Mind Hacks to Make Studying Easier

Mind HacksWhat if you got a little buzz of guilty pleasure every time you thought about studying for your exam? What a difference that could make compared to a soul-numbing dread of having to do something you do not enjoy.

Our minds have systems to protect us and maximise our wellbeing. They do not always work, but overall, these mechanisms reinforce memories of good events and minimize negative ones. We can use these systems to make studying more enjoyable and effective.

By going out of our way to make studying pleasurable we begin to dread it less, then feel neutral about it, and eventually enjoy it. Things you enjoy are not chores, they are more like hobbies. But how the heck do you enjoy learning about earned value or resolving team conflict? To many people, these topics represent all the junk we deal with at work and what we try to escape in our personal time.

The key is to separate our emotions about the subject matter from the learning experience. Focus on making the studying enjoyable. Everyone likes different things, so chose what works for you. You could buy that indulgent chocolate that’s too expensive to justify and have a square when you start and every 15 minutes of study. You could get a fancy notebook for your preparation and a posh new pen. If you like working in social settings then find a great coffee shop and buy that mocha latte you know is overpriced, but oh-so-good.

Step it up a notch and form a study group that goes to a good restaurant after every meeting. Make the studying event good for you, don’t be afraid to indulge a little. The goal is to retrain your mind from “another 2 chapters, aarrg” to “great, seeing Alex again and trying that new Thai place”.

Obviously, some words of caution are necessary. If an excess of red wine or illicit activities are your indulgences then the subsequent hangover, memory loss, and guilt will have a net-negative impact. The treats must be defendable and morally acceptable. Things you are happy to discuss with family and co-workers. Beyond that, create a good environment for study, do what it takes to make it fun, use the very best materials and reward your hard work. This is a worthwhile investment in yourself and you should recognize it.

When we make a shift to positively associated emotions we remember and recall information much easier. Many people can recall vast amounts of information about their favourite sports teams, TV shows, or quirky hobby. They are not especially talented, instead, people remember and recall things they enjoy much easier than things learned under obligation - like perhaps details from the highway code for a driver’s test.

Being creative and doing what it takes to make studying enjoyable will not turn work topics into hobbies with effortless fact recall. It will, however, associate more positive thoughts to the overall experience and subject matter. This will help with making time for study, starting study sessions, and motivation to continue studying. These are important since most people give up on the process, not the material.

Another human nature trait we can use to our advantage is our brain’s association with locations and food. While we have evolved into complex creatures we still possess a primitive, reptilian brain stem. It is hardwired to remember where things can be found, sources of good food, and acts of sharing food. This deep but powerful association with food is why team building education often recommends bringing food. We are programmed to remember where we had it and build bonds with those we share food with.

Fine, but you may ask, how can I use these facts to help remember net present value calculations? We do so by making associations with locations and food memories. Memorization techniques based on location date back thousands of years and were written about by the Roman politician Cicero in 55BC.

Method of Loci (Loci is Latin for places) uses spatial memory to help us remember and recall information.

Using this approach, we take somewhere we are familiar with, maybe our house or local street and then associate items with distinct locations. So, imagine walking through your home in a logical sequence from your front door and then assign an item or concept to each location. Then, to recall the items or steps in a process in the correct order, we walk through our house again in our mind collecting items from each location.

There are many versions of Loci method. A popular one is called the Memory Journey and another is Roman Room - experiment and find one you are comfortable with. They all rely on our basic ability to recall locations and are often used by participants in memory competitions who compete at memorizing long lists of information. Personally, I like to imagine navigating a gourmet food store, associating things with the cheese, wine and chocolate collections which taps into our food and location aspects of our reptilian mind. However, unwanted weight gain might be a downside to this approach!

A 2017 study that used fMRI brain scans, found the spatial processing areas of memory champions were much more active than those in a control group of volunteers. The study went on to find that volunteers trained in the method of loci for six weeks saw similar brain function develop. The training-induced changes in brain connectivity matched the brain network organization that previously distinguished memory champions from controls. So, the good news is that in as little as 6 weeks of practice we can tap into these location-based recall techniques. Just don’t forget to start!

So, to help your studies make the process appealing. Make it social if you are a social person, make it silent and personal if you are a quiet person. Acknowledge and indulge your preferences to reward your study efforts. Next, don’t try to memorize things by just reading or highlighting, these have actually been found to be the least effective ways of studying. Instead, try location-based memory techniques that are proven to be effective and used by 90% of memory competitors.

 

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


Mining Bitcoins with Your InstantPot: Has Agile Popularity Gone Too Far?

InstantPot_Bitcoin_MachineI am excited to be presenting at next week’s PMI-SAC Professional Development Conference on May 2 in Calgary. I am looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new people at this new format conference.

My session “Mining Bitcoins with Your InstantPot: Has Agile Popularity Gone Too Far?” examines the hype, realities and use of agile approaches.  Here is the presentation summary from the conference site:

“The project world seems to have gone agile mad. The PMI has stuffed agile into everything in an attempt to stay current, but is it right or even helpful? Fear of missing out has vendors claiming to be agile and executives asking managers to be more agile. However, like InstantPots and cryptocurrencies, does the reality live up to the hype?  This session investigates the agile trend and looks at a new breed of agile suitability filters that help organizations apply agile approaches only when and where they make sense.

The presentation profiles organizations that effectively use agile approaches and how to build PMOs that support agile, hybrid, and traditional project teams. We look at the limitations and applicability concerns of using agile approaches. It would be naïve and arrogant to believe that agile (or any other approach) is universally the best way to execute projects. So, what types of projects do suit the approach (spoiler alert: novel, knowledge-worker projects) and what types of projects should best avoid it?

We will explore hybrid approaches where certain portions or periods of the project can exploit agile approaches. In these hybrid scenarios, we examine how to coordinate and integrate the agile work with the more traditional, plan-driven work. Also, we will examine the cultural fit of agile approaches and investigate how corporate mindsets and values effect structures and decision making. Trying to force fit a new mindset that is at odds with the corporate culture will inevitably be met with resistance. So, we need to be smart about what we try to introduce and how we plan to do it.

Our end goal should be successful projects and happy stakeholders. The approach we take should be appropriate for the tasks at hand, there are no points for style or conformance, since every project is different. So, learn how to analyze the project variables that include organizational, standards, technical and team components then act intelligently within that framework also guided by the inputs of the contributors.”

That description was for a 2-hour slot proposal and I was assigned a 1-hour slot so I will have to cut some material, but I will cover the highlights. The presentation title and outline are deliberately a little controversial to hopefully spur some reaction and interest in the session.

Having been involved in the development of the recent PMI standards, I personally do not believe “PMI has stuffed agile into everything in an attempt to stay current”, however, I can see how this may appear so to external parties.

As agile rides the hype cycle it is important to retain a grasp on where it can add value and where it’s use should be limited. This session aims to strip away some of the hyperbole and ground people with some practical application tools. Please come say hello if you see me at the conference!

PMI-SAC PDC Banner


Where Did All the Project Managers Go?

PuzzleSoftware is eating the world” claimed venture capitalist, Marc Andreessen in his 2011, New York Times article. Seven years on, the trend continues, and project managers are also on the menu. The next generation of project managers face new challenges but also new opportunities as organizations undergo a major transformation.

Software is becoming omnipresent, it is embedded and integral to all industries. Not just technology companies (like Google, Apple) but every sector is being disrupted by software including retail (Amazon), banking (PayPal, cryptocurrencies), transportation (Tesla, Uber), and travel (Airbnb).

As a project manager you may say “Great, just think of all those IT projects that will need project managers!” Well, that’s where things get interesting. First, today’s software teams don’t respond well to being “managed”, that’s old-school command-and-control thinking along with Gantt charts and calling people “resources”. Instead, they are led, empowered and supported by servant leaders. Next, the idea of a “project” with a defined endpoint is dissolving too.

As organizations realize their software systems provide the competitive advantage then stopping development equates to an end to innovation or competing. When organizations become more software-driven their systems are never “done”. As a result, organizations are switching from projects (that have a fixed end) to products - that continue to evolve. This movement popularized by the #NoProjects and Continuous Digital titles is growing exponentially.

 

 The Project Manager in a No Projects, No Managers Future

This double whammy of no more projects and no more managers likely creates heartburn for people with the job title “Project Manager”.  While this trend is clearly the future of work I believe there will always be a role for smart, cooperative people that can help with collaboration and development. 

