" He Who is Afraid of Asking is Afraid of Learning... " ~ (Danish Proverb)

Staying Relevant in Project Management

As they say, “change is the only constant.” And, even in project management – where we strive to bring order to chaos, plan for the expected and unexpected, mitigate risks and study lessons learned so that we are not doomed to repeat them – we, too, are faced with the inevitable. Our foundational methodology is evolving in a direction we cannot ignore and unless we become agile, we will become stale, ineffective and irrelevant.

Agile is not just for software developers, either. Defined as a method to “determine requirements for…development projects in a highly flexible and interactive manner,” I cannot recall a time nor project when I did not have to be agile-esque. What was once widely accepted as change management, i.e. managing and documenting exceptions or changes to the rule, has become the norm and a ‘quote-unquote “new” way of managing projects’.

Not unlike many of my project management peers, I had been struggling with managing constant and necessary changes to project requirements which impacted resources, schedule and budgets, while still striving to deliver the best possible product amidst these changes. And for me, a black and white project manager – the struggle was less about the impact these changes were having on the success of the project and more about my inability to reconcile delivering a project that had experienced so many curveballs. Kudos to me (and all the other PMs) for successfully delivering robust products on time nonetheless, even when our methods were contrary to the traditional and waterfall techniques we had learned so well.

So, becoming a little more agile certainly cannot hurt; the language of agility will become more and more ubiquitous as organizations catch on to its time and resource-saving capabilities and communication-rich philosophy. But, the standards still maintain their merit, at least until Agile is time tested against larger and longer-term projects, for which its application receives the greatest criticism.

So, whether you’re in the Agile, Traditional or Waterfall camp – the truth is, being knowledgeable about all of the tools and methodologies we, as PMs, have to utilize and more importantly – having the intuition to know WHEN it’s most important to use each will dictate how successful our projects are.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

APPENDIX of TERMS*

  • Traditional Project Management: The primary challenge of traditional project management is to achieve all of the project goals and objectives while honoring the preconceived constraints.The primary constraints are scope, time, quality and budget. The secondary —and more ambitious— challenge is to optimize the allocation of necessary inputs and integrate them to meet pre-defined objectives.A traditional phased approach identifies a sequence of steps to be completed. In the “traditional approach”, five developmental components of a project can be distinguished:
    Initiation, Planning, Execution, Control, and Closing (IPECC).
  • Waterfall Project Management: The waterfall model is a sequential design process, often used in software development processes, in which progress is seen as flowing steadily downwards (like a waterfall) through the phases of Conception, Initiation, Analysis, Design, Construction, Testing, Production/Implementation, and Maintenance.
  • Agile Project Management: Agile management or agile project management is an iterative method of determining requirements for engineering and information technology development projects in a highly flexible and interactive manner, for example agile software development. It requires empowered individuals from the relevant business, with supplier and customer input.There are also links to lean techniques, Kanban and Six Sigma. Agile techniques are best used in small-scale projects or on elements of a wider program of work, or on projects that are too complex for the customer to understand and specify before testing prototypes

* Courtesy, Wikipedia.

Social Media’s Place in Project Management

It’s no secret that the unquestionable key to a successful project is communication. Communicate, over communicate and then communicate some more. There will always be a team member, stakeholder, vendor or client who needs to know exactly what you are communicating at the precise moment you’re sending the message.

Personally, I could not imagine managing a project in the pre-email age. I never had to. And while email is no substitute for war room meetings and conference calls that last 8-10 hours each, it gets the MVP award from me for keeping a project moving along! And, recently, I began thinking about the fact that we live in the age of social media and wondering how social media will make its mark on project management…?

The role of the project manager is, simply put, to get things done. We do so by utilizing tools and techniques that deliver results, we improve upon existing processes as we go along, and we strive to ensure stakeholder, team member and customer satisfaction. But, until now, that was a fairly lonely process…the buck stops with the PM – we are like a hose and the results are delivered via our spout; similarly, if timelines stall or budgets are overrun, the hose backs up or spouts an explosion.

We end each project with a “lessons learned” exercise, but I’ve often wondered if I was the only one living those lessons…

I wonder what would happen if projects became more collaborative – each project having its own twitter feed, blog, wiki, facebook/google+ page or LinkedIn group – virtual visual and verbal whiteboards – where stakeholders, team members and customers alike could check in, chime in, make suggestions for improvements and communicate with each other to reach our common goal?

I think we will find out…sooner than later. Project management and project managers have always been at the forefront of revolutionizing the way things get done, so there’s no reason why exploring social media as a means to propel project collaboration should be far behind.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

It’s My Project, and I’ll Manage It the Way I Want To…

For the past few years, since obtaining my PMP credential, I have wondered “what kind of project manager am I?”

