Being more zen in your project management approach

For the last year and half, I’ve been doing yoga as my primary form of exercise. Before that, I had been attending a once a week intensive yoga class for about a year. I set a goal for myself to go at least twice during the work week, and then on weekends, I attend my regular Saturday and Sunday classes. Various classes are run throughout the day, with the earliest starting at 6am. I don’t go to those very often. My rule of thumb is that I will go if I am already up (i.e. after early morning airport drop-offs), or if I wake up naturally in time and it is still early enough to go after I try to go back to sleep.

This morning, I woke up, couldn’t go back to sleep so motivated myself to go to morning yoga. Maybe it was the early morning or the post workout coffee, but I started thinking about how yoga principles carryover to project management. And I’m not the only one. If the topic interests you, you can also read posts by Alison Sigmon, Workfront, Julie Miller,  and Katy Martucci.

  • Find your base – During most yoga practices, you spend the first few minutes centering yourself and setting your intention. Additionally, many yoga practices require an engagement of your core and grounding in focusing on your breath. In project management, you base is your foundation/methodology. It is the thing that helps you set the projection of the project, and you revisit as the project progresses.
  • `Everybody can fly – This picture was taken at a 4 hour acro-yoga workshop during the time when I was only attending 1 yoga class a week. Our instructor, Ginny Loving, is holding the base of my super woman, but it is my core strength and balance allowing me to fly. Similar principles apply in project management. With a strong foundation, anyone can manage a project. The more you strengthen the core, the longer you can hold the pose, the easier it will be to get in and out of it. Each project you run provides that experience you need to manage the next one. The more projects you manage, the larger initiatives you can undertake, and the easier it will be to navigate the ebs and flows of the project.
  • The devil is in the details – There are lots of different types of yoga. It’s important to consider the positions, chanting, intensity, heat, etc before you will find the one you enjoy (and this may change day to day). There are many different nuances to managing projects. You need to consider project goals, stakeholders & team management, risks, issues, self-imposed and external timelines, etc (and these too may change day to day).

This is just a fun, little example of how project management is truly related to most things. Where have you made connections between your hobbies and your job?

If you find project management boring, you might be doing something wrong!

 I saw a recent survey that concluded that project managers are the most bored at work second only to legal professionals. I had a similar conversation with my cousin a couple years ago. And similarly, I had another person tell me they found data analysis boring. On one hand, to each their own. Just because I enjoy something doesn’t mean others do as well. However, as I dug into each of these conversations, I realized there was a big difference between the work they were describing and the work that I perform under these same descriptors.

What is it that makes my kind of project management fun?

  • I get to solve real business problems – As an implementation project manager, I get to make sure that the solution implemented meets the business goal, and delivers customer value. I am the facilitator of change in the organization. Yes, there are some tedious tasks that may come with this, like daily status calls, project status documents, task management. But these are small components, compared to the larger component of bridging the gap between the stakeholders, and ensuring the business users get their needs met.
  • Big picture, small details – I get to do both. On one hand, it is my job to understand the big picture of my customer, of my company and then figuring out how to align all the small details to meet everyone’s goals. I am an advocate for the customer, and a feedback collector for my company. To deliver customer value, you really do need to be operating at both levels.
  • I get to be the playmaker – Related to the first bullet, I get to drive us to the end goal. I have to figure out the different puzzle pieces, and figure out how to organize them, in order to create the beautiful picture at the end. Since this is a work in progress from the moment the contract is signed, some times I have draw and cut out the puzzles pieces on my own; other times I’m given a couple of boxes of mismatched pieces and told to sort it all out.

To me, project management is only as boring as you allow it to be. I thrive on figuring out the challenges.

