Sunday, December 5, 2010

Are you inspired?

Are you excited by what you do?  Are you excited by who you are?  Are you excited by your own story?  Are you inspired?

Here's a good read to that point at Simple Productivity | Zen Habits.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Stories add a rich context to any subject matter, thus I try to use storytelling in my teaching and curriculum development.  I'm also very curious about new technologies and platforms, so blend the two together and I wind up with things like Prezi.

Of all the interactive storyboard platforms that I've screened and tested, Prezi holds the most promise (so far).  I'm experimenting with it, especially for use with the online project management course that I will be finishing soon.

I've also started another blog for my entertainment project pursuits (and you thought that you knew everything about me, didn't you?)  It's on the Tumblr platform and I haven't really "gussied" it up yet, but it will be a useful outlet in the near future.  It can be found at

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Eric Berlow: How complexity leads to simplicity

This concept has many, many uses in most organizations, especially with regard to the value stream.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Applying lean principles to your life

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value."

Albert Einstein

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Marketing done wrong

A few weeks ago we registered with Ticketmaster to buy tickets to "The Lion King" on Broadway.  Since going to the show (which was tremendous), I've received numerous marketing e-mails from Ticketmaster encouraging me to buy tickets guessed it, "The Lion King."

Though Ticketmaster may be leaving money on the table by ineffectual marketing, they won't really be hurt by it because they are a monopoly - I have to use Ticketmaster to purchase tickets to most entertainment events.  However, the vast majority of companies aren't monopolies and this type of marketing ineptness could seriously damage them, or worse, be fatal. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

When to take action

A question that should be asked before any decision to take action is:

Is there a bigger risk in not taking action?  Or, what are the ramifications of not taking action?

This applies to small and large decisions alike.  You must first determine if what you are doing is important enough to warrant action, so begging the question of not taking action helps to crystallize your thoughts.

Looking at the opposite, or reciprocal, of anything helps to clarify the issue.  For example, if you are branding a product or service, a good question to ask is, "What does the absence of my brand look like?"  The answer defines your brand.

Simple tools in a complex world.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Education is relative

"Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own." - Bruce Lee

The late Bruce Lee was (and still is) a cultural icon renown for his martial arts prowess and his highly popular movies.  Devotees of Bruce Lee know that he created an informal martial arts style based on practicality, flexibility, speed, and efficiency.  He originally taught the style as "Jun Fan Gung Fu" ("Bruce Lee's Kung Fu"), but he eventually opted for the more elegant "Jeet Kune Do" ("The Way of the Intercepting Fist").

Without going into a rather long back story, the gist of the anecdote is that Bruce Lee found the Wing Chun techniques in which he was trained to be too rigid and formailistic for actual street fighting, so he worked on creating his own techniques.  He professed Jeet Kune Do to be "the style of no style."  His emphasis was on using what worked best - he borrowed from numerous styles and sports, even fencing - whatever worked was absorbed and whatever didn't was discarded, and the techniques were customized to match each student's unique physical and mental attributes.  The result was a fluid approach to martial arts that, in most cases, was quite superior to the traditional techniques and styles. 

The simple philosophy that Bruce Lee used to create Jeet Kune Do can be applied to any aspect of life and any endeavor undertaken.  The transfer of knowledge, especially practical knowledge, is relative to each student and their particular background and current mind set.  Some techniques are completely applicable, some will become applicable, and some will never be applicable - it depends on circumstances and conditions.

So, my advice is to take Bruce Lee's advice and tailor your learning to what works best for you and your circumstances. 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The personal touch

Most large organizations have jumped on the "virtual" bandwagon, ostensibly to save money, but they've bought in to a fallacy.  I'm going to open a big can of worms, but projects cannot be managed effectively in a virtual environment.  Can virtual projects come to a successful conclusion?  Absolutely, but at a cost.  The cost is time (read: money), quality, and organizational intelligence.  In a global environment, some components of a project will be virtual out of necessity; however, there is no need to codify and institutionalize the virtualization.

Just in the past two months I can give three specific examples of how communications were completely fouled up by my current client's insistence on virtual teams.  One instance had to do with an external vendor misunderstanding the release schedule and requirements which could have been catastrophic had I not met with them in person.  Folks, you cannot replace the value and effectiveness of working projects in person.  Don't fall in to the trap of the "virtual" project - put resources and effort into making sure that project teams are working face to face as much as possible. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Elegance of Simplicity

Project management is akin to a cattle drive. There is an ultimate goal, a deliverable - in the case of a cattle drive the deliverable is getting the cattle to market on time. In between are broken trails, lost cows, swollen rivers, bad weather, irritable cow pokes, busted equipment, and so on. A project is no different. As with the cattle drive, project managers deal with changing circumstances and conditions.

Often project managers will face a merry-go-round of evolving requirements that will drive the most sane among us crazy.  Decisions are made in midstream, sometimes at odds with the project's objectives, that require a project team to quickly change priorities and direction. This is the unpredicable world of project management.

In order to succeed, a project manager must be able to play in an ambiguous sand box. It requires creativity and a single minded focus on the end game. Our tendency is to try to solve problems with more control and complexity; however, the best solutions are generally the simplest solutions - there is an elegance in simplicity. Even the most elaborate endeavors benefit from simplicity born of a clear mission.

