Sunday, July 26, 2009

It all ends up in the trash

One of the lessons I learned this past weekend...

My wife and I helped with the OG Ladies Aux. Bazaar. Part of the Bazaar sales are the items that people contribute (mostly used) that are sold at a great discount (I picked up a used guitar amp for a very good price).

Near the end of the two days, they have a "$3 a bag" sell. People can just fill it up with as much as they can for $3.

Then, much of the better items that are left are donated to the Salvation Army. Almost everything that's left after that is tossed into a big dumpster.

Some of us were talking about what a shame it is to throw away items that some people might need. Then, my friend, Mike, made the point that everything eventually ends up in the trash. You can't take it with you.

It really got me to thinking (those that know me, know that I think a real lot about things). I was thinking how true it is; just about all the stuff we own eventually ends up in the trash. It's just a matter of how long it takes to get there. It makes you realize how temporary things are and how much we should value people more than things.

I think this is one of those posts that is best to keep short and let you think it through.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Starting a PMO

For the past few months, I've been starting a PMO at work.
A PMO is a Project Management Office.

I thought it might make sense to blog about some of the goals, challenges, and plans.

PMO Goals (for our PMO at least):
  • The PMO needs to demonstrate ROI (this is a tough one and honestly one we need to start working on)
  • The PMO must promote and "sell" the value of Project Management to the members of all of the project teams it oversees and upward to management (this includes coaching, development of people to be better Project Managers, and educating people in the PM processes, templates, and tools)
  • The PMO must provide a means of common, standard reporting and common PM processes (templates and tools should also be included)
  • The PMO must collect all the status and roll this up to the mangement/executive it reports to (eventually, this status should be proactive in providing suggested solutions)
  • The PMO must provide PM administrative support to each project
Challenges - The challenges of our PMO and how we are handling them:
  • PMO Resources - there always seems to be more work than resources. We're handling this by tracking every responsibility and request and then constantly re-priortizing. We also are in weekly communication with our executive to discuss our priorities.
  • Balancing Priorities - There are a few high priority activities on our lists. We need to take a time slice for each to at least get each one started (sort of like taking a bite of each item on your plate). Many times we are waiting on others to move ahead, so getting a little progress on each item is a big help toward accomplishing the goal.
  • Finding the answers - Especially with the compliance items we're working on, it's difficult to find the person who has the answer to the questions we need to resolve. For Example: we might be looking for the person who has responsibility for all of the desktop software licenses. In our big organization, it takes a while to track that down. We're working to solve this by asking people who have tracked down this information in the past.
  • Scope Increase - The two "biggest baddest" words in project management! Yes, it happens in a PMO too. People are constantly trying to put a bunch of "monkeys on our backs" by trying to delegate more work to us. We handle this by keeping our roles and responsibilities clear. Actually, just writing this helps me to realize that we should document our Roles and Responsiblities. Maybe I should review my recent presentation on on the subject of "RACI Roles and Responsibilities" and apply it.
Plans: - The plans of our PMO
  • Common and standard reporting templates and Metrics: We're working on a standard reporting spreadsheet that records all the basic data we need from each Project/Program to insure that the metrics we're reporting are supported by hard data. This is a very high priority at this time because we just started work on a new project that can be used to create all the reporting and then we can roll it out to other projects.
  • We're concentrating on Compliance. This is compliance with all rules, regulations, business operation guidelines, controls, and any other directives that would be required to pass an audit. This also includes contract compliance. This is one of our main measurements at this point that would be rolled up above our sponsor, and so we need to be working on this.
  • Some lower priority elements of our plan:
  • Process Improvement: We hope to promote and participate in process improvement to improve project efficiency.
  • Quality: Later we hope to add some spot checks to give feedback and improve on the PM artifacts
  • Coaching: We are constantly involved in coaching people, giving feedback, and promoting the PM processes
  • Education: We have already begun doing some Lunch and Learns to help people discuss the PM processes and improve on them
These are just a few quick thoughts I've had this morning (since I wasn't able to sleep). I'm sure that I probably missed a few "200 pound Gorillas" that I will remember in a few minutes. Hopefully I'll be able to blog more on this in the future.

