Finding Your Way



We all need a map (yes fellas, even you).  Maps are tools to navigate in areas that are unfamiliar.  They hold immense amounts of information in very simple forms.  Maps help us to remember where we have been and how to get to where we are going. 

We navigate in unfamiliar media every day.   The trick is to know how to make a map when there isn’t one around.  Below are some basic ideas on how to make a map of a project, a development plan, or a strategy.  Let me know your thoughts.

  1. Start with an idea.  Vague is okay when starting the process.  You may not know where you will end up, but have an idea of the outcome.
  2. Lay down the rough lines.  Outlining is useful and so is creating nested topics.  If working a project, think about significant milestones that have to happen to reach the end.
  3. Start to fill in the detail.  This step is progressive and iterative.  Once you start filling in details you will have to refine other parts of your map and revise.  This leads to more detail.
  4. Think of different ways to deliver information.  Maps use symbols, lines, numbers, legends, etc.  Think of how you might incorporate the same into your map.  Using different colors or thicker lines to demonstrate impact or size is a simple way to add information (large cities have a different symbol and are usually in bold type on a map).
  5. Proofread.  Have someone else try to navigate using your map.  That is the ultimate test.  Can he get from here to there?  This is useful for strategies, procedures, presentations.
  6. Make it easy to read.  You don’t want people to have to stare at your map for days before they know how to use it.  But don’t forget that people need to be trained on how to read maps.  You didn’t know how to use a map before you were taught and you probably haven’t seen a map like the picture above unless you are a pilot.

Maps can be graphical, linear, or simply post-it notes on a wall with string.  It’s about organizing the information and making it available to others.  These are skills any leader or project manager must have to be successful.

How have you used maps in your life?


Knowledge is NOT Power


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At some point you have heard the quote “Knowledge is Power”.  I think we have all taken this to be the motivation for education.  Get smart, be powerful.  After all, the person credited with the quote, Sir Francis Bacon, is one of the fathers of the scientific method.

Knowledge is power.

―Francis Bacon

While I don’t necessarily disagree with the statement above, I do think that it is incomplete.  I would like to add a few words to create my own statement: The proper application of knowledge yields power.  Let me explain.

Knowledge in itself is useless

Knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be.

―Albert Einstein

Approximately 14 people die each day at work (United States Department of Labor, 2013).  It’s a horrible thing to think that 14 people go to work every day to earn for a family and then never get to go home to them again.  Knowing this, does it give you power?  If you didn’t know this already before reading this page, did I just make you more powerful?  I don’t think that I did.  Let’s face it; most of you may not even let this knowledge affect the way you behave at your job.  It may not influence the decisions you make about your employees.  If not, you have not gained any power from this knowledge.  But, there is hope.  There is potential.

The more knowledge you have, the more options you have.  The better informed that you are, the better decisions that you can make.  But we all know people (or we are those people ourselves) that have made decisions counter to what our knowledge advised us to do.  Therefore, that knowledge was useless (or the knowledge was fine, but we were useless).  If that is true, then knowledge itself cannot be power.

Making knowledge useful

Personally, I don’t like knowledge being useless.  It’s wasteful.  So what can we do to make knowledge useful?  Simple; apply it!  That is science; that is leadership; that is simply being a good citizen.  Applying knowledge is what creates change.  And change is what drives improvement, innovation and invention.

But applying knowledge is not quite enough.  Remember our phrase states that it requires the proper application of knowledge.  For example, if I know that reducing inventory in our maintenance department will save the company the associated carrying costs, the application of that knowledge would be to reduce the inventory.  However, if I simply reduce inventory and don’t do it the right way, I will still achieve the goal of saving the carrying costs, but I will create additional costs in excess equipment downtime due to not having parts in stock, expediting orders on purchases, wasted mechanical labor on pursuing work that doesn’t have items in stock and more.  These costs will surely offset the savings that comes from my application of knowledge.  The result will be a loss of respect from my maintenance staff, an upset manager at my inability to meet the budget, upset production peers for causing additional downtime on their equipment, frustrated customers for late deliveries or extended lead times; the list goes on.  This actually resulted in a loss of power.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

―Abraham Lincoln

So the proper application of knowledge requires even more knowledge.  How, should we reduce inventory to gain power?  Depending on the process there are several ways, vendor managed inventories, consignment agreements, ABC prioritizing, new ordering methods.  So knowing this knowledge it again needs to be applied.  But this needs to be applied properly by including the right people.  If we try to do reduce inventory in a vacuum we will surely alienate others and again lose power, not gain it.

