The Gorilla Dollar

Or- Are you making the most of your time
I was elbow deep in the case of a server. I’d almost gotten the broken fan free, if only it would just…
“Wha’cha doing?” Hogarth asked. Let me tell you, when an 800 pound gorilla starts sounding like a Fireside Girl, it certainly gets your attention.
Looking up from the computer I said “Oh, great, your just in time. Pass me that screwdriver, will you?” I pointed at the tool box on the table.
“Why?” my gorilla asked.
“Because I need it to get this fan out.”
“Why?”
“Because the fan is busted!” I was starting to get annoyed with the three-year old style question and answer.
Hogarth wandered by me and took a seat in my desk chair. “Why are you fixing a broken fan?”
Stomping over to the table, I snatched up the screwdriver. Speaking very slowly I said “because the fan is broken. If the fan is broken, the computer overheats. If it overheats, it shuts down. If it shuts down, then the server doesn’t work.”
Hogarth pulled out a banana. “Uh huh. How long you been at it?”
I glanced at my watch. “About ninety minutes. These new server chassis are a bugger to open.”
Waving his half-pealed banana in my direction Hogarth said, “Wouldn’t it take the IT guys about ten minutes to do that?”
I shrugged, “Yeah, but I can do it. I don’t want to bother them.”
He nodded, thoughtfully chewing on his banana. “Ever hear of the ‘Bill Gate’s Dollar?”
“The what?”
Hogarth moved over to the white board and started drawing a graph. “It was a big concept back in the 90’s. Folks were so obsessed with how rich Bill Gates was, they started figuring out things like how much money would have to be lying on the ground for it to be worth it to him to stoop over and pick it up.” Hogarth continued mapping out the graph. “Back in ’97 there had to be more than $600 dollars lying on the ground for it to be worth Bill’s time to pick it up. He’d actually lose money if he counted a stack of $100 bills.”
“Ouch!” I snatched my hand back from the innards of the server. Sticking my bloodied finger in my mouth I mumbled. “What’s the point?”
Hogarth gave me another of those “are you really that dense” looks. You’re paid <beeep> to be the program manager for this group. Should you be spending two hours fixing a server when someone else can do it in ten minutes? What are you not doing?”
Ouch…
Okay, so maybe I still do have some of my old tech support skills. Maybe I can still fondly remember when I could field strip a computer in about five minutes. And maybe my ego doesn’t want to admit I’ve forgotten more about tech support then I thought. But most importantly the question is, “Am I being effective?”
It took me a hard time to get this one right. As a project manager, part of our job is to do the work no one else wants to. We are the facilitator, the remover of roadblocks, the maker of status reports, heck we make coffee if it will make the team more effective. But effective is the key word here. Everything we do should make the team, and ourselves, more effective. If it doesn’t then do something about it.
Early on in my project management career I had one over riding rule. “Make sure it gets done, then find out who should own it.” This certainly made me popular. You knew that if something fell into the cracks, I’d be there to rescue it. But did it need rescuing? Was I the right person to rescue it? While I was saving the cat stuck in the tree, was the project burning to the ground?
Does it need rescuing?:  Manager Tools developed a Koan around this very concept. The essential nutshell to this is when you get assigned some new, big, responsibility you need to look at the small things your doing and decide what of these can ‘fall to the floor’ (alternatively, if you have directs, what duties can you delegate to someone below you).  It is entirely possible that this task doesn’t need to be done.
Mike Auzenne gives a great example of this. He took over a large division at his company. One of his jobs was to make the division more efficient. Sitting on a table in his office was this huge report that he had full time employees working to compile. Only he didn’t know of anyone that actually used the report. So he stopped generating the report and moved those employees to something more effective. No on ever complained about the report stopping.
Are you the right person to rescue it: If you’re really lucky, you have direct reports. If so then use a simple rule. “If there is a task that both I and one of my directs can do, then I should have my direct do it.” Your typical servant-leader project manager has a little tougher judgment call, but it still needs to be made. Go back to that effectiveness measure. If doing it yourself will make the team, or you, more effective then do it. If it won’t, find someone else to do it. This can even mean you end up putting it on your team. You’re not there to make all the hard stuff go away, you’re there to remove the roadblocks that they can’t do so effectively. Sure you coded back in the 90’s, but are you the right guy to debug the installer? Is there someone better suited?
Is the project burning down?: “Hey look! I just finished an end to end architectural diagram of the project. Took me a week, but man does it look good.” That’s great, and while you were doing that, the engineers missed three major status updates, failed to give a code drop to QA and the product manager didn’t even want the feature they just built.
I’ve personally run into this one thanks to the “Shiny” factory. Some activity that I really shouldn’t have been doing, but it was compelling in some way. While obsessing on this minor thing, I let major things slip between the cracks.
I firmly believe the project manager is there to make the team more effective. That often requires the project manager to step in and do things that need to be done. But before you do, ask yourself three simple questions:
“Does it really need doing?”
“Can someone else doing this better?”
“Is there anything else more important right now?”
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

It’s 3:30, do you know where your gorilla is?

We were really cranking through the PowerPoint. I was so energized. We were finally making some honest to goodness progress on the project plan and I had some glimmer of hope that we’d make the next milestone.
All of a sudden Jake looks down at his phone. His face soured for a second and then he quickly shut his computer. “I’ve got to go to another meeting.”
Another meeting? I started to panic, but we were making so much headway! We had a great agenda and we were plowing through it. And besides, I’d scheduled this meeting weeks in advance and everyone knew just how important it was. Why was he leaving early?
Then Bob glanced at his phone, tapped a couple of keys and stood up. “Yeah, I’m late for a client meeting. Gotta run.”
Sigh… I was used to Bob texting in the meeting, but again this was scheduled! He knew it was scheduled.
Sue and Carlos started packing up their gear as well. No…
What was happening?
Hogarth leaned forward. His large size meant he could easily sit in a chair on the wall and still whisper into my ear. “Maybe you should check the time?” he offered.
The time? Wait, what? I looked down in the right corner of my computer screen… dang, in PowerPoint slide mode you can’t see your task bar, no clock. I looked up on the wall. Oh, right. The clock in this room was missing. Finally I dug into my back pocket to dredge out my iPhone.
3:05! Five minutes over? How did we get to be five minutes over? I had an agenda!!
Hogarth was there to offer his “helpful” advice. “Maybe a watch would help?”
I looked down at my bare wrist… “A watch? How 20th century, I’ve got an iPhone and a computer.”
He began to casually peal a banana, “How’s that working out for you?”
A Wrist Watch? A Wall Clock? Really?
It’s the digital age. I’ve got a clock in my car, a clock on my computer, a clock in my iPhone, a clock on the desk phone. There are clocks in almost every piece of technology out there. So why then do we need wrist watches and wall clocks anymore?
Why indeed…
Perception and Effectiveness
I have talked about Effectiveness many times, you can read an entire blog on it here. And Perception is really just another aspect of effectiveness. If perception is off, then you can’t be fully effective.  So it can be said that perception is effectiveness.
So why isn’t my iPhone effective? It does everything I need!
Efficiency is not always effective. The iPhone (or any other smart phone) is a wonderful tool and it is not unlike my own mantra of a $200 tool box over a $1000 dollar screwdriver. And while the iPhone can do everything, it is sometimes like trying to use a Swiss Army knife the size of a loaf of bread to screw together a set of eyeglasses, big and cumbersome. Or in the iPhone’s case, it is the perception that is an issue. The toolbox is better than the platinum screwdriver, but you have to take tools out of the toolbox to be effective.
Look from the outside. You see someone pulls their phone from their pocket. They do something with it, and then they put it back. What did they just do? There in lies the problem. When you can do any of a thousand things, people may well assume he’s doing something other than checking the time. “Did he just get a text message from Bob? I knew Bob didn’t like me.” Much like in the “I can see you Gorilla”, people typically will assume you are doing something not productive when you are fiddling with your phone. This  isn’t just about being in meetings. A wrist watch may be a single tasker device and thus not “efficient”, but it is a highly effective device. When you look at it, people know exactly what you are doing. It is incredibly easy to use as well. Sure, your cell phone is on the table and you just have to push a button. Your watch is on your wrist, just roll your arm two inches and look down, simple.
An analog wall clocks serves an equal value, especially in meetings. If you run an effective meeting, you have a time boxed agenda. Each item starts at a specific time. That wall clock makes it easy for everyone to know what time it is. Post the agenda right next to it and people can see exactly where the meeting is.
Everyone has a computer, they all know what time it is!
 In an ideal world, only the presenter would have a laptop. Of course we don’t live in an ideal world and most folks will have their own laptop, so why not just have everyone use the clock on the screen? Is their computer’s time correct? Can they see the clock with the stuff on their screen? Do they look at the clock? Manager Tools also pointed out that a digital clock can lead to a disassociation with time passage. You look at the clock and it say 1:30. That’s a single snapshot in time. You look at a wall clock and you can see a visual representation of how much time is left, is passing, has passed.
My advice
Wear a watch: It’s a highly effective tool. People know exactly what you are doing when you look at it. An added bonus is the watch can help to improve your overall appearance and looking professional is effective.
Own a wall clock: I have my own clock. I take it with me to any meeting where I’m not 100% sure the wall clock works and is easily visible (If the clock is on one wall and the projection screen on the opposite wall, people have to turn around to see the time). Fashion up a little stand for it and place it at the end of the table.
Keep you phone in your pocket: Put it on stun and leave it in your pocket. Remove the temptation to check it .
No computers in the meeting: I already referred to the “I can see you Gorilla”, but it bears repeating. Recently it was reported that the head of Google declared no more laptops in his meetings. If the uber technology head of Google sees the value of leaving the laptop home, maybe there is something to this thing…
Stay on time, stay effective:
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