I'd like to hear your comments.

For all you fathers out there who have daughters

A good friend of mine sent this video of Michael W. Smith singing a great song.
He sent it because we're preparing for our second daughter's wedding next year.

For all you fathers out there who have daughters, my advice to you is to watch this. Then, go spend the next few years with your wife and children as much as you can.

Your children need to see you setting an example of you spending time with your wife, it's a role model for them.

And, you need to spend time with your children: Quantity time is even more important that Quality time. They grow up so fast! Believe me, I know!

Note: my advice to those of you with a Daughter who is about to be married is to watch the movie "Father of the Bride" with Steve Martin.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress Presentation

Last night I saw a wonderful "Pilgrim's Progress" Presentation (note: follow the link for free copies). It was given by Jim Winder (Website about the presentation here: in Ocean Grove and was based on the book by John Bunyan.

The presentation was a bit of acting/telling the story interspersed with songs.

I enjoyed reading the story to my daughter years ago. This presentation re-sparked my interest in the book. I'm hoping to read it again.

I would say that the main thread of the story is based on the scripture:

Matthew 7:13-14 (New International Version)

13"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Jesus said these words. He also said that he is the narrow road that leads to life (John 14:6).

I hope you find the narrow way. If you want to know more, just contact me.

I watched and listened to the presentation last night while sitting next to a family of our good friends. It was great to see the play through the eyes of someone almost 10 years old. She was very perceptive of the meaning of the allegory, which is very impressive for someone her age. It was a joy to see her rejoicing in the triumphs of the main character.

At one point, the main character of the story meets someone who is going the wrong way on the path. They had believed at one point, but had wondered for a long time and had given up. They no longer believed. At that point I noticed the countenance changed in my young friend sitting next to me; she was looking downward, was very sad, and said "this is horrible." Later, I asked why, and she said "because he was going the wrong way." It was so deeply touching to my heart to feel her sadness over someone who was lost. I, too, have felt a deep sorrow for people who are lost on life's way. Jesus is so close and wants to give them life. I pray for them individually.

I encourage you to read the story of "Pilgrims Progress." I know that I intend to read it. If you do too, it will give you strength and understanding to know Him better. And, that's the best encouragement there is!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Business Email Guidlines

These are some "Business" email guidelines that I've learned over the years.

I'll share my "Personal" email guidelines soon too!

I'm posting these here because I told my manager that I'd write them up so he can distribute them to the team.

He has far too many emails coming to him. Following these guidelines will help everyone to be more effective with email.

1. Keep emails to one subject each

Since so many people have so much email to skim through, they often read the first two sentences and decide what to do with the email. By putting separate subjects in separate emails, you’ll help people to know which ones they need to take action on and which are informational only

2. If there is someone who is responsible for providing something, make it clear

Help the person(s) receiving the email to know who’s expected to do something.

If you need Jack to supply the latest report, make sure that Jack knows that. If there are multiple people needing to supply things, you might consider spelling it out in the beginning of the email and then bolding their names on the items they’re responsible for.

It was a great meeting today: Jack, Jan, and Sally all have action items assigned, see the details below.

3. If there is something with a due date, make it clear when it is due/needed

Stating a due date helps the person receiving the email to schedule their time. If the due date is flexible, then say so. A good way to state a flexible due date is to suggest a date and ask if it’s obtainable. Example: I have to have this to my manager by Monday, but I need to compile what you give me with the responses of three others. So, could you have this back to me by Monday?

4. Put the action and/or assignee(s) in the subject

Help the person(s) receiving the email to know what’s expected of them.

Suggested Subjects:
FYI: We’re going ahead with the plan
Jack: Decision required by Tue. 5/19/2011: open or closed security?

5. Always end with the recommended action or suggestion

It’s great to point out the issues, but conclude with the suggested action. Actions can include: assigning an action to someone, have a meeting to discuss or to leave things as is.

