Book Review: No One Understands You And What To Do About It

By Joelle A. Godfrey

“You are never really starting from scratch with another person, even when you are meeting him or her for the first time.  The perceiver’s brain is rapidly filling in details about you – many before you have even spoken a word.”

– Heidi Halvorson, No One Understands You And What To Do About It

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo - 2015 - by apinan

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo – 2015 – by apinan

After reading No One Understands You and What to Do About It, it would be easy to throw it across the room and give up.  After all, the odds are against you.  You’re fighting the cognitive miser in each of our brains.

I’m sure you’ve read about it in other business books.  The rotten Cognitive Miser. I read about her too, but for some reason, it only became clear to me while reading this book how big a role she plays in our thinking.  Or lack of it.

The Cognitive Miser, for those of you who are new to the term, is the part of our brains that makes snap judgments and decides how we feel about people after the first few moments.  It seems that we are not the only ones making snap judgments.  Apparently, so is everyone else.

It’s not just the first impression you have to fight.  Apparently, there are lots of other ways our cognitive misers try to shortcut thinking.

Imagine the scenario: You’ve dressed up and prepped yourself for the first meeting and you think that the only ‘noise’ they’ll hear is that coming our of your mouth.  Halvorson makes it clear that there are assumptions made that are playing in the background coloring what you say and what they hear.  Those mental shortcuts can lead people to misunderstand you, your behavior and misread your intentions.

What exactly is filling in the details?  Well, a few examples..

  1. Their first impression about you.
  2. The assumption that you are different from them in some way
  3. Their approach toward risk – are they opportunity focused or risk averse?

And those are just a few of the mental shortcuts that can snag you and distort their perception of you and your effectiveness.  The further you read, the more you realize the miser can twist or enhance your words, depending on how you manage the event.

But all is not lost.  Apparently there are some ways to mitigate the cognitive traps and bad impressions that you make.  Rather than going with the flow of the cognitive miser, Halvorson recommends that we take a little more care so that others get us right.  And how would we go doing that?  The book has a number of suggestions that might help us elude some of the snares that lie in wait for the unsuspecting.  A few of them include:

1. Never go into a meeting cold – that is, without knowing something about who are you are about to meet.  Your knowledge about their likes, the groups they belong to, their interests could later play a key role in your ability to come across in a positive fashion.

2. Identify areas of common interests or common groups.  Where you are similar, the cognitive miser is thinking “People who are similar to me in one way are probably similar to me in other ways.”

3. Avoid ambiguity.  To alleviate the anxiety of the risk-averse person, she recommends that you take extra time to be completely clear.

I liked this book for two reasons:

a) She opens your eyes to ways you can misrepresent yourself, without fully understanding why.

b) She reminds us near the end that it’s not always how other people misunderstand you, there are times that we deceive ourselves about how well we come across to others.

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo - 2015 - by Carbonresource

Copyrighted by Dollar Photo – 2015 – by Carbonresource

In the end, her message is that we need to make it easier for people to get us right.  If you’ve read this book and want to leave a comment, please do. Or you can send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

A Rose By Any Other Name: Project Manager, Scrum Master? Flow Manager?

hot cabinet in bakery with pastry - Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Coka

Hot cabinet in bakery with pastry – Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Coka

I love Pastries.

So it stands to reason that I really like Bakeries.

Several years ago, I used to frequent a German bakery that sold authentic German pastries.

I had to drive 20-30 minutes to get there, but it was worth every minute when I bit into the apple pastries I bought.

Bakeries need to fill several roles in order to sell enough pastries to stay in business.
  • Someone to manage the counter
  • Someone to ensure that the supplies the bakers need are available
  • Someone to tend to the business of managing the Bakery – are the bills being paid?
  • and then finally, someone to actually bake the pastries

It makes sense that if you have a baker that he can handle the other roles.  That one baker or some number of other bakers would have to manage the counter, order supplies and pay the bills, but it *could be done*.  But that means that someone is off doing something other than making the pastries.  There is an opportunity cost that must be paid by someone.

Notice what is not disappearing:
  • The need to manage the bakery
  • The managing of the counter
  • The need to tend to the business of managing the bakery

In fact, the more successful the bakery, the more important these roles become.

<And so the rant starts.

I like agile.  I love the idea of a self-organizing team.  I’ve never been in an agile environment long enough to see a individuals get used to working together to be a well-formed team, but I have heard that they do exist out there.  And I believe!

Hand drawing Project Management flow chart with red marker on transparent wipe board. Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Ivelin Radkov

Hand drawing Project Management flow chart with red marker on transparent wipe board. Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Ivelin Radkov

I bought into the idea that hey – you don’t really need a project manager to manage the work – the team can do the work.  The problem seems to be the remaining tasks that need to be managed.  The boring non-coder tasks.  The status, forecasting, risk management tracking, coordinating inputs and outputs, updating the plan: in short, the paperwork and providing that status to the powers that be.

According to Agile, these are supposed to be managed by the team.  But I keep seeing articles that use weasel words to take what I thought were free floating responsibilities and put them on what is looking suspiciously like a project manager.

