Project242: Crashing is Inevitable

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.

“Well, this ain’t gonna be good.”

For whatever reason, I found this thought humorous as my ass continued its upward trajectory while my head got ever closer to the ground. It had all happened so quickly, I didn’t even have time to let a couple colorful metaphors come out. However, my mind was seeing all this play out in slow motion.

It was 5:45 AM. Between the street lights and the sunrise peeking up in the East, I thought I had a pretty good view of the road in front of me. But, what I missed was the slightest gap in the concrete that was just wide enough for my front tire to fall into. As the concrete came back together, it pinched my front tire and stopped it cold, sending me up and over the handle bars.

How to crash your bike with dignity and (hopefully) keep your teeth -  BikeRadar

I don’t know the exact speed, but it was somewhere in the mid teens (in mph, though I’m sure I’d slowed a little before the back tire came up and over). I kept my hands on the bars and as the ground came up to meet me, my aero bars, which stick out about 16 inches, hit the ground first and somehow caused the bike to deflect right, avoiding a direct hit to the ground. I put my hand out to soften the blow and SMASH!, landed on my right side and skid a few feet. Thankfully the concrete road was new and smooth, so my hope was for minimal road rash.

Status check. Fingers, toes, arms, leg, neck, and back all moved. The back tire on my bike was still spinning, so I wasn’t knocked out for any length of time. I could move to a crouch. Good start. Then stood. Even better. Next, picked my bike up. How in the world did my front tire not get bent?

Seeing no damage to me and only scuffs on the bike, I assessed my ego took the biggest hit. Did anyone see me? As I write this three days post-crash, I’m a little sore here and there, but otherwise I’ve ridden the past couple of days. Back in the saddle!

Bicycle Doodle Vector Images (over 2,900)

This crash reminds me of my first project failure, which has been the largest of my career. In a company of 17,000, I missed identifying a New Product Development (NPD) team of four. This four person team had the power to pinch my project and have it terminated. A $2M sunk cost! That was a really bad crash in my career. First, I was lucky to have kept my job. Second, I never wanted to run another project again. That crash gave me some lumps I didn’t know if I could get over.

Thankfully, I had an amazing boss who assigned me to another project within a week. It was a small project, just a few thousand dollars, but its success gave me the confidence to keep going in this career. Without that, who knows what direction I would have gone!

Since that first $2M crash, I’ve had a few other project failures. This includes completed projects that bombed in the market or internally to the company, terminated early, and got done but not to scope and way over budget. Each of these has been a learning opportunity. Regardless if I had influence over these of not, dwelling on them doesn’t help. Learn and move on. Get back in the saddle and keep going!!

Crashes are going to happen. Whether riding your bike, or leading an initiative, eventually something bad will happen. Remember, it’s a snapshot in time and doesn’t last forever. Learn from it. Brush off, and keep going! Good luck.

Taking the Long Way Home: Teaching an old dog new tricks...

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Is Your PMO Leadership A Solid “Safety Bar”?

“Our PMO is like riding a roller coaster where the safety bar meant to keep you from flying out works about 50% of the time…or less.”

The advantage of presenting and being a panelist at conferences, especially those virtual ones where someone doesn’t need to speak up in a crowded room, is you hear things that you’ve never heard before.

That brings us to Fred (name changed to protect the innocent). Fred has worked in the same PMO for five years. In those five years, he’s enjoyed four different PMO Managers! The PMO was created when a new CIO joined the company. Despite mediocre project success since its inception, the CIO and exec team refuse to disband the PMO and its revolving door of managers, even at the request of project managers!

As Fred explained, when you get on a roller coaster and the safety bar comes down, you pull up, jiggle, and test to make sure it will hold. No one ever expects it to move, but you verify anyway. Once that’s done, the expectation is the safety bar will keep you from certain doom for the duration of the ride.

Roller Coaster Bernie - Meme by strako :) Memedroid

But in Fred’s case with his PMO, the safety bar could come loose at any point in the ride!

One day, the PMO manager would say no undocumented changes, no projects to be kicked off and managed without governance approval, and adhere to agreed-upon steps in the process. The next day, the PMO manager says a change is allowed without documentation or impact analysis. Or, help with someone’s side project that didn’t get governance approval. Or, just skip critical steps in the process because someone requested the project be “moved along.” Leadership did not hold, and now the project staff and team members go flying in all directions.

As Fred recognized, there are times changes have to be made outside of normal guidelines. Happens everywhere. However, he feels this issue starts with the CIO.

