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Leading without authority




Even if they don’t call the shots, project managers can still have power over their teams.” – This is the subtitle of a new article in the magazine “PM Network”, June 2010 issue.

The article explains why project managers ought to try to forge relationships with team members and uncover their motivations.  It also outlines that rewards, recognition and appreciation are often overlooked tools for building credibility.

It is a very good article about a well known challenge in project mangement, namely, having to lead without authority.  Ok, if there is one thing I don’t particularly like it is actually the subtitle of the article.  It is not about having power over your team.  It is about team leadership.  In order to achieve this you have to understand and appreciate the dynamics of the team and acknowledge the motivations of each individual and become part of the team.

I am proud to say that I contributed to this article.  My input is highlighted in the text. Click this link to read the article. Feedback is highly welcome!

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Leadership

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Beware of the Perils of PowerPoint


I dare say that I have created a number of good PowerPoint presentations.  At least according to the feedback I received from the audience.  And I am working to become better, i.e., create even better presentations – if I really have to use PowerPoint.  Still, my skepticism about the value of PowerPoint has been growing for some time now.  Maybe it is because I witnessed so many PowerPoint presentations which were sooooo bad and boring that you didn’t really have a choice but to dislike PowerPoint.  Then, on the other hand I witnessed some great presenters who made use of PowerPoint.  But differently.  One of the things I have seen more and more in good PowerPoint presentations is the use of simple photos which little if any text.  Pecha Kucha presentations serve as an example.

Still, bottom line:  if you can, don’t become a slave of PowerPoint; instead, try to carry your message across without any digital aids.  On this token, have a look at Lee Cockerell’s blog post:
One of the comments states:  “... the program [PowerPoint] does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters. The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations […] are known as “hypnotizing chickens”.”

Remember the saying, “A tool with a fool is still a fool“.  It applies to the use of PowerPoint, too.  So, if you think just because you are apt using PowerPoint and claim to be a good presenter, think again.  If you cannot tell your story without PowerPoint, chances are, you are not such a good presenter after all.

If you do have to use PowerPoint or are expected to do so, become knowledgeable of the immense technical features of PowerPoint.  But again, don’t become a slave.  PowerPoint is a tool and should remain as such.  There are quite a few good books on PowerPoint.  Two of them I’d like to recommend:

(1) “The Say It With Charts Complete Toolkit” by Gene Zelazny.

This is considered one of the standards for learning how to create good presentations – with or without digital aids.

(2)”Slide: ology:  The Art and Science of Presentation Design” by Nancy Duarte.

This book reveals the huge potential of the right use of PowerPoint.

These are great books.  Still, never ever forget the potential perils of PowerPoint.  Becoming a greater presenter and speaker doesn’t require to master PowerPoint.  If, however, you do have to use PowerPoint, you better master PowerPoint, too.

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Tools

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A must-read for agile project managers


If you are interested or alreaday practicing agile project management Michele Sliger’s and Stacia Broderick’s book “The Software Project Manager’s Bridge to Agility” (Addison Wesley, 2008)  is a must-read.

There are a LOT of books on agile project management out there. Unfortunately, there are hardly any which explain how to build a bridge from traditional to agile project management. This books fills this gap.
One of the outstanding features of the book is that it explains how Agile differs from the PMBOK, one of the world standard in project management these days. Even more important it shows that Agile is not contradictory to the PMBOK or vice versa. It thus succeeds building the much needed bridge for traditionalists.

Readers who have read about Scrum, XP and other agile approaches are highly recommended to read Michele Sliger’s and Stacia Broderick’s book. The modern and effective project manager should be knowledgeable and experienced in both approaches and be able to pick the right approach for the customer.

I highly recommend this book.

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Saying it without a presentation


For more than 12 years I have been in the consulting world.  It is a fascinating environment.  It gives you a chance to prove and apply your knowledge and skills to the benefit of your client.  At the same time you challenge your peers and in reverse you are being challenged to improve your own skills.  In this perspective the consulting world offers unique and wonderful learning opportunities.  Not all of them are pleasant.  Most of them are helpful.

Let me tell you about one of my latest aha-experience.

I admit that I have become prone to a bad habit.  Saying things with a presentation.  What I am talking about is that we consultants share the belief that we have to wrap our ideas and messages in flashy Powerpoint presentations.  For some people this is really creative.  And they are right because I have seen a lot of creative and very inspiring Powerpoint presentations.  You may even say it can be an art.  Unfortunately, most presentations don’t even come close to this level.  But that’s another story.