Case in point:

The new Hong Kong International Airport (Chek Lap Kok) was built on reclaimed land and was one of the most complex engineering undertakings of the late 20th century. Reclaiming land from the sea is a major task in of itself, not to mention the fact that they built an airport on the reclaimed land as well as an integrated transportation infrastructure to get to and from the airport. This project could not have been successfully completed had there not been some fairly creative solutions to daunting problems.

When land is reclaimed from the sea it tends to sink over time unless water can be drained from underneath the soil.  Couple this with the stringent ground compaction standards required for building airport runways and you’ve got quite a dilemma – how do you drain the water from beneath millions of tons of rock and soil? The engineers on this project used simple physics rather than intricate pumping methods to solve the problem. They designed porous tubes that were inserted
into the ground. The weight of the dirt and rocks pushed the water into the tubes which naturally forced the water up and out of the tubes. This solution was simple and did not require complex designs or technology to accomplish the task.

These engineers were free to make decisions on the ground based on the circumstances facing them. They were well aware of what success looked like, but diverged from common methods without fear of compromising the project. By the way, their solution was far less expensive and took less time. This simple solution can be a touchstone for project managers.

Always go back to the restraint and rhythm of simplicity.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Breaking the rules

The dirty little secret to rescuing a failed project is breaking the rules.  I don't mean the regulatory or compliance variety, but those that get in the way of a project being delivered (read: the organization and its people).  To get a project back on track, lifecycle standards, documentation, and petty resource issues must be, for the most part, ignored.

Civilian and military rescue teams don't bring in committees to get their jobs done, they just do it.  Yes, there's some planning involved, but it's acute and focused on the problem in front of them.  Action is the key to rescuing a failing project...and that sometimes means breaking sacrosanct rules.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A reminder

Mistakes and failure are not only inevitable, they're necessary. Without them, you're not trying, you're not pushing yourself to learn, you're not taking the risks necessary to move forward.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

#1 management skill

The #1 management skill is the ability to manage in an ambiguous environment where decisions need to be made in a cloud of uncertainty, where 100% of the information needed is not available. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

To connect or not to connect?

I was going to write this week on the fallacious concept of modern communications, on how it's actually severing our connectedness and reducing our productivity, but Sam Parker makes the same point - I defer to him:

Sunday, June 20, 2010


My current client, Citibank, is migrating to an Agile environment for the projects that I'm involved with.  This is great news because my management philosophy jibes quite well with Agile methodologies.  

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Teddy Roosevelt and action

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, was known as a man of action and not mere words.  He extolled the virtues of the "strenuous life", not only in writing, but in practice. -

"It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things."

"Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster."

"Great thoughts speak only to the thoughtful mind, but great actions speak to all mankind."

"I don't pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being."

"I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life."

"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

"Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering."

"Rhetoric is a poor substitute for action, and we have trusted only to rhetoric. If we are really to be a great nation, we must not merely talk; we must act big."

Monday, June 7, 2010

John Wooden and success

John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA who set the bar for success in any sport, recently passed away.  The pundits and historians will give him his rightful requiem, that's not my place, but his career is a lesson in leadership at all levels. 

Experience - John Wooden was a highly successful coach throughout his career; however, the legendary and unparalleled run of championships came at the end of his career (10 NCAA titles between 1964 and 1975, 4 unbeaten seasons during that string, and a run of 7 titles in a row).  Experience does count.

Execution - John Wooden's teams were about execution, teamwork, and simpatico.  The fundamentals and ruthless preparation were keys to his teams' success.  Wooden's teams concentrated on flawless execution by honing basic skills to near perfection.

Simplicity - There was nothing complex about Wooden's tactics and strategies; they were simple and elegant.  Great execution of a simple plan.

Flexibility -  John Wooden had a famous quote - "Flexibility is the key to stability."  Granted, John Wooden's teams had some amazing talent; however, John Wooden was able to win championships whether he had the star players or not.  He crafted simple game plans around the talent that he currently possessed and adjusted quickly to the evolution of game conditions.    

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Executing a vision

In a nutshell, a project manager executes and delivers an organization's vision. 

One doesn't need to be a project management professional or titled a "project manager" to be a project manager.  Project management is a sub-set of management proper with specific skills, knowledge bases, and methodologies that are used to deliver project objectives to an organization.  Competence in management and leadership is an absolute requisite - which is a product of experience.    

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Standing alone

"Deliberation is the work of many men. Action, of one alone." - Charles de Gaulle

Project management is a collaborative effort to be sure; however, a project manager often needs to stand alone and make the tough decisions for the benefit of the project - decisions that may be unpopular.  This is no different than any other leadership position - the willingness and steadfastness to stand alone against the majority in protection of the mission and the vision.  

Monday, May 24, 2010

Confucius and project management

"When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps." - Confucius

Sounds like a project management methodology to me!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A new vision

I am re-purposing this blog to share my experience and lessons learned in management, project management, and leadership. I have years of perspective to share - successes and failures, accomplishments and mistakes - but, above all, the will and ability to take action when others are standing still.

I will be offering formal online training in project management and management/leadership that's based on newly developed curriculum and curriculum that I've developed for colleges and universities (through Joe Gartrell, Inc.). As always, my course material is not "theory", it's based on proven management principles and "in the trenches" experience.

Let's get started...