Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sometimes personal advancement trumps team success

Punters are an essential part of an American football team. Their job is to kick the ball as far as possible down the field as one team is turning the ball over to the other team so that the opponents will have a long way to go when they attempt to score. When the ball drops back to earth, an opponent catches the ball and tries to run as far back with it as possible while members of the kicking team tries to tackle him.

In the best case, the punter will place the ball just before the goal line right when the members of his team arrives to tackle the returner. Other options the punter has is to kick the ball out of bounds as far down as possible or kick it into the end-zone where it will be returned to the 20 yard line for the opposing team's starting possession.

If the punter kicks the ball too far, and the tacklers are not there when the ball arrives, this happens:

An interesting article in the Times reported on a recent trend among kickers where they are out-kicking their team-mates on purpose. Why? Because when the end of the season approaches, they are judged simply on the statistics of their average kick length. They might be told, "Well, you are ranked 28th in the league so we're going to send you home."

Punters are as selfish as anyone else and react to this by keeping their average up regardless of what this does to their team.

Who is to blame for this? Not the punters; they are doing what they need to maintain their highly paid positions. The blame rests on the statisticians who are measuring the wrong number. Why not measure average distance their opponent starts from their own end zone rather than punt length?

How many times have we seen our team members pursue their own goals when they run counter to the goals of the project? We need to correct this by ensuring that they are measured in such a way that it benefits the project.

Change the talk track in their heads. Instead of: "I'll work on this project to gain experience that I can place on my resume so I can leave this job and get a better one."
How about, "I'm going to work on this project so that the project succeeds, the company makes more money, it expands and, with that growth, there is room for my own advancement."

Look for other ways to measure the results of their efforts and reward them within your project or by giving them great reviews within their function.

Oh, and this is the way a punt is supposed to work:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dear PM Advisor September 25, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

How do I get my company's Global IT department to work on divisional projects?

Underserved in Florida

Dear Underserved,

Can I suggest a liberal sprinkling of Captain Kirk figurines?

Seriously though, this decision is probably above your pay grade. Assigning resources to projects must be done by the management team who OWNS the Project Management process at your company. My guess is that there is little PM maturity within your company and departments are being allowed to practice bad behavior like hogging their own resources.

What your company needs is a steering committee made up of Director or VP level managers who commit to running projects within the company properly. This team will prioritize the company projects by business importance and then fully staff the top projects until all the resources are used up. At that point, the remaining projects are put on hold until new resources appear, either through hiring or finishing existing projects.

When resourcing projects, the steering committee must ensure that each department frees up enough resources to man all projects: functional, global and divisional projects. If a project does not have a needed resource, it needs to be placed on hold. If many projects are fully loaded except with IT resources, a tremendous pressure forms on the IT head to free up resources to get these projects accomplished.

Until this happy day comes around, what can you do? Like any other project obstacle you come across, you need to influence the decision-makers to get the IT resource you need to accomplish your needs. Find out who has the authority to make that decision and set about influencing him/her to give you a resource. Use your sponsor, show off the project benefits in a way that is personally relevant to the stakeholder, befriend him, whine, beg, do whatever it takes to get the person you need. Threaten to hire a consultant, actually do hire one. If this is your project's biggest problem, you need to resolve it.

Meanwhile, make sure that all status reports indicate what the lack of this resource is doing to your project's schedule and cost. Elevate this information as high as you can until the problem is resolved.

