Archive for the 'motivation' Category

Ready to Make a Change to Agile? Make it STICKY!

“Change means uncertainty; uncertainly breeds opportunity.”      Japanese saying

 “Uncertainty is the breeding ground of all great possibility!”        Jennifer Chrisman

Are you ready to adopt Agile project management to improve project delivery and complement and enhance “traditional” project management rigor? If yes, then you need a change management approach with actions that can make change happen — and make it stick.

In their 2007 book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explain six principles to make change stick.

Let’s look at each principle:

Simplicity: Find the core idea; keep it simple; overcome the curse of knowledge

Unexpectedness: Surprise generates interest and curiosity to grab attention; opens gaps that you can fill with knowledge

Concreteness: Be specific (i.e., Put a man on the moon by the end of this decade and bring him back safely); no abstract speak

Credibility: Use relevant experts; size your statistics (use a human scale—i.e. don’t say “micro-seconds”); use the power of details (if suitable to the audience)

Be careful  . . . don’t declare victory too soon. To embed the change and ensure that it sticks, acknowledge the lessons learned. Engage and involve project team members over the long term. Reward best practices to capture the full benefit of the change.

Emotions: Tap into things people care about, appeal to self-interest, appeal to identity

Many project leaders excel at building the rational case for change, but they are less adept in appealing to people’s emotional core. Yet the team members’ emotions are where the momentum for real transformation ultimately lies. “Make it stick” communications need to be targeted to each segment of the project team, and delivered in a two-way fashion that allows team members to make sense of the change subjectively.

Stories: Tell stories, it’s the next best thing to doing it; incorporate as many of these sticky principles as possible.

Maintain continuous effort to ensure that the changes are indeed working. Keep talking about how well the project is doing with the change to Agile to encourage people. When hiring new project team members, make the Agile approach stick in their minds.

Read Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath and learn why some ideas survive and others die.

If you are adopting Agile project management, a change management approach such as this can help you enhance your overall transformation capability, increase the speed of implementation, and improve the probability of success.

To learn how to apply Agile project management principles and the Scrum framework to create software-intensive products, check out Learning Tree’s course – Agile Project Management with Scrum.

James L. Haner

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Sally Helgesen reviewed Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead in Strategy+Business magazine as one of the Best Business Books 2013: Managerial Self-Help. This blog adapts her review to apply to project management/project leadership.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead combines exhortation, analysis, and memoir in addressing the question of why so many women who start their careers with high potential and high hopes fall behind as the years progress, resulting in a continuing paucity of women in project management positions. Until recently, this was widely attributed to the lack of a “pipeline,” a problem that, it was assumed, would resolve itself once enough women were hired on projects. This has not happened.

Although Sandberg recognizes that substantial extrinsic obstacles stand in the way of women’s success (organizational culture, blatant and subtle discrimination, and, of course, child-care issues), she’s also convinced that internal obstacles (issues related to women’s own thinking and behavior) play a role. This is what she sets out to examine, drawing on her own experience and that of other women. She buttresses her observations with well-integrated academic research on such issues as how success and likability are correlated in women (negatively, as it turns out), differences in how men and women perceive their own qualifications for advancement (men rate themselves more highly even in cases where women significantly outperform them), and how men and women perceive their employability (dishearteningly, women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men apply if they meet 60 percent of the requirements). Such data makes it difficult to argue with Sandberg’s central thesis that women’s tendency to question their own skills often plays a role in limiting their opportunities.

The Facebook COO freely admits that she has made every mistake she discusses and tells her own story with refreshing candor. For instance, when Larry Summers, her mentor and thesis advisor at Harvard, recommended she apply for an international fellowship, she ignored the advice because she feared it would make it harder for her to find a husband. Later, working for Summers at the World Bank, she made up for this strategic error by taking to heart his advice that she “bill like a boy.”

Sandberg demonstrates a gift for self-awareness that avoids both self-adulation and false modesty. She admits she didn’t know how to read a spreadsheet when she arrived at the World Bank and describes humiliating moments when she made poor decisions, received withering feedback, or even cried. Although she’s been criticized for these admissions by those who believe successful women must always inhabit the straitjacket of the unvaryingly positive role model, her honesty has stood her in good stead, both in her career and in the warm persona that animates the book.

