Sunday, January 27, 2008

Project Management In One Hour

I need to prepare for a lecture on project management. I have been allocated one hour on the subject. I am giving it to two groups of MBA students that will receive, in total, one and a half days of education on the subject. This might seem rather limited at first, but when you think about it, of all the things you need to learn about in business, perhaps project management is not so important? After all there are so many companies that do not adopt a project management methodology per se and they still seem to survive.

So what should I tell my sudents? I have been advised to bring in as much practical experience as possible. (Anyone one who has attended one my presentations will know that, a lecture from me can only be based on real life and that I am not one for too many theories) ;-)

My first thoughts are to tackle the following questions:

1. Why do we need project management at all?
2. Why do projects so often fail?
3. What is the difference between successful and unsuccessful projects?
4. Why is it that so many projects, even if they do deliver their goals and objectives, still do not deliver real benefit to the company that commissioned them?

The answers to the above questions, to me, seem obvious. But I know from experience that too many managers, even the ones who commission projects regularly, do not dare to tackle the hidden truth that they convey. After all, if you make your living managing whole rafts of projects, it is probably not in your short term career interests to set about cutting out all the useless projects to begin with?

To me projects are a bit like roses: you need to prune them back at least once a year, cutting them right back to the stem. And when you see new projects shooting up from unexpected places, you need to be rigorous and cut them back too. A well defined project that has its roots in good business sense, and that has only one objective to deliver: ‘real value to the client’, is the only project worth making space for. Cut back all the rest that pose the risk of getting in the way or interfering and give the good one all the attention and nourishment you can.

When it comes down to it, only the projects that were rigorously challenged before they were started, and where everyone gave 100% commitment to ensure their success, and were lead by a steering group that were resolute to sticking to the original objectives – are the only projects that turn out to be successful in the long term.

Now if you want to know the detailed answers to my questions above, you have three alternatives: 1. read my book, 2. attend my lecture or 3, wait for two weeks when I may decide to give a resume of the speech in my blog, assuming I have the answers by then!

Have a safe week,


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Being Polite

I think very few people would disagree that to be an effective manager one should always be polite? This does not rule out the need to express a full range of emotions when required. However, I feel the subject of politeness needs more careful attention than might be expected.

Last week my secretary pointed out to me that a candidate applying for a position with The Bayard Partnership had been very abrupt with her, to the point of being rude, treating her with a serious lack of respect. When I mentioned this sorry state of affairs to one of the Bayard Partners, he said ‘one should always be polite. However, in moments of extreme emotion, if one’s base instincts take over and one becomes rude, then this is only excusable if you were rude to your superiors or peers’. Thus being rude to anyone that you might consider to be a subordinate is never excusable.

So what should we consider as being polite or impolite? For me personally it is quite simple:

1. You should always show people the level of courtesy that you enjoy receiving yourself (note that I do not use the word ‘expect’ here, expect is far from adequate).
2. You should always make the effort to express your genuine respect for those around you in the form of polite greetings and ‘thank yous’ for services rendered.

Examples of impoliteness (for me) include:

1. Not saying thank you
2. Not greeting someone at the start of the day, when you have clearly made eye contact.
3. Not listening to someone when they are talking to you
4. Not getting back to people when you say you will (even if you have no further news to tell them)
5. Keeping people waiting without an explanation
6. Not letting people know your intentions by not using your indicators when driving a vehicle on the public highway
The list continues……

At the time of writing I have just come back from a business trip in Lisbon, where from our arrival to departure, my colleagues and I witnessed the most courteous and friendly interaction with everyone from Taxi drivers, hotel receptionists, waiters and shop assistants. Politeness seems to be the norm in Lisbon, let’s hope we can export it to Brussels and any other city where customer service is so often seriously lacking?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Who are your most important suppliers?

The difference between a carpenter and an interim or project manager

I have been giving advice to a self employed carpenter who specializes in fitted wardrobes. Judging from observation, it appears that much of his day is lost, spent running around collecting last minute orders for brackets and hinges, extra wood, glue, screws, parts for his machines – whatever. He is always blaming his late deliveries on his suppliers, who appear to be constantly letting him down. Obviously my advice to him was to learn to better manage his suppliers and to invest more time in project preparation.

However, it got me thinking about my role as an interim manager – who exactly are my essential suppliers and how dependant am I on them?