6. If it’s long and detailed, put a synopsis at the top and detail below

A sometimes a lot of information needs to be communicated, but some of the audience doesn’t need to know all the details. Some people want the overview and to have the detail in case they need it for backup later. Help them out by giving them an overview and detail. Example:

Overview: We are going ahead with the plan to remove the ten widgets as discussed last week This will result in a 10% savings over the previous plan.

Last week the team came up with a revised plan that would result in removing the ten widgets from the external widget generator. The following list of tasks will now need to be done, but it will save us substantial cost …

8. Think Twice before sending "Thanks" emails - the other person may already have enough emails in a day. Think about limiting your "thank you" emails.

9. If you have an email "discussion" going, it's time to pick up the phone - if it's a discussion that's gone back and forth more than twice, then the phone makes more sense.

10. If, when replying, you add or remove other email addresses, identify this at the beginning of the email

Phone Interview Pointers for interviewees

Well, It's been a bit since I conducted phone interviews, but I had to do some more today.

I know a lot of people out of work right now and thought they might benefit from what I found myself doing in these phone interviews (most of them apply to face-to-face interviews as well):

1. It's true - phone interviews are to screen people out. So, don't give the interviewer any ammunition. Give as little information as required so that you get called in for a face-to-face interview. Keep in mind the entertainers credo: always leave the audience in a way where they want more.

2. Keep your replies brief - I had a few too many times when I asked a question and wanted a short reply and the person talked on and on, much of the talking off subject! I always try to keep in mind what John Lucht says in his book "Rites of Passage:" when in an interview, try to keep your response to 2 minutes or less and end with a variation of "I hope that answers your question, or is there something else you'd like to know?"

3. Be a good listener: I was surprised at how some people heard my question and went off onto another subject without answering my question. Maybe it was because they didn't know the answer or because they weren't listening to the question closely, but it didn't reflect well on them.

4. Show some initiative: I had one interviewee who asked if they could send me a paper they wrote on a subject I asked about. It was a clever way to get my email address to follow-up. Another interviewee said they had researched the group I am in, so he knew what we do. These all demonstrate someone with initiative, a very valuable trait for us interviewers to find in someone.

5. Close the conversation with a question: Some people just said thanks and they hoped to hear from me again. That's nice. However, one asked when he would hear from me again and asked to be kept in the loop while waiting.

Another person, with even more initiative, asked when we would make the decision and who else he would need to talk to before the decision was made. He mentioned that he needed to know because he had other opportunities he was holding off. It showed he was interested. For someone who might be a strong candidate, this might give them an indication of how well they did because it might cause the interviewer to try to "sell" the position. It might also make the interviewer realize that they need to make a decision before the candidate takes another position.

Guitars, anchors, capos, chord shapes, and hammer-on

How's that for some off-the-wall terminology?!?
And I thought the IT industry had a bunch of jargon to learn!

Well, I learned a bunch from my friends Steve a few weeks ago and then from another friend, Joey, the past 2 weekends:

Anchors: I had learned from a Guitar lesson DVD that when playing chords, it's good to "anchor" a finger in one spot so it's easier to switch chords. I was learning the song "Homegrown Tomatoes" (a Guy Clark song) and was having difficulty switching chords quickly (it only uses 3: the I, IV, and V7 chords - more on that in another post, but suffice it to say in the key of G they are G, C, and D7 - see the chord chart here I happened to see Steve and explained to him about needing an "anchor" and he showed me (with no guitar) how I would play the G chord differently so I can switch between G and C easily. I was surprised that I was able to pickup what he meant without having a guitar with me, but you can bet I went home and tried it quick! It's great!

Capos and Chord Shapes:
So, then the past 2 weekends, Joey saw me playing on the porch. He came by and asked if he could jam with me. Of course I responded with a resounding "yes!" (He's a guitar teacher!). He played some wonderful things while I played my simple 3 chord "Homegrown Tomatoes."

