Friday, December 26, 2014

Poor Communications Skills

Why Projects Really Fail (continued)
Poor communications skills is an absolute killer. If the project manager does not have good communication skills the project will probably turn into a disaster. Wise project managers work on their communication skills and get themselves sent on courses if they need help. 

Failure to do so is just poor project management. By now you should have started to see where this is going.

The Project
Meantime I am cracking on with the course development for Classle and getting the hang of Audacity (a really useful free audio tool). I managed to get module two completed on Christmas eve and hopefully module three next week.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fuzzy Objectives

Why Projects Really Fail
To continue the story: most of the projects I have run over the years have started out with fairly fuzzy objectives, as at the start of the project it is only an idea for a business change or improvement. During the early stages of a project the key aim is to refine these objectives by talking to all the stakeholders and gradually developing them into a detailed set of business requirements, which can be agreed and signed off by all parties. 

Wise project managers get this thrashed out and nailed down before any serious work on the project begins. Failure to do this is just poor project management and the fuzzy objectives leading to misunderstandings and the development of the wrong things are just a symptom of this.

The Project
I have now signed a memorandum of understanding with Classle and produced the first course module. I'm aiming to have the whole course ready by the end of February for release in March and I'm really enjoying it (although January is likely to be a bit hectic as I'm also working with my son David on an update to Agile Project Management in easy steps, which is due by the end of January). Ah well a bit of pressure always makes things exciting!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Unrealistic Estimates

Why Projects Really Fail
To continue the story: when I originally carried out my research into failed projects, the number one reason given (on around 80% of failed projects) was unrealistic estimates. But why would so many estimates  be wrong? 

Well arguably all estimates are wrong as they are just that, estimates, but somehow that seems to get forgotten in the heat of the project. Typically people forecast work and costs based on past experience but they forget two important things: 1) at the start of a project there are a lot of unknowns that will only be discovered later on in the project; and 2) things will go wrong during the course of the project. Failure to allow for these two factors will hamstring the project estimates and of course the schedules that are based on them from the outset. 

Wise project managers load their early estimates with lots of contingency (although we cunningly disguise it) to cover for this. They then re-estimate the remaining work on the project at regular intervals and gradually reduce the level of contingency as it is used up. Failure to do this is just poor project management and the unrealistic estimates are merely a symptom of this.

The last time I was responsible for managing a team of project managers I used to take their first time and cost estimates for a project, write my estimate on it and seal it in an envelope and give it to the financial director to put in their safe until the project was completed. We would then open the envelope and see who was closest to the actual time and cost. I’m unhappy to say it was always me but that wasn’t down to my estimating skill, I simply doubled their estimates.

More on this subject next week, meanwhile...

The Project
I mentioned last week that I had received an approach from an on-line training company called Classel and things are progressing in that direction. So it looks like I have found myself another project.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Reasons for Project Failure

Let’s start with why we traditionally think projects go wrong. In 2009 I first published my top nine reasons for project failure in “Project Management in easy steps”. These were based on my own experience and other published research, they were:

Unrealistic estimates
Fuzzy objectives
Poor communications skills
Changing objectives (scope creep)
Lack of top management support
Poor leadership
Lack of stakeholder ownership
Poorly defined responsibilities
Lack of resources

Recent studies might suggest the addition of inadequate risk management to the list.
Clearly a case can be made for most of these problems leading to an increased risk of project failure. But I find myself wondering if we are just looking at symptoms of problems rather than causes. Are there any problems on that list that an effective project manager cannot deal with? And if these are not the causes of failure, then what is?

More next week...

Meantime I had an interesting contact this week from Shivram at Classle regarding putting a project management course on-line, sounds interesting, so I am pursuing it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Why Projects Really Fail

I decided I would submit a paper for the PMI Netherlands Summit and I've also sent them the outline of the proposed talk, titled: Why Projects Really Fail (and what we need to do about it). I've decided that if they don't want to include it I will publish it as an article anyhow. If they do decide to include it I will wait until after the event to publish it.

In the meantime I will introduce the topic on this blog and see what sort of feedback I get. So here are my starting thoughts:

Why Projects Really Fail (and what we need to do about it)
I believe that everyone in the project management community agrees that far too many projects go wrong. There have been many surveys into the reasons for project failure over the years and their findings are usually consistent so it would seem that we also think we know why projects fail and have done for some time. But despite this projects still keep going wrong, so why do we keep on making the same mistakes? 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Bonfire Night

Topsham Rugby Club have one of, if not the finest bonfire nights and firework displays in the South West of England and this year I volunteered to help. It was all fairly hectic on the night and we held a wash up meeting on Wednesday to review it. Just like a post project review and there were a lot of interesting learnings from it but I want to pick just one:

In previous years I understand it was run on a fairly dictatorial manner with one person pulling all the strings. This year we just trusted the team to get on with things and lo and behold it worked! So the way is once again vindicated!

