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Closing the gap between education and employment (a McKinsey report)

Today I have come across an excellent report by McKinsey on how to close the gap between education and employment.

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Young people today are three times as likely as their parents to be out of work. Yet many employers can’t find people with the right entry-level skills to fill their jobs. How to close the gap?
In this video, McKinsey directors Diana Farrell and Mona Mourshed share insights from McKinsey’s research with 8,000 stakeholders. McKinsey also profiles two innovative organizations—one in India and one in the United States—that are pioneering new approaches to successfully transition greater numbers of students from education into employment.

I encourage you to visit http://www.mckinsey.com/features/education_to_employment and watch the video.

Posted in: Empowerment, innovation

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Is it worth working on ideas and projects for social good vs. projects for profits?

Again and again I am asked why i-Sparks, a new online platform for individuals and organizations interested in social change, is focusing on ideas and projects for social good vs. projects for profits.  After all, the underlying approach and methodologies are also applicable in the business world.  This is true.  They are applicable and work nicely.  Indeed, I have developed the approach and methodologies through my own business consulting activities.  However, this is not the point.

I have worked in professional project management for more than fifteen years now.  I have seen projects fail and projects succeed.  I have seen dull, boring projects and WOW projects that excite the people working on the project and the client and customers.  Personally, I am interested in successful projects with a WOW factor.

There is one key ingredient for a WOW project to evolve: A clear motivation and vision.  Without them, a project is just a project.  

Yes, you can have clear project objectives but that is not sufficient to get a project to a good start.  You need to know the driver behind a project.  You need to understand the overall picture where your tiny project fits in.

Example:  I worked on a project which objective was to develop and execute a global marketing of a newly introduced product.  The scope was clear, the stakeholders defined and known.  What was missing was a common understanding of the mission of the product.  What was the one value of the product every stakeholder, project member and customer could agree on.  When you asked five stakeholders why this product and campaign was important you received five different answers.   It was an interesting and challenging project, no doubt.  We delivered on time and budget.  From this perspective it was a success and the client was happy.  But there was a lack of team spirit, no team synergy, no WOW.  Why?  The company lacked a clear motivation and vision.  The most common answer about the driver and goals were financial in nature.  Fact is, money alone does not move people. You have to understand their deep motivations and visions.

i-Sparks doesn’t want to attract individuals and organizations who join for the quick buck.  i-Sparks is for individuals and organizations who care about social change and social good.   It is for individuals and organizations who believe in their ideas and visions and who are not distracted by things such as money.  Don’t get me wrong, money is important.  This is why i-Sparks will offer crowdfunding functionalities in the near future.  However, a well-funded project without a clear motivation and vision is not worth working for.  At least as it comes to social change and social good. This is where i-Sparks comes in.  And this why i-Sparks focuses on ideas and projects for social change and social good rather than “traditional”, commercial projects.

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Project for Passion

Today I have come across an excellent article about passion in design.  It is entitled “The Game Has Changed. Design for Passion.” and has been written by Adam Nash. While Adam talks about design thinking his observations can and should easily be applied to your projects.  Hence, the question is “are you passionate about your project? are you passionate about your team members?”  If not, you better find out what it takes.  Have a look at Adam’s view below:

The Game Has Changed. Design for Passion (by Adam Nash)

One of the most exciting developments in software has been a resurgence in the focus and priority on design.  With the growing dominance of social platforms and mobile applications, more and more people are growing comfortable productively discussing and utilizing insights about human emotion in their work.

Google: The Era of Utility

The progress of the last five to seven years is really a significant breakout from the previous generations of software design.

For decades, software engineers and designers focused on utility:  value, productivity, speed, features or cost.

If it could be quantified, we optimized it.  But at a higher level, with few exceptions, we framed every problem around utility.  Even the field of human-computer interaction was obsesses with “ease of use.”  Very linear, with clear ranking.  How many clicks? How long does a task take?  What is the error rate?

