Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day!

To all my followers. I hope you are having a great Memorial Day weekend. Remember that today is about the people who gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy. If you see a veteran today, please thank him or her.

For me, a special thank you to CPT George Wood. I will not forget...

See you all Wednesday!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wacky Wednesday - Zombie Apocalypse

Hmmm... Let's see... what can we write about that has 2 words and starts with Z and A? I know Zombie Apocalypse!

I doubt that was the conversation that started this release... but I WISH I was in the room when this was pitched.

The CDC released on May 16th a topic under Emergency Preparedness and Response: Zombie Apocalypse. Now I am SURE this was a joke meant to get people thinking more about emergency preparedness... BUT this is the Center for Disease Control. Usually you want to be taken seriously...

or do you?

From my perspective, this is a great idea! It shows some innovation that is usually lacking in heavily bureaucratic organizations. I know that it is a joke (and hopefully you do as well), but it gets traffic to the site and might bring out interest in more realistic emergency prep.

And for those of you that think this is real... get your kit together, because it will help with other emergencies too!

From the CDC Posting

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ethics in Leadership

I was at a Toastmasters meeting on Wednesday night and the theme for the meeting was Ethics in Project Management. One of the Table Topics questions was "You have a contract with a sub-supplier for a software development package. During the execution of the project, you learn that the sub-supplier is using 3rd Party Software without a license for the development of your product. How do you handle it?"

Now, the question itself was interesting, but the the answers were even more so. This was the most responded to Table Topic question, and everybody seemed to be concerned with the legal aspect of it. Basically, "how is your contract worded, are you legally liable?" type conversations. One person said that his response would depend on the impact to the project. The shortest answer was "I am a software programmer, I think I deserve to be paid for my work (paraphrased)." While the answer didn't meet the minimum requirements for Table Topics (the expectation is 1-2 minutes of speaking), it might have been the most ethical answer.

The Project Management Institute is a big believer in Ethics. In fact there is an Ethics Review Board that can (and does) review PM behavior when a concern is brought forward. The thing that concerned me the most was that the participants in the meeting really didn't try to argue the ethical answer. The ethical answer would be to inform the sub-supplier that they need to get a license or you will terminate the contract; and possibly turn them in. The use of unauthorized third party software is stealing, no matter how you legally look at it. It would be like stealing a piece of furniture that somebody else made just so you have a place to sit.

Thankfully, during that meeting I was the General Evaluator and pointed out that all of the questions that night weren't about legal issues, but ethical issues. I also pointed out that most of the presentations regarding the question wouldn't pass mustard with the PMI Ethics board. Somehow I don't think that my message was well received.

All too often ethics are put aside in the name of convenience. If it will impact our budgets or timetables we are more than willing to bend the rules... or break them if we think we won't get caught. Unfortunately, you can only do so for a little while before you are caught. Nobody is perfect. Leadership is often about making the hard decisions, something we sometimes forget when we are sitting at a desk with a computer in front of us. A true LEADER does what is RIGHT, regardless of the difficulties it will cause.

Now, can I claim to be perfect? Unfortunately, no. I too am only human. However, I do try, and when I stumble I admit it and face the consequences. I only hope that my example can inspire others (including my sons) to do the right thing, or face the consequences when they don't.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

I think we've all seen the Motivational Posters that are meant to be inspiring and uplifting, but more often prove to be ironic. Well, somebody started a pretty good joke, and I think it's worth the laugh at least...

If you want to see more, just search Google Images for demotivational... just be careful, they may not all be work appropriate (if any of them are).

Monday, May 16, 2011

Command, Communicate - Implied vs Stated Tasks

I think we've all been there. We receive a job, think we have it accomplished, but miss something that wasn't specifically stated. I have a whopper of a story on this one!

In Iraq, with a 3 tank team (number 4 stayed behind for repairs) at a radio tower guard point. During the night, one of the other tanks broke an axle while moving to a traffic control point, and the second tank sheared a road wheel when we tried to tow the one with the broken axle back to the guard point. Thankfully our replacements were on their way out, and escorting a mechanics truck to help us with our issues. Wear and tear happens on vehicles, especially with the amount of miles we put on them.