I'm really looking forward to next year as I'll be able to get more actively involved in the planning. All the best for now.

Friday, October 17, 2014

PMI Netherlands Summit

I was pleased once again to be invited to join the PMI Netherlands Summit blog team for 2015. In the immortal words of the song: "This could be the last time."

This year's PMI Netherlands Summit 2014 was again a success for the PMI Netherlands Chapter and CKC Seminars and, based on this, they are already preparing for the next edition on:

Thursday, June 11th 2015 
Conference Center Spant! in Bussum, The Netherlands

The central theme of the 2015 edition is: The secret of Project Management; next practices demystified (and I am all for demystifying project management).

Conference Themes 
The 2015 Summit will be looking ahead to Project Management circa 2025. What is the secret of successful project management, what are those next practices we need to adopt? During the Summit they will demystify next practices from a scientific and real-life perspective on the basis of: excellent organizations; excellent (virtual) teams; excellent project managers; and next practices deployed.

Call for Papers
The program committee are inviting practitioners to become a part of this leading conference on Project Management by submitting an innovative best practice or workshop in line with the above themes. Duration of each session to be 40 minutes (including questions). 

If you would like to submit a suggestion, take a look at the conditions on their web site and submit your paper before October 30th 2014. The program board will review the papers and submitter’s will receive a notification of acceptance no later than November 6th 2014. 

If you do not plan to submit a paper, but are interested in attending the conference, there is an early bird discount of €50 available and PMI members also qualify for a special discount (see the registration form).

In either event visit for full details and I hope to see you at the conference. I may even submit a paper myself.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Ending and Beginning

Last week’s blog (81) was a reflection on the last chapter of the Tao so we have come to the end of the cycle, but out of the ending comes a new beginning.  Life, learning and project management are very much like the four seasons:  

We are born and try things out to see what happens and through this we begin to understand how things work.  

We continue to develop, ripen and blossom into maturity.  

We grow older, wiser and start to reflect on our experiences.  

We have fulfilled our purpose so we wither and die.  But out of death comes rebirth and the cycle is repeated.  

The Way  
Lao Tzu encouraged his followers to observe and seek to understand the laws of nature. Over the years I tried to pass that wisdom on through the project management courses I developed and ran, but without much success.  I now understand that the Way cannot be taught in the same way as project management methodology, it can only be observed and understood by someone who is willing to open their mind.  Hopefully, reading this blog has helped you to open your mind, observe and perhaps understand a little more.  For me winter is approaching, now it is your turn to pass on that wisdom to others.  The Way is in front of you, be confident:  

The Way is not complex:  
Follow the simplest path for it is The Way.  

Be open with your team,  
And they will be open with you.  
Be one with the universe,  
And the universe will be one with you.  

The wise project manager is humble,  
He knows the team does the work.  
He respects and acknowledges the team, 
And they in turn respect and acknowledge him.  

The poor project manager seeks fame,  
The wise project manager seeks inner peace.  
With fame come problems,  
With inner peace comes understanding.  

The poor project manager worries about what to do next,  
The wise project manager relishes not doing.  
When nothing needs to be done,  
Do nothing, for this is the way of the project manager.  

One or two of you have been kind enough to say you hope I will continue this blog.  I will not repeat the cycle but I will put out the occasional post for as long as I am able.

Friday, September 26, 2014

81: The Reward

Chapter 81 is the final chapter in the Tao and likewise this blog.  

The Project
Having just completed Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps, I particularly enjoyed saying thank you to the friends and colleagues who helped me along with the publisher, who as ever added some nice touches with their illustrations on the chapter heading pages.  Despite some problems along the way, the project was successful and the whole team can take the credit for that as they did it.  The next project is to plan and execute an update to Agile Project Management in easy steps with David Morris (who will be taking it over after this update).

The Way  
Poor project managers try to claim they have a string of successful projects to their credit (whether they really were successful or not).  Wise project managers don’t try to claim anything, instead they help others to find success.  In sharing success with others they are successful in line with the single principle, which teaches us that true benefit blesses everyone and diminishes no one. 

Truthful words are not beautiful.  
Beautiful words are not truthful.  

Good men do not discriminate.  
Those who discriminate are not virtuous.  
Those who know are not learned.  
The learned do not understand.  

The sage does not store things up.  
When he helps others, he lives better.  
The more he gives to others, the greater his power.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

80: A Simple Life

Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is one of my favourite acronyms.  As project managers, if we want to be free we must act and live simply.  

The poor project manager tries every new tool that appears and reads every new project management book that comes out, hoping it will give him the edge.  The world is always full of new and exciting things, so what?  

The Way  
The wise project manager is happy to use whatever he has and is content with wherever he is. There is no point in trying to solve a problem by moving somewhere else, changing employers or friends.  He knows the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.  The good project manager keeps everything simple and makes space for spending time with the team.  

