Controlling Chaos: 6 Agile Steps To Finding Sanity

Have you lost control of your day? Is the pace of everything getting faster and faster, so that you just can’t get done what you need to? Do you feel like your projects are spiraling into chaos? Finding ways to maintain one’s sanity while managing large, fast-moving projects is a creative dance. Recently, while teaching a course on “Managing Projects in e-Business,” one of my students asked me how I controlled chaos on my projects. My answer: “I plan for it!”

chaosMy job as the Project Leader is to keep the project moving forward; to meet deadlines, budget constraints, ensure performance, and most of all to manage the client’s expectations. I know better than to think that I can ever ‘really’ control things, so I put processes and procedures in place to make sure that maybe the roof won’t blow off when the tornado comes through (if you get what I mean), and to know what I might do if, and when, it does. I have been managing chaos for years (long before there was Agile PM), with solid planning,  a deep understanding of my team and client, and with a nimble attitude.

What is Chaos Anyway?

On a project, especially in today’s complex and dynamic environments, chaos can be defined as “a state of the (project) system where the future development of the system is not predictable, or only poorly predictable.” (Avoiding and Managing Chaos in (Construction) Projects, Sven Bertelsen and Lauri Koskela, 11th Annual Conference on Lean Construction – Denmark, 2009  ) Basically,  a small unpredictable event, like the delayed arrival of key resource materials, may seem like nothing more than a nuisance when it happens, but the cumulative effect of many deliveries not taking place over many months can delay you to the point of no return. When you are dealing with complex projects, you are sitting on the edge of chaos most of the time. If you plan accordingly, it is less likely that you will be overtaken by events. (How to Save a Failing Project: Chaos to Control, Ralph R. Young, Steven M. Brady, & Dennis C. Nagle, Jr.. Management Concepts, Inc., VA, 2009)

Sanity = Practicing Good Project Management

  1. PLAN:  Make a plan, work the plan, and update the plan continuously. Do you have a Project Management Plan (PMP)? If you don’t have a roadmap, how do you know where you are going? You don’t have to document a tome of stuff, but as Agile Modeling tells us, “keep your plan simple enough, but not too simple.”
  2. TRACK: Know where you want to end up and keep your focus there. Stay on track. Do you have a Project Charter? Knowing what you are sponsored to deliver is critical to getting there.
  3. MONITOR: Have a metric by which you know how to check the health of your project. Do you have an analytics dashboard? How do you know you’re on track if you can’t show it in a graph somehow?
  4. PREDICT:  You need to know what your mitigation strategy is because something will go wrong. What is your Plan B? Do you have a Risk Management Plan? Chaos management is really just risk management. You may not know what is going to happen but you can plan how you will fix it when it does.
  5. FIX: Prevent everything you can from going sideways. You do this by a continuous (iterative) review. Do you have a Change Management process? Remember to change the easiest things first and get them going in the right direction. Repeat after me:  CHANGE IS GOOD when it gets you closer to your goal. Little changes along the way are a lot easier than a big change near the end. (It’s that cumulative thing again.)
  6. DANCE: Be agile in approach and attitude. You need to be open to alternatives when you need them. Stay close to your client and your sponsor so that you can make decisions when they are needed in the moment.

keep-calm-and-plan-ahead-36

I know it may sound oversimplified, but most of the battle of controlling chaos is staying calm and practicing good project management.  What dance steps have worked for you?

3 Spring Training Tips For Business Coaches

Coaching-Cloud-Image

It is great to see all the coaches out there with the kids on the fields now that it is spring in the east.  All the little sweaty people running back and forth trying to build up stamina for the big game to come.  Drills and drills and laps and more drills. Practice, practice, practice.  It made me think about my role as a leader and how I coach other people to their personal best.

The word ‘coach’ brings to mind sports heros like, Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi.  And, when I think of a sports coach, I think of someone who is focused on one thing: winning.  Even though the great coaches care about the players, everything they are doing is to drive the team to the win at the end of the game.  Vince Lombardi, Head Coach of the Green Bay Packers, said “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all-the-time thing.”  He accepted nothing less than first place and said that second place was the ‘first loser.’

