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formerly of Professional Project Services, LCC
I recently read The 2 Most Important Words in Business (forbes.com) and liked the idea that two words describing my philosophy will help shape my business and help others understand me. When it came to thinking of my words, I fell flat. My initial thought was “better” and “value.” While it is true that I want to provide better value to my clients (small local business, government and corporate clients, and students of project management or business analysis alike), it is not the definitive description of me. It was a personal struggle that made me take a second look. What I found is that the values I appreciate most in others are what drives me in my everyday interactions when these values are lacking.
Empathy is not just the ability to imagine yourself in the other’s situation, but also the ability to think ahead to possible situations. This means that before I provide you information, I am going to ask myself “how would I take this information?”, “knowing what I do about the person, how are they likely to receive it?” This does not mean that all information I pass on will be welcomed. It is important that I be able to share any observation or recommendation so that I can provide you benefit as your consultant or coach. Being empathetic means that I will think through options, provide additional information as to why, and support the other person in whatever action they must take.
“Say what you mean, and do as you say.”
The other day I was heads down in my computer when I glanced at the calendar on my phone and realized I was 10-minutes late to meet with a potential business connection. WOW! How I missed the reminders for that I will never know, but I did. I called her immediately, apologized, and told her I could be at our meeting spot in 10 minutes. She had already given up and left but thanked me profusely for the call. I felt horrible about missing our appointment time and still do. This is so rare for me. I have since added more reminders tools on my laptop and phone in hopes that it never happens again. I share this story to let you know that those rare times where I make an mistake I am quick to own up to it, apologize, and try to make things right.
I am always truthful and candid. Bad news makes for better decisions then sugarcoated news. Sugarcoating is for cereal! I deliver bad news empathically and truthfully. It may mean additional research into options to present, or simply lending an ear to the receiver to help work through the problem.
You can always count on me to keep my commitments. I will let you know as soon as possible if I find there is a chance I will not be able keep a deadline or appointment. The thought of wasting somebody’s time is comparable to wasting his money and is not acceptable. The best way to avoid wasting others’ time is to be early or on time. The second best way is to provide ample time to the other so they may adjust their plans.
PPS delivers information with empathy and integrity to those who seek to understand better ways to achieve their goals.
Yesterday was Oscar day. Not only for the Film Academy, but for project managers and business analysts around globe. PDU Of The Day (OTD) Tweeted their pics for PM Oscars throughout the day and I was one of many lucky recipients.
For more award or information on the latest PDU opportunities visit
List of awards:
WOW! 93 awards in 8 hours. That is a phenomenal amount of work. Thank you so much! Now I’m off to follow some new award winning tweeps!
Below is a copy of a rather lengthy comment I made in response to, Getting Started with Enterprise Analysis. Please check out that great article by Jonathon Nituch post on thebacoach.com.
What a great article on Enterprise Analysis that hits the nail on the head for why I have chosen the route I have for my independent consulting business. In addition to speaking and writing, I seek projects close to home that I can be involved in to help the community (and my ability to keep food on the table). I have focused my local marketing on small business instead of pursuing government or big business contacts. This angle will not be lucrative, but I will get more job satisfaction. I want to help small business find and implement solutions that will bring greater value to their business. Seeing even small changes with big benefits is what I call a great day at work.
In regards to pursing opportunities for Enterprise Analysis, I would add make your own. You need a good business case with compelling data and an advocate with influence over the right people. Look for opportunities to start small and build up to farther reaching success. Find a quick win in your work unit, promote the success as yours (don’t be shy), and then look for opportunities with more impact throughout the organization. Eventually executives will come asking for your help in finding solutions to specific areas of concern.
One skill that a great EA needs is the ability to market and sell a solution. It is often not enough to offer that a solution is correct. The decision makers need to feel passion to take the effort to carry out changes. Think about the advertising pitches you have seen in movies or on TV where a team works day and night coming up with creative ways to sell their advertising idea. They give a powerful presentation doing whatever it takes to land the sale (even singing poorly). We need this energy and dedication with our improvement solutions. Storyboard the “to be”, arrange a demo, anything to go beyond words and invoke emotion.
The story of John Stegner’s Glove Shrine in Switch (Heath and Heath) is an excellent example of this. “What they say was a large expensive table, normally clean or with a few papers, now stacked high with gloves. Each of our executives stared at this display for a minutes. Then each said something like ‘we really buy all these different kinds of gloves?’ …They looked at two gloves that seemed exactly alike, yet one was marked $3.22 and the other $10.55.”
Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: how to change things when change is hard. 1st. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2010.
This was my submission for the The PMCAMPUS 60 PDU Online Giveway contest. The tips here apply to the CBAP examination as well. I hope you will find some valuable tips that work for you as your pursue your chosen credential.
Congratulations on your decision to pursue your PMP. What an exhilarating adventure. Stressful, yet exhilarating. I will offer you some practical tips to help you pass this strenuous exam. Following the advice here will reduce your stress for the exam itself. I’m not going to focus in PMBOK’isms, models, or formulas, but rather stress the importance of the questions themselves.
You are likely to hear about the difficulty in understanding and answering the questions. I cannot stress enough how true this is. Using the strategies I describe here you will be in a better position to understand the questions and possible answers, and select the “right” answer.
Take many, many practice tests. The goal here is not to memorize potential questions and answers. Questions you find on a practice exam are not going to appear on the real test. Actual test questions are carefully guarded. Instead, you are going to focus in getting familiar with the question format and gain practice in analyzing the question and possible answers.
There is also benefit in getting a baseline on where you stand using the practice exams. Don’t put too much stake in the results you get. Many practice tests are actually harder than the real exam, and some are easier. What they will point out is in what areas you are weak. Use this information to prioritize your study.
Analyze the Question
Read each question multiple times. I recommend not looking at the possible answers yet. They may sway your understanding. Read the question as if they are trying to trick you (maybe they are) – don’t let them get away with it. Can the question be rearranged for a different interpretation? What information is extraneous to the core question? Consider these questions and use your best judgment to reframe the question in a way that makes sense to you. Review the question after you have reframed it to check that you haven’t read too much into it, or let wishful thinking lead you somewhere else.
Scrutinize the Possible Answers
You will find that three of the questions seem correct 50% of the time and two of the answers appear correct 75% of the time (my guess). You need a strategy to help weed out the wrong answers and find the right answer.
Questions will commonly be stated as “what is the next best step?” Here is the trick. Put the possible answers in activity sequence. Go back to read the question, and then check the sequence. What is the next best step? Now you are ready to answer the question. Use a similar strategy to organize possible answers by Knowledge Area and Process Group where needed.
Use Your Tools
There will be time when a scenario that ties into the next several questions. You won’t know this is the case until you move on. Often times in these cases the questions relate to a PMBOK tool. For example, one scenario may call for the need to draw a network diagram. The first question related to the scenario might be straightforward. You might be tempted to shortcut and just answer it. I recommend you do the full exercise and draw the network diagram. It may help point to a less obvious answer that is correct. It may also help you answer the next few questions. It will help you confirm the answer, much like checking an algebra equation.
Take many, many practice tests. It is worth stating again.
Additional Quick Tips
Please save this article to review the day of the exam. I hope you will email to let me know how the exam goes and more tips you would like to pass on to future test takers once the ordeal is over.
PMP “Marathon” Completed by David J. Kearney, PMP – describes time and costs pursuing certification.
Check out these Professional Project Services recommended PMP Prep books
There is a phenomenon at the poker table that helps to understand one aspect of breakdown in team communications. Often the action (or play) will get held up because someone does not check, bet, or raise. They simply sit there. Everyone at the table assumes this person is thinking about their options. Only this person is wondering who is holding up the action. The general rule is, if you don’t know who is holding up the action – it is you.
Here are some thoughts to consider next time your team is experiences problems due to poor communication.
Great team communication starts with you!
Sender – Focus first on what you know or are doing that might impact anybody else
Receiver – In getting information from others
Team member – Working toward a team goal
Share this post with your team members to encourage introspection for better team communications.
This is the final of a three part series following my time at the 2011 PMI North American Congress. This part is dedicated to my experience as a first time conference presenter, both in presenting and observation of others.
I love public speaking. I’m not sure why, but it’s true. It’s not something that I enjoyed in school. Getting up and talking about something that I minimally searched was a fear instilling activity. However, somewhere in my professional life I discovered that I was good at presenting things that I knew well. I have a strong voice, sense of humor, and ease in talking about things that I understand. I had done public speaking a handful number of times, but the idea of speaking to an international audience was huge to me. On October 24, 2011 I presented Effective Project Sponsorship: A Collaborative Journey at the PMI North American Global Congress in Dallas, Texas.
