Friday, January 19, 2018

#52books The Four Agreements

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#52 Books Book 3 – The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) (Amazon affiliate link)

Format: Softcover

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This is a book I read once a year.  It’s my personal “try to live by these values” book.

What are these values?

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Always do your best

How well do I live by these values?

Getting better.  I still have a long way to go.

I read this book every year to remind myself.

Trying to live up to the values on the surface is challenging enough. Don Miguel Ruiz, however, adds a layer of depth to his explanation of each of these values.

I learn something new each time I read this book.

As someone who has read thousands of books in her life (higher education in History will do that), it says something when a book encourages me to re-read it on a regular basis.  Very few books do that for me.


Looking to get more organized?

I’d like to share a free PDF containing a useful personal prioritization exercise to help you get started.

 


 

I hope you can join me on this journey!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Weekend Adventures – Mill City Museum Minneapolis

A few hours spent in a museum that smells like baked goods? Yes please.
#bisquick #museum #meaningfulflow #thingstodo #thingstodoinminneapolis
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#52books Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance

A view into one 90s era CEOs mind with an interesting take on changing organizational culture and what it really takes. http://ift.tt/2F3R1aC. #businessbooks #ibm #fortune500 #organizationalleadership

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#52Books Book 2 – Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, Louis Gerstner

Format: Kindle

I have a weakness for organizational biographies. They map to my interest in what happens behind-the-scenes to make things go.

I also worked as a temp at IBM for a few months at the beginning of the Gerstner era, scheduling travel for executives, spending hours on the phone surveying pharmacies for an early electronic prescription system in partnership with Walgreens, and creating the occasional PowerPoint presentation.  I didn’t see the effects of Gerstner’s strategic and culture change during my time there, other than the occasional comment around the loosening of the dress code.

Gerstner addresses issues that are common to many large organizations – centralization vs. decentralization, culture, fiefdoms, and silos, and the challenge of creating appropriate environments for change.  Changing culture, he emphasizes, needs to include changing what you measure.  “People do what you INSPECT, not what you expect.”

He also emphasizes that if a CEO wants to make a significant change, he (or she) will have to make that initiative personal and do much more than just oversee the development of strategy documents and the occasional exhortative email. Leaders are visible, they are involved, they are clear, and they are consistent. For YEARS.

In this, Gerstner describes what I have seen in my career that has derailed major change initiatives:

– Leaders who feel that with a major training event, change will magically happen.  I’ve never seen this work.

– Lack of clarity around direction. With the growth of Agile, many managers seem to have abdicated the hard work around setting a destination or defining successful change and sticking with that definition long enough to see results.

– Lack of commitment around that direction.  Sometimes, that lack of commitment appears in strategic plans as attempts to include both new and old activities – many of which work at cross-purposes – and promise to do so with the same resources.

Gerstner’s book is a fun read and an eye-opening look at how one highly-regarded CEO thinks.  Read Section 3 on Culture and Section 4 on Lessons Learned.  He wrote this in 2002. What he saw back then still appears in organizations over 15 years later.  Scary.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Value of Toolboxes

In another PMIWDC podcast, a panel of experts discussed the impact of Agile on the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).

Jesse Fewell, one of the authors of the Agile supplement in the recent PMBOK update, noted that the smartest thing we could do is to create the environment for innovation.  Mostly because the environment changes so quickly. We need to be able to find and evaluate the information we need quickly vs. being able to memorize and master one field.

 

Michael Hannan, another panelist adds that the best, most universal thing we can do is to:


Happy New Year!

Looking to get more organized in 2018?

I’d like to share a free PDF containing a useful personal prioritization exercise to help you get started.

 


 

I hope you can join me on this journey!


  1. Get a sense of the work at hand.
  2. Break it down into tasks where the people who need to do the work recognize it as work you need to do.
  3. Help them do as much single-task focus as possible. “One task, through to completion, before picking up the next one.”

This is the BEST thing we can do to help our teams, Michael argues. We remove the switching overhead.

The studies are showing 5-6 TIMES improvement in performance.

And they get MORE agility.

It doesn’t require fancy methods or systems. No new terminology or complicated models.  Just those 3 steps.

Towards the end of the podcast (around the 53-minute mark), one of the panelists says:

“You have to be adaptive to the moment. There is a body of methods here that are extremely effective for a particular type of task…but it doesn’t cure everything. (italics mine) …No medicine that cures everything belongs anywhere except on the back of a wagon marked Snake Oil.”

The Project Manager becomes the enabler of innovation and collaboration. The Project Manager creates a safe environment for experimentation and protects the people doing the work from distractions.

It’s frankly that simple.

All 3 panelists said, “Just try something.”  Try something simple in a limited risk field, assess, adjust.

It’s not an Agile or Waterfall binary discussion.

It’s about the toolkit. Choose the tool that best helps you get the job done.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Activities as Investments

I’m a huge fan of PMIWDC’s PM Point of View podcast.  It helps to live in the home of NPR.

On a recent podcast, Steve Devaux argued that projects need to be considered as investments.