Here is an example of the most driven coach in history:

I learned a great deal studying sports coaches, and one of those things is that organizational coaching is completely different.  The goal for organizational coaching is about the individual and what they learn through the process. “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” (John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance).  There is a lot to be learned from the sports analogy but in the workplace, coaching is about the relationship between me and the person I am coaching.  There are several things that are important from my side as the coach:

coaching-e13078629095151.  I must be fully engaged with the process and make sure that I am pushing my protege in such a way as to get them to be moving forward.  Too many times people wait until the other person brings them problems.  When I coach, I set up an agreement with the protege upfront and have defined things that s/he is working on.  This relationship is about challenging the other person to improve, to develop new skills or new capabilities.  The responsibility to figure out how to get them going sits with me.

2.  I must be an active listener and come prepared with the right questions to engage the protege.  Sometimes it is hard with all the distractions around, especially when 90% of my coaching is over the phone and on-line, but the other person deserves my undivided attention.  If I am not paying attention, then why am I doing this and who is it benefiting.  I make sure to block off sufficient time in my calendar to focus on the protege and the challenge.

3.  Coaching for me is also about providing guidance that the other person could not get on their own (or at least not easily). I am here to teach them to fish, not to fish for them.  My goal is to provide my protege with tools that they can use going forward that will enhance their abilities, help them make decisions and solve problems, so that over time, they can be self sustaining.

Do you Coach? Do you have a Coach?  If you could only give one piece of advice to your next protege, what would it be?

animationfinal

Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.

– Lorian

Email: thedigitalattitude@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorianL

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDigitalAttitude

 

5 Ways For A Job Obsessed Person To Relax During The Holidays

If you are like me, taking time off for vacation, especially at the holidays, is stressful.  I dread sitting hour after hour with family and friends while there is yet so much to be done. Turning my head off, shutting down work that needs to be done, putting aside things left on the desk, laying aside things in the hopper, or delaying plans that must be completed, is almost painful.  And truthfully, it is not just work things, how long can I go without checking my smartphone, iPad, computer, or the at-home project to-do list?

crazy-christmas

Over the years work has become more and more consuming and many of us suffer from a work-life imbalance. Do you feel lost if you are not being productive?  There is this creeping uneasiness that I get when that little voice inside me says, “you shouldn’t be sitting around when you have so much to do.”  This is actually a common problem for those of us in the project management profession. Psychologist’s say that for some people this discomfort around relaxing can even morph from boredom, to irritation, to alcohol abuse.  (Oh my!)  I also read that it isn’t that different than other addictions, like drugs, or gambling.  They call it Adrenaline Addiction: being addicted to stress, in this case, work stress.

Here are a few symptoms or signs that you may be obsessed with your work:

–Feelings of guilt when idle

–Obsessed over things that are left undone

–Strong compulsion to always be doing something

–Afraid something will go wrong if you don’t do it personally

I really do want to relax and enjoy my family and friends over the holidays, but now that I am actually facing a few days of downtime how do I turn off my head?

According to Dr. Tom Muha, a psychologist practicing in Annapolis, Maryland, the first step is to decide that you deserve to be happy.  Dr. Muha says that “if you really feel that you deserve to have a good life, then decide to make that the main gift you give to you and your family this year.”

The second step is to face the discomfort that plagues you when you’re not being productive.  You might have to fool yourself at first, but here are some things that can help:

1.  Get some exercise first thing in the morning.

2.  Plan your day around pleasurable activities.

3.  Engage in conversations chock-full of curiosity.

4.  Ask other people what would make their day terrific, and them do whatever you can to help make that happen.  (This works really well with kids.)

5.  Pay attention to what you’re seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling.  Be in the moment.

I am going to have to fight my inner curmudgeon and force myself to have a good time over these next few weeks, but who knows, I just might learn to relax after all.

Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons and a wonderful New Year.

housetrees

Thanks for reading The Digital Attitude.  See you in 2014.

 

animationfinal

Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.

– Lorian

Email: thedigitalattitude@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorianL

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDigitalAttitude

Free PDU’s @ International Project Management Day

I just got back from a great meeting with International Institute for Learning in New York City.  They are a global leader in training, coaching and customized course development.  On November 7, 2013 they will be holding a free full day event for INTERNATIONAL PROJECT MANAGEMENT DAY.

iil

Register for free  (how easy is that!!!!)

You can earn free PDU’s if you are a PMI PMP –  but more importantly, there is an impressive group of really good speakers and sessions.

animationfinalSee you there.

– Lorian

Email: thedigitalattitude@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorianL

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDigitalAttitude

6 Ways Not To Get Your Résumé Rejected

Clipart Illustration of a Group Of Businessmen In Colorful Shirts, Carrying Briefcases And Holding Their Resumes Up At A Job InterviewThe days are over when you can just type up your resume, fill it with wonderful words about the great things you did in the past, and expect that you will sail into an interview.  Today we have to do things differently to even get it through to a human.

I have learned a great deal about resumes lately, so I thought I would share some stuff with you and I hope you will share some back with me:

1.  Target the content of your resume sections toward the position you want.  I know that you have probably heard this a ton of times, but it is becoming increasing important, in a tight job market, to ensure that you highlight the skills and experience that are relevant to the position requirements, so that the reader does not have to go fishing for them.  You need to really pay attention to detail here and pull out the stuff that will help the reviewer understand that you have what they need.  If you are applying for a programming position, for instance, you might want to give more space to the experience you gained writing code three years ago on a small project than to your most recent assignment, which may not be totally relevant, like say you were a research assistant.  Give the relevant stuff more room.

2. Write your summary last.  Make sure that everything in your resume works in support of the theme that you are trying to get across (If you want to get a job as a Web Designer – all info should focus on things that support that field).  Then in the summary, pull out the things that are really going to capture people’s attention and make them want to read more.  Sometimes, the summary is all you will get – make it worth it!

3.  Value, value, value.  Employers want to know what you did for someone else to help assess what you are going to do for them.  So instead of saying something like, “developed quality review process for XYZ company,” you might want to let them know that you, “developed quality checklists and analytics in Excel and rolled out 10 offices in 4 months, improving defect tracking by 80%.”  Results, results, results.  Don’t have any?  Pull out your old performance appraisals (hopefully you have some good ones in there) and see what you used for measurements on the job.  You need to talk in numbers, percentage, something quantitative.

4.  Keywords are key.  Your resume (your LinkedIn profile and almost everything these days) is being searched for keywords. The game is how many matches your resume generates in relation to the job you applied for or want. So make sure to look at the job description and have exact words, even exact phrases, in your resume, that match what the company asked for.  If the job you are applying for wants a Project Management Professional (PMP) with 5 years experience,  then make sure that is in there.  This is not about making up details, this is about showing your background in the most ‘matching’ way that you can.  The more words that match, the more likely you will pass the initial screening, and that ultimately improves the possibility of getting an interview.  If you don’t match the requirements, save yourself the pain and don’t apply.

5.  Grammar and spelling counts.  It just takes one typographical error to have your resume thrown out.  If you are not going to pay attention to this critical document, what are you going to do when you work for me?  Spellcheck, proofread, give it to your friends, don’t send it out until you have made sure you have it perfect.  You really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

6.  Get rid of the irrelevant and the ridiculous. Are you still using your original AOL screen name for business contacts:  HotMammaJamma@AOL.com ?   I highly recommend you get yourself a professional handle and move onto a server that shows you are up with the current times.  Yourname@gmail.com might be a little bit more grown up, don’t you think?  And, what about your profile picture?  Are you showing your best side?  Do you know what a perspective employer is going to see on your Facebook ?  Make sure you know what you look like out there in cyberspace (and keep your private settings PRIVATE).

