Project242: Defining Your “WHY”

Project242 (P242) is my journey to bike 242 miles in 24 hours, across the state of Minnesota on gravel roads, in August, 2021 (the Day Across MN, or the DAMN). I’ve found many lessons experienced riding a bike can be applied to our careers. In these posts, I will share the correlations.

As someone who has done ultra distance events prior to signing up for a 242 mile bike ride, there’s one question I get over and over again.

WHY?

Why are you doing this? Why put yourself through the misery? Why take the time away from other things to train? Why? Why??? WHY!?!?!!

As defined in Webster, Why is “for what cause, reason, or purpose.” In talking with other crazy people who do ultra events, there’s really no two why answers that are the same. However, there are common themes:

  • Intrinsic Motivation: No one has ever wanted to spend multiple hours pushing themselves for a medal, half a banana and chocolate milk. There’s something deeper, and personal, that drives them.
  • Love a Challenge: I’m talking about REALLY loving a challenge. They hear about some challenging race and within 20 minutes, they’re on Google looking it up thinking, “I could do that!”
  • Proving Oneself: Think you can do something? Then do it! They want to see how far they can push themselves.
  • “Hold My Beer” Mentality: When they talk about a challenge they’re about to undertake and someone else says “No, you’ll never do that!”, they quietly say “Hold my beer and watch this!”

As for myself, I’m intrinsically motivated, love a good challenge, and want to prove what I put my mind to can be accomplished. People that understand this, understand me. Those that don’t, well, nothing I can say will help them understand.

Miles Davis Quote: “If you have to ask, you'll never know.”

So, why bike 242 miles in 24 hours? My WHY in this instance is pretty simple (to me anyway); to push myself both mentally and physically to complete a challenge very few have ever even considered. To be part of a community of other DAMN riders who each will have their own challenges and suffering. For those I’ll ride with, we’re all in this alone and together, and we’ll need each other’s encouragement to finish.

Here’s the thing; everyone can ask WHY, but only you can define it!

Think about your career. Why did you pick it? Why are you sticking with it? Why do you love the challenges you inevitably face, sometimes daily? Why?

For those project management professionals reading this, I’m guessing most of you accidently fell into this career path. One day you’re doing an operational job, the next you’re leading a team. Planning, executing, building teams, solving problems, delivering value, managing conflict, all of it seems to just work for you. Why do you keep doing it? You love it!! Project leadership, as with many positions, is challenging, provides personal satisfaction, and shows your coworkers and peers you can be a leader and deliver!

Think of your “At-Work Why” as a professional mission statement (I won’t talk Purpose; that requires a very lengthy conversation and usually a couple beers). Don’t overthink it; make it simple. But also, understand it should be challenging. Are you doing what you do to solve problems, understand data, build relationships, sell impactful products, drive social impact, or something similar? Try it! Write it down. I’ll wait.

Taking notes by hand (w/ pen & paper): A must for lawyers - LexTalk

Business owners understand why they started their companies. I started Bridge the Gap Consulting to help business executives Bridge the Gap between vision and reality, with help being the key word. Another peer of mine’s why relates to solving complicated algorithms by chomping through complex data. You can call it a mission statement, but defines why we do what we do.

WHY? A one word question with a potentially complex answer. But, we all have a WHY statement, whether we know it or not. Think of your job today and write down why you do what you do. Or, next time you want to try something, write down why you want to do it. Understanding your why helps you be successful.

Why Not to Use the Word Why | Never Ask Why | Why did you do that?

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I Quit 6 Months Ago, But I’m Telling You Now! How Bad Leaders Lose Good People

“Will you be a reference for me?”

I’ve worked with this person a couple times over the past 6 years. She’s smart, driven, can see the big picture and knows how to tactically plan to realize company goals. Anyone would want her on their team. That’s why when she started with her current employer 4 years ago, they were thrilled and she delivered above and beyond expectations. She loved her job, and they loved her back. Until, that is, the pandemic hit.

