The Art of “NO”

A co-worker sent me a link to an article where the author said it’s OK to tell your customers and clients “NO!”  The justification is clients don’t always have all the information and by saying NO, we’re actually doing them, and us, a favor.  It can save the client money, us time, and everyone frustration.  Instead of beating around the bush, just tell the client NO and move on with your day.

There were many truths to what was written.  But what this, and other articles I’ve read, lack is the art of saying NO.  It doesn’t always have to be a final answer, but the beginning of another.  If it does have to be a definitive no, there is also a certain level of tact that can be used.

The Start of a Different Conversation.  “NO” is a safe answer.  It doesn’t commit you to doing something.  When I tell my kids NO, it keeps them safe and me out of trouble with my wife.

But what if no was the start of a different conversation?  If I told my boss no and walked away, chances are they wouldn’t be too pleased.  Instead, what if I said no we can’t do that, but we could do this?  Different conversation.

When the initial answer is no, having options shows you’ve thought about the other person’s request.  You understand the ask and really considered what is and what is not possible.  The requester will respond to options better than a definitive no.  A conversation can take place about the options and then align on the solution to move forward.

When NO is the Final Answer.  I enjoy working with non-profits.  They serve a greater purpose and its members are very passionate about what they do.  I admire them greatly.

However, last week when one asked for about 10 hours of my time on a weekend to help with strategic planning, I had to say no.  I knew I didn’t have the time and trying to make it would mean giving something else up.  Since I had already committed time to my family, No had to be the final answer.

But how do you say it without hurting feelings or sounding rude?  I first thanked her for calling and truly appreciated being considered for this opportunity.  Though I respected this organization and its cause, I unfortunately couldn’t commit the time right now given other priorities.  We ended the call on a positive note and look forward to hearing of their success in the future.

Saying “No” is an art.  It takes time and practice to do it well.  Look at options before saying no and if no is the final answer, say it tactfully.

Be The Duck

That really bad picture; yeah, I drew that!  I put it on my office whiteboard so everyone who walks in sees it.

Have you heard the old saying; “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like hell underneath.”?  Well, that’s the way things have been going lately at work.  I have a huge list of things to do and everyday it gets longer.  My mind is going a million miles an hour in a dozen different directions.  I need to switch gears between the back-to-back meetings quickly.  Someone, somewhere, is looking for me while I’m looking for someone else.

But given all that happens below the surface, on top I work hard to remain calm and in control.  Why?

Because showing how busy and tense I am does not project well on those I’m also trying to keep calm and in control.

Have you ever seen a manager, leader, project manager, or anyone else who leads a team running around all tense?  Then do you notice how tense their team gets?  Before you know it, everyone is on edge and seems to be moving to get something done, but maybe not knowing what or why.  Chaos can quickly ensue because of the tension.

When things get crazy, Be the Duck!  I know it’s not easy and let’s be honest, we all have our moments where stress gets the best of us.  But for the benefit of those around you, find ways to remain calm on the surface, even if you’re going like hell underneath.

I Passed the PMP!! Now What?

First, I want to congratulate all those who recently passed the PMP exam.  Having done so prior to the 6th edition of the PMBOK cut-over is quite a feat and one you should be proud of.  I hope you celebrated (I know I did back in 2010 when I got mine).  And if you’re one of the few who have passed the PMP exam since the 6th edition went live, you’re rock stars in my book!

That said, there have recently been a number of LinkedIn posts asking “I have a PMP!  Now what?”  Well, there are a lot of “It Depends” when it comes to answering that question.  So, I’ll break down my top answers:

Get More Experience!  Though the certification is great, it’s a certification.  It can help get you past the dreaded HR gate having it, but ultimately won’t get you the job.  Most of us who hire PM’s will want to know your experience.  I love a good story about large initiatives that were challenging but successful.  Even if you have experience, keep getting more!

“Agile” Certifications.  These can include certifications like Scrum (CSM & CSP), PMI-ACP and SAFe.  Though traditionally for IT projects, these frameworks are making their way into more industries.  **I’ll save my “Agile” is a mindset rant for another day.

Other PMI Certifications.  Just go to and you’ll find a wealth of information.

Apply for that Job With Confidence!  Maybe there’s a job you’ve had your eye on for awhile but didn’t want to go for it.  Well now, armed with your shiny new certification, you can have greater confidence to apply!

Last word of advice.  Now that you have your PMP, your confidence level is probably on a high, which is awesome.  But when looking at next steps, don’t consider getting another certification just to have another certification.  Get one that matches your long-term career goals.

Again, congratulations and best of luck!

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

“Whoever made this decision is a dumb ass!”  As we looked at the list of applications being used, there were a few that fell outside of what the company classified as standard.  They didn’t fit into the standard architecture, data flows didn’t meet expectations and security protocols didn’t meet minimum requirements.  Now, as we were moving a data center, the gremlins were coming out and these three applications were giving us a challenge with re-mapping to new locations.

As the developer continued his tirade, one of our operational managers was turning red and finally popped.  “Four years ago when I needed these applications, standards didn’t exist and there was no support on what to buy.  IT didn’t help.  So, we were told to figure it out which we did.  I authorized these.”

That awkward silence lasted only a few moments before we continued our work.

I’ve found decisions made years ago can come back to haunt you.  However, those decisions were made for a reason.  No one intentionally makes a bad decision knowing it will be a pain down the road.  There’s a need and someone was accountable for fulfilling it.

Next time you’re asking yourself “Who the hell made this decision?”, take a few minutes to ask questions and understand the history.  More than likely someone will tell you, it was a good idea at the time.