When change doesn’t go your way

There are always opportunities for improvement…”harder, better, faster, stronger.” That said, everything you try isn’t going to work out. Cliche, I know but still true. I had an experience outside the corporate environment recently that is having me to reflect on what went wrong, what i would change (or not) and how to recover quickly.

change-all-thingsI have been leading an external effort with a big goal. My team is composed of many volunteers all working towards the same goal. As part of this initiative, we just completed a multi-faceted online/offline marketing initiative. There was a solid group of volunteers working on these initiatives and they really did a good job. Logistically, we pulled off a larger initiative that in previous years. Unfortunately, despite the hard work of the volunteers, the outcomes were not what was expected or hoped for. As I was getting real-time updates during the execution phase, I started to realize that we might not see the results we had projected. We reacted quickly and made adjustments to the execution plan. Even so, the results were underwhelming.

What now? While I was saddened by the results, all I can do, and all I can encourage my project team to do is learn from the experience and move on. Here’s how I’ll approach this post mortem:

Remember that people put effort and emotion into executing change. It’s very important to remember not to point blame. This should be treated as a learning opportunity for everyone. 

  • Determination of too much or too little – This is the evaluation of the prep & execution plans to determine whether you did too much or not enough.
  • Support – Did you get the support you needed across the organization? Did everyone buy in? Did everyone do their part? Where did the breakdown occur? How could more support have been provided.
  • Eliminate technical issues as a cause – This involves checking each and every one of technical component (software, hardware, etc) that could have had issues. To the best of our knowledge, are they in working order now? were they in working order at the time of execution? “Working order” encompasses both the physical “did it work” and “did it perform its function?”
  • External factors – Were there external factors that could have impacted your plan? Common ones might be weather, mergers and acquisitions, politics, etc. Some times these do just get in the way. The goal is to identify the ones that impacted you this time, and review those risks the next time
  • Get up again – Ok, so this plan didn’t work out. It has no bearing on the next plan, or even the continuation of the current plan. We take what we’ve learned and apply it to the next round.

The success or failure of a project isn’t solely in the hands of the project team members. The entire project team, including the direct and indirect stakeholders have responsibility to provide the support needed. Further, it is the broader stakeholders that need to help pick the team back up and give them the leeway they need to make improvements the next time around.

 

 

 

What makes DrupalCon different?

DrupalCon BaltimoreOver the course of my career, I’ve been to a few conferences. Most were technical and most were related to the legal industry as that is where I spent the majority of my career so far. The last two years, I attended DrupalCon. Drupal is an open source platform for managing content and delivering websites. My business partner and husband Carson has been involved with Drupal for the last 6 or 7 years. Previously, I would travel to whatever city was hosting DrupalCon and would site-see while Carson participated in the sessions. Usually I would meet up with him at night for some of the social fun.

Last year, we decided there would be value in me attending the conference to participate in the business summit, learn a bit about Drupal and maybe pick up a few project management tips. I did all of that and more. You can read about that experience here. But, what made me go back?

When you run a small business, it’s really hard to take time away at conferences. Often, you still need to facilitate project work since you don’t have the luxury of a bigger team to pick up that work. Additionally, no work, no revenue. With all those considerations, we still both attended DrupalCon North America in Baltimore, MD. Why’d we do it?

  1. Proximity to DC and Opportunity to network with government contacts – While Baltimore isn’t our first choice for where I want to spend a week, it’s close enough that we didn’t really need to work for it. We drove up Sunday night and returned on Thursday evening. We also figured that the location would draw more government attendees. Since we live and work in the DC metropolitan are, we thought it would be a good networking opportunity.
  2. Global community – DrupalCon North America had more than 3,200 attendees from all over the world – Europe, Australia, India, South America.
  3. Willingness to tackle hard subjects – The Drupal community has been undergoing some serious scrutiny and challenging times as it relates to people’s choices and the perception & reality of that as it relates to an open source community. Many volunteers spent numerous hours coordinating community discussions, leading sessions and BOFs (birds of a feather) on diversity & inclusion and how to be an ally. The annual Women in Drupal event was the best one yet. We were glad to be sponsoring it again this year.
  4. The un-conference components – I can think of several parts of the conference that reduce the formality of the conference. Let’s start with the annual pre-note. This is fun, engaging sketch comedy formatted event that precedes the official keynote. It is usually comprised of drupal-themed songs, colorful costumes and a cast of characters. Then there are the BOFs, or birds of a feather sessions, are participate driven areas of interest to gather like (or unlike) minds to discuss. We can also include the unofficial “official” hallway track. I had numerous conversations with people this year about how they come less for the technical training and more about the community. Everywhere you looked you could see hugs, reunions and of course, the making of new friends. This year, one sponsor distributed flowers for the purpose of using it to thank someone who helped you. It was a little reminiscent of 8th grade or high school valentine’s day, but the sentiment was nice.
  5. Openness – Drupalcon always reminds me of the openness of the community. From the most basic example of vendors not being particularly elitist about who attends their large, very expensive parties to the level of details organizations are willing to share about how they run their companies and how they make decisions.

