Introducing Change: Three Ways to Engage Your Stakeholders

“I don’t need to tell you that now, more than ever, we need sideways thinkers like you.  We need more dents in the status quo, more disruptions of business-as-usual and more people realizing their dreams, large and small.  Thinking sideways is about stepping off the beaten path and carving your own road.”
- Think Sideways, Tamara Kleinberg

Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Oberonsk

Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Obersonsk

A week ago, I was listening to Tamara Kleinberg describe a situation in which she and her branding team had come up with super creative ideas that they were pitching to a reluctant customer…

And they were falling flat.

The customer would come up for reasons why the ideas would fail or complained that the idea had been tried a few years ago and failed.

Nothing they said seemed to be getting through to the main stakeholder.  On their return home, she ranted about the dismissal of the new ideas – then realized that her team’s approach was *the reason* the customer “didn’t get it.”

In her book, Think Sideways, a short book on unconventional thinking, she explains that the hardest part of introducing ideas may not be developing them, but in getting buy in from your stakeholders.  While the book provides a wide variety of exercises to help nurture new ideas, I wanted to cover three of her suggestions on how to sell your ideas to others.

From her perspective, engaging others in change or accepting new ideas is about building bridges between you and your stakeholders. She tries to engage stakeholders by:

  1. Giving them credit.  
    She doesn’t mean give them credit for your idea.  You worked hard on it and should get credit, she says, but you need to show your stakeholders how your thinking and their thinking are connected, not opposed to one another.  The key here is to make them a part of the vision.  Explain how their point contributed to the idea or played into it’s creation.
    She writes: “People want to feel important, and explaining how it was their genius point that led you to this idea is a great way to do that….In some ways, this tool is more work for you.  It means you need to work double time listening and connecting the dots between their conventional thinking and your unconventional ideas.”  To help with this, she even gives you sentence starters…

    • What I love about what you said is..
    • What I found interesting about what you said was…
    • What you said about ___ really made me think

      Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by LaCozza

      Copyright 2015 Dollar Photo Club by LaCozza

  2. Throwing questions back
    This does not mean throw them back in their face.  She recommends throwing questions back in order to get a better read on the person and the motivation behind a question.  An example might be, “That is a great question.  What makes you ask? That one question has helped me uncover the real issues and gain buy-in without having to convince anyone,” she writes.

    Following are other questions she says might help build bridges:

    • Interesting, what makes you ask?
    • Help me understand why you are asking, so I can focus my answer.  Finally, she recommends….
  3. Demonstrating your idea’s value
    When you cannot convince people with your words, let your actions speak.  She wrote about Art Fry, the inventor of the Post It note.  Initially, no one saw the value in the Post-It Note.  But instead of trying to convince his colleagues with words, he gave all the secretaries in the company a stack of Post-It notes.

    When they ran out, he told them “The Marketing Department says that there’s no practical application for this product.”  The admins lobbied their bosses for Post-Its and the rest, as they say, is history. What you need to do, she writes, is think about how you can show someone the potential in your idea.  How can you get them to take the idea out for a test drive?  That may do more to convince them than your words ever could.

    The three suggestions she makes in Think Sideways are good approaches to keep people from rejecting your ideas. In summary, Give them credit, Throw back a question and Demonstrate the value may make your idea seem less unconventional or threatening to “their way of doing things”.  Do you have any other suggestions on how to introduce your ideas to others in order to fast-track acceptance?  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my idea is jgodfrey


Experimenting with Personal Kanban

Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Inez Bazdar

Copyright 2013 Dollar Photo Club by Inez Bazdar

After reading Personal Kanban, I wanted to try running with some of the authors’ ideas in the real world. And why not? All I needed was a Kanban board and a few minutes at the beginning and the end of the day. I threw a twist at the experiment by downloading a new Android app, Trello, to free me from the need to set up a physical kanban board at my desk.

Trello gives the user the ability to create Kanban boards and tasks / columns at will. The app even lets the user move the issues from column to column as if you were looking at a physical Kanban board in your office.