She expresses humility and is not reluctant to assume a lower-status position if she has something to learn. She’s a skilled questioner who actively shows that she is listening so others will be comfortable opening up. She credits her success to recognizing that truth lies in the eye of the beholder and that statements of fact are therefore likely to put others on the defensive. She acknowledges that listening and being open were hard skills for her to learn and says she has to work at being “delicately honest.”

To improve your listening skills, have a look at Learning Tree Course 294: Influence Skills: Getting Results Without Direct Authority.

James L. Haner

Eleven Project Leadership Principles Worth Doing

Project managers, did you know there is a 1983 Army Leadership Guide that contains eleven principles of leadership well worth adding to your project leadership skill set? Funny how sometimes things survive the “test of time”, isn’t it? On this first day of June, here are some traits to consider the next time you are doing some self-analysis of your project leadership skills, straight from the US Army Military Leadership Guide.

1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement. As a project manager and a leader, we all need to look for opportunities to fine tune and improve our leadership skills. There is nothing quite like taking a good look at your project leadership skills and accentuating the positive skills, minimizing the negative things you might do and adding some new skills to the mix.

2. Be technically proficient.   Seems like the best leaders I have worked for and with on my projects knew their jobs and were very much “in the know” about my job, its tasks and the desired outcomes as well. That didn’t mean these leaders micromanaged me or were more technically proficient at the task level, though.

3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. Every effective project manager is both responsible and accountable – for their project and for their team. Effective leaders look ahead to the future and also look back at the past for lessons learned to help the team succeed.

4. Make sound and timely decisions. If you don’t have a serious toolkit of   problem solving, decision-making, and planning tools, it is time to construct one. Effective leaders also involve the team in these activities – it never hurts to have more than one person thinking about how to solve a problem or do something differently.

5. Set the example. I have always thought that project managers set the tone for their team. They also set the bar for their team’s behavior and work ethic. Knowing this, who wouldn’t want to set the bar high for the team and encourage everyone to “strive to excel”.

6. Know your people and look out for their well-being. Taking care of your team should be a project manager’s top priority, right up there with achieving the project’s objectives and delivering a successful outcome. A manager I worked for many years ago told me that she thought of her team as a garden, and she was the gardener who nurtured her team members to help them grow.

7. Keep your team informed. All project managers know the number one cause of project failure is poor communication – with internal and external stakeholders, team members, the organization, specific individuals or all of the above. Effective leaders are capable communicators at all levels of the organization, and with one to many people.

8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your workers. This relates back to leadership trait #3. It can be tough to be a responsible leader when your followers and peers are not so responsible. Fostering and teaching your team to be responsible in the workplace pays dividends for everyone down the line.

9. Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished. Effective delegation skills are essential. This item makes me think about delegating work packages to team members or team leaders: involving the team in defining and planning what needs to be done, agreeing to the work, keeping you up-to-date with the status of the work and making sure the work is completed correctly. Remember, no micromanaging required.

10. Train and work as a team. Ask yourself, is your project team really a team or are they a group of people who work for you that are just doing their jobs? Teams of people do more than just show up to do their 9 to 5 jobs. High-performing teams work together to achieve a goal or objective, and oftentimes produce more than the sum of their individual parts.

11. Use and develop the full capabilities of your team. Leading your project team and encouraging them to achieve their full potential requires some effort on your part. To me, the idea of servant leadership fits really well here as you enable and encourage your team to excel but try to also get out of their way.

Susan Weese


Reference: U.S. Army. (October 1983). Military Leadership (FM 22-100). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Are You Ready to Stop Telling and Start Asking?

Communicating effectively is a foundational project leadership role. Communication is essential in a healthy project. All too often, when we interact with team mates—especially those who report to us—we simply tell them what we think they need to know. This shuts them down. To generate bold new ideas, to avoid disastrous mistakes, to develop agility and flexibility, we need to practice Humble Inquiry. Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, by Edgar H. Schein, is a testament to the importance of asking questions in a way that enables others to feel comfortable giving honest answers.

Schein defines Humble Inquiry as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”

Sally Helgesen reviewed the book in Strategy+Business magazine as one of the Best Business Books 2013: Managerial Self-Help. The rest of this blog adapts her review to apply to project management/project leadership.

