“Bad Luck” or “Bad Choices”?
We’ve all had things go wrong at work and at home and the paradigm through which we interpret such situations says a lot about us as individuals. I think about it as ‘bad luck’ versus ‘bad choices’.
“Bad luck” is just that – a happenstance of fortune over which you, the innocent victim, had no part. Bad luck implies circumstances beyond your control – that it was “fate” that landed you in a predicament. It says less about your character and more about the general unfairness of life and the world in general. Or does it?
Most people view “bad luck” as another way of saying that it wasn’t your fault – that you had “no control”. Reflecting on my own experiences, my instances of “bad luck” seem to have had far less to do with fate and far more to do with my own choices. Take a few moments and reflect candidly on your own misfortunes and ask yourself what part you played in setting yourself up….then ask yourself how YOU interpreted the incident – was it bad luck or bad choices?
Personally, I’d prefer to be the victim of bad choices over bad luck. While it’s true that you are 100% responsible for your choices, you are also 100% in control of whether you make such choices again. With “luck” you don’t get those kind of numbers – it’s all random and it is all beyond your control. Thus, if you caused your own grief through your own choices, that means you can also AVOID said-grief in the future. When we are responsible for our own bad situations, the good news is that we are also in control and simply chose not to make the smarter choices.
As an executive, you can use this exercise to understand the level of accountability in your own teams. When things go wrong, do your managers suffer from bad luck or bad choices? A strong leadership team knows they are in control of their choices and will act accordingly, taking ownership of both their successes and failures.
Listen to your managers as they discuss (or lament!) their own bad situations and see how they interpret the incident. Seek to empower and promote those who “are the victim of bad choices”, especially if they own up to and LEARN from them. This way, you will promote accountability and leadership that learns from (and OWNS) their mistakes.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese
Project Status Reporting – A Radical (?) Approach
Business sponsors know what they are “expected to expect” from a project status report. Likewise, most project managers know what is “supposed to be” in a status report. While much of this standard information is relevant, oftentimes status reports can be less about “information I need to do my job” and more about “information that, by God, is just supposed to be in a project status report!” (optional ‘harrumph’). We don’t produce status reports to satisfy the Gods of Project Management; we produce status reports to communicate information relevant to the business sponsor.
With that in mind, I’m going to propose something radical here. Rather than start with a template approach, I’m going to propose that the project manager sit down with the business sponsor and ask a few simple questions, such as:
- After you read the status report, what do you need to be able to do?
- What information do you need at your fingertips to effectively communicate with your peers and your own management?
- Help me understand how you are going to use this data.
- What do you need to be able to do AFTER you read the status report that you simply cannot do BEFORE?
- What are your major concerns about the project from a business perspective?
You get the idea. Your goal is to understand your specific desired outcomes your business sponsor may need to engineer using the data in the status report. You also want to understand what information she needs in order to do her job and how she will use this information. In a word, you want to understand what she needs in order for her to be successful.
One size fits all isn’t necessarily the best approach and long, busy status report may end up providing lots of data that is of no use to your business sponsor. The result is extra work for you, status reports that aren’t always read (resulting in frustration for the project manager and the team) and ultimately, poor transparency and communications from the project up to the business sponsor. A good status report is lean, clean and content-rich making it a quick read and a powerful, complete and effective tool to communicate key data points your business sponsor needs.
So my radical proposal is simply this – identify and keep the end goal in mind before you determine the best way to communicate status toward achieving that end goal. This way, you can make effective use of both your and your business sponsor’s time in communicating status while significantly improving the chances of your mutual success.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese
YouTube Channel – Do or Don’t?
One of my mentors here in Carmel has suggested I set up a YouTube channel. A few other people have encouraged me to do the same. Now it’s not that I don’t like to hear myself talk. Many friends and one spouse will most likely readily acknowledge that. I have double concern about how I will come across in video and having video of me “holding forth” out on the web. But I have another question – will it add value?
My goal with this blog is to produce ideas, frameworks and tools that others can steal and use themselves. I also like getting the feedback on if it worked and I really like it when people share back how they’ve modified some of my material and how it worked for them (letting me “steal back”). I like this kind of stuff. So I ask myself, how valuable would a video be as opposed to the written word?
Anyway, I’m open to thoughts if anyone cares to share them. Let me know what you think.
Transparency – Applying the ‘Price Tag Approach’
A valuable guiding principle in business (particularly in technology) is to never “protect” your business partners from the consequences of their decisions.