While waiting for the replacements, a "Public Relations" team showed up and needed a tank and some guys. I put "Public Relations" in quotes because the men wore a hodge-podge of clothes, bearded, and carried an "interesting" array of weapons; but, the HMMWV did have a speaker system on it...

Back to the story, the LT for the PR team needed a tank and a team of 6 because 300 meters away a vehicle belonging to a person on the area's most wanted list was parked outside a house. They wanted the tank as backup and the guys to help clear the house. Since the house in question was well within the lethal range of the tanks we had on-site, and since our replacements were only about 10-15 minutes out (at a leisurely pace, less than 5 if they gunned it), I decided it was worth the risk.

One of the broken tanks maned the gate, and it served as our primary radio location. A SSG maned the post. I told him I was taking our single moving tank 300 meters down the road, along with a detachment of 6 guys to assist the PR team with the apprehension of this known suspect. No Problem, right?

Well we loaded up, moved the PR teams HMMWV to the backside of the building and the tank to the front. We knocked on the door and "politely" asked everyone to leave the house there were more than 40 people in the house. Thankfully they all left quietly. We then proceeded to search the house, but didn't find anything other than a couple of weapons that we expected to find in a regular house.

While my team with a couple of the PR team cleared the house, the LT of the PR team identified 3 from our most wanted list in the lineup from the house. While the tank covered, the HUMVEE went and got a bus, where all the men (28 in total) were loaded and driven back to the base for processing. The women and young children were left behind.

Of the 28 people taken to the base, 6 proved to be on our wanted list, and 20 of the remaining 22 incriminated themselves while in the holding pens. A great catch! The Brigade commander wanted to personally congratulate me on my initiative... but the congratulations never happened. Here's why:

My SSG at the radio missed an implied task. I told him what were were doing. I informed him that our replacements were en route and should arrive shortly. I then went and did my job. However, the SSG didn't call in the report, which was the IMPLIED TASK and reason I told him all these details in the first place.

Instead of receiving a medal and a pat on the back, I instead got chewed for taking the initiative and going into a potentially dangerous situation without telling my command I was doing it. The relief convoy could have been driving into a dangerous situation and they didn't know anything about it. Overall, there were plenty of people pissed at me, so I was always out on patrol when the Brigade Commander came to the Battalion for a visit. I never shook his hand, and never got a pat on the back for the capture of 26 people who didn't really like us and acted on that dislike.

Now, as the leader of that team, it was MY MISTAKE. Apparently, my directions were not clear enough and my SSG missed the implied task he was supposed to accomplish. The whole team paid for my lack of clarity, because we all should have been rewarded. Definitely a life lesson.

I would encourage you to think about your directions the next time you give out assignments. Are the directions clear enough? Are there any implied tasks that should be stated? Don't let initiative and success turn into a missed opportunity and failure. Judge your team carefully and make sure the directions are clear for the level of competency of your team.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Colin Powell's Lessons in Leadership - 3

"Don't be buffaloed by experts and elites.  Experts often
possess more data than judgment.  Elites can become so
inbred that they produce hemophiliacs who bleed to death
as soon as they are nicked by the real world."

This statement is really about maintaining vigilance, largely in what happens in large organizations. When you are small and young, everybody pitches in. There is no sense of entitlement. There is no sense of "I earned this, it's his turn to earn his." Most small and young organizations cannot afford that mentality. It would kill the group before it even got up to speed.

But over time groups grow experts and elites. The larger they become, the more you hear the phrases "We've always done it this way" or "We tried it before and it failed" when new suggestions are brought forward. If you want to see the end result is of a company full of experts and elites, look at Nokia. Nokia was one of the largest cell phone companies in the world. They were on top of their game, until Apple changed the game on them. Now they are struggling to catch up. Why? Because the experts said "this is how we've always built cell phones" and the elites wanted everything to stay the same. Then the real world (Apple) came out with a genuine smart phone that the customers responded to... in droves.

