jim@millikenproject.com

jim@millikenproject.com 207-808-8878 Our book "Life is a Project: How are you managing?" is now available!


Saturday, November 19, 2016

When the Buck Never Stops

 
  “I never put anything in writing,” the boss said.
     That simple admission said volumes about his view of his job and his responsibility.
     He confided it as a revelation straight out of the secret handbook known only to the highest level of management and leadership.
     I saw it as something of the opposite: A refuge for weak people, a selfish risk avoidance strategy and a loophole to escape blame. Don’t believe everyone else in that organization didn’t know that about the top guy, even without sharing his secret.
     When the buck has no place to stop, a major group activity is to keep passing it on.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Managing the Project People Resource


    I watched as a group of managers regaled themselves with tales of the laziness and incompetence of their employes. Their own employes, their workforce.
     It reminded me of a supervisor of nine specialists who said the job would be perfect if only he didn’t have to put up with the people. He was topflight at the work himself, but he couldn’t turn out that quality at 10 times the quantity. He needed those people and they needed him, but he didn’t see it that way.
     Such attitudes are not at all rare, and that’s too bad. They devalue one of the most important underlying realities of management, especially project management: Nothing happens without the people.
     Software engineering guru Watts Humphrey wrote that the work of technical managers is 90 percent people and 10 percent technology – but they spend most of their time on the technical management. It’s a lot less hassle that way.
     It’s also far less effective. The truth is that the human resource is the catalytic factor – the dynamic resource that makes possible the productive employment of all the others. Your equipment, materials, facilities and your very processes don’t do a thing until activated by your people.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Belief, Focus, Creativity

     


      “I’m not creative.”
     “I don’t have musical talent.”
     “I’m always late.”
     “I can’t do math.”

     Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense and nonsense.
     You can generate brand-new ideas. You can play instruments, make pictures, discipline your schedule, manage intricate formulas. You just have to want to, enough so you’ll invest the time and attention you need to make it all happen.
     You can do what you put your mind to. You can’t do something you’ve decided not to try.
     That summarizes this business of talents and skills.

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.