Recently this bad habit of relying on a presentation or even showing something on your computer hunted me.  I was explaining the rationale behind a workshop.  Everyone was with me.  Then I made a fatal mistake.  I asked the audience if it wanted me to show them something I prepared on my computer.  People nodded with their heads.  So, after a short break I started showing them a fairly detailed schedule of the proposed 3-week workshop.  It was not the schedule itself which caused me to lose the attention and rapport of the audience.  It was the overflow of information.  And it was the lack of interaction.  The presentation literally sucked out the air necessary to follow me.  I bombarded the audience with something preplanned rather than developing the schedule with them.  Say, on a white board or flip chart.  The presentation mode did not allow them to take part in developing the schedule.  As a consequence I lost the audience.  The rapport I had built prior to the presentation crepitated in seconds.  Fortunately, my colleagues and I managed to regain the confidence of the audience later during the discussion of the presentation.  Still, it would have been much simpler if I had not turned on the computer in the first place.

What’s the message?  First, whenever you give a presentation and use a computer – may it be a Powerpoint presentation or Excel sheet, you name it –  don’t lose contact with your audience.  Second and even more important, think twice if you really need your computer to bring the message across.  You may be better of not using it.

How do you talk with your friends?  Do you need a computer?  Or are you trying to express your thoughts in simple, plain language?  You involve them in your thoughts.  This way you connect with them.

Don’t get me wrong:  you can use your computer and still connect with your audience.  And I claim that most of the time I manage to do so myself.  At least this is the feedback I have received after my presentations at clients’ sites, at conferences, etc.  On the other hand, this may have caused me to develop a tunnel vision.

Not relying on your computer to explain things is straightforward advice.  Sometimes this may not work.  However, I am claiming that in most cases it is best to leave the computer at home.  If you need to explain something in pictures, draw it on a white board, flip chart or overhead projector.  You’re saying that you are not creative or artistic enough?  This is a lame excuse.  I believe that everyone of us can draw a simple graph or picture.  We don’t have to be Leonardo da Vinci or Picasso.  Keep it simple.  The most important thing is that you bring your message across.

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If you are interested in learning to express your thoughts with simple, straightforward and meaningful pictures I can recommend Dan Roam’s 2008 book “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures”.

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Miscellaneous

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Book recommendations on Introduction to Project Management


There are countless books on project management available these days.   How do you pick the right one to start with?  At the end of the day it is your call.  Still, I can recommend the following books:

Eric Verzuh:  The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management

The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management is designed as an advanced textbook for businesspeople with a grasp of the basics and insufficient time (or inclination) to go back to school to learn more. […] this is not a heavy academic text.

Gregory T. Haugan:  Project Management Fundamentals:  Key Concepts and Methodology

Project Management Fundamentals takes the mystery out of project management through a step-by-step, detailed approach. Filled with practical examples of project management methodology, tools, and techniques, this book will help you manage projects successfully, no matter the size or complexity.

Gregory T. Haugan:  Project Planning and Scheduling

This is the only book that makes all planning methods and tools available to project managers at all levels easy to understand … and use. Instead of applying techniques piecemeal, you’ll take a cohesive, step-by-step approach to improve strategic and operational planning and scheduling throughout the organization. You’ll master advanced scheduling techniques and tools such as strategic planning models and critical chain and enterprise project management. Includes time-and-error-saving checklists.

You could supplement it with Greg’s latest book, Work Breakdown Structures for Projects, Programs, and Enterprises.

Kathy Schwalbe:  Introduction to Project Management, 2nd Edition

Best-selling author Kathy Schwalbe’s Introduction to Project Management offers a general yet concise introduction to project management. This book provides up-to- date information on how good project, program, and portfolio management can help you achieve organizational success. It includes over 50 samples of tools and techniques applied to one large project, and is suitable for all majors, including business, engineering, healthcare, and more. This text uses a chronological approach to project management, with detailed explanations and examples for initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing projects.

Neal Whitten: Neal Whitten’s No-Nonsense Advice for Successful Projects

If you have already have experience in project management, this is a must-have book.  Whitten takes on common questions from everyday project management and shares his insights.  It is right on the money.  I highly recommend this book.

Timothy J. Kloppenborg, Arthur Shriberg, Jayashree Venkatraman:  Project Leadership

Yes, there is a difference between project management and project leadership.  If you want to know what it takes to become a project leader, have a look at this book.