Good luck,

PM advisor

Send me your questions at

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Forty-fourth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Five days later, after slogging through  a steady rain that turned the roads to mud, the sky cleared and they saw the town of Caernarfon from the hills above. It seemed a prosperous settlement, lying next to a walled castle on the banks of two rivers: the Afon Seiont and the much larger Afon Menai. The town was about ten miles inland from the Irish Sea. In fields bearing many shades of green leading down to the river were more horses than they could count. Jac asked, “Are these horses for the knights at Caerleon?”
“I believe they are, son,” Gwilym replied. “Here dwell some of the leading horse breeders of the kingdom.”
They crossed the swollen river at the ford at the bottom of the hill. The horse snorted and protested at the water pulling it downstream but Fred steered the cart expertly over the rocks to the other side. It was almost supper time so they found a clean inn bearing the sign of a rearing stallion and lodged there for the night. After unloading the cart in the sleeping hall and drying off and stabling the horse, the famished family entered the main room to eat their meal. Every head in the room turned at their approach. The bright, clean room was packed with men holding mugs of beer but a large table and five stools were left open for them. The family sat down with contented sighs. The landlord approached with a pitcher of ale in one hand and five mugs in the other.
“The locals were kind enough to leave you a seat, sirs, since you are travelers. We’re all curious as to your business.” He poured out the ale.
“Thank you sir,” Gwilym replied. He stood, raised his mug to the room and said. “Thank you all for your courtesy. My name is Gwilym and this is Fred. We come to take charge of the tower being built here. Accompanying me are my three sons, Bleddyn, Llawen and Jac.”
The landlord left to get their dinners while the locals gathered around Gwilym and Fred.
“When do you start the tower?”
“Tomorrow,” replied Gwilym
“When does the king need it done?”
“By Beltane.”
“That’s impossible. We don’t even know what it is supposed to look like.”
“I have a royal charter that explains the details.” Gwilym showed this off to the newly impressed locals.
“That’s all in general terms. What exactly do you build?”
Gwilym pulled out his project plan from the tower at Airmyn. “First we must know what we need for this tower.”
“But that’s it, we don’t know what you need.”
“Tomorrow we’ll figure that out and write it all down in a document like this.” He showed them the Airmyn Requirements document.
Another man started arguing. “A tower takes more than just piling stones on top of each other. There is a lot of work that goes into it.”
“I agree. Look at all the work that went into my tower at Airmyn.” Gwilym showed them the scope document.
“See how complicated it is. How do you remember all the little things to must be done?”
Gwilym pulled out the Work Breakdown Structure for his last tower. “By all working together to create a drawing like this.”
The locals looked at this until one objected, “There’s too much to do. Everybody will be getting in each other’s way. Who does what?” The other locals cheered this objection.
Gwilym showed them the colored names next to each activity. “See these inscriptions. Each stands for a man on my team. They have each taken responsibility for some of the activities so they know who does what. Now, who among you is part of my team for this project?”
The locals all grumbled and shuffled back to their tables. In groups and pairs, they finished off their drinks and left the room until only the travelers remained. As the last pair left, Gwilym noticed Fred mimicking firing arrows at their backs. Bleddyn and his brothers were laughing at Fred’s antics.
“They had a lot of questions didn’t they? They seemed upset that I had the answers. Who were they? And what are you doing, Fred?”
“It were like tha were shootin’ down their questions wi’ poison arrows, Gwilym. Did you see their faces? They were used to people not knowin’ answers to their clever questions but you shot them all down wi’ what we burned in at Airmyn. Good thing tha kept t’papers wi’ tha.”
The landlord returned with a tray loaded with their dinners and seemed nonplussed at his almost empty room. “Sorry about driving off your customers, sir. I didn’t expect them to be upset at answering their questions.”
“Never mind, good sir. They are horse breeders. They think they know everything and always predict doom and gloom for anyone else. They hate to find someone with answers. They’ll be back tomorrow drinking harder than ever. If I could suggest a more…family friendly inn for your stay, I recommend the Weary Pilgrim further down the hill. It is closer to the tower site and is run by my sister. She can take care of the wee ones during the day.”
“Thank you sir. Can you tell me where I might find my workers on the morrow?”
“Siorys is the foreman of the crew. He is staying at the Weary Pilgrim. I reckon you’ll find him breaking his fast in Reece’s great room. That’s my sister’s name, Reece.”

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Auto death chart

A recent NY Times article contained this excellent graph with annotations that really explains how various things have affected road fatalities over time. While we've always known there is a trend of deaths per mile traveled decreasing over the years, by plotting deaths over miles traveled year by year, we see how things like muscle cars increase deaths and seat belts and air bags decrease them.