There’s been a recent explosion of project management professionals (PMPs), and the recognition of the field for both its compensation levels and place in the playbook of organizational success is on a meteoric rise. As the field builds its history, one project at a time, the Project Management Institute (PMI) which governs it all, seems to be building itself one certification at a time. So, it’s left me pondering whether I am essentially a project management professional (still the most widely recognized credential), although I know for sure I have dabbled in the world of program management, and have become rather agile. as well…

Although I enjoy practicing project management both at home and work, I am struggling to sort through what all of the different disciplines, techniques and project management certifications really mean and how they translate to real world practice.

Much like the transition from single employee to managing a team is not a linear one, when the project manager’s focus moves into program management managing multiple projects , the focus also moves – from a single circle on a venn diagram to multiple circles that overlap. Each project presents itself with its own personality, comprised of unique requirements, stakeholders, schedules, dependencies and constraints.

And while we are taught that each project should be managed according to a standard framework, using specific steps and templates, what we are not taught is how to modify our approach depending on the project, organizational culture, or constraints involved.

For many project managers (and me), our projects don’t fail. Translate: we do whatever it takes to get the job done, the product delivered on time, and fast-track whichever resources and deliverables we need to along the way. How we accomplish this feat is often a combination of using tried and true project management methods like initiating, planning, managing scope creep, controlling quality, babysitting resources, and keeping a tight ruler along the budget baseline -BUT, we also extend the basic guidelines and make them our own, or our project’s own for that matter, and apply tweaks as appropriate. Exploring alternative project management methods (the “traditional” vs. “agile” argument) or mixing methods on your projects really depends on which techniques will allow you to manage your project to a successful completion, on time, within scope and budget.

Project Management methodology was inaugurated based on the need to quantify projects with the correct techniques and create justification for official project teams that ensure results; additional methods of traditional project management such as Agile were propelled by the need to refine “broken” or less-than-perfect mechanisms within the traditional framework. Regardless, methods won’t be up for heavy scrutiny – results will.

Documentation/ [approach] doesn’t really matter. Addressing the underlying need [in a project] is what actually matters. ~Jesse Fewell, PMP, CST

So, the conclusion of all of this confusion about what type of project manager are you and what is the best way to manage a project is really non-conclusive. No one approach nor credential trumps another. Rather, project management is like a tried and true recipe tweaked to perfection and handed down through the ages – not necessarily the exact science the certification exams want you to believe.

…At the end of the day, call us what you want. We are the ones who get it done.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

The Road to Success…Is Always Under Construction *

If the 20th-century career was a ladder that we climbed from one predictable rung to the next, the 21st-century career is more like a broad rock face that we are all free climbing. There’s no defined route, and we must use our own ingenuity, training, and strength to rise to the top. We must make our own luck.

I recently found the above quote in an article entitled, “Are You Ready To Be Lucky?” by Jocelyn K. Glei.

I thought it was brilliantly written and echoed what I, too, have been finding to be true in my own career. When success comes quickly, as a result of hard work meeting opportunity, one tends to forget that it may not always continue on trend. While one success often leads directly into the next – visitors such as complacency, burn out, self-doubt and too much information can disrupt the home that success has inhabited up to that point.

Like me, most people do not “hit the big” time based on one idea, achievement or skill (e.g.: Mark Zuckerberg). We were not born knowing what we wanted to do, and we tend to take a more circuitous route toward building skills, exposing ourselves to new opportunities and hoping to find our professional/personal purpose.

In a recent article published by the Harvard Business Review – University of Chicago economist, David Galen, is cited as saying that “…In a world where early achievers are so lavishly rewarded, it’s hard to maintain confidence if your process is a slower and more deliberate one.

I have always been a late bloomer, and I am only recently realizing that any professional successes I’ve enjoyed have also arrived at their own pace and have not always followed a very logical path. Nor were they exactly random, either. Rather, any goals I have accomplished resulted from building on past successes, being open to new directions and focusing on my strengths when evaluating any new opportunities which arise. The power of people who trust and believe in you should not be discounted either. In fact, I fell into project management after a 4-year bumpy ride through training and development, sales and account management; project management has been the catalyst which has led me into education and only God knows where from here. And, I’m sure I am not alone.

But it’s not easy traveling down the roads of patience, calculated risk and uncertainty for a Type P like me.

But, I must trust that these mile-markers will lead me to powerful new personal and professional breakthroughs as long as I don’t allow the hurdle of self-doubt to slow down my ride. And, when all else fails, remind myself that:


I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it. ~ Jonathan Winters

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Author’s Note: The title is derived from the quote, “The Road to Success…Is Always Under Construction” and attributed to Lily Tomlin.

