Helpful One-Liners

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There are a lot of one-liners that are useful and can teach us something.  I made a list of my top 5 and put a little something to them about what they mean personally to me.

1)      You reap what you sow.

Literally, it makes a lot of sense: I plant soybeans then I harvest soybeans.  Being from Central Illinois I have seen a lot of soybean and corn fields and I have yet to see a farmer plant corn and harvest soybeans.  But, with GMO products, who knows what could happen one day (but that is another blog for another time).

In Leadership, I think this is so true that it is haunting.  Our team is a reflection of us as leaders.  If our team is squabbling and bickering and high-maintenance, guess who is to blame.  If our team is incompetent and dependent upon us to get things done, guess who is to blame.  If our team is dysfunctional and non-productive, guess who is to blame.

We sow the attitudes, abilities, and behaviors of our teams.  You have designed your team to act the way they are acting, so you only have to look at yourself to find out how to change results.  Sobering…

2)      Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Talk about an oldie but a goodie!  The Golden Rule is golden because of the inherent truth that comes from it.  As Leaders we have to embody this rule every day.  We must expect it from others, but more importantly we must expect if of ourselves (obviously, because if we follow the rule we would expect it of ourselves if we expect it of others).

This rule expresses the essence of so many traits; fairness, kindness, loyalty, respect, maturity, honesty…  Because of this rule you can explain these very difficult, abstract concepts to a child.  So why is it so hard to follow this rule as mature adults?

3)      It’s not what you say but how you say it.

I hate to admit it, especially publicly, but my dad was right.  I remember him saying this to me as a child so much that I hated it.  As he started the phrase I would finish it in a mocking voice (thus proving his point) and then walk away thinking it was the dumbest thing anyone could say.  Now, I know how important tone, phrasing, body language, and approach are for any conversation, especially those difficult ones.

How we say things can often mean more than the message we are conveying.  If we are compassionate about what we are saying, if we take interest in who we are saying it to, if we are conscious of all of the things that make what we are saying have more impact and reinforce the message, then we are better communicators and better leaders.

See this post for a great reference from a great movie.

4)      A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

I often get hung up on what I don’t have instead of appreciating what I do have.  I mean that personally and as a Leader.  I want a bigger budget, I want more people, and I want more skills in my team.   So, instead of appreciating what I have and taking an interest in my team I find myself looking outside my group for the things I want.

Really what we should be doing is appreciating the people we have and investing in them appropriately.  Our team could probably help us find ways to work within our budget, get more done in less time with the same team, and we should invest in our people to grow the skills that are needed.

Look at what you have and find ways to do more.  Your team can help if you just let them.

5)      You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

I’m not quite sure how this phrase started, but it’s true.  I don’t think I have ever seen flies hovering around a vinegar bottle.  Still, I like the meaning.

I think this whole phrase boils down to approach.  If I want someone to do something, is it better to yell and berate him until it is done or to take an approach that is more appreciative and communicate the need?  Granted, the latter takes more time, but it gets better results.

The long-term benefits are massive.  As your approach is better, people feel more valued.  Valued people take more of an interest in what they are doing and, as a result, are more focused and are more productive with fewer errors.  Before long, you have a whole lot of very productive and happy flies around your honey jar.

How do these phrases connect with you?

What are some other phrases that help you stay on point?

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Scale and Perspective

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A blimp in the distance.

Understanding Scale is what Engineers and Project Managers do.  Understanding Perspective is what Leaders do.  Combining the two, marrying scale and perspective, is what Project Leaders do.

Scale

Building to scale is when you construct something to be proportionally equivalent to the final product.  Scale models are used to understand spatial relationships; scale systems are used to test loads and outputs.  Scale also is a measure of degree.  A small-scale project versus a large-scale project.  Scaling a project refers to pilot testing and then upsizing a system to its final size or load.

