jim@millikenproject.com

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


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Good Finish Needs Strong Start


House built on a rock foundation,
                                                 It will stand, O yes!
                                                                                        Hosanna – Harry Belafonte

     Married 60 years? Wow! What’s the secret?
     “We agreed at the very beginning,” the husband said. “I’ll make all the major decisions  and she’ll make all the minor decisions. And, so far, nothing major has come up.” In 60 years.
     See? It’s all a matter of definition.
     You can visualize a marriage in which the parties have such a gentle, pleasant way of describing how they manage their relationship. It might not make sense for you or me, but it works for them. That description results from the decades-long negotiations that built and maintained the marriage. They can call it anything they want.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Art of Little Decisions

I understand about indecision
But I don’t care if I get behind . . .
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

                                                         --Peace of Mind, Boston

         The song by the group Boston is devoted to cool-it advice for folks clawing their way up the corporate ladder. For me, though, the lines about indecision never fail to trigger a personal rerun of emotional horror.     
     It’s about my introduction to the news editor job on a newspaper many decades ago. I got behind every day, and I cared a lot. I nearly died of indecision.
     The daily workload would escalate over three or four hours from an utterly empty beginning and nothing to work with . . . to an onslaught of stuff from the wire, the local area and the region. Demands would pile up, alarmingly, every day.
     Managing the rush called for detailed, rapid and overlapping decisions about editing, content, placement, priorities, and who knows what else. I wanted to make good decisions, but I didn’t know how. I would keep setting items aside, hoping for some moment at which all would become clear.
     It never did, of course.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

How to Get Taken Seriously



     Warren G. Harding looked like a leader. He was handsome and dignified, never hard to get along with. He moved with little effort through the ranks of Ohio politics, became a compromise candidate for president.
     He was elected in a landslide on his promise to return the country to normalcy after the hardships of World War I. He died in office after three mediocre years and often is classed among the worst presidents in history.
     Numerous scandals erupted because of Harding’s inability to evaluate his appointees.
     Stephen Hawking is an entirely different story. He looks like a very sick man, which he is – severely limited physically by ALS, able to communicate only by computerized means.
     And Stephen Hawking is deep into the most fundamental questions of our physical world. He is a cosmologist, and yet has the celebrity of a rock star. He works brilliantly in studying and writing about the universe – gravity, black holes, why the theory of General Relativity must be unified with Quantum Theory.
     And people hang on his every word.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Too Much of a Good Thing . . . Not a Good Thing


     I have revered my long-ago friend Dick as the best salesman of my experience, and he was. Dick never lost his enthusiasm and he never gave up.
     But Dick had a serious flaw: He never gave up . . . when he should have.
     My most illustrative Dick story is about a string of fatally over-optimistic decisions he once made.
     He had bought a house, mortgaging it through a bank that was persuaded by some flexible assertions related to current vs. potential income. When the inevitable came about, Dick and his wife were out of a home, but still had some ready cash.
     Dick immediately started up two sales-oriented businesses with the money. Then he met a guy who was running a no-hope race in a presidential primary. Dick leaped on this “opportunity” and became the full-time campaign manager for the “candidate.”
     The two infant businesses dried up and blew away. As did the candidacy. And the boodle of money.   

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Leader, Doer -- Take Your Pick


     I heard an experienced project manager talk about how to build a solid project plan:
     “You’ve got to get down to the working surface, and build your estimates on actual facts, history and judgment. Otherwise, your plan is going to have big holes in it.”
     Totally right on the substance. Excellent project management . . . so far. Project estimates must arise from actual facts and relevant experience – to the extent possible.
     Whose facts? What experience? This is where the speaker’s narrative took a turn that seriously undercut the value of his advice. He described the many hours he had spent in researching and preparing estimates for one project.
     He applied his own personal experience? He invested his own time to produce detailed estimates?
     The context was that of a complex, good-sized challenge with a number of team members and stakeholders.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

DIY Job Satisfaction

Calm, empathetic and endlessly patient
 
    You can have a lot of fun when your job is to make something or do something all by yourself, or maybe with a competent, compatible partner. If it’s not just you, it’s just the two of you.
     Either way, you get to put your hands, and your attention, right on the work. You earn the joy of personal accomplishment; you can contribute mightily to the quality of your own result. It’s right out there, with no mistake – you’re the one who did it.
     It’s hard to duplicate the level of satisfaction you feel. But that’s not all.
     When you make it your business to turn out quality results, other people notice. You earn admiration, and you build an enviable reputation.
     In management, not so much. When you’re a manager, you operate in a different universe. Management’s job is to equip and help the people who make things and do things.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Failure Is Optional



     Don was the very model of a salesman – the most thorough practitioner of positive thinking I have ever met. “Misery is optional,” he’d intone.
     When someone did something really mean, Don never criticized, really. He’d ascribe it to attitude. He’d shake his head and say, “Some people just don’t want to be happy.”
     Don wasn’t much into blaming, either. When he failed to make a sale, he sometimes apologized to the person who had turned him down: “I apologize for my failure to show you how this (product/service) would make your life so much better.” Or words to that effect.
     He was a true believer. Once, when he was doing the rounds with a new salesman, it came up to noon . . . and the guy wanted to interrupt for lunch. Don was dumbfounded.
     But the most important enduring memory I have of Don is about failure. He refused to believe in it. When someone turned Don down, however firmly, he never considered that the final word. In his mind, he just hadn’t succeeded yet. Had the rest of his life to get there.
     This doesn’t mean he would hound and harass people until they gave in and bought or agreed, or did whatever it was Don was after. It meant he would keep his eye, and his mind, open for opportunities to offer new incentives to the prospect.