges from twelve months to two years. Since this is not a fixed law, smaller companies tend to pay less attention to this and I’ve seen five plus year contractors at post startup, pre-IPO companies.

Benefits to being an Agile Coach Contractor: Honestly, not a lot. Like an independent consultant, the greatest benefit is you are in total control of your destiny. You interview with a “client” on your own merits. You decide when to work and when not to work. The advantage over independent consultant is that the contracting agency handles all the pesky paperwork for getting paid, benefits and the like. If you’re not ready to hang out your own shingle and don’t want to work for an established consulting firm, this is the greatest path of independence you can find.

Downside of being an Agile Coach Contractor: You’re getting the short end of the FTE and Consultant sticks. Contractors are considered “Staff Augmentation”, so they are treated as part of the organization they work for. They report to a company employee and are almost always the “junior” person in any department. Staff Augmentation means you don’t have the aura of being a hired “expert”.

And as a contractor you have the same fixed time window of a consultant. Last year I interviewed with one of the old enterprise players in Silicon Valley (you know the companies that were the big guns until Google and Facebook came along and Apple started their “i” wave of products). They were trying to engineer an end-to-end agile transformation of a core business unit. Only they were looking to hire an agile coach on a three month contract and expecting significant results in that three months.

So without the mantle of “expert” given to a consultant, a contractor has a doubly hard time being successful in the short time window given. That company I interviewed with last year is on something like their seventh agile coach contractor and no closer to real change than they were two years ago.
So… (Conclusion)

I’ve worked as a contractor, a consultant and a full time employee. While few would support contractor as the preferred way to earn a paycheck, the “Consultant or Full-Time” question is common.

For me the answer has become clear. I find it much more fulfilling to be a full-time coach. I’m not saying I won’t consult again in the future. What I am saying is that being a full-time coach I believe is the best combination of pros and cons of all the options.

Of course an even bigger question is what should companies hire?

You’ll have to wait until the next blog for that answer.

This blogs is a prequel to my upcoming Agile Coaches Playbook series. This blog is specifically inspired by my session at Agile Open Northern California on Oct 9 and 10. Special thanks to Mike Register, Sam Lipson, Ravi Tadlwaker, Arielle Mali, Eric Johnson, and Gautam Ramamurthy for their great contributions.

The Gorilla learns Management Values from Cinderella

The_Wizard_of_Oz_Bert_Lahr_1939It was dark through the office, hours after everyone else had gone home. Okay, pretty sure Greg was off in some even darker corner coding, but that didn’t count, he was one of those nocturnal breeds of coders. I was in my office busy denting my desk with my head. It hurt sure, but the pain was taking my mind off my larger pains.

Pivot or persevere, burn down charts, customer value over stakeholder value, story points, user stories, Intrinsic vs Extrinsic value, Stoos, agile, Lean. I was a project manager, I ran a PMO, I was darn good at what I did. Only what I did didn’t seem to be what was being done anymore. What happened to my carefully planned out planning cycle? Where did my Gantt chart go?

I guess I got that things were changing. I just didn’t have a clue how to get from where I was now. This was safe, this was comfortable, this was.

“Not as it should be.”

Sigh. You know the expression “a monkey on your back”? Well I had a Gorilla on my desk. He was usually leading me down the primrose path only to pummel me with my own errors. My conscience in the form of an 800 pound gorilla (imaginary).

“Hogarth, I already know I need to change. I just haven’t the bloodiest flipping clue how to get from where I am now to where I need to be.”

Hogarth smiled at me, his white canines glinting in the light of the desk lamp. “That part’s simple, you have to see the world not as it is. Instead see the world as it should be.”

I looked back at him, “Sure all and good. What if the world as it should be is big bad and scary? How am I supposed to lead my PMO into this new way? What can I do to make it easier for them?”

The inky black gorilla smiled again, “By showing courage and kindness

“Another one of your trite aphorisms?” I muttered. “Who did you get that from, the Dali Lama?”

Hogarth shook his head as he snatched the banana from my fruit, “Nah, Cinderella told me that after her 20th wedding anniversary ball.” Pealing the fruit Hogarth looked wistfully at the ceiling, “Now she knew how to throw a party.”

“Wait” I held up my hands in confusion. “Cinderella is real?”

Hogarth gave me one of those painful, pitiful looks when I’ve said something grossly idiotic. “Imaginary gorilla, remember? She’s not real, but neither am I, so yes I can talk to her.”

“Oh, right, I knew that.”

Hogarth bite off half the banana and began talking, “So let me break this down for you into a really easy question.”

I looked at him. His easy questions usually required a lot of work for me. “Go on…”

“Do you want to be a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?”

Now with the Wizard of Oz? Oz, Lion, Courage… Oh…

How Will You Face the Changing Tide of Business?

Whether we like it or not, the face of business is changing. You don’t have to be using Agile or Lean or any of the recent trends in development/ project/ business transformations to be impacted. Because odds are pretty much a million to one that if you’re not transforming your business, one of your competitors is.

We can try and deny the changing tide. However that would be like trying to deny the actual tides (Cnut the Great Tried that, didn’t work). Business has been going through a constant change since it first began. From the Master/ Apprentice trades of the middle ages, to the early factories of the industrial age, to the martini fueled age of Mad Men, to Martin Friedman’s “Shareholder Value” and beyond. The simple fact is business will continue to change and evolve.

So we should give up trying to deny that it will and instead decide how we’re going to face it.

With “Courage and Kindness”: You find inspiration anywhere you look, so long as you are willing to open your eyes. I found that inspiration watching the live action version of Disney’s Cinderella (Mar 2015). These words were the mantra Ella’s dying mother gave to her and which the young maiden lived by even when her step-mother and sisters had subjugated her down to little more than a slave.

And that I believe is the secret to how managers are going to deal with the disruptions facing the business world.

Courage:
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. -Nelson Mandela.

It is absolutely okay to not be comfortable with change. To not be happy that your world has shifted.

Even to be scared of what it all means to you.

You just need to not let it keep you from acting. Fear will drive you into a dark cave from which you will just lash out at anyone who comes close. Grab a torch, get out of the cave and explore this new world.

Kindness: No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. – Aesop

Think back to your own time in school as a child. Odds are probably really high you had these two kinds of teachers.

Teacher A- Instructor: This teacher wasn’t a bad teacher, you just wouldn’t ever get warm from their smile. Business like to a fault, factual, direct. You learned from this teacher, but you were never inspired. You did the work, you got it done and you made fun of the teacher in the lunch room.

Teacher B- Mentor: This is the teacher who always had a smile. They told stories that turned out to teach you a lot about the subject. They were available and approachable outside of class. They were the teacher you went to when you had a problem.

The question is, which kind of the teachers above would you like to be as a manager? More important question, which kind do you think your employees want you to be?

And just remember, kindness is easy, kindness doesn’t cost much. A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. William Arthur Ward

Until next time, remember to keep some bananas handy for the Gorilla in the Room.

Gorilla 911 Career Emergeny

“The company no longer has need of your services”

At least I think that’s what they said, can’t be too sure over the roaring sound in my ears. Still the very proper manager, sitting next to the properly sad looking HR person was a pretty dead giveaway. One of those things you know is coming the minute you walk into the room. 

I was out of a job… My brain tried to process  this as I walked in a daze back to my office. The security guard was keeping a respectful distance, but I could feel her presence as much as I felt the lack of weight of the badge no longer hanging from my belt.

Turning the corner I could see movement in my office. The company had already sent movers to clear out my office? Why were they wearing Day-Glo safety vests? What in the world did ECT mean? And most important why were the two figures gorillas?!?

I recognized the first gorilla immediately, despite the neon yellow vest. It was Hogarth, my personal gorilla (like Harvey the Rabbit, only mine is an 800 pound gorilla). Hogarth had his hairy fingers on my cell phone and was consulting a wrist watch like he was taking my phones pulse. The other gorilla was a bit light in color, kind of a deep grey instead of the charcoal black of Hogarth. This gorilla had a stethoscope to the screen of my computer.