 A quote that comes to mind is “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. The next generation of project managers will have new titles like “Product Leads”, “Development Team Coordinators” and “Digital Transformation Leaders”. They will help organizations build development capabilities around long-term products.

 This new generation will still communicate with stakeholders about status and risks. They will still facilitate consensus gathering amongst experts. They will still try to diffuse conflict and find common ground during arguments. The goals (satisfied stakeholders and value delivery) will remain the same but the tools, titles and processes employed will be vastly different.

 

New Tools and Approaches

Heavy upfront planning efforts and the use of tools like critical path network diagrams and PERT charts are not so useful when the input data is very uncertain. Tools like work breakdown structures offer great insights into sub-system assemblies but they are slower and more difficult to reprioritize than modern backlogs and release roadmaps.

As rates of change increase so too does early lifecycle uncertainty and the competitive need to start work quickly. The days of carefully analyzing work products upfront are dwindling. Instead, organizations build prototypes based on what they know right now and then iterate towards the final product. In the intangible world of software, the cost of experimentation is less than that of detailed analysis.

Also, using a software product provides better feedback on its suitability and possible expansion than reviewing a document or diagram about it. IWKIWISI (I Will Know It When I See It) becomes the new mantra, replacing the “Plan the work, and work the plan” ideas of old.

As organizations adopt a continuous delivery model that is focussed on products not projects then funding models change also. Instead of yearly budget cycles to fund entire projects, smaller tranches of funds are released to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Then, providing the product continues to return value, more funding is made available. A venture capital funding model lets product leaders focus on delivering a stream of high-value features that support continued investment.

Projects classically track metrics like on time/budget and Return On Investment (ROI). Products track customer satisfaction, market share, profit to funding ratios. They are similar concepts but a new vocabulary to learn.

 

Role Changes

Agile software development teams organize their own work, solve most of their own problems, and are empowered to experiment with new work strategies and approaches. They do not need (or want) to have work assigned to them, nor asked to report status. Instead, they make their work visible via kanban boards and new features.

They do however need people to remove impediments and chase up external dependencies. They also need investment in training, shielding from interruptions, plus regular encouragement and words of thanks to stay motivated. In short, all the servant leadership practices that good project managers did anyway still apply.

Project managers cannot be the center of work planning or task distribution. There is too much complexity to be anything but a bottleneck. Instead, we must trust development team members and product owners from the business as subject matter experts in their own domains.

Where these teams often need help is keeping the larger perspective on where it is we are trying to get to. When you are heads-down on solving a technical issue, it is easy to lose sight of the end goal. Having someone communicate the product vision reveals a beckoning summit towards which others can chart their own course.

In this way servant leadership and visionary leadership that predate modern project management are still valuable and needed. Yet the scientific project management that grew out of the industrialization of process is largely left behind.

 

The Future

In many industries, the classic role of projects and project managers will continue. I don’t see construction moving away from big upfront design and the reliance on project managers any time. In the software world though I think we are heading for substantial changes. Sure, some companies will continue as they always have with software project and project managers. However, most organizations will transition to long-term products with leaders and coordinators.

It is an exciting time for life-long learners willing to acquire new tools and approaches. There is no shortage of work for people who can collaborate with others and solve problems. The critical role of software will increase as organizations undertake digital transformation and adopt continuous digital strategies based on products vs projects. So, while the role “project manager” might be heading into the same category as “switchboard operators”, “human alarm clocks”, and “bowling alley pinsetters” the work and opportunities in this exciting field continue to grow.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


PMI-ACP Exam Prep Course with Mike Griffiths, Calgary, Alberta

Pmi-acp_exam_prep_cover_2nd_ed_updatedI am gathering names for my next Calgary based PMI-ACP Exam Prep course. Please let me know via email to Mike <at> LeadingAnswers.com if you are interested in reserving a spot on the next 3-day Calgary based PMI-ACP Exam preparation course held late May / early June 2018. We can do Wed, Thu, Fri or Thu, Fri, Sat – let me know your preference.

 

Evolution of the PMI-ACP Credential

Popularity has grown in the PMI-ACP from niche to mainstream with over 20,000 people now holding the credential. This makes it the most popular experience based agile certification and the credential of choice for hiring managers looking for the rigor of a ISO 17024 backed PMI credential. 

On March 26, 2018 the PMI updated the exam to align it with the lexicon of terms used in the new Agile Practice Guide. The course features updated materials and the new Updated Second Edition of my PMI-ACP Exam Prep book as an accompanying textbook.

 

My Involvement in the PMI-ACP Credential

I was a founding member of the steering committee that designed and developed the exam content outline for the exam. We based the exam on what agile practitioners with a year or two’s experience should know to be effective. We wanted a methodology agnostic credential that captured the agile practices used on most projects most of the time. The exam covers Lean, Kanban and agile approaches such as Scrum and XP along with servant leadership and collaboration. 

I worked with RMC to write their best-selling PMI-ACP Exam Preparation book. I recently updated this book to align it with the March 26, 2018 lexicon harmonization and change the chapter review questions to situational questions. The book is available from RMC here and is also included in the course.

 

Details about the Course

The course will be capped to 20 people for better Q&A and will likely take place at historic Fort Calgary which is close to downtown on 9th Avenue, has great catering and free parking. It includes the new Updated Second Edition of my book, colour printed workbook, sample exam questions, and additional materials. 

The course has a 100% pass rate and uses Turning Technologies audience response (clicker) technology to privately track your strength and weakness areas as we go. Following the course, each participant receives a personalized follow-up study plan based on their sample question performances. For more details see the Course Outline.

To express an interest and get pricing information please contact Mike <at> @LeadingAnswers.com.


Talent Management of The Future

Talent Management 2.JPGWe have shifted to Knowledge Work, but how do we find, develop and retain knowledgeable workers? This post examines Talent Management from two perspectives. First, what works well for agile teams. Second, how does the function change as organizations evolve, showing us how talent management may be done in future.

Let’s start by understanding what talent management covers. Talent Management is the strategy, planning and execution of everything needed to hire, develop, reward performance, and retain people. So, all the traditional Human Resources (HR) work, that we don’t call “HR” anymore because people are not resources.

The term talent management comes from research done by McKinsey in the late 1990’s and popularized in the book “The War for Talent” in 2001. At the time the authors were talking mainly about recruiting for leadership roles and the importance of finding people who possess: "a sharp strategic mind, leadership ability, communications skills, the ability to attract and inspire people, entrepreneurial instincts, functional skills, and the ability to deliver results." However, the term became so popular it is now used for the hiring and development at all levels, not just senior roles.

Why it became a big deal and the model organizations aspire to follow is because the McKinsey research found a definitive connection between top performers and superior corporate achievement. Not surprisingly, when you have the best people, you get industry-leading results. Not only that, but based on studying 13,000 executives in 27 companies, they identified how to do it and defined the following steps:

  1. Embrace a Talent Mindset
  2. Craft a Winning Employee Value Proposition
  3. Rebuild Your Recruiting Strategy
  4. Weave Development into Your Organization
  5. Differentiate and Affirm Your People
  6. Construct a practical framework for making this happen in your organization

When we read through this list anyone familiar with the agile mindset will likely see connections to agile and lean values. The recognition that people bring value and the need to respect, attract and engage people is central to the process. However, like agile adoption, just because organizations have known what they should be doing since the early 2000’s it does not mean they always behave that way.

Just as the agile mindset is sometimes paid lip service and poorly implemented, many organizations say they have policies for talent management but implement them poorly also. So, after recognizing why the process is a good one, even though it is often implemented less well (much like agile) let’s see how talent management operates for agile teams.

Agile Teams

Agile approaches recognize it is people who add value. They favor a Theory Y (people want to contribute and learn) approach to leadership over Theory X (people are lazy and need close supervision). Agile teams are built around intrinsic motivators such as autonomy of work, mastery of skills, and alignment with a vision and purpose.

Agile approaches encourage engaging the team in the recruiting process. So, while a hiring manager may pre-screen candidates for basic skills or security clearances, the actual evaluation of candidates and selection of the successful person is performed by members of the team itself. While this may sound inefficient, diverting attention from project goals, the negative impact of a poorly matched new hire is much greater.

When external people hire new team members without significant team consultation problems often ensue. This is then made worse because there is usually a delay in resolving the issue. People understandably want to give new hires “time to find their feet” and the “benefit of the doubt” before removing them from a team which aggravates the issue.

