jim@millikenproject.com

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Project Never Mind

     The term would be “death penalty,” but TV editorialist Emily Litella would hear “deaf penalty.” She would rant on with increasing fury about it until the news anchor would correct her faulty perception.
     Instantly deflated but not at all contrite, Emily would smile sweetly and say, “Never mind.”
     It was a standard Gilda Radner schtick in the Saturday Night Live phony newscast, and it usually was pretty funny.
     Something similar frequently afflicts projects and other human activities, and it’s never funny – at least for the people it happens to.
     Mishearing what is said or misunderstanding what is meant can lead to costly mistakes and shattered relationships, especially when the environment is complex and pressured, and the stakes are high.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Projects & Other Problems

     We’re whitewater rafting on the Upper Penobscot. You are having the time of your life. I’m not.
     I don’t know how fast we’re moving as we nosedive five or six feet at a time, then slam headlong into 10-foot walls of water. But it’s pretty fast. Still, I have a fraction of a second before each collision to ask myself: “Are there really people who think this is fun?”

     Of course there are such people. You’re one of them, and I’m of the opposite persuasion. Two people; same time, same place, same circumstance. I have a problem and you don’t.
     Or do you?
     Problems aren’t quite optional, but they most definitely are subjective. What’s happening in the external reality isn’t a problem. The existence and extent of any problem are determined by how that occurrence is perceived, and how the perceiver responds emotionally.
     In short, it’s all in your mind. And mine. For managers, that’s the nut of the challenge.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Personal Productivity

Tom, Discipline and the Rest of Us

 
     Tom played clarinet in the marching band, skirmished regularly – and competently – in pickup basketball games and enjoyed active friendships with a variety of fellow students at Holy Cross.
     He also studied three hours a night, every night, and was assigned to the elite section of his class. He was a math major at a level where they were generating concepts so original that they had to invent their own names for the stuff.
    He did everything with assured confidence.
    Tom was the first member of our college class to marry, which he did a few days before graduation.  
     He went on to earn a doctorate and spent a long career teaching university-level math. He wrote textbooks that were popular enough over the years to keep him busy producing revisions.
     And he fathered children who grew into successful adulthood.
     I had the mixed fortune of rooming with Tom for our last two years at Holy Cross. Occasionally I would try to match Tom’s disciplined evening study hours. Invariably, after a day or two, though, I would revert to my accustomed life of bull sessions and coffee breaks leavened by modest doses of class prep.
     I gained a lot personally from the college experience and did well enough academically. Tom did somewhat better: He was the summa cum laude in a class of 500.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Failure, Success & New Year's Resolutions


     “I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life.
     “And that is why I succeed.”                                                     – Michael Jordan

     When a person catalogues his/her screw-ups as specifically as Michael Jordan did, you’re generally looking at a case of really low self-esteem. “Oh, what a loser I am. Just look at my record.”
     Well, that’s hardly Michael Jordan. His record also includes leadership of six NBA Championship teams, each time earning the honor of Most Valuable Player. He also was the league’s MVP five times. He is a Hall of Famer. And don’t believe he doesn’t remember all that, too.
     Jordan had talent aplenty, but so do the most spectacular washouts you’ve ever seen or heard of. The difference is that Jordan never took failure as the final answer, and he acted from conviction that persistence in doing the hard work would pay off.

Friday, June 24, 2016

How to Argue -- Properly

     This very intense, very intelligent guy startled me by saying something I never had heard before.
     He interrupted a vigorous argument with me by saying. “You know, Jim, I see your point now. I agree with you. You’re right.”
     I was beyond surprised. Why did he do that?
     I’ve thought about that conversation often, and it has changed my basic thinking about why and how to disagree. I now see that the man understood argument in its finest sense, as an opportunity to jointly seek truth and value.
     At first look, this idea may seem ridiculous. But if you put aside conventional thinking, it changes the entire perspective.    
      Some people set out to win all their arguments. Some never win any. Many, perhaps most, rarely argue at all.
     Thoughtful people disagree with all of them. They know that all three types – those who dominate, those who lose the battles and those who avoid engagement entirely – are missing important opportunities. None of the three really know how to reap the benefits of constructive interaction amid differences. They misunderstand what argument can be and what it can do.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Project Outcome Slicing


The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret
of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks
into small manageable tasks, then starting on the first one.”
                                                     -- Mark Twain

     Good for you, Mark. The essence of process management is identifying the pieces, putting them in order and getting under way. So simple and logical to talk about . . . but often so hard to do. Or not the right thing to do first. Here’s why.
     Small, simple things generally are not intimidating, and they’re easier to take care of than large, tangled things. So we do lots of small, simple things – sometimes even when we really should be taking on the big, scary challenge instead.
     But there is a way to tame heavyweight challenges, and Mark Twain has put his finger on it . . . but a little lightly.
     You can waste a lot of time and effort, in little doses, by doing small things and hoping they’ll eventually accumulate into solutions for the big things. They won’t. Hoping, like wishing, is a favored preoccupation of those who don’t get much of anywhere.
     Mark Twain may well be the greatest American writer of all time, but he did not rank as high in process management. His formula gives us the how of success, but it omits the what. Without clarity about the desired outcome, an efficient production process can hustle you all the more quickly to failure.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Doers & Managers

     My boss physically pushed me out of the way in his hurry to intervene.
     The copier wasn’t working for me as he passed by, so he was going to make my copy himself. When he couldn’t do it either, he walked off.
     So, not only did he involve himself – uninvited – in a task he didn’t know how to do, he also demeaned a staff member (me), and himself. Sort of a cartoon illustration of how not to manage.
     Actually, operating a complex and unfamiliar piece of equipment wasn’t a specialty of mine. Never had been and still isn’t. The one at hand that morning required simple code information I had no reason to know or use when the proper staff people were around.
     That wasn’t the only time I stepped out of my role and didn’t do well in a matter involving that same boss. In the second situation, he threatened to take over the function personally. Utterly inappropriate to his station in the organization.