The gorilla in the forest, through the trees

“Man! Did you see that pass, it was sweet!”
“Apparently the team’s chopper had a malfunction, the explosion was the scuttling charges.”
I wound my way through the incomprehensible hallway conversations, making for my desk and the incredibly long to do list waiting for me.
“Hey!” Bob called out to me. “Some speech, wasn’t it?”
I gave a half nod and walked faster.  “Speech?” What the heck was he talking about?
I settled into my desk chair, just in time for Molly to wander into my cube. “So you thinking about applying for that Agile certification?” Molly was a project manager over in the IT organization and she loved to talk project management shop. I just wish I knew what she was talking about half the time.
“Uh, not sure. What do you think?” I asked.
She gave a shrug. “Dunno, Tobias Mayer certainly has panned it. Not surprising though, he’s not big on traditional PM. Rory Corkle wrote a good blog on why he’s behind it, but I think he’s going to make money training so not sure if he’s unbiased.”
“Tobias, Corkle? What the heck is she talking about?” I asked myself. Thoroughly lost I shrugged and gave what I hoped was an interested answer. “Tough call.”
She cocked her head to the side, giving me that same look she always seemed to give me. She said something pleasant and wandered off. Supposedly Molly is a big information junkie, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation that lasted more than a couple minutes. Guess she doesn’t know as much as folks think.
I turned back to my computer, way to much to do on this proje…
THWAPPPP!
“Ow!” I yelped. Grabbing the back of my head, I spun around. “Hogarth! What the heck was that fore?”
Hogarth grunted and glared at me. “For someone so smart, you sure are thick.”
“What?”
“Do you have any clue what’s going on around you?”
I sat up straight, offended at his question. “Of course I do. Quality just finished sanity on build 42. Bob’s working on a change order for support of the new MacroFirm browser. And the prewire for the design review went off without a hitch. This project is going great!”
Hogarth waved a freshly peeled banana at me. “There is more to the world than the project, you know that?”
“No, there’s not. If I don’t get this project out on time, I lose my bonus. Heck, the way things are going I might get a pink slip. If its not the project, then I don’t care..”
Spwap, spwap…. The sound of a banana peel smacking across my cheeks was strange to my ears. Fortunately the peel didn’t hurt that much.
“You need to care,” said Hogarth. “For example, Jake is a rabid Sharks fan. Did you know they were in the playoffs and if the Sharks win he’ll probably take a couple days off?” He pointed the direction Molly had gone, “Molly just got a cold recruitment call from someone she met at the last PM Chapter meeting. Seems he was impressed with her grasp of how the recent changes in Agile are impacting the business bottom line. Oh and the most notorious terrorist in the world was killed, Bob was talking about the President’s speech on that.”
“Why would the CEO being talking about a dead terrorist?”
THWAPPP!
“You are hopeless!” Hogarth growled. “It doesn’t matter if you are the best damn Gantt chart master in the world, if you don’t know what’s going on in the world you won’t stay relevant and won’t be able to communicate with your co-workers!”
Right then one of my co-workers poked my head into my cube. “Hey, some of us are headed to In and Out Burger* for lunch. Want to come?”
“Is that a new burger place?” I asked.
THWAPPP!
*- In and Out burger is a popular fast food restaurant in the southwestern portion of the United States. It has been around for several decades.
We work forty or more hours a week. During the work day if we don’t look insanely busy, people wonder why we’re not working hard enough. When we get home, most of us are dog tired and just want to collapse on the couch.
And now we’re supposed to take time to pay attention to world? Okay, so I’ll catch the evening news headlines. I can do that from the couch. What more do I need to do?
I have a friend and fellow project manager. He had worked for eighteen straight years, most of that at one company. He’d not had to look for a job in all that time. When he did change jobs, the new job found him. In that time he never thought about looking for work, never factored that into something he needed to stay current.
So when he found himself out of work, in 2009, he suddenly discovered he was completely out of touch with how job hunting worked now. The last time he’d updated his resume, it was expected that you put your mailing address on it. When was the last time you put your mailing address on your resume?
I don’t follow sports that much. Never been much of an interest to me. Sure, if the local team makes it to the playoffs, I’ll turn into a loyal fan (Go Giants). But once the World Series is over I’m back to my normal indifference. At one of my prior companies, the guy down the hall from me was a rabid Giants fan (US Baseball). If I wanted to relate to him, I had to at least understand the basic language of baseball. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have understood half his explanations. “Oh that project is a base hit.” (Translation- “That’s easy to do, won’t take much effort”).
Ever come into the office, only to discover the company you work for is now owned by some holding company in India? Stealth acquisitions are not unheard of, but most of the time you can see change in the wind, if you just pay attention to your company in the news.
Did you hear about the new PMI test standards? Yeah, you have to stand on your head when you take the test. (Okay, not really. But if you don’t keep up on the PM community how would you know?)
It comes back to effectiveness. When communication is about what the listener does, you need to communicate in their language. To do that, you have to make an effort. If you come to work everyday, go to your cube, do you job and then go home, nothing more, well you’re not going to be effective. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best project manager in the world, master of the Gantt chart, queen of risk analysis. If you can’t communicate effectively then you fail.
I learned this lesson the hard way. The best thing that ever happened to me, was getting laid off when I least expected to be. It challenged my assumptions. It woke me up and it caused me to take a second look at things. If something as obvious as that layoff could catch me by surprise, then what else was I missing? It was this moment, when I realized the huge forest of my career was made up of thousands of individual trees. Being laid off set me on the path I am on now. As I looked back on my career I started to realize just how many mistakes I’d made.
And not staying current has been one of the biggest. I used to not grasp that at least knowing if the local sports teams were winning more than they were losing would be useful to my career. Who cares if there are layoffs on Wall Street? That doesn’t impact me in Silicon Valley, right?
So what do I do?:
I don’t work any less hours, but I do make my non-work my time more effective.
Stay up on Current Events: Manager Tools hands down recommends reading the Wall Street Journal. Excellent advice but not something I could take myself. With a two hour commute I can’t read. Fortunately we now live in an age of information overload. You can stay current very easily.
Podcasts are you friends: There is a podcast for darn near anything you need. Below I give an example of what I follow. The important point here is you would be surprised how much “down time” you have when you can listen to something.
 Walking the dog, Using the Stairmaster, driving to work, walking at lunch, etc. You may not have the time to sit down with the WSJ (or other print publication), but few of us don’t have time in the day when we can listen.
I’ve recently started using the Stitcher Radio iPhone app (also available for the Android). This has made podcasts even easier. I don’t have to worry if I synced my phone, I just stream the podcasts I follow. For most of my daily or short podcasts I use Stitcher. For weekly or longer podcasts I still use iTunes.
My Podcasts:
Some of these keep me up on current news. Some of these keep me up on interesting trends.  Some (like Dinner Party Download), give me conversation starters.
APM Marketplace (daily)
APM Marketplace Morning Report(daily)
NPR Hourly News Summary (daily)
APM Marketplace Tech Report (daily)
Wall Street Journal What’s News (daily)
APM: The Dinner Party Download (weekly)
Freakonomics Radio (weekly)
BBC Click Radio (weekly)
Quick and Dirty Tips Podcasts: Grammar Girl, Get it Done Guy, Legal Lad, Money Girl and The Public Speaker (weekly)
Manager Tools (weekly)
Career Tools (weekly)
NPR Wait, Wait, Don’t tell me (weekly)
60 Minutes (weekly)
The Project Management Podcast (Bi-Monthly)
The Cranky Middle Manager (weekly)
Stay up current on your industry: Things change, even in the most stagnant industry things will change. People change, as well, a lot more often. You need to know what is going on, who is saying what and why. You don’t have to be an expert, but you should at least have an idea.
RSS Feeds- I use Google Reader to follow several PM and Management blogs. I try and read it twice a week. If I fall behind, I don’t kick myself and I don’t let it keep me from reading. If I’m really behind, I mark it all read and try better next week.
Forums/Discussion Groups- There are a wealth of forums on every industry. LinkedIn alone is a great resource. Read and participate! Same rules as the RSS feeds. Don’t feel you have to read it all. On a bad week, I’ll not even touch them, but I always come back to them. In addition to the many project management related LinkedIn groups, I highly recommend the project management board on stack exchange.
Stay current with your network and peers: If you never leave your cube, you’ll never meet your next boss. Staying current with your peers and professional network is vital. If I get a request for help from two people, one I haven’t spoken to in ten years and one I just saw at a breakfast meeting last week, who am I more likely to help? You don’t have to even leave your cube! My two tips:
Networking Events: Here in Silicon Valley, the PMI chapter hosts several morning and evening events each month. Beyond that there are dozens of relevant groups on Meetup.com. Even if your PMI chapter doesn’t do this, or you don’t have Meetup events around you, there are people meeting and talking. Find them and meet with them. I attend PMI events as well as local Agile related events. Oh and I’m part of my local PTA. Yes, the PTA. A good chunk of my fellow parents are also professionals in the valley and we have a lot to talk about.
Send an emai!: The easiest way to stay current. Go through your address book (or LinkedIn contacts) and set yourself a reminder. One person a day, send an email. Just drop a line, ask how they are doing, share something you learned, etc. At a loss for words? Check their LinkedIn profile. Nine times out of ten, they’ll be something there to talk about.
So the next time you walk down the hall and hear “What a pass,” know if they are talking about the latest hockey game or the latest football game. When someone asks about the latest PMI certification respond with, “yeah I read a great blog about that, made me type up one in response.”
Stay current, stay effective.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Armchair gorilla

