Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

When you have this close a connection to the Big Guy, you would think that there are more important things to ask for...

Like maybe:
1. A Million Dollars
2. Long Life
3. Eternal Happiness
4. And let's not forget... World Peace...

But instead, a church is begging
Photo Credits: Elaine Roberts

If you can't read the Chuch Sign, it says:

This must be a kid with one hell of a math test coming up...

One of my co-workers sent this picture while she was home. I work in Houston, but she lives further north and flies in weekly. All kidding aside, a lot of the country was buried this winter. Now that Spring has "officially" arrived, I thought that this picture would probably be worth sharing. 


Monday, March 28, 2011

Command - Walk the Talk

The hottest I saw in Iraq during my first tour was 154 degrees (Fahrenheit). I didn't even think it could get that hot until the news came over the radio. At the time I was at a fixed guard point, on a big metal tank, wearing 40 lbs of body armor, under a poncho for shade... not much benefit there; and a bottle of hot water at my lips. Why hot water? Well, tanks aren't known for their spaciousness, there is no fridge or AC, and the ice truck didn't come out to our location. Hot water was the ONLY water.

Why mention the heat? Well, the Battalion Commander promised that he would be the last person in the unit to get an Air Conditioner. That as long as the rest of us were living on our vehicles or in empty shells of buildings, he wouldn't enjoy comforts that his troops didn't have. A very noble sentiment...

The truth turned out to be far different. Two days later I returned to the Battalion's base, only to find the Commander's office AND room was boarded up with plywood and window AC units outfitted inside each one. The bad news is that nobody else in the unit had air conditioning (save the deuce and a half that was outfitted with the BTN's planning computers, which incidental was where I started my deployment. Another blog entry, another time).

That week, the temperatures were all in the upper 130's and lower 140's with a couple of spikes into the 150's. I sent 12 of my 16 guys to the medics for IVs. A lot of the soldiers were being sent to the medics for heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration. But the Colonel's rooms were a cool 72 degrees.

Okay, so you probably know where I am going on this one. A leader needs to keep his promises. The blow to morale and the drop in the level that the soldiers trusted him were brutal. It would have been bad if he got the AC units without making the promises, but excuses would have been made. "Rank doth have privilege" and all that. But because he said he would go without, and then he is the first and only to have it... well, I think you can figure that one out.

A leader is constantly under scrutiny. Now, I don't know if the Colonel in question decided to acquire the ACs, or some enterprising staff Captain decided that the Colonel needed to be taken care of. Either way, because a promise was made, the Colonel probably should have given the ACs to a room of Privates, or his driver, or for that matter the Command Sergeant Major of the unit. He would have earned a lot of credit and respect which are 2 things leaders always need more of.

I am pretty sure we can all come up with examples of leaders who didn't quite measure up. Perhaps someone didn't deliver on a promise, like the example above. Or perhaps the person withheld training or a promotion because the person was "too useful" where he/she was to let him or her go; which many would consider an implied promise that a leader will help his/her people advance.

In the long run, a leader is measured not just by the objectives met, or projects completed. A true leader is measured by the faith and loyalty of his men (and women), and the ability to keep promises. Remember that the next time you are with one of your staff and you make a promise about a promotion, raise, or maybe just an invitation to lunch. Those interactions mean a lot to your people. If you can't keep them, better to keep your mouth shut and avoid the hurt caused by the promises broken.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

Sometimes the best laid plans can go awry because of a lack of proper tools. In this particular case, I'm thinking the solution was a chain saw and a stump grinder...

Picture Credit: unknown

Anyone else have George of the Jungle going through their head? 

Anyway, when you are working on a project and you encounter an obstacle you can go around, through, over, or ignore it. I think we can all agree how the leader decided to handle this situation...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Far Side of the Moon

The other day I was talking with a fellow leader and we were discussing blind spots. It just so happens that a particular item had recently jumped up and bit him, because it was a blind spot. At the time I called it the dark side of the moon, meaning that the spotlight from management and for his team was focused on one side of the objective, while the other side (the blind side) never saw any light and therefore was an unknown until it was time to try to complete the entire objective.

I liked the analogy so much that I decided to do some research. Well, it turns out that there is a side of the moon that is never seen from Earth. AND there is a common perception that it also never sees sunlight, hence it is often referred to as the "dark side of the moon." Unfortunately, at least for my analogy, the sun does shine on that side of the moon as much as it shines on the side we can see. I cannot therefore call it the dark side of the moon

However, I can call it the FAR side of the moon.

The amazing thing about it is that even though it exists, the far side of the moon wasn't seen until photos were taken by the Soviet Luna 3 in 1959. That means until as recently as 63 years ago, people didn't know what was on the far side of the moon! It wasn't even seen with the human eye until 1968! That is one very long term blind spot.

So why talk about it in a leadership blog? Because we all have blind spots. In project management we often have stakeholders who aren't recognized as stakeholders until the last minute. When that happens, and the Project Manager tries to get agreement from ALL the stakeholders, the one or two groups who were forgotten often cause the largest problems!