Another angle on this concept is when you are the leader of a group performing an implementation. A lot of the time your team will consist of inside and outside experts, as well as elites trying to influence your decisions. However, at the end of the project, it was your role/judgement that will be evaluated; not theirs. In the long run, as a leader, you need to be cautious that the elites and experts are expressing what is best for your objective, and not theirs. As a leader, this is possibly one of the hardest things to do, because elites and experts get where they are with knowledge, and who doesn't want that? The best advice here is to use your judgement, and make sure you aren't blindly following recommendations.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

A lot of my family is from Vermont, so when I got this picture in my inbox I just had to share:

The story:

"They were laying new power cables which were strung on the ground for miles. The moose are rutting right now and very agitated. He was thrashing around and got his antlers stuck in the cables. When the men (miles away) began pulling the lines up with their big equipment, the moose went up with them. They noticed excess tension in the lines and went searching for the problem. He was still alive when they lowered him to the ground. He was a huge 60 inch bull and slightly peeved!

 Not quite sure how to explain this one to the boss...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Complete - The Purchase Order Calculator

Earlier I mentioned that the Purchase Order Calculator was picked up by a manager and made mandatory for her group, so you might think, what else is there to Complete? A LOT! One manager doesn't come close to the total impact of this particular excel spreadsheet. Once the ball was rolling, I scrambled to do my Completion cycle. I approached my manager with the new tool, who promptly pointed me to his "golden child" for her stamp of approval. This was expected, and the only nit-picking she could do was asking for more decimal points in the calculations (when figuring out dollars and cents, why would you need to go beyond two decimals?). My manager say the "improvement" and told me to reduce it to to to the 2 decimal points that were part of the original concept.

After approaching my manager, and getting his sign off, it became a common tool for the Project Management Group. It was very well received (mostly because no thought was involved). The next group that got the tool was the rest of the Order Management Group. The original manager who saw the calculator was from this group, but she hadn't shared it with her boss, or the other managers from the group (at my request). Instead, I asked her to work with me to present the calculator to her boss and other managers. I received the credit for creating it, but she talked about the impact to her team and why the rest of the Order Management Group should use it. It became a mandatory attachment to all outgoing Purchase Orders. Once the facilities got use to the calculator, it dramatically reduced the amount of time spent arguing over how much the PO should be for, and why. Overall it was a rousing success!

However, that isn't all that is involved in "Complete." What about Lesson's Learned? From this experience, I learned:
1. It is important to have (stakeholders) you can trust when working on a "pet project." If the manager who learned of the calculator hadn't trusted me (and I her), this whole endeavour would be blown out of the water before it started.
2. As an extension to number 1, once you have an ally, sometimes their influence is better than yours. The manager proved to be an impartial reviewer, and because she had nothing vested in the project, her enthusiasm was better received than mine.
3. Sometimes it IS better to ask forgiveness than permission. If I had asked to do this, rather than just doing it, I am sure my manager would tell me not to waste my time.
4. Here is the fun one, I stopped with the managers immediately impacted by the project. I should have worked my way up the chain to at least the VP level. Eventually my own calculator was used by a facility in Norway to figure out PO values for the US since the rule applied both ways in that one example.
     a. Honestly, that scared the hell out of me, because the rules were only meant to go from a very specific point of use (a US facility out). I didn't want the calculator used to determine values from Norway to other plants because the rules were different. Voicing my concern got me some face time with the VP of Finance, who asked me to create another version for Norway (I believe her words were "If you can do it once, you can do it again. Let me know when it's done.") That cause me to reach out to contacts in Norway for the rules. I worked closely with an Order Manager to determine the new values and the Norway Purchase Order Calculator was born!
5. The law of unintended consequences... see 4a.
6. Prepare for continuity. I trained three people on how to access, modify, and even build new rules for the Purchase Order Calculator. The reason was simple. What if I got hit by a bus? Or won the lottery? Somebody needed to know how to update/manipulate the new tool, and it couldn't be only the creator. In this way you prepare for succession and continuity.
7, The last one is more of a gripe than anything else. If you have a staff member who works hard on a pet project that saves the company massive amounts of money, then the least you can do is recognize the employee. When I completed the calculator for the PM group, the managers didn't even thank me. When the VP Finance asked me to create one for Norway, the end result was the same. The only thanks I got was from the Order Management group, and that was from the middle managers and employees. I am afraid that there are too many environments like this one, and that is contributing to the number mentioned last week: 83%. If you want to help innovation, if you want to keep your high performers solving problems, then REWARD them when they do perform. Otherwise they will find other areas to expend their effort.