This could be an endless cycle of exploration and obtaining knowledge.  One must be careful because trying to pursue all of the knowledge to apply it all perfectly can lead to hesitation and stagnation.  Use a mini risk assessment to decide if you have enough knowledge on what to do and how to apply it.  If the reward outweighs the risk, take action and apply the knowledge you have.  If you didn’t get it all right, you can adjust along the way and make corrections for the new knowledge you gain as you progress.

So what do i do with this power anyway

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.
                                   ―Thomas Jefferson

Congratulations, you gained knowledge, applied it properly and now you have power!  Now what?  We all seem to want more power.  But once we have it, we need to know what to do with it.  There are a lot of things that we can do with power once we have it.  Since we are the ones with the power, it is up to us to decide what to do with it.  Most people don’t really know how to wield the power that they have and it is simply wasted or used for selfish gain.

I think that the most effective use of power is to give it away and teach others how to do the same. By giving away power you effectively increase your own.  Power given away is exponential power.  John C. Maxwell wrote “A key to empowering others is high belief in people.” You have to believe in the power of other people and help them to achieve it.


How have you seen knowledge wasted?

Why to Say “No” to a Customer


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It can be tempting to do what your client asks of you even when you know it will be wrong or it will not work.  After all, “she is the customer and the customer is always right.”  Below are a few reasons why you should be willing to tell your client no and even to be willing to walk away from the job.

You Have Professional Integrity

You are partnering with a client because they need your expertise.  They should be hiring you because they are not in the position to do the job themselves.  This should put you in a position of knowing the pros and cons of the job.  Take the time to walk through it with your client (after all you may have missed something) and be willing to explain yourself several times.  If it gets to a point that you are being pushed into something you don’t like, for whatever reason, be willing to walk away.

They Will Respect You

No one respects a pushover.  No one respects pushy people either.  You have to be ready to temper your customer service with professional resolve and vice versa.  A soft approach is the best way to take a hard line.

You Have Their Best Interests In Mind

If you are willing to do whatever they ask, they don’t need you.  You become a second pair of hands and that it not fun.  What you want to be is a trusted partner, and that means you contribute knowledge and expertise.  Letting the client know that you want them to be successful is how you can make sure you never put yourself in a position to be blamed for your project failing.

If you are tactful and professional you can make sure that you only work on the projects that will make a difference for your clients.  This is what will make you stand out and give you a great reputation.  If you are in a position where you have a direct boss within an organization there will be times that you have to do what you may not think is best.  But don’t be afraid to speak your mind and get your ideas on the table.

How can you say “no” to clients and customers?

Building Something Amazing Takes Time


I’m not a patient person. I want results now. But no matter how much I want those results now I still have to wait for them. The bigger the result, the longer I have to wait.

Building a System
When we put together programs and systems it takes a very long time not only because systems are typically complex, having to consider and negotiate inherent exceptions to the rule, but also because it takes people to run these programs and helping them accept change takes considerable thought, planning and time. Whether managing a project where a new program is being constructed or implementing a new CMMS where it takes months of collecting and inputting data, these systems test our patience.

Building a Culture
Culture can happen organically or it can be directed and focused. Ideally, it is the latter, whereby we set guiding values and bring in people that embody those values while shaping the behaviors within our groups to demonstrate our commitment to them. This is deliberate and time consuming. Considering that the topography of our personnel landscape is constantly changing, it means that this is a never-ending job to manage and can create tedious pressures that demand the most of us.

Forging the Way
Major initiatives don’t happen over a single night. It takes a lot of strategy, typically years of it, and it requires vision into the future. Gaining the right knowledge and creating the plans are only the beginning of blazing the trails to new horizons. The less traveled the road, the longer it will take to get to the destination.

Keeping the Motivation

  1. Understand your goal. Know the payoff that will come with the patience you need. Envision all of the ways this undertaking will benefit you and others. Think of the intangible benefits as well.
  2. Build a support team. Create the passion for the goal in others and get them to buy in to the program. With others having passion for the goal it will keep you on task and help you to endure the time it takes to achieve it.
  3. Count the hours. If your goal is truly time-based, mark down the calendar. You will see a physical change and look forward to crossing the days off of the list.
  4. Create milestones. Set smaller, step-wise accomplishments that are necessary to achieve the overall goal. Celebrate making the milestones and keep up the morale of you and your team.
  5. Practice makes perfect. Be willing to keep adding goals that are further and further into the future. The more you exercise patience, the easier it will come for you.

In our society of short-term gains it is important to understand that long-term payoff is usually much larger and more significant. That 1-year payback is nothing compared to the ten things that you can create over ten years that will payback tenfold.

How else can you practice patience?

Eliminating Vanishing Points


The vanishing point is the distance where the sky meets the sea.  It is also the point where vertical planes appear to merge.  To me, a vanishing point does not represent disappearance, rather, it represents infinity.  I know that things keep going and if I can’t see the end it makes me think it goes on forever.