The greyish gorilla turned to Hogarth and said “Linkedin profile is offline, should we start CPR.” As soon as he spoke I recognized him. Stanley? What was my old friend’s gorilla doing here?

Hogarth interrupted my thoughts. “Patient’s contacts are thready and non-engaged. I agree, we need to start immediate Career Panic Reset, get the crash cart.

I opened my mouth to speak but before a single word escaped a high pitched tone filled the room. Hogarth turned to Stanley and spoke in a rushed tone. “Career is flat lining, I’m going to need 20cc of social network stat and we better start an IV drip of phone calls.” Stanley made busy inside a garish carpet bag while Hogarth consulted a clipboard with a familiar looking document on it.

“Hey, is that my resume?”

Hogarth looked up, still speaking the Stanley. “It’s worse than we thought, no resume update since 2010. CPR may not work, get me a shot of adrenaline.”

“Hogaaaarth, I’m not dead!” I shouted.

Hogarth looked me up with what could only be described as an incredulous stare, “of course you’re not. If you were dead no one would have called the Emergency Career Technicians and we wouldn’t have to worry about the sorry state your new job readiness is.”

“What? This is not a project. I’ve been laid off. Of course I’m not ready to be laid off!”

Hogarth gave a deep sigh and looked at me with huge, sad eyes.  “No, you’re not. But you should be…”

Sigh… I can’t really argue with him on that.

Are you ready for a career emergency?

If it hasn’t happened to you, odds are high that in your life you will be laid off (or even fired) once in your career. Odds are pretty much equally high it will be more than once if you work in any of the volatile industries like high tech, automotive, manufacturing, health care, BioTech, construction… (You know what? Maybe I should be listing the safe industries, the list is a lot shorter). All too often the layoff is something you have absolutely no effect over. If an entire division is being eliminated, you could be the next Steve Jobs and you’ll still be getting a package like everyone else.

So what can you do? Sure it’s 911 time (The number you call in the United States when there is an emergency), that doesn’t mean it’s time to panic. Even if you’ve been caught totally flat footed, you can still take control right away and do some simple things fast to put the fires out and rebuild. Better yet, start doing all this stuff now. Only your actions can develop career life insurance.

A Disclaimer on Advice: Old readers know that I have never made any pretense that the advice I give is whole cloth. While I have the occasional gem of an idea, more often than not even those are already good ideas more learned people than I have taught or written on. More often the advice I give is just distilled down for easy consumption. I like to think of Hogarth and I as the gateway to a better way of doing things. We make it easy to find and learn how to be a better worker, manager, team member, program manager, manager.

 Online Presence Emergency Makeover:

Welcome to the 21st Century! It doesn’t matter if you have created an online presence, you have one. The question is, “are you in control of it, or is it in control of you?”.  Even if you work directly with your personal network (You have one, right? No? Read the next bullet then) your online presence will still be a factor in your being hired.

  • Linkedin: Dead simple, have one. If you don’t have it, create it now and start reaching out to colleagues. One of the first places recruiters and hiring managers go now is to Linkedin. People you meet professional at work or at professional events (meetups, conferences, etc.) will look you up here. A sizable number of companies are using LI as their primary recruiting tool and pool of candidates.
    • If you send an invite, always personalize. It doesn’t take much effort and you are creating a personal connection view people in LI bother with.
    • Full profile, including the photo (see below).
    • Your Linkedin isn’t your resume, don’t just copy your resume. Instead use LI to tell more of a story. Make them want to know more about you.
    • Setup Pulse- It’s a way to have automatic subjects to talk to people about.
  • Social Networks: Linkedin is a must, see above. After that it’s all optional. However there are guidelines.
    • A Presence is Good: Especially is you work in anything to do with technology, bio, pharm or medical having a strong online presence shows that you are part of this century. I know, I know, the Apollo program put men on the moon without email, why do I need a Google+ account? Because perception is everything. That doesn’t mean you have to hang our life on the line.
    • Public Profile: Linkedin is public, so be comfortable with anything there being seen by a potential employer. Doesn’t mean you have to be a wilting violet and have not opinions. Just be comfortable with it and stay away from national or global controversial topics.
    • Private Profile: Facebook, Instagram, and Pintrest are examples of private networks. These are places where you connect and communicate with friends and family. These are the places you setup your profile as private. It’s no employers business what you do on your weekends, but if you don’t make it private, they will know. Just remember your profile picture is ALWAYs public, so make sure it’s something you’re okay with a potential employer seeing. A picture of you in shorts and sunglasses is fine. You chugging a beer, not so much.
  • Own your Google: Go to Google and type “Your Name” in quotes. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Done? Okay, good. If you don’t either own or are 100% comfortable with the first two pages of a Google search on your name then you need to fix it. This is not hard, you don’t need to pay someone to do it and you don’t need to be a tech expert. Now this can be harder if you have a common name, but remember it doesn’t have to be all you, you just have to be happy with the search results. If you have the same name as a famous quarterback and he’s getting good press, awesome. If, like a colleague of mine, you have the same name as an IRA terrorist from the last century, you need to work a little harder to control the google search on your name.

Some quick tips are:

    • Social Networks: Even if you don’t use them and keep them locked down, having an account on the regular social networks is going to help. I have accounts on Google+, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter, that’s four Google searches right there or almost half a search page. Just follow the advice from above.
    • Share Linkedin pulse stories: You’ve got the account. Now set up your preferences on Pulse and at least twice a week share an article you read there.
    • Comment on publicly visible blogs and news articles: Google searches on comments so if you use your name when you post, they will show up in your search index.
    • Start a blog: This can be a little more time intensive as you need to commit to updating it. That said, barrier to entry is easy these days. Even a Tumblr or  Instagram account can work well. Posting wise sayings from other people can be enough to count.
  • Own your image: Just like you need to own your Google, you need to be happy with the images associated with your name. This is mostly done by controlling your online networks (see above), here are just some focused reminders.
    • Make it easy: Check out my Linkedin profile. My profile image is less than a year old. Sure it shows the gray in my beard, but do a Google search on me and you’re bound to find a picture of me anyway. So the first advice is to make it easy for hiring managers to find out what you look like. If you don’t, then either they’ll go looking or they will assume you have something to hide. Does this suck? Sure. Doesn’t it make it easier for managers to discriminate on <insert Demographic>? Sure. And there is nothing you can do to stop that. You need to use your network to get past these issues, not hide your face since they’ll see it eventually.
    • Keep your private photos private: This goes back to your private networks, but needs to be stressed. Make sure when you post photos online that you keep them private. You don’t want that picture of you at a Christmas party with a martini and a glazed expression being the first thing a potential hiring manager sees.

Manager Tools: Interview Podcast Series, Resume Workbook, Failures Chapter 3: Career Crisis.

Manager Tools has been one of my go to resources since 2009. MT has won The PodCast Awards‘ Best Business podcast 5 of the 8 years the award has existed and in 2008 won People’s Choice (in the rarified company of “MuggleCast” and ESPN Fantasy Football”). With 25 years of proven management consulting just in the lead founder, the free podcasts, premium products and conferences are worth their weight in gold. I personally have used MT and CT products and casts to get my last two jobs as well as be highly successful in those jobs.

In this case three key tools will be of use to you:

  • Resume Workbook: $29.95 download with an hour long how to video. Learn to make resumes in an effective and proven way, not the way recruiters with a year’s experience advise you to use.
  • Interview Podcast Series: I believe it’s $199 right now, but it is absolutely worth the price. I’ve used the Manager Tools interview method to get my last two jobs. It works.
  • Failure Chapter 3: Career Crisis – A two part podcast on their Career Tools cast, it came out in January of 2015 (the month before this blog). It’s a great place to start on what you should do Right Now. To sum it up…
    • Get on the phone the minute you are out of the office. Just start calling the people you can think of right away. But for gorilla’s sake, start with your spouse/partner if you have one.
    • Make a list of everyone you know (not just who is in your Linkedin) and start contacting them. The people with a good relationship, call, everyone else, email.
    • Take control of your budget. If you don’t have six months of savings, start figuring out what you don’t need so you can make it to the next job. Six month job searches are pretty common these days.