By contrast, when the team selects new members themselves they have already mentally prepared themselves for them joining. By asking candidates to perform tasks like coding exercises or a design-review, they test skills, get a feel of how candidates think, and how interactions may be.  There are fewer mismatches of talent or temperament and high performing teams are more likely to stay in the Tuckman Performing stage rather than churning back through the Storming and Norming stages again.

Getting the teams involved in hiring is part of the talent management process Step 6 “Construct a practical framework for making this happen in your organization”.  Agile approaches adopt many of the other steps also, they support Step 4 “Weave Development into Your Organization” and Step 5 “Differentiate and Affirm Your People” through empowered teams and adaptation.

Agile teams are empowered to make local decisions and encouraged to self-organize about accomplishing work. Shifting ownership and decision making down to the doers of work is more respectful of their talents and a more rewarding way for people to work.

Encouraging inspection and adaptation through product demonstrations, retrospectives, and experiments develop employees. It demonstrates trust in their opinions and allows them to better advance in their careers through experimenting with new roles.

Finally, the emerging practice of keeping high-performing agile teams together and bringing new work to established teams, values employee contributions. Rather than disbanding high-performing teams when the project completes, keeping that integrated unit together and giving them a new challenge to work on.

Organizational Evolution

Some progressive organizations have dropped hierarchical, command-and-control structures in favor of flatter, empowered teams. Coming from a background of agile development it is natural to think this is the broadening of agile thinking into the larger organizational landscape and the growth of truly agile organizations. However, while this observation matches our worldview, it is a flawed perspective of a bigger picture.

When we start examining organizational evolution from primitive gangs to the most sophisticated egalitarian organizations we discover that the agile mindset and principles are stepping stones on a journey that goes further. Agile approaches, that started out in organizing knowledge-work teams, are not the best tools for examining organizational structures and strategy.

Social researcher Frederic Laloux, a former associate partner with McKinsey, literally wrote the book on organizational evolution entitled “Reinventing Organizations” in 2014. In it he charts the development of organizational types in a progression from the most basic to the most advanced. Each stage of this progression has an accompanying color associated with it as a shorthand for the more descriptive titles. A summary of these stages with their color names is listed in the table below:

Teal Organizations

Laloux is careful to point out that organizations may straddle categories. Some departments in the same organization may be more mature than others. Also, one level is not necessarily better than another, they are just different and hold different values as their guides.

40 years ago, most companies were Amber with inflexible hierarchies and they struggled to compete with the emerging Orange organizations that valued and rewarded talent more. These days most organizations are Orange and are struggling to respond to the challenges of competing with the growing number of Green values-oriented organizations.

What is surprising to some agile enthusiasts is that agile is not the latest stage of development. Agile values and principles align most closely with Green organizations that emphasise empowerment and a value-driven culture – like maximizing for business value.  However, there is a stage beyond Green called Teal. It breaks apart the family mentality that uses centralized operational functions and empowered teams and instead encourages small communities of practice in more of an organism/ community-based model.

Laloux’s Red to Teal model is very useful for agile teams. The characteristics of Amber and Orange organizations nicely summarize most corporate companies today. The challenges of implementing agile approaches successfully involve the struggles of moving a traditional Amber or Orange organization to Green. Not an easy task.

However, Teal organizations are more advanced than agile Green and their approaches to talent management may reveal the future of recruiting and retention. In Teal organizations small, self-managing groups are given autonomy to do what is necessary to be successful. Each group contains all the decision-making power it typically needs, supported by a very light-weight group that provides templates and services. People are encouraged to find where they can add value and roles change frequently.

Attributes of Teal Organizations

An example of a Teal organization is Buurtzorg, a Dutch nursing organization whose name means “neighborhood care” in Dutch. Grown from the idea of its founder and nurse, Jos de Blok in 2007, who had become frustrated at the bureaucracy and “machinification” of nursing care. Buurtzorg is now the largest nursing organization in Holland. It has over 10,000 nurses and assistants working in 850 self-managed teams of 10-12 people and routinely wins awards for Best Employer of the Year.

Buurtzorg has organized around autonomy, not hierarchy. Teams make nearly all their own decisions and are supported by a bare-bones staff of 45 in the back office and 16 coaches. While they conduct over 280 Million Euros of business each year, they have only 6 people working in finance and no CFO. Without this hierarchy, their overhead costs are 8% compared to industry average of 25% which provides more funds for care and innovation. People enjoy working there too. Their staff sickness rate is 4% compared to industry averages of 7% and staff retention is the highest in the industry.

Talent Management in Teal Organizations

For a start, they don’t call it “Talent Management”. Just as “HR” is a throwback to Amber thinking of organizations as machines and people as interchangeable parts in that machine, “Talent” is also a throwback to similar thinking about skill trumping values and integrity. An unlucky/insightful choice of companies to profile in the book “The War for Talent” that give rise to the term “Talent Management” focussed on how Enron selected people based heavily on their intelligence.

Subsequently, the book and movie “The Smartest Guys in the Room” recounts how prioritizing intelligence over integrity can lead to poor choices, scandals and downfalls. Instead, Teal organizations just call the hiring and care of its staff process “growth and looking after its members”. They do not have a centralized HR department; each local group practice self-organizes and recruits as the business expands.

Work structures change quickly in Teal organizations. People may see an opportunity for improvement and partner with other team-mates to tackle it. Roles and functions come and go frequently. People are not bound by job titles and may be working on many different initiatives. In such a dynamic environment, it makes little sense recruiting for a single role, since that role may not exist for long. Instead, people are recruited for fit by their peers. Their skills are still checked, but it is much more important that the values of the new hires align with the organizational values.

After hiring the onboarding process in Teal organizations differs from Traditional/Orange and Agile/Green organizations. Since values and working co-operatively are so integral to Teal organizations, significant training in relationship skills are common after joining. It is normal for Buurtzorg staff to undertake extensive training on how decisions are made, how to resolve conflict, and how to collaborate effectively.

Training and performance reviews happen differently as well. People in Teal organizations have personal freedom and responsibility for their training. Employee’s at FAVI, a metal manufacturer in France also using Teal approaches, decide what products and techniques would best benefit their group to learn. Once mastered these skills are then used to enhance services or open new product offerings.

Instead of traditional performance reviews that try to take an objective view of past performance, more holistic reviews of one’s learning journey and calling are undertaken. They focus on wellbeing in addition to skills acquisition and growth. This may sound “Foo-Fooey” to employees in traditional organizations used to leaving their emotions at home. However, the mid-life crisis is the classic result of a life in traditional organizations without emotion.

All too often in traditional organizations people play the game of success and run the rat race. After 20 years when they realize they will not make it to the top, or the top is just as bad, but now with fewer friends, they question Why? After chasing targets and numbers, surviving yet another change program for so long people cannot help but wonder about the meaning of it all and yearn for something more.

So, What Does This All Mean?

Organizations are evolving. HR practices became Talent Management and will likely evolve into something else. We currently exist in a landscape where most organizations are run as machines prioritized for growth. However, we are seeing changes in more employee engagement and autonomy. As these changes continue work should become more meaningful, personal and rewarding. We need to embrace these changes, after all, "When you're finished changing, you're finished." -Ben Franklin

 

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


Project “You” and Project “Two“


We work hard in our organizations on projects to build new products and services, or affect some kind of change. We are also constantly on the lookout for ways to make the work go faster, by removing impediments and improving efficiencies. Techniques like Value Stream Mapping analyze the value-adding activities and the non-value adding activities to identify queues and waste in our processes that can then be eliminated. Looking at our contributions and opportunities for efficiencies is like considering our work as a machine and trying to lubricate it so it will go faster and run more smoothly.

Cog 1

However, this view misses who is driving your work - you. In effect we watch the work, but not the worker. It is you that drives the contributions you make on the project.

Cog 2

Attempts to improve and optimize the project may not be as productive as improving our own performance. So, instead of oiling the process, increasing our capability is a great way to improve output.

Cog 3

Now with a bigger and better you, your project performance will improve.

“Project You”

This is “Project You”, the improvement and investment in yourself. “Project You” should come first, but often it is relegated to second or third choice, or forgotten completely, as work and home pressures take over. However, I invite you to consider “Project You” as your first priority and your regular project work as “Project Two”.

This may seem selfish, but it is not when you consider what is powering your project contributions – your capabilities. Investing in yourself will help your employer and project, it will increase your competencies and capacity to do more work.