I’m a big believer in what I’ll call the “price tag” approach and it goes something like this. Suppose you’re a sales associate at the local Jaguar dealership. If your customer is a first-time Jaguar buyer, it’s probably a good idea to explain that purchasing a Jaguar loaded up with options is also a purchase of more expensive service calls, oil changes, repairs and of course an increased risk that some kid will snap the cat off your hood. This way, 3,000 miles later, you don’t have an angry customer complaining about the $100 oil change he just paid for. All you’re doing is setting expectations by helping your customer understand the consequences of his decision – something he may not know and may not ask.
Too often we assume that upper management already knows and understands all the implications of their decisions and requests. After all, they ARE management. However, this is almost never the case. Management relies on the thought leadership of their teams to ensure that they have every opportunity to never make a bad business decision. Therefore, consider applying the principles below in establishing your own strong brand of transparency within your firm:
- Understand The Request: Fully understanding the request itself isn’t enough. More important is understanding the desired business outcome of the request. Your CIO wants X, but for what purpose? WHY does she want X? Understand the business problem that needs to be solved and not just the specifics of the tactical request.
- Understand and Surface ALL Costs: This includes not simply the financial costs but also the impacts to other initiatives and stakeholders. While the request may come from your CIO, there may be implications that span a broader area than the CIO’s scope of responsibility. Think in terms of impact to the business, holistically and not simply within your silo.
- Identify Risks: Make sure you identify and clearly communicate any risks associated with fulfilling the request, providing mitigation or avoidance options where available.
- Document & Deliver Options: With the desired business outcome in mind, communicate what options are available, listing pros and cons for each and documenting them in a brief but clear email with all appropriate stakeholders cc’d. Include risks and mitigation/avoidance strategies.
- Make A Recommendation: Always deliver such information with a recommendation by you and your team. Dumping a problem on the bosses desk is bad. Delivering a problem with options is better. Informing your boss of the options and making a recommendation is optimal. What do you recommend your boss do and why? Help make her successful.
- Follow Up: Respectfully and reasonably follow up to ensure a decision is made, that the “full price tag” is understood and accepted, DOCUMENT THE FINAL DECISION and then execute.
Transparency is a great buzz word that we all like to use – me included. However, transparency is a two-way street. Applying the ‘price tag’ approach to transparency will help ensure that you and your teams provide your boss and your business partners the valuable opportunity to never make a bad decision.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese
When & How To Document Brief Conversations
Documenting brief conversations may seem like unnecessary administrivia, but ask yourself this question; how is a brief conversation – especially one that results in an agreed-upon decision – any different than a meeting? The number of versions about what was decided at a meeting can be calculated by adding the number of attendees + 1. This is why meetings are documented with minutes that include decisions reached and action items assigned. Brief conversations that result in a decision are no different. Document such conversations by writing to the key stakeholder with other stakeholders cc’d. Keep it simple and to the point, as in the example below:
Example: As we discussed, the end date for the current project will be moved from Friday, September 6th to Friday, September 27th to accommodate the additional three weeks required to address agreed-upon changes in scope. Please note that this date change will also impact project Y, which depends on deliverables from our efforts. I have cc’d John on this email to ensure he and his team are informed.
This date change will be reflected in the next project status report, to be delivered this Friday. Please let me know if there are any questions, corrections and additions.
The key components here are:
- Clearly communicating the decision(s) made
- Providing brief details as to why the decision was made
- Including any pertinent details regarding how the decision will be communicated to others, carried out, etc.
- Communicating any impacts to other projects, stakeholders, work, etc., as a result of the decision
Make sure to also set (or re-set) expectations with all stakeholders such that you avoid any unpleasant surprises. Documenting one-off conversations is a simple way to ensure that all stakeholders are provided the information they need in order to do their jobs and to make their teams and the firm successful.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese
Making Your Needs Known: Three Questions To Answer
Your boss and your business partners get lots of requests. How do you make sure that your requests get the visibility and action that is needed for you and your teams to be successful? The key is simplicity – be brief and clear. There are three key pieces of information that should be included in your email request:
- What do you need?
- When do you need it?
- What will happen if you don’t get it?
What You Need: Keep it brief and clear. Don’t provide a detailed history of the request, technical details, long horror stories, etc. Do provide enough information so that the reader gets it on the first pass – be as clear as possible. The desired response to your email is a “yes” and not a long thread with Q&A about the details, so take a moment and ask yourself if you are being clear.