Wrap up:

This isn’t just good advice for a career in crisis. If you practice preventive medicine you won’t need the ECT to use cardiac paddles on your career.

Best,

Joel and Hogarth

The phone’s for you, it’s the Gorilla


Bob, if you will read my response six emails down, you will see we are already
aware of that solution. It is not working…”

 

I leaned back and rested my head against the wall. I needed to take a mental break from this email before I started imitating a wildfire and flaming Bob for his idiocy. Why did they have to make it so difficult? Trying to get my bearings I started to scroll back through the email chain. I gave up after the tenth page down.

 

This was hopeless, no one was listening to anyone and Bob was sitting at the middle of this like some big land mine that was keeping anything from moving for fear it would all blow up. I’d exhausted myself trying to sort this all out. I didn’t have a clue how to finish this email and I didn’t think any email would solve this anyway..

 

The worst part of this all is I knew it was a simple understanding. I just couldn’t get through to Bob. He didn’t seem to be even reading the emails anymore, just kept responding with the same dogmatic hash over and over.

 

What was I going to do?

 

Hogarth dangled my Android in front of my face, “Have you tried this?”

 

I should know better to ask rhetorical questions to the myself. The problem with having an imaginary gorilla is they can eavesdrop on your thoughts. Turning to take in the lumbering form of my gorilla I shook my head. “Hogarth, don’t be ridiculous, I can’t send a text, I need way more than a couple hundred characters to get my point across.”

 

Hogarth nodded in that annoying manner that usually meant he was about to zing me hard. “You’re right. It will take a lot more character to solve this problem.” He waggled the device at me again, “You know this thing here has an incredible power? One that can cut through all the emails and all the miscommunication and get you to a solution in just a few short minutes.”

 

I sat up, “Seriously? What’s this App called?”

 

“A phone call…”

 

Huh? A phone… oh, ouch.

 

 

DID YOU KNOW A SMART PHONE CAN ALSO MAKE PHONE CALLS?

 

I’m half afraid the next generation of iPhone will have the revolutionary new feature of doing away with that pesky telephone. I mean why does it need to be there anyway? You can send email, send texts, post to Facebook and Twitter, and even log into your companies portal to post to the internal sites. Why on earth would you need to make a phone call?

 

Maybe because they work so very well? Of course face to face is even better. The phone is a good substitute, email should be the last resort of the desperate.

 

Now the exact numbers of course vary on this. Still, if you Google “percentage of communication is nonverbal” you will get a mess of hits that put non-verbal communication at a minimum of 60% and up to 93%. And then whatever percentage is left over gets cut down significantly by your tone of voice. By the time you get to only the words you say, it can be as little as 7% of your total communication.

 

So when you are in an email conversation, up to 93% of your communication is lost? Makes me think of that old kid’s game called telephone. You know the one, the kids all sit in a circle, the first one whispers to the kid on his left and then the message gets passed around until it comes back to the start. “My cat has fleas” could easily turn into “Hapsburgs flee from the Martians.”

 

Now I’m not saying we should toss out our Exchange servers and go back to the 1970’s. If we did nothing else, we’d only be replacing electronic emails with the old fashioned memo.  That’s not the problem. The problem is what we are using the email for.

 

Email is great for things like status reports, assigning tasks to directs or team members, communicating already decided changes or policy on a one to many basis.

 

Emails are horrible for solving problems, carrying on a conversation, dealing with anything that requires more than the cold hard facts that can be properly communicated in email. If there is one iota of emotion involved in the communication, then email is not the ideal medium.

 

Sure, there are times when email is the only option. These times are however vanishingly small. Even leaving a voicemail can often be more effective than an email.

 

Now diligent readers will point out that this is counter to how some DISC profiles work, as I discussed in “Talk to the Gorilla, Not At It.” True, there are DISC profiles that cringe at the thought of talking on the phone or face to face. That doesn’t mean it’s not the best solution. It just means you have to be careful about it. You don’t just call a High C unannounced, you use email to schedule a time to talk instead.

 

Let’s go back to the math for a minute. If non-verbal is truly 93% of communication, does that mean if we only ever do email we can take a 93% pay cut?

 

The phone won’t bite you and it may very well help you tame those monster email threads so you have something approaching a sane mailbox.

 

Ring… It’s for you.

Does a Gorilla by any other name still smell?

Or- What’s my title? 

I stared at the words. And all I felt was a complete and total lack of enthusiasm threatening to overwhelm my very being.

–  Project Management Professional  –

How… dead. I just didn’t have any feeling for the words. Words that described a good portion of my professional career. Words that had gotten me where I was, only to leave me feeling flat and listless. I sighed. “Oh well, it’s not like the words make the man.”

I moved my mouse over the “Ok” button and prepared to commit to another 1000 business cards. One thousand cards that described me about as well as calling the Bugatti Veyron Super “just another car.”

“Why don’t you just change the title?”

Oh, great, Hogarth… I looked up from my computer screen only to find my office completely empty. Blinking I started to wonder if I’d taken to imaging my imaginary gorilla.

“Nope,” came his rumbling voice from behind me. Turning about in my seat I watched as Hogarth squeezed his way through the window to my office. The third floor open window.

“Hogarth!” Would I ever get tired of saying that? Yes, I already had. Would I ever get to stop saying it? One remains eternally hopeful. “Why are you climbing in my window?”

Pivoting to put his feet on the floor he rolled his eyes at me. “Because I’m a gorilla, duh…” Moving past me, making a beeline for my fichus he said, “Besides the elevator is out of service and you need a badge to use the stairs.”

Sigh, I did ask. “Hands off the fichus!” Hogarth turned to give me a pained look. “Why are you here?” I asked.

“Why not?”

Sigh. I decided to ignore him and turned back to my computer. I had a 1000 business cards to order.

“You know,” Hogarth drawled. “I’ve been thinking about a career change.”

Okay, that got my attention. Maybe he’d decide to take up flying and would be so busy with flight school he wouldn’t be around to bother me. “Oh?” I said hopefully.

He nodded, turning to run a hand across the small wooden conference table beyond my desk. “Yeah, I was thinking of being a beaver.”

“You can’t be a beaver, you’re a gorilla!” I snapped. Now he was just being silly and I didn’t have time for silly.

“What? There some law that says a gorilla can’t change careers?”

“Hogarth, being a beaver isn’t a career, it’s a species. You want to be president of the US then more power to you, but no amount of wishful thinking is going to make you a beaver!”

Hogarth turned around and gave me one of those smiles. You know, the one. The one that tells me I’d just walked right into the lesson he’d been trying to teach me. “You’re right. I’ll always be a gorilla, can’t fight birth. So were you born a project manager?”

Yeah, that smile…

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Regular readers will recall that I’ve recently been at the SFAgile2012 conference. Something I didn’t cover in my prior blogs, on that conference, was my own loss of words to describe just what I did. When you’re surrounded by a room full of agile and lean visionaries, coaches, inspirational and thought thinkers, describing yourself as a “project manager” not only feels inadequate, it can make you feel unclean. My twitter handle didn’t help me feel any better. When I first joined twitter, I was damn proud of my PMP certification and it made perfect sense to use JBC_PMP. When in a room full of people who  think agile certifications are not worth the paper they are printed on, imagine how one feels to advertise that you have that “waterfall” certification.

In short, I find myself unsatisfied with the description and title of Project Manager (or Program Manager).  It’s the title I’ve held for the majority of my professional career and still hold in my day job. This isn’t a new dissatisfaction,  I have grappled with this before in the “Armchair Gorilla.” In the comments of that blog Tobias Mayer ‘s suggest it was time to change what I called myself and while I realized he was right, I didn’t have a good term to use it its place. Like it or hate it, it’s the title of common use and HR doesn’t argue about paying me.