In some ways, Google (circa 2005) represented the peak of this definition of progress.  Massive data.  Massive scalability. Incredibly utility.  Every decision defined by quantifying and maximizing utility by various names.

But let’s face it, only computer scientists can get really passionate about the world’s biggest database.

Social: The Era of Emotion

Like any ecosystem, consumer technology is massively competitive.  Can you be faster, cheaper, bigger or more useful than Google?  It turns out, there is a more interesting question.

Social networks helped bring the language of emotion into software.  A focus on people starts with highly quantifiable attributes, but moves quickly into action and engagement.

What do people like? What do they hate? What do they love? What do they want?

In parallel, there have been several developments that reflect similar insights on the web, in behavioral finance, and the explosion in interest in game mechanics.

Human beings are not rational, but (to borrow from Dan Ariely) they are predictably irrational.  And now, thanks to scaling social platforms to over a billion people, we have literally petabytes of data to help us understand their behavior.

Passion Matters

Once you accept that you are designing and selling a product for humans, it seems obvious that passion matters.

We don’t evaluate the food we eat based on metrics (although we’d likely be healthier if we did).  Do I want it? Do I love it? How does it make me feel?

The PayPal mafia often joke that great social software triggers at least one of the seven deadly sins. (For the record, LinkedIn has two: vanity & greed).  Human beings haven’t changed that much in the past few thousand years, and the truth is the seven deadly sins are just a proxy for a deeper insight.  We are still driven by strong emotions & desires.

In my reflection on Steve Jobs, he talks about Apple making products that people “lust” for.  Not the “the best products”, “the cheapest products”, “the most useful products” or “the easiest to use products.”

Metrics oriented product managers, engineers & designers quickly discover that designs that trigger passion outperform those based on utility by wide margins.

The Game Has Changed

One of the reasons a number of earlier web giants are struggling to compete now is that the game has changed.  Utility, as measured by functionality, time spent, ease-of-use are important, but they are no longer sufficient to be competitive. Today, you also have to build products that trigger real emotion.  Products that people will like, will want, will love.

Mobile has greatly accelerated this change.  Smartphones are personal devices.  We touch them, they buzz for us. We keep them within three feet of us at all times.

Too often in product & design we focus on utility instead of passion.  To break out today, you need to move your efforts to the next level.  The questions you need to ask yourself are softer:

  • How do I feel when I use this?
  • Do I want that feeling again?
  • What powerful emotions surround this product?

Go beyond utility.  Design for passion.

Posted in: Agile, Guest Blogs, innovation

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2011 – Going Strong – A Review of a Great Year

The big and typical question you ask yourself at the end of the year how the past 12 months were, how you faired.  This year it is a simple question to answer: yes, it was a great year!  Or, shall I say another great year.  Most of my consulting this year was for an internet service provider in Karlsruhe.  Not only did were these consulting engagements challenging and intellectually rewarding it was and is convenient to our family for it is only a 35 minutes commute from Heidelberg to Karlsruhe.  One of the main reasons I am very grateful for this consulting opportunity.

Next to consulting I have been giving seminars, webinars, podcasts, presentations and interviews on numerous topics such as leadership, collaboration, learning project organizations, ethics, agile product development, team building, innovation, project management, and empowerment.  The main conferences I attended and spoke at were the PMI Global Congresses in Dublin and Dallas and the NASA Project Management Challenge in Long Beach, CA.  Wonderful events.  I can encourage every professional project managers to attend at least one of these conferences.  The learning is exceptional as are networking opportunities.

One of the major milestones in 2011 was the founding of i-Sparks I founded this summer.  i-Sparks is an open online innovation and learning community that facilitates innovation across entire systems. It provides a platform for people and institutions to discover, develop, and test new ways of operating and to put their ideas to work.  i-Sparks aims at every person or institution which is motivated to understand the root causes of today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, to rethink how people and institutions live and operate, and thus to create opportunities for redesigning business models and social change protocols, working more collaboratively across groups, institutions and sectors.

At present we are working on a first prototype which we plan to launch this coming spring.  Stay tuned and follow us on our website www.i-sparks.com.

