Sunday, December 5, 2010

One of the top 5 PM's of all time: Santa Claus

It is time to start a new, more serious, and much-needed debate. Who are the top five non-religious mythical project managers ever? My first pick? Santa Claus.

I mean really, how many of you can say that if you missed your project deadline by one day, you would disappoint 6.89 billion children? That is quite a bit of pressure! Not only that, missing the deadline likely would stop his existence! As some of the great texts will tell us (by texts, I mean movies and TV) children must continue to believe in Santa Claus for him to continue to have the magic. I teach in my seminars to ask the question, "Can I ask the significance of the date?" when a mandated date is posed. Santa can answer, "My very existence will be diminished and I will crush the hearts of billions of children." I think that constitutes an acceptable reason to mandate a date.

So every December 26th, Santa and his team of elves hold a lessons learned session to begin the planning for the next project and literal "go-live" date of December 25th. I wonder if the elves are looking at Scrum and Agile methodologies for toy making?

There have been some interesting situations that Santa and the elves have discussed during lessons learned of the past. Like the one time in 1947 that Santa had to go to court to prove that not only did he work at Macy's, but that in fact he was the real Santa. The Commonwealth of New York agreed.

Contingency plans have been put in place now for weather thanks to the discovery of the infamous birth defect in one of the reindeers in 1939. There was also the time in 1966 where Santa helped Batman out of a jam all while keeping regular status report meetings with his team back at the North Pole. In more recent times, Santa Claus had to work out a wrestling dilemma for the World Wrestling Federation in 2006. The man is just everywhere!

However, the secret documents that were smuggled out and made into the movies "The Santa Clause" have given us the greatest insight into the risk mitigation strategies. First, if the actual Santa gets hurt or is in an accident and can't continue his duties, then someone else just puts on the suit and the risk has been mitigated. Of course, we find out that the lucky person who enters into the clause must also obtain a wife by next Christmas. That nearly caused the demise of the 2002 Christmas project.

Think about the scope creep that Santa has to deal with as well. First about 1.4 billion new children are born every year. That is quite a few new names and toys to have to estimate. Also, there is the checking of good versus bad that has to be worked out. I can tell you by experience that some kids can make a comeback! New technologies are being developed every day as well and it is harder and harder to keep the attention of our youth. What used to be wooded toys are now Wii's and Xbox's. Things move, make noise, and even appear to think nowadays. The cost of upgrading the workshop every year alone is staggering.

The teams change, the circumstances change, toys change, and yet year after year, the project date is made. There are over 800 appearances of Santa in the documented tales of his exploits and issue resolution practices in the ancient texts (again movies and TV!). Each and every time, Santa and his team find a way to deliver the project on time. For that, he is one of my top 5 mythical project managers of all time. Let the debate rage on for the other 4 slots! Who do you think and why?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Why does the team need to see the schedule?

As part of my continuing series of addressing questions posed in my webinar, the next question to address asks:

"Do you have any suggestions for how to help your team of resources (who are untrained in PM concepts) understand what they are seeing in the schedule?"

I get this question quite a bit. In my opinion, I choose to not send the schedule to my team. I think I just heard the collective gasp. Before I get into what I do, let's discuss why I don't. When I am challenged on this thought in my speeches, I always ask, "What do you think happens when you send the full project plan?" Some of you out there may think that as soon as the resource gets the plan, they open it, print it, find their name and tasks, and study it to make sure they are ready to go. Although there are a few team members out there that might do this, the norm is to not even open the file. Most resources simply wait for the status meeting or for the e-mail to come to tell them to get started on their tasks.

So does it make sense to train all of the team members on how to read a project schedule? Also, what type of schedule? Several project managers write linearly based project schedules, meaning that their schedules go from Task 1 to Task 2 in the order in which they are to be performed. These schedules are against project theory as well. True project schedules should be written from WBS's and network diagrams. If this is the case, then many of the schedules are even more difficult to read because the tasks are grouped by deliverable and may increase the complexity of the predecessors.  So what do I suggest? To-do lists.

I send each team member a report of their tasks. It is a simple report that shows the task name, start date, finish date, their estimate, and the actual hours that have been reported. It is sorted by start date and I show all of their tasks for the project. This tells them what they are really interested in, what do I need to do and when do I need to have it done?

Some people object asking, "What about the predecessors? Don't the resources need to see what needs to complete before they can get started?" My general answer is no. Most of the time, the predecessors came from the resource during the WBS/Network Diagramming session anyway. They already know what needs to complete before they can get started.
This approach has been very successful for me. It is simple, effective, and keeps team members focused on what they are supposed to do. I have also written Visual Basic code that automates the creation of Excel spreadsheets as task lists from Project. Another approach is to use the Reports->Assignments->To-Do List report that comes standard with Microsoft Project.