Attending SFAgile 2012 made me question all this again. This was in no small part from attending Tobias’ talk on “The Why of Scrum.” In this talk he expands on his earlier blog on Scrum not being project management (see below). Again I was left me hanging by loose ends. I can’t argue with Tobias that the strict PMBoK definition of a PM doesn’t have a lot of purpose in a pure agile shop. Thing is, where does that leave me? I’m not an engineer turned PM. I’m not a Wharton MBA with business plans spewing forth from my mouth. I’m an ex-art student, customer support guy who grew into a role that most people call project management. So is there a place for me in this emerging world of radical lean agile management?

Yes, yes there is. Because I’m not my title, I’m something else. The question is what? You really need to go back to “Armchair Gorilla.”  and my “I’m R2-D2 ” blog to get my full discourse on what I see as my role. The short form is I’m the guy who helps the team be excellent. It’s not my job to be the super star, it’s my job to help the team be stars. This can take many forms, from dealing with the overhead process (past a certain size, nearly all companies have “process”) so they don’t have to, facilitate communication, battle IT to get the servers back up, or even make a double cappuccino with a twist of lemon if that’s what’s needed.

The question is: What the heck do I call this role?

Let’s take a look at the language we use, and the problems inherent to them.

Project: Even in the lean and agile space we still end up defaulting to this word most of the time. It is a catch all word that sums up “what the heck are we doing?” as well as all the overhead baggage needed to put a product out to the customer. The biggest flaw I see with this word is that to often it is equated only with the development effort. A project starts when the developer starts to build and ends when development is done. Projects are so much more. From the first idea to the first delighted customer is all part of your project.

Unfortunately the word also has a fair amount of negative baggage tied to it. The word project summons up visions of rigidity, sequential flow, punishing process and all manner of ills that can befall the creation of something that delights the customer.

And “program” has pretty much all the same baggage, so let’s just lump it all on one baggage train for now.

Manager: We only have to look to Dictionary.com to see the first glimmers of the problem.

“A person who has control or direction of an institution, business, etc., or of a part, division, or phase of it.”

Notice the distinct lack of the word “people?” One of the other definitions points to the word “Manages” and the 3rd definition for Manages is

“to dominate or influence (a person) by tact, flattery, or artifice.”

Ooh! I get to DOMINATE! Yeah!. My people are just assets like my computers. Can I start calling our Health Care provider “People Tech Support?”

The word manage has come to imply control over people and that’s a huge problem. Manager Tools has long maintained that “Role Power” is a flawed tool for good management. You need to have a relationship with your people if you are going to be successful. Just by their very title, we set managers up to fail from the get go.

Project Manager (Program Manager):  I know! Let’s take two words, that  already have issues, slam together and we’ll be bound to have recipe for greatness, right?

No, no you won’t.

Even if we don’t acknowledge all the bad baggage that has grown up around this title, we’d have a hard time justifying the use of the title to define this role. The title has no human factor in it. There is nothing about the title that talks to the important work that this role does. There isn’t anything in the title to indicate you are there for the team.

Project Leader: “Take me to your leader.” When the alien ask you this, I don’t think they want you to take them to an effigy of MS Project. You can’t lead a project, because a project isn’t a person. Add to this, you’ve got the hole leader issue. You see I own a horse. That old saying of “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink?” It’s a load of horse poop. If a horse doesn’t want to move, you aren’t moving it, at least not in a straight line (we won’t get into horse training here, wrong blog). Instead I tend to think of this role as more the person who asks the horse “where’s the water?”

Team Lead: A title that has become synonymous with “un paid” psuedo-manager. The best coder is the team lead. Not because of any skill with the team, just because he can crank out more lines of good code in a day than anyone else. Let’s just leave that one on the cutting room floor and move on.

Project Lead: We can leave Project Lead in the same cutting room pile as Team Lead. It’s got the same issues, on top of not having any people focus.

Coach: “Put me in coach, I’m ready to go.” Coach is a good word. In the literal sense it is someone who trains, though really a coach is more of someone who helps to bring the best out of you. The problem comes when you try and modify it, in order to give it more description.

  • Project Coach: “Come on, Gantt chart, give me ten more sit ups!” You can’t coach a project, so this doesn’t work to define this role.
  • Agile Coach: “But our project is waterfall.” Very limited in its scope.
  • Lean Coach: “Let’s burn off those calories.” See Agile coach.
  • Waterfall Coach: “This is your barrel, the entrance to Niagara is over there.”

Coach might be a good word, the question is “Coach of what?”

Facilitator: Another great word. It’s issue is more in the baggage of its other uses. Facilitating a project planning session is just what this role should do. Facilitating conflict between the teams. Facilitating communication with the stakeholders. Like a good catalyst, a facilitator causes activity to happen, without itself being effected.

The worry is that the title has a well established place in the business world. It is considered a specialist and not an “always there” job role. Can it rise above these preconceived limitations?

Project Coordinator: We already have beaten the word project into glue. The word coordinator, on its surface seems like a good word. Non-threatening, more passive than active, implies working with things outside oneself. When you dig in though, there are two things you run into. The first is the baggage. In the formal project management world, a project coordinator is an low or entry level position. Project coordinators work for project managers. This kind of baggage makes it a bad term to use for this role.

Then we look at the dictionary and are forced to scratch our heads. “Coordinator” points to “coordinate,” which points to “coordination.” This in turn points to “coordinating” or “coordinated.” Which points back to “coordinate.” Circular logic and I still don’t know what your job is!

Scrum Master: Tobias Mayer (@tobiasmayer ) wrote a great blog titled “Scrum is not Project Management” to which I wrote the reply blog “Armchair Gorilla” where I  ended up agreeing with Tobias (after much gnashing of teeth). This blog is really an extension of that thread.

However the question at hand is if this title serves to describe the role. The answer is, “no, it cannot.” First off is the word scrum. Unless you are using scrum, then it isn’t an appropriate word. Second off is the word Master. Anyone who knows anything about getting a CSM certificate knows that you are a master of none. Most likely the entire title came about as a riff on “Master of Ceremonies.” Unfortunately it has lost that connection and the title of Scrum Master, even in the narrow confines of Scrum Teams, has dubious value.

Servant Leader: I’m pretty sure I’ve put down in writing that I love the essence of this title. Having started my career in customer support, I have always held onto the roots that I am serving my customers in what ever job I do. And who my customer is can be very broad. I think of my team as my customers. If I don’t help them, I have failed my customer.

I just don’t like the title itself. Servant is tied up in centuries of toil and oppression. Am I the team’s serf? Do I polish their shoes and lay out their best coat for the evening meal? And then the word Leader has its own issues.  As I touched on above, it has connotations of being “in charge” when the reality of this role not about being “in charge,” it’s about empowering.

Agent of Change (Change Agent): “Secret agent man, secret agent man…” Other than the obvious need for another gratuitous joke, this is a term we need to tackle as Change Agent has become a common term now. But what does it mean? I saw a great comic that had a person and death. The person said “Oh, no, it’s the Angel of Death.” To which Death replies “I ‘ve changed my name to Agent of Change.”

I don’t know, “change agent” just seems a bit too disruptive. It tends to  make me think of a less flattering term that I’ve been called in the past (for polite audiences we’ll call this term “Fecal Aggregator”). Change agent implies that things need to change, when sometimes you just need to tweak or adjust. To grab onto the Lean Startup parlance, change agent would seem to always imply “pivot” when sometimes you need to “persevere.”

Sweet suffering succotash! Where does that leave us? 

Yes, finding a name for what we do isn’t as easy as it looks. In fact I don’t have the answer (Put the slings and arrows away). What I do have is the next step in the exploration.

Of course if you’re reading this, you know I’ve styled myself as “The Gorilla Coach.” It works only because of the web site and the blog I’ve created over the last few years. Because of Hogarth, I have a great conversation starter when I answer people’s “what do you do” question with “I’m a Gorilla Talker.”

Thing is, I don’t think Gorilla Talker is something that will work on broad scale. For the limited nature of myself and this blog, it works. When coaching people, it works. When talking to someone in the 55,000 person company that is my day job, it kind of falls a little flat.