Business is only one element in our life though it absorbs most of it these days.  Luckily there are the welcome breaks called vacation.  Have a look at my online photo albums for impressions of Long Beach,



and South Tyrol.

So, what about next year?  The outlook is more than promising.  It is funny that lots of people talk about an economic crisis.  Unemployment is at a record low in southern Germany, economic growth is strong, the overall atmosphere and outlook are positive.  And yet other European countries and their economies are struggling.  There are numerous reasons for this imbalance.  I don’t want to start this debate.  What is worrying however is that people, i.e., European politicians and so-called experts, continue to talk about the dawn of another recession in Germany.  This, of course, can have an impact – psychologically.  Rationally and ethically, this chitchat is not comprehensible.  Let’s see what next year will bring.  I am optimistic and hope you too share this enthusiasm.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Posted in: Agile, Book, Empowerment, innovation, Keynotes, Leadership, Miscellaneous, Project Management, TJEP company

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The 2011 PMI Global Congress North America in Dallas – Part 3 – Take-Aways from Sessions on Leadership, Project Winners, the Learning Project Organization, and the future PMO

This is the third part of my impressions of the 2011 PMI Global Congress North America in Dallas.  Part 1 talks about the conference setup.  Part 2 covers my lessons learned from sessions on sustainability, ethics, innovation, and Agile.

In this 3rd part I am talking about my takeaways from sessions about Leadership, Project Winners, the Learning Project Organization, and the future PMO.  Happy reading!


Slides of my own session “SFT02 – The 5 Team Leadership Principles for Project Success – Part of Leadership Community Track” are available for download as well as on Slideshare.  Both Links are available on my blog.

Michael O’Brochta’s session “PRJ09 – Leadership Essentials for Project Management ProfessionalsPart of Leadership Community Track

What else can I say about any of Michael’s sessions?  You have to attend them.  They are and Michael is AWESOME.

Here are some of my tweets and insights I took away from this exceptional session:

  • Servant leadership: how can I help? What can I do to help?
  • Powerful leadership styles: collaboration, trust, empathy, ethical use of power
  • Situational leadership: participating, selling, telling, delegating
  • Transformational leadership behavior: inspiring change beyond self-interest
  • PMP + Leadership = Success
Thomas Juli and Michael O'Brochta

Thomas Juli and Michael O'Brochta

Lazy Project Managers

Peter Taylor’s session “ISS09 – The Lazy Project Manager Salutes the Project Superstars

Peter Taylor explains why we should think of us as superstars.  Why?  Because project management is – or shall we say, ought to be – more prevalent than most of think.

One of my tweets during this great session was:

  • Famous historical project managers: Leonardo da Vinci, Henry Ford, Nelson Mandela

The Learning Project Organization

Slides of my second presentation “ISS13 – The Learning Project Organization Part of Learning, Education & Development Community Track” can be downloaded from my blog at  or viewed on Slideshare.

The Future PMO

What I have said about Michael O’Brochta applies to Jack Duggal, too.  His sessions fall in the category “Must attend”.  In Dallas Jack talked about “Reinventing the PMO for the Next Decade”.

My tweets during this session included:

  • A high degree of compliance (80% and more) to project management processes did not correlate to project success, according to a recent study by Jack Duggal.
  • Today’s project environment: Dynamic and changing, ambiguous and uncertain, non-linear, complex, emerging
  • Bob Dylan: If you are not busy being born, you are busy dying.
  • The focus of the future PMO will and has to change:
From focus on … to focus on …
Service & support Ownership & accountability
Delivery Adoption and usability
Delivery-oriented governance Business-oriented governance
Delivery of projects & deliverables Benefits revitalization and value
Configuration-oriented change management Change leadership
Dealing with the pain of the day Holistic, balanced and adaptive approach

… what about the other sessions?

There were so many sessions I wanted to attend.  Often it has been very difficult to make a choice.  Luckily there are papers and presentations to download from the Congress’ websites.

