The Gorilla doesn’t take credit

The CEO beamed at me with a delighted smile. “Excellent work, excellent work. You did a bang up job on this, you can count on your bonus being nice and fat this year.”

I glowed with overwhelming pride. The CEO liked my work, he really liked it. Hard work and perseverance paid off!

“In fact,” the CEO continued, “I think you’re just the man to make the Gutenberg project happen. It’s been in trouble and I want you to make it happen.”

I blinked. Then I blinked some more. Gutenberg was THE project. It was the single most important thing the company was doing. Everyone had wanted to be on Gutenberg when it started. That was when it started. It was now twelve months behind schedule, the development team working on it was in shambles, the communication between groups was abysmal and the last project manager had taken a leave of absence, supposedly to recover from a heart attack brought on by stress.

“Um, sir, I’m not sure I’m the right…”

“Nonsense! ” he said. And then he was standing and I knew my audience was over. “You single handedly brought the Firestorm project together. I’ve got complete confidence in you.” With that I was ushered out of his office and carried on a tide of “great job” and a firm pat on the back all the way to the elevators.

 As the elevator doors closed on me, I let me head fall forward. Leaning head against the doors my heart competed with the elevator for a race to the third floor. “I’m so doomed…”

 “Ayup,” came a deep voiced reply from behind me.

 Just great. Didn’t these elevators have a weight limit or something ? Maybe we could hang “no gorilla” signs.

 “Weight limit is about 2500 pounds, so stop worrying your going to plunge to your death. You’re not getting off the hook that easy.”

 I turned around, slumping heavily against the doors. “Fine,” I said. “Go ahead, tell me  what a complete idiot I am.” I hung my head and waited for the piercing words of wisdom. The words that would underline just how stupid I had been. The Firestorm project had been a success because the team was awesome. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of engineers and everyone else involved had pulled together. We’d faced serious challenges, but we’d faced them together and tackled everything that got in our way.

 And I’d gotten all the glory and credit…

 Not because I’d moved mountains, or conquered the nasty integration issues. No, I got the credit because like the old adage “The victor writes the history,” I controlled the status reports and all the communication that went to senior management. I’d put myself front and center in all the reports and spoke about in the project in what “I” was doing. I’d been so focused on making myself look good, I’d succeeded. Not only was my team ticked off at me, now I was being asked to step in and save a failing project with a team that made the US Congress look like a happy social club. All because I didn’t give the team the credit they deserved.

 Sigh, I was so doomed…

 Why wasn’t Hogarth saying anything? I looked up and was instantly caught by his deep brown eyes. He just gave me a nod. A nod that said, “yeah, everything you just thought.”

 Dang it, now he was making me do the thinking too?

 Hogarth’s voice took a lofty tone, as he finally spoke. “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”

 I looked at him puzzled . Where the hell did he get these quotes from?

 “Abraham Lincoln,” Hogarth said.

I threw up my hands in despair. “That’s all fine and good for Honest Abe. And you’re an imaginary gorilla so what do you know about survival in the corporate jungle. I’m working for a living. If I don’t blow my own horn, who the hell will?”

Hogarth replied softly. “Don’t take credit, communicate success. Your excellence will show through this and people will know.”

I stared at my Gorilla, “At what famous statesman said that?”

Hogarth folded his arms over his broad chest and said, “I did, you got a problem with that?”

 “Uh… no. Nope, none at all.”

 <DING> “3rd Floor, Hubris and Humility.”

 

DON’T TAKE CREDT, COMMUNICATE SUCCESS

Once upon a time I used to worry constantly about metrics. How does a project manager (or any non-hand on doer) measure their effectiveness. A really good manager is all but invisible. Problems are dealt with before they ever get big. Contingencies are set up before they are needed. Relationships are forged and maintained. The team is given all the tools they need and just enough guidance to head for the end goal. To me the perfect manager always seemed completely invisible.

Invisible and corporate survival are not a good match. So I spent a lot of my early career figuring out how to keep my profile up. My goal wasn’t “a job well done”, it was “will this look good on my yearly review.” I looked for every opportunity to be right up there in the spot light. I wanted to make sure I was seen as important.

And thereby utterly failed. I spent so much time trying to look good, that I failed to be effective. Instead of being seen as a vital member of the organization, I was seen as a glory hound. Its not that I was incompetent. To the contrary, I was very good at project leadership, if I focused on that. I just spent so much time worrying about if I was being recognized for my work that I wasn’t effective at what really mattered.

The Team.

The Team is what matters. Focus on the team and the rest will follow.

I talked about how an Agile Project Manager is like R2-D2 a while back. The journey to that epiphany took me through the world of Servant Leadership and much of my own mental tribulations over just what my job role should really be called (Does a gorilla by any other name still smell?).

While I still can’t answer what my job role should be called, I did discover how to measure my own success. I measure my success through the success of the team.

Having spent the last three years with this new focus I have discovered I never needed to have worried about making sure my own value was known.

You see, if you spend all your working hours helping the team, it shows. And just as important, the team knows.

So I stopped trying to promote myself and I started promoting my team. When someone went the extra mile, I made sure to email their boss and tell them how much I appreciated it. When someone complimented my status report, I would give the credit to the team (“I’m just reporting their success, they did the hard work.”).

And you know what? By helping the team I also helped myself. People know what I do. They know I’m valuable. They know I’ll go the extra mile for them. They know I’ll promote my team every single time.

I don’t blow my own horn, I communicate the success of my team.

It’s a good feeling.

You can’t have your Gorilla and eat it too

“Augggh!!!!” I pounded on my keyboard in abject frustration and began hurling every single curse I knew at the screen and the faceless IT drones I knew had made my life a living hell.

Hogarth opened a single eye and stared at me from the corner. Arms crossed over his chest and chin tucked to his arms he had been happily dozing in the late afternoon sun that poured into my office. He didn’t say anything. He just fixated me with an unblinking deep brown eye.

I pointed at the computer. “There did it again! They updated the shared space and now I have to reinstall the damned plug in!”

My gorilla ponderously lifted his head. Crinkling his blunt forehead, he now fixed me with both of his eyes. The unblinking gaze seemed to say “And?”

“And it’s annoying!” I snapped, looking for some kind of support to justify the seething anger I was feeling.

Hogarth just looked at me, unmoving and unblinking.

“Okay, I know, I know. It only takes two minutes to update. It’s not the end of the world.” I clicked the okay button and leaned back in my chair. “Still, you’d think they could stop fixing the site every other day.”

Hogarth reached one leathery hand up to scratch his nose.

I rolled my eyes at him, “That’s not fair!” I retorted. “Yes, it was broken. Yes, the old architecture meant we couldn’t do a fraction of what we had before. But it is still annoying to have to install all these updates.”

Hogarth turned to look out my open door. I followed his gaze to see the project burn down chart on the wall opposite my door. Turning back to him I gaped. “What? You think trying to convince corporate to release our product twice a year, instead of every eighteen months is the same thing. “

Hogarth shrugged,  “If the shoe fits, don’t call the kettle black.”

Wha.. Oh….

 

Is the Agile Pot calling the Firefox Kettle Black?