If you can't read it above, jump to the article and see the details. Fascinating!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Russell is a lousy leader on Survivor

Russell Swan makes his second appearance on Survivor this season and he's even more annoying than last time. He, along with two other previous leaders who had to leave previous seasons due to injury, joined a team of five new players.
His first statement was that he didn't want to assume a leadership position. He even told the cameraman that he hoped some other 'dummy' would take that role. Yet he immediately told everyone what to do, alienating the rest of the team.   
When it was time to make fire, always a big challenge, Malcolm stepped forward as someone who had done this before. He set up the process but Russell, always wanting to lead, did the grunt-work. Malcolm gave and Russell accepted credit for starting the fire, never sharing the credit where it belonged. Malcolm, very cleverly, allowed Russell to take the credit.
He put a even bigger target on his head when he told Zane he would vote out anyone looking for the hidden immunity idol even though Zane knew he had at least a clue to it.   When the first challenge came along, he once again took the leader role but refused to listen to his team. He chose which team members would take each role, to the point of ignoring the women who claimed not to be good at puzzles, putting them on that task because he wasn't good at puzzles.
A leader needs to listen to his people. You cannot take whatever role you want, you need to set up the team to win by placing everyone in the best role to win as a team. Determine your team member's strengths and weaknesses and plan your strategy accordingly. The other leaders did this with great success.
Unfortunately, Zane threw himself under the bus and the team voted him the first one out.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Leaders come from all personality types

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Bill Clinton with Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention
When I teach project management, the topic of personality styles invariably comes up. Whether you use Myers-Briggs, Disc, Belbin or any other typing, there are different personality styles. It is useful to know other people's styles so that you can modify your own style when you need to influence these leaders.

Another reason I teach styles is to point out that, while each style has its own pluses and minuses, no team would work if comprised of only one style. The best teams are comprised of a good mix.

I'm old fashioned so the personality typing I use comes from Hippocrates who divides the world into those whose temperaments are dominated by the excess of the four body fluids: Blood, Black Bile, Yellow Bile and Phlegm.

Schematic showing the 4 humors or body fluids. Schematic based on a picture from the book "The Seventy Great Inventions of the Ancient World by Brian M. Fagan"
This corresponds to Air, Earth, Fire and Water. As a consultant, I recognize a 2 X 2 matrix turned 45 degrees. If you spin the above diamond 45 degrees clockwise and label the y-axis Introversion-Extroversion and the x-axis People Oriented vs. Task Oriented, you get the core of any personality typing method. And it's enough to be able to type others without putting them through a long questionnaire. On another post I'll provide more details of this.

I usually finish out the presentation, after my students know enough about the personality types to recognize them, by asking if any one type is dominant in leaders. I use US presidents as an example. Are US presidents more likely to be Introverted or Extroverted, People or Task Oriented. The answer is typically 'No.' This was pointed out in a recent NY Times article comparing the styles of Bush, Clinton and Obama.

I'm going to use my own non-scientific method to type the last few presidents. Let me know if you agree.
Type                                                            Example Presidents
Extroverted/People Oriented (Blood)          W. Bush, Clinton, Reagan
Extroverted/Task Oriented (Yellow Bile)   Obama, Johnson
Introverted/Task Oriented (Black Bile)       H. Bush, Nixon
Introverted/People Oriented (Phlegm)         Carter, Ford

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dear PM Advisor September 17, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

At my company, when we plan projects, the end date gets carved in stone, but then management will pull resources from my project while still expecting me to meet the end date. What can I do?

Under-resourced in North Carolina

Dear Under-resourced,

Does management halve your budget, double your scope and jack up quality while they're at it?

Every project has constraints that define your success. The old 'Triple Constraint' I learned when I became a PMP has evolved to the present see-saw that shows the effect of changing constraints.

Here it is:

Notice that by increasing scope, quality or risk, you need to increase schedule, budget or resources for the project to succeed. Or you can decrease something else on the same side of the see-saw.

So when your management reduces resources you need to ask them how THEY plan to balance things. Will they add budget and replace the missing team members with contractors? Will they allow your schedule to slip as the remaining team members limp along best they can? Will they reduce scope or quality? Or will they accept the risk that this project fail? Sounds like they've been choosing the last option until this point.

In all seriousness, show them the balance and ask them the questions. Management owns the Project Management process and they need to make these tough decisions.