Thanks again to all the Drupalcon Baltimore volunteers and association organizers for putting on an amazing event.

Do you want to be Joan of Arc or Martin Luther?

I participated in a panel discussion on Wed. March 8th for International Women’s Day. The panelist were challenged to talk about their bold moments in our careers and life. As I was thinking about this and deciding what I was going to say, I talked to my husband and dad. I’ve had quite a few moments where I made a decision and took action on something others might consider bold, where I saw them as a necessity to stay true to myself. Was I going to talk about leaving St. Croix at 17 to pursue college and my life in Washington, DC away from family and friends? Or the time I quit my “good” job working for a big, public company in 2011 without another job lined up? Or do I talk about the next time I quit my job to run a consulting company with my husband? I determined leaving St. Croix wasn’t bold, it was necessary. While I see the other two events as necessary as well, I also didn’t think it was too appropriate to talk about as the only person on the panel who didn’t work at the company hosting the event.joan-of-arc

In talking to my husband, he reminded me of some advice my father gave me when I was struggling to find my place years earlier. My dad told me “you can be Joan of Arc or you can be Martin Luther. Are you going to very publicly and loudly air your grievances, potentially going down in flames; or are you going to quietly nail your list of grievances to the door and live to see another day.”

martin-luther As we identify challenges in our work places or in society, we need to determine how we pursue “justice.” Each situation is different and you’ll need to make that decision each time. You need to weigh the risks and the rewards. For me, personally and professionally, the risks were always minimized by what I knew about myself. I will land on my two feet.

When I left St. Croix for college to a city relatively unseen with no family, I was encouraged by the fact that I had family in Philly, NJ, NY, all just a few hours away. I opted for a small, Catholic college in a city I loved minimizing the importance of the diversity of island life and the small thing that I wasn’t Catholic. I figured if I didn’t like it, I could transfer somewhere else. And that’s just what I did.

When I was struggling to find my place in that job in 2011, I took a hybrid approach to lay out the list of issues, and bring solutions to the table. Ultimately, I ended up quitting anyway as my sense of urgency didn’t align to the organization. As my husband says, I was the worst quitter ever, delivering volumes of documentation and hiring my replacement. The organization ended up delivering on their word, heavily investing in resolving the issues. I was told at the time that I needed to stay and work it out, learning to navigate corporate america if I was ever going to be successful. They brought me back as a consultant a couple years later.

And that time I quit my job again, to run a business with my husband? Three years later, business is good and no bridges were burnt. We’ve managed to grow and thrive, and still do work for our previous employers.

Life is made up of choices. As we are reminded to #BeBoldforChange, make sure to figure out who you are and what choices you plan to make.

Not at the top of my game this week

I was not at the top of my game this week. I don’t really know why. Yes, it was has been a busy week, but that’s usually not an issue. I’m working on a few different projects, all in different phases, and different level of engagement. That made for some comedic moments, but again, I don’t think that was the reason for overwhelming sense of chaos.
chaos And unfortunately, I did demonstrate my sense of chaos very publicly amongst my peers. Thankfully, it wasn’t so much evident to the customer teams I worked with, but it was clear to the internal teams I engage with.