– Or walk a mile in the gorilla’s shoes

This blog inspired by Tobias Meyer’s recent blog “Scrum is not Project Management”
Normally I don’t let Hogarth follow me home. There are limits and that’s just one of them. The thought of an 800 pound gorilla on my couch is a terrifying one. And then there is what he does to the refrigerator. Did I mention gorilla hair on the white carpet? But it was the Superbowl and I had a moment of weakness.
“Come on! You call that a pass? My mother can throw better than that.” I angrily waved at the TV while speaking through a mouthful of Dorritos. “Can you believe this guy, Hogarth? That play had blitz written all over it. I swear even a deaf bat could have seen it.”
Hogarth looked at the dried banana chip poised to be popped into his mouth, then looked at me, then looked back to the chip. Sighing he lowered the chip and gave me a reproachful look.
“How much football have you played?” He asked.
I looked aghast, “Me? Last time I played footbal, it was with flags and I was still too young to vote.”
Hogarth gave a sage nod. “I see. I bet you didn’t even stay in a Holiday In Express last night.”
It was my turn to sigh. “Okay, okay, I get the point. Not only am I not there, but I’m not a quarterback, have never been a quarterback and don’t have the first clue how to be a real quarterback.” I shook my head, “I’m sitting here trying to second guess the expert. Talk about stupid.”
Hogarth nodded again. And then he spoke, his words breaking the 4th wall and my own train of thought. “So why are you trying so hard to prove Tobias wrong?”
I turned to stare at Hogarth my mouth agape. No sound came forth despite the repeated opening and closing of my bass like mouth.
Why indeed?
I make my living doing a job that typically has the job title of “Project Manager” or “Program Manager.” Given that, it may be understandable to you that my emotional reaction to Tobias’ blog was to disagree.  I certainly did this initially. The first few comments I thought about leaving to his blog were much less reasoned than what I ended up posting.
And then, much like my revelation in “A Project Manager’s Poker Hand,” I came to a realization that I was trying to impose my own value on someone else. Worse yet, my value was based purely on emotional reaction, where as the opinion espoused by Tobias was based on subject matter expertise.
Yes, I have Scrum training, I’ve studied Scrum and I’ve even incorporated some Scrum concepts into product development efforts I’ve been involved in. But I am most certainly not a Scrum expert. I’ve never worked on a classic Scrum team and I can’t speak from first hand experience.
Tobias on the other hand has. He is a recognized expert on Scrum teams and Scrum development. Without my own “traditional” Scrum experiences, I have to put faith and trust on Tobias speaking from that expertise.  I don’t know enough about a straight Scrum project to know if a “traditional” project manager would bring any value. I certainly hope to learn and understand more as I delve into the Agile philosophy, but for now I have to take Tobias at his word. Just as the Product Owner must trust the teams estimates, I should trust Tobias’ expertise.
So as the saying goes, “Don’t judge another, until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
All right, so Scrum is not Project Management.
What is project management then?
It was something of a wake up call to read some of the very acerbic comments posted both in Tobias’ blog and Ken Schwaber’s blog that inspired Tobias’ blog (Yes I’m a response to a response). That people think project management is an evil tool of “corporate” or an “idea whose time has passed,” was not something to cross my mind. Even Ken’s own words had me blinking in confusion.
“We have found that the role of the project manager is counterproductive in complex, creative work. The project manager’s thinking, as represented by the project plan, constrains the creativity and intelligence of everyone else on the project to that of the plan, rather than engaging everyone’s intelligence to best solve the problems.”
“Wow, that’s not the project management I know” was my initial thought. I certainly have never felt I was stifling creativity or constraining anyone’s intelligence. I was an art major in college and write science fiction as a hobby, not exactly what I would think of as an oppressive personality. Yet, the comments posted certainly had me wondering. I had to check myself in the mirror and make sure I wasn’t wearing a black mask and breathing funny. <Darth Vader voice> You underestimate the power of project management.</voice>
So before I accepted my role in the dark side of corporate america, I decided to look for other definitions.
PMI’s PMBoK defines project management as:
“Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”
And they define a project as:
“A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. ”
Okay, so not the most evocative words ever written. And I can already see issues with the definition of a project and the normal evolution of software. When version 1.0 ships, the team has usually already begun on version 1.1. Is the project the software as a whole or just v1.0. What is “done”?
Wikipedia, font of all knowledge, real, imagined and inaccurate, defines project management as:
“Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, securing and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives.”
And Wiki defines a project as:
“A project in business and science is a collaborative enterprise, frequently involving research or design, that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim.”
Okay, so neither source’s definition is going to make a kid say “Daddy, I want to be a project manager when I grow up.” And honestly, neither source really describes what it is I do in my day to day job.
Certainly I spend time organizing and planning. I’ve both helped develop goals and objectives for a project and served as a gatekeeper to ask if we’d met them. Goodness knows I have built a lot of knowledge, practiced a lot of skills and developed a big old toolbox of techniques. But I don’t think that defines what I do in my job or why my boss keeps paying me to do that job.
I know some folks think of project management as the “Owner” of a project. I’ve known project managers who “owned” the project. They were the almighty power and controlled the budget, the people, the project and final deliverables. This does still happen, but at least in the high tech firms I’ve worked for, this is less and less common. The guy in charge of building a bridge is a project manager and also the head engineer, this guy is the “owner.” A guy managing a software team doing an IT integration project is not the “owner”. The team all report to functional managers and the guy managing is more like the cat herder (We won’t go into the myth today).
So what is being a PM mean to me?
Well not to sound like a broken record, but I would stat by reaching back to my “The gorilla with too many hats” and “Project Managers are SMES” blogs to start answering this question.
“If you have four engineers working on the project…, adding a fifth one is already starting to hit that wall of diminishing return. If you add a program manager, you can get more productivity from those four engineers, than you would from adding a fifth engineer and expecting one or more of those engineers to also manage the customer relationships, deadlines, certifications, interface with marketing, etc.”
“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.”
I’ve been doing dedicated project/program management for a decade now. In that time I’ve never had any illusions of being “in charge” of a project. Long before I heard the first utterance of “Agile” or “Scrum” I was practicing servant-leadership.
I am the broom:  Pam Stanton as well as a good friend and fellow project manager, Carl Jones have both used an example that I think speaks to what a 21st century project manager is. They compare our job to that of the game of curling. The curler and the stone are the product/project team and the product being built. The Curler’s (team’s) goal is to get the stone (product) to the center of target area (release date, objectives, value needed, etc.). The Curler is the main person. Without him you don’t have a game. But he is not alone.  The sweepers use brooms to alter the state of the ice in front of the stone.
A good project manager is like a curling sweeper. He gets in front of the product and makes sure there are no impediments (Test equipment was ordered, team has a place to work, external vendor is managed to deliver its dependencies, etc.), but also makes sure those things that have to be done (certifications, compliance, sponsor updates, etc.) get done.
Over the years I’ve developed my own personal philosophy/methodology to being what I am as a professional:
  1. People, not projects
  2. It’s all about communication
  3. Process is a tool, not a roadblock
  4. There is no one, right way
I don’t know if I’m a traditional project manager or program manager. I know I’m not a traditional scrum master and there isn’t even a standard definition of an agile project manager. But at the end of the day I don’t think any of that matters. Because what I know I am is:
Effective
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

Gorilla Flight 030 now departing…

“Arrgh! I already told you, he’s no longer with the company!”