 The calculator continues on, but the US version will soon see it's end. We are migrating to Oracle and the new system will perform the calculations for the employee. The Norway version will live on until Oracle moves to that site (probably a couple of years from now). The US version survived for 3 years, and according to the OM group,saved the company $10 million a year in what was previously wasted effort. That number doesn't count the hours saved by the PM group, and the personnel at the facilities who originally were involved in the arguments. The number also doesn't take into account any savings from the Norway version.  Overall, this was a rousing success. Process improvements is one of the key locations a leader can make an impact, and this is but one example!

I hope you enjoyed this little journey. If you've had experiences like this, please feel free to comment. Thank you!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Colin Powell's Lessons in Leadership - 2

"The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. The have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership."
- Gen (Ret.) Colin Powell

How often do "leaders" forget that their purpose is to provide guidance, direction and support to a team toward a common goal? But instead, as Colin Powell mentions, leaders build barriers to communication; and the expectation of help from someone higher up the hierarchy is nearly unthinkable blasphemy. Unfortunately, this is all to often the case. Hell, even Braveheart touched on the subject when William Wallace said:

"You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom."

I am sure we can all find examples in our life where we worked for a leader who took his/her position to mean that he/she was better than you, and you should basically "bow down" to his/her will. You work long hours while they go on trips, or leave early from work. They pass the blame on to their staff, but take the credit. And heaven help you if you look for help, because it's a sign that you cannot do your job!

This is a poisonous environment to maintain, and in this day that will soon be a very big problem. Recent surveys found that 83% of workers are unhappy and will look for better opportunities this year.  

8 3   P E R C E N T !!!

And since most companies let go of what would be considered "dead weight" that means you are losing your top performers. The moral? Start showing you care. Work with your team to identify problems and solutions. Make sure they know you are working hard too, and that you appreciate the hours they are putting in. AND, don't tell somebody it is their problem, so fix it. Don't foster the poisonous environment that is a failure in leadership and will cause a failure in your team.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wacky Wednesday - TWL

I know I used a Dilbert before, and I really did think long and hard about not using it. I've been really busy these last 6 weeks, and this particular comic started to ring a little too true...

SOOOO.... my advice is to take some "me" time every now and then. If you reach your "TWL" you are not helping anyone, including yourself. There is no shame in asking for help, and if you are going to be overdue, it is better to explain in advance and ask for an extension (just don't make a habit of it).

Monday, May 2, 2011

Command - The Purchase Order Calculator

Okay, Conceive, and Communicate are two great activities of leadership, but Command is where the work gets done. Often as a leader, Command is more about making sure your staff is working toward the right objectives, clarifying the implied objectives, and overall making sure we are in the right forest (read the story here, in my first blog about Command) as well as making sure we are effective and efficient.

But what about when you are a team of one? This project, the Purchase Order Calculator, was really an effort of a team of one... or was it? There is never a team of "one," is there? In this endeavour, I had a team of testers as well as a team of support, not to mention the stakeholders (one of whom got a hold of the product early and it still exploded onto the "market"). I needed to be in Command of their actions and expectations, and when the situation changes, I needed to be in Command of myself enough to adjust my plan. An old saying is "No plan lasts past first contact." As leaders we need to be aware of this (probably a sub-section of Murphy's Law) dictum and be prepared to adjust fire accordingly.

In my case, Command started with a plan of how to move forward. I would concentrate on one piece at a time, creating stop points after each achievement to assess the level of success, whether it was a viable solution, and whether or not it was worth the effort to continue. I didn't realize it at the time, but basically, I was employing what is called Agile Project Management methodology. I started with a basic layout, deciding what information the user would have available immediately, preferably from one source. Then moved into what that information could tell the calculator. From that point, things started getting complicated. Because each plant had a different rule, the calculations would be different for each. After the calculations were determined, then would be "in house" testing, followed by beta testing, and finishing with a release to managers. Each step would have a stop point to determine lessons learned, as well as a review with a couple of "stakeholders" who might have input. The stakeholders were other Project Managers who would benefit from the calculator, but didn't have the inclination or the motivation to actually create a system on their own (they would love to use it, however!).