I decided that while I knew my subject well, I needed homework on presenting. I started reading Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun a few weeks prior to the congress. This turned out to be the perfect study aid. Scott has a great writing style and sensibility that speaks well to me. The only drawback was it motivated me into wanting to speak more. Well, not so much a drawback.
I owe you some helpful ideas that I got from Scott.
My breakout session was at the end of day two. This afforded me to opportunity to observe speakers as I prepared for my own event. The first speaker I saw at the congress was Rick Morris. Rick is a fabulous speaker. He has a great command of voice, a sense of humor, and speaks candidly. It was a large audience. While technically he was simply presenting, he had the audience engaged. It felt like a conversation with a trusted friend. I left that presentation knowing my number one goal was going to be to engage the audience when it came to my turn. I set a goal then to think at the end of each slide, “how did I engage the audience?”
The next presentation was the late in the afternoon on day 1 of the congress. What I remember most about that presentation was the sense of sleepiness. It had been a long day already and listening to a speaker who was not engaging proved to be very difficult. I then had the panicked thought, “oh my, this is the time slot that I have tomorrow. Everyone will have the afternoon sleepies!” Again, I realized that I was really going to have to engage the audience to, literally, not bore them to sleep.
One session I went too had a team of speakers. The material was spot on and PowerPoint well laid out. Technically, I could not put a finger on any one thing “wrong”. However, they did not engage the audience. The subjects and information may have been the best ever, but they were losing me.
Bill Fournet was another engaging speaker. He had a huge room full; in fact I almost got turned away even though I had pre-registered for this session. The title of his presentation was effective “Herding Cats”, and he started the session with a video of cowboys herding cats. While these were great bait, it would not have been enough to sustain an hour fifteen-minute presentation. The presentation itself was also engaging.
Okay, so I have used the word (or some variation of) “engage” 8 times now in less than 700 words. That warrants a slight explanation of what I mean. I would define this as something that connects the speaker to the audience in a way to triggers true listening and learning. One of the best ways to engage an audience is to ask questions and make them respond. However, this is not always possible in rooms full of 300 plus people. In the cases of Rick and Bill, what made their presentations engaging was how I could relate what they said to my own experience, how they made me understand the material they were providing and see what value it would bring to my own life and work experiences. Maybe they provided a scenario that I could relate too, or described something that I found new, exciting, and potentially beneficial to how I see my work. In short, they did or said something that made the words they said relevant to the work I do which provided a connection.
For my plan to ask myself “did I engage the audience?” for every slide, I needed to know that I asked an open ended question, described a scenario that most could relate too, or open myself up to my own mistakes and successes that would serve as a lessons learned in relation to their positions.
Session time was coming quick. I am an introvert by nature, meaning that I need downtime to energize or decompress. I decided I would skip attending the breakout prior to my own in order to take some downtime to energize and to make sure I would make it to the room early and begin those mental preparations.
I showed up to the room early, verified the PowerPoint was on target, got set up a with a lapel mic, brought my handouts, and stayed near the door so I could meet people as they came in. My friend Chandra had traveled to Dallas with me to support my first national speaking even, as well as to catch up on PDUs, and she was ready with pictures, video, and everything else I needed (thank you Chandra!). Eventually I relinquished my handouts to the PMI room volunteer and just chatted with those who had come in. I had some strategies in mind that I used; some worked well, others not as much.
I did have the advantage of a smaller audience that made these strategies relatively easy to implement. I thought long about how I would alter the format for a 300 person room. I would probably still ask the questions, but in some cases would give participants a few minutes to discuss the question at hand with their neighbors. I look forward to future challenges in keeping audiences engaged to learn from each other as much as from me.
Interested in the presentation topic, Effective Project Sponsorship: A Collaborative Journey? More information is available at http://www.professionalprojectservices.com/sponsor-flyer.
Supporting documents from Dallas Presentation
This is part two of three on reflections from the 2011 PMI North American National Congress held in Dallas, Texas, USA October 22 through October 25. Part one provided information from workshops I attended. Part three will focus on presenting, my observations as a participant and as a presenter.