So…

Catalyst Agent / Catalyst Coordinator / Catalyst Coach:

The word Catalyst has some interesting definitions. Two, in particular, stands out to me.

  • “something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.”
  • “a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic.”

“Without itself being affected”: I like this! For one it implies I’m not using myself up. Too many projects have I poured my heart and soul into, only to be left sorely wanting in the end (or laid off in one case, despite the project being a complete success).  For a another, it means I’m not the focus. I’m helping others, not directing others.

“a person whose talk…”: I so want to be this person. That just sounds like the coolest job description in the world.

“What do you do?”

“I cause others to be friendly and enthusiastic.” It reminds me of a Manager Tools quote (which I shall now proceed to butcher) that goes something like “I’ll trade 90% expertise and 10% enthusiasm for 90% enthusiasm and 10% expertise any day.” If I can bring the best out of the team, company, project or product, then I’ve had a great day.

I just don’t know if I’m an Agent, Coordinator or a Coach. Should I be using a spy camera, holding a clip board or blowing a whistle? One thing I do know, my Twitter ID no longer fits me. So with a nod of thanks to the old, I welcome in JBC_GC as my new handle.

 

What do you think of being a Catalyst?

 

Note: All comments are moderated.

The Gorilla Manager’s Survival Guide to Going Agile

“What do you mean I have to wait until the end of the sprint for a report?”

John gave a nod. “Uh huh, when we do the Sprint Review we’ll be have the Feature burn down charts, as well as demos of what’s been built and a report on any technical impediments.”

“But that’s not until the end of next week, I need to brief the VP on where Project Myrmidon stands.”

John looked truly apologetic. “I don’t have anything to report until the sprint is over. You’ve got the reports for the last two sprints and you know what we committed to for this sprint. Until we’re done, I can’t compile the external report. I’d just being making up a report right now, is that what you want?”

I sighed. “No, of course not.” In reality I did want him to make something up. I didn’t want to tell the VP he had to wait another week and a half to get his status report. The VP was scary and I didn’t like explaining to him why he had to wait for anything, even if it was the way the process worked. He was the kind of guy who didn’t want to wait for anything. He would say jump and expected you to phone him from orbit to ask if that was a high enough jump.

“Need anything else?” John’s question cut into my self misery. He was standing patiently in front of my desk. When I looked up at him he said, “Remember, I need to leave early today?”

I waved at him, “Oh, right. Go ahead.” John left me alone with my thoughts. This was the fourth time in two weeks he’s left early. I wondered if anything is wrong.

“He’s taking a Community Emergency Response training class. He wants to be more active in the community.” Hogarth’s deep voice cut through my thoughts and derailed the train I’d been on. The gorilla lumbered into the room, pausing only briefly to snap a branch off my fichus before he continued on to perch in the sun drenched window ledge.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

Hogarth shook his head, “Gorilla secret. Besides you’d know to if you were paying as much attention to your team as you do to your precious status reports.”

I glared at Hogarth. “What do you mean? I see my people every day. I know what’s going on with every project and where all the risks are. How can you say I’m not paying attention?” I waved out the door, “Heck the real problem is this damned agile roll out. Ever since it got going I have no idea what’s going on. Jake and I were just complaining about it over lunch. We don’t have the same control we used to, it’s driving us mad.”

“And yet you don’t know that Molly is engaged, Max at war with IT and John was taking CERT training.”

I blinked at Hogarth. “You mean I, like, have to talk to them ?” I felt a cold shudder run down my spine at the very thought of it.

Hogarth pointed the denuded fichus branch in my direction. “Let me ask you this. What reports to you, projects or people ?”

I stared at him like he’d just grown a second head. “What kind of question is that? Of course I have people reporting to me…” I closed my mouth with a snap.

“Oh…”

 

Good Managers make for Good Agile

Management has been the butt of jokes, derision and scorn pretty much since some Mesopotamian chieftain delegated a cattle raid to his incompetent son while briefing his best warrior to keep his son out of danger and really get the job done. For the butt of all the jokes it has been, Management has also been where many of the worlds greatest leaders have risen from. The Duke of Marlborough, the Duke of Wellington, General/ President Charles de Gaulle and General/President Dwight Eisenhower all came out of “middle management” positions and went on to help change the face of the world for their time.

Whether you love or hate management, whether you think agile/ lean will do away with management, the reality is right now management is still a pervasive part of our world. This means some fairly important things.

– Adoption of new ways of doing business is going to be a lot more successful with management support.
– Managers need to learn how to work in the agile/lean world.
– The previous two bullets are inexorably linked together.

In short, managers need to learn how to work with their people again. It is through helping the team that we will all succeed. Stop focusing on the work and focus on the people doing the work. Through this can managers become a key to making a better world.

Psst… That was the passionate call to action part.

Okay, great speech. Rah, rah, rah. But speeches don’t make change.

No, no they don’t. Which means you actually have to do something.

And now for the practical tools to rise to the call.

Enter Manager Tools
Manger Tools is a website, a series of podcasts and a very dedicated group of people. When I look back on how I made the shift from drone worker to change agent and leader I can point to two defining moments. One was taking a CSM course and finally “getting” agile. The other was discovering the Manager Tools podcasts.

Focused on the principles of being effective and giving actionable advice, the Manager Tools podcasts have helped me put my career on track, to be a better manager and I think to be a better person. The principles and lessons of Manager Tools helped to form my own personal belief that if you help individuals be more effective, they will help make a better team. A better team makes for a better project and a better project makes for a better product. Better products will lead to better businesses and I businesses built on these foundations will help lead us to a better world.

Now with over 500 podcasts, years of blog posts, and a huge community forum it can be daunting to know where to start. Fortunately, Manager Tools has this covered. I also have some additional MT podcasts that I highly recommend as critical must listens.

The Manager Tools Trinity:
In true Douglas Adams fashion, the trinity is made up of four components. It really did start out as a trinity at one time. Coaching became part of the mix a few years back and I think these days the people at Manager Tools tend to refer to this as the “basics.” One thing basic about them, is how basic it is to pick them up and start using them. For ease of listening, Manager Tools has bundled around 20 podcasts into a special “Manager Tools Basic” feed. It contains their core starting points, including the Trinity (all four parts).

 

One on Ones: Two key secrets sauces at play here. 1- Meeting with your directs once a week, like clockwork. If there is a conflict, reschedule. Do everything you can to hold it. 2- The format is ten, ten, ten. The first ten minutes is the direct talking about whatever they want. The second ten is the manager asking questions he wants answers to. The last ten minutes are to future development. Project Managers- You can use O3s as well. It just takes a couple of minor changes to make it a perfect meeting for working with your project team.

The Feedback Model: The Manager Tool’s Feedback is a lot like a one shot agile retrospective. It allows the manager to identify behaviors (good and bad) and provide a response to that behaviors impact. The most powerful part of the Feedback Model is it doesn’t look to correct what has happened. Like a good retrospective, feedback is looking forward to how things can be done better in the future. Encouragement, not punishment. Project Managers- There is a modified version of this that can work with your project team.

Delegating: We’re terrible at delegating. We don’t do it well. We often delegate the wrong things. We often (very often) don’t let go when we delegate. In short, we end up strung out over a massive string of responsibilities and create all sorts of problems, not the least of which is being a single point of failure. Let us not forget the great Dilbert wisdom of “If you make yourself irreplaceable you will never get promoted.”

Coaching: Yes, that’s right, managers should be coaches to the people on their teams. Mark Hortsman, of Manager Tools, says that one of the greatest signs of a successful manager is that he gets his people promoted. Helping your team grow, learn and prosper is a vital part to being a good manager. And like good coaches, the goal is not to lead or drive them there, it is to make the possibilities possible.

Jump Starting Internal Customer Relationships : This two part podcast is a must listen for anyone joining a new company, new department or new project. This is one of my first go to actions when brought in on a failing project. Few would argue against syncing up with your stakeholders. The Internal Customer Interview process takes this to the next level by giving you a standardized format and set of questions to ask all your stakeholders. Through the repetition of the same questions you create quantitative view of the situation.