The first step, determining the source, turned out to be easy: our Cost Price Analysis (CPA) spreadsheet. The CPA at our company is compiled by the Sales staff and tells anyone who has it what the expected cost for the project is, what the sale price is, and where the equipment will be built. This information is the basis for the Purchase Order decisions of the Calculator.

Once I determined the source, the next step was building a way to determine which calculation would be used. The key indicator here was the location. Once the user entered the location where the equipment was built, the calculator would know which rule to apply. I'll admit it wasn't an elegant solution, but I figured out how to write a series of layered "If" functions in excel to determine the rule based on the value selected from a pull down menu. Getting this step right was difficult, and I will freely admit that there was probably a better way to do it. But it works, so that step was closed.

The next stop point was after I wrote out the actual rules used for each location, and pointed the location calculation to the appropriate cells with the rules. In some cases this was easy. Many facilities were at cost, so the value was similar to "J2=C2." In other words, the value of the purchase order (Cell J2) is equal to the cost provided by the CPA (input in Cell C2). See... EASY!

What wasn't easy were the plants that applied a discount to the purchase order based on the margin of sale for that piece of equipment. How do you write a function that determines the PO price is equal to sale price if the Margin is 0-10%: but is Sale Price - 15% if the margin is more than 40%? NIGHTMARE. Eventually I went back to the "If" statements used to determine locations in order to get the calculations correct. Again, not elegant, but it got the job done.

Now was the opportunity for "in house" testing. I used the calculator at work for about 2 weeks, and confirmed my PO amounts the old way. I would then hand the values over to an Order Manager, and ask her to confirm my values were correct. She didn't know it, but she was helping me validate the calculator. I guess this made her a blind quality control for the calculator. I even went to a series of old POs that were causing arguments and used the calculator on them. When the results from the calculator were accepted by both OM and the constructing plant, I knew I had a winner ready for beta-testing.

So, this is often the hardest part of a project, releasing it into the wild. I needed to see what flaws there were, and I think we can all admit that a developer tends to have blind spots that he/she doesn't know exists. In this case, the test group was the "steering committee" along with a couple of Order Managers I trusted. If you want to know the results of that, see my last blog entry on Communication!

Finally, the item was released to the regular users, and was well received! Of course there were suggestions and tweaks, but that is only to be expected. After all, everyone has personal preferences they would rather work towards. However, the calculations were sound and the arguments between plants and order managers drastically reduced.

un-usable, and my effort and time would be wasted! No leader wants this.

So, what is Command? Command is the formation of the plan, and the execution of it. Whether the team is 1 person, or 100, this is Command at it's most basic. But the plan needs to be fluid (one of the advantages of Agile), because, as mentioned earlier, no plan lasts past first contact!
 DoD photo by Gunnery Sgt. Robert K. Blankenship, U.S. Marine Corps. (Released)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Leadership Lesson - Priorities

Often we find ourselves in life forced to make choices. Soup or salad; light or dark meet; blog or paycheck? in the last couple of weeks I made that choice. My responsibility at work increased almost 10 fold when I became responsible for the cleansing and transition of a large amount of financial data from Spreadsheets (at last count, over 200), Access Databases, SharePoint sites, and InfoPath forms into a new EBS system. Not only did I have this new responsibility, but I had to do it in about 3-4 weeks time, where the previous round attempted to do it in 4-6 months.

Needless to say, a choice was needed. I gave up all of my extra-curriculars during this time-frame, to include the blog. For my usual followers, I apologize. To my family, my greatest gratitude for understanding the need for late nights and the lack of "weekends." Now that things are approaching normal speed, I hope to continue the blog where I left off, and hopefully keep some entries in reserve, so that I can keep the blog consistent for my audience. Priorities are important, and while I cannot make the blog my top priority when my paycheck is coming from a separate endevour, it is still up there; as I feel I have something to contribute... and to be honest, some of these entries can be very cathartic. So join me as we continue this journey. I hope you will continue reading my entries, and as always, feel free to comment!