When everyone was sent home, the mood of executive leadership soured. Like many companies, they experienced a dip as the world shut down and no one knew what was going to happen next. Frequent communication from the top ceased. Quarterly all-hands meetings were cancelled and replaced by short, non-descript emails. No one knew what priorities were or what to work on next. Morale dropped.

Over time, work increased, as did revenues. There was no longer a fear of paychecks bouncing or job losses. But what didn’t change was the mood of leadership. Instead of seeing how employees were doing, they wanted to know why things weren’t done. Because working from home showed an increase in productivity, more work was piled on. Again, no priority outside of being “business critical.” Rumor had it someone in the C-Suite said since employees didn’t need to take time to get ready and drive to and from work, they had more time to get stuff done. Whether true or not, leadership didn’t squash it either.

What Bad Leaders Can Do To An Organization | Joseph Lalonde

Back to being asked to be a reference. YES, I said. More than happy. But when did you decide it was time to go? “About six months ago. Whether it got better or not, it was time to leave and I was waiting for the market to pick up.”

According to a publication on Human Resource Executive, one in four workers plan to move jobs post-pandemic; a 25% shift in workforce! Imagine 25% of your workforce leaving, and having to hire and retrain staff all over again. Yuk!

Mr - Mr. Yuk Poison Control Center Torn City Clip Art" Sticker by samisabi  | Redbubble

Between being a reference for someone who’s kicked ass at her company and the HR Exec article, I got to thinking; what could have been done to keep quality people months ago that are leaving now? The answer was pretty easy: LEADERSHIP.

Here are some reasons good people leave bad leaders. What others would you add?

  • Lack of Empathy: Especially this last year, things may have sucked. Let your people know it’s OK not to be OK. Help them. You’ve probably been there too. Saying “Suck it up and keep moving on” isn’t a good approach.
  • No or Minimal Communication: No news isn’t always good news. Rumors can fly. Wrong conclusions drawn. Bad things can happen! Leaders who openly communicate on a frequent and consistent basis keep employees informed and focused. Those who don’t leave their people in the dark.
  • No Culture of Recognition: “Look at what my team did for me and I’ll take all the credit!!” Bad idea my friend. Give credit where credit is due. Create a culture of recognition on your team.
  • No Respect: Rodney Dangerfield famously talked about getting no respect. Those who report to bad leaders feel the same way. Imagine coming to your boss with a concern or idea and being talked down to. How would that make you feel? Disrespected, and probably a whole lotta pissed off!
  • Got Courage?: Tough conversations are, well, tough. As a leader, you need to have them so small issues don’t turn bigger. Instead of the leader having the conversation, they send someone else to do it. Or, it could be an issue with a whole department, or customer, that the leader doesn’t want to handle. Bad situations don’t get better with age. Have the courage to handle them now. The converse is also true; can they allow employees to give them performance feedback?
  • Little Self-Awareness: As a leader, you need to know yourself. I know, easier said than done. Understand what some “triggers” are and how you react. Leaders that don’t have self-awareness can blow up in emotionally charged situations.
  • Unable to Pivot: When COVID hit, many companies were in turmoil. Leaders who could quickly pivot fared better than those set in their ways. They trusted their people to continue to get work done. I know a couple leaders who are “asses in chairs in the office” people. Wow, did they struggle!
  • Crappy Listener: As a leader, if an employee comes to you and you’re trying to listen while multi-tasking, you’ll miss what they’re saying and won’t ask good clarifying questions. Put down all distractions and LISTEN!
  • No Accountability: Leaders own their commitments and promises. If they commit to do something, it’s a priority. Those with no accountability will say they’ll get to it, but don’t commit to a timeframe and probably won’t get it done. Employees will figure that out quick.
  • Little to No Honesty or Integrity: I saved the best for last (in my opinion anyway). They tell lies (or at least bend the truth) so as not to look bad in front of others. Maybe if they’re honest and vulnerable, they’ll feel to appear weak. They’re OK telling little white lies and may even tell people that occasionally. During the pandemic, these leaders were beside themselves because they couldn’t see what their people were doing and constantly asked for updates because they didn’t trust work was being done. Whatever the cause, if employees can’t trust their leaders, they’ll probably be gone!