Whatever the format, just make sure that what the team member receives isn't information overload. This will allow you to communicate more effectively with each team member. It also allows you to manage risk and risk dates more efficiently by not revealing all of the dates to all of the resources. This isn't a shady practice or something you are trying to hide. It is simply your information to manage.

At least that is my opinion, please feel free to share yours.

Until next time,


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Stroke the Ego of Your Stakeholders!

In the continuing series of answering questions asked after my presentations of Stop Playing Games! here is the next question I received:

"When you stated that Project Managers don't publish negative facts about the project for fear of backlash from their stakeholders, you mentioned that you should stroke their do you do that?"

That is a great question and  a technique that is not utilized often enough, in my opinion.  Project managers are often naysayers or are viewed as the ones who are very negative.  I think part of it is how we were taught.  We were taught to own the project.  Success and is the project manager's to own.  I think we should own the leadership, but there is a fundamental flaw in this belief.  It is not our scope, it is not our budget, most likely it is not our what exactly do we own?  Where did it become the norm that the project manager owns the outcome of a decision that they did not make?

Rolling with this theory, if we don't own it...then all we can do is facilitate it.  PM's must remember to ask for what they need and push the decision back to where it belongs.....the stakeholder or sponsor.  This is where we stroke the ego.  Make sure that you ask them...not tell them.....what they would like to do.  It goes something like this:

Mr. or Ms. Sponsor, we have an opportunity on this project, but I really need your help.  In order to secure the date that you have asked for, we would need to get an additional three resources.  However, we could move some scope around as well.  Not sure what the best answer is and I could really use your advice.

This pushed the decision back to the sponsor, but also shows that you respect them and their opinion.

So the technique is to truly value their opinion and bring them into the decision making process.  I have seen so many projects fail due to unrealistic demands where the date, budget, score, or how unrealistic the demands are discussed with the sponsors or stakeholders.  In my experience, if you get the data that you need, come up with options not problems, and present them in a respectful manner, you will be more successful.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Hoping you too can find your life's passion,


Sunday, November 7, 2010 it really bad?

The great debate for project padding an estimate bad?  In my new book, I say that padding is one of the worst things that you can do because it proves that you do not believe your own estimates!

As part of a new series of blog posts, I will be responding to questions that have been sent me in response to the book Stop Playing Games!  The first question that I received was, "Padding is for known and unknown risks and events in the future.  Why do you say padding is bad?"

Padding is actually not for known and unknown risks.  It is actually a blanket percentage that a project manager will put on top of their estimates just to cover them from blowing their budget.  It generally isn't scientific or have any thought pattern behind it other than lumping a generic percentage on top.  This practice has been around for ages.  We have conditioned our executives by doing this practice.  They have learned that they can cut 10-20% of the budget without consequence.  They are aware of the padding and are accustomed to chopping off a generic percentage.  Thus, the game is played.  Can you out add a generic percentage that your sponsor will cut?

This generally all occurs without too much conversation as well.  This game is played and is played in silence.  To combat this, there should be an honest conversation.  The project manager should be honest in their estimates and use risk and risk information to plan for a true contingency.  This is not padding, but a practice known as contingency planning.  Once the contingency is planned and the reasons for it are documented, present that to the sponsor.  When they try to remove a generic percentage, challenge them with the planned contingency and explain why it is there.

Having an honest conversation and talking about risk versus padding can lead to a true budget fostered in trust between the sponsor and project manager.  That is a fantastic place to start!

For now,


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Graduation Photo

As I mentioned in my last post, I have just graduated from PMI's Leadership Institute Masters Class.  Here is the official photo from graduation.  What a great group of people!

Within my class, we had several people from outside the United States including Chile, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Pakistan, and Nigeria.  I have been forever changed by this group of people.  It makes me reflect on the entire experience yet again.

Many people have asked me about the class and what it is all about.  Essentially, PMI picks 25 volunteer leaders from around the world to go through leadership training.  Although each class is a bit modified from the last, we went through the SDI (Strength Deployment Inventory), a 360 degree review, and also received some top notch personal coaching.  We also discussed several books and leadership methodologies.  Throughout the experience, you gain tremendous insight into you.  The class in the beginning is a selfish adventure, and for once it should be!  As you begin to share the insights that you have learned, you begin to learn about the classmates around you.  PMI makes this investment in the class with the hope that the 25 graduates then go out and motivate other great leaders to get or stay involved in PMI.

