Thursday, July 2, 2020

Good writing, and a well-chosen word

What does one learn when reading great ..... writings? That well-chosen words are the way by which past deeds acquire meaning and future deeds acquire purpose.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,” are the only false notes in the Gettysburg Address. The Battle of Gettysburg is etched in national memory less for its military significance than because Lincoln reinvented the goals of the Civil War in that speech — and, in doing so, reimagined the possibilities .....

[Great] writing doesn’t just provide meaning and purpose. It also offers determination, hope and instruction.
Bret Stephens
Now, I think it's reasonable to say that most writing coming forth from the PMO doesn't rise to the level of the Gettysburg Address in eloquence or conciseness, or engender the profound effect the Address has had on generations since.

Nonetheless, if the bar is more reasonably set at the level of "good writing" --- clear, concise, unambiguous, and purposeful --- then we should take to heart in all project communications that words do matter, and that choosing the right words should not be a task taken lightly.

I've often said that "good writing is not written, it is re-written", meaning: the first draft is just that: a draft. The published version is -- or should be -- more likely the draft re-written. [See: take a moment before you send that text or email]

But the point here is not so much to lecture about writing well; rather it is to make the point that in executing the first job of the PMO --- to communicate -- the PM should bear in mind the three big steps:
  1. Tell them what you are going tell them
  2. Tell them (enter: a well-chosen word)
  3. Tell them what you told them
Said another way:
  1. Establish the background, explain how the past got us here
  2. Lay out the task ahead
  3. Connect the dots to future goals
 "That well-chosen words are the way by which past deeds acquire meaning and future deeds acquire purpose"  ..... Well said!

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Monday, June 29, 2020

Out-of-the-office worker-traveler

Following up on my last posting, here's some other insights to the out-of-office worker and traveler, as quoted from the recent press*

[C.E.O. read: project executive]

“A C.E.O. who does not meet people in person is a captive to the aperture of a camera lens rather than the aperture of her eyesight. .... —Bill Perlstein, Washington

• “The office doesn’t matter for the C.E.O. (who travels a lot anyway) or any other executive. What matters is what they accomplish. If you think about it, the office environment is an expensive artificial structure ....”—Joe Carlin, Cary, N.C.

• “As a former director of research ... , the best ideas came from colleagues talking over coffee or at lunch about some pie in the sky idea or discussing a problem they could not solve.” —Emily Jones, Rochester, N.Y.

• “I am an ‘outbound C.E.O.’ That means over 50 percent of my time is spent outside of the office constructing high-value relationships ... An ‘inbound C.E.O.’ spends over 50 percent of their time in the office and builds value by management of the company processes. ”—Steve Baird, Vancouver, Wash.

•  I would say that being on-site was essential. I felt responsible for creating a positive work environment and for maintaining a caring office culture. I don’t see how I could have met those objectives remotely.”—Erica Moeser, Madison, Wisc
*New York Times, May 28th, 2020

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Maybe you shouldn't work from home

From press clippings we get these bits about not working from home, which I've paraphrased:

What about social capital? 
The relationships currently sustaining business [and project offices] were built from face-to-face meetings before the lockdown. This "capital" that has been banked, to think in Stephen Covey terms, will erode over time if not refreshed. The longer people are apart, the weaker those bonds become.
So, how to build up the bank account will be a topic for the near future.

Remote hiring:

How would any new hire acquire the project [or business] culture; how would they made to feel connected? How do you do remote mentoring?

Of course, virtual teams have been dealing with this problem for years, so many protocols are already well developed for the new-but-remote person on the team

And, what about personal goals? 
Some predict a potentially destabilizing divide between workers who get ahead by going into the office and those who work remotely and miss out on career opportunities. “Everyone who wants to manage, to run things, to influence, to jockey, to make friends, to build a network — they will clamor to work in the office,” David Pogue writes. “Almost every single ambitious person in a company will be demanding a desk at HQ.”

I agree: when I worked for the military in Berlin, it was all about who could get closest to the flagpole.

What about the power relationships?

Like it or not, proximity to power is important, so if a project executive promotes a remote-first approach but then works mostly in the office, what's the power message there? And, ref to the above, who stays home while others get close?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

About ignorance

Ordinarily, we don't put much value on ignorance -- or being ignorant.

It's said that in the pre-modern world, say before the enlightenment in Europe in the middle of the first millennium, that all you needed to know was pretty much what could be learned from history.

If it wasn't known, then you didn't need to know it, in the same way your forebears didn't know it either.

History is limiting
But, thankfully, we came to understand that history -- if that's all you know -- is quite limiting. The enlightened figured out that there is a case for ignorance -- that is: recognizing you are ignorant of something. And, then setting about with a project to fill in the blanks.

Filling in the blanks
And, you might notice, guys like Newton and daVinci brought the concepts of observations and mathematics into the battle of ignorance. Indeed, for the longest time before, math was considered "philosophy".

And then we have Bayes, somewhat a contemporary of Newton, with his version of continuous improvement: form a hypothesis based on assumed conditions; make observations; then adjust assumptions about conditions to conform to observations.

And so, that's the idea here:
  • Know, going in, that you are likely ignorant
  • Recognize the value of theorizing and observing to overcome ignorance
  • Don't assume history has all the answers -- it doesn't
  • Appreciate that improvement doesn't just come from reorganizing what you know(*); sometimes new facts are more powerful (See: Newton)
  • Repeat 
(*) Pre-Newton methodology which actually carried on in some forms until the industrial revolution

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Saturday, June 20, 2020

A leadership personality

Exasperating, but generally forgiven. A combination of charm, audacity, imagination, optimism, and energy
Historian Arthur Schlesinger describing William Donovan, the leader of the clandestine spy agency, OSS, in WW II

And, to put a point on it, Donovan was considered a mediocre administrator and manager.

Noteworthy: Donovan was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for service in WW I, and then was a successful Wall Street attorney, politically a Republican, who served FDR, a Democrat, throughout the war.


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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

About organization

"Organization is the enemy of improvisation
It is a long jump from knowing to doing
Committees take the punch out ...."

Lord Beaverbook, Minister of Aircraft Production for Britain in WW II

So, about "organization" Max Beaverbrook is really speaking of bureaucracy that is encumbered by rules designed to put accountability with the institution rather than the individual (just following the rules ....) and thereby contain or restrain those that would go outside the rules.

But wait!

Along comes an emergency and the rules go out the window. Now, risk-taking and entrepreneurship are in, and the organizational pyramid is a shambles. Ad hoc relationship meshes form that connect all the right people, regardless of where they ordinarily fit in the structure.

It's no small matter how flat and responsive an organization can get when the circumstances are dire.
One wonders why it takes an emergency .....

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Value system as a business doctrine

Consider, if you will, this value system arranged as a Belief and an Operating Principle, adapted from "Maximizing Project Value" Chapter 1 (one of my books):

  • Quality is free: We value doing the right job (value adding) in the right way (training and skill development) the first time (correct systemic errors).
  • There is no substitute for ethical, honest, and transparent transactions: As leaders of (entity), we (establish and promote a culture to) conduct business legally, with good order and protection for staff, according to reasonable and customary conventions.
  • Community partnership is good business: As members of (community), (entity) is a willingly good steward of the environment and a committed partner in promoting the welfare of the community
  •   Employees are inherently trustworthy: We (establish and promote a culture to) trust first, then verify, to avoid deliberate obfuscation, ambiguity, and duplicity

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