Image Courtesy of: saleemrana.com

PLANNING – Productivity’s Friend or Foe? (Productivity Series, 2012 )

I believe wholeheartedly in planning ahead, specifically to buy myself time and options if things don’t go according to plan…but, even I know that too much planning can hit you in the face like a bouncing ball you’re not quick enough to catch on its way back up…

There are “perils to planning” – in project management, employee management and in life. In other words, planning has its place, but you need to recognize when it becomes out of place and a detriment to your overall goals.

  • Inflexible Planning – An immovable plan, while admirable, is truthfully rather unrealistic. A plan is only as good as its ability to adapt to change at the frequency and speed needed. In project management, that’s known as “agility”, and an entire new subset of project management methodology called “Agile Project Management” has been born to support this perspective. In the world of Agile PM, deliverables are submitted in stages according to weeks (rather than months) so they can be re-assessed at every iterative phase. And while Agile PM has found its home most comfortably in new product and technology implementations, it can be said that for any new systemic or team change, the deliverables and desired outcomes deserve to be re-visited in a timely and frequent manner. We might think this takes more time or slows down the process, but in reality, periodic check-ins help refine the process and result in fewer big issues in the long run.
  • Planning for Accountability – I don’t know anyone who enjoys team meetings; reviewing, rehashing, venting or whatever goes on in the board room – is a waste of everyone’s time unless a plan is put into place to hold everyone accountable for the details in the discussion. As a PM, I would often dread these types of meetings because I would either leave confused and robbed of two hours of my work day or exhausted at the thought of all the new work I had just been assigned. Today, as both a PM and having managed teams comprised of disparate members, I see how necessary planning is to ensure clarity among roles, responsibilities and ownership. So, plans have their place when they’re used as yardsticks to identify responsible parties and measure performance. However, it is incumbent on the person issuing the plan to check in with resources responsible for carrying it out to ensure that all is indeed “going according to plan.”

Effective planning is productivity’s best friend when used in moderation as a guideline and not an absolute, tyrannical crutch.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Being Productive Amidst Frenzy (Productivity Series, 2012 )

It’s easy to be productive when you do not have a care in the world, are fully rested and nothing is overwhelming nor aggravating you. But what happens when you have work to do, demands to be met and are just not able physically or mentally to accomplish them? Are you confused, overwhelmed and not sure where to begin? Are you unable to decide if you are confused? Then, you probably are confused…

This is where planning becomes your best friend and worst enemy. A plan allows you to see what you need to do and cycle through each item/step robotically. That said, if you’re not in a completely coherent nor efficient state of mind, the plan could also resemble a trap from which there is no out.

I’ve discovered a few tips which help when overwhelmed and unsure how to get anything done…

  1. Create a list – You have heard it here before. If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Regardless of whether you stick absolutely to the plan, it allows you a bar from which to come in under or over safely.
  2. Prioritize the list – Particularly when you feel like you cannot do anything, allow yourself to prioritize the one thing you can do…realizing that if certain things do not get done, you – and many others – will survive.
  3. Tackle the list according to priority, one item at a time – Harvard Business Review expert – turned Energy Project founder – and the CEO every other CEO wants to know, Tony Schwartz, has advice for us all in a world of overwhelming demand. According to Tony, the brain is not designed to do multiple cognitive things at a time. Lower quality, higher personal costs and overall sloppiness are the results.

    So, what does Tony recommend?

    • Determine in advance what needs to be done (i.e., plan…) and tackle each item individually and with focus
    • Understand how your body and mind work
    • Do not demand constant responsiveness…of yourself AND others. All this does is reduce the likelihood you will be productive
    • Encourage renewal
  4. Listen to your gut – If you could only accomplish one thing today, or this week, what would it be? Putting guilt aside and assuming you have the luxury to choose, what could you do to make you feel like you have done something although it’s not everything? Most of the time, that is better than nothing….
  5. Get some air and move about – Whether a short walk, a brisk run, time at the gym, or just sticking your head out of a window – your thoughts will clear enough for you to move forward in ways bigger than you previously imagined.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

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Image Courtesy of
: Blast Your Project

Evernote is for Everyone! (Productivity Series 2012)

So thus far in 2012, as my year-long quest toward re-defining the limits of productivity continues, I’ve theorized about giving yourself a break in order to move forward and about the upside of trial and error. But now, I thought I would stop for a moment, and interject something practical – as opposed to theoretical musings…

Organization is definitely my thing. But, recently I realized that organization ≠ productivity. Imagine my disappointment and horror.