Bob’s blood pressure had to be rising. Yes, his door was open, but I was also six cubes down the hall and could hear every word he said easily. He was talking on the phone, so I had to imagine what the other side was saying, but I could imagine.
“Look, I was his manager, I just want his laptop for a couple of hours so we can get some files off it. What? Yeah, fine, send me the paperwork and I’ll sign it, just get me the laptop.”
Tully had been a junior product manager, working for Bob. He’d been with us for about a year and he’d done such an amazing job that he’d been given the entire GARGAMEL product. And then MacroServe had recruited him away to work on their new game system. It was a dream job, dream pay and he’d jumped.
Only problem was he’d jumped only a week after giving notice and just before Bob left on a week trip to Asia. Tully handed his laptop off to IT and turned his badge over to the department admin on his last day. Bob had been chasing IT for the last week, to try and get Tully’s computer and all the files related to GARGAMEL.
Two hours later, Gus, the IT guy, walked by towards Bob’s office a laptop under his arm. Lumbering in his wake, Hogarth sidled into my cube. Plopping into the spare chair he grinned around a mouthful of banana.  “This is going to be good.”
I raised my eyebrows to my gorilla. “What do you mean?”
“Wait for it…”
Two minutes later Gus walked back, headed for the basement lair of all things IT. I turned and looked at Hogarth, raising my eyebrow again. Peaking over the cover of “How to win friends and influence people” he said “Wait for it…”
A minute later I heard a strangled cry from Bob’s office. This was followed by the most forceful phone dialing I’ve ever heard.
“Yes, this is Bob. Yeah, I got the laptop. NOW WHAT’S THE BLOODY PASSWORD!”
Hogarth set Carnagie’s book down. “Ah Tully, the grass was so green he didn’t stop to smell the roses of departure.”
I think the scariest thing about Hogarth’s words were that I understood what he meant completely.
Transition Planning, are you ready?
With the economy on the recovery we are not just seeing the jobless rate slowly creep down. We are also seeing the jobful starting to stick their heads up from their cubes and wonder if there might be a better cube out there. So say you have done that and the company down the road has offered you this really great cube. They really like you, they really want you to join their team and they made it worth your while.
So the question is, what about your current job?
“What do you mean whatta about my current job? I haven’t had a raise in four years! After surviving four layoffs I’m doing the work of six and there isn’t any sign the bosses want to hire again. Even if we have made huge profits the last two quarters.”
Ah, yes. There can be any number of reasons why you have no regrets on leaving your current employer. Or you could even not want to leave, but this new job is the perfect career move or will mean you can start paying down your debt. The question is, what will you do in the time between your resignation and the last day?
If you follow Hogarth’s advice, you’re going to be a very busy person. Manager-Tools did a three podcast series on “How to resign” (link is to the first cast). In this cast Mark and Mike outline twelve steps to resigning. Some of these only apply if you have direct reports, a large chunk have to do with you personally. As project managers (or any effective individual contributor) the key points are:
‐ Prepare a Key Project Report – Transition File*
What is the current status of any projects you are working on? Where are all the documents located? Who is responsible for what?
This isn’t a one page document, this is the keys to all your projects. Any files related to these projects should be put on a repository that can be accessed by multiple people.  With storage technology so compact, I’d also recommend putting your projects on a flash drive (A 4GB USB Thumb Drive is less than $15). You can hand that over to your boss an ensure the files will passed on.
Include the plans for the next three months. You’re the project manager so not just your plans but the project plans. People need to know not just where the project has been, but where is it supposed to go.
‐ Prepare instructions for your absence*
This is for everything else you do. Go look at your calendar and your to do list (for the next three months). What things are you doing? What department activities are you responsible for. Are you the only person who knows how to generate evaluation licenses for beta? Make sure you document them. Better yet, get someone identified and train them.
*- Credit where credit is due: These steps direct from the MT podcast. Descriptions are my own paraphrase of their advice, but is directly based on MT content.
You don’t do all this because you are required to do it, I’ve never known a company that has requirements for an outgoing employee. You do this because it is the professional thing to do. It is the right thing to do. I won’t trot out the ethics conversation in detail, but Project Mangers live and breath by our professionalism. The joke used to be “Silicon Valley is a small place”. I updated that joke recently to say “Silicon Valley is a small place and it spans the whole globe.” Don’t burn your bridges, they can’t easily be rebuilt.  And if you build a few bridges on your way out, all the better.
Two weeks is not enough:
So Hogarth’s example is on the dramatic side. Tully gave only a weeks notice and his boss was out of town for most of that time. Everyone generally accepts that two weeks is the “professional” thing to do. Long before I ever listened to Manager Tools (who also recommend four weeks), I didn’t agree with this. Sure, if you work at MacDonalds then two weeks is probably just fine. However, If you are in any kind of management job or major individual contributor role, then two weeks just isn’t enough time. Four weeks gives you enough time to train a replacement, to update any documents that need updating, to ensure smooth transitions with time for questions. Four weeks is professional (there I go again).
“But my new company wants me to start right away.”
Of course they want you to. But do they really need you to? If the answer is yes, then that’s a whole other series of red flags. Any company that is so demanding that you start “right away” may be hiding some big issues under that job offer. The company that wants you to start “next week” probably is hoping you’ll fix them right away. Go read the “90 day gorilla” for why that’s just bad.
Tell your new company you want to be professional and give enough time to transition your duties. Nine times out of ten you’ll have just been moved up a notch in their eyes. “This guy is a pro, we made the right decision.”
Always one to practice what I preach, let me share with you my own experience. In one of my prior company’s I did an almost five week transition. When I sat down with my boss, she was surprised but also very happy with my offer to stay that long and ensure a good transition. The interesting reaction came from people all over the company, as I informed them or the word of my departure spread. I got more than one question along the lines of “Why are you staying so long?” or statements like “I’d be out of here so fast, you’d see a cloud of dust.” Three weeks later I got a different reaction. More than one manager/director level person pulled me aside and thanked me for one of the most professional transitions they’d ever seen. They appreciated the transitions I’d did with their teams, the time I’d taken to make myself available and my positive attitude.
And my new company was more than happy to let me have that time. I had more than one positive comment on how long my transition was. I very much had the impression that I’d created a good impression because of the time I dedicated to the company I was leaving. “If he puts that kind of effort into a place he’s leaving, what will he do here?”
Be prepared: The Boy Scout motto is a very excellent tale of advisory caution to this advice. When you do resign, be prepared for that day to be your very last day. Though I believe it is much rarer now, some companies have been known to take the attitude that someone who resigns is a danger or threat. This can range from “He’ll steal all our company secrets,” to “If he sticks around, he’ll encourage others to leave.”
Because of this, ask yourself if you are prepared to walk from your bosses office straight to your car? Have you prepared your departure packet? Can they take your files and at least understand them and carry forward with them? Or is everything locked inside your PC, that IT will confiscate and your boss won’t be able to get the files off of even after a month of asking?
Many years back, I worked in technical support. It was a great team and the manager was a great guy. I gave the normal two weeks notice and told him I’d work full tilt right up to the last day. He was very appreciative, but turns out the decision wasn’t his. The “company” was worried about turn over in the group I was in and decided it was better to minimize my exposure to others. I’d resigned at 9:00 am. At 2:00 pm I was walking out the front door, a box of effects and a check for the next two weeks time. They would have rather paid me two weeks severance than have me around the other tech support reps.
In the end, you have to live with yourself. Did you give the job everything you could? Did you do what was right? Amazing how ethics and conscience are so inexorably tied together.
Joel Bancroft-Connors
The Gorilla Project Manager
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