Future Congresses

Oh yes, there will be many Congresses to come. And I hope that I too can participate in them.

So, tell me and all other readers what you have experienced in Dallas.  What were your highlights?  What did you miss?  And what did you take away from the Congress?

Posted in: Agile, Empowerment, innovation, Keynotes, Leadership, Miscellaneous, Project Management, Uncategorized

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2011 PMI Global Congress North America in Dallas – Part 2 – Take-Aways from Sessions on Sustainability, Ethics, Innovation, and Agile

This is the second part of my impressions of the 2011 PMI Global Congress North America in Dallas.  Part 1 talks about the conference setup.  You can read it here.

In this second part I am talking about my takeaways from the sessions I attended.  In other words, what have I learned?


On Saturday Oct 21 I attended the day-long research workshop “Sustainability and Project Management”.  It was a good mix of lecture, workshop / breakouts, discussions. If you prefer smaller crowds and like interactive sessions, these research workshops can be very good choice.  My own expectations were met.  Alas, it would have been nice if reading material would have been made available prior to the Congress.  Something PMI and future hosts should seriously consider.

Insights I tweeted during the workshop:

  • Corporations will not survive without embracing sustainability.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a source of opportunity, innovation, and competitive advantage. It hence makes holistic rather than one-dimensional investment analysis mandatory.
  • Accounting for sustainability principles ensures a holistic project setup.
  • Frame projects as learning opportunities.
  • Benefits of considering sustainability principles: cope with the complexity and dynamics of projects.
  • Investing in sustainability means having greater flexibility and more options in the future.
  • Sustainability is about effective project management and opportunities.
  • Understanding the project goals the desired sustainable outcomes forces innovation and out of the box thinking.
  • Sustainability requires a holistic management and leadership approach.


PRJ15 – Really…Are You a Professional Project Manager? Presented by the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct Implementation Advisory Committee (CIAC)

Speakers: Christiaan Kindermans, MSc, PMP; Saji Madapat, MBA, CSSMBB, PMP; Peter Pfeiffer, PhD, PMP; Michael O’Brochta, MPM, PMP

This session was a pleasant surprise.  Not only was the content really valuable, the structure of the session was wonderful, involved attendants from the very beginning.  After a few Pecha-Kucha style presentations (3-5 minutes each) the audience split into 4 groups discussing how to improve applying the code of ethics (1) responsibility, 2) honesty, 3) fairness, 4) respect) in our everyday project life.  Each group discussed the various codes for 5 minutes, then moved on to the next topic.  The session concluded with the presentation of the group discussions.

This session was exceptionally well prepared.  It proves that you can interact even with a big audience and get a lot out of 75 minutes.  Congrats!

My tweets during this session included:

  • You will attract more with honey than will vinegar. Hence, lead through your own positive example.
  • Saying what you mean and meaning what you say = integrity.
  • Opposite of professional conduct? An empty suit.

Maxwell Gladwell’s Keynote on innovation and the right organizational culture

Excellent keynote if you are interested in innovation in your project environment.  I loved it.

My tweets during this session:

  • You have to understand the social dimension of technology.
  • Innovation is a mass phenomenon and not an elite one.
  • We privilege resources too much.
  • Innovative tweakers take someone else’s ideas and turn them into money makers.  Perfect example: Google.

Want to learn more of what I am thinking and doing about innovation?  – Visit and follow www.i-sparks.com.


TRN10 – Agile Collaboration in a Virtual World: Harnessing Social Media, Web 2.0 and Beyond Presented by PMI’s New Media Counsel

Speakers: Elizabeth Harrin; Cornelius Fichtner; and (sorry, forgot the name of the 3rd speaker)

Very good session.  It was hands-on.  The speakers did not elaborate on abstract theories but covered what matters in day-to-day work when you are working with and for virtual teams in an agile setting.

Among my tweets during this session was:

  • The best architecture, requirements and design emerge from self-organizing teams.  However, even self-organizing teams still need a strategic decision.