A small country has fewer people.  
Though they have skilled men,  
They are not needed.  
The people take death seriously,  
And do not move far away.  

Though there are boats and carriages,  
There is nowhere they want to go to.  
Though they have armour and weapons, 
They have no need to one display them.  

People return to knotting of rope,  
And using it.
Savour their food, admire their clothes,  
Their homes are tranquil,  
Their ways pleasurable.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

79: Delivering

The Project
I finally received my author’s copies of Project Program and Portfolio Management and I must say it looks good.  The publishers have added some nice images on the chapter header pages and made very few changes to my text.  However, the delivery service by Hermes was awful, they promised it early last week and it only arrived (via another courier) yesterday and the packaging was damaged.

Looking back at the notes from my last major project I see that I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to deliver everything I would have liked.  But on the positive side, the project team were good and they felt, rightly, that they had done a good job with what we were able to achieve, so maybe it was a success after all.  While noting the things we hadn’t been able to achieve, I wrote it up their way, it was their project after all.  

The Way  
The wise project manager yields his position gracefully and returns to facilitating what is happening.  We are all one; there are no sides to take.  The wise project manager goes along with what is happening anyway.  

After a bitter quarrel is resolved,  
Grievance must remain.  
How can this be considered good?  

Therefore the sage keeps his half of the bargain,  
And yet does not exact his tally from the other.  
A man of virtue performs his part,  
But a man without virtue exacts his due.  

The Tao of heaven has no favourites,  
Constantly approving mankind.  

Friday, September 05, 2014

78: Opposites

The Project
Well Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps is now out in print and the publishers have sent me my author’s copies but I haven’t received them yet. I was going to crack a bottle of bubbly to, celebrate but it will have to wait until they arrive. I will just have to make do with a couple of pints at the Bridge Inn instead. I need it as I’ve wasted the whole day sorting out my email accounts, which both seemed to go mad at the same time. Losing all the header information, delivering the text as raw HTML or just refusing to send or receive. It would be nice to have an IT support group rather than being it! One minute the world is rosy the next it’s all gloom, it’s all about opposites.

The Way  
The wise project manager is like water, soft and yielding, yet water can wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield (living in Topsham we witnessed it ripping apart the Goat Walk and two stretches sea defence walls).  As a general rule, whatever is soft and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.  

The wise project manager knows that yielding overcomes resistance and gentleness melts rigid defences.  He does not fight the force of the project team’s energy, but flows and yields and absorbs and let’s go.  This ability to be soft makes the wise project manager a good leader.  This is another paradox: what is soft is strong and what is hard is weak.  

Nothing in the world is as soft and weak as water.  
But to attack the hard and strong,  
Nothing can beat it.  

Weak conquers strong,  
Soft conquers hard.  
Everything in the world knows this,  
Yet none can put it into practice.  

Therefore the sage says:  
He who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people,  
Might be called ruler of the village.  
He who takes upon himself the country’s misfortunes,  
Might be called ruler of the world.  
True words represent their opposites.  

Friday, August 29, 2014

77: Letting Go

The Project
Still no news from the printers but Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps should be out any day now. It’s available to pre-order on Amazon and I just checked their web site and it says 31 August 2014 so it should be available on Monday! I always feel the tension building up at this stage so it will be nice to get the book in my hand and let all the tension go (once I’ve checked there are no errors :o)

Natural events are like the drawing of a bow.  First being drawn taunt, then the energy is released and redistributed.  To fill what is empty and to reduce what is overflowing.  But in our materialistic society those who have a lot want even more, which means that those who have little get less and less.  

The Way  
The wise project manager follows the natural order of events and does not take the consumer society as a model.  By serving the project team and being generous, the wise project manager knows abundance.  By being selfless, he helps others realize themselves. By being a disinterested facilitator, unconcerned with praise or reward, he becomes potent and successful.  

The wise project manager’s behavior works because it is based on this understanding.  His behavior may seem strange to those who do not understand.  He does what has to be done and moves on without looking for recognition.  

The Tao of heaven resembles the drawing of a bow.  
The top is lowered and the bottom is raised.  
Excess is diminished, deficiency is filled.  
The Tao of heaven diminishes surplus and fills up deficit.  

The way of man is not thus.  
He takes from those who do not have enough,  
To give to those who already have too much.  

Who having more than enough can offer it to the world?  
One who follows the Tao.  

Therefore the sage acts but makes no demands on others.  
Work done he moves on.  
He has no wish to appear virtuous.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

76: Flexible or Rigid

The Project
Last few queries from the printers dealt with so Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps should even now be rolling off the presses. The end of a project is always a little fraught and I just realized they didn’t send me a final proof to check but the only thing they should have changed is adding a few graphics to liven up the bland pages. Once I get a printed copy in my hand I can close the project.

