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Archive for the ‘Skills’ Category

Conversation Hacks

Posted by iammarchhare on 14 May 2009

Not quite as savory as the “CNN Article on Thinking on Your Feet”, but LifeHacker also posted an article on the “Top 10 Conversation Hacks”.  Some of these are, well, fake.  The first one listed says “Feign sincerity with eye contact and repetition.”  Not exactly my cup of tea, and it almost was enough to make me stop reading.

One is the exact opposite of the CNN article.  “Use silence to win arguments and nail a negotiation.”  Of course, the situations in the CNN article were quite different.

Ever hear the expression “Don’t tell the customer ‘no’”?  Well, they have that one too with, “Say ‘no’ gently – or say ‘yes, but….’”

My favorite is there.  “Ask questions well.”

All of these have links to other sites.  I followed the one from “Become a human lie detector.” on how to detect BS (language may be NSFW).  I loved this one:

The project will take 5 weeks“. How do you know this? What might go wrong that you haven’t accounted for? Would you bet $10k on this claim? $100k?

~ #53 – How to detect [BS]

Anyhow with 10 hacks and lots of links, I’ll leave you to it.

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CNN Article on Thinking on Your Feet

Posted by iammarchhare on 13 May 2009

CNN posted an article on “How to think faster, better on your feet”.  While some of the scenarios described might seem a little contrived, there is always room for improvement in dealing with real life social interactions.  This can range from job interviews to potential date conversations.

The article describes 3 ways to “advance the dialogue”.  Instead of letting the conversation drop or die suddenly, keep it going by:

  1. Use “Yes … and…” to keep moving the conversation forward.
  2. Go with your gut instead of trying to think of the perfect response, break the silence with an instinctive one.
  3. Make others look good.  The example in the article was a bit contrived to me, however I like the idea.  Even the example, though, shows that it is just as important to know why you are there.

Sometimes at work I can get caught up in the work environment and forget the social aspect of it.  It’s nice to see articles like this to ground me a little bit and make me think more about the social interactions on and off the job.

Posted in People Management, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Where Is the Time?

Posted by iammarchhare on 28 April 2009

I will keep this brief.  I’m a little under the weather.  You have that thing to do.  In fact, there are a lot of things to do, and there isn’t enough time to do them all.  Information overload.  Downsizing leads to wearing yet another hat.  The work still needs to be done.

As a project manager, you will be faced with time constraints.  No, not just project time constraints, but you will be faced with day to day time constraints.  You must be able to juggle many things.  How do you get them all done?

The short answer is: You don’t!

If you haven’t learned anything from The Dip yet, you need to prioritize what is important and what is not.  You need to stop or delegate what is unimportant so you have time to do your job.  This is very important in an economy where your job may have previously been done by 3 people.  Identify what each of those 3 people did that was important and discard or delegate the rest.

Ilya Bogorad wrote in a TechRepublic article on 17 April about “10 faulty beliefs that can doom IT leaders”.  2 of them should make an average PM think:  “We are a fast-paced organization”, and “We are under-resourced”.  Have you ever been anywhere in which the organization ever said “We are laid-back” or “We have too many people”?

Could the problem be that the important things are not being given the proper priority?

Posted in Skills | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Google’s Example of Being the Best

Posted by iammarchhare on 24 April 2009

What does it mean to be the best?  According to Seth Godin in The Dip, it doesn’t mean being just a little bit ahead of everyone else.  Many of his examples show that market leaders are often 3 times or more ahead of their competition.

Did you know that Google in August 2008 owned 70.77% of the US search market?  On Mashable: The Social Media Guide, Don Reisinger says “Google Understands What Other Search Engines Don’t”.

Market leaders do understand what others do not about their markets, which is why they are the market leaders.

Reisinger goes on to ponder, “Where are the growing startups like Wikia or Quintura?  Why haven’t Microsoft or Yahoo gained any ground on Google in the US?”  While he states a few hypotheses as to why, according to Godin this is normal if a company is going to remain the market leader.

Project Management Professionals (PMPs) are credentialed because they are the best.  They are required to have a mix of education and experience before they can even take the test.  They are the pack leaders.

However, you cannot stop there.  Once you are among the best, you must differentiate yourself as the best of the best.

Posted in Economy, PMP, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What Is the Most Important Part of a Project?

Posted by iammarchhare on 22 April 2009

Most of the time, a project manager will say “requirements gathering”.  Once upon a time, I probably would have agreed.  But, I don’t any longer.