More than Just Skills

Skills are just one aspect of you. Your Health, Happiness, and Relationships with others are also critical parts of your makeup that will hurt performance if they are not attended to and in good condition.

Cog 4


All too often people focus on work performance or skills to the detriment of another aspect such as health or supportive relationships. When this occurs your work and project performance will eventually suffer also.

 

Cog 5

Like having a faulty or unevenly developed cog wheel, mismatches in these quadrants will in due course limit your effectiveness at work. People cannot go on if they are unhappy, unsupported, or sick. Just like learning new skills, we need to invest in our well being and the well being of those close to us to remain productive.

A New Year, a Better You

As we start the New Year, now is a great time to assess our overall work engine. To perform a review of “Project You”, recognize and celebrate what we have working in our favour and make a commitment to improve the elements that are our weakest.

Focussing on “Project You” now will bring dividends to your “Project Two” and “Project Three” in 2018. Look beyond the usual sphere of just work and ask: “Am I happy?”, “Am I healthy”, ”Am I in and creating strong relationships?” Then, just as we would for planning the acquisition of new skills or certifications, create a plan of action for addressing the areas that need the most work.

It Nests Infinitely

Of course, the idea of “Project You” applies to all the team members on our project also. It is common to view teams as the interaction and sum contributions of the team member efforts. Then, as good servant leaders we attempt to remove roadblocks and communicate a clear vision of where we are trying to get to.

Cog 6

However, a better view of projects is to see the people components driving these contributions. When we consider our team members as more than just their skills and effort, but also take an interest in their health, happiness and relationships we discover more places we can help.

Cog 7

I remember working on a software project where a developer came up to me and explained he had just received a call from his wife who was sick, and he wanted to go home to see her. I could have just said: “Sure, no problem, go home and see her”. However, because I knew he walked to his nearest train station and took the light rail network to get into the office, I asked if I could drive him home, since I drove to the office and had my car there. He was very appreciative, he saved 30 minutes on his journey home and I was back in the office in under an hour.

It was no big deal to me; my team was very self-sufficient and diligent, and I was glad to help. However, that simple gesture to help with his relationship and the health and happiness of his wife was not forgotten, it helped strengthen our work relationship and was repaid many times over.

Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Helping Others

It would be hypocritical of us to try and assist with the health, happiness or relationship success of our colleagues if our own lives were steaming piles of self-loathing and depravity. We don’t need to be saints, but we should try to get our own lives in order before helping others.

We will also be viewed as a more credible source of council if we have a healthy, balanced home and work life. So, start where you have the most influence, in your own life. See how we can address any imbalances and then look more holistically at your team members. Maybe share the “Project You” and “Project Two” concept with them and see if there is any way you can support them as they grow also.

Summary

Projects, by definition, are temporary endeavors, people, however, should take a longer-term view of their success. Our achievement on our current project and the projects to come will in large part be driven by our full-spectrum wellbeing.  The same goes for the colleagues we work with. So why not use this year as the opportunity to examine “Project You” and invest in your future?

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com, available here]


Government Lessons in People Over Process

CubicleMy first opportunity to create and run a large agile team did not start well. Having had good successes with small to medium sized agile teams I was keen to unleash the benefits on a bigger scale. I was working for IBM at the time and was able to persuade my account manager to pitch the approach on one of our government projects. A clean-sheet development opportunity with a smart team and engaged business group – what could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty due to my ill-advised approach.

It was the early 90’s and we were trialling techniques that would later become the agile approach DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Method). Taking ideas like James Martin’s RAD (Rapid Application Development) and active user involvement from Enid Mumford’s Participative Design Approach, we had already dramatically reduced development time and improved acceptance rates on several projects. I was convinced collocated teams with short iterations of build/feedback cycles were the future. We were all set for a big client success and who better than the British Government for good publicity! My enthusiasm was about to be tested.

I was given a full rein of the project, or as I would later realize, just enough rope to hang myself with. Having struggled to get dedicated business input on previous projects I commandeered a large boardroom to collocate the development team and business subject matter experts (SMEs). It was awesome, everyone was together in one room and we had direct access to the business representatives for requirements elicitation, clarification, and demo feedback. We were working hard and getting lots of features built but the business representatives hated it.

At first, I thought they hated me. I think that is a common mistake, we internalize changes in behaviour as attacks or criticisms of ourselves. What have I done? What did I say to upset them? - all of them! I recall wanting to write on my internal project status report to the IBM PMO that “the business is revolting”. However, that is what occurred, starting as cordial and helpful, the business SMEs became less helpful, then uncooperative, and finally hostile. I had a revolt on my hands that I did not understand.

This was my first introduction to organizational change. Luckily for me, I had access to many people in IBM smarter and more experienced than I was. I was given a book called “How to Manage Change Effectively: Approaches, Methods, and Case Examples” by Donald Kirkpatrick that changed my career. In it Kirkpatrick outlines circumstances where people will resist change. These include:

  1. When people sense loss in: security, pride and satisfaction, freedom, responsibility, authority, good working conditions, and/or status
  2. It creates more problems than it is worth
  3. Extra efforts are not being rewarded
  4. Lack of respect for those initiating the change
  5. The change initiative and its implications are misunderstood
  6. Belief that the change does not make sense for the organization
  7. Change is misdirected, current state or alternatives are better
  8. A low tolerance for change in our lives
  9. When change violates a principle or commitment that the organization must stand by
  10. Exclusion from the change initiative
  11. Changes viewed as criticism of how things were done in the past
  12. The change effort occurs at a bad time, other issues or problems are also being handled

Something I was not aware of at the time is how the career development process works within the government. The most junior new hires work in open-plan cubical offices. Then as you get a promotion you get moved to bigger cubicles with higher walls that are more like mini-offices. Next, you get promoted to a real office, then an office with a window, and eventually a corner office. In short, your workspace defines your status, responsibility and authority.

By bringing these business representatives into a shared boardroom to work on the project I had unwittingly generated change resistance scenarios 1-3 and probably triggered many others also. Making them sit and work together like the most junior recruits had caused a loss of good working conditions, status, freedom, pride, satisfaction, and perceived authority. A bad idea when hoping to develop a productive working relationship with someone.

Luckily for me the Kirkpatrick book also lists circumstances when people do accept change, which unsurprisingly are the opposite conditions and include:

  1. When change is seen as a personal gain: in security, money, authority, status or prestige, responsibility, working conditions, or achievement
  2. Provides a new challenge and reduces boredom
  3. Opportunities to influence the change initiative
  4. Timing: the time is right for organizational change
  5. Source of the change initiative is liked and respected
  6. The approach of the change and how it is implemented appeals to us

So, equipped with these ideas we changed our approach. Instead of the business SMEs being collocated with us they returned to their fancy corner offices, long lunch breaks, and afternoons spent reading the newspaper - none of which they could do when they all sat together. Instead, we reserved their mornings for questions, review sessions, and demonstrations. This was better received because their morning calendars were blocked with important project meetings, but we rarely called on all of them at once unless it was for a business demo.

Now they had their offices back, a little more free time, and were engaged in a more respectful way. The team were sceptical at first. However, it really is much better to have one hour of someone who is cheerful, engaged, and helpful than eight hours of someone who is bitter, obstinate and causing issues. The project went much smoother after these changes and it taught me an important lesson in never trying to introduce a process or practice without considering the people elements first.

We completed the project early, largely due to the input and hard work during acceptance testing of the business SMEs, and IBM got their successful case study. I learned to temper my enthusiasm and consider other stakeholders who will undoubtedly have a different view of the project than myself. Individuals and interaction are indeed more important than processes and tools, even if they are your own pet agile processes and tools.

[I first wrote this article for the Government themed November issue of ProjectManagement.com, available to subscribers Here]


PMI-ACP Training Partner Program

RMC TPP ImageWhen I travel I often meet people who say they used my books or other training materials to help them pass their PMI-ACP exam. Plus, I’m also asked by others how to get permission to use my book as the basis for their own PMI-ACP training courses.

So, I am excited to announce the new PMI-ACP Training Partner Program from RMC Learning Solutions. For an introductory low price of $500 per year you receive:

  1. Use of a slide deck (290 slides) from our PMI-ACP® Exam Prep, Second Edition book

Note: These slides are an outline of our book. Our Training Partners use them as supplemental, reference slides as they develop their own course.  You can use some, or all, of these slides in your course.