Regardless of how organized I am, I still risk not being productive if I do not have the correct organizational and productivity tools to use (and the knowledge) to use them. This also requires me to assuage my technophobia and embrace all things ‘i’, ‘cloud’ and ’smart.’ Enter the iPhone, iPad and iCloud. Still a PC user at heart, I needed some help to determine how to take all of the various bits of knowledge, research and reminders and make them accessible to me anywhere, anytime and in a format that made sense.

It’s taken months to finally make my Dell laptop speak to my iPhone and both of those to speak to my iPad. Enter: 3 different email addresses, 3 calendars, 2 sets of contacts, different categories of notes and reminders, apps and programs – and we have all just entered a technological abyss. That is, unless, you – like me – happen to know someone who is blessed with the technology gene and could make the whole integration seamless and painless, putting the fun back into functional!

HOWEVER, all that said, I am proud to admit that I made a discovery of my own!!! It has changed not only the way I organize information, but how I organize my brain. And, unlike custom closets or shoe racks or garage shelf built-ins, the brain is a far more chaotic space much in need of spatial compartmentalization. Let me introduce you toEVERNOTE.

Perhaps you have already discovered this wonderful utility, and maybe not. Even if you have, perhaps like me, you learn new things about it every day.

Did you know that, with Evernote, you can:

  1. Download the program onto your PC or MAC (in addition to the Evernote app for iPhone and iPad, of course)? So, you are not just limited to using Evernote on a smart device.
  2. SYNC the notes you enter (whether entering them on your computer, phone or tablet) so that they’re accessible to you anytime, anywhere? This is huge – unlike other similar “note” programs, which are local, you do not have to wait until you get home to complete that note or add to it or email yourself appendages.
  3. You can create NOTEBOOKS. This is what I call organizational utopia. I can have a notebook which contains all of my notes of inspiration, another notebook with notes pertaining to past, present or future blog entries, another with notes for each room in my house, notebooks for Pro and Con lists, etc., etc., etc. The possibilities are endless.
  4. You can create To-Do lists
  5. And, last, but certainly NOT least. You can not only tag your notes but then SORT by these tags. Say, for example, that you are an avid reader of investment articles and blogs online. And you like to make notes on each one or create lists of websites to which you’d like to refer back. You can tag each note by the investors the article mentions or the opinions stated therein, and then SEARCH back by these tags. All of a sudden, you see everything that you ever read which mentioned Warren Buffet and have a virtual bucket of Buffet. Similarly, I could create a notebook for each project I am tracking, each with its own notes, tags and to-do lists. All of which are easily searchable and would allow me to pin my finger on any type of milestone, date or project deliverable I needed!

Clearly, these are only my observations thus far, and there must be many other uses, tips and tricks for this wonderful program. Insert your own topics or areas that need organizing and the list goes on and on. I look forward to exploring them all. And, if you have not tried Evernote yet, do!

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

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The Steve Jobs’ Effect

Trial and Error…Trial and Error…Trial and Error… (Productivity Series, 2012)

It’s difficult for anyone of us to stay on task, sometimes. Staying motivated, productive and upbeat takes a strong dose of discipline, positive self-talk and balance. Even if your strides have been moving steadily and momentum is helping you along. One small setback, unexpected brain lapse, moment of exhaustion, or negative voice (your own or another’s) is all it will take to stop your pace and freeze you in place. Then we wonder, is it really going to happen? Is it worth it? What’s wrong with what I am doing? Why is this all so hard?

I have been a contributor on the implementation of a new CRM (customer-relationship-management) system as part of a larger project with which I am involved. The system is robust and has many fine attributes. It’s also brand new, and does not work intuitively in most cases. What was supposed to be made easier is now more complex, and what was flawed but work-able before is now simply foreign. We’re forced to rely on each other and many external resources to move us forward, shed light on complexities, provide us with new methods to test, and try again..and again, and again.

Needless to say, no one is able to move as fast as necessary in this won’t-slow-down world in which we live and work; and as quickly as we move forward, we have to stop and rewind to determine why something failed. Efficient? Maybe not. Part and parcel of learning and experiencing a new way of doing things. Why yes, indeed.

We can (and do) get very frustrated with this CRM system. We submit copious numbers of trouble tickets and wait for the Gods of technical support to shine the solutions down on us so we can test the solution, then – resume the swift speed at which we feel we should be moving, and doing, and accomplishing.

Our only choice during this implementation has been to try, and try again..and again, and again. And, eventually it does work. Issues are fixed or we find acceptable work-arounds. The process takes time, but eventually, we do end up right where we needed and need to be. So, even when we feel at our least productive – it is in the patience and the process that our solution and ultimate productivity reside.