When do you add your project manager?

This is really about project management, trust me.
“The client is screaming bloody murder.” Bob was sincerely agitated. Not his normal “we have a million dollar deal on the table” passion, but honest to goodness agitation, beads of sweat and all. “They rolled out the portal in their China office and all hell’s broken loose. They ordered their long lead time parts to arrive on March 11th. When the parts didn’t arrive, they called their supplier who happily informed them the parts would be delivered on November 3rd, just as ordered.”
Across the table, Jake nodded sagely. “Well that makes perfect sense. “
I’m pretty sure normal human beings can’t do what Bob did with his eyes right then. “Makes sense? They are going to be late delivering their Nonesense Tablet by six weeks and you’re telling me it makes sense?”
Jake leaned back in his seat. I can’t swear to it, but I think he was enjoying this. “Well yeah, the portal is a US only design. China uses Day, Month, Year date format. Here in the States we use Month, Day, Year. So when we write March 11th as 03-11, someone in China thinks you just wrote November 3rd.” Jake then leaned forward  looking at Bob, “We raised this back during the planning phase of the project, remember?”
Well I didn’t remember, but I hadn’t been put on the project until a week after the plan of record. Bob’s face showed no small amount of confusion as well. Jake, sensing the confusion explained.
“When the portal was defined, it was clearly stated as being a US only product. It isn’t currently programmed to support other countries. That doesn’t just mean the words are in English. The entire system is. Date formats, number formats, post code formats, UI sized for English only and so on.”
Bob let his head fall forward, only barely catching them in his palms. “Okay, so its ‘As Designed.’ How long will it take to make a Chinese interface?”
“I’d say about six months.”
“SIX MONTHS?” Bob nearly hit the roof, his eyes doing that very unnatural bugging out again. “I just want a Chinese interface, get the someone who speaks Chinese to sit down with the UI designer. It shouldn’t take more than a week!”
Jake shook his head. “It’s not that simple. We didn’t code the product to be internationalized. Remember you had us remove that work from the project, so you could save time?”
“That was two weeks!”
Jake nodded, “It was. And if we’d done the work then. It would have only taken two weeks. Trying to fix it now means we have to rip everything apart. Think of it like a big truck trailer. The box you want is all the way at the front of the trailer. We have to pull out everything else to get to it.”
Bob dropped his head into his hands again. He began to quietly sob “six months… six months… six…”
Hogarth dropped himself into the seat next to me, casting a sympathetic glance at Bob. “You know, internationalization is a lot like project management?”
I turned to look at my gorilla, “Come again?”
Hogarth grinned, “Yeah, think about it. If you wait until a project is in trouble, or even just in development, before you assign a project manager, you’re already fighting an uphill battle. Look even bigger than that. How many start ups never make that jump from start up to sustained business because the structure they built as a start up isn’t sustainable? By the time they realize they need to change, it’s too late.”
When is too late?
Making sure you can internationalize your software is a classic example of planning ahead to save yourself a lot of re-work down the road. If you don’t make your code double byte compliant, you can end up having to re-architect from the ground on up. What could be a little extra work, during development, can require a complete disassembly of the car, just to put a missing screw into the middle of the engine.  Remember how big an issue it was to fix all those Y2K computers that had two digit years and needed four digit years? Same concept.
I18N also gives us a great example of “how hard can it be?” Making your software work in another country can be a very complicated and convoluted process (Check out the scope section of the Wikipedia entry on I18N). It is easy to just brush it off as changing the language on the screen, when in reality making your product work in another country can be an entire product of its own.
So as Hogarth has said, “internationalization is a lot like project management.” And that begs the vital question of “when do you bring a project manager in?”
The PMBoK asserts it should be in the project initiation phase. Reality, however, can be a lot different. This is one of those times when I unequivocally side with the PMBoK.
Most of us are probably familiar with the statement “no, we’re not ready for that yet,” or “I think it’s too early to worry about that.”  Have you heard the line “This project’s just started development, we’re assigning you to be the project manager?” Or when you inquire about a new project did you hear “Oh it’s way to early to get project management involved. We are just hashing out ideas?”
There is a measurable part of society that sees project management as little more than a schedule tracker and meeting holder. This perception places project managers in a non-essential role. If you have one, that’s great. But if you don’t, just have the development manager, civil engineer, etc. do it in his spare time. It’s an add on, not a full time job.
Not everyone sees it that way, and the last ten years have seen this belief drop off considerably. However, that does not make it all a bed of roses. Even when project management is seen as a vital function of a project, the question of “when” remains a troubling little conundrum.
Most start ups don’t have dedicated project managers. The general style of a start up calls for jack of all trade employees that can do many different jobs. Particularly in software  you hear things like “we’re moving to fast,” or “we need to be super flexible right now.” At some point a successful start up has to cross the chasm from start up to predictable business. Smart start ups hire a project manager at this point. They recognize things are changing and they make an effort to take control of that change. I’ve seen far more start ups that don’t. It is not until deliverables start dropping left and right, commitments are not made and half the company doesn’t know what the other half is doing, that they bring in a project manager. By this point, things are so bad that PM is going to spend most of his time in fire fighting mode, fixing the problem of the hour and not making sure the company can execute the entire project.
Similar things happen in many big companies. A product has been fully mapped out, resources assigned, a schedule created (usually based on the desire for a ship date, not realistic estimates), before a project manager is assigned to “manage” the project. The poor PM isn’t managing the project, he’s one step ahead of the avalanche trying to steer it away from the sleepy alpine village.
Great organizations recognize that figuring our how to do things right, to start with, can save much more time in the long run. The “myth” that one hour of planning can save eight hours of work, has been proven true time and again. Great organizations recognize that you should get the experts on running a project involved from the get go. Project management reaches all the way back into even the wild idea stage. Whether you call it project management, program management or portfolio management, having someone who understands how to get a project from A to Z involved from the start can help to expose issues early and ensure everything that is needed is ready, when it is needed.
In a recent project I served as facilitator to the product management and product architects. The product wasn’t even an official project yet, but they knew that in order to be approved as a official project, they needed to treat it like it was real. The output from that meeting went on to become the official specifications for the product. I’ve also worked in a company where I sat in the strategic roadmap meetings. These meetings would be planning out releases that were no more than ideas on PowerPoint slide.
What’s the magic bullet to convince a manager, organization, company that they need project/program resources from the beginning? Unfortunately, like so much of project management, there is no silver bullet. I’ve used the internationalization example to good effect. Another that works well in, concert with Agile, is the GPS example, “Do you turn your GPS on when you start driving or when you think you should be there?” I’ve tackled this subject, from other angles, in my “Gorilla with too many hats” and “Project Managers are SMEs” blogs.
As always, relationships matter a lot. You can’t force process or a project manager down someone’s throat. But develop a good relationship, and like Archimedes and his lever, you can move the world. The biggest thing we can all do, is be successful in early project engagements. Industries learn, and if enough projects are improved through early project management involvement, then that it will become more common.
You might not always be able to get in on the ground floor of a project (or start up), but at the very least you can be aware of the additional pitfalls you’re going to be facing.
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