  1. One Instructor License for the PM FASTrack® PMI-ACP® Exam Simulation Software – v2 (Downloadable exam simulator. This is a $199 value)

Note:  This exclusive Instructor License allows you to use pre-configured exams to focus on/test a specific knowledge area.  The Instructor License is not available outside of RMC and our Training Partners.

  1. Discounts of 35-55% off the List Price of selected RMC LS products you order at one time

Note: This enables you to include our training materials in the price of your course. It also includes discounts on my brand-new PMI-ACP Exam Workbook.

Maybe you already use one of my books for teaching PMI-ACP courses, or maybe you are looking for slides on which to base a course? Either way, getting professional materials aligned to the PMI-ACP exam content outline is much easier than building them all yourself. Also, you can rest assured that the permissions are all in order and everything will be updated as the exam changes.

If you would like to learn more about this program and take advantage of savings of 35-55%, please contact Marcie McCarthy at mmccarthy@rmcls.com


Got Your CSM, Now What?

Credential QuestionPerhaps, like 500,000+ other people, you have some form of Certified Scrum Master (CSM) credential and are looking to distinguish yourself and continue your learning journey. Of course, learning is not tied to credentials, many people are anti-certification and that is an understandable choice. I encourage lifelong learning separate from credentials. However, for credential seekers, this article explores some common credential pathways beyond the CSM.

I want to disclose upfront that I have been involved with the development of ICAgile, PMI-ACP, and DSDM Leadership credentials so I likely have some bias and preferences. However, my goal here is not to recommend specific credentials but instead to explain options and environmental factors to consider, helping people make their own choice based on their own situation.

Also, because there are so many credentials available I will undoubtedly miss out many credentials in this discussion, maybe including your favorite or your company’s. This is not meant to be an exhaustive catalogue of agile credentials rather a thinking or discussion tool for getting the research process started. 

How Did You Get Here?

When people ask me what credentials to get next, I ask how they got where they are now. Did they move from software development into a Scrum Master role? Were they previously a PMP certified project manager who took a CSM class to learn a little about Scrum? The answers to questions like these and the next one: “Where Do You Want to Go?” help ground and orient the decision-making process. If we don’t know where we are to begin with, then a map is unlikely to be helpful.

Where Do You Want to Go?

Credentials may be obtained to help secure a new job or promotion. People also seek them to demonstrate understanding of certain topics, and just for personal achievement. All of these motives are valid and help drive the choice of where to go next. If you are pursuing job opportunities then you should research what hiring managers are looking for. Are they asking for PMP, CSP or PMI-ACP credentials? If so then we are narrowing our choices down.

Alternatively, if you are pursuing a credential more for personal learning, then the curriculum is likely more important than recognition by hiring managers. Maybe there is an online program that very few people have ever heard of but it’s a great fit for your learning objectives. If so, be more influenced by content and quality rather than recognition and opportunity.

This sounds basic, but I’m surprised by how many people pursue credentials just because their colleagues did and they don’t want to be left behind, or it was the next course suggested in their company’s training roadmap. Credentials should be for you. Asking questions like: Do you want to strengthen your current role? Do you want to change roles? Do you want to stay at your current organization? All these issues factor into the next steps to take.

Directions from Here

There are a few obvious directions from CSM that include Down Deeper, Upwards and Outwards. By Down Deeper I mean going deeper into Scrum with an Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM), Certified Scrum Practitioner (CSP), or Professional Scrum Master (PSM) credential. These are good options if you want to demonstrate a further commitment and understanding focussed just on Scrum.

Upwards refers to scaling Scrum for large projects, programs, and enterprise transformations. There are several popular Scaling frameworks available including SAFe, Nexus and LeSS. All offer training paths and credentials if that is the direction you want to pursue.

The Outwards direction means broader than just Scrum. Due to the popularity of Scrum people sometimes forget there is a rich wealth of complementary approaches outside of it. Lean, Kanban, Leadership, and Emotional Intelligence are all topics that agile teams can benefit from. Certifications like the PMI-ACP and the ICAgile suite of credentials provide coverage and demonstrate knowledge of these topics. Also, I class Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD) here rather than a scaling framework since it is more pragmatic and deals with more than just agile and scaling.

How to Decide: Personal and Environmental Factors?

So, knowing how we got here and a little more about where to go next and why, we can start to create some pathways.  Shown below is a sample flowchart for someone interested in pursuing agile approaches further and wondering what to consider next.

Flow Chart

However, maybe you are not interested in agile and want to pursue risk management further. That is fine, use these personal and environmental factors to create your own framework. Maybe a PMI-RMP (Risk Management Professional) credential fits the bill? My point is that with a wide variety of experiences, goals, motivations and credentials to choose from there will be a huge array of possible decision trees like this.

The purpose of this article is not to recommend a single path for the half a million CSM’s in the workforce, rather explain a framework for evaluating your options. Don’t be pressured by peers or corporate training roadmaps, instead honestly evaluate why you may want to obtain a new credential and then which would best fit your development goals.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com here]


DIPMF Review

DIPMF LogoI have just returned from the Dubai International Project Management Forum (DIPMF). It was a very enjoyable and impressive conference, focussed on innovation in project management.

Mark Langley, president and CEO of the PMI, gave a keynote presentation on the importance of innovation. Mark explained he visits Dubai 3 or 4 times a year since it is where many of the major construction projects are occurring along with innovations in project management. His presentation featured the 2017 PMI Thought Leadership Series publication “Achieving Greater Agility” and he highlighted the Agile Practice Guide that was released with the latest PMBOK® Guide.

DIPMF and APG

Visiting Dubai and seeing the scope and pace of construction development is impressive. I have written about my interest in architecture before and was thrilled to see each of the Top 15 wonders of Dubai. The conference also organized field trips to several building projects including the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. I was too late in signing up for those, but booked my own visit up the Burj Khalifa and really enjoyed it.

Burj Khalifa

This year at the conference featured the first Hamdan bin Mohammed Awards for Innovation in Project Management. The awards were created to recognize contributions and innovation in project, program and portfolio management at the individual, team and organizational levels. With more than half a million dollars in prize money, they attracted some serious contributions and winners included: a Hyperloop project team, a UNICEF children’s project, and a large reservoir project.

Audacious multi year projects against a backdrop of shifting economic cycles are difficult to pull off. The financial slow down of 2008 -2009 saw its share of cancelled projects in Dubai. In the last several years many have been restarted or replaced by equally daring projects. With the upcoming Dubai 2020 Expo there is now another burst of ambitious Dubai mega projects.

My contribution to the conference was on a much smaller scale. I gave a presentation entitled “Agile: Panacea or Hype?” that dealt with the alignment of agile approaches with other ideas such as Theory Of Constraints (TOC) and intrinsic motivation. It also covered applicability concerns, suitability filters, hybrid approaches, and my new Beyond Agile Model.

This Beyond Agile Model is a framework I have been working on this year and the subject of my next book. I have given previews of it at the Agile 2017 conference in Orlando and the PMO Symposium two weeks ago in Houston. They have been well received and I hope to outline it here soon along with the developing website that supports it.

I am very grateful to the organizers of the DIPMF conference for inviting me to present. I enjoyed it immensely, it was a great mix of new world-class keynotes like Magnus Lindkvist (who was fantastic) and known talent from old friends like Jack Duggal who I used to train alongside during my PMI SeminarsWorld courses many years ago.


Conference Updates

Conference logosIn the last couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure to attend and present at the PMI Global Conference in Chicago and the PMO Symposium in Houston. This week I am off to present at a PMI Chapter conference in Saskatchewan and then the Dubai International Project Management Forum (DIPMF) in Dubai.

Once I return I will post some accounts and observations from these conferences. As agile approaches mature and spread beyond software the project management landscape continues to evolve. I always learn lots attending these events. Sometimes it is about perceptions and acceptance, sometimes new skills and techniques.  Please check www.LeadingAnswers.com for updates.


PMBOK Guide 6th Edition and Agile Practice Guide - Impacts on Credentials

PMBOK and APGOn September 6, 2017, the PMI published the new PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition and the accompanying Agile Practice Guide. As co-author of the PMBOK® Guide agile content and chair of the Agile Practice Guide, it was great to see these projects finally come to fruition. They represent hundreds of hours of unpaid volunteer work by everyone who worked on them.

However, anyone considering taking their PMP or PMI-ACP is probably wondering if / how these new releases impact their study plans? The good news is, minimally. Since while the PMBOK® Guide sees some significant changes such as a new appendix on the use of “Agile, adaptive, iterative and hybrid approaches” the Exam Content Outlines for the PMP and PMI-ACP are not changing anytime soon.

