Death March

Early in my project management career, I had the good fortune to work with Julie.  Julie is a few years older than I am and had been a project manager in IT quite a bit longer than I had.  She was tough.  Her blue eyes would lock with yours and look straight into your soul.  When our group did the Myers-Briggs personality tests, my introverted patient architect type personality contrasted with her extroverted world domination leader type.  Julie would talk about big projects she had led.  Her favorite term was “death march.”  “That one was a death march!” she would say with wistful gleam in her eye like you get when you remember your trip to Hawaii – paradise lost.

I’m thinking that Julie wasn’t the only person I’ve known who, admired or feared or pitied by their colleagues and clients, has sacrificed greatly, sometimes unacceptably, to achieve their mission.  There was Tom the budget officer at my first assignment in the Air Force many years ago. I naively admired Tom’s dedication to building the best possible base budget and keeping it up to date (in the days before computer screens) by constantly working late and weekends.  I asked my friend Dave, a somewhat wiser and more experienced Lieutenant than I, how Tom did it.  “Well, he really doesn’t like his wife much, so he’d rather be here” Dave replied.  And there was Harvey, the Pepsi addicted computer programmer for the first system I was ever asked to manage.  Harvey’s company provided the software and system support to our business.  When my boss, another tough guy, wanted something done, he’d yell at me: “Get Harvey Pepsi to do it!” knowing that Harvey lived to code and wouldn’t sleep until the job was done if given free rein to make a change to the system.   I always hated to ask.  I wanted Harvey to have a better life.  Harvey seemed to like his life the way it was.

What do we want our projects to be like?  Is the best project a death march characterized by spouse avoiding hours and caffeine infused diets?  Well, not for me, anyway.  But, don’t we all experience these projects in our careers?  Continue reading

Split Personality

I’m a project management consultant.  Does that make me more a project manager than a consultant, or more a consultant than a project manager?  Or, am I equally both?  Aargh, I’m so confused!  One day I’m like “Let’s get to the bottom of this problem and get it solved!” and the next day it’s “How do you think things are going, what has been or could be better?”  My personality is split!  Help me work this out – I need someone to listen while I rant about which one I am or need to be and why.

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The Room of Requirement

I’m trying, against my usual nature, to be predictable and consistent with my blog. I could be doing better this summer. If you are familiar with a Pacific Northwest summer, you know that you take it when you can get it. Last week and this one we’ve been blessed with both summer weather and granddaughter visits. First the eight year old, and now the five year old. The blog has had some tough competition. But, it has some new inspiration, too.

Reading kids stories, the fantasy world mingled in my mind with the realities of my clients. Sitting in a client meeting to define requirements for new software, my mind wandered to Harry Potter and the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts. Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement, as defined by, “is a magical room which can only be discovered by someone who is in need.” “The Room is located on the seventh floor, opposite a tapestry showing Barnabas the Barmy trying to teach trolls to dance the ballet. To make the Room appear, a person has to walk past the section of blank wall three times concentrating hard on what is needed.”

This makes finding the room of requirement seem relatively easy, but, as Dobby tells us: “Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not…”

Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement magically supplied solutions to his needs. On our projects, it would be useful if a Bridge of Requirements would magically appear. If there’s one thing we should imagine going perfectly on a project, it’s building a bridge between the people seeking a solution and the people delivering the solution.

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Day Camp Dead

“I’m Day Camp born

And Day Camp bred

And when I die I’ll be day camp dead!

So, Rah Rah for Day Camp

Rah Rah for Day Camp

Rah Rah for Day Camp

Ray Rah Ray!”

YMCA Day Camp 1950s-70s, Author Unknown

This was the anthem for the West Des Moines YMCA Shady Creek Day Camp (Iowa) during my years connected to them.  Going to camps – day camp and residence camp – have had a big influence on my life, and probably on my work over the last 40 years.  They were fun.  They built my confidence.  They made me less of an introvert.  They taught me leadership.  They created an affinity between me and an amazing, beautiful woman who married me 39 years ago (and catches errors in my blog posts).  They taught me that we are at our best when, regardless of how hard something is to do, we try to make it fun and focus on what can go right.  Continue reading

Don’t Give Me What I Asked For, Give Me What I Need!