Since Trello lets you name your columns, I used the columns used in Personal Kanban:

  • To Do – Those items that need to be done
  • Doing – Those tasks that are being worked on
  • Holding – Tasks that are not moving forward because they are waiting on other folks to take action or make a decision
  • Completed – Those tasks that are completed

After you finish your tasks, Trello gives you the option of leaving them in the Completed column or moving them into an Archive.  Instead of just striking out a completed task on your to do list, you’ll move it to the completed column.  Moving a task to completed will give you the same satisfaction as moving a post-it from the To Do column on an actual Kanban board to the Completed column.

After two weeks or using Kanban and Trello, I’ve discovered:

1. If I’m good about using them both, my focus improves.
Small distractions are less likely to derail me because I know they need to go on the list. If I must attend to them immediately, I can address them, then go back to the Doing Column to stay focused on the tasks I’m working on.  Before Kanban, I could be driven from task to task and never get back to the priority for that day.

2. Some issues stay in a holding pattern because they are dependent on the actions and decisions of others. This is one of the key benefits of the Holding column, so you have clarity about what is keeping a task from completing. You know who to push and have a better idea of your capacity.

3. I also discovered that I cannot move entirely away from paper to using Trello.  And this makes sense. You wouldn’t use a kanban board to capture every detail of every task either. Where I need to take notes or doodle, I need to use – what else – paper. A Campus notebook to be more specific.Campus Notebook

4. Finally, I learned that multiple boards seem to work best for me.
Personal Kanban recommends that you use the kanban to drive your life (work included). Although I can see how including everything in one board may help identify your priority and impacts of other projects, I prefer to keep my business to dos separate from my personal activities.

You only get the benefits of both Kanban and Trello if you’re disciplined enough to capture every task that comes your way in the system/ tool.  If you’re like me, that might be more challenging than you expected.  What I’ve learned from using Kanban and Trello at work have encouraged me to continue my experiment at home.  If you’re interested in learning more about Personal Kanban, check out my review a few weeks back.  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Are We Building Widgets or Reducing Costs? Using Benefits to Drive our Project Focus

Project planAs Project Managers we communicate daily to Customers, Salespeople and Senior Management.  We could be using the PMI-approved words and concepts, but our focus may be frustrating our audience.  To effectively communicate with our stakeholders, we may need to tweak our methods to align the message with our audience’s concerns.

In his PMI webinar of 4 years ago: “5 ‘Visible’ Signs Your Project Will Deliver Expected Results,” Mark Swiderski, PMP, introduced 5 tools that will help us do just that.  The impact of these tools impressed me so much that I wanted to write about one of the tools in this blog.

Swiderski suggests that in order to align our communication with the issues that senior management or our customers are interested in, we should build out our WBS and schedule from an outcomes based perspective.

I hear you already: “That’s what I’m doing!”  But are you really?

It starts with the tool

Using an excel spreadsheet, Swiderski walks the viewer through a benefits identification exercise in the webinar.  He has us: 
  1. List our benefits, 
  2. Identify the means of measuring success for each benefit and 
  3. Finally, identify the owners that contribute to each benefit.  Using that spreadsheet, you can then move into your WBS and then your schedule activities by keeping the focus on the outcomes or benefits you are trying to achieve.  See the example below from his presentation.

This is a useful chart even if all you do is to walk through the benefit identification steps for your project.  However, its true value lies in how you use the information it provides to move your project through the project lifecycle.

Instead of building around deliverables, take the benefits outlined in your table and begin your Work Breakdown Structure around your benefits.  The highest level in your WBS is your project, the next level down are your benefits.  Below that are the deliverables that contribute to implementing those benefits.