The other day I saw something I found disturbing. Mind you, complaints on Twitter is nothing new. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than half of all tweets are someone complaining about something. So I’m fairly inured to seeing tweplaints. When the first complaint about “Oh look, another Firefox update.” I ignored it. Then I saw the second one.

What got me was not the complaint itself. No it was who was making the complaints (or retweeting in one case). Both complaints came to me by way of people I consider  part of my “Agile/Lean” follow list.

Seriously?

Agile principle three is “Deliver working software frequently…” Principle 6 states “Working software is the primary measure…” Similar maxims exist within XP and Lean. I was just at an agile meetup where the speaker was outlining a way to get corporate behind quarterly releases in an enterprise environment. Lean Startup talks about Minimal Viable Product and getting in front of the customer as quickly as possible. Then you pivot or persevere again and again.

And we are complaining that Firefox is iterating?

Really?

 So let me think on this…

  • You can just click no. It takes two seconds.
  • You can just click yes. It takes about two minutes on most computers.
  • I don’t know about you, I know I’ve never bothered to pay attention to what they are fixing. My guess is some of the things are pretty important and I care about them. I’m just too lazy to ask.

And

How much of what we are complaining about has to do with the fact we have to take some kind of action as opposed to it being done automagically?

  • Have you looked at your Win7 Installed Updates list? The list of security and hot fix updates is staggering. And I am really all together clueless because Windows happily does the updates in the background and usually I only know because my computer reboots in the middle of the night every so often.
  • Do you know how annoyed I get at having to always update my iPhone apps? Do you know why? Because I have to do it manually. My wife’s Android has an option to automatically update apps. I have all her apps set to do that.

Firefox is following some of the key tenets of agile, release of often, always seek to improve. I don’t know if they are an agile shop and sure, they could be a little better on communication.

But really? Does anything who believes in agile, lean, XP, kanban or Stoos have any place complaining that a company is trying to make their product better? Just because it’s an annoyance to us?

Okay, maybe you’re all right. Clearly we don’t want to annoy our customers by fixing or improving our product quickly….

Do you have a plan for the gorilla on the floor?

“More data, I need more data.” I was staring at my desk, taking in the papers I had meticulously arranged to fill nearly every bit of open space.  For all it was, I knew it wasn’t enough

My ninety day plan was going perfectly. I’d interviewed all the key customers to the PMO office. I’d interviewed everyone on the project teams. I’d interviewed all our vendors. I’d interviewed the customer service manager and then his team leads. I’d read every process doc I could find on the website. I’d read the previous versions of the product lifecycle to see how it had evolved. I’d taken the basic new hire training and then I’d signed up for the sales new hire training.

And I needed more data. I didn’t want to make any mistakes. I was going to make damn sure my ninety day plan was perfect! What else could I do?

“You could interview the janitor.”

Hey.. That’s right I hadn’t interviewed the maintenance staff… Wait a minute! “Hogarth!”

I looked up just in time to see my gorilla sink down beside my brand new fichus tree. Ignoring me, his deep brown eyes contemplated my fichus tree for several moments before a leathery hand reached out to snap a branch free.

“I’m trying to figure out the next step in my ninety day plan, do you mind?”

Hogarth calmly nibbled on the branch, neatly stripping a leaf from the end of the branch. Without looking at me he mumbled. “Hundred and fifty day plan…”

“What?” I turned to look at my wall calendar. My eyes flicked over the months doing the mental math. “How has it already been five months?”

Hogarth shrugged. Pulling a piece of bark out of his teeth he said “Don’t look at me, I’m just the gorilla in the room you’ve been stepping over.”

“What?”

“It’s advice real estate agents give. When you buy a fixer upper, you make a list of all the things that need to be fixed. And then you fix them.” Hogarth said.

“What does that have to do with the gorilla in the room?”

“Well technically it’s the dead body in the room.”

“WHAT?!?”

Hogarth turned his placid eyes towards me. “If you have a dead body on your living room floor, after six months you stop thinking about having to step over it. It’s the same thing with a fixer upper, after six months of dealing with the leaky faucet, you get used to it and it doesn’t get fixed.”

“You’re telling me I’m a leaky faucet?”

“When was the last time anyone came to you for anything?”

Wait, now that he mentioned  it… Ah man…

 

YOU BETTER HAVE A PLAN, AFTER THE PLAN

In 2010 I wrote the Ninety Day Gorilla. In that Hogarth and I got to listen as poor Bob (not Bob the Product Manager, this was Bob the other project manager) was let go. What was his crime? His crime had been to try and make changes to fast. He hit the ground running and tried to fix everything as soon as he started. Poor Bob ended up alienating people and getting on the wrong side of the political land mines he didn’t even know were there.

Bob didn’t have a ninety day plan. He didn’t follow the cardinal rule of “Do no harm in your first ninety days.”

Bet you, though, that Bob wouldn’t have ever been accused of being useless. Sure, people hated his guts. But he got stuff done.

There is a follow up rule to the “Do not harm” rule. That rule is “Have a plan for the next ninety days.”

You see, the ninety day rule isn’t a magic bullet by itself. You don’t spend those ninety days sipping coffee and watching the chaos unfold around you. Peter Taylor, the Lazy Project Manager, never advises sitting in the comfy chair during the early part of a project. Those first ninety days are when you gather the information and build the trust you will need to make a difference.

You’re first ninety day plan is something you have ready on day one. During the next ninety days you need to build your plan for the next ninety days. There is no magic formula for this next ninety days. It depends on what you learn and the trust you build in the first ninety days.

What is important though, is you don’t want to be the dead body everyone steps over. If you haven’t done anything after six months, then no one will ever expect you to do anything.

Get off the floor and get out the door.

The Gorilla Wigwam- Single Tasking in a multi-threaded world

I was buried in the depths of a presentation. Elbow deep in the slide formats I was completely engrossed and entirely focused. I didn’t even have my email running, I’d put my work phone on “do not disturb” and turned the ringer off on my cell phone. I used to think I could multi-task and that I was good at it. Going agile had proved to me just how delusional I had been. So now a days I focused. Whether it was working with the scrum team or working on something not part of our agile project, I still gave it total focus. One task at a time, no more no less.

Now if only the desk would stop shaking, it was starting to get… “Whoa!”  I reached out just in time to catch my cell phone before it vibrated off the desk. As I put it back on the desk I saw a string of text messages on the notification screen.

And my heart dropped… The texts were from my wife. I was supposed to pick up the kids from camp. I was supposed to leave for an early lunch, pick them up and drop them off at home. It was 1:00 PM.

I bolted from my office and sprinted for the elevator. Careening into the elevator I nearly bounced off Hogarth. My gorilla was learning against the wall and gave me a jovial smile as he said, “What floor?”

“Hogarth, it’s a two story building!”

Nodding, he pressed the button and leaned back. “You know.”

“Oh, boy”. I thought. “here comes the lesson.”

“That reminds me of a joke”

I blinked, but Hogarth just continued on.

“Doc, you gotta help me. I’m having an identity crisis. I keep having these alternating, recurring dreams. First I’m a teepee, then I’m a wigwam, then I’m a teepee again. Am I going crazy?” Hogarth leaned back letting his voice take on a mock Freudian tone. “It ees very seemple, you are two tents.”