Just last week I talked about Who Else Needs to Know. Each of the groups I didn't inform about the helicopter landing was on the far side of the moon. I didn't know they were there. It was a blind spot for me. And it wasn't until the helicopter landed that the far side of the moon became my issue.

So what can we do about it? A lot of the time, this is covered near the beginning of a project, mission, objective, whatever; where the team gets together and analyzes the scope. During that analysis, one of the items that often gets dropped is "who does this impact?" or maybe "Who else does this impact?" would be more specific. If there is even the potential for impact, that person, group, whatever is now a stakeholder in the project and at least one conversation should occur.

One note, the far side of the moon may not always be stakeholders. In one case, we were getting ready to deliver equipment to the customer for a drilling rig. The rig would be working off the coast of Brazil. Brazil has a pressure vessel certification call NR-13. We thought we had it covered, until they asked for the certifications for the pulsation dampners (PDs) on the mud pumps. Now the PDs are not really a pressure vessel, but it does function under pressure. It was a missing piece, a blind spot, on the far side of the moon for the project. And it quickly became my problem.

The point being that the far side of the moon can be anything unexpected that can cause issues for a leader whether the project is on day 1 or day 1001. My suggestion is to send "satellites" around the backside of the objective occasionally, just to make sure you are aware of what is on the side you never see. The "satellites" could be conversations, research, or announcements designed to determine who is interested or what is involved. If you perform those types of activities in a controlled fashion (in other words, when a blind side is found, don't start screaming that the sky is falling) then you will have less last minute surprises and your projects will execute much more smoothly (now, I hope that I don't need to point out that NO project is ever 100% smooth).

So, what types of "satellites" do you send to the far side of the moon? For that matter, what have you experienced in your careers that were on the far side of the moon? I know that we all have had at least 1!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wacky Wednesday - Texting and Driving?

Last week I gave a presentation on Multitasking. During that presentation I shared some results from a test Car and Driver Magazine performed in 2009. The basics are that the magazine had its' editors run a course at 70 mph sober, drunk, while reading an email, and while trying to text. A passenger had control of a little light on top of the dashboard. When the light came on, the driver was supposed to stop. The sober result was used as the baseline. Do you want to see the results?

Drunk: + 4 Feet

While Reading an Email: + 36 feet

While Attempting to Text:

+ 72 Feet!!!!
Pictures are not from the Car and Driver Test...

If that's the case, wouldn't you be better off drunk in a meeting rather than "responding to emails?" 
Perhaps as leaders we should just put the phone away and pay attention?

(I am not saying people should drink and go to meetings! Or for that matter, drive. We all know that is NOT a good idea!) 
Photo credits: unknown.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Who Else Needs to Know?

Leaders have a tendency to hold things close to the chest. Get burned once or twice by opening your mouth and you soon learn to hold things close. I just mentioned Apple in my last post and I think I should again. Apple holds everything close to the chest. If you listen to the rumblings of the tech world, then you know about 6 months ago a developer left a version of the iPhone at a bar, by accident. When it was found, it made it's way to, who took it apart and wrote several reviews about it.

The unfortunate consequence of the lost phone was that the developer who lost the phone was fired, and the house of the editor of Gizmodo was suppossedly raided by police for "stolen property." Now THAT is CLOSE HOLD.

But... let's take a step back. Within Apple, while the development of the iPhone was happening, do you think that the developers, programmers and marketers all knew about the product? Don't you think that the people that needed to know about the product did? Honestly, every time Apple releases a new product, there is an army of people ready to support it; another army ready to sell it; and another army ready to market it. Knowledge transfers need to happen.

So every time you as a leader makes a decision, you should probably ask yourself who else needs to know...

An example from my past life: I just got back from Iraq the second time. I was working in the Operations office of the Division headquarters for only about a week. At that particular moment, I was the only officer present, when a Colonel came into the office, looked around and told me that a General would be landing at the helipad outside the headquarters tomorrow, then walked out. I wrote a note and left it on the desk of my boss, then headed home.

What I didn't do:
1. I didn't tell the Ops officer on duty.
2. I didn't tell the base flight control.
3. I didn't TELL my boss (the note was buried within 5 minutes of me leaving his office by a SITREP report; think TPS reports for you Office Space junkies).

So what happend? The general was almost denied permission to land because local flight control didn't know he was coming; and the headquarters had to scramble to put together a reception for the general, rather than having nobody meet him at the helicopter.

Now in my defense, nobody ever told me what was expected of me if a helicopter was going to land... of course, I never asked either, so...

What this experience taught me was two fold. First, if you don't know, ASK. The second one is closer to the blog topic... ask yourself: "Who else needs to know?"

Leadership decisions have consequences. When a decision is made, take a moment to think about who else needs to know. If you need to push back a delivery date due to scope changes, it probably would be beneficial to tell your team before you tell the client. After all, what happens if your team looks lost and confused when the client asks for confirmation of the changed date? Yes it happened to me (I was the one looking lost)...