If you see your coworkers leaving your company now, it’s possible they decided months ago to call it quits. They’re just telling you now. Maybe that person is you! In any case, good people leave often because of bad leadership.

Sarcasm. The best leaders lift people p rather than tear them down. Darth  Vader | Star wars jokes, Star wars humor, Star wars memes

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What’s Your Learning Plan?

I learned early in my career that professional growth and development was my responsibility, not my employers. I learned this lesson when I asked my boss what my professional development should be. He said “How the hell do I know. It’s your development.” Don’t wait for someone else to tell you what your plan is. Only you truly know what drives and inspires you. Instead of letting a boss guess what you should learn, tell them. They’ll appreciate it (at least I do when my team tells me!). Whether your development ends up on your yearly plan or something you do on your own, take ownership of your learning.

To that end, I recently began learning something new. I have a belief that no matter what you do for a career or in life, we’re all in sales. Whether you’re selling products, services, cars, the importance of your project to the team/stakeholders, your company to a perspective employee, your spouse on letting you sign up for another race, or yourself to a perspective employer, we’re all selling something. So to improve my own sales abilities, I signed up for an online sales class! No one asked me to do it; this is all on me!

I love learning. Whether it be something new or honing an existing skill, I want to learn about a variety of topics. Some learning I’ve done includes being a better presenter both in person and online, Disciplined Agile, PMO leadership, website development, Blockchain, and AI. Because I do like to learn, here are some tips I have so you can get the most out of your own learning endeavors.

Determine what you want to learn. Determining what you want starts with a goal. Why do you want to learn something new? What about it inspires you? How will it help you grow and achieve your long-term goals? For example, I learned PMO leadership because I was creating a PMO (and still actively study it today). Or, website development because I wanted to build my own. Or, sales because I interact with clients talking about services. Have a goal. Have many goals! But determine which is most important to learn now. And no, they don’t always have to be on your yearly performance appraisal. You can learn just because you want to acquire a new skill.

8 professional development goals for creating a bright PR future - PR Daily

Make a plan. Making a plan should be straight forward, especially for you project professionals! Your career is planning projects, so why not plan your own learning project? Don’t just say “I want to learn [thing] in 2021.” Gotta go deeper than that! Put some dates out there. Maybe you do one thing per quarter, or per month. It’s up to you. But, have a plan and stick with it.

Determine how you learn best. I like going to live learning events, but COVID kicked that one in the rear. So now, I enjoy webinars, YouTube, and reading. I learn best when I can read plus watch a short video about the topic. Because I spend a lot of time on a stationary bike training for races, I read quite a bit on that, also. Determine how you learn best and use that medium. There are lots of options out there!

Talk to people. Now that the world is slowly opening back up, this may be a good time to meet someone for coffee, lunch, or a drink. Or, a Zoom meeting is still a fashionable alternative. If you’re connected to someone who specializes in what you’re interested in, ask them to talk about it. Have some good questions ready so it’s an engaging conversation. People like to talk about what they do, so get them talking!! I have a notebook filled with notes from these types of conversations.

Mentoring is still a thing. I love having a mentor. My last mentor was in a completely different field than I’m in. He retired from insurance sales for employers, specifically in the manufacturing sector. I learned a lot from him and many lessons will always stick with me. Mentors don’t have to be in your industry or the same company.

Ask for money. Your employer probably has a continuing education budget that you haven’t used in a long time (if ever). If you find a class or training that will benefit you and your company, ask them to pay for it! They may ask for something in return (i.e. have to stay with the company minimum # of years, write a summary, training others, etc).

Don’t try to do too much. You work full time. You have family commitments. You have hobbies and interests. You may start loving what you’re learning, then find something similar you’d also like to learn, and maybe something similar to that, too. Before you know it, you’re stressed because you’re trying to cram in too much. Focus on one thing at a time and don’t get burned out trying to do too much.

