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Master Project Complexity: Project Management and Zen

Today’s projects become increasingly complex and a test of our leadership. What do you recommend to master this increasing complexity and to show your leadership skills at the same time?

Individuals in the team and the whole team need orientation and guidance or an inspiration how to do so by themselves. Personally, I have found that the philosophy of Zen offers many insights which can help us achieves this. In simple, easy to understand language it outlines avenues to find our lost individual and project identity, overcome burdens and master challenges, reduce complexity and guide us to personal success.

My latest presentation on the very topic is now available on Slideshare.

This presentation introduces 10 Zen insights and translates them into the language of project management. It thus shows how to apply Zen insights in a project setting. Zen can help inspire us personally and how to interact effectively with our team, customers and stakeholders. Applying Zen in projects makes it easier to build teams, perform on a high level and deliver results which delight our customers and teams alike. It thus helps us and the team to evolve into a performing unit and excel.

In a nutshell, the 10 insights are the following:

1. Identity:
You have to understand, accept and embrace the actual motivation of your project.

2. Timeliness in a time-sensitive world
We must not be became slaves of time pressure.  Instead we have to ensure a creative freedom and solve problems from the distance

3. The power of vision
Projects are NOT just about SMART project objectives.  As a matter of fact, SMART project objectives without a vision kills creativity, risks results and may lead to failure.

4. Overcoming Angst and the need for action
In situations of severe stress, don’t fall into the trap of rapid action or even blaming others. Instead, relax and take responsibility for your situation.

5. Invidiualism and hierarchy
Instead of being manipulated by others, this principle encourages us to personalize our projects and thus project success.

6. Leadership and motivation
Leadership and motivation go hand in hand.  We have unleash guiding energies in our team and develop a solution- and reults orientation in our team.

7. Simplicity
There is no law that complex problems require complex and complicated solutions.  Less is more.  This is a reminder not to get lost in the jungle of details and keep the eye on the vision of our project.

8. Truth and illusion
Let’s face it, perceptions are more important than facts.  It is futile to look for a simple truth.  After all a simple truth is no more than an assumption which may be false altogether.

9. Team play
Every project is about people, it is about teamwork.  Let’s nurture collaboration and enjoy the game of projects

10. Passion
If everyone on the team understands the WHY of the project, everyone can identify him/herself with the project.  The project becomes a part of them.  This passion sets the individual and the whole team free, resulting in team synergy and team magic.

Let me know if you are interested to hear / read more about it.

Posted in: Book, Centeredness, Empowerment, Leadership

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Management or the Death of Empowerment

I have been a fan and avid support of true empowerment of people and organizations.  It is about sharing your information, experience, network, power and influence for the better of someone else.  It is servant leadership at its best.  Yes, it is about leadership and not management.  Why do I even mention this distinction?  Because it matters a GREAT deal.

As empowerment, Agile, Lean principles are becoming increasingly popular more and more managers embrace these ideas.  They claim to be honestly interested in trying them out in their organizations and teams.  This is good news and a noble act.  Alas, it means nothing if the manager in charge does not truly understand the underlying concept and philosophy of empowerment.  It is no longer about him or her, it is about helping others become successful.  This is really difficult for traditional managers.  Having to let go of their old concept of power and influence.  Letting go of their own “safety” net and build one for others.  Oha!

So, while I am usually excited when I hear managers talk about empowerment, empowering people or strong teams I have learned to become curious about their motivations behind it.  It is always good to question what made them change their old style of managing and instead “embracing” something new.  Indeed, embracing may not be the correct word.  For if you truly embrace an idea you become one with it.  You follow through, show your willingness to make mistakes and learn from them without giving up after the first downfall and then returning to the old school.

Empowerment is powerful. Much more powerful in its execution and its effects on people and organizations alike than any traditional approach.  It unleashes hidden talents, helps promote collaboration, promotes performance and ensures results.  But it doesn’t fall from heaven.  It takes leadership of one or more people.  It is them who have to drive building common vision, nurturing collaboration, promoting performance without micromanaging their teams, cultivating validated learning and ensuring that the teams deliver results and get credit for them.  There are a lot of obstacles to overcome: vanity, the lust for power and influence, insecurity – and a closed vs. an open mindset whereas the latter is characterized by the willingness to make mistakes and the drive to help other people and organizations succeed for the better of all.  Management on the other side, maintains and sustains the status quo, executes what is dictated from above (top-down management), allows micromanagement which kills motivation and creativity.  This is why I think that traditional management is the death of empowerment.