There are a lot of resources out there that talk about networking. Just today I saw a note in Twitter recommending 4 Networking Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making on Forbes.com. The purpose of this article is not to restate all the great advice available through the Internet, books, and people, but rather I want to focus on some surprise benefits that may result.
Asking for Advice: The REAL sincerest form of flattery
I was having lunch with a friend in the exhibition center when she spotted a speaker from a previous session that she admired and wanted to ask more questions of. His topic, Agile, was something she had recently taken on in a new job. She mentioned that she hoped to get a chance to talk to him at some point and I suggested that she go over now. In a conference of 3,000 people, there is no guarantee that she would see him again and she should take the opportunity. She was reluctant to interrupt his lunch and conversation. I continued to encourage her to make the connection pointing out that it is flattering to be approached by someone who values your work and that he would likely appreciate the contact. Still seeing her reluctance I suggested that she simply go to the table with business card in hand and say “I don’t want to interrupt your lunch, but I have some follow up questions from your presentation”. Having a plan that she was comfortable with, she headed off toward his table.
I watched from afar suspecting that she would end up sitting down and talking to him. She did a wide circle around the table, gathering her courage, finally approaching him with card in hand, and finally, as predicted, she sits down. I went about my business at this point knowing she was in good hands and we would catch up later.
Their conversation continued by email after the conference. He has offered to help her get training and certification in Scrum with assistance from his own network, since training dollars are not available where she works. I believe a long term professional relationship is formed.
Pleasant Surprises: Stumbling Across Valuable Resources
I made it a point to personally introduce myself to every person that I am connected with through LinkedIn or Twitter, as well as presenters I enjoyed and learned from. I had two main motivators for this. One was to be able to mutually put names to faces and strengthen the connection, and also to show my appreciation and respect for their work.
In one such case I stayed back after a presentation in order spend a few moments with a LinkedIn connection, Samad Aidane. Although Samad is located within 60 miles of me and we had corresponded on a number of occasions, I had not met him in person until the presentation.
Samad introduced me to another of his connections, Todd Williams. As it turns out, Todd is another relatively local area consultant, principal of eCameron, Inc., specializing in project audit and recovery services. Having just taken over managing a project in trouble, I was very interested in his expertise. He discussed his strategy of auditing a project to uncover the organizational root causes. Our conversation resulted in a new book for me to read and an offer for an initial consultation with my company. Todd and I have a tentative appointment for coffee next time he is in the area. I look forward to the opportunity to gain additional insights on organizational changes that will improve project success in the future.
The Stuff Friendships Are Made Of
This last story actually started a year earlier. I stayed at an offsite hotel for the 2010 Congress in Washington, DC. There was a shuttle between the hotel and the conference center. This is where I met Jeff Furman. We chatted in the van about my aspirations for speaking and his role in training on presentation skills. In the van he made the assessment that I have what it takes to be a trainer, instructor, and presenter. This being that I have a strong voice, confidence, and am articulate. I appreciated this insight and we connected on LinkedIn following the conference. A few months later I received an email from Jeff with a referral for someone who was looking for a virtual instructor for an upcoming program. While this opportunity did not pan out, I truly appreciated the thought and referral.
I contacted Jeff prior to the trip to Dallas and we agreed to meet up to catch up. We did this, talking about his book, The Project Management Answer Book, and my upcoming presentation. Jeff said he planned on attending the presentation. I was glad to hear this as I knew his insight would be extremely valuable. The presentation went well and Jeff’s contributions as an audience member were great.
Even better are the things that have happened since. First, Jeff was interviewed by Elizabeth Harrin for her video diary where he talks about my presentation; first commenting on the subject, sponsorship, and then publically admires my style in engaging the audience. (Note to self, get copy of video for testimonial). The second thing that has happened is that Jeff and I have teamed to help build traffic to our respective blogs reflecting on the Congress through links and Tweets. (Jeff Furman’s Blog: Highlights of the PMI North American Congress 2011).
I know I have an ally in Jeff and can say he has one in me as well. As I begin to focus on building the next steps of my career through writing and presenting, I know I have a mentor and supporter. I just hope I can return as much in the friendship. It amazes me what conversation and exchange of business cards on a shuttle can do.
You don’t have to be actively seeking a job or clients to get significant value from networking. You never know where the benefits will present themselves. Don’t be shy in establishing connections. Your interest in the person should be a welcomed gift. If it isn’t, it will be their loss.