What many people do not know is that it is the Exam Content Outline, not the PMBOK® Guide, or other publications, that dictate what is tested for in the exams. The Exam Content Outline for the PMP credential is created and published by the PMI. It is available for download here. The Exam Content Outline for the PMI-ACP credential is available here.

Each question in the PMP or PMI-ACP exam is based on at least two source publications. For the PMP exam, the PMBOK® Guide is frequently one source publication. For the PMI-ACP there are a dozen reference books, listed in the PMI-ACP Reference List.

So, the PMP and PMI-ACP exam questions are influenced by the Exam Contents Outlines more than the reference publications. Questions do have to be based on the reference publications, but only on the scope that is defined by the Exam Content Outline.

The image below depicts the process

PMI Exam Question Process

Of all the project practices that are in use, (1) the Exam Content Outline acts like a filter (2) that limits what scope goes into the item writing (question writing) process. Only topics defined in the Exam Content Outline will be tested on the exam. Item writers (question writers) create multiple-choice questions (4) based on two or more reference publications (3). It is entirely possible to write a question that maps to the exam content outline and is backed by two other books and not PMBOK® Guide. In this way, it’s meant to test experience and application of knowledge rather than test the content of any one book. The references are utilized to ensure questions aren’t based on peoples’ opinions or biases—rather they are based on best practices.

In the image above the shaded portion of the reference sources represent just the scope of those books that apply to topics in the Exam Content Outline. When the PMI recently published the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition and the Agile Practice Guide they added to the Reference Publications.

These new publications contain additional content, but until the Exam Content outline is changed through a process called a Role Delineation Study none of the new content will be tested.

PMBOK Guide Scope

So, yes, the new publications contain additional information, and yes, the exam questions are based on these publications. However, since the Exam Content Outline has not changed, none of this new material will be on the exam.

What Is Changing for PMP and PMI-ACP?

A lexicon harmonization process is occurring. This means questions will be checked and updated to use words consistent with the latest standards and guides. Both the PMBOK® and the Agile Practice Guide has a Definitions section that defines the terms they use located just before the Index. It is recommended candidates read the updated definitions to make sure they are familiar with the terms and descriptions of them.

The PMP does not currently use the APG as a reference source so it’s unlikely that PMP aspirants need to learn any new terms from the APG at this time. (However, the Agile Practice Guide does contain lots of practical guidance for project practitioners using agile and hybrid approaches.)

Likewise, the PMI-ACP Exam does not use PMBOK® Guide as a reference source so people are insulated from any terminology changes there. (However, the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition contains guidance for tailoring approaches for agile lifecycles, so you might want to check it out.)

CAPM

The only Exam that will be impacted shortly is the CAPM exam. The CAPM is based solely on the PMBOK® Guide and a Role Delineation Study for a new CAPM exam is underway. The PMI will be announcing when the CAPM Exam is changing too soon. Exams taken after the change will be based on the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition.

Summary

If you are studying for a PMP or PMI-ACP credential, the recent publication of the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition and the Agile Practice Guide should have only a small impact on your study plans. You should familiarize yourself with the terms used in these guides, PMBOK® for PMP, Agile Practice Guide for PMI-ACP. However, since the Exam Content Outlines are not changing in the short term, there is no requirement to learn any of the new material at this time.

Candidates studying for the CAPM whishing to take their exam in Q1 2018 or later, should switch their study source to the new PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition. The CAPM is based solely on the PMBOK® Guide and this certification is having its Exam Content Outline updated. For the latest announcements for CAPM aspirants check the PMI website here.

[I originally wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com and it is available for members here]

 


The Importance of Focus

Edison BulbI have an old-fashioned Edison bulb desk lamp. It’s to remind me to focus (and because I like steampunk, industrial design). A 40-watt incandescent bulb will barely light a room, but a 40-watt laser can cut through aluminium, leather, and wood. It is the same amount of light energy, just focussed instead of being diffused.

The same principle applies to our attention, work and teams. Diffused and scattered there is not much impact. Focussed and concentrated that energy is very impactful. Removing distractions and focussing on a single deliverable at a time allows us to complete our work faster with fewer defects.

Aligning a team to a common vision and purpose directs their energy towards it. No longer diffused to fulfil a dozen competing demands, effort is channelled to the shared goal. Distractions come in many forms. Fancy tools, cool architecture, requests from different groups. If we do not pay attention to focus, our laser beam team becomes an Edison bulb, it is busy and glowing, but not very effective.

So, be cautious of distractions. Monitor time and energy directed to the project goal compared to energy directed to peripheral activities. Work life is like a greased pole with a 40-watt Edison bulb at the bottom and a 40-watt laser at the top. We must always be striving upwards to focus because as we relax we slide down towards distraction.

(Also visible in the picture is my “Do The Work” Post-it. another reminder to focus and a pointer to work on the same topic by Seth Godin and Stephen Pressfield. I guess I could get a 40-watt laser too, but that would scorch the cat rather than amuse it. Plus yes, it is snowing here and yes, my windows are old)


PMI Global Conference Chicago

PMI-Global-Conferenc-2017-Circle-Join-Me-OctI will be in Chicago this weekend for the PMI Global Conference. It’s going to be a busy couple of days with a presentation on Saturday chronicling project uncertainty and solutions. Then on Sunday a deep-dive workshop with Jesse Fewell into the new Agile Practice Guide. I’ll also be doing a couple of podcast interviews and helping at the PMI Poster session and the RMC booth.

I am looking forward to the conference and keynotes from Tim Berners-Lee on the Future of Tech. There is also Nicholas Epley presenting on Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think Believe, Feel, Want. Finally, Mercedes Ramirez-Johnson provides the closing keynote on: Get it Right Today, Not Tomorrow about the need for urgent action and living with intention.

I’d love to chat to anyone who knows me, has used my books, or has questions about the PMI-ACP or the new Agile Practice Guide. Please drop by my sessions or look for me at the RMC booth. Being tucked away in a small Canadian ski town is great for outdoor activities but not so good for networking. So, I am really looking forward to it.


Inverted Classrooms

Inverted Classroom 2My last article on why We Should All be Learners explained how today’s knowledge worker projects are all about learning effectively. This article explains how new technology can deliver a more effective and enjoyable learning experience.  So, whether you are studying for your PMP credential, cramming on blockchain technology, or learning conversational Spanish, blended learning is something you should be aware of.

Blended learning combines online resources with in-person instruction. Both approaches have been available for many years, but their combination has recently given rise to what’s called Inverted Classroom Model that is both new and very effective.

If you have ever experienced painfully slow or incomprehensibly fast lectures, or the problems of trying to coordinate group activities outside of class then blended learning with an inverted classroom model might be just the ticket.  It works like this:

Lecture materials are made available online outside of class time and people consume them at their own pace, whenever they like. If you already know something, just skip it, if its difficult or mind-boggling pause it, repeat it, or access additional resources. You control the delivery speed of lessons, how much time you dedicate to it, and you also control when you consume it. So, if you are an early bird use the mornings, a night owl then use the evenings, it's all up to you.

Then, and here’s the clever part, during class when lectures would normally be delivered, this time is used for assignments and group exercises.  So, you attend lectures at home and do homework in class. It is all reversed – hence the inverted classrooms name.

Inverted Classroom

This brings several advantages. Students move at their own pace, on their own timetable. Also, instead of classes being spent on passive listening, they are now dedicated to active work which is more engaging and enjoyable. Trying or organize group work outside of class when people are busy can be a logistical nightmare, now everyone should be available to take part in group work during the regularly scheduled class times.

In addition, the instructor is available to facilitate group work if needed and shift their focus from getting through the material at the appropriate speed to helping students in the areas they need. It is important that people still get face to face time to interact with peers and the instructor. However, in the inverted classroom model, that time is spent applying knowledge not trying to absorb it at a standardized delivery pace.

The approach is not without its own challenges. The technology for consuming material online must be effective and easy to access. Instructors and students must also buy-in to their new roles. Students are now curators of their own content consumption and need to make sure they have understood the required topics before showing up to the next class, whether it took them 2 hours or 20.

Instructors must also switch roles, moving from narrator of wisdom to facilitator of group activities, troubleshooter, and coach. They also need to make sure the students really are consuming the course materials, not just turning up to class and coasting a free-ride on their peers. Good content management systems can track content consumption and test basic recall with tests and quiz questions.