Professional development is your responsibility. Don’t let your employer determine what it should be. Start with a goal, understanding why you want to learn something new. Make a plan based on how you learn best, and get after it!!

Graduation Cap and Diploma - Free Clip Art | Graduation cap clipart,  Graduation diploma, Kindergarten graduation

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Make a [insert cuss word] Decision!

Over the weekend I was driving on a single lane city street. To my left was an elevated median that has trees and bushes planted on it. To my right was the street curb. And in front of me, a driver doing 12 miles per hour!! I was trapped.

I try to be patient, and admittedly some days it’s a struggle. Today happened to be one of those days. I quickly found my frustration level quickly going from mild irritation to fire coming out of the top of my head in under 10 seconds.

Suddenly, the brakes went on and they started to turn right. Yeah! But just as suddenly, they changed their mind and were back in front of me. They did this a second time, where I got so close to hitting them, I can tell you there are only two screws holding the license plate on. When his happened a third time, all my weight and frustration was pressing full-force on my horn. I could see their head tilt up to check the rearview mirror, and a slow turn to the right allowed me to speed past.

Why the hell couldn’t they just make a decision and stick with it? Were they afraid of making a wrong turn? Did they not want to feel they were wrong in turning too soon? Was Google Maps leading them astray? Did they even know I was behind them? Only the driver could answer these questions, and I was in no mood to ask.

This got me thinking; why in the hell are some people so bad at making decisions? George Patton famously said “A good plan violently executed today is better than a perfect plan next week.” I think many of us can agree with that (I know I can relate). But others, not so much. Analysis paralysis, decision by committee, and fear of being wrong delay progress. Ever had that happen on your project before?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want leaders and project sponsors to come up with any old answer or solution without regard to whether or not it’s directionally correct. You, as the project manager, need to provide information and options to the person or people making the decision. But in any case, decisions should be made quickly. Here are some of my thoughts on decision making within projects.

Waiting for clear confirmation that a decision is exactly right can lead to delays and potential failure. I once had a vendor tell me they needed my written approval to start their $25,000 network setup. Apparently, the PO was still in the signing process and wasn’t finalized yet. Because the sponsor had to approve any expenditures over $5,000, I reached out to him. Then reached out again. And again.

When he called back, he asked how many bids we’d gotten before selecting this vendor. Did this go through vendor management? Did we check their references? My answer way YES to all. Then he needed to talk to his boss before the final OK. Finally, the vendor had enough and moved onto the next job, delaying the start of ours by 6 weeks!

Bad decisions aren’t always a bad thing if you learn from them. A bad decision can lead to immediate feedback. Take for example Google maps. When I took my kiddo to NYC, we’d look at some things we wanted to do and found them on the map. I’d lock it into Google, and out the door we’d go. But, do I start by going right or left? I couldn’t tell. I stared at the phone. Finally, we took off in one direction. If we were right, Google gave me the blue line. If not, it’d tell me to turn around. But at least I figured it out quick!

Bad decisions aren’t always bad as long as you learn from them. Adjustments can be made, and the team tries again with more information. One aspect that’s very important here is psychological safety. Let the decision maker and team know it’s OK if it doesn’t work out. Use it as a learning opportunity.

Avoid decision by committee. This is a pet peeve of mine. A decision needs to be made. I talk to the sponsor. I feel like we’re about to make a decision when they say, “You know, let’s setup a meeting with the group. Can you schedule that?” Next thing you know, the only time available is three weeks away. Can we do this sooner? No, you have to wait because you have to have certain people there. And oh, add these other people too.

If a decision does require a group, keep it small. My preference is 3-4 people max. Any more and you fall into the analysis paralysis trap and too many opinions.

The Art of Managing a Board of Directors - Getting Back on Track - The New  York Cooperator, The Co-op & Condo Monthly

Create immediate feedback loops up and down the line. I have a rule with my teams; even if you think it’s a problem, say something. Have you ever had someone delay letting you know of an issue because they thought they could handle it, until they couldn’t?