This can be a problem with a project.  If you don’t see the end it most definitely can go on forever.  Here are some tried and true tips on how to make sure you can see the end of your projects.

Define the Ending

If you can describe the ending to a point where you can envision it then you will know what it looks like when you reach it.  Many projects fail because the ending is ambiguous.

Develop Your “Will-dos”

In your scope, spell out what you will accomplish with this project.  If you have itemized deliverables and you can check them off you will know you are done with the project when there is nothing else to check.

Develop Your “Won’t-dos”

Just as importantly (and more importantly in many cases) you need a list of things you won’t do as part of your project.  You will typically get pushback on this, but it is worth it.  Now you can’t be led astray and steered away from your real objectives.

Set a Finish Date

If we don’t give ourselves deadlines we give ourselves excuses.  Most people procrastinate (I’m just as guilty as the next guy) when we don’t have a deadline.  Finish dates are key to providing that needed pressure to get the job done.

Get Sign-offs

If you think you are done and you have hit your objectives, get the key stakeholders to put in writing that they agree with you.  It is your contract with them that the project is done and that the end is nigh.

These are just some quick pointers that have worked for countless project managers.  Keep in mind that these tips also work with Leadership and setting expectations and goals for teams.  Look over them again and you will see how this is similar to goal-setting and Performance Improvement Plans.

What are some other ways to define the end?

How could these pointers have helped with your past projects?

Can You See the Storm Coming?


Meteorologists have the best job in the world; they can be wrong 100% of the time and still be employed.  But if we miss the big storms we can be left exposed to the elements.  What we often forget is that the storms can be brewing from within our own back yards.

Beware the Calm Before the Storm
If the birds aren’t chirping watch out!  If there is no noise going on there is probably a problem brewing.  There should always be constructive conflict happening.  That means you will hear a little bit of heat in a discussion, and that isn’t all bad.  If the air is too calm, people are sheltering you from what is really going on and that can be a sign of bad things on the horizon.

Where there is Thunder there is Lightning
Too big of blow-ups are the other extreme.  If people are exploding with emotion that means they are having a hard time coping with the stress of work.  That stress can come from many different things.  This is not something to sweep under the rug.  If you hear of a blow-up then someone is having a rough go of it and it needs to be addressed.  A Leader will make sure that the underlying issue (the lightning) is found and dealt with appropriately.

Reaching Steady-State
Small storms are a good thing.  We need some rain and weather is always about nature trying to reach a steady-state.  Introduce a few storms every once in a while to make sure that you are always making improvements.

Remember, we can’t always control the weather.  Not every day will be sunshine and a warm breeze.  Be prepared and understand that storms will come.

What are some other signs of storms?

How can Leaders better control their weather?

Take Care of the Little Things


As Project Leaders we are usually have skills regarding our attention to detail.  But we are also usually very neglectful of the “soft” side of project management (which is why I prefer to use the term “Project Leader” as a reminder that projects involve the personal component just as much as the technical).  So when I want to write something regarding the little things, I am not just talking about the technical, task-related items that are part of a project.  Below are 5 little things to take care of while you are managing the tasks of a project.

It is easy to mismanage our tone when we are working on a project.  We can become so focused on accomplishing tasks and getting updates that we forget that there is a person that is working on this for us.  Often times we are doing these updates via phone (a conference call is typical) and we want to be efficient and not waste other’s time.  However, forgetting to be appreciative and approachable can cost us in the long run.

Don’t forget that you are serving the needs of those that are working on the project just as much as they are serving yours.  It is necessary that you be timely with responses and due dates as well.  There is a lot to manage when running a project, but providing information to those that are managing tasks is one of the most important things you can do as a project leader.  Give realistic commitments and keep them.  This is one of the easiest ways to lead by example.

Keeping up is necessary.  90% of what a project manager does is communicate.  Make sure that you are getting the latest information to everyone and keep yourself current on the progress of all of the parts of your project.  You may not know the details, but that is okay.  Just know where the project is and how it may affect the other pieces.  Keep others up-to-date as best as you can.

Take a Break
We all need to recharge.  Make sure you are taking the time to recharge yourself and your team.  If you don’t take a break you may find yourself completing subpar work and settling for mediocrity.

Take Turns
Whenever possible find a backup that can help with some of the duties required of you so that you can be there to support the team.  Let someone else lead a meeting so that you can take some one-on-one time with a member that needs that extra support.  This also provides development tools for other members of the team that may need to work on some of these skills.

These little things can add up to big things in the long-run.  Don’t discount the power that these small tasks have on your project and your team.

What are little things you have done to make a big difference?

How have leaders impacted you by taking care of the little things?