When the technology is in place and roles understood, blended learning and the inverted classroom model can deliver a very engaging and enjoyable way of learning a new topic. It combines Goldilocks pace (not too slow, not too fast) along with engaging group activities without the logistics issue of scheduling busy learners. So, for that next credential or must-have skill, you may want to investigate a blended learning environment with an inverted classroom model.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectManagement.com under the title Flipped Classrooms here]


We Should All Be Learners

LearnersKnowledge work is learning work.” That was the message delivered by Dianna Larson’s keynote presentation at the Agile on The Beach conference held in Falmouth, England earlier this Summer. Dianna explained that anyone involved in today’s collaborative, problem-solving projects such as new product development need to be learners. We all need to learn how to learn new topics effectively and get used to lifelong learning to stay useful and relevant.

Technology evolution and disruptive business changes are happening at such a high rate now that we can no longer rely on the theories and techniques we gained at university to see us through our professional careers. Instead, we must learn on the job and in our own time to stay current. How much we learn and how quickly we can learn new skills become our competitive advantage.

“Learning is not compulsory… neither is survival.” – W. Edwards Deming

By learning new skills, we increase our adaptability and usefulness in the marketplace. It creates resiliency to becoming obsolete and provides more career options. Like many things, this is not a zero-sum game; it is not just about us learning things faster than other people to stay employed. If we can increase our team’s ability to learn also, it will be more successful and so will our organization.

For on-job learning to occur, we need three attributes:

  1. Courage
  2. Compassion
  3. Confidence

To be effective leaders and help promote learning in our teams and organizations, we must embrace and model these desired behaviors:

1. Courage: It takes courage to be okay with not knowing something. It takes courage to be wrong and fail as we try to gain and apply new skills. It requires a willingness to be curious and a willingness to tolerate the messiness of trial and error that comes from learning. So check your ego at the door, get over yourself and admit what you do not (yet) know.

2. Compassion: We need a safe space to learn. Also (and this is a surprise to some people), the transparency of showing what we do not know is motivating to others. When leaders learn out loud, it creates compassion toward them. So, create a secure place for people to learn on your projects. Provide psychological safety and encourage learning by doing it yourself in public.

Since we learn in the direction we ask questions, we should frame work as a series of learning problems, not execution problems. For example, instead of explaining the task of porting a system from .NET to Android, explain that our success is linked to our ability to learn Xamarin, our selected tool to port .Net to Android. Clearly explaining we want people to learn new skills is often the approval enabler they need to dedicate themselves to being more useful.

3. Confidence: We need confidence to try and we need to understand our confidence levels. When we learn anything new of significance, our confidence will likely move through the stages depicted in the Satir Change Curve. Think about when you learned to drive, play a musical instrument or learn a foreign language. First, our confidence is high at the prospect of gaining independence, becoming a rock star or traveling with ease. This is illustrated by the initial high score of confidence/comfort at point 1 on the graph below:

Satir

Then we start our learning and we quickly realize that driving, playing the guitar or learning Spanish is difficult and we are not as good at it as we are at all the familiar things we do every day. This is the confusion/loss period of the Satir Change Curve shown as point 2. Many adults who have not had to learn significant new skills for many years find this very uncomfortable.

Next, comes the “groan zone” of turmoil and despair, where some days go well and some days go bad and you seem to be moving backwards (point 3). Understanding that this is perfectly normal is a great relief for many learners. It is helpful to just point to the graph and explaining it is okay to feel bad because they are in the turmoil/despair phase of learning a new skill, and it will be followed by growth and confidence if they just stick with it.

Finally, with perseverance and practice, we acquire the new knowledge or skill and our confidence and comfort rises above our original level (point 4) along with our usefulness.

Summary
Learning and the need to learn are not identifiers of a junior employee anymore. They are the hallmarks of the professional knowledge worker. We need to move beyond the stigma of not knowing all the answers and embrace the learning path that comes with not knowing, making mistakes and asking for help.

When leaders model the learning mindset of curiosity and the courage to learn out loud, they pave the way for faster organizational learning and increased competitive advantage.

[I wrote this article first for ProjectManagement.com here]


PMBOK Guide – 6th Edition gets an Agile Appendix + All new Agile Practice Guide

PMBOK v6 CoverNext week the PMI launches the 6th edition of its Guide to the PMBOK. Changes for this edition include an Agile Appendix and Agile Introductions to each of the Knowledge Areas. I hope people find them useful. I co-wrote them with Jesse Fewell around this time last year and we have been waiting for the guide to make its way through the PMI standards publication process that includes translation into 11 languages.

I believe some agile approaches can be used on every project. These include more frequent: communications, validation of solution increments, and review and adaptation of process. However, not everyone shares my view and so the agile coverage in the PMBOK Guide – 6th Edition is focussed in the Appendix and Knowledge Area Introductions, leaving the bulk of the guide unchanged with its coverage of single-pass, iterative and incremental approaches to projects. Yes, the PMBOK Guide already talks about iterative and incremental approaches, if any critics would read it.

Anyway, for people looking for additional agile coverage, the PMI in partnership with the Agile Alliance is also publishing an Agile Practice Guide that is referenced by the new PMBOK Guide. This dedicated book for project practitioners who are implementing agile (quite often in traditional, plan-driven environments) aims to provide additional practical guidance. I was honored when the PMI and Agile Alliance asked me to Chair the author group for writing the new Agile Practice Guide. It’s not often you get an opportunity to lead a group of industry experts in creating a new guide that will be used by thousands of practitioners.

APG Cover

We had a great set of authors including: Jesse Fewel, Becky Hartman, Betsy Kaufman, Stephen Matola, Johanna Rothman, and Horia Slusanschi we also had a very helpful research and guidance team including: Karl Best, Alicia Burke, Edivandro Conforto, Dave Garrett, Roberta Storer, and Stephen Townsend.

From August to December last year we wrote the new Agile Practice Guide as a team. Meeting face-to-face a few times and pairing to write and review each chapter. Collaborative writing like this is slow and sometimes painful as we all have our own styles, pet peeves, and limited availability for volunteering time on unpaid efforts. When you multiply these foibles by the 7 authors and overlay everyone’s time availability to discover little or no common time slots, the challenges of writing anything become clear.

Another challenge was pleasing our sponsoring groups. The Agile Alliance understandably wanted to ensure we did not attempt to document some incremental-waterfall abomination that missed the agile mindset and values. Likewise, the PMI was keen to ensure we did not denigrate plan-driven approaches, contradict elements of their other standards, or define terms differently than the PMI Lexicon of Terms. We also had to align with the upcoming BA Standard and writing style standards. Luckily people could see the potential help such a guide would bring and the credibility of an Agile Alliance and PMI sponsored collaboration. If it was easy it would likely have been done already.

At the end of December 2016, we sent a draft out for Subject Matter Expert review. Around 60 people split equally from the agile community and the project management community reviewed our little book and sent in an unexpectedly high (over 3,000) number of comments. Some were high praise “At last a guide to bridge the divide, great job”, some were not so kind “This section is hippy BS”, most were genuine feedback like “In section 3 you said first consider doing x now in section 5 you are suggesting first doing y”.

We spent several weeks reviewing and applying the feedback comments and the guide improved tremendously as a result. With the handoff date for publication looming we did not have time to apply all the suggested comments so we prioritized them, met and worked through as many as we could up to the ship date, retaining the remainder for the next edition. The Agile Alliance Board of Directors and PMI Management Advisory Board (MAG) reviewed it and gave us the all-clear to release (after a few more tweaks). We had our Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Not everyone who reviewed the final draft was happy. Some “agile enthusiasts” thought we went too far discussing the application of hybrid approaches. Some “traditional enthusiasts” thought we undermined plan-driven approaches too much. I saw this as validation of us hitting our target market of practitioners just trying to be successful with agile teams in sometimes less-than-agile-friendly traditional environments. Our task was an analog of theirs. When we managed to annoy both ends of the project execution spectrum to about equal degrees we had arrived right where we needed to be!

I am used to having my work criticized. I stopped trying to please everyone years ago and now write my true convictions and they seem to resonate with a few people which is great. I felt bad for the other writers though, especially those that had not published many articles before. Representing the Agile Alliance or PMI and being part of a contentious guide is a daunting task. Publishing something for general use takes courage and exposes your thoughts and work. So, you want your first publication to be accepted not criticized. We had a challenging timeline and set of constraints and am very proud of what everyone produced. It is v1 of the guide and we are looking for volunteers to implement many of the other great suggestions we did not get time to implement and to further the guide with their own suggestions.