Don’t try to be a hero and make it work when obviously it’s not! Bring it up ASAP for the team to review. Maybe a quick adjustment can be made. Maybe you have to start over again and make another decision, this time from a place of more experience. Or, it’s possible the decision maker thought of something not previously considered and wants to look at it as an option. In any case, make feedback immediate.

Establish a level of confidence between the project leader and sponsor. I practice and I preach this; give a decision maker options, your recommendation, and why you and the team feel that direction is the best. Have a level of confidence in its success. For example, if you feel you’re 80% confident in the recommendation and work with the sponsor to get them to 80% also, that’s good enough to run with it. Some teams will require more, some less.

High Quality confidence Blank Meme Template

One thing I will stress on all points above is leadership. As a project manager, you will need to give solid leadership throughout the decision making process so it gets made and executed. Don’t fall into the analysis paralysis trap! Help the decision makers make a damn decision! Good luck.

Five Key Areas of Decision Qualification - Drive Revenue

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What is Your PMO’s “Marketing Plan”

This post was originally written in 2019. But, out of respect for the PMO manager who asked not to be named or have this published until his retirement in March of 2021, I held off. Today, 3/11, was his last day. Thank you, good sir, for being a leader, mentor, and friend.

One of my first PMO managers had an Actuary background. His previous job had been to predict timing of certain events (in this case, a health plan calculating participant life expectancy), and then calculate the ROI and ability to pay for financial losses. He was amazing with data and fantastic at judging priority based on less than complete information. Not only that, he was an awesome leader for our team.

But where he was strong in the analysis area, he lacked in communication. You see, he was an introvert; a self-proclaimed big-time introvert at that. He used to joke that you could spot an extroverted actuary because they looked at your shoes when they talked instead of their own. In meetings, he rarely spoke. In senior leadership meetings, he was even more quiet.

The good news is, he recognized his lack of communication and knew he would not be able to stand on the rooftops and shout “Look at our awesome PMO” to the world. He needed to tell a story; what the PMO was doing to advance the company’s goals and the teams involved in making that happen. So, he created strategy; the PMO Marketing Plan.

The idea started because his predecessor was whisked out the door by the executive team. Project performance was no better than when the PMO started. The senior leadership team then hired someone who was smart, data driven and could prioritize well. But, our PMO leader didn’t know how to market our capabilities or talents. So instead of shrugging his shoulders and saying “Oh well”, he reached out to marketing for help.

I have to give credit to the marketing team because they jumped at the chance to help an internal department. This also put a shine on their own capabilities to the company. Through this process, everyone in the PMO, myself included, learned the value of having a PMO marketing plan.

The following are the key components of our PMO marketing plan. Not all these were day 1, but we learned to adapt over time and made our presence, and value, to the company known more and more.

Marketing Strategy. When we started on the marketing plan, we had to have a strategy, or our north star, to point to. The PMO’s marketing strategy was “To inform everyone in [company] of all critical projects.” These were labeled as 1,000 hours or more of estimated effort and/or $10,000 of total cost.

Value Proposition. Based on feedback, the PMO manager wanted to focus on:

  • Business-driven prioritized list of projects
  • Consistent, easy to understand processes
  • Transparency with project status and escalation of issues

The value proposition told our stakeholders what value the PMO was going to deliver. Because each business unit had its own page on the company intranet, this was the first thing you saw when you landed on the PMO’s. And, we made sure to stick with it!

Constructing a Value Proposition for Your Evidence-Based Programs - Aging  and Disability Business Institute

Target Market. Though we wanted everyone in the company to know what the PMO was working on, our target market were “those leaders who signed our checks.” This was not broadcast or printed, but we knew one of the most critical ways to keep our PMO alive was to ensure senior leadership knew what we were doing with the resources they entrusted us with.