I glared at Hogarth, hoping my eyes would suddenly develop heat vision and I could make him disappear in a flash of light. “Other than being a terrible joke, is there a point to it?”

Hogarth nodded, “Yes, yes there is. Single tasking is fine, you just have to remember that your inputs come from many places. How are you going to make that all work?”

Wow, he asked me a straight forward question. I don’t think he’s ever asked me a straight forward…

Hey! That’s a hard question.

 

How to Single Task in a multi-threaded world

I’m a list man. I have to be. I know that if I don’t write it down, then it never happened. If my wife didn’t have one of the best memories I’ve ever known, I’d probably have forgotten something really important by now (eating, sleeping, you know important stuff).  I’ve learned to be successful by making sure to always have something I can capture my To Dos on. It used to be a pocket notebook and a pencil. Today it’s my trusty iPhone and the free Kanban style product Trello (works best in the Chrome browser).

With Trello I not only have the ability to quickly access my task board, I can have multiple task boards. This is great! I have a Home task board that my wife has access to. She can add “Honey Dos” to the list anytime. And she’s not distracted by the Work task board that has all the things I need to do for my day job. And I keep my own personal task board separate from all that. This allows me to prioritize “fix the screen door” against “clean out the closet” without getting distracted by “Create Wiki milestone schedule for the program team.”

So now I’m a lot better. I never “forget” anything, it all goes on a list and I have that list where ever I go. I have my work board, my home board, my personal /professional board and I even have boards for my Hogarth Book (in process) and I make ones for special events (I had an SFAgile2012 board for everything I wanted to follow up on after the conference).

The problem is not getting things done when they need to be done. I’m at work and looking at my work task board all day. Then I get home and remember I was supposed to call the electrician so the stove could get fixed. Whoops! I had it on my Home Task Board, I just never looked at it during the day. I was so focused on my project called “work” that the project called “home” suffered.

Multi-Tasking Myth, Multi-Tasking Reality

I don’t think anyone that reads this blog is going to argue that multi-tasking is a good thing. The evidence stacking up against multi-tasking grows every single day. Anyone who has spent any time in the Lean/Agile community has probably played one of the many multi-tasking games. The ones that show just how hard it is to do multiple things at one.

For those that haven’t, try this really quick exercise.  Get yourself a sheet of blank paper and a pen. Bring up http://www.online-stopwatch.com/. Set the time for 20 seconds. Now see how many numbers, starting with 1, you can write in 20 seconds. Repeat this with the Alphabet. Okay good job. Now comes the fun part. Set the timer for 20 seconds again and do both numbers and letters at the same time (1A2B3C4D, etc). See how much you can get done and compare it to doing numbers and letters by themselves.

So now that we are all on the same page an in agreement (Even if you’re not, just smile and nod, we don’t make the gorilla angry, do we?), lets toss a little cold water of reality on things.

Yes, we all agree multi-tasking is bad. We want focus on a single task until it is done and we also want all the tasks we do to be part of the same project. That’s what we want. I don’t know about the rest of you, I’m getting used to not getting what I want. Let us just look at a normal “work day.” The average work day is somewhere between six and ten hours long (I said average, work with me here). Then the average sleep period is six to eight hours. You’re left with, on average, another eight hours. So right here your day is divided into three projects, work, sleep and “everything else.” Even these can’t always be contagious. Maybe during lunch today I need to run out and register my son for a Lego Stop Motion film making camp. So already I’m bouncing between projects just by waking up and going through this thing we call life.

Even if my day job has only one project and I can focus on one task at a time, I still have to juggle work against the rest of the twenty four hours in the day and all the other responsibilities and priorities I have.

Augh!!!!! You’re not helping!

Okay, sorry. I can see this is making your blood pressure go up just thinking about it all. I can tell you my blood pressure was suffering for a while there. Trello meant I didn’t lose anything I had to do. Unfortunately it meant I just kept getting a bigger and bigger list of things I forgot to do because I was busy doing something else.

My solution may seem a little odd. Trust me, it works. I made another board. There is real value in keeping my work task separate from my home tasks. The problem is there is only one of me and I have to do it all. So I made a board called “Weekly Kanban.”

“Iteration Planning”: At the start of every week, I go through the backlog on all my active boards (Work, Home, Personal, and any short term boards). If it is something that needs to get done this week, I move it to the Weekly board. Everything has an estimate of effort (Fibonacci number scale) After I have all the stuff that has to be done I look at the backlogs and move over any thing else I think I can get done in the week. I take from the top of each backlog when I do this. When I’m done with me week planning, I have a single backlog of rank ordered items. I can end up with “Create the Phase Gate slide deck, Go to the Dentist, write my blog, write the weekly status report.”

“Daily Grooming”: Everyday I look at the rank ordered list and tweak it based on the day.  Obviously home things tend to be done on home hours and work done on work however. Still it gives me flexibility. I know I’m more creative in the morning, so I might write my blog then and work on making the power point slides and status report in the evening.

“Work In Progress Limits”: I control my work in progress as well. This is a little softer than you might see in strict Kanban. I only ever work on one single task at a time. However, I might have up to four items in my Doing column. This is because some things are “in process” or “waiting for outside.” For example, this week I had “File expense report” in the doing column for three days. My boss was out of the office and I wasn’t going to put it into Done until my boss had signed the report. Normally I try not to let my WIP grow to more than one active and three pending tasks. If I have four tasks in doing, I do my damndest to clear one of those out before going t o a new task.

That’s how I single task in a multi-task world. Each “project” has its own backlog. At the start of each iteration I make a unified iteration backlog. Everyday I groom the rank order based on priority and time of day. And finally, I limit my WIP to only one active item at a time. Finally, at the end of every week, I archive the Done board. That way I can see what I’ve accomplished over time. Really important when it comes to review time (and yes, you can have review time at home too).

 

And yes, I schedule time to read blogs. Some folks write really long blogs and you need to schedule the time. 🙂

 

All the world’s a Gorilla: Confidence in the work place

 

And: Book/Workshop Review- Artful Making

My stomach was in tight knots that threatened to force what little breakfast I had eaten to come back up for discussion. I could feel my palms sweating. Not the “just a little moist” sweating. No this was the, “dripping off my hands” sweating. In short I was a complete and utter mess. And the planning meeting was going to start in just fifteen minutes. I’d have to get in front of thirty people and present the entire plan for the release.

I’d tried to pawn it off on my boss. No dice. She said it was my time to shine in the spot light. “You’ve worked hard on this, time to get the credit you deserve. I hear the EVP is coming to the meeting.”

Great… Say, Boss, did I mention I’d much rather hide in the background with my Gantt charts? I so didn’t want to face all those people.

The door of my office burst open. Leaping through the door, with a dramatic “Hah, ha!” came Hogarth.  With short, puffy pants, a beaded vest, cape  and a hunk of lace around his neck that made his head look like it was on a dinner plate, he looked like a reject from the Shakespeare in the Park company.

Holding a skull aloft, Hogarth flipped the cape back over his shoulder and declared, loudly. “All the world is a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their…”

“HOGARTH!”

Hogarth stopped mid-monologue. Turning towards me, he pouted. “You interrupted the immortal bard.”