The PMBOK Guide - 6th Edition will be available as a free download for PMI members and to purchase in paper form. The new Agile Practice Guide will be available as a free download for Agile Alliance members and PMI members and also to purchase in paper form. Both are available on September 6th.


Agile 2017

17-2480-Agile_Orlando2017_Speaking_300x250_FM (1)I will be speaking at two presentations at the Agile 2017 Conference next week in Orlando. I am looking forward to catching up with old colleagues and meeting new practitioners, it looks set to be a great event.

My first presentation is called “Bridging Mindsets: Creating the PMI Agile Practice Guide” and is an experience report that tells the story of creating the Agile Practice Guide. This is a new book, sponsored by the Agile Alliance and the Project Management Institute that will be published September 6th. I was Chairman of the writers group and along with Vice-Chair Johanna Rothman we will explain the inputs and constraints to the guide along with our iterative, pair-writing process.

Agile Practice Guide Inputs

My second presentation is called “Integral but Insufficient: Why the Future Needs More than Agile to be Successful”. This one is a little more controversial, claiming large complex projects are rarely successful using agile alone. It is based on my 23-year experience of working on successful and not so successful agile projects, particularly one team that won a PMI “Project Of The Year” award.

It introduces some core observations such as good answers are rarely simple, and processes carry weight while knowledge is weightless:

Agile Conference Slides

Along with suggestions for a more cohesive, comprehensive model that will be the focus of my next book. I am looking forward to sharing these ideas with people and hearing their reactions. I hope to see you there.


Agile Consulting

Agile ConsultingApril’s theme at ProjectManagement.com where I write a monthly column was “Consulting” and in this article, I examine the world of Agile Consulting and coaching. I distinguish consulting as providing advice, solutions and information; whereas coaching is more asking (hopefully insightful) questions and leading clients to find their own answers and grow in capability.

Depending on where people are in their careers, their agile adoption and their corporate culture, some people want a consultant, others a coach and sometimes they want a blend. The goal is to add more value than you cost and help organizations be successful by avoiding common pitfalls and accelerating their success.

Getting Started
Personally, I was hesitant to get into agile consulting and coaching. Despite being involved in the creation of DSDM in 1994, the more I read and practised, the more I discovered every organization and every project is very different. It felt like I had much more to learn before declaring myself an expert for hire. As your knowledge increases, so too does your exposure to all the things currently just beyond your proficiency that you do not know yet and should learn next.

What you dont know gets bigger

So, the more I learned, the more I discovered there was so much more to learn! However, there comes a point when you realize that you already know enough to be helping people that are less experienced—and that helps overcome your inertia.

The Work: Helping your Clients
Agile consulting involves instilling and applying a few lean thinking concepts such as:

  • Prioritizing for value
  • Limiting WIP
  • Visualizing the work
  • Minimizing waste
  • Optimizing for throughput and flow, not resource utilization

Each are very simple concepts that only take 5 to 10 minutes to explain. The challenge comes in making them work in large, complex environments that have competing demands. That’s where the bigger set of skills around change management and emotional intelligence that take a lifetime to learn come into play.

Every industry has plenty of people who understand how things should be done in the ideal world. Consultants add value by finding ways to get there, step by step, unpicking knots in process, dismantling barriers to change. They often act as an independent third party to validate a change that groups know they want to make anyway, sometimes playing the role of devil’s advocate, questioning processes that internal staff should/could not ask; sometimes acting as the scapegoat when someone must explain why/who thought this experiment would be a good idea.

Consultants help clients by working with them to bring meaningful improvements. It usually involves working with people who are busy trying to get their jobs done using some process they were told to use rather than had a hand in designing. Growth involves changing how people work and interact. This can be slow going or painful, and usually both. It is almost always people focused, and why the skills of empathy and influence are critical.

Sharpening the Saw: Building Your Skills and Knowledge
In addition to organizational change management, consultants need ready access to credible research that supports their ideas—along with frameworks, training materials and exercises to perform that reinforces this work with a variety of stakeholders.

In the agile consulting domain, many consultants use lean terminology when discussing concepts with executives, terms friendly to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) like progressive elaboration and rolling-wave planning when working with PMOs, and XP and Scrum terminology when working with team members. This is not being duplicitous or manipulative, it is just understanding your stakeholders and using appropriate ideas and terms to explain the same things.

It does mean though that consultants should be familiar with as many layers of agile integration as possible. You could well be answering a CFO’s questions about EBITDA and capitalizing prototype work in one conversation, mapping story points completed to earned value in another with the PMO, and talking to developers about NUnit test code coverage in another. There is always lots to learn, and it keeps on evolving.

Then you change industries and start from square one, learning about a new business domain. As such, consulting is very rewarding for life-long learners. People are always developing innovative ways of describing agile techniques, and we can share the best with our clients. Industries, technologies and approaches are constantly changing, too.

Learning and keeping up to date with these skills takes time and introduces a dilemma: How much time do you send productively working, and how much do you spend actively learning? How to best balance production with building capability? Some people use gaps between engagements to gather and hone new skills; others schedule some of their own time each month for learning and professional development.

Personally, I am lucky to have no interest in Facebook or other social media sites that can consume a lot of time, but a passion in learning about leadership, teams, agility and innovation. I find reading books on these topics interesting and volunteer my spare time on standards and collaboration efforts—all of which I learn from. Others take training courses, and today we have access to great information online such as courses and blogs. There are lots of options; the important thing is to find a way of staying current and bringing valuable information, ideas and resources to your clients.

The End Game
What comes next after being a successful consultant? Does there have to be a “next thing”? Many people consult until they retire and, if you enjoy it, are adding value to your clients (and they appreciate it). What more can you ask for?

Others build consulting practices, hiring associates, admin and sales people. They may continue to consult themselves part-time, or move into account management and consultant management. This is fine, too; just understand the skills and motivation to succeed at building and managing a consulting practice will be different than those you first employed. Instead of fixing issues in large organizations, you will now be responsible for developing an organization, hopefully without its own inherent issues (similar idea but subtly different).

Then, of course, you could join one of the companies you consult with or start a new business entirely. One of the great aspects of consulting is that it exposes you to a wide variety of people and business models. Some might resonate or illustrate the need for something new that you get excited about.

Final Thoughts
Like most things in life, consulting is what you make of it. Approach it with humility, hunger and “people smarts,” and you can create a rewarding career. Approach it as a ticket to making money by replicating a formula, and you will likely be in for a rude awakening.

The concepts you aim to instill will likely be deceptively simple, and you might feel uneasy about making that first leap. However, do not underestimate the work required to change how people think and behave. Focus your effort here; after all, the concepts around healthy eating and exercise are also very simple. Just eat fewer calories than you use, move and exercise more…but we seem to need help with that more than ever.

Agile consultants and agile coaches seem an oxymoron—agile is simple, you should not need a coach to be agile. However, healthy eating coaches exist. Exercise coaches exist, not just at an elite level, but also at a domestic level. To some degree, this is where the real challenges are—making changes with modest budgets, pre-existing conditions, in unsupportive environments. It is not easy, but it does provide a great buzz from solving problems and helping people.

[I first wrote this article for ProjectMenagement.com here]


They are “Lessons to be Learned”, not “Lessons Learned”

The suggestions, observations and ideas we capture at retrospectives are not Lessons Learned. That would imply we have already learned from them and will not make that mistake again. Instead, they are Lessons-to-be-Learned which is subtly different but stresses the most important part, which is we now need to learn something.

Learning involves several steps. David Kolb, an educational theorist, describes a 4-step learning process:

  1. Concrete Experiences (What we already know)
  2. Observation and Reflection (What our retrospectives help us identify)
  3. Abstract Conceptualization (Thinking about the problems and designing potential solutions)
  4. Active Experimentation (Trying something new)

These stages act as part of an experimental learning cycle. The last step, Active Experimentation, creates new concrete experiences and builds on what we already know. Experimental Learning Cycle

It is easy to confuse the retrospective actions of Observation and Reflection (Stage 2) as gathering lessons learned. However, this is not the case, instead it is just one step in the process. We then need to determine a solution (Stage 3) and run experiments to learn from them (Stage 4). Only then might we actually learn something.

To remind us that simply gathering ideas and suggestions for improvements is not the same as learning, I suggest we stop using the term “Lessons Learned” and instead useLessons to be learned”.