If you want to empower people and organizations you have to practice servant leadership; for it is not about you as an individual, it is about the greater good of the environment you are living in.

I do hope that more and more people and organizations understand and follow the path of empowerment.  Not for short term gains but for long term results which benefit us all.  Happy Easter!

Posted in: Empowerment, Leadership

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A New Business Paradigm

Last night I had the chance to talk with Kim Page, author of the upcoming book “From Corporate to Conscious“, about the new business paradigm moving to a more holistic and conscious leadership style. The conversation can be listened to at http://bit.ly/secSwx.

I was and am very excited about the opportunity to speak with the Quantum Scene’s Kim Page who takes a look at business from an entirely different perspective; A CONSCIOUS perspective.  This is no new abstract idea or academic exercise.  It is a shift back to our true human nature.  It can help make our business world a better place to live and work in.
It can be questioned whether or not this is actually a new paradigm.  From the strictest point of view this may not be the case because a conscious perspective strings a cord we are, or ought to be, familiar with in our daily life.  Fact is that we have moved away from our inner core.  The result is that we have been creating a business world which is often entirely driven by greed and glutiny.  The call for a conscious perspective is a reminder that business is about exchanging goods and services, i.e., serving each other.

Why not keep this new paradigm in mind as we enter the new year 2012?!  Let’s live this new paradigm and make a difference in our own daily life and influence others.  Happy New Year!

Posted in: Centeredness, Empowerment, Leadership, Miscellaneous, Project Management

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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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Handout for today’s webinar “Ethics and Project Success”

Join me today for my free webinar “Ethics and Project Success” which I will be conducting for the Ethics in Project Management Community of Practice of PMI on December 21, 2011 from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM Local Time (UTC +0100) (1 hour), i.e., 12 noon EST.  What will it be about?  Let me share with you the abstract:

We all need and thrive for project success. But what does it take to get there? There is no doubt that good project management is a critical success factor. But is it really sufficient? I don’t think so. I claim that effective project management needs to have a solid foundation in holistic leadership. This leadership is embedded in strong project management skills, personal leadership, teamwork, and last but not least, a solid understanding and honest practice of the four codes of ethics, namely: respect, honesty, fairness, and responsibility.
Based on my own experience having managed projects of all sizes, from a few to 24000 person days effort in various industries, I identify 5 team leadership principles that put the code of ethics into the context of high-performance teams. They include building a common project vision, nurturing team collaboration, promoting team performance, cultivating team learning, and ensuring team delivery. These 5 principles combined with the 4 codes of ethics encompass the core of effective and holistic team leadership. The webinar will present these principles and show how they can help build and manage a performing and winning team, thus building project success.

Visit http://tinyurl.com/c27grmq to register for this free webinar.  A handout of the presentation is available here.

Posted in: Empowerment, Leadership, Project Management

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Empowerment: The Path to More Responsibilities and Better Results in Less Time

To those of us who are used to empowerment, may it be that we empower people and organizations or that we are empowered by others, it may have become the natural way to conduct daily business.  On the other side, to those who are used to a more “traditional” management style (managing top-down), empowerment may look like an esoteric phenomenon.  Having to transition to empowering management and leadership style is hence even more disquieting to them.  But why?

Knowing the power and the rewards of empowering people and organizations it can be hard to comprehend when you are faced with opposition to transitioning to empowering.  I have witnessed this transition in several occasions when I advised clients how to introduce agile software development frameworks thus shifting the organization to a more customer-focused and business driven IT organization.  Software development is one of the most innovative areas you can work in.  Hence, it is even more surprising to observe that lots of people working in this area are actually skeptical of trying new approaches.  It goes like, “I am innovative, so don’t tell me that I have to change the way I am working.”  Funny and scary at the same time.  One of the most prominent reservation is that people with line responsibility, i.e., having disciplinary authority over other employees, think that transitioning to an empowerment management and leadership style will diminish their responsibility and sphere of influence.  Fact is:  just the opposite is the case.  Empowering your own subordinates yields more power and influence than traditional management and leadership styles.  How come?  By empowering your subordinates you promote performance.  You are no longer sidetracked by micromanagement.  You share the necessary information and supply the required resources so that they can do their job.  You define the desired outcome; then let go, i.e., let them organize how they work.  For it is the result you are interested in.  In most cases, this procedure is less time-consuming and less strenuous than micromanaging.  You get more for less work.  This by itself is a valuable benefit.