When Do You Need It: This is your message to the world that you and your team are likely to fail unless your request is granted. This is not necessarily a time to try and “game the system” by asking for something on Tuesday when you can wait until Friday. Use your own judgment if my advice here will get you in trouble at your own company. Another tip – don’t just give the day, but also give the date and (if relevant) the time. Finally, it may be worth your time to explain why you need it when you need it.
What Will Happen If You Don’t Get It: This is the key part of your email. Avoid the temptation to be dramatic. Instead, be clear as to the operational and business implications of you not getting what you are requesting. Keep in mind that yours will not be the only request crossing your boss’ desk, so framing the implications in a business or operational context will help her make the best decision for the business and will also help brand you as a leader who can think past his own silo.
Although you are clear about what you need and the implications of your not getting it, sometimes your boss is going to say ‘no’. Therefore, make sure you have options either in your head or in your email. This way you are less likely to paint your boss in a corner if she simply cannot honor your request at present.
A good leader doesn’t just surface problems. He also offers options/solutions and a recommendation. Help make both you and your boss successful by sharing your thought leadership and presenting her options if your request can’t be honored. Don’t drown her with details. Instead, keep it simple and focus on the business impact.
© 2013, Mark E. Calabrese
Late last year, I left my position with Thomson Reuters to take a GM role with internet start-up, ChaCha. The firm was founded by serial inventor, thinker and entrepreneur, Scott Jones. Initially, I went down to Carmel, Indiana to see what this was all about after being contacted by Doug Rowe, who runs ProfyleTracker – an Indy recruiting firm. A good friend and colleague, Greg Siefert, served as their CTO for a year.
After only a few hours with Scott, listening to his vision for ChaCha, I was hooked. The current site doesn’t really give a good indication of what’s to come. Check the App Store in mid/late March of this year and try out our application. We’re taking internet Q&A to the next logical level and make it far more interactive than it’s been before.
Much more to come!
I got a nice mention regarding i.c.stars and their i.c.idols competition. I’ve worked with Aaron Cox, participating in and supporting this competition for this very worthwhile group. I highly recommend i.c.stars to anyone out there, looking for a way to give back to the greater community. Good people doing good things!
Project Management in an Agency Model: Acting as a Steward (Part 5)
Another thing worth mentioning about project management in an agency model; things tend to get busy during Q1! After quite a few weeks of business-imposed hiatus, I’m back to finishing up this post.
To get us caught up, in reviewing Project Management in an Agency Model we’ve covered the opportunity available to project managers, what it means to manage the project experience and how knowing the business impacts your ability to add value to your client, your firm and your own brand/career. In this installment, we’ll talk about what it means to act as a steward to your client and your firm.
A quick check of www.dictionary.com defines ‘steward’ as “a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs.” This is your role as the project manager. You are responsible for advising your client on how to best manage their project investment to successfully solve their business problems. By so doing, you are also helping manage your client’s reputation within their firm and, depending on the scope of the project, within their industry.
As trusted advisor and steward to your client, the best approach is to treat their problems, their investment and their reputation as if they were yours. Your knowledge of the product or service you are implementing, as well as your understanding of their business and industry puts you in a unique position to help your clients achieve success. Partner with them, taking the attitude that this is also your project and while you are aligned with your client, their interests and yours are one in the same.
Likewise, you are a steward and advisor to your own firm. As noted previously, every word you speak or write, every conversation, every meeting, even how you hang up the phone at the end of a conference call builds on your firm’s brand and reputation. As with your client, treat your firm’s brand and reputation as your own.
The same is true with your firm’s money. As the project manager, you have an opportunity to drive profitability (especially in a fixed fee model) by managing your project in such a way as to make the best use out of every hour spent. By managing your project efficiently, you not only maximize the output from the team but you can also free up enough time to allow team resources to focus on other billable work.
You also are in a good position to leverage the firm’s primary investment – talent. How you manage your project team, how you deal with conflicts and issues internally, all help brand you, your PMO team and your delivery organization within the firm. By focusing on making not only your project, but everyone associated with the project successful, you contribute to making your firm a great place to work. This is how you can help keep your firm’s top talent WITH YOUR FIRM.
Ultimately, the best thing you can bring to your clients and your firm is your solid commitment to uphold and live out your values as a project management professional. Acting as a steward and trusted advisor makes you effective at delivering on your specific tactical objectives, but also makes you a major strategic asset to your firm in retaining both clients and talent. Act as a steward, focusing on making your peers and clients successful.
© 2011, Mark E. Calabrese
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