I don’t mind if project managers get added back to address what needs to be done  – we want the bakers to focus on baking, not running out to the cash register to ring folks up. I just really hate weasel words. In some cases, folks have said outright that the scrum master was the project manager.  Now I’ve heard the term Flow Master.  Flow master?  Really?  Do we really need another name for a role that, stripped of the weasel word, is simply a project manager?

businessman holding workflow scheme in hands - Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Ivelin Radkov

businessman holding workflow scheme in hands – Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by denisismagilov

Obviously, we need someone to own the free floating responsibilities that need to be taken care of, but can we stop pretending that project management has no role – even in an agile environment?  I don’t much care what you call it, a rose by any other name…

Rant ended/>  If you want to join in or explain why I’m just wrong, please leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Book Review: Meetings Matter

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Rawpixel

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Rawpixel

It is unusual when blurbs on book covers capture the truth about a book. I tend to read the blurbs with a large scoopful of salt. For all I care, they could be saying “The. Greatest. Book. Ever.” They tend to build false hope.

The blurb on the cover of Meetings Matter, by Paul Axtell, is just the opposite. The quote reads: “If I were running an executive development or MBA program, this would be mandatory reading.” I strongly agree.

From my perspective, there are two major themes running through the book:

First – to change your perspective of meetings. No, they are not all unnecessary and a waste of time. Where they seem to be a waste of time, it is generally because they are poorly done. Meetings are not a bad idea. That perception is generally the result of the poor use of an effective tool.

The author, Paul Axtell, breaks out what is at the heart of effective meetings: conversation and relationship. His in-depth explanation of how these create the foundation for meetings and life would be a solid course on its own.

The second major theme in the book is to encourage users to improve. In the main body of the book, additional chapters and the appendixes, Axtell gives the reader tools and examples on how to continuously improve their meeting facilitation skills and even improve their participation in meetings they did not schedule. The book could be a textbook for use in a number of MBA and Project Management courses.

Beyond the obviously themes, though is his intent to do more than just improve your ability to run meetings. Axtell also wants to improve the level of our attention, the quality of our listening and ultimately the quality of our lives.

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Rido

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Rido

He writes, “Conversations shape who we are. They shape our experience of life. We make decisions about what is possible for ourselves early in life, and most people can identify decisions they made about themselves based on what they were told or what was said in their presence.”

I am reading and rereading this book to learn more. My recommendation is to buy it and tell others about how good a book it is. Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Is Project Management the Right Career For You?

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by AniriAnA

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by AniriAnA

If I had picked up a crystal ball, spun it around and then peered deep into its depths, I would never have imagined that I would have ended up as a Project Manager.

Through a set of coincidences that I don’t think could be repeated, I was offered the opportunity to project manage a small project and that morphed into a move into project management as a Career.  I think most project managers backgrounds are similar.  I’ve heard the word, ‘accidental’ used a lot in relationship to becoming a PM.

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by crazymedia

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by crazymedia

If you are a recent graduate that is considering entering the field, you may be asking: Is this career right for me?   I can’t look into the crystal ball and answer that question for you either.

What I can do is ask you a  couple of questions that might help clarify what you’d be headed into.

The only thing I ask is that you be honest with yourself.  Are you ready?

Question 1:

Do you think that following the PMBOK is all that you need to be a good project manager?  If you think that devotedly following each step in the PMBOK will result in a successful project then you may be headed in the wrong direction.  Each project, each team is different.  There are times it might be wiser to use the PMBOK as the standard it is meant to be, but follow the spirit of the standard.  Not the letter.  Can you be flexible and work with the constraints of the project and the needs of the team?

Question 2: 
Do you think you need to be an expert in the Subject Matter or are you comfortable knowing absolutely nothing at all?

This is actually a bit of a trick question.  If you are expert – it may be helpful, but you may have a tendency to be overly involved in questions your technical lead needs to drive.  If you know nothing at all, you may be led down the garden path unless you know to ask more questions about vague answers.  What is important is know when to facilitate the conversation and when to push for a decision?  And are you comfortable with either role when needed to allow the team to move forward?

Question 3:
Are you easily upset when “your project plan” crashes and burns or is dramatically impacted by a change in requirements?

Change happens on every project.  Depending on the environment, Industry or methodology , it may happen far more frequently than most ‘Makers’ of standard waterfall plans assume.  Now more than ever, you need to be open to change. Change to the plan, the resources, and/ or the scope have all happened on my projects in the last few years.  Change happens – can you be open enough to it to respond constructively?

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by ra2 studio

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by ra2 studio

So what do you think?  Do you think project management may still be the right career for you?  Experienced PMs: Are there other questions that a potential PM should ask herself?  Leave a comment or send a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Are you Ready to Create Value with Your Stakeholders?

Sound equalizer five channels in natural light

Sound equalizer five channels in natural light

How you view your projects is really a matter of perspective.  What frame are you looking at your projects through?

Is it constructive?

Does is make it easier for the team to function?

Or does it increase the level of frustration?

