The Season of Hope

I’m not a fan of the word “HOPE.”  It’s a 4 letter word for me because in the absence of a plan or strategy, the only thing you have is a hope that everything will go your way.  Hope doesn’t deliver results.

However, when I reminded someone today that hope wasn’t a strategy, they reminded me this is the season of hope.  I should embrace, even for a short time, that it exists.  So to that end, I will celebrate the season by HOPING the following for your initiatives:

  • Your project is aligned with organizational strategy
  • The sponsor is strong and supportive, not passive and apathetic
  • Stakeholders understand your project, its importance, and provide resources in a timely manner
  • Your project team is cohesive and dynamic & conflicts are kept professional and not personal
  • The change requests stay at a minimum
  • Project finances stay in the black
  • You don’t have to pull out your “scope stick” and beat those individuals who try to add scope by going directly to team members
  • Your processes exist but are flexible enough to be customized to the project
  • People don’t piss you off too much
  • Your status meetings are short and no one complains about your status reports
  • You celebrate yours, and your team’s, continued success

Happy holidays!

Skipping Rocks & Changing Status

This is a bit of a nostalgic post following cleaning my truck this weekend and finding rocks I picked up on vacation.

The week of Memorial Day this year we loaded up the truck and towed our camper to the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.  I hadn’t been up in the area for many years and it looked about the same as I remember; huge boulders, jagged cliffs, small towns, pine forests and an unhealthy quantity of pie shops.  One thing that definitely hasn’t changed is the flat rocks found along the shore.IMG_20170530_162133914_HDR

For those not familiar with the North Shore, the rocks are smooth and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  When I was a kid, I remember running up and down the shoreline, bounding from boulder to boulder, grabbing rocks and throwing them into the water.  I watched my dad skipping rocks and he showed me how to skip them also.  We competed over who could skip more.  I can remember grabbing a nice flat rock, looked at my dad and asked how long he thought it’d been there.  His response was “Who knows, but you’re about to change its status from a land rock to a water rock.”

I had forgotten those words until my two sons and I were skipping rocks near the same spot my dad said them to me.  I taught them how to skip rocks and climb on the large boulders while my wife stood by shaking her head, wondering who was going to get hurt first.  I said the statement “You’re about to change its status from a land rock to a water rock” a few times.  I’m sure they heard me and at some point in the future, hope they remember what I said also.

That day, many years ago, was a delayed lesson-learned only now I understand.  The rock didn’t have a choice; I changed its status by taking it from land and putting it in the water.  We as humans, however, have a choice.  Even if someone else tries to change our status; termination due to downsizing, new boss/manager as part of a restructure, birth of a child, illness of a spouse, we own our own response.  So as we look at a new year right around the corner ask yourself; should I change my status?

“If it worked in Sharknado, why can’t it work for us too?!”

I believe the term “Think outside the box” is an overused cliche.  What is this box?  How big is this box?  Is the box a representation of the limits management believes employees are able to think within?  What if someone sets the box on fire?  When gathering a team to solve a complex issue, do we really want to say we’re in a box?  There has be to a better rally cry!

Enter Sharknado.  As I boarded a flight home over the weekend, a gentleman sat down next to me and pulled out his iPad and notebook, and started watching “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!”  Every so often he’d chuckle, pause the movie and jot something down in his notebook.

After we landed, he closed everything up and put them back in his bag.  Since the jet bridge was malfunctioning and we had to wait a few minutes, I asked him if his movie was good.  His response was interesting: “No, it’s awful.  But I started a new job with a company in downtown Minneapolis.  Our mantra is if it worked in Sharknado, why can’t it work for us too.”  He went on to say the ideas characters had in the movie were terrible, but somehow they made them work and didn’t die.  When the team he works with is faced with a problem, and some of them can be quite large, “any idea is feasible until it’s not.”  The team often uses one-liners from the movie, which is what he wrote down.

Instead of using an old cliche, this team has found another mantra to bring everyone together to solve complex problems.  Solving problems may even be kind of fun for these people!  Though I haven’t seen Sharknado, I think I’ll at least view some of the highlights on YouTube.

Yes, I Declined Your Meeting!

Meetings.  In my role, I’m in meetings 70% of my day, most of which I schedule.  These include status updates, decision making, following up on an action, or just planning out a near-term deliverable.  Each meeting has a reason for taking place, a goal to accomplish and points to cover at the time of creating.  I hold myself to a very high standard when it comes to meetings because if not planned well, they’re a huge waste of time and causes frustration.

Because I host and go to so many meetings, I’ve developed a bit of an anger issue for those invites I receive that don’t have a purpose or agenda.  Usually, they don’t tell me anything at all what the focus is.  So, I decline them with the response “Too vague; what are we going to accomplish?”  Below is a discussion I recently had with someone where I declined their meeting request:

  • Person: Why did you decline my meeting?
  • Me: There was no agenda or purpose.
  • Person: Didn’t the meeting title cover it?
  • Me: That’s a pretty broad topic that can go 100 directions, and usually does.  I need more detail so I can come prepared.
  • Person: Aren’t you supposed to be prepared for anything?
  • Me: Yes, but unless everyone knows what we’re going to talk about and what goal we’re trying to accomplish, it’s a waste of time.  We’ll spin our wheels.  Again.  Besides, this was covered weeks ago in the last meeting you called.
  • Person: [snarky] Why don’t you run it then?  Obviously you got a handle on things!
  • Me: Gladly.

Meetings are only as good as the results they produce, so going into them prepared is critical to achieving meaningful output.  Below are the rules I have to running meetings.  Though there are more, these are the more “common sense” items:

  • Have a clear meeting title
  • Have the goal/purpose of the meeting clearly stated
  • An agenda – sounds simple but missed most of the time (can be omitted if there is a clear goal or purpose and there’s not a lot of different topics)
  • Start and end on time
  • Yell bullshit if someone goes on a tangent; parking lot anything not contributing to the meeting’s goal
  • Document decisions/actions and route to everyone
  • If you see the meeting is getting forwarded, remove unwanted guests and confront the person forwarding

Meetings.  You’re going to have them.  You can’t always control the meetings you’re invited to, but you can control the meetings you host.  By doing a little prep work, you can create the best results in the time the group is together.