This changes how your schedule is viewed in 3 ways:
  1. Your customer will see what they are looking for: the benefits that s/he expects to see from funding the project.  It also highlights the dependencies that contribute to the successful delivery of the benefit.
  2. The team will see how their contribution helped deliver that benefit.  If we structure our schedules based on ‘deliverables’, outside readers of our schedule will continue to need someone to interpret what they are looking at.  It also communicates priorities.
  3. You will focus more effectively on ensuring that your project delivers on the benefits as described by the customer.  It might be easier to see if you’re missing work packages if everything supporting that benefit is in one section of the schedule.
This isn’t rocket science, but the use of a benefits table to define a project’s focus and then using that focus to shape your WBS and schedule might make your schedule more accessible to people who don’t read the PMBOK for a living.  
I was sold after I heard Swiderski’s explanation of the first tool in his webinar.  I recommend listening to the rest of his webinar to learn about the other 4.  I plan to roll this idea out on my next project and see how it works. If you try it, let me know how it goes.  Leave a comment or send me a tweet.  My id is jgodfrey.

Book Review: Personal Kanban

“Like Traffic, work does not fit.  Work flows.”

- Personal Kanban

Do you ever look up at the end of the day and wonder
1) Where the day went?stress in ufficio
2) What you spent it on?

3) Whether another urgent and important task is out there waiting to blindside you?

Personal Kanban might help you avoid that moment of staring into the void.  Personal Kanban, written by Jim Benson and Torianne DeMaria Barry, does an excellent job of introducing you to the mechanics of Kanban and how to implement it.  But that’s not why I recommend it.

I recommend the book because of three ideas it introduces that will help you become more effective:

First, Context should always inform your actions.

Standard Time management strategies take your To Dos and assume that they are all equivalent and that your days are all the same: no unexpected tasks pop up and no personal responsibilities inpinge on your free time.  The sense is that you shouldn’t let these unexpected interruptions push you off of your prioritized list.

Personal Kanban basically tells you what you already know: that if you need to rush home because your child is sick or you have a firedrill request from a customer –  your time and the list of Prioritized To Dos will be upset – if not completely set aside.  Personal Kanban explains how using Kanban will help you see this priority change and force you to make a conscious decision on what is more important and what will not get done on this day.  Context always impacts the flow of your work.  ‘What’s going on in their lives’ or your team’s context is the reason you add contingency in your team’s estimates – isn’t it time you considered it in how you plan your day?

Secondly, Work unseen is Work uncontrolled.

Aside from the To Dos on your current list, unexpected actions and issues pop up on team meetings or status calls that require your attention.  Do you add those to your To Do list or do you just “fit them into” your multi-tasking?  At the end of the day, do you recognize or even remember these smaller tasks that ate up time and attention?  My bet is that you don’t – and that’s why capturing everything in your backlog is so important.  You can’t track what doesn’t enter your conscious awareness.  You can’t track it, can’t measure your effectiveness and likely can’t remember that you finished it if you’re traffic rush hour  in shanghaispinning from one task to another.

And finally, Bottlenecks need to be visible.   

Once you get your kanban board started, Personal Kanban warns about tasks that seem stuck for no apparent reason.  Decisions that don’t get made or actions that others need to take in order for you to complete your task will result in a pile up of work in your Today column.  With a bottleneck, your work is not flowing.  On top of that, it won’t be clear why they are hung up.  It you add dependent tasks or tasks that are bottlenecking a ‘To Do’ to your Kanban board in your ‘Today’ column, you make these dependencies visible and it allows you to pull another task forward in its place.
civil traffic in city

With these and other tips to improve the flow of your work, Personal Kanban is worth reading.  It’s a book that hands the reader the building blocks to put together a Kanban that works for *her* life, and at the same time, encouraging her to change the structure and the tools as she sees fit.

At the end of your day – you should know what you finished and be able to assess how effective you were. No more staring into the void.

Have you read any good books on Kanban lately?  If not, try reading Personal Kanban.  Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Course Corrections: PM Acceptance of Change

pathways from point A to B“Course corrections are not project management failures, nor do they suggest a loss of control – quite the opposite in fact. Rigid plans with fixed definitions of success limit our options and invite failure…..adjustments are natural and necessary.”
Personal Kanban


The Best Laid Plans always go into the trash.

It really shouldn’t surprise me. But every time I watch as a customer change or an unexpected risk affects “the plan”, I still feel a slight twinge.  I should know better.

I mean, I do know better.

