Thursday, July 30, 2015

Are you persuasive?

Leading without authority... or, leading with authority. In either case, you've got to be persuasive on the big issues. (On the small bore stuff, you can demand or direct, but not so on the biggies)

Mike Clayton has some good ideas along this line, to which I've added my own commentary:
Facts are never enough
Facts come from history. A lot of persuasion is all about the future, and there are no facts about the future. Nonetheless, a command of history just reinforces your hand

Attitudes matter
Amen to this one. A less-than-genuine attitude that you are directing traffic is detected immediately and undermines your case

People like people...
We're social, and most people have some core competency in social abilities. So, use them to your advantage.  Make a friend.

Don't ask - don't get
They say there's nothing to lose; but not so fast! Asking too soon; asking without backup; asking under the wrong circumstances, and you lose!

What about me?
You always should be able to answer that question; it's going to get asked, even if indirectly. Have the elevator speech ready.

Be present
Don't try to influence someone with your mind on something else: they will know. (Mike Clayton)

Words matter
If you can't draw it in words, you probably can't get it across. And, if you are uncaring or insensitive in choice of words, it's not going to succeed if it is understood. For a good example of the power of words, see: Winston Churchill.

Believable manner
Slow down, and pause from time to time. A rush feels like a hustle. Calm makes you seem confident... and trustworthy. (Mike Clayton)

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog

Monday, July 27, 2015

Paradoxes of business leadership in the digital age

So, here we go again, yet another list. In this case: five paradoxes, but nonetheless attention-getting. As written by Tomas Nielsen and Patrick Meehan, we're told:
  1. Radically innovate while optimizing operations
  2. Compete in sprints while delivering long term value
  3. Integrate external partners while acting as a single entity
  4.  Recognize that providing immediate digital value plays a large role in sales but that more value is delivered over time.
  5. Provide technologically enabled offerings while focusing on value, not technology
 Except for #1 -- which is kind of like 'keep the business running (we're going to need the cash)' --  it's almost as if these guys were looking over my shoulder as I wrote "Managing Project Value".  #2 is really just downtown agile. Agilists know it by heart.

It seems to me the hard stuff for project managers is #3: building mixed and virtual teams that you want to:
  • Act more homogeneously than they really are; 
  • Operate more efficiently than they really will do; and 
  • Not change the culture too much (if you like your culture)
This last one is no small matter, especially if you bring in a big-time "integration partner" that may be much bigger and more experienced than your own people. Ideally, a contractor takes on the personality of its customer, but sometimes the partner simply overwhelms. And, then when their team has to collaborate with some of your legacy troops.... well, that may not go well.

Conflict resolution skills required here ....

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Intelligence without parentage

My early career was in technical intelligence, so I was struck by this phrase applicable not only to that domain, but to my present domain -- project management:
"The value of [information] depends on it's breeding. .. Until you understand the pedigree of the information you can not evaluate a report. We are not democratic. We close the door on intelligence without parentage."
John LeCarre

Some years ago, Chapter 11 of the PMBOK was rewritten to include "data quality" as an element of risk understanding and analysis. Certainly, some of the motivation for that rewrite was the idea of information parentage -- information qualities.

The idea here is not that data has meet a certain quality standard -- though perhaps in your project it should -- but that you as project manager have an obligation to ascertain the data qualities. In other words, accepting data in a fog is bound to be troublesome.

If some attributes are unknown, or unknowable, at least you should do the investigation to understand whether or not the door should be closed. After all: there's no obligation to be democratic about data. Autocrats accepted!

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog

Monday, July 20, 2015

Don't proceed beyond the evidence ...

John LeCarre's man Smiley, George Smiley, was probably never a project manager. Nonetheless, he has this advice for decision making with uncertainty:
"It had been one of Smiley's cardinal principles in research .... not proceed beyond the evidence. A fact, once logically arrived at, should not be extended beyond it's natural significance"
John LeCarre, "A murder of quality"

Now, of course, there are no facts about the future, only estimates. Ooops! for the #Noestimates crowd, I guess the future is a blank slate.

There's a couple of take away's here:
The first point -- actionable for all project managers -- is maintain context and domain. Extending either context or transferring domain may well render the "fact" not a fact at all. After all, there are only facts in history, so the context of history is important for interpreting the facts in light of the present situation and the anticipated future. And, a fact in one domain, may not be applicable to another domain at all.

Another point -- again actionable every day -- is don't embellish the facts to fit the circumstances. Who's not gotten into trouble when the embellishments don't hold up? The fastest way to lose the trust of your colleagues is to be an "embellisher". More often, strange as it seems, reality is often impressive enough right off the shelf.

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog

Friday, July 17, 2015

Material science

Got a project in materials science? Need to know more about internal properties before committing to your project? Maybe do some system engineering? Here's some ideas along that line in this informing TED talk:

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Critical thinking

Most people would like to think of themselves as a critical thinker. Isn't a big part of liberal education -- debate, and all that?

Tim van Gelder ("Epistemology is everywhere") has a seven part list --- who doesn't: there are lists for everything these days -- for those who would be critical. It goes a bit like this, as paraphrased:

1. Judge judiciously
One of the most salient thinking traps is, in the common phrase, jumping to conclusions. Highly critical thinkers have cultivated four main habits which help them avoid this.

First, they tend to delay forming a judgement until the issue, and the considerations relevant to it, have been adequately explored, and also until any hot emotions have settled

Second, they tend to abstain altogether from making any judgement, where there are insufficient grounds to decide one way or another.