Investments in resources – money, personnel, energy, time.

And most organizations start projects because they are trying to get some return on investment.

It seems like common sense to me.  Unfortunately, it’s not common sense in practice.


We act like we have unlimited time, energy and resources.

And we often don’t ask what the expected return on investment is supposed to be as a result of an activity.

Why don’t we pause to ask WHY are we doing what we are doing?  How much time is spent doing busy for the sake of busy?


Where we start looking at a project as an investment, if we think that way at all, is when we look at project budgets.

Ideally, keep the costs under the initial estimates.  Not much conversation of what we intend to get in return for the investment.

Furthermore, a large swath of resources is not accounted for in the budget.

 


Happy New Year!

Looking to get more organized in 2018?

I’d like to share a free PDF containing a useful personal prioritization exercise to help you get started.

 


 

I hope you can join me on this journey!


Your employees.

Most organizations do not treat employee time and energy as a cost line in budgeting the project.

They are treated as “free.”

However, each employee costs money.  Your more skilled resources cost a LOT of money.

How much time does that skilled resource need to spend on your project?  And how much are you paying them hourly?

You are making the same calculations for any external consultants and contractors you bring in.

Why NOT your internal employees?

And what other activities do you need that skilled resource for that they won’t be able to do as a result?

There’s a simple calculation to help you develop a more accurate labor cost for your project:

Calculate the following for each task:

Hours it takes to perform the activity x the hourly rate of the employee you are using.

That’s a more accurate assessment of how much that project is going to cost.

Nevermind the opportunity cost of things you can’t do because you are doing this project.

Friday, January 05, 2018

#52books The Perfect Day Formula

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Format: Hardcover

 

Craig Ballantyne distilled solid productivity and goal-setting best practices into a short, 153-page quick read.

He broke the book down into three sections – Morning, Afternoon and Goal Setting.

Morning focuses on creating rules for yourself and starting the day with a plan and good habits.

Afternoon focuses on preparation for the inevitable distractions and contains some solid advice on setting yourself up for success.

Ballantyne’s explanation for putting goal-setting last in his book made sense to me, “It’s no good to have big goals and dreams if you don’t have the right tools and foundation in place to achieve them.”

I have personally found over the years that it is easier for me to get clarity around my goals and vision if I have good structural habits in place that move me in what I know is a positive direction, even if I am not entirely sure of the details of the destination.  Those structural habits, as I see results, begin to provide clarity.

For example, if my “goal” is vague, like “be more energetic,” knowing that a commonly accepted “good” habit like “drink more water” has a high likelihood of moving me in the right direction.

I’ve been using The Perfect Day Formula for the past couple of years as part of my annual planning cycle.  I typically choose an idea in the book, implement it, let it become a habit, check results, then choose another.  I’ll use other books if I need a deeper dive into a concept.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Finding the Organizational Why

Recently, a major university changed presidents.

Any leadership change at the top is an excellent time to take another look at the organizational why.

With the prior president, this university attempted to become a respected research institution.  Unfortunately, they lost their north star in the process.

What do I mean by “north star?”  I see it as the primary differentiating value.  The thing that sets the organization apart no matter what happens around it or within it.

For this university – the north star has been its location and how the university can serve its student body through its location.  From how the university paid for administrative costs (student tuition) to the programs put in place – the focus had been on the student.  Until the last president.

Seeing falling student enrollment and the inability to increase student tuition, he decided to steer the cumbersome university ship towards research and research money.  They built large buildings for scientific research. New programs focused on  STEM activities over their traditional Politics, Media and Business strengths.  The IT department spent millions developing an enormous, high-speed, research network to support this direction.

Amongst all this new activity, the university lost sight of its differentiator.

Student enrollment (particularly graduate student enrollment, which was one of the key performance indicators for this new effort) dropped.  Unfortunately, this university decided to become a research institution during a time where available research money is becoming harder to find, even in the sciences.  The new income stream didn’t flow as strongly as they predicted.

The new university president has decided to go back to the university’s traditional strengths – location and student experience.

How do I know this?


Happy New Year!

Looking to get more organized in 2018?

I’d like to share a free PDF containing a useful personal prioritization exercise to help you get started.

 


 

I hope you can join me on this journey!


You can get a lot of information from accessible sources.

Most of these sources are either publically available or show up in your inbox.

Thankfully, you don’t need to do this analysis that frequently.

I recommend doing a strategic source analysis during a change of leadership, changing jobs, a significant shift in strategy (usually announced with much fanfare), or annually if nothing dramatic has happened over the course of the year.

When I start working with an organization, this is how I figure out an organization’s purpose.  This process takes me 2-4 hours to get to the point where I can start asking intelligent questions and confirming some impressions.

However, I’m starting cold.  You, likely, will be able to do this much faster.


Since I’m a historian by education, I think of information resources as primary and secondary.

Primary sources:  Primary sources are the direct messages about the organization.

I bias the public, stakeholder-facing message as a more accurate indicator of where the organization wants to go. These messages tend to be highly-vetted, carefully crafted, and are often aspirational. This is what they are telling their customers.