“Yes, yes I did.” I waved at the skull, “first of all, the skull is from ‘Hamlet’ and the monologue is from ‘As you like it.’ Second, and way more importantly, why the hell are you doing a monologue in my office!?

“Harumph,” Hogarth grunted. Setting the skull on my desk, he dropped into the spare chair. “Some people have no appreciation for the arts. I bet Lawrence Olivier never got shouted down for doing Shakespeare.”

“Hogarth…” I warned.

Slumping into his seat he continued to pout, “Oh fine. I was only trying to make a point.”

“And that would be?”

Hogarth perked up. “Oh, right. Did you know that the famous Sarah Bernhardt had to be shoved onto stage before every performance? Crippling stage fright, but once she was on stage it all just happened.”

“And the point of that is?”

“You could do worse than to take a theatre class, or at the very least join Toastmasters.”

“Huh…”

 

Two for the price of one:

This blog is a two for one deal. It’s partially a review of Lee Devin and Rob Austin’s book Artful Making  and workshop of the same name. It is also a why on why you need to build your confidence and your presence to be successful.

Before we delve into the review, lets talk about the why.

Do you look forward to speaking in front of a group about as much as you look forward to your next root canal? Well you’re not alone. Some of the most famous actors in history have battled crippling stage fright. The thing is, its probably a good thing to have a little trepidation about public speaking (and large project management meetings are pretty public).  A young actress once confided to Sarah Bernhardt that she never had stage fright before going on stage. Sarah Bernhardt promptly answered: “Don’t worry, it comes with talent.”

This is not unlike bravery and foolishness. A brave man is afraid, but pushes on anyway, with caution. A foolish man isn’t afraid and just blunders on. Being afraid of public speaking isn’t a problem. Letting it stop you from being successful is. Especially when there are many ways to conquer that fear, or at least to soften its voice to a dull roar.

One of the absolutely easiest ways to build the skills needed to speak and present is to join Toastmasters. This international organization is devoted to helping people learn to speak and present. It’s easy to join, it’s easy to participate, it’s easy to become comfortable with yourself.

Toastmasters is excellent for giving skills to be confident with yourself. While I’ve done years of theatre, I still participate in Toastmasters to keep my skills honed and I still learn new things all the time.

If you want to move beyond confidence and into having a truly powerful speaking presence and the ability to quickly think on your feat, then I recommend taking a theatre class.

I had the great fortune to get involved with theatre when I was young. I got into it because it was fun and I was too young to know I should be scared of the audience (see the Sarah Bernhardt quote above). I certainly didn’t think doing improv street theatre would help me in a career I didn’t even envision being in two decades later.

Theatre taught me how to speak to be heard, memorization, posture, movement and most importantly, confidence. All tools that would be so very valuable in my career as a project manager.  I’ve presented at trade shows in front of 3000 person audiences and didn’t blink an eye. I’ve never had someone say “could you repeat that, I couldn’t hear you.” And I’ve been told many times I have a “commanding presence.” All of these I credit to the years I spent doing theatre.

Which brings me to Artful Making, the book and the workshop.

The Book:

With a forward by Dr. Eric Schmidt, chairman and former CEO of Google, the book had a powerful endorsement going for it right away. Google and Apple may not be perfect, but few can argue that they don’t understand how to run a business.

The What:

Artful Making compares the creative process used by acting companies with that of  Agile software development. It used direct examples from theatre productions and compared them to business practices and even NASA projects to demonstrate the principles that the artful process isn’t restricted to the stage.   It also sets out to provide a direct comparison and understanding of the artist and the knowledge worker.

The Good:

If you believe even a little in Agile or rapid development, then this book will resonate. The stories of the theatre company, in action, are fun to read and the message they deliver slips under your skin almost before you realize it. It’s not all theatre either. They use the Apollo 13 mission in two examples and it really goes to show that Agile isn’t new, just the word is. I came away from reading the book with a fresh mindset on the Agile philosophy as well as a some useful additions to my vocabulary that will help explaining the value of Agile.

The Bad:

It’s a text book- Devin and Austin both have teaching backgrounds and the book is laid out like a classic text book. Reading it I was very reminded of the Winston Churchill quote on giving a speech “Tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you’ve said.” While the content was powerful, the format of the book could have been much more engaging. Having heard Devin speak in person, it’s not the material but the format that makes the book a difficult read to slog through.

No actionables- The book is long on theory and examples but short on take aways you can use. Not every book has to be the next “Step by step guide to whatever” but I was expecting more based on the description of the book.

The Conclusion:

Still very much worth the read, just go in with your expectations set. This is a theory and understanding book which will get your mind thinking in new ways. It is not the next “how to” book.

The Workshop:

The What:

The Artful Making workshop is an eight hour session that keeps you moving nearly the whole time. Don’t worry about wearing comfortable shoes, you won’t be wearing them much.

Lee’s workshop is based on the acting concept of “Control by Release.” He starts with a simple little demonstration. Holding a pen tightly in his hands, he says “I’m in control of this pen. It does what ever I want it to do.” He waves it around in a stiff, Bob Dole-like, grip while he talks. Then he holds his hand out over the ground and drops the pen. “I’m still in control of this pen. It did exactly what I wanted it to do when it fell to the ground.” Actors use this technique to “let go” in order to be in control of their art.”

Lee then walks the workshop through a series of various exercises that get you up and out of your chair and challenge your comfort zones. Between these he reviews the concepts, the learning and the outcomes with a mixture of theatre examples, business examples and some science tossed in for good measure. Every leader should understand the concept of “Mirror Neurons” or as we normal folks call it, “Monkey See, Monkey Do.”

It’s not a class for the meek. You are going to be challenged, you are going to do things that initially feel really silly and you are going to walk away from the exercises with a new found respect for your own ability to do.

The Good:

Even with fifteen years of acting experience, I came away from the workshop with a renewed confidence, a greater focus and a better understanding for how the creative mind works. The ability to see how my team thinks and the confidence to not worry about what people think about me will make me a stronger leader and more effective.

The interactions with the other attendees are as valuable as the workshop itself. The debrief sessions, after the exercises, were enlightening, and educational. I felt like I could have tackled anything with my fellow attendees. If a team went through this workshop, together, I wonder how much more effective that team would be.

The Bad:

Limited actionables- Between the concentration exercise and the suggestions I got from other attendees, I came away with more hard actionables than I did with the book. Unfortunately, as Lee himself even says, this workshop just scratches the surface.

The Conclusion:

If you go into the workshop with the expectation that it is about making yourself more confident and a stronger leader and it won’t be any kind of magic set of tools for managing a team, then the workshop is well worth it. Lee challenges your edge and pushes you – in a positive way – farther than I think I’ve ever been pushed in a single day.

As a project manager, manager or leader, this course will give you the confidence to face even the toughest teams. That confidence will show through and make you more effective.