Here’s a list, in a rough order of importance:

1. My mobile phone network supplier (no mobile, no business)
2. My bank (receiving funds and paying suppliers)
3. My ICT supplier (access to e-mails, MS Office + Project)
4. Car garage
5. Fuel stations
6. My accountant (legal compliance & tax optimization)
7. My insurance company (legal compliance + you never know)!
8. Lawyer

After item 8 the list begins to switch from essential to ‘nice to have’. However, it goes without saying that really, the most important supplier to an interim manager is themselves i.e. their health. Without it, we are quite simply finished – nothing, no income, no pension.

Thus I believe it is vital we invest in our health and general wellbeing over and above anything else. Luckily there are many doctors who agree that a glass (or two) of wine a day + a visit to the sauna or massage therapist, once in a while, does you good. Good restaurants and relaxing holidays in the Mediterranean are apparently also very beneficial.

So when I go over my profit margin figures for 2007, I can see clearly that my expenses have been very well balanced and entirely appropriate for a person with my profession...

Who are your essential suppliers?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Year Resolutions – no one takes them seriously anymore!

When I was a child great emphasis was placed on making New Year resolutions. Resolution taking was something actively encouraged by my parents and became the central topic of conversation almost immediately after Christmas day was over.

Coming from a Roman Catholic family, it was a bit like the open discussions just before Lent, when we had to let both the Priest and our parents know what we were going to give up for the 30 days leading up to the feast of Easter.

But giving something you like up for 30 days is not really the same as committing to a new behavior pattern for a whole year. Lent was all about satisfying the Priest and your Parents (choosing something that would impress them but would not cause too much personal discomfort, like chocolate – you could still eat sweets but just none with chocolate on, although you obviously didn’t mention the sweets bit!)

New Year Resolutions are different from penance, as they are all about self improvement, attempts to try to change an aspect of oneself that one is not happy with (weight, personality, career etc.).

During the Christmas period I have been looking at 2007, at what could have gone better, where I could have performed to a higher standard and even how I could have been happier. The conclusion I have come to for my new year resolution 2008 is to try and reject all the negative thoughts that enter my head like mischievous demons and turn me into a ‘grumpy old man’ (I refer my readers to the BBC TV series of ‘Grumpy old men’).

The negative demons I mention are in fact quite a problem. I see something or interact with something (mostly builders public company’s and/or government institutions) and all I see is negative. For example; poor excuses for trains being late, lazy postal workers, incompetent logistics systems that deliver your 500 Nespresso coffee capsules to an address in Walonia, rather than to your office in Brussels. Narrow minded customer service employees who simply do not listen to what you are saying because their bosses only give them 10 seconds to categorize you into the correct enquiry channel – ‘new orders’, ‘complaints’, ‘refunds’, ‘accounts’ etc. I could go no forever, for example: irritating adverts for products that no one needs, or are so generic that they simply do not need advertising (such as electricity or soap).

So this year Harley is going to be far more positive, he is going to reject all negative thoughts that enter his head, he is not going to waste his precious waking hours by sweating over the unimportant, irritating stuff that he has little or no control over. He is no longer going to be a grumpy old man, but a rejuvenated male adult with even more positive energy than he had last year. Harley is going to be happier and his, colleagues, family and friends are going to notice the difference. Not only for the first month of 2008 but for the whole year!

Now in the blog I wrote on the 11th. of November of last year 'Who is your Guru?’ I mentioned I was reading ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’ by Robin Sharma. Well during the Christmas period I finally read the book and found it very enlightening. It is not a book I would recommend to everyone, it is not on my ‘must read’ list because it has several flaws and the style of writing, especially the dialogue’, is poorly written and incredible. However from the second chapter onwards there are pearls of wisdom on every page, in fact so many that it becomes tedious and predictable. But like all management and self improvement type books, you should read them through quickly, pick out the stuff that makes sense to you and park the rest until you find yourself needing it.

Some of the book’s personal growth wisdom you can also find in my book, 'Making a Difference' but my stlye is very different. However if you are open to a certain level of Asian mysticism and even to a little spirituality, you can gain a lot from this book. It has inspired me to rekindle my 10 minute a day mediation exercises that I dropped when I needed to squeeze more working time into my day by switching from taking a morning bath to having a shower to gain an extra 10 minutes!

So there it is my New Year’s resolution, cut out all negative thoughts, is out in the open – now it will be impossible for me to drop it, because everyone knows it and I will be seen as a failure if I do!

Happy New Year!

PS my wife has just read this article and insists I print it out so that she can put it on the wall in the kitchen – suddenly my 2008 new year resolution is looking like a tough challenge! ;-)