Looking back at the handover notes from one of my old projects (strictly speaking a program), I was struck by the difference between the flexible approach we had adopted over the preceding two years and the rigid approach that the new team was going to take.  This was based on their use of a set way of doing everything on a project.  

The Way  
A poor project manager will often takes a rigid approach and is set in his ways of doing things. He will repeat what he has done before, as he ‘knows it works’.  But that will make his project management structured and repetitious and he will be unable to cope with those more ‘interesting’ moments and team processes that seem to happen on real projects.  

The wise project manager, on the other hand, knows that what is flexible and flowing will tend to grow and develop.  So he allows the team to go with the flow and things develop naturally.  

A man when living is flexible and weak,  
At death he is firm and strong.  

All creatures, plants and trees when living are flexible and fragile.  
When dead they are withered and dry.  

Therefore the firm and the strong are companions of death.  
The flexible and weak are companions of life.  

Therefore if an army is not flexible,
Then it cannot conquer.  

Strong trees are used to make weapons.  
The great and strong will fall.  
The flexible and weak will achieve.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

75: Without Motive

The Project
Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps is finally at the printers.  I had a last minute query about the lack of a comma and have added an explanation to the author’s notes so it should be available any day now.  They really are a great team at In Easy Steps.

Poor project managers try to take the credit when their teams do something good or achieve something notable.  This means the team begin to feel their work is not appreciated and won’t try so hard the next time.  Then poor project managers try to put pressure on their teams in an effort to get more work done but it just makes the team unresponsive.  

The Way  
The wise project manager is not greedy, selfish, defensive or demanding.  He has no hidden motive and knows that he can trust events to unfold naturally.  

The people are hungry,  
Because the rulers take too much tax.  
Therefore there is hunger.  

The people are difficult to govern,    
Because the rulers interfere too much.  
Therefore they are difficult to govern.  

People make light of death,  
Because their search for life is substantial.  
Therefore they take death lightly.  

He who lives without motive,  
Is talented at appreciating life.  

Saturday, August 09, 2014

74: Fear and Punishment

In most projects there will be issues with some of the team not being able to complete their allocated tasks on time.  The poor project manager tries to act as judge, jury and executioner instead of allowing nature to take its course.  He admonishes people when they don’t do something they should have.  But punishing people is not an effective way of controlling their behaviour.  The poor project manager will eventually find that punishing others will end up hurting himself.  

The Way  
The wise project manager knows that there are natural consequences for every act.  His role is to shed light on these natural consequences.  He helps people to understand what is going on rather than attacking their behaviour.  

If the people are not afraid to die,  
It is no use to threaten them with death.  
If people constantly fear death,  
And any breaking the law I can seize and kill,  
Who would dare?  

The official executioner kills.  
As to he who tries to take his place,  
This is like trying to be the master carpenter cutting wood.  
He who cuts in place of the master carpenter,  
Seldom escapes injury to his hand.  

Friday, August 01, 2014

73: Courage and Caution

Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps should be released any day now and it seems like an eternity since I put the final draft in. I haven’t yet decided what to write about next.

As ever there is a lot of conflict in the world today and we often hear the word courage applied to soldiers but that is an active form of courage that tends to get people killed.  The other form of courage is a passive or inner courage and that keeps people alive, but which of the two is better?  

As is often the case, there is no right answer to that question.  Each has its benefits and its drawbacks; neither takes precedence in the way of the project manager.  The way is about how things happen, but it does not guide us on what we should do.  

The Way  
The poor project manager, when uncertain of what to do, frequently asks for advice.  The wise project manager knows that he has freedom of choice and must therefore take individual responsibility.  By becoming more conscious of what is happening, he can see how things happen.  By seeing how things happen, he can make a decision about what to do.  The way teaches us that that what people do is their own responsibility, but the pattern of their behavior still follows natural law.  The wise project manager knows that no one else can make decisions for him, it is up to him.  

The brave in daring will be killed.  
The brave in not daring will survive.  
Of these two, one may benefit, the other may harm.  
Some things heaven dislikes, who knows why?  
Even the sage finds this difficult.  

The Tao of heaven:  
Does not contest, and yet it conquers,  
Does not speak, and yet it answers,  
Is not summoned, yet it arrives of its own choice.  
Centered yet with a good plan.  
Heaven’s net is very large,  
Very open yet nothing drops through.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

72: Being Humble

A project manager has to be able to speak openly about issues with the project team, even if it could risk causing offence to some team members.  It makes sense to balance this by understanding about their work and any other problems they may have and not put undue pressure on them.  There are always new things to discover and understand when working with people.  It is very humbling.  

The Way  
The wise project manager lives in harmony with spiritual values.  There is a way of knowing that is higher than reason.  There is a self, greater than egocentricity.  The wise project manager demonstrates the power of selflessness and the unity of all creation.  