And, too, our goals and dreams may take longer than we wish. When resolutions do not appear instantly and people do not behave exactly as we think they should, we panic that the paint will dry while we are in the middle of creating the masterpiece that is our life. Yet, if everything went along exactly as planned, at the speed we believe we need, we would never stop to learn the lessons along the way nor meet the people who show up to help us learn them. Life, too, is about trying again..and again, and again.

Our primary source of success is not speed, despite what we might think. It’s the unwillingness to give up nor give in. Solutions do lie ahead if you’re patient and persistent enough to follow the course and all that it shows you along its path.

What do you first do when you learn to swim? You make mistakes, do you not? And what happens? You make other mistakes, and when you have made all the mistakes you possibly can without drowning – and some of them many times over – what do you find? That you can swim? Well – life is just the same as learning to swim! Do not be afraid of making mistakes, for there is no other way of learning how to live!” ~Alfred Adler

Special thanks to my dear friend, JH, for always showing me ways to not sweat the small stuff and that it’s ok to keep trying…again, and again.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Project Management in the Most Unexpected Places

I love project managing. Work is never dull, and each new project brings it own unique set of people, tasks, skills and lessons learned. Of course, at times, there are conflicts, unexpected detours, challenges, and there are always risks. Kind of like life.

Over the course of my career, each project has brought with it new faces, new personalities, new skills, sometimes new cultures, and always new perspectives on how to improve for the next time. But, there is one variable which remains fixed: the human factor.

I recall working on a project back in 2002, on an implementation for a world-wide communications conglomerate (hint: first carrier of the IPhone) with staff spread across every US timezone. Upon completion, I felt like I was a car that had been sent through one of those enclosed car washes – the only difference being that I did not come out shiny and looking like new. In that situation, I was forced to deal with every personality type on the planet AND come to terms with my own. Having had that [scathing] experience, and learning from my mistakes in dealing with those “personalities”, I learned that it’s really not about the deliverable but rather about the humans behind those tasks that matter most toward the end result.

Just recently, in fact….

I fulfilled an item on my bucket list and began volunteering with Habitat for Humanity . The obvious rewards of such an experience aside, I walked away from the job site realizing that I was now involved in yet another project, unexpectedly.

Several weeks into this experience, it’s become evident that the human factor supersedes all else, with complete strangers working together toward a common good which reaps no benefit to them other than the opportunity to make someone else’s dream of owning a home become a reality, watching out for each other’s well-being on tall ladders, on top of a roof, lifting bales of sod covered with invisible ants, and in the heat of the Florida sun. And, then collectively standing back grateful to have been involved, having learned a few new tricks and tips, and preparing themselves to set out once again in seven days on the next project at hand.

Though I was not charged with managing this “project”, I took my PM tool belt with me and found myself surrounded by at least 50 other willing participants, each of whom I would be proud to work with on any project. Interestingly enough, though, the diversity of personalities on each task have mirrored those of the most eclectic projects I have worked on!

  • Roofers seem to have something to prove, mainly to themselves :) , and go straight for the challenge. No room for failure there and it’s all about the focus (and the ego…).
  • The landscapers are more like a social club – enjoying the task, injecting creativity and inspiration with a lot of laughter, and taking a moment to stand back, enjoy the view, and smell the roses (literally!).

That said, every volunteer is there for the same reason: a successful build – which meets inspection, and on which no one gets hurt. So, the common good is paramount regardless of what task is assigned to you. In Corporate Utopia, the same would apply; for a successful project brings success to the organization, which – in theory – should mean job security and recognition for a job well-done. Note: I used the term “Utopia.” This simple truth has eluded most projects I’ve worked on (aside from some of the more recent); the lack of camaraderie and extent of CYA among resources and departments still confounds me to this day.

There is no “I” in teamwork, after all….

Author’s Note: Having been a “roofer” my first several weeks, my comments regarding the roofers’ mentality v. landscapers’ apply as much to me as any other. But, I did not realize this until I had the opportunity to landscape this past week…and I think I’d rather see myself as one of latter – in home-building and in life.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Photo Credit:: Habitat for Humanity of Broward County and Integration Destination.

Do Remarkable Work

I recently read a tweet from one of my gurus, Marcus Buckingham. In the past 2 years, he has taught me not only to seek out my strengths but more importantly, to embrace and utilize them in light of and in spite of my weaknesses.


A simple and profound aspiration: Strive to become a hard act to follow. ~ @MWBuckingham #strengths

We all have both strengths and weaknesses – it’s WHO WE ARE. Haven’t you ever admired someone for being such a talented marketing mind, a super-organizational machine, a social connector, or even someone who just makes you smile and feel peaceful in their presence? Well, you’re seeing all of these individuals’ strengths shine through and not noticing any of their [underlying] weaknesses.