Sponsors and stakeholders have learned to run to the CIO when a project manager pushes back on anything, from changes to making sure gate reviews and approvals are done. The CIO says OK. The CIO tells the PMO manager to adjust. The PMO manager tells project staff to adjust. Now, project managers need to make whatever adjustments necessary while telling their team this is OK. And, the person or group making the request was successful, so they’ll use this tactic again in the future. Meanwhile, the project got bigger, other projects are pushed to a lower priority, and nothing gets done.

At that point, your safety belt is gone and you go flying to your death!

Fred asked, what can they do? Everyone is extremely frustrated. Project managers complain to the PMO manager, who says their hands are tied because the CIO said so. The team gets more upset with the PMO manager and after six months or so of constant complaining, the PMO manager “checks out” and eventually leaves. Other project team members have also quit. “We’re in a tight spot!”

Damn, they are in a tight spot.

Right away my mind started going through different questions and options:

  • Impact analysis to the project and portfolio
  • Does the CIO know what happens when he says “OK”
  • I heard the word “Gate”, so is the process too rigid
  • Does the PMO manager explain to the project manager and team why a change is important, or just says to it
  • Are the project manager’s concerns being heard & does anything happen with those
  • Is everything a YES

The list of questions and comments could go on and on. But ultimately, the answer lied in one word: LEADERSHIP.

If there was a solid PMO LEADER, then

  • Understands and can clearly communicate impacts a change or skipping a step in the process would have on the project and portfolio
  • Tells the CIO what happens when he says “OK”, and the chaos that can ensue
  • Understands project management processes are a corporate asset and should allow for some flexibility (rules vs. guidelines)
  • Articulates WHY a change of any kind is necessary to the team
  • Listens to the concerns of others & takes action; psychologically safe to do so
  • Are they courageous enough to say NO

Leadership.

It sounds simple, but what happened that four managers haven’t been able to curb these issues in the last five years? Fred thought it was ass-kissing the CIO and exec team. If that’s it, didn’t work. But at the same time, the PMO managers weren’t helping secure their team. Changes caused people and processes to go flying. Unfortunately, our time with Fred ended as our session came to a close. I hope to connect with him again, this time with better news.

Having been a member of and lead PMO’s, I can attest to having and being a good leader for your team. Being an attentive, transparent, supporting, and consistent leader let’s a team know you’re there for them. You’re their “safety bar” that keeps them from flying all over the place.

So next time you get on a roller coaster and the safety bar comes down, I bet you check it! I also bet it holds. Remember, good leaders are like those safety bars; they’ll prevent you from flying all over, including to a potential doom!

Rollercoaster Tycoons - YouTube

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Project242: Take Turns Being Out Front

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.

We just got done climbing a hill that was 1.5 miles long with a max gradient of 24 degrees. It was ugly. Really ugly. To have this climb at mile 55 of our 80 mile race was tough. Of the 6,200+ feet of elevation gain riders would experience that day, this was the biggest climb.

I caught up with two other bikers going through the same struggle as I was. As we crested the top, we felt accomplished. Cheers went up! We’d done it. But just when we thought the worst was behind us, another problem hit is right in our faces; Headwinds!

Dry eyes and cycling - Andrea Cullen Health Solutions

Now, a little bit of wind is OK. However, this wind was cooking along at 15-20 mph, bringing our pace from slow to slower. That’s when I said “I’ll take front.”

A “Peloton” is a group of riders that draft off each other to save energy and reduce drag (yes, it’s also an exercise bike by the same name). When the front rider gets tired or stays out front for a certain period of time, they point, move to the side, and let the next person take lead as they slip to the back. This keeps one rider out front doing the hardest work, and the riders behind to regain energy before it’s their turn again.

Our little three person group kept this up for 13+ miles, helping “pull” each other along by moving faster and saving energy. After that, the wind shifted to our backs and we agreed to move at our own pace from there to the finish. As I finished before the others, I waited for the other two riders to congratulate them on a job well done. We grabbed our half a banana, free beer, and toasted success!

At the finish line!!

If you’ve ever seen the Tour de France or any other bike race, you may see riders so close to each other’s wheels, a pen wouldn’t fit between their tires. That’s a peloton. The peloton is as much about racing as it is working as a team. Everyone has their chance out front, bearing the brunt of the wind/air pressure, allowing team members to recover so they can take their turn in the lead. When done well, it looks like a well-oiled machine. Here are some areas that cycling in a group or peloton and working together can teach us about business.

Encourage others to stay strong and keep going. Some days suck. They’re tough and you will feel like quitting. But because we’re together, we can encourage each other to keep going. A simple “You’re doing a great job!” can go a long way.

