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Small Victories July 22, 2013

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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So often, especially with social media posts flying like mosquitoes around a barbecue, we read the same platitudes over and over, having long since taken any real meaning from them.  Sometimes, however, someone will recast even tired sayings with a different perspective – and in the process provide a way to create real actions out of them.

In today’s Monday Morning Memo, Alan Weiss sums up in just a few words what many consultants’ clients often have the most difficulty with.

“If you never fail, you become comfortable with increasingly minor victories.”

I can’t count how many times I have advised clients that they need to just take that first step.  Develop a log of actions for the week, start breaking long-term, unmanageable tasks into smaller bite-size chunks.  And it works…for a while.  Alan’s advice warns that the small satisfactions obtained from crossing off to-do lists is only good as we progress forward a few steps – it is not a path to long-term growth.

Another aspect of my consulting work is continuous improvement.  Once an organization has mastered a particular method, it’s time to look ahead to how it can be improved.  This may mean, by the way, that it be eliminated in favor of a new method.  Need to have a meeting established to implement a new program?  Fine.  But don’t forget to terminate it when the project is done.  Don’t even let it “evolve” into a meeting that covers some other topic.  Make conscious decisions to maintain those tools that continue to add value.  Be especially critical of meetings, but really, anything goes.  Forms, procedures, job descriptions – everything will eventually change to accommodate new technologies, skills, competitors, and regulations.

Those small victories are indeed critical to building positive habits and motivating an organization going through a difficult change process.  But small victories eventually will only provide the illusion of progress through activity rather than bona fide results.  Crossing off to-do lists is an important step, but always challenge yourself and your organization to take on ever bigger goals.  Continuous improvement comes at a price: not being 100% perfect.  Accept that some ‘failures’ will occur and that your learning of a new process is as important as getting it right the first time.

It Can Always Be Better May 18, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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As any artist knows, the job is never really finished.  It can always use a little tweak here, a different word there, a different color, another nub of clay.  The joke could be funnier, the song more in tune.

So it is with almost any project.

The plan can always use another step, another detail, a finer division of time and effort.  The scope could always be just a bit bigger to cover that one final eventuality.  And surely, for just a few dollars more we could make the product just so and really push it over the top.

As you might guess, this approach to project management will lead to what is commonly called “scope creep” (not to be confused with the project manager himself). In the engineering world, it can take the form of “analysis paralysis” as decisions are postponed until “we have all the information”.

But what about a more insidious effect, born of our need for order and solutions to everyday problems – such as “where did I leave my keys”?

When your organization or industry is changing, there can be many overwhelming activities occurring all at once.  In addition, most of us lack the ability to filter out all of them, as they actively occupy our attention.  Why?  When faced with the threat of change, our brains are wired to pay special attention.  It’s as if we are walking down a forest trail, minding our own business when suddenly


Your brain ignores the trees, the sky, and all the other things around that pose no threat.  You focus on the changed conditions and the immediate threat to your survival.  As crazy as it sounds, this happens in everyday life as well.

It is mentally taxing to worry about all the little things that can inevitably could stand some improvement.  And our brains are wired to reduce risk whenever possible.

The challenge then is to literally train yourself to focus on only the most critical items that demand your attention.  There are many small annoyances that aren’t important to the organization’s success.  They may be small inefficiencies, some extra paperwork, or a procedure that no one follows properly.  They may even be costing the organization real money.  It’s quite tempting to address them because they are easy and can provide a short-term reward because you “solved the problem”.

But if you manage a large staff, a capital-intensive operation, or a complex project, these shouldn’t even be on your radar screen.  They are distractions – and dangerous ones at that.  They lull you into a false sense of security and postpone the inevitable when the big issues finally become critical, unavoidable, and expensive.

A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
Albert Einstein

Parenting for Business April 16, 2012

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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I’ve often noted that the experiences and preparation that build our abilities come from unexpected places.  So it is with almost any kind of consulting work, in which one must serve in many roles at once – from a coach, to a business partner, to a “doctor” of the ills that affect many organizations.  Not to mention being open to learning something yourself along the way.

In many respects, being a parent can prepare you to fill these various roles – and sometimes it works the other way as well.  Spacefem’s post expresses some of that commonality, and I completely agree that parenting, like the work environment, is all about persuasion, compromise, and personal balance.

We try hard to choose our battles wisely, to focus only on the few things that matter the most.  For many years, like the Miranda act for project managers, I’ve said that, “If you are unable or unwilling to choose a battle, one will be provided for you.”  As a parent, this is almost a daily occurrence.  As a manager, it is an important reminder that not only must one ruthlessly focus and prioritize, but must quickly be able to switch horses when the next problem comes along.

A Little Housekeeping November 17, 2011

Posted by Jason in Management.
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My guest posts over at How to Manage a Camel have new URLs.  Rather than fix all the old tags, here are the updated links:

Two Laws You Must Know – Time and Revenue

How Much Is Too Much? – Break three rules every day

The Flip Side – Accepting Delegation

Who Put You in Charge? – Sell the Project Management skill

Follow Through – It’s not enough to just direct the work

Break In The Chain – Communication, not command

Read It Again – Thoughts on books

FAA as PM June 13, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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The FAA has recently been working on a plan to consolidate many of its meteorologists into two locations in Maryland and Kansas City.  This may seem somewhat benign to non-pilots, but represents a significant potential for safety degradation.  The National Air Traffic Controllers Association has called the plan “foolish” and “reckless”.

As a pilot myself, I look at the plan a few different ways.  (more…)