In Schein’s view, there are two essential problems with communication on projects. The first is our preference for telling rather than asking. He finds this especially characteristic of project managers in the United States, who are immersed in a tradition of pragmatic problem solving that places a premium on efficiency and speed. The second problem is the high value many project leaders place on task accomplishment as opposed to relationship building, which can make them impatient with the slow work of earning real trust. In Schein’s experience, many project leaders either are not aware of these cultural biases or don’t care enough to be bothered with redressing them.

Schein believes that such attitudes have become newly problematic in a diverse global environment in which a growing proportion of individuals do not necessarily share those values, and in which project teams are an increasingly common organizational unit. Despite the prevalence of language exalting teamwork, Schein notes that promotional and rewards systems in many companies remain almost entirely individualistic. This creates an emphasis on star performers that can undermine engagement and trust.

He describes the various circumstances under which cultural and status constraints inhibit this team from engaging in the kind of frank exchange that their complex work requires. Though each team member has specific expertise, they all fail to use it to advantage unless those with higher status humble themselves by asking questions that demonstrate their reliance on others. He further notes that some variation on this situation occurs in every kind of project, often every day, because even as project leaders struggle to create conditions that promote free exchange, expressing humility can make them feel vulnerable. True humility requires admitting dependence on those lower in the hierarchy. Only when project leaders are able to overcome their fear of exhibiting such dependence can they allow their curiosity to lead them to vital information.

If you want to find out how things are going on your project, start with asking humble questions and take time to listen  . . . instead of telling. Many project management mistakes can be avoided by just listening to all the members  . . . sponsors, core team and part-time participants . . . of the project team. They have the information you need. Intrusive asking or telling turns people away. Humble inquiry opens space for everyone on the project
to share his or her information and ideas.

James L. Haner

Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2014

According to China Gorman, CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, the Top 10 workplace trends for 2014 are:

  1. Millennials make their mark
  2. Global goes global
  3. Talent, talent, talent
  4. Investing in development
  5. Values training
  6. Wellness matters
  7. Employers up the ante
  8. Always on work environments
  9. Using inspiration to motivate
  10. Forward thinking

Just based on these 10 trend titles, you can pretty much define what the meanings are behind these trends. FYI, the Millennials are the generation with ages ranging from the early 20s into the early 30s. Some generational models call the Millennials by another name, Generation Y or “Gen Y”. My daughter will turn 32 in April, and is right on the cusp between the Millennials and Generation X. There are several trends in this list that I identify with, starting with “Wellness matters”.  The other two trends in my top 3 are “Investing in development” and “Employers up the ante”.

“Wellness matters” Seems to me that wellness really does matter more these days. In fact, wellness has actually become an employee benefit.  Many companies offer incentives and in-house programs focusing on wellness, such discounts on programs like Weight Watchers, in-house yoga classes and on-site gyms.  My daughter is a big fan of incentives such as these, and it seems that a large proportion of Millennials in the workplace will use these incentives when they are available.

“Employers up the ante” Many companies have gotten better at upping the ante (and raising the performance bar) by recognizing happy employees equal a happy bottom line. The benefits many businesses offer to their workforce are competitive and are a great way to attract new hires and keep the staff that they already have. This also links into the motivation and inspiration trend, don’t you think?

Investing in development” I have been lucky enough to spend time consulting and training with large firms who want to put more efficient and effective project management processes in place and teach everyone how to use those processes correctly. Investing in development and values training fall right in line with what I have been observing. Many companies go to great lengths when developing and training their people. Enhanced staff skills can definitely have an impact on customer service, satisfaction and the bottom line.

I am curious, which of these 10 trends do you identify with the most?  Do you think the trends you prefer are related to your age and generation, or is it a bit more complicated than that?

Susan Weese

Reference: Madell, R. (2014). U.S. News Money Careers. Top 10 Workplace Trends for 2014. Retrieved from


Lessons in Leadership from Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos

After the Denver Broncos Super Bowl loss earlier this year, it took me a while to realize that there were some positive lessons to be learned from watching my favorite team lose at the very end of the season.  My husband and I are serious Broncos fans, which means we always watch the whole game from start to finish, win or lose. In this particular game, the team and its quarterback provided a number of lessons on leadership and some things I think will work very well on my projects and with my teams.

Here is my list of leadership lessons learned from the Broncos loss in this year’s Superbowl and Peyton Manning’s behavior, both on and off the field that day.

