#lifeatthebackyard

Beauty of unpredictability

This photograph is captured with my good old cannon 550D, which is more than 10 years old now. These days, some times, he refuses to work. He has become very unpredictable, as if to remind me that best results are possible only when there is an alchemy of man and machine. There is a thrill associated with unpredictability… and I am able to enjoy it….

The sunk cost syndrome…

In my shares portfolio, there are some shares from a particular company, which has stagnated slightly below the purchase price. Many times the temptation to sell off these shares and invest in shares with better yield gripped me, still I did not sell them. Even when I was missing good opportunities, just because I invested and waited for so long, I want to sell them either equal to or more than purchase price, and that is a foolish idea.

Then this has taught me to observe other things in life I am unnecessarily clinging to, just because I have invested lot of time and energy. This include a face book group created by me, which has around 10,000 members, a youtube channel with about 1800 subscribers. Just because I have spent lot of time and money in nurturing them from ground zero, even after knowing that I am not enjoying them any more, I am unable to delete them. I have seen many marriages where the couple continue to live in agony till death separate them, because they already lived a few years together. They must either decide to live happily or decide to separate. I can say this confidently because I am living in a country where the happiness index is very low and at the same time the divorce rates are also very low. The sunk cost syndrome can happen with relationships with people, pets, jobs, organizations, hobbies….

The only way out is practicing detached attachment, so it becomes easier to shrug of those interests, which are no more interesting. Instead of doing the ‘to do lists’, people like me, plagued by too many activities will benefit by creating and implementing ‘not to do lists’ periodically.

Are patterns like these hampering our progress?. Is this a common phenomena for every one?, or is this just my problem?.

Behind successful webinars…

Today, I am super excited after delivering the webinar ‘Plan with the end in mind with AWP‘. There are two reasons for my joy. The first reason is the fact that the audience are super happy. I could read it from the number and quality of questions asked during the Q&A slot. The second reason is the way we prepared for the webinar. Though I architected the program, by the time we finalized the content, the slide deck traversed through versions 1,2,3 through multiple iterations of brainstorming by a group of intelligent people with the ability to see the product from different perspectives.

Though at times I am unhappy when someone changes my original work, the quality and impact of collective wisdom justify those irritations. I think this is true with all creative workers. Even if we preach about leveraging the strengths of others, understanding, acknowledging and leveraging the strengths of others proactively for great results is a different ball game altogether.

Based on our successful delivery of four successful webinars, we have an unwritten but very well understood and repeatable process for preparing for webinars / training / business presentations. This is contradicting the fact that documentation is inevitable for repeatability 🙂

The first step is agreeing on a relevant topic for the webinar, which is relevant for the industry and audience. Do not waste too much time initially in deciding the actual title, because it is bound to change. We started with the title ‘Practical implementation of AWP’ which got changed to ‘Planning with the end in mind using AWP’, which is definitely more appealing than the first one.

Once the topic is decided, the team is gracious enough to give me uninterrupted research time, during which I develop the the draft slide deck. Now starts the joint reviews of the slide deck and the review comments incorporation. Always start with a minimum viable presentation, so that the effort and pain of rework is minimized.

Since I know how lazy I am, I insist on deciding on the webinar date, and the marketing team goes ahead with the brochure design and the enrollment process. The non negotiable deadlines of agile inspires me to do so. The result, we deliver on time, every time :-). My sincere thanks to the rest of the team for their trust on me.

Designing the webinar brochure is similar to ‘designing the packing case’ exercise in product development. Designing the brochure forces us to think through the potential attendees, value to be delivered, what will be appealing to them etc. Most importantly the deadline and the enrollments drives us to towards the non negotiable goal.

Why did I write this much?. During this pandemic time, the online media is flooded with free training, webinars, presentations, podcasts etc. Getting the attention of the relevant audience and make then enroll by itself is a big challenge. This is followed by the challenge of delivering value to the audience. An adhoc casual approach will not work. The following steps helped us to deliver a streak of successful webinars, and they will help you also.

  • Talking about collaboration is easier than actually doing collaborative work, especially with people like me, who are not very collaborative by default 🙂
  • Always start with the visualization of the marketing collateral. This will help to scope the product better.
  • First develop the draft (minimum viable product), knowing that it is going to be perfected through multiple iterations. This will reduce the frustrations while re-working.
  • Know your strengths. Know other’s strengths as well. Listen actively. Absorb the best and incorporate into the product. Complex products need multiple intelligent minds to work together in a collaborative way.
  • The joy of successful product delivery always outweighs the pain behind developing and delivering it.

We have just delivered this webinar titled ‘Plan with the end in mind with AWP’ using slide deck Version 3.0. The feedback is excellent and already we have started work the Version 4 of the slide deck 🙂

Wish you the joy of delivering successful products and services through true collaborative work of intelligent minds.

