Monthly Archives: April 2012

All the (Right) Little Things

As you progress in your profession as a project manager or otherwise you are going to continue to be concerned with the details. Quickly overwhelmed, you will look to prioritize, delegate and focus. Each and every one of these details can be critical to your project, so a great start is finding the right team who will share your detailed focus. Leaving which details for yourself, specifically?

A good project manager can prioritize with the best of ‘em. Leaving the inconsequential details to chance and picking their battles strategically. A good project manager can assemble a team of skilled, detail oriented team members and communicate clearly to them what is and is not critical, following up on the details as necessary.

A great project manager and a great leader can not only complete all of the above, but has the intuitive (or learned) ability to focus their precious time on the right little things. What those things are will be unique to each PM and each project, but here is a guide summarized from experiences I have recently had with great leaders who knew where to focus on the right little things.

–          Everyone’s “stuff” is really important… to them: I know that you are super busy. And super important. Guess what, everybody feels the same way. If you show a genuine interest and some empathy for your team members’ “stuff” it will go farther than 10 meetings and action items. What may seem small to you is huge to them because it’s theirs. If you care, it means the world.

–          Keep the Box clear but large: Make sure your team members have crystal clear definitions of where they must end up and by when, but don’t constrain them as to how they must get there. They will appreciate the autonomy and just may impress you in the process!

–          All it takes is ONE: One gesture, one comment, one bad day, one really genuine email. Good or bad, your actions as a PM and a leader are impactful. Recognize and respect this gift given by your team members through your every word and action. Your choices will be remembered for a long time to come and this is where the greatest opportunity for a PM / Leader lies

Don’t get caught up in the (wrong) little things. Your time is valuable. Before you get sidetracked by the technical details or scope, schedule, or budget, take a deep breath and examine your priorities. It takes much less effort than you think if you are doing it right.

Think about the most impactful yet simple act that a PM / Leader you have been involved with has made which buzzed in your mind for the rest of the day…good or bad… and share it with us (and how it shaped the rest of that day for you!).


Mark Estee – Gets It

This week I had the true pleasure of listening to Mark Estee, Owner and Executive Chef at Campo – a great new restaurant in Reno. Beneath it all; the passion, the charisma, the skill, and the compassion, Mark clearly “Gets It”. Speaking from a business standpoint, this guy is going places. I hope that I can finish my MBA with half the true knowledge that Mark conveyed to our class this week.

I know, I couldn’t be less precise, nor do I intend to clarify much. I may not be the greatest judge of character ever, but I feel like I know a bit of it when I see it. I’m telling you. This guy’s got it!

As I mentioned above, there are many intangibles that go into being truly successful in any business or profession. Most of these, Mark clearly commands as well. But it wasn’t long into his spirited presentation that it was clear that he wasn’t guessing, he wasn’t bullshitting us, and he wasn’t unsure of himself. He knows what it takes to run a great team, a great organization, and a great business. He had it down cold and believed in himself and his approach 110%. Truly inspiring.

That said, he also professed to having a similar level of wisdom 5-10 years ago. The problem he also discussed was that he was wrong. He had all of the intangibles back then as well as now, but he was missing the point. Never wrong and unwilling to listen, he learned the hard way. Fortunately his talent kept him afloat until he closed his mouth and opened his ears. The first step towards becoming truly great for all of us.

So if you are in town, try to stop by Campo for a meal. If for no other reason than to support a guy who is doing it right. Surround yourself with and support those folks who get it and are doing it right. It makes the rest of us that much better for it.

Finish What you Start – The Importance of Finishing Strong

Hopefully in your project teams, you are in a position to be with the project from cradle to grave. In an even more ideal world, you are only working on that one major project. It is truly your baby and while phases come and go along with team members, you bring continuity of details and vision.

For the purposes of this blog, let’s just assume that’s not your reality…

Everything starts with the best laid Plan. Your PMP is the blueprint to project success and there is merit in this project planning. However if you are managing your projects efficiently, your team members are not only very clear on their roles and responsibilities, but you have empowered them to pick up the slack and make the connections necessary for success. In short, your role may have a tendency to dwindle as a project moves into action. You are there to steer the ship and remind everyone of their responsibilities. As the project progresses and those most critical deadlines are met, team members are lost to other projects as the finish line draws near. Little can derail your success now and all aboard begin to look for their next gig. Yourself included.

Therein lies the problem.

As the PM, your roles and responsibilities peak back up near project completion and closeout. Besides all of the desires of truly excellent professionals to see projects through to completion remain mindful of all details, success is often judged on some of these final details in the eye of the customer. Whether the awards are being bestowed or the damage control is in full tilt, the PM needs to pick up the slack in the final stages of every project to finish strong and solidify that impression of success.

This is also where the true learning and wisdom can be gained. So often we are tempted to just “get it done” and move on to the next issue. By staying the course and remaining engaged until the end, you have an opportunity to harvest the lessons of your efforts and pass them along to future teams. You worked so hard for so long, by sticking around until the end, you will get so much more out of your blood sweat and tears and so will your future teams.

I am dealing with this myself and it is a lesson I am learning right along with the rest of the technical takeaways from my project. First one in, last one out…that goes for the truly great PM as well as the best player on your favorite sports star.

Find a Way to Say YES More

Just once today, I want you to pause for a moment before responding, take a deep breath, and instead of saying “no thanks”, “I doubt it”, or “yes, but” just take a leap of faith and say YES.

Just once. Today.