  • Website – The website is the first place I go to figure out what an organization is trying to do and what they are telling their customers.
    • Home Page – What is the FIRST thing you see on that page?
      • I am selecting my three alma maters as examples. Since I am writing this after fall commencement and between semesters, higher education homepages will typically stress graduation pictures.
        • Virginia Tech – graduates and research news.  Their focus is on research.
        • The University of Georgia – football players and sports news. Their focus is on sports.
        • Towson University – graduation and student life. Their focus is on the student experience.
      • For the university in my earlier example, one year after the new president came on board, they have changed their website to again focus on the student experience and the university location.
    • “At a Glance, Factbook, Rankings, History, Traditions, etc.” – These pages tell me where the organization feels the most pride. How closely does this information align with what shows on their home page?
    • “Priorities, Mission, etc.” – These pages tell me what the institution feels is their crucial differentiator to their customer.
      • How easy their Priorities and Mission page is to find tells me their confidence level in these priorities. Is it proudly on their homepage or do you have to search for it?
      • How clear is it to you?
      • Do you sense the priorities and mission change regularly or are they consistent?
  • Strategic Plan – This is the formal, committee-approved plan for how they will move forward.
    • Is the strategic plan easy to locate, or do you have to search for it? The more you have to work to find it, the less confident they likely are in the plan.
    • How close is it to being replaced?  If you are looking at a strategic plan that expires about one year out, it may be time to go digging for a draft.  SOMEONE is working on it.
    • What keywords do you see in the strategic plan? Is there a precise definition of what each keyword means?  Keep track of these to see how often these keywords appear in other materials.
      • Example: In the Virginia Tech Strategic Plan (which becomes outdated in 2018 – so I would look for a new draft if I was working there), they talk about globalization.  Upon a cursory reading, it appears that successful globalization includes:
        • Attracting more international students
        • Attracting research partners from around the world
        • Focus on becoming more internationally recognized and comparing to the best global research institutions, not just US-based research institutions.
    • How have they defined “success?” The clearer it is to an outsider, the clearer it is to employees.
      • From the current (2012-2018 Virginia Tech Strategic Plan) – “Our goal is to increase the number of programs recognized as among the best internationally.”  Seems pretty clear to me.  Next thing I would look for is target numbers and which programs they included in this initiative.  You might find it in the strategic plan itself.  Often, you will have to do more digging at the departmental level.
  • New Employee Orientation materials for the overall organization – Most organizations hold an organization-wide orientation for new employees. Check to see how closely the message for the employees maps to the public message.
  • CEO/Board of Directors/President communications – This is what the head of the organization says is essential without the filtering or trickle-down done by the managerial layers. Is the message consistent?

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Secondary sources (interpreted messages):  Secondary sources in organizations tend to be where the grand vision of the organization gets acted upon. With this analysis, you are trying to find the gap between what the organization says it wants and what is happening.

  • Departmental websites – This is how the individual departments and divisions interpret the organizational direction.  How close are they?  How clear are they?
  • Departmental strategic plans – Again, this is an interpretation of the organizational direction. You will likely see any struggles and potential misinterpretations in this document.
    • Is the department central to the organizational strategic plan or are they struggling to align?
    • How many “important side projects” are there?  Can you determine WHY they are important?
  • Departmental orientation materials – The orientation for the department should help the new employee act on the organization’s direction. It’s still an interpretation.
    • Check to see how closely the orientation maps to the department’s plan.  Are the skills and tools you learn during this more comprehensive introduction going to help or distract from their stated plan?
    • Talk to newer employees (1 year or less).  What are their impressions of the onboarding process and the direction of the organization?  How do they define the organization’s north star?  Discrepancies here are telling.
  • Any managerial level communications beneath the head honcho – These are all interpretations. Important interpretations, but interpretations nonetheless.  You could be led astray here.
    • What biases do they or might they have?
    • How secure do you think this person is in his/her position?
    • What is the general reputation of the individual?  Does this person have a reputation for possessing an accurate sense of what is going on?  You can figure that out by…
  • Talking to the old timers – From these folks, you get an idea of the history of the place (especially from those who have been with the organization 5+ years), how consistent the organization’s direction tends to be, culture, the unspoken rules.  Again, check for biases.
    • Which departments seem to hold “all the power?”
    • Which executives have good reputations? Bad reputations? Seem to be great politicians?
    • What is their understanding of the organization? Do they feel that their direction is “short-term?” “Another change initiative?”
    • What is the general feel/attitude?  Do they feel like they are making a difference or are they punching a clock?

I recommend running your final analysis by your colleagues and a respected mentor or two within the organization.  Running it by your boss after receiving feedback is also a good idea.

“I’ve been taking a look at our strategic direction to better align our efforts to where the organization is going. I think we are headed this direction (give a short summary of your findings). How far off am I?  Did I miss anything?”

Checking the goal can help prevent you and your team from expending a lot of effort marching in the wrong direction.