Oh, yes, and one more thing you don’t need: none business details.  Just hold them for the interview (maybe), but don’t waste space on the resume.

why-resumes-are-rejected

What tips have you learned about resumes in today’s world?

animationfinal

Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.

– Lorian

Email: thedigitalattitude@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorianL

(All the Social Butterfly’s views are her own)

OMG!! You Want Me to Open What?

Oh My Goodness!  Many Project Managers are cringing when I talk about their teams being more open and transparent and leveraging social technologies. Has everything we know about project communications changed?  I think I finally understand why they worry, but let me assure you, a good communications strategy is still a key to project success, you just need to tweak it a little.

Fear

I know that it may feel like trying to manage projects with transparent and open communications is the antithesis of everything that we were ever taught as project managers about communications.  Being open just feels risky (kind of like buying something off of Craig’s List and meeting the person in an abandon building).

The principles of social collaboration seem to challenge all the conventional ideas that we have as PMs for project communications. Traditional guidance on project communications tells us that one of it’s main principles, is identifying what information is to be shared, when it should be distributed, to whom, and how it should be prepared.  How do you control communications in the open?

Yes, social collaboration means that the team, and maybe even the client, might have access to the non-confidential information about the project that is being worked on.  But, there is a tremendous benefit to working project details out in the open.  This allows the team to participate, collaborate, and react in a just-in-time way.  As PMs we need to embrace the fast-moving business environment that we work in, harness the reality of the current technologies we deploy, and leverage the globalization of our project teams.

What Transparency Means

Our communications job as Project Leaders is to ensure the team and the stakeholders have current information (status) on what, where, and when.  Being transparent, in the project context, means having an open and honest dialogue on the current state of your project.  Many projects run behind and even fail, because teams don’t want to tell each other, or the customer, the truth about scope creep, schedule slippage, resource challenges.  But, that is the reality of the project and once the team can embrace being real, all the time, in real-time, magic happens.  Being transparent is not about getting positive or negative feedback on an item, it is about disseminating information quickly so that all players can digest it, discuss it,  and react to it.  Some examples of transparent communications are:
communications 2

  • Open planning sessions to discussion and gather new ideas
  • Show milestones so everyone knows where you are going and can comment on their parts
  • Open discussions about issues; ask the team to comment regardless of if they are part of that subteam or not (solutions come from many places)
  • Show schedule and dependencies and let others own their commitments instead of being bottle necked by the PMs weekly status round-up.
  • Open your status meetings and let the extended team comment. Status now becomes ubiquitous.  There is no longer a need for lengthy status reports because it is up-to-date all the time. (Gee, I love this as a PM because it sure makes my reporting easier.)

Business today is very agile and the old top-down communications models don’t always work anymore.  The new social technologies allow teams to provide a continuous loop of feedback and ideas at the speed never before possible.  This transparent feedback loop can help a project manager, or the executives of a company,  make quicker course corrections, which means better response time to customer requirements or industry changes.

Recently, I was moderating the webcast of a global panel on Social Project Management (with 4 speakers and over 700 participants) for IBM. With only 4 weeks to put it together, all the planning, scheduling details, resource needs, were coordinated through a Lotus Connections Community.  Everyone knew what was going on, what was needed, who needed what, when, and even, how we did after the event.  Though the panelists sat in different countries throughout the world, that caused no problems because everyone checked in and chimed it, at their convenience. Issues were handled immediately (like people dropping out, or equipment not arriving).  And, except for one conference call before the event (yes, I still hang on to some old school needs like making sure people are not robots – LOL), everything was discussed, resolved, and documented in our open space.  We had a 98% participation satisfaction rating.  I know this wasn’t a big project example, but I wanted to give you a flavor of how it works.

Just try it on a small subproject first.  Let me know how it goes.

animationfinal

Keep up the good attitude. See you next blog.

– Lorian

Email: thedigitalattitude@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorianlipton/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LorianL

Facebook: http://facebook.com/TheDigitalAttitude

(All the Social Butterfly’s views are her own)