The sun will come out…tomorrow

rainbow

I’m writing today’s post primarily for my own audience. It’s to remind me that tomorrow will always be brighter if you so decide. Yesterday, I had a bad case of the Mondays. The sky was gray, it was dreary and damp and my first couple of meetings didn’t start out on the best footing. Unfortunately, neither the weather nor my schedule cooperated with a brisk walk to get some fresh air to clear my head. I even tried to take a couple of deep breaths to reset but that too didn’t work either.

As I was lying in bed running through all the loose ends, I kept reminding myself that tomorrow will be better. And like this blog and my other endeavors, I needed to really clear the case of the mondays out of my head to focus on a more positive outcome tomorrow. My simple reminder was that tomorrow had to be better than today, and whatever energy I took in to the next day so was going to set the stage for it. I could continue to foster the negative energy or open myself up to the what the universe has to offer with a hope for a better tomorrow. While it didn’t help me with my insomnia, it did settle me enough that I did have several thoughts and ideas about how to solve some of my imminent challenges.

I woke today to blue, sunny skies and a lovely breeze. I was able to get a nice walk in to clear my head (at least of negative thoughts – the allergens were strong). I was able to sit outside while working for a while, and even put some forethought into dinner. These are all small moments of joy that I reminded myself to appreciate today. I’m sure there are some of you who need to heard this lesson today so thought I’d share it.

Musings from a home dweller

I read this Harvard Business Review article “Why WFH Isn’t Necessarily Good for Women” a while ago and I was struck a little bit by my own experiences working from home for the last 10 years. About 5 years ago, I interviewed with someone who told me that project managers couldn’t be effective in their jobs without being present in the office everyday. Needless to say, I wasn’t the right fit for that job, and my interviewer now runs a fully remote company. The pandemic has definitely pushed companies past their comfort zone, being forced to embrace a fully remote environment at a minimum, a fully engaged and remote culture as the ideal.

I attribute some of my success working from home to a fundamental understanding that you are at a disadvantage and need to ensure you really communicate, even over-communicate to some extent. As a manager, this means that I leave my lines of communication open and meet my team members where-ever they need to be. As an employee and project manager, this means I am constantly sharing information and establishing a baseline for my communication, so that when I need to escalate or talk through something, I get treated with the urgency I need.

My current team is primarily compiled with the majority located in one geographic area, a smaller group in another and multiple team members, including myself remote to either location. The primary location was the base of operations for our key customers, with an open door policy that encouraged them to stop by. There were definitely missed conversations and opportunities, that remote team members needed to overcome. But there were also some downsides to the office community, we have identified since work from home has been implemented.

  1. The sense of community provided quite a bit of distraction – In anonymous surveys of team members, and analysis of the numbers, all accounts show that the entire team is more productive. They feel more productive and the numbers show dramatic increases in productivity since the start of the pandemic. Even the most extroverted have taken note and are refocusing their energy to impact their goals, and driving growth for the team.
  2. Boundaries are key– Everyone’s family and home situation is unique, and it’s imperative that each person set boundaries, and the rest of the team abides them. Further, it’s imperative that you communicate these rules to your stakeholders as well. We all need the flexibility to work through a shared workspace, or kids in remote school, or loved ones who got sick miles away. Having an open door policy to discuss each person’s needs allows them to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable, but allows you to provide individual support.
  3. Don’t assume, ask – We did a few anonymous surveys of the team to figure out where we were succeeding and where we needed to improve. We also had did skip level 1:1 meetings across the entire team. This allowed team members to be heard, and for us to continue to figure out how best to support.

There are still some downsides that we need to navigate: including a sense of loneliness, a shift towards too much work in the work/life equation, and figuring out how to retain those connections with customers and our team members as we bring new ones on, or as we navigate how to open the office and balance everyone’s new found enjoyment in working remote with needing to have some presence in the office as a haven for our customers.

Realizing I’ve become a consultant

A couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany about the role I was playing with the customers I support. For much of my time, I work on large implementation projects, but I spend a lot of the rest of the time working with customers in the role of Customer Success Manager (CSM). The goal of Customer success is help customers derive the most value out of the product, and ultimately helping them meet their business goals. As a Customer Success Manager, this can mean many things. I engage with both corporate and specific business teams, guiding them on the solution and helping them with their individual goals.

It was while I was having one of these weekly discussions that I realized my role had shifted. I was no longer just a project manager or CSM. I was contributing to their business strategy in a consultant role. A consultant is defined as “a person who provides expert advice professionally.” In this particular case, I was leveraging years of experience working with this particular product, in this particular industry. I wasn’t having a tactical conversation about next steps, or how to use the system. I wasn’t discussing the next corporate initiatives. I was sharing my business expertise to help them to determine how they could improve their overall success over the lifetime of this project, ultimately increasing their sales. I was providing value versus just assisting them in getting value out of our products.

In retrospect it seemed like such a silly moment for me. I came into my role with no prior experience in the industry or even directly the technology. My first 3 projects were highly technical and highly industry specific. I jumped in and asked many questions along the way. Almost seven years later, I’ve completed quite a few implementations and special projects, working with about a dozen large customers in the industry. I’m no longer feeling my way, along with my customer. It’s in under these circumstances, that I stand back and put my consultant hat on.

http://www.memegen.com

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.