And you know how I feel about being effective…

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

 

Book Review- The Lazy Project Manager

The Time: 7:15PM, The Location: My office
“Hogarth!”
My gorilla looked over the top of the Wall Street Journal. He was leaned back in my chair, his size twenties on my desk. “Yes?”
“What are you doing?”
“I’m reading the paper and being lazy, you should try it.”
I stalked into my office, waving a stack of papers in front of me. “I don’t have time to be lazy! There’s a dozen things that need to get done, right now. I have to have this report posted tonight and I’m three days late updating the matrix of gear ratio changes. I’ll be here until at least ten. Now for Pete’s sake get out of my chair!”
Hogarth carefully folded his newspaper. Placing it in his lap, he slide his feet off my desk. Fixing me with his big, black eyes he said “Let me ask you something. No matter how hard you’ve worked, have you ever been able to get everything you are supposed to do done?”
“Well no, but…”
Hogarth held up a big paw-hand, “Atch, atch, atch, no buts. This report, say you get it out. Will anyone read it between now and tomorrow afternoon when they come to the program team meeting?”
“Wel no…”
“And the updated matrix of gear ratio changes, how many people have downloaded the last version from the SharePoint.”
I reached past him and brought up the SharePoint metrics screen on my computer, “Umm two!”
Hogarth nodded, “One would be you, when you downloaded it to update it. And the other one was me, I needed something to put me to sleep last night.” Hogarth leaned back, tossing his feet back up onto my desk. Flipping open the paper he said, “No matter how hard you work, there will always be more. Are you working on the right things?”
It was then I noticed his prehensile toes were holding something. It was a book, I could just make out the title, if I turned my head just right…
The Lazy Project Manager – by Peter Taylor
I first learned of the Lazy PM through Cornelius Fitchner’s podcast series. If the father of PM Podcasts thinks it’s worth bringing a writer on his cast, then it usually is worth learning more about that author. 
So when Peter Taylor had a special sale, I snapped up an autographed copy.
The cover shows the silhouette of a suited man, casually seated in a large comfy chair. The author recommends just this approach for reading the book, and for how a project manager should approach his job. I was flying coach, so the chair wasn’t all that comfy but I was able to finish his book in one cross country flight.  Regular readers will recall my words from my Potato, Pahtato blog and how I described studying for the PMP has learning a common language for what I already knew. Reading Taylor’s book was much the same experience.
As I flew through the pages I found myself nodding along and making the logic jumps with him. Peter’s book is all about being Effective with your time, making sure you focus on what is critical and not the things no one is going to care about. And he’s not just spouting platitudes and personal bias. He starts the book with the powerful Pareto Principle (using a wonderful Monty Python dinosaur reference to do so). Anyone who’s studied for the PMP certification, has had to commit this principle to memory and you can’t help but quickly realize Taylor is a smart veteran who’s seen enough of the project management wars to know the science of project management and the art of how to apply it.
Taylor’s book isn’t going to give you the secrets of the perfect status report, or the keys to unlock the mastery of the Gant chart. He even goes to great lengths to make it very clear this book is NOT a PM training book. You won’t be able to pass the PMP by reading the Lazy PM. But like the kindly old Sergeant, who teaches the wet behind the ears Lieutenant about leading men, Taylor’s book is like a virtual coach (his own words) on how to be good at one of the most important parts of being a good project manager. The people part.
Using a combination of real world stories, great two by two charts, a Monty Python-grade dry wit and practical explanations, Peter Taylor walks you through the stages of a project lifecycle and what you, the project manager, need to focus for each stage of your project.
Where does it go on my “Book Shelf Index”? Right now the Lazy PM is one of the half dozen books on my office quick reference book shelf. Not so much because I reach for it often, like I do with Elements of Scrum or the PMBOK, but more so because the picture on the cover reminds me to stick to my own Gorilla PM philosophies, focusing on what’s important and not burning out trying to do everything.
Buy the Lazy PM and let Taylor prove to you that working until midnight isn’t effective, it’s plain silly.
Joel BC
Veteran, the project management wars
Want me to talk to your gorilla? Send me an email
You can follow me on twitter, @JBC_PMP

All the worlds a stage, and we are merely gorillas

Or- Welcome to the 21st century, you are always “in public”
Bob sat down in the chair across from me, a conspiratorial smile on his face. Unseen by Bob, Hogarth silently lumbered past to perch on the desk section behind me.
Bob was part of my program team, Hogarth was just a ‘bit of undigested beef’, so I focused my attention on Bob. “What can I do for you Bob?”
“Man can you believe they promoted Mary? I mean come on, Jake can code circles around her with one arm chewed off by a bear.” Bob’s voice was hushed in the way a five year old “whispers” across the school yard. I was momentarily taken aback by Bob’s statement, which he seemed to take a tacit approval to continue. “And we all know she got the job because she practically knifed poor Steve in the back on project Pacheco. Seriously, is there a single ounce of good in that woman?”  Bob went on to express his personal feelings on Mary with great amounts of vitriol, his rant eventually petering out like an out of gas car. 
“Well what do you think?”
I leaned back in my chair, contemplating what Bob had just said. Mary was most certainly not on my most favorite people list. More than once she had caused one of my projects to fly off the rails, with near impossible “customer” demands. Personality wise she was about as warm and fuzzy as a petrified, flash frozen hedge hog. And still…
“You know,” drawled Hogarth. “Interesting thing about Bob. Overheard him in the break room not twenty minutes ago. He was ranting on and on to a guy from legal. Couldn’t stop moaning about how his project manager was an over bearing control freak who didn’t even know the difference between a half bit flange rod and a radiated tie off bar.”
Bob only worked on one project, the one I was the project manager for. I gave Bob my best smile and simply said, “Bob, when you question a corporate decision and then proceed to demean someone, no matter who they are  it makes me wonder how you’ll represent our project and team. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get this report done.”
Behind me, Hogarth smiled proudly.
So before the tragedy of Japan’s Tsunami blotted it from the headlines, the news was abuzz with the latest scandals to rock NPR. It seems VP Ron Schiller let loose with how he really felt about the Tea Party, in what was supposedly a private conversation with potential donors to NPR.  The fall out from that was the grist for many a news story mill, but what I found most interesting was something that had nothing to do with the actual words said or the resulting fall out. Though it is of important note that Schiller went on to say “I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR’s values and also not reflective of my own.”
Remember those last five words- “Not reflective of my own.”
I was listening to my local news radio and they interviewed some talking head (are they still called talking heads on radio?). After what I thought was a well thought out set of answers, the talking head answered the final question, which had to do with how he felt about how the reporters had obtained the secret video (If you skipped the link to the story, they were fake donors meeting Schiller for lunch and had a secret camera). The talking heads said something like “If I’m in public, I’m going to speak differently than I am in private.”
Hello, Houston? We have a problem.
There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t know where to start…
First off, if you’re willing to bad mouth the Bad hair party so you can get donation money from the Parted Hair Brotherhood. Whose to say you won’t trash the Parted Hairs next month to get money from the Mohawk’s are sexy society? It’s a question of integrity. When I hear people gossip, trash talk or tear into their company, I immediately wonder what they say about me when I’m not around or how they talk about decisions made on my projects. This kind of talk is destructive, tearing down other people is destructive. You don’t have to be flower-power, hippie-love to everyone, but there is a fine line between not liking someone’s beliefs and tearing them down.
This is by far the most important part of this blog. It doesn’t matter if you are in private or public, if you treat people poorly, it will reflect back on you three fold. But at least if you are going to take a controversial stance, be prepared to defend it in public. Just look at Ron Schiller, I think he only compounded his mistake when he spoke publically.  Not only was what  he did monumentally stupid, but then he tried to say that what he said wasn’t what he really felt.
So let me get this straight, you were lying to get donor money? Oh, and that makes it all better.
Which brings me to my second/last point (okay lousy segway, but stay with me here). Going back to the talking head and his comments about being in private.
Welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to 24 hour Facebook, to a world where anything and everything can be posted to the internet in a heartbeat.  From secret diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, to that ten year old picture of you puking into a bathtub that your old college room mate just posted on Facebook, anything and everything can and does become public. Like it or not, we are on stage and broadcasting live 24 hours a day.
As project managers, we need to be especially sensitive to this. We may not have the line item budget, or the direct reports, but as PMs we represent the project and the company.  If your Facebook page is a drunken tribute to the Rocky Horror Picture show, mixed with rants about how Uncle Sam is impinging your rights to own surface to air missiles, do you really think Mr. Fortune 500 is going to hire you? You’d better be the next Bill Gates, with the patents to back you up to stand a chance in heck.
In the end, it all comes down to personal integrity. It shouldn’t matter if you’re in public or private or if someone might post your words or show off a picture. Integrity is a value that goes back to the dawn of time.  All that’s changed is now it is so much harder to fake it. As Manager Tools guru, Mark Horstman says “You’re not that smart; They’re not that dumb.”
Stay true, stay honest, stay real.
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