Those KPI’s. Projects were broken into one of two categories; Operational Efficiencies or Market Growth. Projects had to fall into one or the other. Once the projects were in the right bucket, there were only three KPI’s the exec and governance teams wanted to see; Schedule, Budget, and Personnel Availability.

  • Schedule: No matter what was undertaken, there was a required-by date and a reason for it.
  • Budget: The PMO reported to the CFO, and accounting/finance wanted revenue recognition and be able to capitalize or expense projects.
  • Personnel Availability: Functional managers committed their staff to projects and if Personnel turned red, they usually got a phone call from someone higher up.

Other KPI’s were piloted, but no one seemed to need them. Scope, for example, wasn’t huge because the exec team felt that if the needs of the business or customer changed, we should also adapt without calling it out. There were three views we presented the data in, which are below.

Communicating our Awesomeness!! How do we show progress and we’re doing the right thing? Marketing was showing us a couple options for our departmental site when our manager looked at the main company home screen, saw a small blank area, and asked if we could put a box there with the status of the top 3 projects and a link to our PMO page. The marketing team looked at each other, mumbled something, and said they couldn’t see why not.

So there it was, a small box on the right side of the screen. Would anyone click on it? Turns out, it was right below the link to the CEO’s bi-monthly update to the company! Yeah, we got a lot of clicks.

The top three projects in progress with red/yellow/green on the KPI’s with a link to the PMO page stayed consistent for some time. When you clicked onto the PMO page, you would first see our value proposition with a dashboard underneath. The dashboard focused on in-progress projects and offered three views:

  • Executive View: this was portfolio level and was a graph; no individual projects highlighted. This probably went through 10 iterations before the exec team said “Yeah, looks good.” They were also OK with the whole company seeing the executive view.
  • Functional View: each project of the portfolio was displayed with R/Y/G and a couple lines of project goals and status.
  • Tactical View: click on the individual project and the detailed status for that project came up. We also had a list of team members and their role on the project.

Initially, all these status’ were manual as hell in SharePoint! We spent a couple hours a week updating our projects, but if we didn’t and got a call from a manager asking why their team was called out on something, you’d better be ready to answer.

Work In Progress & What’s to Come. We only displayed the “Big 3” on the company’s home page, but there were usually 12-14 in progress at any one time. All these could be seen in the functional view. Every employee knew the projects in progress and there was a note below the list stating these projects were deemed critical to the company and would not change without approval from the project governance group.

Then, there was a link called the “Project Parking Lot.” Within was a page that displayed the tentative list of prioritized projects. This is also the page governance used for prioritizing and approving projects to move up into the “active” category. If someone saw the list and disagreed with the priority (which at first happened a LOT but decreased over time), they could talk to their boss and a negotiation took place. The process was shaky at first, but became smoother over time.

I Gotta Great Idea!! Now What? We piloted the ability to submit a project idea or request after our first year. Any employee could fill out a form, submit, and if chosen to move to the next level, invited to promote and defend it at governance. We didn’t get a lot of submissions, but a couple resulted in operational efficiencies, including the creation of a data warehouse.

Give It Away For Free. Our PMO was four PM’s and a manager when we started. For that reason, any project <100 hours and being done specifically for one department (no cross-functional teams), the PMO wasn’t involved. To help these other areas, we gave them a couple things for free. First were templates. It was only a handful, but enough to help staff define done, create a schedule, and handle risk. Second, we offered consulting whenever the department needed help. This was tricky because at times, we had to balance between giving help and being sucked in to lead the effort for them.

One other thing about our PMO that wasn’t in our marketing plan was what we called the “Familiar Face.” Each PM focused on no more than two areas of the business. That way, they understood the people and learned the business lingo. The PM was a “familiar face” to the people within those departments. It was also on the PM’s to communicate our value to the departmental management teams.

PMO’s fail frequently. How many of them are doing awesome work, but don’t showcase that and leave execs wondering “What has the PMO done for me lately?” By having a PMO marketing plan, you can communicate your awesomeness out to the world!! Or at least, to your company.

Marketing Plan Definition – What Is A Marketing Plan? |

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