Good luck

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Do these projects generate jobs?

Peter Yates
The US government has had a simple program in place for many years which allows foreigners to obtain EB-5 visas if the applicant invests $1,000,000 in a business that generates 10 jobs over two years. ($500,000 if the business is in a high unemployment area) Not a bad policy and a source of many jobs, mostly from wealthy Chinese fleeing Hong Kong. No surprise this program started in 1990 right after Hong Kong's British lease ran out.

But recently, the hotel industry has figured out that it can finance new hotels cheaper by allowing foreigners looking for a visa to buy a share for returns of about 4%. This is less than what banks are charging and no major risk for the Chinese who are more motivated by the visa than the return. See more details in this
NY Times article.

Sounds like a win-win-win project right? The hotels get cheap financing, the Chinese get visas and the unemployment rate drops.

But I'm skeptical. It seems to me that the hotel industry is a zero-sum game. There are only so many jobs  in the hotel industry and the number depends on the amount of traveling people are doing, not the number of hotel rooms available. So while a new hotel will open in Seattle, providing a couple of hundred jobs, other nearby hotels must close or downsize, losing a similar number of jobs. The only additional temporary jobs are those generated while building the hotel.

So I think it's time to close this loophole and return the program to its intention: Adding to the total number of jobs in the United States.

What do you think?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dear PM Advisor September 10, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

What do you do when your project changes dramatically during execution and it becomes obvious that you need to change the objective?

Jim Lovell, 3/4 of the way to the moon

Dear Jim,

Haha! I was watching Apollo 13 Saturday night also. Lots of great Project Management stories in there. I'll have to do an analysis of this movie one day. But your question allows me to address one aspect of the case.

I use NASA when I describe the need for every project to have an official objective that everyone agrees to. I don't know the objective of Apollo 13 project but the objective of the Apollo program was: 'To achieve a manned lunar landing and safe return of the astronaut by the end of 1970 within a cost of $40 Billion.' From that program objective, I can only assume that a major part of the Apollo 13 project objective concerned landing on the moon and returning the astronauts safely.

When the explosion occured and the spacecraft started losing oxygen, the powers that be had to make a decision. What do we do with the project at this point? They had a two-part objective. But with that significant an oxygen loss, which could only be stopped by shutting down two fuel cells, they could only accomplish one of the two parts: Land on the moon or return the astronauts safely.

Who gets to make that decision?

Not the project manager, not the team. We're talking about the steering committee at this point. The same people who signed off on the project in the first place. The steering committee or whoever provided the budget for this project in the first place. I don't think that person showed up in the movie. The movie shows flight command making that decision.

I'm sure that the decision was ratified at the right level, we all knew that they had to get the crew back to earth. When it's an emergency, the Project Manager or the man on the spot, (that's you, Jim,) can also make the right decision but get approval as soon as the emergency is over.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Forty-third excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