Keeping focused under pressure. Just because you’re not out front in the Peloton, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Being a couple inches from the tire in front of you, and knowing someone is that close behind, puts pressure and stress on a person. Same goes for your projects and issues that come up. Everyone knows there’s pressure to complete work or get things resolved, even if you’re not the leader. Being focused can help get it done faster and more efficiently.

Find ways to have a little fun and laugh. I laughed when the person in front of me started singing “Country Road” by John Denver (we were on gravel in the middle of the Badlands). I started to sing along, as did the other person. Work doesn’t mean we’re robots doing specific tasks and go home. We build relationships, laugh, and have some fun.

Trust one another. When I was out front, I was looking up and out. I knew the person behind me was looking down at my tire. I would see issues ahead. They would not. We frequently communicated with each other; the lead biker yelling upcoming obstacles or issues with the road ahead. That way, those behind would know to look out and be careful. It didn’t take long for us to trust one another because we knew the other people were looking out for everyone.

More resilient and accountable together. Mentally, I was ready for the long game on race day. But together in our group, I felt more resilient because I was accountable to those who were with me. I needed to be there for my team, even if we didn’t know each other’s names yet!

It’s OK to move at a different pace. With the wind at my back, I was ready to ride faster than my two teammates. They weren’t upset I was leaving them and we wished each other luck. In our careers, people in our teams will move at different speeds and some will need to take off for other opportunities. That faster person may be you.

Riding together in a group can teach you a lot. By taking turns being out front, we can learn to take the brunt of the force so our team members can recoup before they take the lead. Trust and comradery is built, and ultimately we all push to the finish line. Whether in biking or business, take turns being out front and help your team!

What's a peloton? A beginner's guide to road cycling | Cycling Today  Official

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Project242: You Can’t Fix All Problems By Yourself!

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.

“How in the hell am I going to fix this?”

As I looked down at the busted chain on my bike, I quickly realized I was in uncharted territory. I’ve learned how to change a flat, adjust the brakes, and tighten up cables. But fix a busted chain? That’s a new one.

Thankfully I have a repair kit I carry in a bag under my bike seat, which has some spare chain parts and a tool. Yeah! Now, how do I use them? Let’s check YouTube!

How to Repair a Broken Bike Chain | Liv Cycling Official site
Looks so easy online!!

Twenty minutes, two more busted chain links and a bleeding finger later, I said enough. Fortunately I was only a little over a mile from home, so sat on the seat and used my feet to scoot along.

Later that day, I found myself in the bike shop talking to the mechanic. As he explained, I was on the right track to fix the individual link, but that would have been a temporary fix at best. There were a few other links that were bent, causing the chain to have focused strains which would lead to another break. A new chain and another small tweak fixed the issue!

Lesson Learned; I would not have been able to fix this problem correctly without the help of others.

I’ve said it before and openly admit; I’m not the smartest person in the room. Sure, I have my areas of expertise. But as a project professional, I don’t do the actual project work. I get work done through others (as also highlighted by the great Lee Lambert). When issues occur and problems have to be solved, I need that team of super-smart people to help get them resolved. I cannot solve them myself!

Let me give you an example. First, I had to put my ego aside and told everyone, “I don’t know.” I was working with a client and we were reliant on their team to do reviews and approvals before passing a specific gate and moving to the next step. The skillset needed was found with one person. However, that person was on vacation for two weeks. Not good!!

Instead, the client was offering three other people with some knowledge of the system we were updating. They thought three heads with some knowledge would be able to review and approve. They were available immediately, so all I had to do was say YES, and they were assigned.

Instead of saying yes, I questioned if their skillsets were the right fit. I told the group on the call “I don’t know” and instant messaged my tech lead and IT analyst, who immediately joined the call also. After I gave them a summary, they said “No, these aren’t the right people.” After a technical conversation, two others were assigned instead.

Meme Creator - Funny yes. maybe. no. Meme Generator at MemeCreator.org!

Had I said YES to the initial three reviewers, we would have spent valuable time sending documents, doing reviews, answering questions, and probably having a meeting. Who knows if we would have gotten the approval or not. Chances are days would have been wasted. Thankfully, the tech lead and IT analyst were available to help avoid what could have been a costly mistake.

As we progress in our careers, we find it more and more important to be surrounded by smart people who can help us get things done. And because we can’t do it all ourselves, we rely on them to help us fix problems we otherwise couldn’t on our own. Or, at least we think we can fix, but not really! Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others.

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Project242: Being Visible vs. Being Invisible

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.

I knew I was in a bad situation. I couldn’t see 75 yards in front of me pedaling my bike at 17 MPH. How the hell would a vehicle traveling at 60 MPH see me? The fog had rolled in from nowhere and was so thick, it felt like it was 9:00 at night, not 9:00 in the morning. Couple the fog with the fact this “bike friendly” road had no shoulder and a steep ditch, it was a perfect storm for getting hit. Even with my bright flashing red light on my bike and flashing, multi-colored vest I was wearing, cars would NOT see me.

