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.

 

Don’t Apologize…

for being anyone other than yourself!!!! I’ve participated in multiple conversations over the last week that reminded me of this.

Apologies-dot-mean-anything-if-you-keep-doing-what-youre-sorry-forOn Sunday, I got to represent STEM for HER at the She’s the First American University Chapter “Day of the Girl Summit” on their Women in STEM panel. During the event, one of the other speakers shared their experience with convincing themselves to speak up in meetings and make sure their voice was heard. Another panelist identified the problem as one of keeping women in STEM, rather than focus on it as a pipeline problem. Throughout my career, I’ve made it a point of always speak up. Even at my shyest I felt it was important to have my voice heard. This might not have always won me any favors, but it’s part of my principles. I pride myself on my honesty and loyalty. This means that the people I work with and for can trust me to tell them the truth as I see it. If I’m granted respect and trust in return, I can be very loyal. This same comfortableness has guided my decisions to find my own way when I wasn’t getting what I needed from different jobs.

A second conversation occurred with a former employee of mine. He is still at the company where I left him, and is doing quite well as a technical operations manager. He was expressing his thoughts and considerations about bailing out of technology to do something manual like build fences. When he asked how things were going and whether I enjoyed what I’m doing, I talked about consulting being a place where I fit in well. People hire me because they know me and know what I will accomplish. This gives me the forum and format for sharing my expertise, giving my opinions and getting the job done.

I don’t apologize for who I am. Years ago my brother said that “I needed to learn to play office politics and get along with people.” The implication was that if I didn’t do those things, I would be un-hireable. It took me many years, but in some ways he was right. If playing office politics and getting along with people means that I’m trying to withhold my opinions or manipulate the situation to get what I need, then I’d rather not participate. I want to work with places and people who encourage and support me for what I bring to the table…my honesty, loyalty and ability to get the job done.

Each of us needs to look critically at ourselves and figure out who we want to be and what we need to be successful. Once you’ve determined that, it’s a lot easier to figure out if your current situation fulfills you. If not, it’s your responsibility to fix what’s broken or find something else.

 

Developing Technical Confidence

When asked what I do, I usually say that I’m a very technical project manager. There have been times over my career where I was underestimated because I was “just the project manager.” More often, my technical knowledge allows me to excel as I have the skill to step in as the “cardboard batman” to developers as they work through issues, or assist with data validation or even do some of the heavy lifting around requirements analysis before having to involve the technical team. And while I don’t consider myself a developer, I have demonstrated that I can learn and adapt and assist in a variety of languages or frameworks.

My older daughter, Cayla, recently started to look at colleges and decided she wanted to major in computer science. Both last summer and this summer she has had internships with us, focused on making her more aware of technology and how business works. Last summer, her project was data analytics oriented, where she had to learn the R programming language in order to see if she could predict who would win the 2016 Stanley Cup. She had to find the data, develop the methodology and execute her program. This summer, she is focused on learning CSS, HTML5 and Javascript. To her, these are just something she’s done. “It’s not a big deal, and nobody is going to care.”

We’ve tried to convince Cayla that these are just building blocks of things she’ll do in the future. That it is less to do with the languages she is learning, and more about building the foundation of computer science, and technical confidence she needs to be able to learn the languages of tomorrow, or 5 years from now when she is graduating from college.

Unfortunately, this attitude and behavior is more common than it should be. There have been several studies that show men apply for jobs based on potential while women lean towards applying for jobs based on what they have actually done. This is absolutely counter to how quickly skills, technologies and organizations change. We need to change the mindset on how we think about our own skills, so we are better suited for developments as change happens. I’m not in any way suggesting you lie, but I am suggesting you think about what you have done and learned, and figure out if that will give you the potential to take on the next technical challenge, programming language, or framework.

 

 

Do your project managers focus on process or delivery?