I asked him what he was doing and he showed me how he had the capo on the 7th fret. He asked me how I could then figure out where "G" was on the "A" string (one second closest to the sky). Once I found the "G" note, I just had to think of a chord shape (the shape of a chord) that I play without a capo that uses that note as the "root". I mentioned the "C" Chord uses that string in that fret and he told me that if I play the same "chord shape" (same shape as the "C" chord) up on those frets (as though the capo is now the "nut," the piece at the top of the guitar neck where the stings end before the tuning pegs) I would actually be playing a "G". COOL! It sounded like a Ukulele!

Well, he taught me some more about the "Capo Triangle:" The three points of the triangle are the "chord shape", "root" and the "chord." I've got some "homework" that he gave me to do on this, so I'll blog more on this another time.

Joey also showed me how he was playing a "hammer-on" to make it sound great. I learned before (from a book) that you do a hammer-on by strumming a string and then quickly placing your finger on the fret where it's supposed to be. It takes a lot of practice (for me at least) to get the timing right. Well, what Joey was doing using a hammer-on was: first, you play the base note, then you play the 2nd string with a hammer-on, then the third string. It sounds great. Time to practice!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Maslow's Levels of Learning

Today I heard Duffy Robbins speak and he mentioned the 4 levels (hierarchy) of Learning.

He attributed them to Abraham Maslow because he thought that was who had published them, but he has looked around and can't find the reference.

They are:
1. Unconscious Incompetence - This is when you think you know it all, but you really just don't realize how little you know. I was like this in my teens and soon after graduating college.

2. Conscious Incompetence - this is when you realize that you have a lot to learn. I can remember being in this stage about several subjects in my life. I can remember being this way with life, with project management, and several times in my Christian walk.

3. Conscious Competence - This is when you get the "book learning." You have the knowledge, the know how, but you have to think about the steps and fundamentals in order to get the job done. I get this way with public speaking sometimes, I have to think about what I'm doing so I don't say "Ummm" all the time.

4. Unconscious Competence - This is when you can do things right without even thinking about it. It's being "in the zone." Some good examples are walking and riding a bicycle, once you learn, you don't have to think about how to do it anymore.

I hope to post a few blogs about applying this principle to other subjects. Learning has always been an important emphasis in my life, so I can think of lots of ways to apply these 4 levels.

Stay tuned...

update 2013-05-06 I just found this article on Wikipedia about "Four stages of competence" that makes a note about who this should be attributed to.

update 2013-07-31 I found this slide presentation about learning yesterday. It's for a different application in healthcare, but still applies. It talks about how to create tension in the "learning ladder" on slides 38-42 and 46-49 are helpful.

Update 2013-08-19 The related idea of creating tension for change is represented well in a few of the slides in the above presentation. Slide 39 is of note since it shows that too much tension can cause "shut down." I've seen this occur several times before when a project team is overwhelmed by a difficult environment. I've also found a few other sites that talk about tension for change: 

Monday, July 06, 2009

Please Hide email Addresses of Your Friends

I've received a bunch of emails lately that people have sent to me with very good intentions; warnings about computer viruses, dangerous hoodlums, and other things.

Well intentioned people often do a forward and send these to all their friends and family.

This spreads around our email addresses to make it easy on spammers to add us to spam lists.

Please do us all a favor: when you forward emails, please put everyone's email address in the BCC box. That will hide our email addresses from other people we don't know when this email get's forwarded all around.

Email Addresses Ripe for the Picking (by spammers):
Note on how NOT to do it: If you put everyone's email in the "To" or "CC" box, then everyone sees all the other emails. As this gets forwarded around the internet, everyone get's to see our email address. A spammer picks that up and gets to add tons of email addresses to their spam list. For an example of what I'm talking about, just look at the emails you've received that have already been circulated from people passing the email around. You'll see lots of email addresses just ripe for the picking!

Thanks for thinking of us all. Let's cut back on the spam we all have to put up with.
Pass this around to your friends and family (but make sure you use the BCC box)!