Company Culture is more than words

Or- your culture is more than your developers.
[Disclaimer: This is based on observing the industry and an amalgamation of many peoples past job experiences. It does not represent any one company or person’s experiences, past or present. ]
I was doing everything right. My laptop was closed, the projection screen showing a high level status dashboard, as I focused on looking around the room. Pen in hand I was ready to capture actions and issues that came up in the meeting. I was making sure to focus on saying “we” and not “I”, asking short questions and not monologing. In short I was being the perfect project manager.
And the meeting was an absolute total failure.
Bob was slumped in his chair, offering monosyllabic responses to questions that he once went on for minutes at a time. Tech Writer, Sue’s fingers were unusually still, odd given she usually can put in a 1000 words during a meeting. Even James, the intern was unusually “un-chipper”. I’m pretty sure he was doing the Smart Phone prayer and updating Facebook under the table edge, James never used to use tech in the meetings.
“So, Jake” I ask the engineering manager. “Where are we with the plan for how we’ll update the web store once we release?”
Jake give a non-committal shrug. “I’m waiting for a response back from IT. “
I blinked, biting back and urge to sound frustrated. What the heck was going on? We were three quarters through the release. Things were going great, no major bugs, issues, risks. Heck the brass had even thrown a ‘developer’s BBQ’ just last week to show their appreciation for all their hard work. Why the hell were they acting like someone had died?
“Someone did,” and like a bad stock tip Hogarth was perched on the edge of the table.
Deeply annoyed I said, “now what? Their some of the best paid devs around, they just got a party, the brass just got done talking about how valuable they are. Why are they acting like it’s a funeral?”
“‘Cause culture is more than your developers…”
So we’re going to talk about a pretty ugly gorilla today. 
Tell me if you have heard this?
  “Our culture is who we are.”
  “Investing in all of you, is how we will succeed.”
  “Together we win.”
  “It is our employees, that make us so strong.”
All right, following me so far? I’m sure most of you have sat in a company all-hands and heard something similar to this. Now some companies have done an incredible job converting these words, into reality. Google is famous for its culture, Japanese car companies at one time were the epitome of this. Read Fortune, Fast Company or any other leading business periodical, you’ll find showcase articles. Fortune actually devotes an entire issue to it, every year. Oh and it’s not a high tech thing either, Fortune’s 2009 list had a financial company, a  super market chain and a hospital all in the top ten. One of the things that makes these companies so compelling, is how they create a bond of trust and respect with their employees.
“Yeah sure,” mutters Hogarth, “but you don’t mean payroll right? We can outsource payroll and save a bundle.” Peeling an onion, he takes a big bite. Talking through spray of onion bits he asks, “How about IT? Everyone’s cutting IT now. Give a months severance and get ’em out of the way so we can focus on the real company. I mean after all, we don’t need them to ship the product, it’s the developers that matter, right?”
And the “What is culture” gorilla looms over the discussion.
Some companies have conducted these “streamlinings”, “resiliency protections”, “austerity measures” and in the process managed to shatter their corporate culture. 
Wikepedia defines corporate culture as,  The total sum of values , custom, traditions, meanings that make a company unique.” That’s the total sum, not just the developers or core money makers, but the total sum of the company. 
One would think that we would have learned from the last downturn. The Dot.com crash was just a decade ago, but I look around, not just the high tech industry, but corporate America as a whole and I see the same patterns.  Companies are slicing through their budgets like a drowning man .
 It’s a proven fact, that companies that invest in their employees, have more productive and happy employees. They are often noted for their innovation (look again to the example of Google or Apple).  They do not always have the largest market share or the biggest bank roll, but when it comes to people wanting to work there, they have people camping in their lobbies to try and get an interview.  I no longer remember the name of the company, but one of the most striking companies I ever heard about, was in an article in Fortune. It was so compelling, I actually sat there and thought about how I could change industries and move across the country, for a chance to work for this little 400 person company.
I’m not saying companies have to hold onto every employee, never outsource and never change, but they can’t believe it won’t have an impact on the survivors. Tina Turner sang in one of the Mad Max theme songs “the living will envy the dead.” If a company is not careful, they will shatter their culture in the process of surviving. There are dozens of companies in Silicon Valley that probably could have survived, had they been intelligent about ‘right sizing’.
So what can you, as the project manager, do? Unfortunately there is little you can do about what a company may or may not do with “right sizing”, or how their “austerity measures” upset employee morale.  What you can do is be an even better listener. Spend more time on your Project Management One-on-Ones, your MBWA (management by walking around). Give people a safe outlet to vent and talk. Often that’s just what they need. Go crack open 7 Habits and review your empathic listening skills. But remember! You still work for the company. You don’t bitch about the changes, you support them and you support your team. You listen and you keep being effective and there.
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

OpenAgile- The PMs job hunt best friend

“What’cha doin?” Hogarth’s question was nonchalant and as innocent as a cat burglar caught hanging from the ceiling.


“Remember when I was out of work last year,” I said. “I tried to apply project management discipline to my job hunt, but it just ended up being a revolving to do list. I think if I use OpenAgile, instead of Scrum, we might really be onto something.”


Dropping onto the couch next to me, Hogarth pulled out a banana from… Well some mysteries are better left that way. Pealing the banana he asked, “How come?”


I looked over at him, “Well for one thing, it wasn’t much of a Scrum team with just myself and my gorilla.”


Hogarth sat up, an indignant look  on his face, “Scum?! I’ll have you know my father was a silverback for one of the largest bands in the Congo!”


I rolled my eyes, “Not scum, Hogarth, Scrum.”


My 900 pound gorilla quickly deflated, “Oh.” Looking at me he said “We’re not going to France either, are we?”


“No, were not going to France…”
Hello and welcome to a practical Gorilla blog on using the OpenAgile Methodology for conducting a personal job search (For those confused about going to France, or what OpenAgile is, check out my last Blog where I review OpenAgile).
If you haven’t checked out OpenAgile yet, it will help to at least have looked at the Process Reference sheet. I’ve put an image below, but it will help to have the actual PDF. To get a full understanding, go and grab the OpenAgile primer.