So what about decreased responsibility on your part?  The truth is that your responsibilities increase when you empower people and organizations.  You have to ensure that the empowerees have the information, tools, resources needed to their job.  You remove impediments and thus level the path to successful deliveries.  This is a huge responsibility.  The way you handle this provides you with more influence and authority.  By building your team you simultaneously build a foundation for “power” and control.  Not in the negative sense, but in a positive and empowering way.  You control the success of those you empower by the mere act of empowering them.  You build a structure that promotes performance and yields greater returns in less time.

If you are new to the concept of empowerment this may sound like a fairy tale.  I encourage you to give it a try, say, 3-4 weeks, and then see what happens.  Tell your people about your plans, involve them and seek advice from the outside facilitating this experiment.  Remove yourself from the equation in that you shift your focus from micromanaging and controlling to empowering your people and organization.  If the outcomes are suboptimal you can still go back to your own traditional management style.  But before you do, give those whom you empowered a chance to talk about their experiences, too.  This experiment costs little if anything.  This way you have nothing to lose.  A safe bet with huge potential returns.  Give it a try!

Posted in: Centeredness, Empowerment, Leadership, Project Management

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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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Free Webinar “The 5 Team Leadership Principles for Project Success”, Oct 5, 12 PM EST

On October 5, 2011 I will conduct a one hour webinar entitled “The 5 Team Leadership Principles for Project Success”.
What is it about?
We all need and thrive for successful projects.  But what does it take to get there?  There is no doubt that good project management is a critical success factor.  But is it really sufficient?  I don’t think so.  I claim that effective project management needs to have a solid foundation in project leadership AND team work.  It takes a performing team to run a project successfully.  And it takes effective leadership to empower the team to do so.  This is why team building is a decisive factor for project success. 
Webinar Date: Wednesday October 5th 2011
Webinar Time: 12:00PM EST (Eastern Daylight Saving Time USA/Canada)
Webinar Duration: 1hour

Webinar Title: The 5 Team Leadership Principles for Project Success  
Webinar Presenter  Dr Thomas Juli

To Registerhttp://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=82418

WebCast Log-In Instructions for Participants:
For your reference, all participants will log into the Webcast via the following registration URL: http://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=82418
As a reminder, participants will hear the audio via their computer speakers If participants are unable to hear the audio via their computer speakers, would prefer to listen via their telephone, please have them call the following phone number at anytime.
Dial-In Instructions for all Participants:
Toll-Free (US & Canada):  (888) 567-1603
International Dial-In (Toll):  (201) 604-5052
Callers will reference the PMI  webcast.

Posted in: Empowerment, Keynotes, Leadership, PMI Congress, Project Management, Training

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Project Management and Zen

Today’s projects become increasingly complex.  We are faced with endless challenges, have to juggle thousands of different and often conflicting expectations and desires, have to meet deadlines, deliver on time, exercise pressure on those people who do not or cannot deliver as expected – or vice versa, feel the pressure other people put on us.  In situations like these it is easy to be overwhelmed.  We are stressed, tired, in a bad mood, frustrated and maybe just burned out.  The “team” does not deserve the word “team” as daily work is characterized by a low morale, disruptive arguments and a negative group atmosphere.  The individual and team miseries are reflected in the poor delivery quality and missing or incomplete project results.

In situations like these what we thrive for simple and effective resolutions.  What we need is either the help and advice from someone from outside who can guide us through this chaos or an inspiration how to do so by ourselves.

The philosophy of Zen offers many insights which achieve this.  In simple, easy to understand language it outlines avenues to find our lost individual and project identity, overcome burdens and master challenges, reduce complexity and guide us to personal success.

