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.


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.


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.

Kids, Project Management & the Serenity Prayer



I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but I do believe in the Serenity Prayer. It’s something I have to remind myself of often as I interact with both my kids and my projects. It provides a level of grounding. What’s the point of getting frustrated if it’s outside my control?

The nature of my personality requires that I be hands on. I want to be involved. I want to help control the outcome. But the nature of many of my projects results in things outside my control. These projects are big and complex integration projects that involve technical resources both within my organization and often within the client; and business users. Often the decision to move forward with this implementation was handled by resources higher up the corporate food chain. This means there are questions, considerations and discovery that need to take place at the beginning. The inner workings of corporate culture and the organizational power hierarchy become evident here. It is usually at this time when a decision is made that is totally outside your control, but has major impact on the project. It may be a decision to user an external intermediary for some piece, or the implementation of a business process that impacts overall timelines.

My initial inclination is to get frustrated. It’s that overwhelming feeling of wondering how you are going to accomplish what you set out to do if you don’t control all the pieces. After a little while, I remind myself that I can’t worry about things outside of my control. These are things that I can’t change. So what can I do?

  • Accept the things I can not change – Most importantly, I can recognize and remind myself that there a components of the project that I do not control, and can not change. This allows me to keep my sanity during the project implementation.
  • Establish Trust – I can establish trust with whomever is involved in the project and do my best to work together towards the overall success of the project.
  • Communicate  – I can engage fully with the entire project team and make sure everyone knows the status. There is some trial and error that needs to happen to determine the appropriate level of communication.
  • Raise Concerns & Questions – I can monitor the project situation and raise concerns & questions to the appropriate team members.
  • Focus on what I can control – It’s my job to be looking at the entire picture. What can I contribute? What ideas or actions can I bring to the table to facilitate project implementation success?

This approach is one I need to do a better job of also applying to my children. In some ways it easier to apply this to a project and people you are professionally affiliated with rather than your kids. I think the principles are the same. Yes, your kids belong to you. However, they have their own personalities and natural characteristics which combine with their unique nurtured experiences that we need to consider. I need to keep reminding myself of this as I work to establish & maintain trust, openly communicate, raise concerns & questions and focus on what I can control while encouraging them to do the same.

Make sure you apply what your expertise to your own practice



I strongly believe in documentation. As a project manger, I feel that’s I am in the best position to properly capture the twists and turns along the project path. Given this, it makes the most sense for me to at least do the initial drafts of the documentation. There may be times where technical resources need to provide more details around how something is implemented, but for the most part I know enough to provide the starting point. This applies to both business documentation and ongoing production support documentation. I consider this core to what I do as a professional when I manage any project, at work or on volunteer initiatives. After quitting one job, I stayed on for another 3 months to hire my replacement and ensure the documentation was complete and up to date. Three years later, after some personnel turnover, I was asked to come back as a subject matter expert. I resurrected this documentation, refreshed it and used it as the basis for addressing the questions.

Despite all that, my biggest take away from last week’s DrupalCon was that my business needs process to scale. Yes, I know that it’s obvious. I do this all the time for my client work, ensuring that someone could take over my projects with relative ease. In those scenarios, someone taking over would find an archive of project artifacts previously provided to the customer, a site with the project details including other relevant reference sources. The outstanding work would be documented per the client request (i.e. task lists, service tickets, etc).

I have even started this for processes that are outside of my core competencies. If it was new, I needed to document the process for me and my partner so we could reference it, measure it and update it as required. It’s all the other stuff I haven’t documented. To continue the example of someone taking over my client work, while they have the tools, they won’t have the instruction guide. They won’t know how I go about a project. They won’t know how often I communicate with the client or in what form. There won’t be a guide for what to do the first day they step in.

It’s disturbing that the things that are most obvious to us are often the things we overlook the most. Regardless of how valuable we think we are, we have to plan for the unexpected. This could range from tragedy like sickness or death or joyful opportunities like extended holidays in locales with limited connectivity (yes, those places still exist). We limit ourselves when we only share our talents externally. We need to also apply our expertise to our broader roles and organizations. In my scenario, building these processes for how I do what I do will allow my company to grow. For yours, you are adding value not just to external customers, but also creating significant value for the organizations we engage with.

I hope after reading this you think about your core competencies and whether you are truly practicing what you preach.


Preparing for my First Drupalcon

I’m heading to my first Drupalcon in New Orleans next week. While I’m a very technical project manager who has worked on website implementation projects with content management systems or other integrations, I’ve never worked in or on a Drupal project. This is really my husband’s area of expertise.  Carson has been to several Drupalcons, but still spent quite a bit of time debating between the business and technical track. You can read his blog post on it if you’re interested in his thoughts. I struggled a bit with my own planning so I am hoping a blog post on it would help organize my own thoughts.

I attended Drupal GovCon last year where I participated in mostly the business sessions. I wrote about that experience too. Going into this Drupalcon, I have many of the same goals that I had last summer: learn more about Drupal and make some good contacts in the Drupal community. As I was looking through the different sessions, I did not want to hyper-focus on any one particular track as I have personal & professional interests in business, project management, women in drupal and the learning more about the technical side of Drupal. I’m not sure this aligns to the typical attendee. This made my initial pass through the different sessions a bit frustrating. I walked away thinking that there wasn’t a lot of sessions that interested me and concerned that I would be wasting my time. I was a bit more successful the second time around, and by that time the Birds of Feather “BOF” (adhoc sessions) were available.

Monday was easy! Carson participated in the business summit at last year’s Drupalcon and got a lot out of it. This year I’m participating in it, while he attends the government summit.  This is a great opportunity to learn from other Drupal agencies. Businesses in the Drupal community tend to really open up their books and processes and experiences in a way that other businesses don’t. I attribute that to the core principles of giving back if you participate in the open source community.