Third, when they do make a judgement, they will treat it as a matter of degree, or assign a level of confidence to it, avoiding treating any non-trivial issue as totally certain.

And fourth, they treat their judgements as provisional, i.e., made on the basis of the evidence and arguments available at the time, and open to revision if and when new considerations arise.

2. Question the questionable

Much more often than ordinary folk, highly critical thinkers question or challenge what is generally accepted or assumed. Sometimes they question the “known knowns” – the claims or positions which constitute widely-appreciated truths. Other times, they target the implicit, the invisible, the unwittingly assumed.

3. Chase challenges

We all know that feeling of instant irritation or indignation when somebody dares to suggest we might be wrong about something. Highly critical thinkers have cultivated various habits counteracting this reaction – habits which actually lead to them being challenged more often, and benefiting more from those challenges.

4. Ascertain alternatives

Highly critical thinkers are always mindful that what they see before them may not be all there is. They habitually ask questions like: what other options are there? What have we missed? As opposed to/compared with what?

5. Make use of methods

When considering a course of action, a critical thinker of my acquaintance, who happened to be successful banker and company director, said she always asked herself two simple questions: (1) what’s the worst thing that could happen here? and (2) what’s the best thing that could happen?

6. Take various viewpoints
Highly critical thinkers well understand that their view of a situation is unique, partial and biased, no matter how clear, compelling and objective it seems. They understand that there will always be other perspectives, which may reveal important aspects of the situation.

7. Sideline the self

People tend to be emotionally attached to views. Core beliefs, such as provided by religions or ideologies, help provide identity, and the comforts of clarity and certainty. Highly critical thinkers have learned how to sideline the self, removing it from the field of epistemic play.

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Not satisfied with Agile for software teams? Want it for the whole organization? Maybe you are a Holacrat! Who knew?

Can you buy this? (I can't, but I throw it up to you FYI since it's making the rounds). And, here's more:
No more job descriptions
In most companies each person has a single job description that is often imprecise, outdated and irrelevant to their day-to-day work. In Holacracy, people have multiple roles, often on different teams, and those role descriptions are constantly updated by the team actually doing the work. This allows people working in a Holacracy-powered company a lot more freedom to express their creative talents. It also means that the company can take advantage of those skills in a way it couldn’t before.

No more delegated authority

The agility that Holacracy provides comes directly from truly distributed authority. In traditional organisations, managers loosely delegate authority, but ultimately their decisions always trump those they manage and everybody knows it.

In Holacracy, authority is truly distributed and decisions are made locally, by the individual closest to the front line. Teams are self-organised: they’re given a purpose, but they decide internally how to best reach it. In this way, Holacracy replaces the traditional hierarchy with a series of interconnected but autonomous teams (“circles” in Holacracy’s vernacular). And once a circle has distributed some responsibility or authority to one of its roles, whoever fills that role has a whole lot of power in that area -- power no one else can trump.

No more big re-orgs
In traditional companies, the organisation chart gets revamped every few years. These cyclical ‘re-orgs’ are an attempt to keep up with the changing environment, but since they only occur every three to five years, they are almost always out of date. In Holacracy, the structure of the organisation is updated every month in every circle.

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Choose your box

Do you buy this idea from Mark Chussil?
A box is a frame, a paradigm, a habit, a perspective, a silo, a self-imposed set of limits; a box is context and interpretation.

We cannot think outside boxes. We can, though, choose our boxes.
We can even switch from one box to another to another.

Boxes get dangerous when they get obvious, like oft-told stories that harden into cultural truth. Letting a box rust shut is a blunder not of intention but of inattention.

Boxes are invisible until we look for them.

In other words: driving yourself to think "outside the box" is a box onto itself. The "outside box" is a box --- gasp!

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Carl Sagan nailed it!

Are you old enough to remember astronomer Carl Sagan? A very perceptive guy, to be sure (600 published papers, 20 books, TV series .... )

And, here is some Carl Sagan advice which, in my opinion, nails it for the decision makers among us*
  1. Seek independent facts. Remember, a fact is a cause supported by sensed evidence and should be independently verified by you before it can be deemed legitimate. If you cannot find sensed evidence of causal relationships you should be skeptical. 
  2. Welcome open debate on all points of view. Suspend judgment about the event or claim until all cause paths have been pursued to your satisfaction
  3. Always challenge authority. Ask to be educated. Ask the expert how they came to know what they know. If they cannot explain it to your satisfaction using evidence-based causal relationships then be very skeptical. 
  4. Consider more than one hypothesis. The difference between a genius and a normal person is that when asked to solve a problem the genius doesn’t look for the right answer, he or she looks for how many possible solutions he or she can find.
  5. Don’t defend a position because it is yours. All ideas are prototypical because there is no way we can really know all the causes. Seek to understand before seeking to be understood. 
  6. Try to quantify what you think you know. Can you put numbers to it? 
    • Show the numbers
    • Do the math
  7. If there is a chain of causes presented, every link must work. Verify that the chain of causes meets the advanced logic checks defined above and that the causes are sufficient in and of themselves. 
  8. Use Occam’s razor to decide between two hypothesis; If two explanations appear to be equally viable, choose the simpler one if you must. Nature loves simplicity.
  9. Try to prove your hypothesis wrong. Every truth is prototypical and the purpose of science is to disprove that which we think we know. 
  10.  Use carefully designed experiments to test all hypotheses. In other words, be sure the experiment, the observations, and the hypothesis are all internally consistent.

*As shamefully taken from HerdingCats

Read in the library at Square Peg Consulting about these books I've written
Buy them at any online book retailer!
Read my contribution to the Flashblog