Perspective

Perspective is a point-of-view and understanding the relationship of things from a specific place; knowing how to represent items in terms of the things around it.  Artistic perspective often discusses the ability to translate 3-dimensional into 2-dimensional in such a way that it is understandable and realistic to the viewer.  Abstract perspective involves the position and observation from the individual on the topic or object.  Perspective is tied to emotion and experience.

When working on a project, it is important to remember both Scale and Perspective throughout the process.  Using the DMAIC model from 6-sigma, we can apply both Scale and Perspective throughout the method.

Define – Understanding the scale of the project is part of the define phase.  One must determine the size and scope that will be included and excluded as part of the project.  The Project Leader must also understand the perspective of the sponsor and the end-user.  Too many times we omit the perspective of the people that know the process best and can add significant value to the scope.

Measure – This is often thought of as strictly a scientific item.  However, this phase of the project requires a thorough understanding of the perspectives of the customer, sponsor, user, and team.  Each of these perspectives will have different metrics that are important to them and they need to at least be considered.  Some will be eliminated due to time constraints, feasibility, or other reasons, but consideration is key when involving people in your project.  The scale of this phase can be daunting unless a good method of vetting the essential from the ancillary is found.  Scaling this section back can be detrimental unless all of the perspectives that affect the project are understood.

Analyze – Be careful of “paralysis by analysis”.  There are hundreds of statistical tools to use and different ways to slice and dice the data.  Scale your analysis so that it is representative of the perspectives you choose to include in your project.  Understand the key improvement areas of each and perform an initial-phase test to see if the data warrants further investigation.

Improve – This is where scale and perspective can sometimes collide.  By including multiple perspectives you will undoubtedly increase the scale of the project.  Understand where improvement will yield the best results and start there, adding scale as long as the project justifies the improvement.  Implementation may need to be scaled as well, working your way to the final product once you have proven the method.

Control – This is where gaining perspective at the beginning of the project will pay the most dividends.  By understanding the perspective of the end-user you will be able to sustain and control the process.  Remember, the end-user will be the one to decide whether or not your project will work, not the boss, not the sponsor, not you.  If the end-user decides that the project does not satisfy the need from their perspective, no matter how much you scale, it won’t work…period.

We, as Project Leaders, are people that work with processes, projects, and people.  We have to understand the process we are affecting, design and manage the projects that will improve that process, and serve the people that will benefit from and use the final product.

What is your perspective of this post?

How have you seen different perspectives affect the outcome of a project?

Providing Choices

tomatoes

When you look at a group of tomatoes at the store from a distance, they all look the same.  That doesn’t make for excitement.  It doesn’t make me feel like I have options.  If I want a tomato, I get that type of a tomato.  It’s kind of like getting a Model T in fire-engine red…not going to happen.

People like choices, and as Project Leaders, we need to understand that desire.  Sales people have been using this tactic for decades. 

Don’t give people the option to say “no”, give them options on how to say “yes”.

As a Project Leader, you are a salesman, whether you want to be or not.  You have to sell your solution, your method, your team choice, your timeline, your budget, and your abilities.  These are all points of sale, and if you provide options, you will sell more.

The Solution & Budget

Selling the solution seems like it should be the last step, but it is the first.  Most times a project is “identified” already and you are the one to get it done.  The thing is, there are multiple solutions for most situations:  Automation vs. Manual, New vs. Used, Higher Investment/Lower Operation Cost vs. Lower Investment/Higher Operation Cost.

These are all choices.  Scope your project on all of these fronts for feasibility and impact.  Present the options to the stakeholder and help him choose the solution that is right for him.  Remember that the solution and the budget are closely related.  Provide valuable options that are at different investment levels, however, make sure they all satisfy the objective of the project.

The Method & Timeline

Method is the HOW for executing the project.  You already have the WHAT sewn up with the choices you provided for the solution.  Now, with the different solutions, you can have different methods.  These choices can range from installation methods, equipment options, operation needs, interviews, surveys, process flow maps, value-stream mapping, and many other buzzwords, catch-phrases, and tools that proliferate in the Project Management arena.  Pick different options that, again, provide value to the stakeholder.  Method and timeline are directly related and usually the longer the time investment the more thoroughly the solution will be implemented and sustained after the project is completed without your intervention.