The question is how Zen guidelines can be applied in a project setting.  These days I am preparing a lecture which answers this question.  I will introduce 10 Zen insights and translate them into the language of project management.  Specifically:

1.              Project identity:

  • The need and value of understanding, accepting and embracing our past, present and future: Project motivation and vision
  • Know, accept and embrace your project purpose

2.              Timeliness in a time-sensitive world

  • Creative freedom and solving problems from the distance

3.              The power of vision

  • How SMART project objectives without a vision kills creativity, risks results and may lead to failure
  • The need for open goals
  • New goal setting

4.              Overcoming Angst and the need for action

  • Relax
  • Take responsibility vs. blame others

5.              Individualism and hierarchy

  • External and internal success
  • Personalize project success

6.              Leadership and motivation

  • Unleash guiding energies
  • Solution-orientation

7.              Simplicity

  • Lost in the jungle of details
  • Reducing complexity

8.              Truth and illusion

  • Perceptions are more important than facts
  • A simple truth is no more than an assumption

9.              Team play

  • Enjoy the game of projects

10.           Passion

  • The fire which sets you free
  • Talents, passion and longing

Zen can help inspire us personally and how to interact effectively with our team, customers and stakeholders.  Applying Zen in projects makes it easier to build teams, perform on a high level and deliver results which delight our customers and teams alike.  It thus helps us and the team to evolve into a performing unit and excel.

I will elaborate on each of these insights in my upcoming blog posts.  So, stay tuned.

Posted in: Centeredness, Leadership, Project Management

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Tips on Handling a Problem Team Member on your Project

[by Margaret Meloni, MBA, PMP ]
Oh there is a problem alright. And it starts with the fact that you have a boss, peer or project team member who is completely in denial about the chaos that is all around them. If they do see any kind of issues, well those issues start with you. This is not meant to be spiteful. This is the behavior of someone who is completely oblivious to the fact that they cause problems. If they do have any inkling that there is an issue, then they have a perfect excuse. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “I did not call you back because you never left me a message.”
  • “I did not forget our meeting; my admin did not put it on my calendar.”
  • “My office may look messy, but leave it alone. I have a system and I know where everything is located.”

What kinds of chaos surround this person? Their chaos can be lack of organization, time related or memory related. The chaos created by this person looks like chaos created by creative types or even by someone who deceives others into thinking they are organized. The key here is that they absolutely do not own their issue. They really do not see that there is a problem. If they miss a meeting, they can blame their assistant who did not remind them of it. They really think you didn’t leave them a message because their assistant gave it to them and it was buried under the piles of paper on their desk.

So what’s a project manager to do? Well let’s look at what not to do first – do not blame them. Do not put them on the defensive. Do not constantly harp on them about the problem. Do not argue with them about their excuses, just move on. Find a way to work around the problem because you’re not going to be able to change them.

Now step back and look at the big picture. What do you want from this working relationship? Where do they have problems and how can you help? Even if you don’t feel like you want to help them, remember you are helping yourself too! With that in mind:

  • Be proactive. If you know their issue will cause a problem for others on the project team, step-in. This may mean you politely remind them of customer appointments or work package due dates. It may mean you hand deliver important memos to them and watch them read those memos. What you are doing (without them knowing it) is nipping a potential problem in the bud.
  • Create a simple process for organizing shared information. Stay away from their personal space, but be willing to be responsible for other areas. Enlist the help of others on the project, too. Your problem child may respond to the organization and join in because they want to be part of the group.
  • If they work for you as a full-time project resource, be the boss and give them direction. Advise them that missing meetings, deadlines and not returning phone calls is not acceptable. Mentor them away from the damaging behavior and toward a positive outcome.
  • Acknowledge that they have other skills. There are other areas where they are strong contributors, which is why they got selected to work on the project in the first place.

You may think that’s a lot of trouble to go to, but it will actually save you time and make your job less aggravating. Hand delivering memos might seem a bit extreme but you’ll know that they’ve been read. Another method that works is to deliver the memo and have them initial that they have read it. This also serves to create a paper trail that no one can argue with.

If you do have to call them on the carpet about their behavior, ask them how you can help them get control of their disorganization. Knowing that you’re willing to help them will make them much more willing to work on the behavior that is causing so much chaos for the project.

As for their other skills, take advantage of them. You may want to find what they are best at and exploit that. If your problem person excels at something that another project team member isn’t so good at, perhaps he or she could take the burden off their co-worker in exchange for that person handling their calendar.

And remember, their behavior is about them, it is not about you. Don’t take it personally.

About the Author: Margaret Meloni, MBA, PMP, is an executive coaching consultant for IT professionals. She helps project managers and teams work together better by improving their soft skills. Learn how to successfully combine your technical and soft skills in her webinars from The PDU Podcast (www.pducast.com) and from her website at www.margaretmeloni.com.

Posted in: Empowerment, Guest Blogs, Leadership

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