When the people do not fear terror,  
There will be a great terror.  
Respect their dwelling places.  
Do not dislike their work.  
By not disliking, they will not dislike.  

Therefore the sage naturally understands,  
But is not self-promoting.  
Self-loving not self-promoting.  
Therefore he lets go of one,  
And chooses the other.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

71: Not Knowing

As Al Gore once tried to say: no one has all the answers and knowing that you don’t know everything is far wiser than thinking that you know a lot when maybe you don’t.  It’s a shame he got a little confused somewhere along the line.

As a project manager I might be able to do some things right and I might even be able to ask the right questions sometimes, but technically it’s the team that provides the answers.  
Poor project managers are afraid of looking foolish, so they often pretend to know about something when really they don’t.  

The Way  
The wise project manager has learned it is painful to fake knowledge.  Being wise and not wanting the pain, the wise project manager does not indulge in pretending.  He can happily say: I don’t know when he doesn’t know the answer.  

Know not knowing first.  
Not knowing is sickness.  
Being sick of sickness, 
Then one is not sick.  
The sage is not sick, 
Being sick of sickness.  
Therefore he is not sick.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

70: Simple Wisdom

There is nothing new in the way of the project manager.  It is simple and easy to understand as it goes back to basic principles.  Poor project managers do not understand this approach; perhaps it is too simple and basic to attract their attention.  They prefer something more radical and innovative, as that is what gets them noticed.  

The Way  
The wise project manager stays with the single principle of how everything happens and does nothing new or original.  But paradoxically the wise project manager appeals to very few followers, just to those who recognise that traditional wisdom is a treasure, which can often lay hidden beneath a very ordinary appearance.  The wise project manager keeps things simple and easy to understand and cherishes the way.  

My words are very easy to understand,  
Very easy to act on.  
Yet in the world no man understands,  
Or acts on them.  

My words have ancient beginnings.  
My deeds are noble.  
As men do not understand,  
Thus I am not understood.  

He that understands me is rare,  
In that way I am honoured.  
Thus the sage wears coarse clothing,  
And cherishes the jewel in his heart.  

Friday, July 04, 2014

69: Fight or Flight

If a member of the project team wants to pick a fight with you, consider the strategy of a great guerrilla leader, such as Fidel Castro or Che Guevara.  Never seek a fight and if one comes to you, yield and step back.  It is far better to step back than to overstep yourself.  Your strength is your awareness of what is happening.  Your weapon is the light of your consciousness.  

The Way  
The foolish project manager initiates the attack and is therefore off centre and easily thrown. The wise project manager has respect for any attacker.  He advances only when there is no resistance.  If you make a point, do not cling to it.  If you win, be gracious.  The wise project manager never surrenders their compassion nor uses their skill to harm anyone needlessly.  He knows that in the end, the more compassionate will win.  

I dare not advance an inch but prefer to withdraw ten.  
This is called acting without action,  
Seizing without weapons,  
Pushing without resistance,  
Managing without weapons.  

There is no greater disaster than underestimating the enemy.  
Underestimating the enemy, 
I will lose my treasures.  
Therefore when battle is joined,  
The more compassionate will win.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

68: Opportunities

The Project
In Easy Steps are currently proofing Project Program and Portfolio Management and they have asked for a few minor changes which I’ve completed so it shouldn’t be long now, but these things always take time.  Sourdough Bread Made Easy (absolutely nothing to do with project management for a change) has now been published by CreateSpace and is available from Amazon in hard copy and Kindle format.

“Fools rush in” as the old saying goes and that applies to poor project managers.  Good generals do not rush into battle, they prepare and offer the enemy the opportunity of making a self-defeating error.  Good project managers do not achieve success through constraints and limitations, they achieve success by providing opportunities.  

The Way  
Good leadership is about motivating people to achieve at the highest levels by offering them opportunities, not obligations.  That is how things happen naturally.  The wise project manager is patient and humble.  He knows that life is an opportunity and not an obligation.  

A good soldier is not violent.  
A good fighter is not angry.  
A good victor is not vengeful.  
A good manager is humble.  
This one might call not contesting.  
This one might call the ability to use others.  
This one might call the ultimate principle of the ancients.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

67: Three Qualities

The sun is shining and all seems right with the world. It’s amazing what the weather can do to one’s outlook.  Not only that, it’s Friday and The Bride Inn beckons.  Are they both part of the single principle?

The single principle of how everything happens is great, but the project managers who follow it know they are in fact quite ordinary.  Having a great ego does not make a project manager great it has quite the opposite effect.  A project manager who is filled with self-interest cannot be caring or courageous.  Project managers who act in a superior way, are not superior they are poor project managers.  