The DISC Model in action: DISC is a quadrant based behavioral model. Having used it for several years now I can attest to it being a model that actually works as opposed to being a money maker for “specialists” who come in to “fix” your organization. You can get a full assessment online for about $30. Manager Tools has over thirty podcasts devoted to interacting with people based on the DISC system. Hands down this has been one of the most valuable tools I’ve picked up from Manager-Tools.

 

In conclusion, this is one series of podcasts that is worth going back to episode one and listening to them all. It didn’t just help my career, it gave it purpose.

Better people, better projects, better world.

Get on the Gorilla Bus: A Good to Great Book Review

“Sigh…

 

I just couldn’t bring myself to come up with a more energetic response than that. Wednesday had arrived with all the energy of a three legged turtle hopped up on warm milk. The clocked ticked over to 8:00 am and I opened up my calendar to see what the schedule had in store for the day. “Oh, look. Just like last Wednesday. And the Wednesday before that, and the one before that, and that.” In a sudden burst of morbid curiosity I jumped my calendar forward three months and  looked at Wednesday. “And we have the exact same day.”

 

I sat back in my seat and stared fitfully at the ceiling. I had long ago come to the realization that this job was slowly eating out my soul from the inside. Still, here I sat preparing for yet another day. “Meh, it’s a living.” I said and reached for my mouse, intent on slogging through today’s predictable pile of overnight email.

 

Mee… Mee… Mee…

 

“Whaton earth?” I stepped to the door of my office to find out what was going on.

 

I was greeted by the silvered back of Hogarth as he slowly back stepped down the hall. The god awful racket was coming from him, right in time with his long arms waving in a throng of confused looking businessmen. His poor imitation of a bus backing up was replaced by a gruff series of commands. “All right, Mr. CIO you’re going to be down the left hall all the way to end. Don’t worry, we’ll replace the half eaten fichus tomorrow. Director of IT Database infrastructure, head left, third door on the right. VP of Human Exploratory Resource Operations, head to the right, take the first left, the second right and down two flights. Director of Project Improvement Management  Process, you’re right here at the end of the hall. Peter, John and Michael second star to the right and straight on till morning.”

 

“Hogarth, what are you doing this time?”

 

My gorilla pooka turned around and gave me one of his screaming white smiles. “Hey there, so are you packed yet?”

 

“Packed? What are you talking about?” I looked at the curious businessman trying to step past me into my office. “And why is this guy scoping out my office?”

 

Hogarth waved towards the exit, “The bus is here, time to get on it.”

 

I shook my head, “I think you’re getting that backwards. In Collins’ bus analogy, the bus  is the company. You bring the right people on the bus and get the wrong people off the bus.”

 

Hogarth nodded, “That’s right. But where do you think the people being tossed off the bus go?”

 

“Another bus?” Realization dawned in my muddled brain. “Hey, wait a minute!”

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: GOOD TO GREAT, By Jim Collins

 

I was first exposed to Good to Great some years back. At that time I thought it was anything but great. I didn’t read the book then, but my experience with it so colored my perceptions that for a while there, Collins was in my lexicon of four letter words. A VP had been brought in to lead my organization. He hit the ground running and held up GTG as his guide book for how he was going to improve the organization.  One of those “improvements” led to my being laid off with a large number of my fellow co-workers. Needless to say, my opinion of the book was pretty low and I hadn’t even read it.

 

Years later and with the perspective of time I approached this book again and set out to read it. Doing so helped to codify my position on management and my own personal direction. I came to see my previous brush with Good to Great as being one of the best things that ever happened to me.

 

You see, I got thrown off the bus.

 

At the time, I thought this was the worst thing in the world. I thought the VP didn’t have a clue and he was just making his own little crony club.  It took reading GTG to finally realize that he did have a clue, and it really didn’t matter what happened in that job or what that VP did. I had been on the wrong bus!

 

I’m getting ahead of myself. Well more I’m pontificating and not reviewing.

 

Summary:

Why do some companies make the leap to being one of those companies we dream about being at and why do some companies become “Acme, oh I remember them, they used to be big in widgets?” That’s what Jim Collins and his research staff set out to determine.  Collins had already delved into the mechanics of how visionary companies lasts, in his book Built to Last, now it was time to see where those visionaries came from.

 

Collins walks through a six step analysis of GTG companies, building on each previous step as he goes. You can’t get from A to F without starting at A.

 

Level 5 Leadership: This scale does not go to 6. Collins explains the levels of leadership and why you need a level 5 leader to go great.

 

First who… Then What: Probably the most profound section for me. This one will speak to agilists as it is about building the right team, then building the company.

 

Confront the Brutal Facts: I’m the gorilla talker, I’m all about talking to the obvious and dealing with it. GTG companies have to do this to succeed.  Collins explains it all.

 

Hedgehog Concept:  Hedge what? Seriously you have to read the book, you have to understand why you do what it is you do best.

 

A Culture of Discipline: Can you say accountability? I knew you could.

 

Technology Acceleration: No, this is not how Twitter will change the world. This is more about the basic mindset of technology in the work place.

 

And he ties all that up into his Flywheel of doom.. No wait, the Flywheel and the Doom Loop.

 

The book is laid out in a conversational style, with Collins walking you through each chapter and each thought process. One could almost envision him standing in front of the class and giving one of those professor lectures we all actually liked to listen to. You know, the ones that got to a point and you could follow?

 

The books is only 210 pages long, with another fifty pages of explanatory appendix and a bibliography that would choke the world hot dog eating champion.

 

The Good:

Data, data, data- This book is not based on theory and hokum. It’s based on hard research by Collins and a dedicated (perhaps crazy) twenty person research team. They piled through mountains of financial data, company reports, news clippings and conducted many interviews in the quest to create this book. When Collins declares a hypothesis, it is one based on mountains of research.

 

Sit on down for a chat- As mentioned in the summary, the book has a comfortable conversation style. Like Collins just sat down and talked about the book with the tape recorder on (I know, I’m dating myself) and then that was transcribed to text. It made the book very approachable and welcoming to read.

 

The right bus- I don’t know if Collins ever intended the book to serve this purpose but I recommend this book to people who I can see are floundering in their personal careers or are stuck in dead-end jobs. CEOs read this book to find out how to make their companies great. Normal people read this book to realize that the bus analogy goes both ways. In a nutshell, one of the six components of a GTG company is “First who… then what.” He uses an analogy of getting the people you need on the bus and getting the people you don’t need, off the bus. Build a great team and the company will be great.

 

Now first of all I’d like to point over at my passion of agile management and how agile focuses on the team, not the project. Then I want to point out that the bus goes both ways. When I was kicked off the bus, I went on to discover that I’d been on the wrong bus. I got the kick in the pants that led to meeting Hogarth and waking up to smell reality. This book isn’t just a good company guidebook, it’s a good personal guidebook. You can learn how to look at a company and decide if you should really keep clocking in or if it is time to find your real career.

 

The Bad:

Time is no friend to companies- When two of the companies featured are Circuit City and Fannie Mae, it can be hard to keep reading. Published in 2001, the book is a definite look back in time. Bank of America could do no wrong in the nineties. Today, we have 99%ers pitching tents in its lobby. While the facts used can’t be argued with, I had to wonder at the connection between Great companies and companies that last. Is it sustainable to be Great or not? Perhaps the answer lies in Built to Last, which I’ve yet to read.

 

Drowning in data- There were times when I felt I was being bludgeoned by the data. I’d already understood the concept and I was still getting hit with the justifications. If you see yourself as already progressive, you might be able to stop after  the first chapter, or at least only read the first few pages of each chapter. The data will get to you as you say to yourself “I’m sold already, where the hell do I sign?”

 

The Bookshelf Index:

One of the ways I measure a books value is where I put it when I’m done with it, the book shelf index. GTG gets the best shelf space, sitting on my desk at work next to the Peter Drucker. Laid out with strong headers and valuable data makes it still a go to reference book in my day to day work.