Then see if you can’t do it (just once per day) every day for the rest of the week.

Then let me know what happens.

I haven’t seen Jim Carrey’s caricature of this concept in “Yes Man” nor do I intend to, but the point is still there buried beneath the silliness. Stop telling people all the reasons why not. They already know these reasons. You think you are managing risk? You are suppressing innovation.

Start small and see what happens. This is not a call to go bungee jumping or punch your boss. It’s just a psychological lever for pushing yourself slightly outside of your comfort zone in the remote hopes that you just might surprise yourself and succeed. Or better yet, you just might surprise your team!

The more frequently you offer reasons why a team members’ contribution cannot be incorporated, the less frequently they will provide innovative contributions. The reverse is therefore also true. Your individual capacity for innovation is dwarfed by that of your team. When they see you working out on the edges of your comfort zone, slowly but surely, they are likely to join you there as well, creating unimaginable results.

Get the most out of your team by saying “Yes” just one more time, today and every day.

Don’t ask if you don’t want to Listen

I have found myself on more than one occasion asking for someone’s input when I really already had my mind made up. Then when their input was in opposition to my own predetermined decision I was more upset and argumentative than confused or uncertain.

Perhaps a better approach in the future will be to more directly frame the context of my conversation. Something along the lines of “Just so you are aware, I’m telling you, but I’ve already completely made up my mind on this…In fact, I’m pretty confident in my decision, so I’m looking for you to confirm my brilliance only…evidence to the contrary is unwelcome.”


Rather than framing my desired response, I will adjust my own mindset. Such that I am prepared to truly listen to the feedback I receive and accept it as a valid but contrary opinion or perhaps as added value to my initial position and likely complimentary if viewed from the proper perspective.

There are times when too many opinions just makes for inefficient decision-making. Just make the call and go. There are other decisions which warrant a sage sounding board. For these more strenuous calls, do your homework, but then check your ego at the door. If your adviser is worth their place in your mind, they want you to succeed more then they want to prove you wrong. Never be afraid to change your mind in the face of compelling information. You will gain respect for your willingness to listen and it will encourage additional valuable input.

If all else fails, look at it as an improvement to your initial idea. You can swallow that, right?

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

How fine is that line between being a true team builder, a true empowerment expert, and a brilliant leader and finding yourself with never-ending differences of opinions and suddenly stagnant progress? Very fine, and you have to walk it!

As a younger PM I have naively found myself just rambling away at the mouth or asking everyone I can think of for input before realizing that, occasionally an issue is better off without additional input. Now I have involved folks who I cannot uninvolved without officially offending them and their involvement does not help our progress.

Some points to ponder:

–          Find an Advisor – secure that trusted member of the team with the most wisdom and the greatest amount of humility. Someone who will shoot you straight with quality input but doesn’t care if you don’t heed it. They should serve as your thermometer before you say another word.

–          Establish your Role…Fairly – you need to make it clear with your team that while you require and value their input, any impacts to scope schedule budget will fall within your purview. If you respect their decisions, you can ask them to reciprocate. If you must overrule, you must have justification.

–          Document and Proceed – assemble your core team members, discuss the issues, and make a decision. Document the justification and move on. More often, you will have greater benefits from a timely decision than perhaps a more thoroughly deliberated one.

Also, don’t be that guy! Don’t be too proud to be overruled yourself (establishes fairness and ultimately respect) and don’t be that extra cook (if you have that morbid curiosity and must attend the meeting to ‘observe’… never undermine the leader with your unsolicited opinions)

It is a fine line and once you go out on a limb and get burned, it is doubly hard to walk it. Don’t be paralyzed by your bad experiences and don’t let the extra cooks paralyze your project. Go for it!

Constructive Criticism = Continuous Improvement

Much time and effort is devoted in leadership and management circles to measurement of performance and continuous improvement. Very little discussion is devoted to the actual moment of truth when the driven, typically successful PM is given some hard-to-swallow feedback…and how they decide to respond.

We could discuss terms like locus of control, ownership or even finger pointing; all are often issues from one extent to another on nearly every team. Instead, I want to try and offer some fundamental action items for accepting constructive criticism and we’ll see how you do with them (i.e. if we need to come back to some of these in greater detail later! )

1.       Mouth Shut, Ears Open: Just sit there and nod your head. When someone is opening up and providing their input to you, whether it is anonymous or not, never react, qualify, or respond immediately. Just listen and only listen. If you don’t, you won’t hear the good stuff. Or worse, you may never hear it again.

2.       Sleep on It: It is often within our nature to respond immediately and to defend our actions in the face of critical feedback. Take a moment to let the personality of the feedback filter through until it is only the content remaining. Take a moment to reflect on the validity of the feedback from a neutral perspective.

3.       Take What Works … and Leave the Rest: Just focus on some nugget of truth that you can use to achieve your goals of progress. The rest may not be valuable or it may not be valid. The important point is to focus on what can help you improve and not get distracted by what may discourage or upset you due to its invalidity or inapplicability.

The whole point here really is to achieve continuous improvement. If you believe that you can always get better, that means that you are always less than perfect; that you have faults, shortcomings, and flaws and you can and will progress in these areas. We are looking for progress from our feedback. Not perfection. Get ready to hear the tough stuff and let it sink in before attempting to act. If it is truly valuable feedback, it will likely sting to hear and take conscious effort over extended time to foster real improvement. That is the good stuff. Don’t let your mouth or ego get in the way.