On Wednesday, I expressed an extreme sense of frustration being adamant and forceful about pursuing an open issue that I felt was being brushed under the rug and told “that’s not an issue.” I was sure I was right. I compiled the “facts” and sent an email trying to communicate the necessary details so we could get it resolved. I coordinated a meeting about the issue on Friday, the earliest time I could get the right people on the call.

In the meantime, I did other work. On Friday, i get online and start checking different things. And on 3 different issues, I was told it was resolved but when I checked it I wasn’t seeing the resolution. The call comes around and we get on it and it was clear that I was a bit crazy. One of the attendees was able to explain what I was seeing, and clearly demonstrate that it wasn’t an issue for the customer. Not just on the issue from Wednesday, but also my other issues. At that point, I said was done and clearly needed to take the rest of the day off. I did go ahead and send an email to some of the team members thanking them for their patience and apologizing for wasting their time.

Ultimately, I probably wasn’t wrong for pursuing a customer issue that wasn’t getting the proper attention. But I wasn’t as respectful as I should have been in my behavior towards my fellow team members. I can say tomorrow starts another week, and it will be better. I can’t dwell on the mistake I made yesterday.

Find your “green flash” in each of your projects

A green flash occurs when the conditions are right as the sun rises or sets. Growing up on St. Croix with many weekends spent at the beach at the west end of the island, I’ve seen a few of them. As I sit down to get some work done on this damp, dark, dreary, rainy day Monday I think about this one to two second flash of brilliance on the horizon. Sometimes it is just what you need to refocus your attention on the task or project at hand.

Green flash – www.sandcastleonthebeach.com

So, what then is the equivalent of a green flash moment on a project. It’s that thought, idea or component that drives you forward. It could be the group of people you are working with; or the ability to use a specific skill; or learn something new. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but rather that it motivates you. And this is a more personal endeavor than just being on time, or on budget, or meeting a specific stakeholder KPI. This can and probably should be different across different projects.

Just like a lighthouse beacon, every decision or action you take should be with this point in mind. This means that you need to consciously think through your actions to make sure they align to this particular project goal. While I don’t necessarily think it’s necessary to share your personal green flash moment, but I do think that you need to visualize yourself succeeding in the way you defined. Your mental conversation should be how you get to the end, not questioning whether you can get there.

 

What are processes without people to follow them?

The … process is only as great as the people who participate in it. – Jeff Miller

Congressman Jeff Miller is attributed to saying this quote in reference to the democratic process, but I think it applies to most process. A process without people following doesn’t go very far.

If you know me, or have navigated my site at all, you know I love to read. Fiction, non-fiction..books, articles, blogs, pretty much anything I can get my hands on. This also means I look for and want documentation and process. I want to see my starting point, and then figure out where I need to go. This also means that I strive to leave the same for others. I am not afraid to leave behind my knowledge or information for others to benefit.

Too often though it is becoming more common to want to be fed information, rather than seek it. When did we lose our natural curiosity? And further, why are we so quick to stop after the first roadblock? Even more frustrating to me are those that should know where to find the information they are looking for, but still don’t follow through.

Don’t get me wrong, this inclination has yielded plenty of new opportunities for me. Because I know these resources exist, I can leverage them and very quickly expand my knowledge, making me more effective. I guess I will keep doing what I do, and try to leave my knowledge on for the next person. I can hope that someone will take advantage of it.

 

 

 

Project Manage with Intention

Some-people-want-it-to-happen-some-wish-it-would-happen-others-make-it-happen

Sue Sotter – https://www.pinterest.com/susoutter/inspiration-to-be-intentional/

In doing my research for today’s blog, I read two separate articles that referenced “accidental project managers” as anyone who leads projects that hasn’t undergone formal project management certification. I’m a bit taken aback by this. While I don’t hold any project management certifications, I have done extensive studying of project management methodologies and am quite successful as a project manager. This isn’t by accident, but rather by intention.