 

In the end I found this book useful for reasons Collins may not have envisioned for the book. Yes, companies can use this as a guidebook for going in the great direction. And the individual worker can use it to determine if they are in the right company for them. As much a personal development guidebook as it is a company development road map.

 

Joel Bancroft-Connors

The Gorilla Talker Project Manager

Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email

You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

 

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.

 

A Project Manager’s Poker hand

Or- Ripped from Today’s headlines; PMP certification and $4 will buy you a cup of coffee!

It was late evening at my office. I was still there to take a conference call with one of our Chinese out source firms. I strode purposefully down the hallway and straight into the conference room.
I stopped short. I backed up and looked at the name of the conference room. Yes, I was in the right place. Stepping back in my mind tried to make sense of the scene before me. Hogarth was sitting at the table, his back to me. He had garters around his forearms and wore a visor. He was rapidly dealing cards around the table to the other occupants of the room.
Two more gorillas, a black swan and a pink elephant.
The sheer absurdity of the scene froze me to inaction for several moments.
“All right, everyone ante up out,” Hogarth called out.
ITIL,” mumbled the larger of the two gorillas.
Six Sigma, Black Belt,” the pink elephant said..
Slapping a chit on the table, the other gorilla declared “Prince2.”
Quietly sliding her chit across the table, the black swan almost whispered “MCSE.l
PMP,” Hogarth said.
Everyone at the table picked up their cards and carefully began arranging them. Moments later Hogarth called out, “Opening bet is to you, Winston.”
“I call two years of team leadership,” the larger gorilla said.
The “betting” went around the table. “Award winning writing”,” Paid to speak in public”, “Risk management expertise…”
“HOGARTH!” My mind finally caught up with the absurdity. “What are you doing?”
My gorilla turned to look at me. “Oh, hi boss. Just playing poker with some of the guys.” He pointed around the table. “I told you ’bout my cousin, Winston. The elephant is Percy, from accounting, that’s Wendy’s Gorilla, Stanley and birdie over there is Wanda from IT.”
“Poker? What on earth are you using for money?” For some reason my mind had no problems with three gorillas, a pink elephant and a black swan playing poker. Instead I was trying to wrap my mind around just what they were playing for.
“Job experience and accomplishments!” He declared.
“What?”
Hogarth grinned ,”Haven’t you heard the news? A PMP certification and $4 will get you a cup of coffee?”
Certification Poker, just what does a PMP get you?
A while back Simon Cleveland, of the Miami  Project Examiner, posted a blog titled “Why is just having a PMP not enough.” In his blog he reviewed a study published in the Project Management Journal. The study surveyed Senior IT Executives and found that a PMP certification rated at the bottom of the list for considering a candidate for hiring.
The bottom?…
Yes, the bottom. Here is the list from Simon’s blog:
1. Leadership = 94%
2. Ability to communicate at multiple levels = 93%
3. Verbal skills = 87.2%
4. Written skills = 87.1%
5. Attitude = 85%
6. Ability to deal with ambiguity and change = 82%
7. Work history = 68%
8. Experience = 67%
9. Ability to escalate = 66%
10. Cultural fit = 57%
11. Technical expertise = 46%
12. Education = 37%
13. Length of prior engagements = 23%
14. Past team size = 18%
15. PMP certification = 15%
Wow… My first reading of the article had me up in arms. I was ready to storm the walls and take no prisoners. How dare they say my PMP was the bottom of the list! Then I read a LinkedIn discussion on the matter. In that discussion, one person voiced confusion on why the PMP is considered a must have in so many job requisitions and with HR. Another poster wondered how this jived with PMI promoting project management as a “certified” profession, like accounting or lawyers.  I was ready to call the million PM march on Washington (okay maybe the century PM march, do I hear a dozen?).
So I read Simon’s article again. This time I took my time. I paid attention to the listed values and the LinkedIn concerns from my fellow project managers. When I was done, I had learned two valuable things. The first is the old Netiquette adage to never immediately respond to a confrontational email or post. Write your post, then walk away for thirty minutes or more. Come back after you’ve calmed down and see if you still want to send it. You almost never will.
Of course that’s not what this blog is about. The “Aha Moment” for me came when I realized that the study was 100% absolutely right!
“Say that again?
That’s right. I agree that a PMP should be at the bottom of the list for deciding if you want to hire someone. We saw Hogarth use his PMP (well technically mine) to ante up in his job experience poker game. He didn’t use it for an actual bet. The PMP got him in to the game, but it wouldn’t win him his hand.
It’s the same for a hiring decision. A PMP certification is not the most important decision in hiring someone, and it should not be. The same goes for pretty much any other professional certification, Prince2, Scrum Master, PMIs new Agile cert ( You need a Medical Degree to be a doctor, that doesn’t mean you are a good doctor.). A certification helps get you in the door. It’s a must have on your resume and, in theory, is proof that you have the skills that the hiring manager wants. It is your ante to get into the interview game. It gets you to the table. Then you have to prove that your certification was justly earned, by demonstrating your ability in the skills. In the case of the PMP one of those key skills is the ability to communicate.
Three of the top four things on the study’s list are about communication. Eighty percent or more of being a Project Manager is about communication. Then, looking at the top of the list, the number one thing IT Execs look for is leadership. It’s not communication, though a good leader must be a good communicator. That said, I would argue that to be a successful Project Manager you must be a strong leader. If you can successfully lead a project team, without direct report authority, then you are probably a good leader.
Let’s look at two more high ranking traits; handle ambiguity and change 82% and ability to escalate 66%. These are both vital tools in a good project manager’s tool box. A dedicated PMP certified project manager should have these skills and actively cultivates them. I’d also argue that the ability to escalate is just another part of communication.
Conversely, notice where Technical Expertise rates? A whopping 46%. Leadership, communication, and adaptability (ambiguity and change) far outweigh the requirement for technical expertise.
So on reflection I think this article is spot on and fully supports who I am, as a project manager.
My PMP certification gets me to the table. It shows I want to be one of the best. I still have to prove to them that I am.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
Veteran, the project management wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

The Holiday Job Hunt Gorilla


[This blog is dedicated to Skip La Fetra, facilitator of the Silicon valley PMI job search breakfast. He led a great meeting that tackled this gorilla in a wonderful way and inspired this blog.]

The jingle of bells battered my skull like a thousand tiny anvils being dropped from orbit. Grabbing my skull I turned from my desk to take in a sight I immediately wished I could erase from my memory.

“Hogarth! What in the Sam Hill are you doing?”

My gorilla looked down at the red velveteen jacket he wore, shaking his head as he did so. With the jingling of his bell bestrewed hat nearly overpowering his words, he said “Well I admit old St. Nick shares the red theme with Bealzabub, but isn’t it taking things a bit far to accuse him of being devil and not elf?”

I rolled my eyes, trying not to let Hogarth’s verbal judo distract me from exactly why he was dressed up like a Christmas in the jungle reject. “Why the heck are dressed like that?”

“For the holiday party” he replied, his tone so bubbly it could make Champagne feel impotent.

“Party?” I sighed. “Hogarth, I’m not going to any party.”

“You’re not?” he replied crestfallen. “So back to pinging your network contacts and checking job boards?”


I threw up my hands, “What’s the point? It’s the middle of December, I’m not going to get a job now. I just want to wash my hands of all this, try and enjoy Christmas and I’ll get back to looking in January.”

Now imaginary gorillas should be fairly benign, after all you’ve thought them up, right? So when he walked over and smacked me upside the head I was understandably surprised. “Ow! What was that for?”

“To snap you out of your Dickensian moroseness ” he said. “Cause I’m the 800 pound gorilla in the room and I’m not leaving until you deal with your attitude.”

And there I was, having literally been hit over the head by the “Holiday Job Hunt Gorilla”

I have had the experience of being unemployed over the US holiday season (Oct 31st to Jan 1st), twice in my professional career. The two experiences were stark opposites of each other and show a clear example of why the holidays is the time to Speed Up, not Slow Down your job hunt.