I strained my ears, listening to any approaching vehicles. In the distance I could hear one. I moved all the way onto the shoulder, stopped and stood as close to the edge as I could before going into the ditch. A pickup truck whizzed past, slowing as I’m sure they were surprised to suddenly see a biker go by. I listened some more, heard nothing, and continued. This was the process used a few more times until I got to a safer road. What I would’ve given to be visible from a longs way off!

Picture from that morning

Contrast that to 24 hours before, when the early morning was clear and cool. I was biking on another country road as I approached a farm where two large dogs resting on steps under a light. Great, big dogs. If I tried to turn, I’d have to slow way down and risk waking them up while I accelerated the other way. Instead, I shut off my headlight and flashing rear light off, pedaled hard for a second, then silently coasted past. No sound except for wheels on the road. I was as invisible as possible. As I got passed the slumbering pooches, I heard one growl as I turned lights back on, but was probably too far away to justify a chase. Being invisible helped avoid a potential difficult situation.

When it comes to biking, I’m an early morning rider. I usually get out around 5 AM and home by 6:15/6:45. So, it’s somewhat light out (ND in the summer gets light really early). However, I do my best to be annoyingly visible. I want drivers to see me, whether I’m on a city street or a gravel road. I have things that flash and reflect. I’m a rolling light show! I’d say 99% of the time I WANT to be seen. The 1% comes when an attack is possible, mostly by a dog and once an angry Canadian goose (you may laugh, but wait until one chances you with its wings out hissing!).

In our daily jobs and careers, just working hard and being good at what we do isn’t the only prerequisite to getting ahead. If leadership doesn’t know or are even aware of you, chances are you’ll miss out on opportunities. So how can you be more visible at work without looking like you’re trying to grab the spotlight or brag? Here are some tips!

Show Up and Speak Up! Many of us are guilty of going to a meeting, either in-person or virtually, and within 37 seconds our minds are drifting off to somewhere else. Hey, I’m guilty of it too! But what if you showed up, turned your camera on for those virtual meetings, listened intently and actively engaged in the discussion? Ask thoughtful questions. Actively participate in the meeting!

Toot Someone Else’s Horn. If you’re a leader, you do this already. Those on your team quietly do fantastic work, continually delivering great results. Since you’re already showing up and speaking up, drop someone’s name who is doing a great job. Not only will they appreciate it, others will note your willingness to give credit.

Ask to be Involved in High Priority Projects/Efforts. Is there a project that’s big, cross-functional, and to many, scary? Or, an ongoing issue that needs someone to step up, take charge and get it resolved? Yep, that could be you! Remember, Katniss Everdeen said “I volunteer as tribute” in the Hunger Games and it worked out OK for her. It can you too!

Attend any Learning Opportunities. I had a boss tell me “lunch-n-learns” were optional. But, he noted who was there, wanted to learn, and ready to advance. Attend learning opportunities whenever possible and be active in them. You’ll get noticed.

Ask Someone to Coffee/Lunch/Virtual Informal Meeting. Heck, ask multiple people! When COVID hit, I put a post on LinkedIn asking if anyone wanted to have virtual coffee. I did one a day for 2.5 weeks and had great conversations, one direct job offer and helped a couple others solve problems. If you’re in the office, ask someone out to lunch you don’t work with and find out what they do.

Build Relationships Up, Out, and Down. Relationships are evergreen, meaning they are established and continue to grow. Build relationships in all directions, including:

  • Up, with your boss and your boss’ boss. Don’t come across as a suck-up kiss-ass, though.
  • Out with your peers. If you’re a project manager, build relationships with the other PM’s on your team or in the company. They’re a great support network/therapy group!
  • Down to those who report to you or team members. I know it sounds harsh to stay down, but you know what I mean.

Do you ever need to stay invisible? Maybe. As I mentioned, I try to go invisible to avoid attack. But in the office, if I see an attack or battle may be coming, I don’t shy away from it. In fact, I’ve learned to go into attack mode myself and seek the person out to have a discussion (professionally of course!). Some may want to go invisible, but leave that for those very few, extraordinary occasions. Instead, be seen as the person who stands strong! Invisible may help in the short term, but long term, probably not.

Being visible. It can save your life when biking on the road. It can also help you advance in your career. Be visible for all the right reasons. If you have to be invisible, make sure it’s only for a very short time, but also know it’s not a long-term solution to your everyday problems!

Homemade Tron inspired LED super bright bicycle lights - YouTube

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