Being effective may mean you need to change your approach to managing the project.  You may be focused on completing the project a certain way, but your customer has a very different idea of what ‘success’ looks like.  To effectively navigate your way through the project’s lifecycle, you may find the idea of ‘project success sliders’, taken from Rob Thompson’s Radical Project Management to be useful.

From Thompson’s point of view, there are 7 criteria that your project can be judged as successful on:

  1. Have Satisfied Stakeholders
  2. Meet the Project’s Objectives/ requirements
  3. Meet an Agreed Budget – resources/ capital/ equipment
  4. Deliver the product on time
  5. Add value to the organization
  6. Meet Quality Requirements
  7. Have a sense of professional satisfaction for the team

Whether they’ve been upfront about it or not, your customers know where their project sits for each criterion, ranging from 0 to 10 (critical).  They also know how each criterion is prioritized amongst the seven.  Is delivering the project on time more important than meeting the budget or ensuring that the team has a sense of professional satisfaction?

Do you think the customer is at a 6 when it comes to meeting your project’s objectives, but more of a 2 on Deliver the project on time?

And which criterion is more important at this time?

In some cases, you may be able to discern their perspective, in others, it might not be a bad idea to discuss how they rate and rank these.

If you’re feeling frustrated, it may be an indication that your understanding of the project and their gauge of how the project should be proceeding are not aligned.  You may feel strongly that it’s important to meet the Quality requirements, but the customer is dealing with internal stakeholders it wants to keep happy and some project objectives that make delivering on all three criteria an impossible task.

It might be time to adjust your sliders and manage your project so that you keep your stakeholders happy. True stakeholder management is not just delivering the project on time, “it is to involve and engage stakeholders in value creation.”*   If you are not aligned on how to approach the project, it will be virtually impossible to work with your stakeholders to create value.

Try out Thompson’s Success sliders.  Let me know how it goes, leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Note: Quote from Mario Henrique Trentim, PMP, RMP, PMI’s 2014 Harold Kerzner Award winner during a IPMDAY2014 Expo webinar.  

Three Steps to Improved Meeting Facilitation

How much time do you spend in meetings?

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Dmitry Vereshchagin

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by Dmitry Vereshchagin

I estimate that most of my working hours are spent in some form of meeting – whether in a One-on-One discussion or with a team.  Like me, you  probably spend most of your time on a conference bridge.

If you do, you may be interested in learning more about how to be more effective in managing, scheduling or facilitating conversations. If you are, I would highly recommend the presentation “High Impact Facilitation,” presented by Lynne Cazaly on the InfoQ website.

In the hour and a half long presentation recorded at Agile Singapore 2014, Cazaly talked about the process of facilitating and how to improve.  She had many useful tips for new or continuing-to-learn facilitators, but she had three key recommendations on how to improve.  Read these high level tips and then go check out the full presentation.

Prior to your event/ meeting:
  1. Prepare yourself
    When you’re trying to facilitate, it can be difficult to listen patiently to a colleague if your thoughts and worries are pressing on you.  Staying centered so you can recognize other people and hear their responses is impossible if you’re still worrying about the fire on your other project or the three sets of meeting minutes that you need to finish before the end of the day.

    If you have a complaint or gripe with someone on your call – leave it on your desk or take it for a walk and leave it outside.  Do not take it onto the conference bridge with you.  It will prevent you from being your best.

  2. Prepare your environment

    If you have reserved a room, go make sure the room is set up the way you need it.  If you need whiteboard markers, now is the time to make sure they will be in the room.  If you need a projector, make arrangements for it to be installed and confirm that it works with your laptop (In one memorable moment, I came to a meeting with without an HDMI converter for an old-tech projector.  Fortunately my technical lead is Mr Gadget – so the day was saved).

    Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by emirkoo

    Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by emirkoo

  3. Prepare your process

    Cazaly said something very interesting that caught my attention.  The more I thought abut it, the truer it seemed.  She said, “Facilitators are process directors – they put a structure over the top of a meeting and run that structure”.  By structure, she meant the agenda and the approach.  If everyone is on the same page with:
    a) The type of meeting  – Are we listening to status, Do you expect people to consult with you on a topic, or is the team trying to solve a problem?

    b) Your topics and

    c) Approach to facilitating, then you have defined the boundaries.

After all three of these legs of your meeting are in place – you are free to focus on encouraging participation and getting to the expected outcome of your call.

She speaks for over an hour and has many more insights to share – so I encourage you to watch the presentation and learn.  Watching her facilitate the event made me realize that she could very likely teach a week-long course on facilitation.  In short, it’s worth your time.  After you check it out, leave me a comment, send me a tweet.  My id is jgodfrey.

Quote: Perspectives shape your experience

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by vlntn

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by content w

“Perspectives shape your experience – of meetings, of relationships, of life.  Sometimes you need to lead with your attitude.  You simply need to choose to step into the world with a perspective that is empowering.  Think about it: Attitude affects how you relate to life.  When you realize you can shift your attitude on demand by choosing an empowering perspective, it changes everything…..Sometimes the first step in getting to an empowering perspective is to notice when you are not looking forward to an experience.  By noticing that you are not relating to something powerfully, you open the door to choosing a different perspective.

Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Paul Axtell

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by content w

Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by vlntn