Yet, most of us seem to focus primarily on the areas upon which we need to improve – I’m too disorganized, I’m not detail-oriented enough, I’m too laid back, I’m too intense, I work too much, I don’t have my priorities in line - well, while any or all of these may be true :) , and there is certainly nothing wrong with aiming to improve and grow, what if we simply focused on what we already [ translate: inherently] do well, and allow that facet of our personality to lead the way?

Marcus Buckingham’s quote above sent my mind in several different directions:

  • The first reminded me that I hold myself to an incredibly high work ethic – everything I produce has my stamp on it and it better meet my standards and reflect who I am (for better or for worse). Even the work I am not so proud of signals a red flag to me to change direction, refocus and accept only those initiatives which will lead me to future growth, productivity and expansion [ which, to me = success ].
  • The second direction reminded me that doing “remarkable” work, however you may define or categorize “remarkable”, entails simply doing your very best in any endeavor you choose to undertake, and, understanding that each endeavor IS a choice – whether personal or professional – which bears your very own stamp of quality and respect. You better be sure that when you turn your back, and someone speaks of anything you have said or done – whether positively or negatively, that you are proud to stand up for the result.
  • The last direction takes us full circle back to the quote – Let your strength lead the way, and that in itself will make you a hard act to follow. I remember “falling into” the practice of project management at my first job, and immediately receiving high accolades for the quality of work I produced with little to no experience. In those [naive] days, I assumed I was a “good employee to have”. Now, I know… that because I was inadvertently using my [yet unrecognized] strengths, I was not only doing very well but making it look easy (which it was not and still is not!!!).


Be a part of something you believe in. Those around you will notice your enthusiasm. ~Marc and Angel

So, all that being said, whatever your line of work or priority in life – strive to be who you are and the best at being that person. Don’t waste time focusing on what you are not, for that creates empty space and no room to grow.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

The Downside of Overconfidence

Sometime ago, in a post far far away, the subject of expectations came up…but it did not cover expectations’ evil twin, over-confidence.

Even “I Dream of Jeannie” had an evil twin, Sabrina. :)

Now, please don’t misunderstand me – Confidence is GOOD. Planning, preparation, knowledge, and experience should all contribute to a sense of confidence and expectations for success. Confidence propels us to take action, to put our training to use. Those attributes are the “good angel” sitting on your left shoulder. However, let us not forget who is sitting on the right shoulder -the devil…IS in the details.

Paradoxically, while some may feel that overconfidence is a signal of success – in fact, it is most often attributed to weakness and, yes, even failure!

Let’s examine a case of overconfidence on a project:

You begin a new project which closely resembles many others you have handled in the recent past. You’re familiar with requirements, have extensive knowledge of what it will take to get it done and are well-acquainted with all of your stakeholders. What could possibly go wrong? You certainly know what to do and how to do it, and the project proceeds according to scope and schedule. Then, all of a sudden, your engine goes on autopilot and you involuntarily close your eyes (metaphorically). Like sneezing behind the wheel of your car. All of a sudden, you don’t negotiate the space between you and the car in front of you and wham! You CRASH. The project still required your full attention; yet, by not concentrating on it fully, the opportunity for oversight therefore now exists.

Enter our friend, risk. Regardless of how well-versed you are in an area, unexpected things do happen. Yes, unforeseen changes can happen. They usually do happen. So, even when situations or projects appear to be easy and predictable, do not rest on your laurels nor reservoir of experience. It’s no time to “rest”. In fact, the stakes are higher and change may be just around the corner.


Remember that when things are easy, you are expected to win. ~ An ‘INTJ’

We are human and it is easy to make mistakes, despite years of experience or vast training to guard against error. So, successful outcomes are as much about managing expectations (your own and others’) as about balancing confidence.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

Image courtesy of – http://www.despair.com/overconfidence.html

I’m Not W-BS’ing You…

We all have tasks, goals and wishes…and we cannot live without accomplishing these. In some case, completing certain tasks means earning a living or fulfilling our responsibilities to others; similarly, achieving certain goals or having our wishes come through may mean fulfilling our responsibility to ourselves.

So, what is the method for the madness of tasks, goals and wishes all swimming around in our heads?

Well, ask a project manager and he/she will tell you – it all begins and ends with a WBS.

A work breakdown structure (WBS) breaks a project into smaller, more manageable components. It is the basis for project planning…

The operative words here are smaller and more manageable

Large, complex projects are organized and completed successfully only by breaking them into progressively smaller pieces which result in a collection of defined “work packages” or individual tasks. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is the tool used to provide the framework for organizing and managing the work in front of you. Then why not, too, use a WBS for your life milestones?