I’m not going to argue the validity or value of having project management certifications, but I will argue that someone taking on the role of project manager isn’t accidental. “Accidental” means that it’s unintentional, unexpected and happens by chance. Is that really the case? Does our corporate leadership randomly pick an employee to lead a project?  Or rather, does the employee demonstrate some set of qualities or interest that results in project leadership? While the timing and recognition may happen at unexpected times; or the size or scope of the project may be larger or smaller than intended (by the management, or the person who solicited the additional responsibility), deliberate steps were taken to initiate this shift.

And my story? I transitioned from an operations role to a technical role when I became pregnant with my first daughter. At the time, it was thought that I would have more flexibility in a technology than in business operations. After a year or two as a database administrator reporting to misogynous boss, I handed in my resignation. I was asked to reconsider with the offer of a project management role. I understood both the business and technology; and had been at the organization long enough to understand how to get stuff done. I developed subsequent leadership (project & team) skills while getting my MBA and managing teams of technical and analytic resources (software developers, project managers, billing specialists, etc.) Every decision made along the way in my career, and when I manage projects are done with thought and intention.

While I don’t think the two articles were using the term “accidental project manager” as an insult, they were definitely on the side of promoting their products. They were trying to target the people who fill project management roles without having received any project management certifications. Maybe it would be better marketing to focus on being “new to project management” or “running your first projects.”

I on the other hand will continue to manage projects, building on my experience and constant reading, researching & self-learning. Practical application and incorporating lessons learned from post mortems supplement my experience and allow me to improve for each project.

 

 

Make room to be messy!

I attended the SmartBrief STEM Pathways event on Thursday, October 20th. The format at the event was speakers, followed by smaller group discussions on STEM versus STEAM, student motivation, teacher retention & pathways. As we were recapping the event and having final questions & answer, I was thinking about how far we have come in education & business from early childhood learning. Learning new things is inherently messy. Learning to ride a bike often involves falling, as does climbing trees, or the monkey bars. Cooking or baking involves making messes and even making things that don’t taste good. Even earlier activities like attempting to put shapes in the correct shaped holes, or stacking blocks result in “stuck” toys or toppling towers. But learning in our classrooms as children, or our work environment as adults are expected to be orderly. We are expected to sit quietly, raise our hands & follow the established systems.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelysanders/epic-pinterest-food-fails-2013?utm_term=.tu4o91nxW#.ylaPX3aY2

baking-fail

Are we doing ourselves and the next generation a disadvantage by limiting the time we have to get messy? Conversations in education reform are heavily focused around “STEM education”, but what does that really mean? If you consider STEM as a mindset, and our path to critical thinking and active curiosity, then it is more about giving our teachers the resources they need to target every kid, leveraging whatever it is that helps them engage in the process. Our focus on standardized testing and grades dampers the desire to try new things. The fear of any sort of failing, or movement away from the orderly, causes a discomfort. At the end of last year, my younger daughter was recommended fro Algebra 1 for her 8th grade math class. She also set herself a goal of making the all A honor roll all 4 quarters. Unfortunately, this was cause for a bit of a meltdown this week as her current math grade was a C, and she had a math test, and the end of the semester is approaching. She was putting so much pressure on herself for this next test, because she wanted to meet her goal. She was neglecting the fact that she was taking an advanced class, that was bound to be harder but she would not have been referred into the class, had her former teacher (and her parents) not believed she could do it.

In the same vane, there a quite a few conversations going on in organizational behavior about the fear of failure. The recent news about Wells Fargo and falsified accounts being created by sales people as a result of the unrealistic, intense goals set out by the organization is just another manifestation of the same stories behind Enron, wall street banks, etc. We have put such constraints around our employees and ourselves, that we lose that desire to challenge and be messy. We reinforce that sense of order initiated when we are told we need to start coloring inside the line, or it’s too old for you to still play with dolls.

There is a role for organization & cleanliness, but I encourage you all to make room for some messiness. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the form of learning to cook something new, or taking on a new hobby or pushing the limits professionally. Give yourself that leeway, and make sure you give that same leeway to your employees.