Book Review- 7 Habits

The mountain of books threatened to collapse the desk. Cubicle desks were just not designed to support the weight of so many books. Though I suppose the gorilla was the real issue.
“Hagarth?” I didn’t really need to finish the question, he knew what I was about to say.
“I’m sharpening the saw,” he said, not looking up from a book titled “The inter-dynamics of banana diplomacy when used in a corporate environment.”
“You’re what?”
He laid the book down and looked at me. “Oh forgive me. Here, let me move these books. How are you doing, you kind of look stressed?”
Hogarth was already bustling away to clean my cubicle as he asked the question. Without really any conscious thought I responded, telling him about the frustrating meeting I’d just gotten out of.
“You sound frustrated.”
“Yes I am.” I said reflexively. In my head I was thinking another thing all together. ‘Wait a minute, I just said that…’
“I can imagine, I’d hate to do that kind of work and have it ignored.”
Who was this and what had he done to my gorilla? “Hogarth what’s going on, why are you being so nice?”
“What, we can’t both get what we want. It’s not okay for us to have a win/win situation?”
“Hogarth, have you been reading Covey again?”
The 7 Habits of highly effective people, by Stephen R. Covey.
I have owned 7 Habits for at least ten years. In all that time I don’t think I ever made it past the introduction. It took Audible.com for me to finally take the time to listen to this book on being effective (No, the irony of my total ineffectiveness in reading a book I already owned is not lost on me. ).
I purchased the unabridged audio book, in all its twelve hours and fifty eight minutes of glory. As I listened to Mr. Covey read his own words, I repeatedly chastised myself for taking so long to do so. While the book and Mr. Covey’s exact words were new to me, so much of the 7 Habits resonates with my own personal philosophies and project management styles.
Mr. Covey read the book personally and I think this added a lot more to the book. So many of the stories are directly personal that for someone else to read it, the book would lose a lot of credibility.  And Mr. Covey’s personal anecdotes are a vital part of the success of this book. This isn’t just some self-help theory being preached by a consultant. The 7 habits are something developed through Mr. Covey’s personal life experiences. The sheer power of example on perspective is strong all by itself. Having the man who personally witnessed the events tell the story makes for an impact you just can’t measure.
The seven habits themselves are not something profound or earth shattering. Instead, I would place them into the pantheon of common sense. And we all know how much we humans manage to use common sense. His concept of task management (Part of Habit 3: Put First Things First) makes complete sense and is so easily put into practice. I had a business colleague complain about how his team was constantly behind the eight ball and they just couldn’t get far enough ahead of the fires to plan. He’d never read 7 Habits, but I described Mr. Covey’s two by two Importance/Urgency matrix to him in a couple of paragraph email. A month later he told me they’d been using this for task prioritization and it had done wonders. By taking a little time, they’d discovered a lot of the fires were urgent, but not important.
The book is a dense read (or listen) to get through. It’s not the kind of book you polish off on an airplane ride. There is so much data and thought provoking stories that you have to set the book aside to process it all (or turn off the recording in my case).  It is the kind of book that you should finish. There were a couple of times where I had the urge to push it to the side (Heck, I didn’t read the print copy for ten years). The urge was driven completely by my own discomfort in facing my own decisions and how I’d approached problems in the past.
My largest regret with this book is I didn’t read it ten years ago. This book may be twenty-two years old, but the words are still as relevant today as the day Mr. Covey first wrote them down.
Where does it go on my “Book Shelf Index”? The print copy is on an upper shelf in my home office. I won’t be reaching for it every day, but that more has to do with my having copied the 7 habits down and putting them in my computer where I can reference them daily. Buy the book and the audio, this is a book worth hearing read by Covey and having for reference.
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