King Arthur broke the silence. “Three more towers and we’ll let you work on something more to your tastes, all right?”
As Gwilym turned to meet the king’s gaze he caught a glimpse of Kay giving a slight shake of his head at the king.
“Have you a charter for the new tower, Sir Kay?”
“I’ll bring it to you in a moment. Why don’t you join your sons eating? These chairs over here will be unoccupied today.”
The family moved with Fred to the empty chairs and sat down. The boys were wolfing down a plate of sweetmeats which they had been given by the large servant. Llawen turned to the man and said, “Thank you very much, Beaumains.” This comment elicited raucous laughter from the surrounding knights.
Gwilym whispered to Fred. “If you want to work on the royal castle I think I can get you appointed to the work.”
“No Gwilym! I stay with tha. Tha are my teacher and my job is to pr…to learn from tha.”
Gwilym was about to ask what Fred was first going to say but the man looked up as a servant brought them steaming plates of food. As the men tucked into their food, King Arthur asked for an accounting of Tarrant. Gwilym told him all he knew.
“I knew not to trust that man when I first met him two years ago. My seneschal didn’t believe me and allowed him to steal from the kingdom.” Kay looked abashed. 
Launcelot spoke up. “This knight, Palomides sounds like an untrue knight. Did he indeed lance an unarmed knight standing on the ground? That is not at all chivalrous!”
“He did sir. And he threatened a girl in town, beheaded an old man and chased my children into the woods. I think he would have killed them if they had not escaped.”
King Arthur looked concerned. “What did you do to displease this knight? It is unusual for them to bother with yeomen.”
“His father killed my father to steal his treasure. I escaped with it and now Palomides wants to steal it from me.”
“Most unusual. What is this treasure?”
“It is a religious book that my father created. Palomides wants to put it to evil purposes.”
“I will speak to this knight and teach him British manners. Lance, can you bring him to me?”
“That would be my pleasure, my lord,” replied Launcelot. He kissed the queen’s hand, looked long into her eyes and took his leave from the room. 
Sir Kay arrived with the charter for the new tower. It was to be built at Caernarfon northwest of Caerleon to watch the Irish Sea. “It must be complete by Beltane so stay on top of the schedule. I know we are starting late but I believe you can catch up. You are building the tower on the grounds of the local king, Arthfael. He will provide you with the laborers. All the materials should be on site.”
At the name of Arthfael, Gwenevere looked up and met Gwilym’s eye. When Kay was finished showing Gwilym the charter, he looked back at the queen who raised her cup to him and wished him Godspeed. “Have you any advice for me on this quest, my queen?”
“Take care around Arthfael, Gwilym. His son is even more of a pig than his name Arthog would suggest. Perhaps it should be pronounced Art Hog instead.”
King Arthur looked both amused and curious. “Have you had dealings with this family, my love?”
“My father once considered a match for me there. They trade in horses also. The son is a swine.”
“I take fair warning from you, my lady. Thank you.”
At this point servants approached the king and queen with packages that they inspected. King Arthur stood and walked around to the family who stood at

Friday, September 7, 2012

People need to relate to their leader

After critiquing Obama's leadership style, let me show you what bothers me about Romney. Despite claims of having to eat off an ironing board when newly married, this governor's son hardly had a rags to riches childhood. He is accustomed to his perks and has a hard time appealing to voters that he is 'one of them.' Forbes claims he will be the richest president if he wins in November with assets worth $230 million.

Vacationing on a family compound on Lake Winnipesaukee seemed reminiscent of the Bush's vacations in Maine until we saw the boat:

And who makes a $10,000 bet on national television? Not a person like me where that represents a significant portion of my yearly income.

Then there are his awkward moves to try and connect with voters. While posing for a picture with a group of waitresses, he pretended one of them goosed him (grabbed his ass). Click on this link for the video.

Huffington Post put up a good video mash up of his more awkward moments:
A leader is someone who followers can look up to. It's OK to be rich. Kennedy followed up a litany of rags to riches stories from fellow Democrats to claim, I'm the one who didn't come up the hard way. But when a leader is so much better off than his followers, he'd better be very careful about how he tries to connect. Romney has made gaffe after gaffe in his attempts and I, for one, am not convinced that he gets me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Nobody wants a 'Perfect' leader

A little humility goes a long way in our leaders but it appears that Obama lacks this virtue. A great article in yesterday's NY Times shows his arrogance in cringe-inducing detail.

Some of his claims:
  1. He cooks “a really mean chili.”
  2. He has impressive musical pitch, he told an Iowa audience.
  3. He is “a surprisingly good pool player,” he informed an interviewer
  4. not to mention (though he does) a doodler of unusual skill
  5. All in all, he joked at a recent New York fund-raiser with several famous basketball players in attendance, “it is very rare that I come to an event where I’m like the fifth or sixth most interesting person.”
  6. His idea of birthday relaxation is competing in an Olympic-style athletic tournament with friends, keeping close score.
  7. “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Mr. Obama told Patrick Gaspard, his political director,
  8. In 2010, he began by announcing that he would perform “the best rendition ever” of “Green Eggs and Ham,” ripping into his Sam-I-Ams with unusual conviction. 
At  least he agrees with the rest of the world that he isn't the best president the US has ever had. Though he only goes as far down as # 4 in his book:
This superiority complex comes from a long way back and was evident when he played high school basketball:

What is it like for the children having such a competitive father?
“When you all have kids, it’s important to let them win,” he said with a smile. “Until they’re a year old. Then start winning.”