The two things that made my lock down days ecstatic

In this part of the world, we are getting into the fifth month ever since the pandemic was identified as a major threat. To be honest, it was an emotional roller coaster till I came across this sentence from Osho ‘Do not allow your mind to question the good things happening to you, allow it to question only the bad things‘.

Over the years, we are conditioned to believe that great joyful experiences are illusions, or too good to be real, and must be questioned and validated, else they are termed as unreal and unworthy of pursuing. In the process we cease to experience true joy, because the mind cannot comprehend it yet. They are beyond logic, or the logic is not evolved to that level to validate unbound joy and ecstasy.

I have not reached the ecstatic levels yet, and at the same time I can vouch that I am more peaceful and happier than ever, despite the turmoil that is happening around me. Everything started with my attempt to stop thinking in a detached way, after listening to one of Oho’s Youtube videos. Did I succeed?. Not fully and at the same time to a great extent or partially. Most of the time, we are either thinking about the past or of the future, and in the process we loose the present. If we allow this pattern to continue, we will never experience life, and many of us have failed to experience life to it’s fullest because most of the time we are either thinking about the past or of the future, at the cost of the present.

Can anyone stop thinking altogether?. Nobody can stop thinking, the state of non-thinking has to arrive and it will arrive , at the appropriate time. We can only facilitate the arrival of the state of ‘non thinking’ with some foreplay and be patient. One thing is sure, if not total stoppage of thinking, a reduction in thinking happens first.

Where did I start?. I started by just focusing on by breathing. Close your eyes, and just focus mildly on your inhales and exhales. That is the first step to start focusing on the present. Other thoughts will surely creep in. Over days, the distractions will reduce.

The second fun exercise I started is to start dancing. I am unable to remember the days I danced during this life. Now, I have started dancing in my room all alone with my favorite music in the background. Hopefully others will join me in the due course. Then I started mixing both dancing and observing my breath. I start with dancing and music, then witnessing my breath again dancing…and then again witnessing breathing in a detached manner…..and I slip into a very peaceful state…which I want to preserve throughout the day. It is beautiful.

I am still mastering the art of unbound Love, Peace, Joy and Ecstasy :-).

The two things that turned my days ecstatic are learning to witness my breath in a detached way, and dancing to my favorite soft music……

It is easy. Everybody can practice it. I share my unbound joy, peace and happiness to you ecstatically.

On Embracing Empathy

During the past one and half years I evolved as a professional blogger from a personal blogger. When I say professional blogger, others started sponsoring my efforts. Though the journey was and continue to be exciting, it had it’s own share of conflicts, both internal and external. As a personal blogger, you are not restrained by anything, when you write. As a professional blogger it is not so. There are multiple stakeholders involved. The one who is sponsoring your efforts and their interests is on one side. On the other hand, it is about delivering tangible value to the reader Vs just airing your views and opinions. Then there is the conflict of the ideal Vs practical.

For example, when we talk about ‘Agile Project Management’, very often I use the term ‘Implementing Agile using Scrum’ which implies a specific start and end, which is fine to the corporate world, where as it is not that fine with the academics and purists (at the bottom of my heart, I belong there). Their view is about improving agility in teams and individuals, which sounds more evangelical. Some go one step further in defining ‘Agility’ as a mindset. While I agree with the idealists point of view, I do not disagree with my own view because for most of the consulting assignments for transitioning teams from waterfall to agile, the first criteria is time frame followed by cost. That is the way the corporate world functions. At a personal level, I am of the view that agile is actually a mindset, it is about getting rid of everything unproductive, and embracing everything that can improve productivity. I even do, a very honest daily retrospective (introspection) before going to bed which helps me to improve myself on a daily basis. Here empathy, or in other words, the ability to see and understand things from others perspective and even my own perspective (in a detached manner) helps me to proceed without contempt.

Empathy, is the ability to understand the feelings of others and respond to them. In other words, it is the ability to get into the shoes of others and understand their perspective. When I moved from a very large MNC organization to a fast growing startup, again the ability to empathize with the organization, helped me to empathize with the people within the organization. In other words, it helped me to understand why some body is behaving in a particular way. So was the case, when I had a lateral entry as a manager into a new team, where there were many aspirants for the same position. Empathy was the rescuer again. The ability to understand things from their perspective, helped me to perform well in the longer run, though I faced problems initially. It is much better and easier than ‘I am right always’ attitude.

Without empathy, real collaboration is almost impossible and less enjoyable. If we learn to root our thoughts and decisions on empathy, we automatically become master collaborators, and great servant leaders.

I am sure that those who worked with me two decades back, would be wondering and laughing about the transformation of a command and control freak. Those are the moments when I realize that I am truly agile, I am constantly getting rid of unproductive ways and embracing new ways. I am more empathetic to others and to me, than I was. Enjoying it.