How about a decision that changes the behind the scenes settings of software? A decision was made that the owning Organization for a template would change. However, that decision wasn't passed to the team loading the template before it was loaded in one instance and replicated to 5 more. That one oversite created hours of work that could have been minutes.

So, next time a decision is made, take a look at the impacts and ask yourself "Who else needs to know?"

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wacky Wednesday!

You know what is coming as soon as the video starts... but you can't help cringing as soon as it happens!

I figured since Apple was in my last post (and will be in the next one) that the video would be appropriate. Especially since Apple just announced the iPad2 so many users of the original may feel the need to do something similar.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Do I Really Need the Big Picture?

Picture yourself in a thick wooded area around dusk. The light that is filtering through the trees is casting a lot of deep shadows, which are proving to be more hindrance than help in determining what is ahead of you. Not really a problem in most cases, but this time, I was carrying an M-16, body armor, a ruck sac, and was the leader for a patrol on a mission. Let's just say it wasn't a walk through a park...

As we moved we came into proximity of a favorite ambush point for opposing forces. Tanks wouldn't fit amongst the trees and we were trying to avoid collateral damage, otherwise the area probably would have been blasted flat by now. The platoon was spread-out and concentrating on the ambush point. After all, many previous patrols were hit from that exact point. This time we were ready.

One problem... Apparently the ambusher read Sun Tzu, because the ambush didn't come from the "known" point. Instead it came from the right while we were spreading out our lines in anticipation of the ambush. Basically, the entire platoon was spread out like a shooting range, with each member just slightly farther away from the new ambush point. Machine gun fire went off all around us, causing casualties and confusion in it's wake.

How to respond? We needed to swing the line, get people in position, and try to use the cover from the woods to position ourselves on the ambusher. It took a good 10-15 seconds just to get everybody to register what was going on, with the screaming, gun fire, and people crashing through the brush. By the time it was all over, it had turned into a nightmare and the number of casualties were HUGE! Just as the ambush was finally contained, I learned that a fellow patrol to the east was overrun and there was a force of infantry heading in my direction. How was I going to salvage the platoon and the mission?

Thankfully I remembered two important things. There was another platoon (alpha) only a 1/4 mile to the west, who hadn't seen any contact yet. Second, there were medivac helicopters available to get the casualties out and a clearing about 100 yards ahead of us. I called my company commander, had him order the platoon to the west to move up to my position and secure a perimeter while the medivac choppers came in and lifted the wounded out. The remainder of my platoon would then link up with alpha and move to contain the incoming infantry. It turned out to be a very long day...

The saving grace of this was that I was in the woods of Northern Washington State, leading a patrol of cadets through a training exercise. It was a disaster, but I received a pass. Why did I receive a pass? Because I remembered the big picture. The test wasn't whether or not we could respond to or even survive the ambush. The test was to determine if the leader had the presence of mind to remember the big picture and make sound decisions that would provide for the best survival of the platoon and the accomplishment of the mission. I was 21 years old at the time...

Why am I sharing this with you? Because people tend to be myopic, looking at only their piece of the puzzle without realizing how decisions and events can impact the bigger picture. As leaders we CANNOT afford that situation. We need to be aware of how our decisions impact the greater strategy, as well as how events can impact the tasks set before us. Don't believe me? Try asking the leaders at HP and Dell (let alone Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, the list goes on and on) how they feel every time Apple makes a new product announcement.

A couple more examples just to bring the idea a little closer to home. During one of my projects, the floor space was redesigned and the rail system for a large piece of equipment was moved. Now, the person working on that piece of equipment didn't care that it got moved, because the distances were the same. But I had to look at the big picture. The rail would cause interference with another piece of machinery. Thankfully, neither machine needed to be in the same space at the same time, so the solution was easy. A new sensor package was needed to prevent one machine from clipping the other. Change order? Yes. Big picture issue? Yes. If it hadn't been identified early on, would it be a MONSTER issue? YES!

Second version is one where I wasn't the lead. International software implementation going on. The system was already configured for US use, but now needed to expand to several locations in Europe. Here's the problem. The developers in Europe operated like they were in a vacuum. They lost sight of the big picture. Instead of creating a separate regional calendar for all the local holidays, they just added all their holidays to the GLOBAL Calendar. Since the system ran planning based on the calendar, it was now attributing European holidays to the US work tables. Big Problem? I would say so. Why did it happen? Because the developers didn't take into account the big picture. In their smaller tests instances there was no impact, because the US planning engine wasn't turned on. It wasn't until the configurations were being loaded into the Production system that somebody noticed and thought to ask. Thankfully a fix was implemented before the system went live with the updates. BUT, it could have been a much bigger problem, if some data entry specialist didn't stop and say "Wait a minute..."

As a leader, a person cannot afford to ignore the big picture. Managers can concentrate on the trees, but a LEADER needs to see the whole forest as well. Next time you find yourself wrapped up in the details (which does need to happen occasionally) make sure to take a step back and look for your impacts. Otherwise you might be relying on a $13-$18 an hour data entry specialist to find the mistakes.