Effectiveness is the new Gorilla

– Or, saving time does not save work.
[Before we dive into another, great Gorilla, I’d like to ask a favor. If you find these blogs informative, please post a comment. If you find them really valuable, please tell your friends, tweet the link, mention me on your Facebook. The only way I know if my advice is helpful, is if I hear from you. – Thank you – ]
My head hurt. The stack of work before me could have doubled as a small skyscraper. No matter how hard I worked, I’d easily be pulling twelve hour days for the next two weeks. I had to find a way to be more efficient. I needed a way to speed things up, wipe a bunch of this work off my plate as fast as possible.
My eyes fell on the project training and adoption plan. It was the largest component of the communication plan for the project. It was a two hour, interactive training program that would ensure every single person involved in the project would be on the exact same page. I’d finally finished the slide deck. I’d just gotten the last sign off from the project stakeholders, that the training accurately covered all their needs and issues. I was now staring at the global calendar system in utter dismay. With people spread all across the globe (we have a coder in Antarctica, seriously?), it was going to take at least three weeks to roll out all the training. Then I’d have to compile all the questions into an FAQ, send that out and circle back with all the key stakeholders again. It was a nightmare, I’d be spending so much time on this, when would I manage the actual project?
Suddenly I had a triumphant idea. It was brilliant, it was easy and it was efficient! I’d cut three weeks off the planning phase in ten minutes! With glee I opened my email client. I found the email list I needed,  Division_Head_Honcho_All_Employees, I’d send the deck out to everyone with instructions to review it and send any questions they had to me. And to save time on hunting approvals down, I’d write the email so that if they didn’t respond, approval was automatically assumed.
Pure GENIUS!
<SMACK!> The banana careened off my skull and into my monitor, knocking my poor flat screen over like a high tech cow tipping.
Spinning around I shouted, “HOGARTH! What the hell was that for!”
Hogarth sauntered across the room, stopping to pick up the banana, and began peeling it. He took a large bite from the end, before waving the banana in front of my nose. “Let me ask you this. Suppose you’ve got one of those cute little Smart cars. You know the ones just a bit bigger than a carry on suitcase, get 43 miles to the gallon.”
I nod knowing anything else would potentially result in another banana to the head.
Hogarth continued, “That is one efficient car, no question about that. But if I leave the parking brake on, or let all the air out of my tires, then no amount of gas efficiency will make that car effective.”
Ah yes, the Efficiency is not Effectiveness Gorilla.
Frying eggs for my next four breakfasts, all at once, might be efficient but it surely isn’t effective. And I really won’t be looking forward to cold, fried eggs for the next three days.
Dictionary.com defines Efficient as:
Performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort; having and using requisite knowledge, skill, and industry; competent; capable: a reliable, efficient secretary.
It defines Effective as:
Adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result: effective teaching methods; effective steps toward peace.
On the surface, they seem very similar. However efficiency focuses on the “least waste of time”, while effectiveness is about “producing the intended or expected result”. It doesn’t matter if you complete the three hour test in 30 minutes, if you only get ten percent of the questions right. You have been time efficient, but you did not get the desired result, to pass the test.
A Practical Example:
In a previous job I was responsible for managing the program to ensure a multi-hundred person team was ready for the release of a new product suite. The team had no control over what the product suite would be, but did have to make major changes to how it did business, what tools it created/used and how its people were trained, in order to be ready for this product suite release.
The program team for this project was over thirty people spread out over more than a half dozen global locations. Team members ranged from individual technical or process contributors to heads of entire teams that would have to support the new product suite. Of these team members, none was  above a senior manager role and the project sponsor was only a director. It was a challenge just to communicate with the team and the act of bringing them all into alignment and working to the same cause was daunting. At a fundamental level, the entire organization was going to have to change better than 40% of how they conducted their daily work.
Early in the project work I identified that the team was going to need proper decision making empowerment and end to end support. This required communication and buy in with well over a hundred individuals, ranging from the senior exec, of the division, down to individual subject matter experts. In an era of multi-thousand person ‘corporate initiative’ emails, it would have been very easy to blast out an email outlining the whole process, with a fancy hundred slide power point presentation to cover every contingency. I could have done this in less than a week and have not just those key one hundred people, but the entire division fully briefed on the project and what they had to do.
Very time efficient, and very ineffectual. Instead I spent a month focused on project initiation communication. I wrote individual emails, met one on one with people and created ‘commitment contracts’ from the VP on down to the SMEs. Everyone knew what their role in the project was, who they were accountable to, who was accountable to them and how communication would flow.
When the product suite finally shipped, the division was more prepared then they had been for any other release in company history. The war room set up to handle post release issues lasted only a week and was almost entirely focused on issues that cropped up from other divisions not being prepared. Quality metrics for the division, which had always gone done right after a major release , didn’t just hold steady but actually improved. The division knew more about this release than any previous release. Instead of spending the first three months learning, they were ramped up from day one.
At the end of the project, four weeks of work saved countless hours, dollars and people stress. At the project start, it didn’t seem to be a very efficient use of time but it was very Effective.
Being Effective:
Anoop Grover, a Silicon Valley IT project management expert, spoke at a recent PMI event on comparing Waterfall vs. Agile methodologies. At the event he said to the effect “I don’t care what method you use, what I care about is the outcome. Did I get what was intended.” He went on to balance this by stressing that any project must communicate clearly and often up and down the chain. At the same event, Jeff McKenna, Scrum luminary, shared a story that essentially boiled down to “Under this new model, you promise me ten features and always deliver at least nine. I also know that if you don’t deliver a feature it will be feature 10. I can plan to this and know what to expect.” If your senior management knows what to expect, then they have more trust, more trust makes for a much more effective organization.
When tackling an issue, ask your self what the desired outcome is. Ask yourself if the way you’ve been doing things is efficient or effective. Take the time to understand what your stakeholders and team want, expect and need.
You’ll save time, and bottles and bottles of antacid.
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

I can see you, Gorilla: Note Taking – not Notebook Use

Writing_ID-10062381_ nattavut

Photo By Nattavut

The program team meeting was progressing. Progressing might be a strong word, maybe it was crawling along like a drunk slug in an ice storm. I looked down at my screen, scrolling through several pages of data in silence before half looking up again. “According to the reports, we have four P1 blockers on the release, Jake what’s the status?”

 
Bob’s eyes half flicked up from his computer screen before registering that “Jake” sounded nothing like “Bob”. The two Tech Writers were splitting their attention between a marked up manual and their open Macbooks, while James, the intern, was sitting up in his seat hand poised over a notepad ready to capture something important.
 
Jake, on the other hand, was at the far end of the table head down at this open laptop and fingers screaming away. It seems in the time it took me to find the data I was looking for Jake had decided to recode the entire database architecture.
 
“You know,” Hogarth drawled leaning over my shoulder to look down the table.
 
I waved off Hogarth without looking up. “Hang on, Hogarth.” I tapped furiously at my computer, hitting enter to the satisfying sound of <ping>.
 
At the far end of the room, my computers little voice was answered by a corresponding <ping> emanating from Jake’s computer. Jake’s fingers paused.
 
Hogarth looked at me, “You did not just Facebook chat that engineer!?”
 
I looked up at Hogarth, trying to give him the stare that said ‘Do you have two heads, cause you make no sense?’.
“Yes, I did. I wanted to make sure I got his attention.”
 
At this point, Hogarth made sure he had my attention. <SMACK>
 
“Ow! What was that for?” I demanded of my gorilla.
 
“For gross idiocy in the running of your meeting.”
 
“Me?” I exclaimed. “I am not the one rewriting the codebase to the Library of Congress in the middle of the meeting!”
 
Hogarth gave me ‘the look’. The one that told me he thought I’d just said about the stupidest thing in the world.
 