Finally, I want to thank those that took the time to show an interest in me. My sincerest thanks to Jeff Furman, Samad Aidane, Todd Williams, Peter Taylor, Rick Morris, Bill Fournet, Alfonso Bucero, and Ricardo Vargas. I look forward to seeing you at future events. Please let me know if there is anything I can ever do for you.
Chandra, thanks for having my back, I will always have yours.
I have touted the need for better communication on a recent project. However, I realized that I have failed to specify what good communication means to me. Below is a list of important quality attributes for communication. Please comment to include your thoughts or add to the list.
Share information that will, or is at risk to, impact planned activities or the status quo as soon as possible. This provides the greatest chance of being able to respond appropriately to the situation with careful thought on planning. Even if only a risk, the earlier the information is provided, the sooner mitigation planning can occur. Not sure if there is an impact? Share anyway. It is better to share too much information than to risk not sharing critical information.
Information is not useful unless it the truth. There may be reasons you are required to withhold partial information such as a confidentiality agreement or promise. Let others know what you cannot share with the reason and they will respect that. There are dangers in not being truthful. Misinformation can lead to actions that negatively impact the actual situation. A loss of trust will impact the relationship indefinitely.
There is a good chance that others have information or experience that will impact the analysis of the current situation. You will not have a full picture of the impacts, implications, or opportunities if you are not open and offer the opportunity to share my knowledge with you. Further, you will send the message that you do not value opinion or experience of those around you.
My biggest project mistake was related to this attribute. I write very good status reports. They are succinct; cover the top accomplishments, risks, and issues, and candid. I rarely hide or sugarcoat anything. They are always emailed with a “please let me know if you have comments or concerns“, to offer a two-way street. What I did not do was confirm that the project sponsor had read and understood the status report. I found this out the hard way when in a rare one-on-one conversation I discovered that she was not aware of the current status and issues the project was facing. She received the status reports but they did not make it to the top of her reading pile. If a message is provided, but not received, there was no communication. I corrected this by scheduling 30 minutes each month to cover the status report with her one-on-one for future reporting.
The recipe for good communication is to share information as soon as you receive it to all that are potentially affected, be candid in the information you share, give an opportunity for feedback and discussion, and confirm that the message was received and understood.
I just finished writing a response to a Request for Proposal and found an interesting theme in my response. The Stakeholder Analysis is the most important tool in the Project Manager’s toolkit. With a great Stakeholder Analysis you will have information that is key to planning for project communications, organizational change management, training, rollout plans and notifications, risk management, you name it. This will be an equally valuable key in planning Business Analysis activities and communications.
While I refer to this as a Project Management tool, the fact is it is a complete project tool. It is not something that can be completed by the Project Manager in a vacuum, nor is it something that should be written once and then filed away. As you work the project you will get additional information in many different ways that will make project plans and activities go more smoothly.
I am an avid poker player. Most poker books discuss the strategy of writing notes on other players as soon as the poker session is over (or even better during). The point of this strategy is to have better recall on how other players act in certain circumstances so that you can learn what their play says about the strength of their had hand and what plays you can use to increase your odds of making money.
Another useful analogy is the star sales person who takes careful notes on all customers, actual or prospective. With this information they can proactively provide meaningful leads to customers on items they desire or would benefit from. They can also avoid wasting time on cold calls that do not have a high likelihood of resulting in a sale. Finally, it will provide information to support inventory decisions, avoiding costly mistakes of purchasing items that are not likely to sell.
What information is the Stakeholder Analysis providing that will increase our chances of success?
Think of the Stakeholder Analysis has your very own Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. You will not be able to answer all of the questions upon first making an entry. As you learn more about the stakeholder and the project, additional information will become available. The Stakeholder Analysis should continue to grow throughout the project as you and the project team gain information. Update the Stakeholder Analysis as you learn more about your stakeholders, and the strategies and tools that work best for meeting their needs as well as gaining their trust and cooperation. At the same time, update any project plans that can be improved given what you now know. Plans were not meant to be set in stone but rather to be improved upon as additional information becomes available.
Here are a few strategies developing your Stakeholder Analysis:
Information is the key to success. Use the Stakeholder Analysis to structure your information gathering, record the information you learn, and advise you on actions that will result in the greatest chances of project success.
I welcome any and all thoughts or experiences you have had in working with stakeholders.
Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net