Wow! I must be a loser for still letting my kids win sometimes.
Mr. Dowd, the former Bush adviser, said he admired Mr. Obama, but added, “Nobody likes to be in the room with someone who thinks they’re the smartest person in the room.”

And nobody likes to follow someone who thinks he's the absolute everything. There is nothing wrong with self-confidence: it's a must for any successful leader but who needs someone who is constantly grading everyone's effort and with a different scale than he himself uses. That kind of leader sets himself up for people watching for him to fail...and loving it.

Oh, and before 'Em' and the rest of my liberal readers jerk their knees too hard, I'll be reviewing Romney's deficits on Friday.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Dear PM Advisor September 3, 2012

Dear PM Advisor,

How do I know when to do something versus delegate the activity to someone else? What is the best way to track those delegated tasks?

Overwhelmed in New York.

Dear Overwhelmed,

Care to guess the most frequent complaint of new Project Managers? "I have all this responsibility and no authority so I have to do everything myself since no-one listens to me when I try to delegate." I had the same problem myself when I first became a PM. All of a sudden I was put in charge of a project full of my peers but they wouldn't do what I asked so I ended up doing extra work to keep the project on track.

The problem is that Project Managers do not have the power to delegate. There is a big difference between a Functional Manager and a Project Manager. People report to the same Functional Manager for many years and he writes their review at the end of the year. Only a Functional Manager can delegate.

What a Project Manager can do is determine responsibility for an activity when planning the project with a full team. See this post for all the details but it comes down to the team members taking responsibility on an activity by activity basis for everything on the Work Breakdown Structure. As a team you break down the project into every activity required. Then you ask team members: 'Who is involved in the completion of this activity?' After you mark those volunteers on the responsibility matrix you ask the second question: 'Which of you will take responsibility for completing this task on schedule and budget?' One of the team members will take this responsibility. If the activity falls within your functional responsibility or you feel like doing it yourself, you will volunteer. Since the Responsibility Matrix is large and graphical, it quickly becomes clear to the whole team who is working hard on this project and who isn't. Volunteering becomes easier as the session goes on.

It takes some doing to get people into the mode of volunteering for work but two things work in your favor here:
  1. They have already been committed to this project by their functional managers (for a certain percentage of their time).
  2. They are normally responsible for this activity since it fits within their functional responsibilities.
New activities will appear during the execution of the project and these will also require a responsible person. Instead of returning to the Responsibility Matrix, you simply bring up the activity during a status meeting and ask the same two questions. 'Who will work on the task and who will take responsibility?'

Once you have gotten the team member's commitments to do this work, you need to keep this commitment visible. Post that Responsibility Matrix in a prime location. Ensure that the responsible person's name appears on that activity in the Gantt chart.

Your second question was about how you track those tasks. I answered that above with the Gantt chart but I'm guessing you wanted to know more. 'How do I get people to live up to those commitments?' By having team members commit to activities in front of their peers, your job is made a lot easier. Commitments made in front of others are more lasting. (That's why marriages, inductions to office etc. are made publicly.) These commitments are more lasting than those made one on one with the Project Manager. And infinitely better than commitments made by others on their behalf. So you need to change your method from delegation to personal commitments to personal commitments made publicly. Then, when an activity is about to start, remind the team member that they committed to completing that task and ask them to clear their desk and get that activity done when scheduled. People will respond to this.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chinese project to make lemonade from lemons

With millions of Chinese retiring poor and serious quality of life issues like littering, spitting in public and driving without helmets, the Chinese government has made an attempt to make lemonade out of these two lemons. According to a recent NY Times article, the government of Shaoyang has awarded the right to issue tickets to 1,000 of their retirees who get to keep 80% of the fines.

While there has been some success in this endeavor, some overzealous members of the neighborhood watch are taking things too far, ticketing one man for his car's nose protruding slightly over the line at a traffic light for instance.

Still, if it keeps people from being splashed by 'snot-rockets', I'm all for the vigilantes.