Be careful here.  It can be easy to find yourself providing a method option that is going to tie you to the project for a long time.  Understand your time commitment and budget and provide options that fit within your requirements.  Also, be cautious about being pulled back into the project after it is completed because it drifts backwards.  This is usually because you provided an option that was too short on time and the project was not adopted readily, requiring your intervention later.  Make sure the stakeholder knows when you are parting ways with the project and understand that support will be limited afterwards.  People will not own something if they can rely on the Project Leader as a crutch.

The Team & Your Abilities

These options start with a clear assessment of what you bring to the table.  Understand your time availability, your technical capabilities, and the level of intimacy you have with the project topic.  Create options around how you will support your weaknesses (and it is okay to have weaknesses on a project and still be the Project Manager) with other people and create potential teams with suggestions.  Make sure that all of these teams satisfy your requirements for time and talent, but still give options on who is on the team and the time they will need to invest to the project.

How Many?

Three is always a good number.  I think that is why the Baby Bear in Goldilocks didn’t have any siblings.  You will find that with a number like three, the process of elimination takes over and you will have an option that is too hot, too cold and another that is just right.  Sometimes you can’t make it to three, that is okay, work with what you have.  Other times, you may need to present more options.  Understand your audience and the project complexity.

Don’t provide too many choices.  People get bogged down when they have too many options to consider.  Use yourself as a guide.  If you would be willing to sit and read all of the options and weigh them against one another, chances are that your stakeholder will as well.

Breaking it Down: Making the Simple Complex

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I don’t know why, but I was driving today and became enamored with words that begin with “th”.  I started saying them aloud and noticing the difference among them and I found that there were two distinct sounds we use for “th” in the English language as demonstrated by the words “thought” and “though”.

Go ahead, say them aloud and focus on the difference in the sound.

I then started thinking about how I would explain the difference to someone that was learning the English language and how difficult that would be.  It is amazing how complex things are when you start to break them down to their fundamental parts and then try to build them back up.  It’s like that radio you took apart as a kid and tried to put back together, always leaving one part out and wondering where it came from.

So how does this relate to our lives?  I think it is a necessary skill to be able to explain all sorts of things to all sorts of people and this skill requires the ability to understand that the simple isn’t simple.

Bruce Lee said (and I am paraphrasing)

Before I knew how to fight, a punch was just a punch and a kick was just a kick.  When I was learning to fight, a punch was not just a punch and kick was not just a kick.  Now that I know how to fight, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.

As an engineer I find the same to be true with my projects.  I have to understand the Why and the How and then be able to explain that to someone else – someone with a different background, experience and culture than mine.  In turn I must also be able to interpret others’ explanations to me about what they do and how they do it.  I have to then be confident enough in what I understood to be able to design a project around it.

How do we break down simple things to make them difficult so that they will be simpler again?

  1. Assume nothing. Never think you understood something or that someone understood you.  Confirm it.
  2. Map every step. No matter how mundane or silly it is, you can always take it out of the process or task list later.
  3. Ask stupid questions. Stupid questions demonstrate that you are humble enough to admit you don’t understand, but smart enough to admit you don’t understand.  (That was not a typo.)
  4. Take it on a test-drive.  Mentally go through your project or process and shake down every step.  Try to see it from an outsider’s perspective.  Get an outsider’s perspective if you can.  You may learn something.

By making simple things more complex we can understand them better and then build them back up in a way that others can use and understand.  Engineers and managers tend to be proud of their smarts and I think that is pretty stupid.  Try to explain the difference in the sounds of “th” to someone and see how it goes.

What are some other examples of taking simple things for granted?

How can this be applied to your profession or personal life?