And he was right…
Notepads, not Notebooks (Or close the computer and write)
 
As the project manager, the way the meeting runs is your responsibility and yours alone. And how you conduct yourself is the first and most important thing you need to focus on.  I don’t know if it is a Mark Horstman original or a re-quote, but he has often been heard to say “When looking for the source of a problem, start by looking in ever increasing circles about yourself.”  In other words, the examples you set will be the examples your team follows.
Computers in meetings is a major area of contention. The Manager Tools team make no bones about it, if they are coaching you and you insist on taking a computer to meetings, they’ll drop you as a client. Hear that sound? That’s the keening wail of protest coming from Silicon Valley. “But I take notes, I have data, I, I, I…” I could go on. Heck, I’ve said most of the excuses myself, and as much as I hate the concept of taking my hands from my precious keyboard, Horstman is right in so many ways. No matter how professional you are, the minute that screen flips up, a small part of everyone’s brain assumes you are doing something else. And come on folks, we all have been guilty of doing just that. “Oh well, I’ll just check that one email,” “Hey look, there’s that error in the code,” “Ooh, Diane updated her Facebook with photos from last weeks beer bash,” and so on.
Now Manager Tools makes a lot of good points and I admit to not being as good as I could be. When I am attending a meeting that someone else is running, I try very hard to leave the laptop at my desk. Taking notes on paper is really much more efficient. Yes, it requires you to copy it into the computer later (Edit 2017- These days I use the Evernote photo feature and take pictures of all my notes), but you have more flexibility with the Mark I pen and you are being more professional and more focused on the meeting, not your technology. Heck, the act of transposing to the computer will lock the meeting in your mind all the more.
The biggest argument I hear to this is “I have information on my computer that I might need”. I can’t argue with that, but I can argue that you don’t need to have your computer open the whole meeting. Need to give an exact answer on the sell through rate of the NewCo Gizmo? Then open your computer, look it up and then close it again.”What about when I’m running the meeting? I am the project manager.” Right you are, but there are rules here as well.
  • If you are not presenting, then close the computer! The reason to have a computer in the meeting is to share data with the whole team. If you are not sharing, then you are shutting out your team with the lid of your laptop.
  • If you’re not typing, close the lid. Many times the information on the projection screen is just for reference and the main talking happens in the room. Close the lid and engage in the meeting.
  • Take notes on paper. Keep your notebook open and ready, jot your notes in the notebook, not on the computer. Update the power point slides after the meeting, not in the meeting. If you’re not in presentation mode, something is wrong.  There are some exceptions to this, but very rare and focused mostly on real time updating. Using a MindMap to create a Work Break Down structure? Then type on the computer. Need to note a reminder to schedule a meeting next week to follow up? Put that on your notepad.

A final note on taking notes.  This isn’t college, this is work. You are not trying to document everything that was said in the meeting, you are capturing action items, follow ups and critical points. Manager Tools recommends the Cornell Model note taking (Yes, they even have a podcast dedicated to it). I have been using it to good effect for more than a year now (Edit 2017- seven years and going strong).

Edit 2017- Since I first wrote this, in Jan, 2011, there has been scientific studies to support just how much more effective the written note is over the typed note. The 30,000 foot summary is when you type, you’re transcribing and when you write, you are summarizing. You end up with more context and remember more when you write. Dan Pink released this short video in Aug, 2017 and in April, 2016 NPR ran an article on the research paper by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles that definitively dove into this controversial topic (Hint, the laptop loses).
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

Every project is a screwdriver – or the process inflexibility gorilla

[Thanks to Phillip Chen, for the inspiration for this blog. His discussion thread on “Do you tailor PMBOK or other PM methodologies for your projects?” in the PMP LinkedIn group, sparked a reply by myself that spawned this blog. ]

Things are really looking up. Just got transferred to the newly formed product incubation group. The company is finally putting innovation up as one of the top three business goals for the coming year and you’re on the bottom floor of the new team.


You were worried for a while there, market share was slipping and it just didn’t seem like anyone was willing to break the cycle. No one wanted to point out the Emperor had no clothes and winter was coming. But the board did. Now you’ve got a new CEO and he’s shaking things up. What could go wrong?


“That is not how we do it.”


“But this is totally new product line, it’s nothing like our existing products. If we follow the same process we won’t get to market for two years.”


“No exceptions, we have a process, it works and you will follow it.”

Welcome to the PIG:
And wham, you run right into the Process Inflexibility Gorilla. Hogarth and I have talked about his cousin, PIG, on many occasions. As Hogarth oft recalls “He makes the immoveable object look like a hockey puck in the Stanley Cup.”

PIG generally hangs out in larger, more established companies. He’s at home in long standing businesses that have managed to keep doing what they do, with the minimal amount of change. It seems that sometimes that success is in spite of themselves. As often happens, the process inflexibility gorilla is so firmly entrenched, that he is all but invisible to those around him. He is not just ignored but not even seen. It takes a business change, or a new set of eyes to see him. The challenge that then comes, is how to get those entrenched with him, to actually see him.

A company hired a Director of QA. They had previously practiced a developer QA model, with the philosophy that the best person to test code was the person who wrote it. This director, we’ll call him Saul (I just made it up on the spot folks), was given a broad charter, promises of support and let loose on the engineering organization. Now Saul was an effective executive. He knew he couldn’t just sweep in and “lay down the law” no matter how much air cover he might (or might not) have. Saul took his time, he asked lots of questions, observed, got to know people and laid out his plan. He made some minor wins and changes, but for the most part he spent the first few months collecting data. All in preparation for laying out a whole new QA methodology, just like the charter he’d been given said to do.

Only when it came time to roll it out he ran into a massive wall, one that made China’s Great Wall look like one of those Irish rock walls in a sheep pasture. So powerful was the institution, to the way things were ‘supposed’ to work, that even his powerful executive sponsors backed down. So entrenched was the “way its done”, that no one was willing to consider that the business had changed, or needed to change for it to continue to compete effectively. In the end Saul left the company, unwilling to spend the rest of his career trying to get people to see the invisible gorilla.

So, how do you deal with such a pervasive and hard to see gorilla? It’s not easy and it may not even be possible, but there are some things you can try.

Now one thing you may of noticed in my style, is I like analogies. I’ve found if you can break something out of the now and use something totally unrelated to explain it. When this topic came up in the PMP LinkedIn discussion forums I used the ‘screwdriver story’.

“Yeah sure, that screwdriver is absolutely perfect for that job. But not every job is identical.”

Of course many entrenched people will argue that everything is identical. Yeah that may be their point of view, but I just keep on with my analogy.

      “We both have a budget of $200. I’ll take the money and buy a nice , simple toolbox with all the normal tools in it, you know hammer, phillips, flat head, wrench, etc. You can use your $200 to buy a super whiz bang phillips head screw driver that is exactly perfect for the currently defined job.” “I’ll do this because when you get stuck in a room (project) that has nothing but lug bolts, your fancy screw driver is just a pointy stick.”

Something you have to go back to, in times like these, is the concept of innovation. If you have inflexible process you probably have one of two things. You have inflexible products, which will be unable to compete in the continuing market place. Or you have products that are not being managed efficiently because they are square pegs being shoved in round roles and shaving off parts to fit. If your company is not flexible, how long will it continue to survive?

All right, while a very satisfying conversation it won’t sway every listener. The people who are inflexible in process are often not going to want to consider there might be anything but phillips screws in their company. These kind of people are going to bristle when you imply the company might fail through lack of change. “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” So what do you do? Tough question and no easy answer.
One thing you can try, is to work around the road block. If you have good cross organization and seniority relationships, you might be able to push for change from another direction. You have to be careful though, as this steps into the touchy ‘going over/around someone’ politics.

When it comes down to addressing the Process Inflexibility Gorilla (PIG), we once again come back to relationship and influence. While Saul failed in his endeavor, more often than not a strong and broad set of relationships should allow you to get the value benefit of making process change across to people who can affect the change.

Don’t cry “The emperor has no clothes” or in this case “Look an invisible gorilla!” Instead steer people so they can’t help but run into the invisible gorilla. Once you run into an 800 pound gorilla it doesn’t really matter if you can’t see it, you know its there.

Talking with gorillas, I’m Joel BC