We met three times in person and several times over the phone.  We first met in Orlando, FL.  At the end of the first meeting, we were no longer strangers, but we had yet to become family.  It wasn't until the second class in Scottsdale, AZ that I realized how much these people had gotten to me!  I believe Jorge said, "It was like a Christmas party"  The hugs, handshakes, and genuine fellowship the class had made the whole Scottsdale class amazing.  The third class was in Washington, D.C. where we wrapped up.

After this picture was taken was a weird feeling for me.  At this point, it was over.  Class dismissed.  All of the other times, the next meeting was planned out and we knew where we would see each other again.  Once graduation was done, there were no more appointments.  No more scheduled meetings.  Just....done.  I guess I am still processing that feeling.

We are now part of a distinct group of LIMC Alumni.  We join the last 10 years of classes (roughly 300-400 people) and begin to build relationships with them.  I just wish I knew, if ever, this group would ever be together again.

This picture goes on my wall in the office.  It will remind me of the experience, the class, the investment PMI made in us, and of course my family.

Cheers to the LIMC 2010 Class 2.  Forever in my heart!

May you find your life's passion,


Thursday, October 14, 2010


I am just now recovering from an incredible 10 days at PMI Global World. There is only one word that comes to mind when I sum up the experience: passion.

Passion for the profession, passion for leadership, passion in interactions, passionate conversations, just plain passion. I like to say that I have a passion for the profession that is contagious. However, the passion that I felt from all of you out there was overwhelming.

This week was a culmination of many things. I had the pleasure of graduating from PMI's Leadership Institute Masters Class. I met 25 people from around the world and shared a year long journey with them that was truly life changing. We entered the class as 25 individuals, we left as a family. I was blessed to be one of the co-presenters at our graduation. The class had written down some of their reflections of the experience and I had the chance to share that with attendees of the Leadership Institute Meeting. I can't tell you how many times I fought back tears during that speech. Their comments and just being around them ignited one true feeling: passion.

After graduation, I attended the Leadership Institute which is a gathering of volunteer leaders from all over the world to discuss PMI, it's growth, our challenges, and grow in camaraderie. I heard fantastic presentations including phenomenal speakers such as Rachel Paulson and Troy Hazard to name just a couple. The amount of times I speak at events I am always a critic, but I was blown away by their messages and talent. Their delivery had one key element: passion.

As the Leadership Institute meeting ended, it was nearing the official release of Stop Playing Games. There were so many coincidences occurring on that day. My number in college was 11, the date of the release was October 11, and I was speaking in room 11, on Columbus Day which I reference in the speech and the book. It was a fantastic experience. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting many of the folks behind RMC Project Management: Rita Mulcahy's company. I was struck by their closeness as they embarked on the first major event since Rita's passing. Only one word could describe how they did their jobs: passion.

I thought that so many things would be ending this week. Another Global World is in the books, another book has been launched, and the Masters Class is complete. I took some time to reflect on the experiences. My passion for this profession has grown. My passion for the people, projects, companies, and leaders has grown. My passion to continue the path that I am on and see where this life takes me has grown.

There were several people that I had a chance to meet and others that we had a chance to develop or continue our friendships. To each of you, thank you. There are others that I had a chance to share deeper conversations and passionate commitments to do more, to each of you.......let's make sure we follow through!

For all of you reading this post, take a moment to reflect on the word passion. I personally believe it is the key to a fulfilling career and life. If you don't feel that in your heart, then it is time to find out what you really want. What is it that you are looking for? In fact, it is the new challenge. Find your life's passion. For me, I can honestly say that it is here. Being with you, sharing these experiences, and living life to the fullest. Thank you to all who contribute to this profession and those of you that went out of your way these past 10 days to help grow the passion in my heart.

May you find your life's passion,


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Book Releases October 11!

The official launch of "Stop Playing Games" is here!

I was blown away and humbled when I went to the RMC Booth tonight at the PMI Global World Congress in Washington DC.  Here are some pictures:

There had been talk of some marketing pushes from RMC, but I did not expect to have an entire corner of their booth dedicated to the launch.  The team at RMC have been incredible to work with.  Now it is up to you!  Please help support the launch of the book by either stopping by tomorrow and picking it up at the official launch, or you can go to the Project Management Bookstore to purchase your copy!

For those of you that are attending the speech at 11:15 tomorrow morning in DC, I can't wait to share this material with you.  We will be posting pictures of the launch and event tomorrow as soon as we can.  Lets have some fun!