In my first experience , I all but hid from my unemployment, trying to deny it was there and giving all sorts of justifications to not make even a token effort to look for work. I also completely ignored every bit of advice I give in my own career insurance blog. Not only did I end up hiding from my lack of a job through Christmas, when the new year came along I had lost all my momentum, all my drive. I eventually landed a new job, but it was more luck than my own actions. I was out of work for the better part of a year that time, an experience I never wanted to repeat again in my life.

In my second experience I was laid off from my company on Sept 30th. I started my new job on Feb 2nd, nearly four months exactly. More importantly, between Dec 20th and Jan 1st I was speaking with three different companies and even interviewed in the week between Christmas and New Years. I not only followed my own advice (learned almost word for word from manager-tools.com) but I sped up my efforts over the holidays. I took advantage of the hidden benefits of the season to accelerate myself into a great job.

No, I think the holidays can be argued as being the best time to search for a job, or to at the least close in on that next job prospect. There is a natural spirit of giving and kindness in the season, that is not limited to department store Santas and It’s a Wonderful Life reruns.

During a Silicon Valley PMI Job Search Breakfast the attendees came up with the following, excellent, list of things to do in the holiday season.

– Don’t slow down. This is not the time to slow your pace, but to increase it.
– Most companies operate their Fiscal Calendar from Jan to Dec, so their year is ending. This means their new budget year starts in January. They already know their budget and likely have started their job reqs.
– Holiday parties are not a time to bemoan, but a time to network with friends and colleagues. Make sure your business cards are up to date and plentiful.
– It is the season of giving, take advantage of people’s natural tendency to be more open and giving to approach them.
– Be prepared for rapid response “can you come in tomorrow?” This is very common in the holidays.
– Do NOT underestimate the power of the thank you note! If you were good about sending “Thank You” notes during your first interviews then you can follow up with a Christmas cards to reopen your communication with the hiring firm.
– The holidays give you a readymade excuse to reach out to an old colleague who you fell out of touch with. Haven’t talked to Bob in a year? Send him a holiday card and reconnect, then stay connected.
– If you get a job sent to you and it is not for you, think of who you know that might fit. Keep up your spirit of giving and helping and it will come back to you.

In the end, it boils down to a very simple mantra “Don’t Slow Down, Do Speed Up and remember all your job hunt and networking basics.”

Wishing you all the happiest and most successful of holiday seasons!

Joel BC
The Gorilla Talker
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.

Project Gorillas are Subject Matter Experts


[Non-legal mumbo jumbo: This piece was inspired by a conversation with fellow PMs at a Silicon Valley PMI job search networking breakfast. That conversation inspired me to write this little piece of fiction to bring my revelations to light. This blog goes the next step beyond the “Too many hat” blog that I did in February.]

  “Well it’s rather complicated”, the words were spoken by the pleasantly smiling engineering director. Having heard this lead in more than once, I instantly translated it to “I don’t expect you to understand, you don’t have a double masters in computer science and physics.” Not that I said anything, I smiled back serenely and listened as he dove into a highly technical discussion that lost me in the first three sentences. But that was fine,


  I leaned back in my chair and watched as he grabbed a white board pen to start diagramming.
As he launched into a multi-level architectural diagram, in handwriting that would have confused a pharmacist, I glanced over at Hogarth. My gorilla was on the other side of the room, happily mapping out a Rube Goldberg machine. As near as I could tell it was a machine designed to give the Engineering director a wet willy through the use of canned air and plant sprinkler. Hogarth had also heard this speech before.


  A couple minutes later the director sat down, a look a satisfaction on his face. I looked up at the whiteboard, looked back at my notes. I then turned and looked at one of the software managers. She and I were old colleagues and I trusted her input completely. She’d already sent a status update that had given a high level status. Quoting it almost exactly I said “So you can’t get the network layer to talk to the application layer and you think it will take four weeks to fix?”


 “Well if you want to boil it down to that…”


 “Yes, yes I do.” I said, looking at Hogarth’s satisfied banana grin.

  For want of a name, let’s call this the “SME means you don’t understand” gorilla. Spend a little time on any of the job search websites and you’ll see a very common trend in Project Management job descriptions. It is couched in various ways, but essentially it boils down to PM jobs “requiring” expertise in whatever field the product being project managed belongs in. Working on an ERP deployment? Then they want you to be an ERP expert, preferably someone who’s coded and deployed. Building the next best hand held device to use Android? Then they are probably asking for a degree in electrical engineering or at least mechanical engineering.

    In the end it typically boils down to a long list of very project management related skills, communication, organizations, facilitation, working with remote teams, etc., all topped off by a cherry of expertise in some highly specific job field (There is really a field called Human Ecology Engineering). The end result being jobs that become very tailor made to a specific job or industry. Best project manager there has ever been at your computer game company? That’s great, but you’ve got no manufacturing experience so there is no way you could be a good project manager for a new line of toys. You do not have subject matter expertise, so you are not qualified. Even my beloved Manager Tools reinforces this concept to some degree. They describe three methods of management power, Role, Influence and Expertise. It is usually implied that expertise is SME knowledge in the industry or product you are working on.

My challenge to all this is simple. As a project manager I am a Subject Matter Expert, in Project Management.

     A Project Manager’s SME knowledge is in getting a project from inception to launch with in the bounds of the project’s constraints and while keeping the team from flying apart like wine glass shattering when it hits the floor.

     Let me explain a bit more- Project Management has officially been around since the first US Nuclear submarines. Such massive projects with very tight dependencies between teams, needed someone who could oversea the whole thing. These first PMs were usually taken from heads of a department or some senior engineer. He might not understand the full workings of the nuclear reactor, but he was a PhD. in naval structural engineering (or vis a versa).

    Moving through the close of the 20th century, project managers were typically pulled from a ‘technical’ field. The majority of PMs tended to be from engineering backgrounds of some kind. A large chunk of the rest rose up from the ranks of whatever they had been doing. A Logistics Planner had served on the front lines of shipping for years, before being tapped to coordinate a global logistics plan.

     It was not until the close of the 20th that this really began to shift. We started to see PMs who came out of business backgrounds. They still very much tended to be experts in a field. If you hadn’t worked in insurance, being a PM at a risk management firm was pretty much a no go.

     It hasn’t been until the 21st century that we have started to see Project Managers as a truly distinct discipline of its own. In the early 2000’s the CEO of PMI met with a major university about Project Management (Thanks  to Cornelius Fitcher for his great podcast series where I learned this). The university was adamant that Project Management was a course, not a discipline. Today a Google search for Project Management Bachelor’s Degree yields over 6.4 million hits.

     Today we are finally starting to see that Project Management is an area of expertise. The art/science of guiding something from start to finish is a critical and important as the art/science of laying out a PCBA board for the next great DVR product. The PM doesn’t need to know the details of PCBA board layout. What he needs is the vocabulary to communicate with the guy who does know about PCBA and the mutual trust of a well communicating team.

     At the very fundamentals, I believe that a good Project Manager can manage any project. There are of course the typical caveats on “any” but I truly believe that PMs are far more industry portable than most industries seem to be ready to concede.
I’ve had this conversation with several people in the last couple of years. As you can imagine I’ve met with a fair amount of resistance to the concept. I had an IT PM adamantly insist that if you weren’t an expert in IT infrastructure, or some major component of IT, then there was no way you could be a PM in IT.

     “Kind of like a software PM going to work for a Hard Disk manufacturer?”

     “Exactly!”

     Well I may not convince everyone, but I for one am confident in my Project Management skills. How can I not be? I started as a Customer Support rep giving game hints for the Nintendo game console. I’ve worked in handheld devices, mobile phones, consumer software, voice recognition, enterprise storage software, virtualization, and more. My most current job? I’m that former Software PM doing program management at a hard drive company. One of the best compliments I have ever gotten was from my current boss. “I hired you because you don’t have twenty years of HDD baggage. I needed someone who would focus on the project.”

On the front lines,
Joel BC
Veteran, the Project Manager wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Who is Hogarth? Read Blog 001 to find out all about my personal gorilla.