The Way  
The wise project manager knows that there are three qualities that are invaluable to the leader: compassion for all; a material simplicity or frugality; and a sense of humility.  A compassionate person acts in the belief of everyone’s right to life.  Material simplicity gives one an abundance to share.  A sense of humility is, paradoxically, one’s true greatness.  These qualities sustain life because we are all one.  When we care for the team members, we enhance the energy of the whole team.  

I have three treasures which I possess and guard.  
The first is compassion,  
The second is frugality;  
The third is humility.  

From compassion comes courage,  
From frugality comes generosity,  
And from humility comes leadership.  

Nowadays men forsake compassion and try to be courageous,  
Forsake economy and try to be generous,  
Forsake humility and try to be first.  
This is certain death.  

A compassionate man is able to contest,  
Then the strength to protect.  
Nature helps, compassion protects.  

Friday, June 13, 2014

66: Supportive Leadership

It's Friday and the sun is shining in the South West (and has been since I opened the swimming pool for the early morning Nutters Club at 05:30) so after work The Bridge Inn will be calling loud and clear.  Meantime I have work to do plus a visit to the dentist this morning and the physiotherapist this afternoon.  Must try to stay positive and think of The Bridge!

The Project
Still no news from the publishers on Project Program and Portfolio Management, so I assume (with my fingers crossed) that it is going well.  Meanwhile the next book Sourdough Bread Made Easy (makes a nice change from Project Management) is well on its way, I just need to take a few more pictures to illustrate some steps and variations.  But I digress as none of this has anything to do with leadership.  

What we call leadership consists mainly of knowing how to follow.  But poor project managers will try to promote their own agenda and drag or push the team in the direction they wish it to go in.  

The Way  
The wise project manager stays in the background and facilitates the work of the team.  The great things they do go largely unnoticed.  Because they do not push or manipulate the team, there is no resentment or resistance from the team.  Because they are open, any issue can be raised.  Because they have no position to defend and show no favouritism, no one feels threatened. 

Wishing to guide the people,  
You must speak to them humbly.  
Wishing to lead the people,  
You must follow behind.  

Thus when the sage rules,  
He is not a burden to the people;  
When he stands before them,  
He does not harm them.  

The whole world will support him,  
And will not weary of him.  
Because he does not compete,  
He does not meet competition.  

Friday, June 06, 2014

65: Trying to be Clever

Back home again after two interesting weeks in the Republic of (South) Korea for a Korean wedding and a tour of the country.  Had a great time and the Korean people are really nice. Only problem was I couldn't access my main email account and my (1G) mobile phone didn't work there!  But it made it nice and peaceful.

The Project
No problems or queries from my publishers yet on Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps, hopefully no news is good news. 

The Way  
Some project managers tend to see the world in terms of theories and often have a very intricate view of what is happening.  Simplicity and clarity are difficult for them and they are consequently very hard to work with.  They try to be clever, but this only ends up confusing the team members.  

The wise project manager does practices a way of life based on consciousness and wisdom.  By returning to an awareness of what is happening, they clarify things and enlighten the team.  Keeping things simple will save them a lot of trouble.  

Of old the ancient masters,  
Did not enlighten the common people,  
But kept them ignorant.  
People become difficult to govern, 
If they become too clever.  

Using too much cleverness to govern,  
Will ruin the country.  
Not using cleverness to govern,  
Will bring happiness to the country.  
He who understands these two rules,  
Understands the principle.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

64: Beginning, Middle and End

The Project
I currently find myself at the beginning of one project (Topsham Walking Tour Guides), the middle of another (Sourdough Bread Made Easy) and (hopefully) the end of a third project (Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps), which is currently being proof read by the publishers. 

Projects and project teams have different needs and require different skills from the project manager in the early, middle and later stages of a project.  In the early stages team building skills are usually required; the middle stages require problems and conflicts to be recognised and addressed; and the later stages usually require some team motivation.  

Poor project managers jump right in and push too much in the early stages, instead of letting things flow naturally.  The wise project manager lets things take their natural course.  Once the project is underway, they can step back as much as possible, recognising that needless intervention will only confuse the team.  Towards the end poor project managers can again spoil the work by getting too eager and pushy.  

The Way  
The wise project manager does not try to do too much and does not worry about getting the credit for having done something.  Because he has no expectations, no outcome can be called a failure.  

Peace is easy to maintain.  
It is easy to plan things before they start.  

That which is brittle is easily broken,  
That which is small is easily scattered.  
Act before it happens.  
Put things in order before they are confused.  

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  
He who acts with motive will suffer defeat.  
He who seizes will lose.  
Thus the sage acts without motive,  
And so does not fail.  

Friday, May 09, 2014

63: Handling Difficulties

All projects run into difficulties from time to time and poor project managers may well be responsible for some of these difficulties themselves.  Some project managers actually seem to encourage difficulties by their actions.  Even worse, some project managers try to ignore difficult situations, but this can result in the need for hectic activities from the team to sort out the problem when they finally face up to it.  