If I advocate for finding what can go right with your project, and I help you manage the project, I should start with getting a clear understanding of the outcome you expect.  What is the best possible outcome from the time and money and effort you will expend on your project?  Why are you doing it, really?  What will be different, in the best possible way, when you are done?  What do you want the journey from here to there to be like?

Notice, I used the word “outcome,” not “scope.”  I think “outcome” goes beyond “scope.”  Continue reading

50cc’s of Patience

Sometimes we take things for granted. Especially if we’ve been at a thing for a while and have gotten used to it.  We might think we are asking for the same results, but we are really pushing beyond what we should expect. We expect more, but get less. So we are disappointed in the thing and try to fix it.  But, the problem might not be with the thing.  It might be with us.  I experienced this riding my scooter.  I learned that we have to balance push with patience; speed with capacity.  And, to be patient, we need to get feedback on what’s possible and what’s happening.

I have a Kymco People 50cc scooter that I ride to visit Olympia-area clients on days that aren’t too wet or cold. It conserves gas, and it’s fun. Maybe too much fun.

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Attitude Flip

The more I think about the idea of finding what can go right, the more I think it’s a basic attitude shift that we need to apply to everything we do in project management.  Whether it’s managing risks, managing scope, or solving problems, the tools and techniques we use can be flipped a bit in our minds to also find ways to maximize what can go right.

Project managers love solving problems.  It may be that we become project managers for this very reason.  We LOVE solving problems.  We look for problems to solve everywhere.  Work, home, and Angry Birds.  We like projects because most projects are about solving problems.  We ask “What problem are we trying to solve?” when we need to focus our team on the objectives of a project.  But, do we let our bias for solving problems cloud our ability to use our problem solving talents to find what can go right on our projects? Continue reading


It’s been a cloudy rainy week here in the great Pacific Northwest.  I need some sunshine!  It lifts our mood and makes the flowers bloom.  Your projects need sunshine, too.

Your project is most likely part of something greater, part of an organization, a contributor to its business objectives.  Do you understand that connection and how you are dependent on it?  I think that every project’s success depends on the support it gets from its owning organization.  Part of finding what can go right on a project is to describe the ideal amount of support that you need.  Support from the organization, like sunshine on flowers, grows successful projects.  The better you understand the support needed, the more likely you are to deliver a successful project. 

One way to think about factors supporting project success is to consider adding a new plant to your garden.  Sometimes I’ll see a great new plant and think how good it would look here and there around our big yard.  My wife says to buy at least three and spread them around to see where they will do best.  She’s right.  While we can control to some extent the water, soil, and nutrients the plant gets; we can’t control the sunshine.  The sunshine ultimately forms the plant’s microclimate.  Too much or too little sunshine and you get an unhealthy plant.  The problem with projects is that you can’t buy three and spread them around.  When we plant a project, we have to get it the support it needs.   Continue reading

“We’re Engaged!”

I heard those two enchanting words a few weeks ago from my nephew and his wonderful girlfriend.  Immediately, I could imagine all the eventful things that would happen between then and the August wedding.  Weddings are pretty big projects, after all.  Dozens, maybe hundreds, of people make changes in their lives to come together in celebration of a new life for two people they love.  Those making the plans set objectives, constraints, and timelines.  They identify stakeholders and strategies, find people they can assign work to, and then they make commitments and get things done. And they do it with the sort of zeal, creativity, and commitment that is part of the most successful non-wedding projects.  All this comes from the power of those first two words – “We’re engaged!”

Who really becomes engaged when an engagement happens?  Is it just the future bride and groom?  I think it’s everyone who will be at the wedding or who will help the couple celebrate in some way.  Their collective engagement makes the whole event special Continue reading