Jesse Fewell’s session “PRJ26 – Fixed Price Agile Projects: Making the Impossible Possible Part of Agile Community Track

Boy, let me tell you Jesse does understand and live Agile. He is the person to go to if you have any questions about Agile.  Excellent session!  Thank you, Jesse, for sharing your experience.


Part III of my impressions and take-aways coming soon.  Topics will include leadership, the lazy project manager, the learning project organization, the future PMO, and upcoming conferences.  Stay tuned!

Posted in: Agile, innovation, Keynotes, Miscellaneous, Project Management

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The Learning Project Organization

My presentation “The Learning Project Organization” I gave at the PMI Global Congress North America in Dallas on Oct 25 is now available on Slideshare.  A pdf version can be downloaded here.

Synopsis of presentation:

We live in a dynamic, ever-changing world where we can expect lots of changes. Project objectives, requirements and collaboration rules are subject to change, performance levels may fluctuate and even the vision may vary. Knowing this is one thing. Doing something about it is another thing. In order to cope with changes and lead our projects to success we have to be flexible and adjust our plans accordingly. However, a flexible project plan alone is not sufficient to master project dynamics. One of the prerequisites for project success is to actively create a culture of learning. It is an environment where team members are not punished when they make mistakes; making mistakes is normal. What we want to do is build project teams that are capable of learning from mistakes and mastering change. This cannot happen overnight. The key is that from the very first day we establish learning routines in our projects. Learning has to be part of our daily project routines. This holds true for individual projects as much as project organizations including programs and project management offices. This lecture sheds light on project organizations and how they can create a learning culture for all projects it coordinates.

The lecture starts out with explaining the need of a learning culture in project organizations and outlines how we can create this culture. One example is the definition of learning standards which address team synchronizations, project reviews and training. Other examples include facilitating knowledge sharing across projects and setting up innovation days. The lecture explains the critical success factors of learning in a project organization. It identifies common learning obstacles and shows how we can overcome them. The lecture closes with an illustration of the benefits of a project learning culture. Last but not least, it shows how a learning organization can nurture the ground for project success.

Posted in: Empowerment, innovation, Keynotes

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Innovation is not a continuous activity; it’s a project-based activity

Can innovation and projects go together?  Absolutely.  As a matter of fact projects can be the epitome of innovation, i.e. projects set-up and run effectively.  This is what Tim Brown, CEO of the design firm IDEO, said about this very topic: “So innovation is not a continuous activity; it’s a project-based activity. If you don’t have a process for choosing projects, starting projects, doing projects, and ending projects, you will never get very good at innovation.  Projects need some form – you call them something; you run them in a certain way. That sounds simple, but, actually, a good process for getting projects going and one is often not obvious to companies.”

Unfortunately, Tim Brown doesn’t elaborate on the nature of projects he was thinking about.  In my own experience successful projects incorporate the culture of learning and innovation.  Leadership cultivates learning on the individual and team level.  If you don’t take the liberty to make mistakes and learn from them, if you don’t plan in time for reflection and learning, your project is doomed for failure.  A project is dynamic in nature.  Seldom do we deal with projects these days which blindly follow a project plan based on myopic project objectives which are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-boxed) but which are not in sync with an overlying project vision simply because there is none.  As much as you need a project vision, a purpose and direction for your project, you need to cultivate learning in order to deliver results at the end of the day.

The same applies to innovation.  It takes an idea, a purpose and vision to spark innovation and a results-driven approach to deliver.  This is at the core of projects set-up for success.

To learn more about Tim Brown’s thoughts on innovation read Mendonca, L. T., & Rao, H. (2008). Lessons from innovation’s front lines: An interview with IDEO’s CEO. McKinsey Quarterly, (November). Retrieved from https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Lessons_from_innovations_front_lines_An_interview_with_IDEOs_CEO_2185.

To learn more about how to set up and run projects for success, read “Leadership Principles for Projects Success” or visit www.TheProjectLeadershipPyramid.net for free reading samples.

Posted in: innovation

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