The Way  
The wise project manager knows how to act effectively and stays aware and remaining unbiased.  By being aware he will know what is happening; and will not act rashly.  By being unbiased, he can act in a balanced and centred manner.  When difficulties do occur, he breaks things down into their constituent parts and deals with each in turn.  

Act without motive.  
Work without working.  
Taste the tasteless.  
Make big the small, make many the few.  

Repay resentment with virtue.  
Plan the difficult as if it is easy.  
In the world difficult things must be treated as easy.  
In the world big things must be treated as small.  

Thus the sage never does the big,  
And can therefore accomplish the big.  
Easy promise is rarely reliable.  
Taking things carelessly ensures great difficulty.  

Thus the sage considers things as difficult,  
Therefore never has difficulty.  

Friday, May 02, 2014

62: Gift of Wisdom

The Project
I was getting anxious that I hadn’t heard anything back from my publishers since I uploaded the final version of Project Program and Portfolio Management. But when I called them they hadn’t even had a chance to look at it yet, so they’ve missed the April publication date but no worries they should have it out in May.

Some project managers tend to abandon anyone who doesn’t seem to understand how they do things on their project.  This shows that they themselves don’t understand how things happen.  Everyone has the ability to work things out for themselves.  Conflicts will resolve themselves sooner or later.  Even without the light of consciousness, people will grow and improve.  

The Way  
The wise project manager knows that sharing the way with others is the greatest gift he can give. He is aware of how things happen and this makes his words more potent and his behaviour more effective.  Knowing how things work gives the project manager more real power and ability than any number of degrees or titles.  This is why people in every culture and time have honoured those who know how things happen and the wise project manager understands this.  

Tao is the source of the ten thousand things.  
It is the treasure of the good man,  
And the protection of the bad.  

Fine words can abound,  
Good deeds can gain benefit.  
People exist who are not good,  
Do not abandon them.  

Therefore on the day the emperor is crowned,  
And the three officers of state installed,  
Do not salute them with jade and a team of four horses,  
But remain still and offer the Tao.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

61: Conquest through Submission

Some project managers always have to get their own way.  They force the team to accept this by overpowering the other team members.  But by forcing the team members into submission they are losing the potential creativity of the team.  

The Way  
A poor project manager may think he is superior to the team.  Even a great project manager should not believe that he is better than the rest of the team.  A good project manager is prepared to be the servant of the team and give way to the wishes of the team.  This way the team will become great and so too will the project manager.  The wise project manager understands this.  

A great country is like a low river.  
A meeting place in the world,  
The mother of the universe.  
The female overcomes the male with stillness,  
Lying low in stillness.  

Thus if a great country gives way to a smaller country,  
It will conquer the smaller country.  
And if a small country submits to a great country,  
It can conquer the great country.  

Thus a country conquers through submission,  
A country conquers because it submits.  
The great country wishes to unite with and nourish the small.  
The small country only wishes to enter and serve the great.  
Each gets what it wants.  
It is fitting for a great nation to yield.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

60: Stirring Things Up

At long last we are getting some sunshine and spring is definitely here. The Topsham outdoor swimming pool opens tomorrow and I’ve got my first early morning stint at 05:30 Easter Monday morning! I have vivid memories last year of struggling to get the pool cover off in the dark and in the pouring rain. I wonder what this year will bring.

The Project
Silence from the publishers, which could be good or bad. I try not to pester them at these times as they will get back to me soon enough if they find any problems. The last thing I want to do is stir things up as my book is but one of many projects they have on the go.

A project manager needs to run his project delicately and allow the group process to emerge naturally.  A poor project manager will stir things up and release strong feelings and unwarranted pressure, which can result in the wrong things being done.  

The Way  
The wise project manager does not push, he allows things to emerge when they are ready and the time is right.  When hidden issues and emotions emerge naturally, they also resolve themselves naturally.  They are not harmful.  In fact, they are no different from any other thoughts or feelings.  

All energies arise naturally, take form, grow strong, come to a new resolution and finally pass away.  This is the cycle of life, processes, projects and everything else and the wise project manager understands this.  

Ruling the country as if cooking a small fish.  
Using the Tao in the world,  
And evil will have no power.  
Not that evil is not powerful,  
But its power will not harm men.  
Not only will it not harm men,  
But the sage himself will not harm men.  
As neither hurts the other,  
So virtue merges and refreshes both.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

59: Restraint

The Project
So at long last my final content for “Project Program and Portfolio Management in easy steps” has been uploaded to the publishers.  Now the waiting begins!  Will they like it?  Will they find any errors or typos?  There is always a strange sort of empty feeling when I finish a book or any other project, but in my case I have one or two more things in the pipeline, so watch this space.