I recently mapped a WBS for my personal and professional goals. The exercise resulted in:

  1. Realizing where my priorities landed. Unfortunately work was a Level 2, Priority 3 item – I won’t even tell you where vacation and R&R landed. Good news is, writing was priority #1. :)
  2. Mapping out what it would take to actually accomplish each milestone and progressively elaborating through a list of the work packages which comprised the larger goal. For example, if I am trying to write another book – sublevel 2, item 1 would be defining concept; sublevel 2, item 2 would be mapping out chapter concepts and titles…etc – and I could progressively elaborate as many subtasks as needed until the book is finished, published and marketed.
  3. Reducing anxiety. In planning any project or approaching any new task, it is normal to find oneself possibly overwhelmed and confused. But, breaking a project into logically arranged, step-by-step pieces is a proven way to get to where you need to go!


The journey of a million miles…begins with one step. ~ Attributed to Tao Te Ching

So, take that step today, and WBS your own life’s projects and milestones! Preparing and understanding the steps for your life’s projects are an effective way of managing and achieving your goals.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya


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The Journey of a Million Miles

Image Courtesy of: The Project Diva

Managing Change – Flexibility or Fallibility?

A few of my long-term projects lately have been encountering changes on the fly. OK, if I am being honest here – the actual truth is that every project I’ve ever worked on in the past ??? years has faced change requests somewhere along the path to completion. YET, every time an email floats in that threatens to alter scope, resources or content, I stare at the laptop like an alien in a UFO just landed on the keyboard. My heart flutters and a certain minuscule level of anger rises up in me. What is wrong with me… shouldn’t someone tell me to stop being surprised by now??!!

The only constant is change…

Did I even need to block quote that? I think not. We all know that change is inevitable, unavoidable, unexpected yet expected, annoying and welcome at the same time. And, clearly, I am not alone. A recent study published by Wharton’s Aresty Institute for Executive Education cites that “most CEOs consider themselves and their organizations largely ineffective at implementing change.” The study cites the failure rate for initiatives at almost 60 percent, with just 61 percent of CEOs reporting that they managed change well in past projects. The study also reveals that the percentage of CEOs who expect substantial change climbed to 83 percent.

So, if 83% percent expect the change, 61% feel that they manage well to change, why then is the failure rate(60%) still so high?

And, for a project manager like myself – who manages to a carefully laid out plan, where change requests are actually integrated into the plan, and whose success hinges on bringing projects to positive completion, where is the delineation between flexibility and fallibility – both in projects and in life….?

Interestingly enough, the answer to that and the CEOs’ high failure rate problem are much alike…

Expecting change is not just an emotional connection, it must be tactical, too - whether you see the change coming or not, experience tells you it will come, so know how you will deal with it. Develop change management procedures and coping mechanisms which can be widely adopted regardless of circumstance. Wharton Professor of Management Sigal Barsade notes, “Even as executives realize they’re not effective at implementing change, they continue to approach new initiatives with the same methods they used in the past. ” Hello, definition of insanity calling….

Understand change – I don’t care how many people actually admit to it or not, but NOBODY LIKES CHANGE. And we are pre-programmed to berate ourselves when we find that our involuntary reactions to change invoke feelings of instability (reference first paragraph, last sentence of this very blog!) Be it positive or negative, change can evoke excitement, happiness, anxiety, anger, denial, sadness, frustration – whether we want/allow it. And, more often than not, we cannot do a darn thing about the change other than to….

Accept and Adapt - And herein lies the simple answer to my original question, which was fraught with complexity and frustration: “Where is the delineation between flexibility and fallibility ..?Change WILL happen, so accept that, and flexibility will follow. Be prepared for change, whether it is by building float into your schedule, reviewing lessons learned from the past before embarking on new/repeated initiatives, or invoking coping mechanisms. Change is not synonymous with a disastrous ending, it’s simply a re-start – so learn techniques to adapt, be flexible within those adaptation techniques, and failure will no longer be in your forecast.

Perhaps you cannot predict change, but we can all predict how we behave in its wake.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya

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Journey v. Destination

When haven’t we all asked ourselves this age-old question…Which is more important, the journey or the destination?

I’m not sure anymore that there is a right answer to that question. So, if you haven’t found the answer yourself, don’t fret.

It is human nature to focus on the destination – i.e., the goal, the reward, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And, it’s important to have destinations that create the possibility for the journey.

Personally, I’d like to believe that the destination guides the journey; but in the end, does it even matter if you ever get there or not…?