I’m going to go back to my own job hunt here. Like many Project Managers, I set out to tackle unemployment like it was a project. A nice a firm start, middle and end (A job). I can’t speak for other PMs, but I found that once I rolled up my sleeves and got into the search, I was just working from a task list. I had a loose method going, but I wasn’t approaching my search in a manner that allowed flexibility or repeatable structure (yes, you can have both in a project). My search became disjointed and often interrupt driven affair. It turned out well in the end, but I think if I had OpenAgile, things would have gone much different.

A traditional Waterfall methodology really isn’t going to work well for running a job search project. A long planning cycle, followed by development before ever getting to Qaulity feedback means you could be applying for a job that was filled two weeks ago.  At the same time, Scrum isn’t really the right fit either. Scrum is targeted at a teamwork process, with clear roles and is still very much geared towards a software development cycle. I tried using Scrum for my last job search and found it to have too much unusable overhead (which for you Scrum Masters our there that has to sound funny).

OpenAgile on the other hand has a very open structure, that can be easily adapted to nearly any kind of project (Perhaps OA Exec Direct D. Parker will do a blog someday on how he used OpenAgile to organize his cross country move). Where even Scrum has a Scrummaster, Product Owner, and Team Members, OpenAgile has only the Team Member, with facilitative work of Growth and Process facilitator potentially being all wrapped up in the same person. Almost makes me thing of OA as the zen Agile practice. “There is no spoon, you are growth and process in the same being.”

All right!, enough theory, how would I use OA to job hunt?:

Cycle Length: Weekly. You want to be highly responsive during your job hunt, so a week is the best cycle time. Further, a cycle is Monday to Friday. You may be out of work, but weekends shouldn’t be scheduled. You need down time and if you have a strong process for job hunting, you can take that down time.

Value Drivers: This is an area little covered by OpenAgile. OA is focused on the execution (which is a good thing) and doesn’t currently have a body of knowledge around the generation of the Value Drivers (Scope, Features, “What is Done”). At the high level a VD should be “a characteristic deemed desirable by the stakeholders that is measured in relation to a goal. OA also recommends that Value Drivers use the S.M.A.R.T. goal format.

In the arena of your job hunting, this is where you define what a successful job hunt and job will look like. This is BIG, but is not in the scope of using OA for the actual job hunt. OA is about executing to the Value Drivers. There is a great concept called Value Levers which is used by such big names as Intel. I promise Hogarth and I will talk about it in the future, but email me if you want a copy of a Value Driver presentation I attended this summer.

Stakeholders: A quick note on these. Obviously you are a stakeholder. But your family is also a major stakeholder. Another stakeholder you can’t ignore is your bills, more to the point, the people you pay your bills to. Even your poor car can be a stakeholder. Job A is perfect! But it’s 60 miles away and your twenty year old Geo Metro isn’t going to hold up well for that commute.

Enough on the ground work, now to the execution:

Start at the Circle: So one of OAs key components is the Learning Circle. One of the best things about it, is you can start at any place on the circle. In this case though, we’ll start at the beginning (Flip to the second page of the OA Process Reference Document).

Reflection: Time to start with brutal honestly. Or in the parlance of OpenAgile, the foundation of Truthfullness. Before you can move forward, you need to reflect on where you have been. The first couple of weeks, these reflections are hardest as you are going to reflect on the last job you held. Moving forward though, Reflection becomes a look back at the last cycle (week) and what happened. I highly recommend the Manager-Tools Hotwash podcast for conducting reflections. The concept of “What went well” and “Things to Look At”, combined with an open brainstorming model are very productive. Do it alone or grab your spouse (Significant other, close friend, etc) or reflect as part of a job hunt networking group.

Learning: I love OpenAgile for this. Lesson Learned (often better known under their more morbid name of “Post Mortem”) and even Agile Retrospectives too often combine reflecting and learning into the same step. If you listen to the Hotwash cast, you’ll probably understand quickly enough. I think of the Learning phase as the phase where you decide how you will apply the knowledge you gained in reflecting. By separating these two steps, it is like brainstorming . In Reflection, the goal is just to think, to reflect, to write stuff down, not to try and come up with a fix or solution. The Learning phase is where you decide how you will take the Reflections and put them to use. By giving them a space, you separate the emotion from the learning. Instead of kicking yourself for not having any cards to give the guy in the Starbucks line, you “learn” from the experience and set a task to go to Vistaprint and order some cheap cards.

Obviously, I espouse separating Reflection from Learning. Taking a page from Scrum, do your reflecting at the end of the last cycle (Friday afternoon) and do your Learning at the start of the next cyle at the Engagement meeting (Monday morning).

At the end of Learning, you should have some solid tasks, or process improvements that can be incorporated into the next cycle.

Planning: Now here we are again, right at the meat of it all. It’s where we Project Managers often commit our worst sins. When we are planning multi-million dollar projects, we do a great job. When we are planning out something for ourselves, we too often get lost in the weeds or fail to plan in depth. The OpenAgile process breaks down planning into five distinct “artifacts”. Calendar Events, Obstacles, New Artifacts, Quality Problems, and Repetitive Activities. I can’t give this section the attention it fully deserves without all but re-typing large sections of the OpenAgile primer. But let me give a broad sweep on why this is good.

Breaking your activities down into the OA manner allows you to provide greater focus and importance. I like to think of it as a practical application of Covey’s Habit 2 Urgent/Important Two by Two grid. It’s a way to make sure you are “doing the right things” and not getting lost in the minutia that can be the death of a good job hunt.

Calendar Events: This is just common sense. Peter Drucker spoke of this for decades. If you don’t plan your schedule, you won’t be effective. What meetings and events do you have? If you don’t list them, you don’t know when you have open time to work. If you have a task that is best done in one sitting and you think will take eight hours, don’t schedule it on a day when you have a networking lunch with old co-workers.  Make sure you schedule time to work on tasks (New Artifacts and Repetitive Tasks). If you know you’re best at writing in the moring (you are customizing your resumes to every job right?) , the try to schedule that phone screen after lunch.

Obstacles: Roadblocks, Blockers, Speed Bumbs, we call them many names but in the end they keep us from getting our job done (and when you job is finding a job, that’s bad). Remember last cycle, you didn’t have a business card to give that guy in the line? That’s an obstacle to your being able to easily advertise yourself. Convinced that HR person is blocking you from advancing when you are perfect for the job, that’s a potential obstacle.  In Covey speak, Obstacles are Urgent/Important Quadrant 1 activities. Fix them fast, get them out of the way so you can go back to Quadrant 2.

New Artifacts: The heart of your activity cycle. New Artifacts result in the creation of something concrete. “The creation of a document, a process, or a tool, or changing existing documents, processes or tools are all examples of New Artifact tasks.” New Artifacts have to be sized (Scrum estimating here we come, planning poker anyone?).  In job hunting terms, these are your resume updates, your cover letters, your contact emails to that old friend working at Amazon. Yes, it seems detailed, but you do need to plan out just who you will be emailing or calling this week. I personally used Mind Manager for this, mapping out each job I planned to pursue, each person I was going to communicate with, etc. I updated it at the start of every week and tweaked it daily.