Once you’ve finished all the hard work of the WBS and dragged estimates out of the most reluctant and tied it all together into a schedule – it’s essentially good for that single shining moment before any activity takes place.Changes Ahead

Afterwards: folks will beat their estimates or the customer ships the equipment earlier or there is some impossibly annoying problem that the coders are scratching their heads over.

It’s always something.

Generally I like when the ‘something’ is an opportunity to pull the date in, but the only certainty is that plans never go as expected. Personally, I think all the work you put into it is why you grow so attached to the idea that it cannot change.

When I feel the slightest twinge, I have to remind myself of a few things:

  1. No plan is perfect. Like life – there is always something that you didn’t foresee or the luck of the draw is not with you.
  2. Situations change. The customer may have a different business requirement that might impact the scope of your plan or dramatically increase it. You get paid to roll with change and help the team adjust to it and deliver to the changed scope.
  3. Time for a course correction: Snap out of it. If we can’t adjust to the fact that the plan needs to change – then we won’t be able to see the options that we have.

It’s like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. His eyes are the on ball. We all know and Charlie knows that the ball is going to be coldly ripped away by Lucy.

But Charlie never loses hope. At the start of his run, he can see himself kicking the ball….until his foot kicks the wind and he falls…again.

This is not to say that our planning is futile or should be half-hearted. TAmerican football player kicking the ball, kickoffhe reason that it hurts to see Charlie race toward the ball is because he is never half-hearted. We know that our plans, based on vetted assumptions we make at the time, are solid. Our plans define what we are trying to accomplish and give us something to measure our achievements by. So we are never half-hearted.

Like Charlie, every project we start with has that one moment when we think every activity, risk, and potential issue has been flagged and addressed. We think we know how the project will proceed.

And then we kickoff…

The question is: are we open to course corrections? Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Self-Improvement: Looking for your Blind Spots

Words Displays Improve by Change Adapt and GrowHave you finished your goal-setting for 2015?

How did you do it?

Apart from external feedback, it can be hard to assess where you need to focus because of your own blind spots.

An external gauge to assess reality will help you flag areas you should work on. For PMs, a good place to start might be the PMBOK, with its framework of best practices in project management.

We all have favorite processes or tasks that are easier than others – the trick is finding out where you are unconsciously avoiding or minimizing your time on certain best practices.  If we think of the PMBOK as a large house, we may be able to find our blind spots.  Likening the PMBOK’s Knowledge Areas to areas of a house (like upstairs or downstairs) and Process Groups as rooms, when you run a project, what rooms or areas of the house do you hang out in the most?

To find that answer, you might try the following:

  1. Take your Fifth Edition PMBOK and photocopy Table 3-1 – Project Management Process Group and Knowledge Area Mapping (It should be on page 61).
  2. Mentally walk through your approach to managing your projects, looking at each of the cells in the table.
  3. As you touch on a Process Group, highlight those areas that you enjoy or focus on in your projects.You may run through every ‘room’ multiple times as you implement your project. Your process might require that you provide a deliverable for each of these process groups. But there are a few processes that draw your interest the most. If you’re honest, you may want to spend most of your time there.
  4. Step back to look at the sheet and look at your results.

Project Management

Identifying the areas or process groups you tend to spend most of your time may help you identify:

Areas of Growth
When you examine the sheet, look for the non-highlighted areas and ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Do you spend any time at all in these areas?
  2. Do you avoid them because you don’t feel as strong in them?
  3. Ask yourself why you don’t have it highlighted. It may be a good place to start to identify potential areas to improve on.

Areas where you may be be overusing your strengths
Now look at the process group cells that you’ve highlighted.

  1. Are there any patterns?
  2. Are the cells grouped in certain knowledge areas?
  3. Do you see places where you may be spending too much time and neglecting others?

Now don’t take this suggestion and lose sight of the forest for the trees – if your organization has divided roles & responsibilities so that some teams manage procurement or cost and you are simply responsible for ensuring that they get done – consider the environment and assess whether you’re doing what you should be. If you want to get more experience in these areas, there are plenty of resources out there to read, listen to take classes about.