Image Courtesy of Dopiaza

Image Courtesy of Dopiaza

So, let’s talk for a moment about what actually happens along the journey.

~ Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome. ~ Arthur Ashe

In 2009, I had a destination in mind ~ a virtual one, that is. Create a website to showcase my project management skills: a virtual mirror for me to glimpse at my capabilities from the outside in, if you will. Within the website a blog would exist. The blog would be an outlet for my love affair with words and a harmonious marriage between what I do as a PM on a daily basis and what I write. Well, almost 20 months into writing the blog, I can count on one hand the number of posts which had anything to do with project management! Needless to say, I needed some help with scope management on my own project!

According to the A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), there are 5 phases to a project:


Initiation – Planning – Executing – Controlling – Closing

I need not highlight the fact that I veered off course at Initiation. :) My blog became a stream-of-consciousness exercise as opposed to a stream of knowledge!

So what does that have to do with the case of Journey v. Destination, you ask?

The way I see it, “destinations” complicate the journey too much. They’re no more than placeholders, mile markers if you will, and how you get there is in no way comprised by whether or not you get there…. It’s not written anywhere that we must reach certain destinations in life, no more so than it’s etched in stone what each of my blog posts must be about. That is not to say you should not have goals, or resolutions, or set mile markers of achievements to which you may aspire – and if you need help setting those, check out fellow blogger extraordinaire, HR Bartender’s, post here – but, it may mean that destinations will be arrived at on their own merit, as long as you seek fulfillment and growth along the journey’s way.

Wishing You Success on Your JOURNEY,
N
atalya

Author’s Note: Ironically, my 20 month journey gone askew led me directly back to its initial destination…writing about Project Management. Just when I thought my scope had creeped too far and the risk of retrieval too high to mitigate, the compass turned 180 degrees back to writing blogs about PM. (Funny how that works, eh? ) I hope not to “projectize” my blog too far such that I lose readers along the way, but rather illustrate how you, too, can project manage your life. :)

What Is Black, White and Varying Shades of Gray…?

What Is Black, White and Varying Shades of Gray…?

The tide of life…some may argue. Others may say it’s all only black and white; and still, others, may see it as entirely gray.

I recently purchased a build-your-own file drawer for my home office, and being as instructionally challenged as I am, could not figure out how the metal bars and supports combined to create the whole. Thanks to a handy friend of mine who made short work of it, the structure was soon in place. Now, all I needed to do was insert the plastic drawers that came with the product. When I purchased the set I thought I’d noticed a black and white alternating motif for the drawer colors, and the project manager in me immediately began mentally labeling each drawer for its future purpose! But as the building process ensued, I realized that there were more colors than I had initially noticed. In fact, the black and white ones numbered in the minority; plentiful were the gray drawers – and not just one shade of gray, either. There was a spectrum: dark gray, medium gray and light gray. All of a sudden, the build-your-own-drawer-set frenzy came to a halting stop as I drew the analogy between my initial vision of the drawers and the colored lenses through which I see life. Of course, when I made the purchase I noticed only the black and white drawers and concluded that that’s all there was. Upon closer examination, with an extra dose of patience and some outside support, the shades of gray materialized before my eyes and I had a completely different outcome [product] than I even knew existed.

When I am at work, I often have no choice other than to see the shades of gray. When ‘no’ is not an option, and the black or white solution which should be easily apparent, isn’t – but the job still needs to get done – creative problem solving must be invoked. I learned very early on in my career that ‘A’ is for attitude, and if I came to the table with a problem, I also needed a viable solution to go along with it! Sometimes, that solution simply meant opening up the issue for discussion and invoking the talents and experience of those also involved in the project/issue/department at hand. For example, I know I am not a marketing guru – but if a publication or piece I’ve helped create or edit isn’t reaching the target market, then it’s as much my responsibility as it is the client’s to ensure it gets where it’s intended to go! So, reaching out to those who touch the target market daily or someone with a talent for big picture marketing and creative approaches doesn’t mean I’ve failed at finding a black or white solution myself – it means I’ve recognized the need to delve into the gray. Funny thing is, the answers are often in the gray areas if you slow down and open yourself enough to find them.

In the same way, life will present both its challenges and opportunities; sometimes all the variables will fall into place and timing will be perfect. But most times, life happens and we have to modify our initial vision to include alternative approaches. It is not always easy to accept that there may be a gray solution to your black and white issue, and acquiring the patience it takes to allow that solution to unfold can be anxiety-provoking, but is almost always worth the wait.

As life and work present their challenges, be willing to swim past the black and white, and freestyle your way into the gray. Your solutions may just be floating there ready to find you, and they are often far from what you originally thought you would find.

Wishing You Success,
N
atalya