Toni Bowers of TechRepublic posted on the IT Leadership blog “Five reasons to discuss project failure”.  She writes:

  1. Failure is instructive. Most of us have an instinctive aversion to discussing weakness, based on concerns that criticism may hurt our pride, reputation, and so on. While I deeply respect these sensitivities, fear creates an environment where repeated cycles of failure can manifest. Breaking this cycle requires understanding the source of problems followed by developing solutions to address them.

Failure causes you to learn.  Hopefully, success does as well.  Humans have an amazing capacity to learn, and we should do so at every opportunity.  If we do not learn, we do not improve professionally or grow personally.

Teams and even companies can learn as well.  That’s why Bowers’ article is so important.  If teams and companies cannot face the facts and learn, then they never improve.  Projects will continue to fail.

A thorough “lessons learned” or “after action” review is a must.  The US Army has a tradition of sending soldiers on field exercises and then holding after action reviews afterwards to grade themselves.  Self-reflection is the key to improvement.

That’s why in the long run requirements gathering just plain is not as important!  Why?  Because a thorough lessons learned review will uncover it as a weakness and make recommendations to fix the problem.  If you do lessons learned poorly or not at all, you will never know if your requirements gathering is any good or not!

What if you had a project to create a product, it was done on time and under budget, it was delivered and the customer never complained.  Was the project a success?  How do you know?

There is a saying that for every customer that complains, there are 9 others who have the same problem but do not complain.  It could be because they are too busy or too tired, or maybe they don’t know who to complain to.  Just because no one complains does not mean the project was a success.  Again, you have to gather data after the main portions of the project have been completed.

The fact that I’ve changed my mind about “requirements gathering” is proof I’m not too old to learn.  🙂

Posted in PM Basics, SDLC, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

IT: “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Marketing!”

Posted by iammarchhare on 10 April 2009

What are your more overlooked soft skills?

On 5 April, Seth Godin blogged in “The power of a tiny picture (how to improve your social network brand)“:

In the social group I run, part of my job is to pick the featured members. As a result, I spend a lot of time looking at little pictures. Here’s one person’s take on the things you can do to avoid wrecking that first impression:

…4. If you are wearing a hat, you better have both a good reason and a good hat.

Well, if you’ve looked at my profile, you can imagine how that got my attention!  What can I say, Seth?  I don’t have a good hat, I have several!  Well, I was up late anyhow, and a little punch-drunk, so we ended up with a short tongue-in-cheek email exchange.  To be honest, I really didn’t expect him to answer me.  He probably gets a lot of email, and he probably gets a lot of cranky email.  I hoped I wasn’t coming across as cranky (it’s hard to tell at 2 am).  Thankfully, he replied with an amusing email, so all is well in bloggerland.

You might be wondering why I reference a marketing blog so often.  Granted, Seth Godin has a “good” marketing blog (IMNSHO), but it is still “marketing”.  In many IT circles, “Marketing” is treated like the enemy.   HR?  Fine.  Customer support.  Great!  Payroll.  Even better!  But, Marketing?  About the only department that gets worse press than Marketing might be Sales, if you work somewhere large enough to warrant separate departments.

Let’s strip away the animosity, OK?  Sales people go out to sell a product.  If those products do not sell, then money stops coming in.  The money stops coming in, people get let go, contractors and full time alike.  However, sales people cannot sell something unless there is a perceived need.  That’s where marketing comes in.  They use various techniques to convince the potential customer they need a product.  Sales and marketing are pretty much 2 sides to the same coin (IMO, of course).

“OK, John,” I imagine you saying right now, “they are a necessary evil.”  Really?  Are you a “manager” (yes, project managers are managers)?  Then, go look in the mirror!  Say out loud, “My position is a necessary evil.”

Have you ever had to do any of these?

  1. “Sell” an idea to a customer or a project team.
  2. “Negotiate” scope on a project?
  3. “Entice” a potential user or customer that they need a specific solution?
  4. “Sell” a project to an executive board, change board or even to your own boss?
  5. “Present”, i.e., put on a dog and pony show, in order to inform and rally  company directors and managers to get behind an idea?
  6. “Negotiate” with a vendor over price, length of service or warranty?
  7. “Incent” a project team to desire a particular result?
  8. “Provide a vision” to a project team of how grand everything will be once the project is complete and the sponsor is happy.

I really could keep going, but I think you get the point.  You are a marketer and sales person both if you are a manager.

I’m not done yet!  We are all marketers these days, even if we are not managers!  We can no longer depend upon 20 years service and a gold watch at the end!  We are all contractors, even if we are working full time for a company.  We need to sharpen our skills to market ourselves for if/when we are faced with losing our current job.