As project managers, we need to be aware of what is happening and how things happen on our projects, so that we can act accordingly.  Poor project managers tend to bludgeon their way through a project, organizing everything and running everything.  They try and stamp their authority on the project and the project team.  But the project manager is no different from anything or anyone else, which means that he is ordinary.  Only by knowing and understanding this can he become a wise project manager.  

The Way  
The wise project manager uses restraint in his approach to everything.  He does not try and force his ideas onto the team.  He encourages the team to evolve their ideas and he nurtures these.  This way he can help to steer the project away from trouble and be effective.  

In governing men and serving heaven,  
Nothing equals restraint.  
Restraint begins with giving up one’s own ideas.  
Giving up one’s own ideas depends on preparedness.  
When you are prepared then nothing is impossible.  
If nothing is impossible, then there are no limits.  

Friday, April 04, 2014

PMI Netherlands Summit 2014

3rd edition PMI Netherlands Summit
Once again I find myself on the bloggers team for those good PMI folks in the Netherlands and following on from their very successful events in 2012 and 2013, the PMI Netherlands Chapter & CKC Seminars are organizing the 3rd edition of PMI Netherlands Summit on: 

Thursday, June 12th 2014 
The PMI Netherlands Summit is a unique event for Project, Program and Portfolio professionals to inspire and to be inspired. The central theme of this event is “The thin line between project success & failure”, something very close to my heart.  The full program is now available at:

The program provides a full range of topics addressing the central theme, presented by national and international thought leaders and experts. I picked out the following sessions that particularly appealed to me:

Making the Impossible Possible: Is there sanity and success in the midst of chaos?
The presentation will look at a current large successful project in an environment of many objectives to achieve with stringent deadlines to get to market. Amy Andrade will explore the elements inherent with this project which allowed it to be successful – though by best practice standards it was impossible.

Project governance Project Sponsor: Cross the Line Challenge
The project sponsor is an extremely important success factor for projects, in order to obtain better results, to improve teamwork and to ensure that the energy put into the project is effectively deployed and that the project remains focused to realise the benefits for the organisation. In this lecture, Bart Hoitink challenges you to cross the line towards excellent project sponsorship.   

How to recover a derailing project
Derailment is a subtle or sneaky process. Its symptoms are rarely visible in the standard project reports. Its causes are a combination of rational and irrational behavior. It is the irrational side of derailment which escapes the attention of project management standards. Learn how to recognize early and late symptoms of project derailment and how to deal with the dilemmas involved in setting up a recovery from Peter Storm.  

Control in a changing world
Studies show that in industry, more than half of all projects do not deliver on the promises they set out to achieve. Failure of such a project can sink a company. So what happens? Dick Wynberg will discuss the role of project managers in a complex project. Do they really manage HSSE, cost, schedule, quality, or are these merely the outcome of a failure to manage risk? 

What every waterfall PMP needs to know about agile but was afraid to ask
In this workshop it will be explained that Agile Project Management differs from conventional waterfall and that it should be regarded as a different PM method. The concept of the Agile PM life cycle is introduced and the consequences of it will be discussed. Finally Frank Hendriks introduces PMI’s PMI-ACP certification as a way to manifest oneself a competent Agile Project manager.

Taming Tigers
Finally Jim Lawless (author of Taming Tigers) will give a unique presentation based on his experience of carrying out an “impossible” change twice to prove that his principles work. Taming Tigers is Jim’s metaphor and he will present his Ten Rules as practical tools to overcome any barrier. As a bonus delegates will receive a free copy of his book during the Conference.

Do check out the full program and if you go enjoy the event. Unfortunately I am not able to attend this year’s event due to other commitments but I’m sure it will be great.

Friday, March 28, 2014

58: Facilitation

The Project
Had some more excellent feedback from Graham and David for the book. A few typos and a lot of helpful suggestions. Final proof reading over the weekend and submit it to the publishers on Monday. All being well it should be published by the end of April. It is great to have friends and former colleagues that you can rely on for help, support and facilitation.

Poor project managers try to control their teams and the processes they use.  But by doing this they interfere with the natural process and end up by making it chaotic.  The team process should evolve naturally and be self-regulating.  If the project manager interferes or tries to control the process, it will usually fail.  

The Way  
The wise project manager learns to trust what is happening in the project team.  If there is silence, let it grow and something will emerge.  If there is a storm, let it rage and it will resolve itself into calm.  If the team is unhappy about something let it sort it out.  The wise project manager facilitates the unfolding team process.  He knows how to have a profound influence without making things happen.  

When the country is lightly governed,  
The people are genuine and honest.  
When the country is ruled with severity,  
The people will know deficiency. 
Therefore the sage is: 
Sharp but not cutting,  
Incorrupt but does not injure,  
Straightforward but not showy,  
Enlightened but not brilliant.