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Project Management

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Remember Lee Iacocca


A good friend of mine, James Bowman, Ph.D, MSEd, Director and Founder of MOTIVATE2B, has forwarded me this excellent read.

Remember Lee Iacocca, the man who rescued Chrysler Corporation from its death throes? He’s now 82 years old and has a new book, ‘Where Have All The Leaders Gone?’.

Lee Iacocca Says: ‘Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder! We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, ‘Stay the course.’ Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned, ‘Titanic’. I’ll give you a sound bite: ‘Throw all the bums out!’

<You might think I’m getting senile, that I’ve gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we’re fiddling in Iraq , the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving ‘pom-poms’ instead of asking hard questions. That’s not the promise of the ‘America’ my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I’ve had enough. How about you?

I’ll go a step further. You can’t call yourself a patriot if you’re not outraged. This is a fight I’m ready and willing to have. The Biggest ‘C’ is Crisis! (Iacocca elaborates on nine C’s of leadership, with crisis being the first.)

Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis. It’s easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory. Or send someone else’s kids off to war when you’ve never seen a battlefield yourself. It’s another thing to lead when your world comes tumbling down.

On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes. A hell of a mess, so here’s where we stand. We’re immersed in a bloody war with no plan for winning and no plan for leaving.

We’re running the biggest deficit in the history of the country. We’re losing the manufacturing edge to Asia, while our once-great companies are getting slaughtered by health care costs.

Gas prices are skyrocketing, and nobody in power has a coherent energy policy. Our schools are in trouble.

Our borders are like sieves.

The middle class is being squeezed every which way.

These are times that cry out for leadership.

But when you look around, you’ve got to ask: ‘Where have all the leaders gone?’ Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of character, courage, conviction, omnipotence, and common sense? I may be a sucker for alliteration, but I think you get the point.

Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo?

We’ve spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened.

Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Congress has yet to spend a single day evaluating the response to the hurricane or demanding accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial hours after the storm.

Everyone’s hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping it doesn’t happen again. Now, that’s just crazy. Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan. Figure out what you’re going to do the next time. Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing. Who would have believed that there could ever be a time when ‘The Big Three’ referred to Japanese car companies? How did this happen, and more important, what are we going to do about it?

Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debit, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry.

I have news for the gang in Congress. We didn’t elect you to sit on your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity.

What is everybody so afraid of? That some bonehead on Fox News will call them a name? Give me a break. Why don’t you guys show some spine for a change?

Had Enough? Hey, I’m not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I’m trying to light a fire. I’m speaking out because I have hope – I believe in America. In my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege of living through some of America ‘s greatest moments. I’ve also experienced some of our worst crises: The ‘Great Depression,’ ‘World War II,’ the ‘Korean War,’ the ‘Kennedy Assassination,’ the ‘Vietnam War,’ the 1970’s oil crisis, and the struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11.

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s this: ‘You don’t get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it’s building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. That’s the challenge I’m raising in this book. It’s a “Call to Action” for people who, like me, believe in America’. It’s not too late, but it’s getting pretty close. So let’s shake off the crap and go to work. Let’s tell ’em all we’ve had ‘enough.’

Make your own contribution by sending this to everyone you know and care about. It’s our country, folks, and it’s our future. Our future is at stake!

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Leadership, Miscellaneous

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My own contribution to an upcoming book


As mentioned in my post of earlier this week I got the chance and honor to having contributed to a forthcoming book.  The title is “Corporate Bold:  What Every Corporate Professional Must Know”.  Information about this book can be found at http://www.corporatebold.com/cb.

From the official website: “Corporate Bold is a book about what today’s corporate professionals need to think about in order to thrive in tomorrow’s corporate structure. The book is currently under development and is slated to be published in Spring 2009 and will be available through Barnes & Noble bookstores and BN.com.

The book challenges many of the assumptions that may no longer be true. By providing specific steps that can be taken immediately to assess readiness, Corporate Bold aims to change the lives of corporate professionals in a powerful and positive manner. Corporate Bold outlines a strategy for success and gives the readers a larger and richer context to think from.”

My own contribution:  I am writing about the power of sharing information, teaching and empowerment.

I will keep you posted once the publication date is set.

Happy Holidays and Have a Good and Prosperous New Year!
Thomas

Posted in: Book Recommendations, Empowerment, Miscellaneous

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Book on networking


There are a lot of good books on “networking”.  One of the best books on this topic I have ever read was “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi.  Additional information about this book can be found at www.amazon.de, www.amazon.com or the official website of K. Ferrazzi www.nevereatalone.com.

Enjoy!

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