Quality Problems:  Very similar to Obstacles, only these issues arise during a given cycle. Like Obstacles, they move straight to Covey’s Quadrant 1 for immediate action. “Wow, did I really put a resume on Monster that says I am a professional “PiMP”?, gotta fix that right away!”

Repetitive Tasks: Don’t be so quick to dismiss this one. New Artifacts are going to be your big fish (Intel is hiring for just your skills, need a plan to attack this opportunity), but to get the big fish, you often need to go dig up the bait first. OpenAgile suggests an RT format of “Every ____ we will _____.” (For example, “Every day we will check voice mail.”). A big part of job hunting is the unsexy, unglamorous practice of checking your sources. It also is a way to take control of your interrupt driven schedul.., (hang on folks I just got an email). Yes, that’s right, stop looking at your email every 60 seconds. This harkens back to Drucker and Manager Tools, schedule three times a day to review your email. Make them set times with a start and end. Make them the same time every day. That’s repetitive and that’s good time management.

A final thought on repetitive tasks, and I know this is going to sound silly, but I speak from experience. Job hunting is a job, give it set hours. In my last job hunt I didn’t do this too well. All to often my Wife would come into the home office and remind me “It’s 6PM, are you coming to dinner?” A repetitive task can be a simple alarm to remind you to wrap up and end your “job” for the day.

And ACTION! All this blogging and technically we just finished the engagement meeting at the start of the week. Now that you have a plan, time to take action. You’ve got your tasks on the task board, you’ve scheduled your calendar and repetitives, you know what the Quadrant 1 obstacles are, now just summon up the courage and get going!

Just remember your progress meetings. With my own personal modification of OpenAgile, I would end the day with reflections. This gives you a night to mull them over, before you tackle the next day. Then, every morning start your day with your progress meeting. Hit the learning circle and figure out how to learn from your reflections and then look at how you want to change your day. Another great thing about OpenAgile, over Scrum. There is nothing to keep you reaching deep into the backlog, mid-cycle and pulling some task up to the top of the list. Talk about flexibility!

That’s it! Yes, there is a lot more to it, but like OpenAgile itself, this is a framework.  A loose  framework to wrap around your own working style. There’s a lot you can delve into, a lot you could tweak, a lot you could challenge. So with that, I’ll give you one of the last gems of OpenAgile. JUST START! Don’t over plan, don’t over think, get going and keep going!

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.

OpenAgile, not just another bad gorilla joke.

It is probably fortunate Hogarth eats so many bananas. The smell of them makes it nearly impossible for him to sneak up on me. And if you’ve never had a 900 pound gorilla sneak up on you, you’ve never had a project go from green to all hands on deck in a matter of hours. But I digress.


“What’r you doing?” Hogarth asked around a double mouthful of bananas.


“Reading about OpenAgile” I said, not looking up from the small booklet.


Hogarth flopped onto my desk, “Oh man, are we going to Open Agile this year? I always wanted to see eastern France!”


I sighed, good gorillas are so hard to find. Looking up I fixed my black furred friend with an annoyed glance. “Not Agile Open the conference, Hogarth. OpenAgile the methodology.”


“We’re not going to France?”


I shook my head, “No, we’re not going to France.”


My gorilla sulked away, leaving me to ponder his understandable confusion and one of the newest Agile methodologies gaining traction in Agile and Project Management communities.

I had my first exposure to OpenAgile only a few months ago. OpenAgile’s executive director, David Parker, had just moved from back East to the Bay Area and local Agile champion Agile Learning Labs hosted an evening informational session. Over good pizza and way to many caffeinated sodas around twenty project managers and agilistas were exposed to the foundational roots of OpenAgile. Just before Christmas I then had an opportunity to take the OA Team Member training from David and OA co-founder Garry Berteig.

So what is OpenAgile and why did I take two days from the year end madness of work to go to this training? Well the latter question is the easier one to answer. As I talk about in the “Every project is a screwdriver”, I would rather have a low cost toolbox with a wide assortment of tools, than a single super, high quality screwdriver. I am always in pursuit of new tools to add to my project manager toolbox and OpenAgile looked to be a whole socket wrench set worth of tools.

So what is OpenAgile? Well if you go to their website (http://www.OpenAgile.com). Their current mission statement reads.

“OpenAgile’s mission is to continuously bring the best of Agile methods & teamwork beyond Software Development“.

Frankly I think the mission statement does it a disservice. Yes, Agile started in the software development space, but it is can be so much more than that and if you tie the anchor of software dev around your neck proclaiming “we’re not for software dev!” you might have folks saying “Methinks he doth protest to much.” Translation, folks may not give you a second look, thinking you won’t work for them. The mission statement assumes you know what the “best of Agile” is, which won’t get you many converts outside of Agile. Which is a shame, because I think OpenAgile has a lot of potential.

When I had to describe it to someone, I opted to describe it as “A simple, but highly expandable, open framework for managing any kind of project.” Short, simple, and I think very descriptive. What I’ve liked about Agile, as a whole, is its focus on customer needs (your stakeholders), managing and embracing change (change management), and it’s over whelming drive to always ask “Why?” I’ve seen too many projects fail because of bad inertia. Things get moving and no one raises up their head to make sure they are going in the right direction.

But classic Agile is still very software focused. The manifesto if called “Manifesto for Agile Software Development” and one of the core principles is “Working software over comprehensive documentation.” Kind of makes it hard to sell to a hardware manufacturing house, now doesn’t it? Scrum is an excellent methodology, I use my own CSM training extensively in my day to day work for a major manufacturing company. But it was built originally for software and while flexible and adapting has limitations that make it hard to use in many types of business.

OpenAgile took an alternative approach to the still adapting Scrum models and stripped everything back to the start and then began building up again. In the process it drew in concepts from outside the ‘traditional’ Agile approach and tackled the problem from the team first and the project/product absolute second. With the three core foundations of “Truthfulness”, “Consultative Decision Making”, and the “Learning Circle” OpenAgile has a strong focus on how the team functions. The Learning Circle takes the Scrum retrospective a step further, tying the end of the cycle firmly back to the beginning and really showing how a “cycle” can not only start at any stage (which is great considering how often project managers get assigned to projects already under way) but feeds back on itself to ensure what you learn is applied to what you do.

Now with the praise I have to talk about the other side of the coin. I think OpenAgile has a lot of potential, but it is still young even as Agile methodologies go. It’s got a strong foundation in their iterative cycle model (Sprints for you Scrum types), but I feel it is still missing some depth that will come from more use, development and feedback. If people dig into it, use it, and grow it then it could become the next main stream project management methodology. If it fails to gain traction, fails to evolve, fails to grow, it will be a nice talking points concept but very difficult to put into practice.

OpenAgile has a pretty daunting uphill road to climb to become the next Scrum or Waterfall, but one of the biggest things it has going for it is the “Open” part of its name. Like true Opensource, OA is open to modification and adaptation, all of which can and does find its way back into the “main branch” of the methodology. If people use it, it will become better.

It may not yet be a full 50 piece socket wrench set, but I’d definitely rate it as a full set of screwdrivers.

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.