I’ve struggled in the past with using the term “project manager” to describe what I do. It almost immediately triggers the question of whether I am PMP certified, and focuses less on my experience delivering projects. Additionally, I think there are quite a few employment roles today that include some project management responsibility. Doing basic project management tasks like scheduling meetings, doing status reports and checking the schedule does not automatically mean that you are able to deliver a project to its completion.

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Rudy Gottschalk wrote a two-part series on shifting from “project management” to “delivery management.” He challenged all of us to look for a different approach, shifting the focus from project artifacts to project delivery.

“Too often project managers follow the rigors of a project management structure, but seem to have no sense of urgency in delivery or at times feel helpless to take control of the project delivery schedule.  They dutifully note progress, document issues and risks, and send minutes with the next meeting invitation. Since these activities fulfill the checklist of project management deliverables required by the organization, they usually give the illusion of progress, although little progress is actually occurring.”

I see this all too often in organizations. One manifestation is very large organizations, where a Project Manager from the PMO (project management office) AND a IT PM (AKA business analyst or delivery manager) get assigned to a project. In this scenario, both resources are expected to coordinate meetings, document decisions and communicate to stakeholders. The real distinction comes in their focus. The project manager tends to focus on following best practices and making sure every box is checked. Often, they are super cautious and tend to be more worried about creating the timelines, rather than the fluidity of project delivery. The delivery manager is primarily responsible for moving the project forward – removing obstacles, managing work assignments and facilitating ownership, driving towards a finish line. By not looking towards the endpoint, you sometimes end up in situations where there are incomplete lists of activities identified for project completion, incorrect timelines or lack of ownership and accountability.

Another manifestation of this problem can be seen in those roles with project management responsibilities. Often times, the immediacy of support tickets, status calls, status reports and the mechanics of the project “workflow” take precedence over delivering towards the end goal. Unfortunately, this can result in delays in getting to the value proposition. Ultimately, it also minimizes the importance of the critical analysis and seeing the overall picture.

If it is not obvious, I strong believe that project managers or those with any project management responsibilities need to be focused on delivery. This means focus on whatever the end result is, be it business value or a specific ROI. Without that target, it is easy to get lost in the logistics and workflow of managing a project, while not actually driving it towards a completion.

Are you paid to think?

For most of my career, I’ve been in positions where I got paid to think. It was my job to solve really interesting, and often, really hard problems. If things ever got to a point of monotony, I knew it was time to move on. I have applied this same philosophy to those that work for me. If you worked for me, I wanted to pay you to think. I wanted you to observe and learn and challenge and grow. If there was ever a point where you outgrew the role, I wanted to send you off knowing you had a great experience and learned a lot.

I was recently in contact with a guy, Andy, who worked for me about 7 years ago. At the time, he was just out of college and I was hiring him for a billing analyst role. The responsibilities included: engaging with customers to solve their billing problems; invoice generation & delivery; generation of monthly reporting and data entry for new or updated customer information. We leveraged a combination of web applications, a home-grown visual basic application and Access, along with standard email queue software. After teaching Andy the basics of how the system worked and the overall processes required to do the job, he had full oversight of the process. I was their for escalation and final review/quality assurance.

I remember that Andy asked questions constantly. As I recall, most of the questions were basic questions or ones that he could have figured out if he had spent 5 minutes doing a bit a digging. Apparently, out of frustration one day, I told him “I’m paying you think.” I hadn’t remembered this conversation specifically, but I’m sure I said it. Andy on the other hand, remembers this conversation vividly. As he tells it “That one sentence changed my everything.” Nobody had ever challenged him. When things got hard, he would ask someone instead of thinking about it himself.

Unfortunately, I hear this same story from my friends and see it in my kids. If you want to know something today, you google it. But what happens if the exact results aren’t on the first page? Most people don’t go to the next one. They probably change their search criteria. Often what you are really looking for is the thing that is a couple of layers in, that you only got to by following the breadcrumbs from one result to a reference in another.

I’d like to challenge each of us to make sure we are challenging those around us to think, and are being challenged to think. It is only when we are all paid to think will we solve the really hard problems. We have to stop allowing those around us to use us as a crutch.