Do you have an online resume?  That’s marketing.  Do you have a LinkedIn account (and if not, why not?)?  That’s “networking”, which is really another form of marketing.  Do you have a blog or website?  Marketing.  Do you really think potential (and sometimes current!) employers don’t check these things?  In short, you are marketing your most important product — You!

OK, this more or less wraps up a lot of what I wanted to say about soft skills.  Never forget that they are your most important skills.  I’m sure in the economic environment we are in, the need will arise to post more about them, but this is an IT blog, after all.

If you are in IT leadership, no doubt you can read a book or peruse a blog and become a technical expert in short order, but learning and improving soft skills are a little different.  What may work in one instance might not work in another.  Keep them sharp and honed, though, and you’ll be better able to handle the crisis situations as they occur.

I believe the saying is true that it is easier to learn the needed technical skills.  If someone doesn’t have interpersonal skills and cannot be a team player, then projects will suffer regardless.  In a similar vein, if IT leadership (or any business leadership for that matter) cannot sell their vision and their ideas, the staff will be going in conflicting directions.  Individuals must be team players, but leaders must be team builders.

Posted in PM Basics, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Blessed Passover Season and a Look at Balance

Posted by iammarchhare on 9 April 2009

Looking at life-work balance

This will be one of those scheduled posts.  I’m not really here pushing the buttons, as today is a religious holiday for me.  People ask me if I am Jewish, and it confuses them when I tell them I am a Christian that keeps Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.  Enough of that, though…

One of the reasons I have been going on about soft skills this week is because they truly are important.  One of those is balance.  It is important that you realize you are not the job.  Seek a balance between work, relationships, spirituality (which is really a special relationship with God) and time for yourself.

There is more to life than work.  Strive to seek an adequate balance in your life.  If your home life falls apart, what is the worth of your work then?  If you take no time for yourself, then your overall growth will be stunted.  A life that is not spiritually balanced tends to become selfish.  A life without work is unfulfilled (and usually broke).

Remember, work will be there tomorrow.  And, even if it is not, then why kill yourself for it today?  Your friends and your family might not be.  God will surely be there tomorrow, but will you be?

Something to consider: If your funeral was tomorrow, what would you want the eulogy to be?

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Why I am Still a Geek

Posted by iammarchhare on 3 April 2009

Why Being a Techie is a Positive Thing

The other day, I posted about how I’m a Geek! out of frustration with receiving spam emails for all sorts of “opportunities” that have nothing to do with IT or project management.  Yesterday, I posted in the article Don’t Try to Get a Job which included a blurb about how IT project managers are rather independent, which is likely due to being tried by difficult circumstances.

Is this contradictory?  I think not.

If you have read my post about The Most Important Project Management Skill, then you realize, IT or not, a project manager must first of all be a good manager.  Often, the project manager requires even more skills because the people working on the project do not report directly to the PM.

Geeks are not nerds.  Some people are very smart, very bright but socially don’t express themselves well and do not wish to.  Nerds are sometimes inclined technically.  Geeks, however, are technically inclined but also know how to communicate their ideas and vision to others.  Geeks may or may not make good managers, but nerds do not.

Project management is so much more than running the latest earned value calculations or updating MS Project.

This brings me to a topic that people often disagree on.  Should a project manager be an expert in the field they are working in?  Usually, PMs will move up through the ranks, so it isn’t a question.  However, I have seen a construction PM oversee an IT project.  The skills are transferable.  However, is it desirable?

I would at least think it would be desirable that a PM overseeing an IT project have a technical background.  Likewise, I would not feel comfortable overseeing a construction project.  However, should that stop me from overseeing a wireless communications project?  Honestly, I don’t think it should.

The PM relies upon the subject matter experts (SMEs) to get the work done.  If they don’t know their job, it will fail unless they can be swapped out for others who know it better.  SMEs know how to get it done and how long it takes.  That’s why they are the experts.

It will take some extra effort for the PM to reorient themselves, but if the project manager has been in technology for a while, he or she should be used to changes by now.  How fast do operating systems change?  How long does hardware really last?  Anyone in a technical field should be used to constant change.

If you are stuck in a rut, consider branching out.  If you haven’t programmed in a while, blow the dust off of Visual Studio.  If you already know .NET, open up Eclipse and take it for a drive.  Expand your horizons.  If you came up doing software, volunteer for a small infrastructure project.  Building your skill set not only helps your team and company, but it makes you more valued by the company and by the project teams you work with.

Let’s face it: In today’s job environment, every little bit helps.

Posted in PM Basics, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Why I am Still a Geek