Lesson 1: Never stop trying.  As the Broncos got further and further behind, the team continued to play their game.  After watching the Broncos play all season, it was painful to watch their offense be ineffective against the Seahawks.  However, the team stayed on the field and in the game right up to the bitter end.  Seems like a good approach to getting your projects completed, too.  Never retreat and never surrender.

Lesson 2: Be gracious, even in defeat. After the game, one of the first things Peyton Manning did was to walk over to Richard Sherman of the Seahawks and ask if he was okay after injuring his ankle and leaving the game.  After a game in which Sherman led the Seattle defense at smothering Manning and the Broncos offense, Manning still sought out Sherman after the game to ask Sherman about his ankle injury. I agree with Sherman about this: “To show that kind of concern for an opponent shows a lot of humility and class.”

Lesson 3: Don’t play the blame game. People are more important than their mistakes.  I will never forget Manny Ramirez, Denver’s center, hiking the ball over Peyton Manning’s head in the Broncos first offensive play of the game. After the safety, cameras showed Manning and Ramirez on the sideline briefly talking. My guess is the conversation was about not doing something like that again.  Sounds like a good example of how to handle issues and problems on your project team – discuss the issue or problem with no finger-pointing or raised voices.

Lesson 4: Mind your manners. I found it funny how the only team captain among the eight to shake the hands of honorary captains Joe Namath and Phil Simms after the coin toss was Peyton Manning. His mother must approve, I know my mother called me and mentioned this very thing after watching the game.  Good manners are never a bad thing, in football or when working on your projects.

Lesson 5: Get over it and move on. Peyton Manning stopped to sign T-shirts and autographs on his way out of MetLife Stadium Sunday night after the loss to Seattle.  Enough said.

I am looking forward to the next football season and hoping to see the Broncos in the Superbowl once again! Stay tuned…

Susan Weese

What are the Three Kinds of Focus Every Project Leader Needs?

According to Daniel Goleman’s new book FOCUS: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,

1) An inner focus for self-awareness and self-management;

Many consider flow to be an ideal state. That’s when your concentration is utterly absorbed – and you’re most likely being challenged. You’re better able to tune out your mental chatter because you’re fully engrossed in a task. That can feel great since you’re not only being productive, but you’re also not distracted by negative self-talk or ruminations.

The opposite is when we are facing a challenging situation or a fearful experience. An “emotional hijacking” renders us unable to function appropriately. We can overreact or underreact, demonstrating nonassertive behavior. Here is a way to remember fear:

FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real

  • Imagining the worst that could possibly happen
  • Create mental stories not based on fact
  • Limiting our ability to think rationally
  • Scaring ourselves into inaction

We need to become more aware and begin to anticipate those circumstances in which emotional reactions are just that – reactions. Understanding our emotional and mental habits and setting an intention to recognize them will help us respond appropriately to the real not imagined circumstances we are facing.

2) A focus on others for empathy, clear communication and interpersonal effectiveness;

Goleman tells this story. Think of two people who work in your organization: one a level or two below you, and the other a level above. Now imagine getting an email from each of them. Ask yourself how long it would take you to answer those emails.

Chances are the one from above you respond to right away. And the one from below you are likely to answer when you can get around to it.

That difference in response times has been used to map the hierarchy in an organization. And it reflects a more general principle: we pay more attention to those who hold more power than we do – and notice less those who hold less power.

Here is what Ruth Malloy, global managing director of the Hay Group Leadership and Talent practice, has to say about the positive behaviors of a boss (project leader) that make us stay at our jobs.

Best Boss (Project Leader)

  • Takes an active interest in me, listens to my perspectives and concerns
  • Is self-aware; open to feedback, has a sense of humor about himself – comes across as genuine
  • Inspires me around the goals of our organization; lays out a vision that I find consequential and energizing.
  • Provides feedback and support in a way that is encouraging and helpful; empowers me
  • Has a positive outlook, even tempered – even under stress

3) and a systems focus.

“Systems blindness is the main thing we struggle within our work,” says John Sterman, who holds the Jay W. Forrester chair at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

One of the worst results of system blindness occurs when project leaders implement a strategy to solve a problem — but ignore the pertinent system dynamics.

“It’s insidious,” says Sterman. “You get short-term relief, and then the problem comes back, often worse than before.”

The problem gets compounded by what’s called the “illusion of explanatory depth” where we feel confidence in our understanding of a complex system, but in reality have just superficial knowledge.

After some practice, you can improve the three kinds of focus every project leader needs.

James L. Haner

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