Try this and let me know whether this exercise is helpful in identifying places to focus on improving your effectiveness as a PM. Leave a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.

Leaving the Walled Garden: Going Android

My phones - IPhones to Galaxy Note 4In the end, my decision to try an Android phone was more a reaction against the IPhone 5.

In the fandom wars between Android and the IPhone, I have always been an Apple fangirl.  But that was… Before the IPhone 5.

Prior to the IPhone 5, I was a happy user of the Apple phone.  I loved the Walled Garden.

Within the Garden you didn’t have to worry about
  • Viruses
  • Malware
  • Complicated / confusing setup instructions
I loved the shininess of having an IPhone.  Apple really knows how to package their experience.

But that was before the IPhone 5.

I don’t have a bad customer experience that led me astray.  I had waited so long for a new phone that I bought the hype about the IPhone 5 – so much so that I didn’t wait for others to be the guinea pigs.  I wanted to be one of the first to hold the new gadget. I was eager to replace my first generation IPhone.

My expectations were so high that after I drove across town to retrieve the box from UPS (I could not wait for it to be delivered) and opened it up in my car, I was left a little unimpressed.

When I got it home and charged it up, I didn’t feel any better.  I saw what they did to the width of the screen (that I actually use to read books on) and I was bummed out that I had to hang onto it for another 2 years.  And I got this feeling all for a little more than $500.

I named it Yasugisu which means skinny in Japanese.

When the hype began for the IPhone 6, I was almost ready to go with the flow and line up with the rest of the faithful and buy another 2 years.  But then I ran across the Galaxy Note 4.  I thought about the change for a few months until my birthday and decided to buy a Note 4.  After a few days of transitioning key apps and tasks to the new phone, I realized that the primary emotion I was feeling was relief.

Relief about what, you might ask?  The Galaxy Note 4 is a good phone, but it doesn’t teleport me to work, so it is just a good phone.  It does what my phone needs to do: make calls, send email and allow me to read without scrolling.

As I transitioned from my old IPhone 5 to the Note, the pain points that I’d suppressed since I started to use the IPhone for business disappeared.  It started when I tried to configure my phone for email.  I configured the client, configured Google Mail and began to send work and Google mail.

When I sent my first email, I was surprised to find a 5 second delay after I hit send.  I’m sure that just about everyone has fat fingered an email or had an autoselected word that was inappropriate or a sadly embarrassing typo.  That was a pleasant surprise.

After I sent email I got an even bigger surprise: If I responded via the Google client on the IPhone, I used to share those emails with the company email server.  On my new phone, my Google emails were not shared with my work Exchange email.

I’ve since discovered that the bug is a Google email issue with its own klugy workaround, but regardless of whose issue it is – I no longer have to check my outgoing google emails so that they don’t end up in my inbox at work. This was hugely annoying. Strangely enough, it doesn’t show up in Android.  Go Figure.

Finally, there are Options.  I live for options.  I love the fact that I had to choose between 2-3 reasonably good email apps that work.  The apps that I tried with IOS never seemed to be able to get to the Exchange server.

After my email pain point went away, I soon discovered that using my phone for business became a little less annoying.  I spend most of my day in conference calls and when I have to use my phone, I’m usually driving.

During the first conference call on the Note, I was ready to tap on the keypad to get to the page to “mute” or “unmute”.  Imagine my surprise to when I realized that someone had actually thought through the user interface design to put the Mute and Speaker buttons on the same page.  Now I didn’t have to risk someone else’s life looking down to get to another page so that I can unmute and talk.

These aren’t big issues, but over time I didn’t realize how much they grated.  The surprise is that I like the other features of the phone as much as I do (Camera mode options, Stylus, New ringtones, Google Play and News access, to name a few).

In the end, I have to admit – while transitioning to Android apps may have been painful – I really like the Note 4.  Reading on my phone has become pleasurable again – no one is asking why I’m squinting at my phone anymore.

Have you had a good or bad experience after leaving the Walled Garden or did you decide to try an IPhone 6?  Leave a comment or send a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.