On Tuesday, I’m mixing up technical sessions with business ones. After my first Dries keynote, I start off my day with a session on understanding data structures and am definitely going to the session on how to get more involved in the open source community. Beyond that, I’m still bouncing between critical metrics for your business and teaching drupal to kids; case study on leveraging drupal to deliver business results beyond clicks, conversions & revenue and building a remote drupal shop. I’m also going to the BOF for small business owners to share ideas. Then we’ll head over to the Women in Drupal event we’re sponsoring.

Wednesday is focused on the business side of things. I’m hoping the writing great case studies for will allow me to pick up some skills for writing great case studies for anyone. Then I’ll be learning about selling the value of new drupal 8 technical features, and finding my purpose as a drupal agency. There is only one time slot where I have not decided yet. Is it the session on Drupal community as an example of diversity in tech or implementing performance metrics and dashboards for your digital agency or productive collaboration of sales and project management as a means to drive customer satisfaction? Before we head off for more socializing, I’ll participate in the account management to customer success evolution BOF.

Thursday is the last day of sessions. I’m going to learn about successful drupal integrations then focus on growing talent & margins within your organization.

I am excited to participate and think I came up with a good schedule. Lucky for me, I’m not locked into any one of these and can easily bounce between sessions as the floor plan  & timing permits.


Wisdom learned from the NOVA Ice Dogs Tier 2 U-16 Girls Team

My 17 year old daughter competed at USA Hockey Tier 2 Nationals last weekend. This was the culmination of many years of hard work for the girls and the coaches. This was the third year that her team declared “national bound”, meaning they would compete for for the right to represent the Southeast division at the National competition. Going into this tournament, our team was ranked 31st in the country, and were scheduled to play the 1st and 2nd ranked teams. Needless to say there was quite a bit of excitement and nerves surrounding the competition. I think we all have a lot to learn about handling ourselves based on this experience.

Rank doesn’t mean much

As I mentioned, the Northern VA (NOVA) Ice Dogs were ranked 31st in the country going into the tournament. Throughout the entire season, the team has been playing teams up and down the east coast. These girls definitely played up, or down, to the level of their competition. We saw them be extremely competitive to teams in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New Jersey but then lose to teams they should have beaten locally. This tournament was no different. The girls lost their first game to the 2nd ranked team 0-6, won their second game  and then lost to the 1st ranked team by only 2 points (0-2). Going into this last game, the girls were nervous. It was an evening game so they had all day to dwell on it, but played their hearts out. They had several scoring chances and played solid defense. The girls left that game knowing they deserved to be at Nationals.

I think we’ve all had experiences where we weren’t the first choice. We may know this to be true, or worse, just be worrying that it’s the truth. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter where you ranked in the process, you got it. You earned it. Stop dwelling and move on to get the job done.

Keep your head held high

The team worked very hard to get to Nationals, playing more than 60 games in regular season. This is highly unusual for National bound teams, as they tend to be more select tournament-only players, playing on other teams during regular season. Our girls did it. They made it to Nationals, but lost. The girls walked out of the locker room after their last game with their heads held high. As they should!

We all have had experiences where we’ve done everything we can but it doesn’t work out. That’s really ok. Walk away from that experience with your head held high, knowing there was nothing more for you to do.

Tenacity & Determination

During the regular season playoffs, and then again during the Southeast division playoffs, the NOVA Ice Dogs had multiple games where the opposing team took the lead about half way through. In each of these games the NOVA Ice Dogs came back to win. They could have walked away, demoralized and out of the game. They didn’t. They fought back and succeeded.

The obvious moral to the story is to regroup and refocus when things aren’t going your way.



The Curse of Your Procrastination

There are an abundance of articles on procrastination – ways to avoid it, reasons why it exists, etc. I wasn’t able to find many resources on how procrastination negatively impacts other people. When it comes to procrastination, It’s really not all about you! Your procrastination is impacting everyone you work and/or interact with.Procrastination Chart

As a project manager, this comes up quite a bit. The project manager diligently breaks down the work, assigns the baseline schedule and owns overall responsibility of making sure the work gets done. We rely on the project team to fulfill their responsibilities and ensure the work gets completed. If a single project team member procrastinates on any single task, it will have a trickle down effect on all other tasks that need to be completed. Procrastination by definition is the avoidance of doing tasks that need to be done. This does not include the scenarios where work goes more slowly as a result of a problem or new information. This is truly the work that a resource puts off because he/she just doesn’t want to do it.

While project managers know that this is a common enough occurrence, I think it’s human nature to assume your procrastination isn’t hurting anyone other than yourself. But in reality, it will impact anyone directly linked to you. A couple of days ago I got into an argument with my daughter for this exact topic. Her high school requires that each student fulfill 15 hours of community service during the course of the school year. While 15 hours over 10 months doesn’t seem that cumbersome, my daughter plays ice hockey September-March. She is on the ice 6 days a week and has to fit homework and other responsibilities on top of that.

Now that we are winding down hockey season, I asked her to conduct some research and  identify opportunities she could do over spring break. She promptly told me she “had it covered’ and would fulfill the hours, but when I pushed her for more details, she had nothing to offer. She assumed that I was pushing her because I didn’t trust her. That really had nothing to do with it. In prior years, we had to scramble to get everything done in time, rushing around in the last minute. Given my other projects and responsibilities, I need her to plan more effectively. I got quite frustrated with her as there is no real effort to do the research (the school provides a list of pre-approved organizations and activities). In this case, her procrastination doesn’t just have the potential for disrupting her grade, it will most likely disrupt my schedule as we have to cram 15 hours over the next month (and she doesn’t drive yet).

As you push off until later the thing you need to do today, please consider the impact you will have on those around to you.