Evolution of the Hybrid Project Management Manifesto

So far, project management had two distinct streams, the Adaptive (Agile) and the Predictive (traditional). The purists believed in any one of the streams. Over years of practice, the non aligned practitioners like me, started to see benefits in tailoring the project’s processes from the agile and traditional repository of best practices. One reason for this is because each had it’s strengths and weaknesses. This led to the third stream of project management known as ‘Hybrid’ project management.

The Hybrid Manifesto are my thoughts about the right attitude for successful adoption and excellence of Hybrid project management, which is here to stay and grow. I hope, this will help project management practitioners in increase project success rate by healthy adoption of Hybrid project management.

The Hybrid manifesto is evolving.

Click here for the Hybrid Manifesto

Mastering the Art of ‘Peer to Peer’ and sometimes ‘Boss’ mentoring

There is a notion that mentoring is always top down. Fortunately, it is not so. Those opportunities to mentor bottom up or peer to peer are great opportunities to learn and grow professionally. Very often it brings in great benefits to the organization as well. Bottom up mentoring and peer to peer mentoring without offending the mentee is an art, which must be perfected through practice. This is key to success especially in the middle and senior management positions. The good news is, it is easy and enjoyable.

What do we generally discuss with our bosses and peers during our one to one meetings?. Ideas?, Events? or People?. Here is the famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt; “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.”. Though this quote is very inspiring and true, it is very difficult to develop and validate relevant ideas for business consistently.

The single source for these new yet time tested ideas is our own quest for knowledge and self improvement. One major source for these are best selling books. Unless they have something useful in them, they would not have crossed the 1 million copies sold mark. It is not just reading them, but internalizing and sharing those ideas with others. I always do a cost benefit analysis before buying books, as I do for everything I buy. These concepts, learned from the books or blogs, if shared with others at the appropriate time can do wonders.

A new senior manager was recruited to a product development company, which had a highly participatory / collaborative work culture. The new recruit was coming from an organization which had a command and control culture. After joining the new team it was slipping into a loose-loose situation, before one of his peers recommended the ‘First break all the rules’ by Markus Buckingham. That transformed him within a very short span of time and he went on to bag the best manager’s award.

Recently, in a casual one to discussion with the CEO of a successful medium sized product company, I asked this question ‘Have you read the book ‘Crossing the Chasm’ which talks about successfully marketing products. And I left it there. I took this liberty because he used to recommend books to me. Some of them, especially ‘The power of the subconscious mind‘, ‘Hooked‘ and ‘Deep Work’ had positive impact on me. I am grateful for that.

After a couple of weeks of our discussion about ‘Crossing the Chasm’ , one day when I met him in his cabin, he was was very enthusiastic in explaining the concepts of ‘Crossing Chasm’ and the relevance of the concepts to his business at the current juncture. He modified his marketing strategy to incorporate some of the concepts and the business is doing well even during the pandemic time. In fact, it is growing during this period.

To summarize;

  • Be enthusiastic about reading both professional and personnel improvement books which are best sellers
  • Pick those relevant stuff, which are applicable to you
  • Experience the benefits conducting personal experiments. Even the learning from failures is an asset.
  • Share your experiences with others. Listen to others.
  • Do not assume that just because you have read a book, others might have already read it. There are still many in this world who have not read the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’.
  • Be choosy about the books and articles you read. The cost of the book is negligible when compared to the time you spend to read it. Ensure there is potential for Return on Investment.
  • Reduce discussions about people and problems. Instead, focus on solutions.
  • Many senior professionals do not get sufficient time to update their knowledge. You are helping them by doing the learning and sharing the concepts with them.
  • Do not over do it. Create applicable knowledge inventories and use them when the right opportunities arrive.

Unboxing PMBOK7 and PM2.0 – Project Leader Role

From project manager to project leader, may sound crazy for at least some of my fellow professionals from the I.T industry where a Project manager role is considered as hierarchically above the project leader role. One first become a project leader, before becoming a project manager. The paradox is that Leaders are always considered at a higher level than managers in management literature and till now there is no project leader role in any other domain except I.T. Even though I got confused about this conflict between I.T management and the mainstream management, I kept quiet because I thought the Industry must be right over an individual.

Fortunately, while performing research to understand the global trends in EPC project management to design a course for Wrench Academy, it became clearer of the emergence of the role ‘Project Leader’. If my speculation is right, ‘Project Leader’ role will be included in the new version PMBOK7, which is scheduled to be released during December 2020.

Top 7 emerging global project management trends

  1. The project’s success criteria will be determined by ROI, ROCE than the traditional triple constraints of Time, Cost and scope.
  2. Projects will be executed through distributed teams, collaborating with each other over cloud based platforms performing concurrent development.
  3. Project planning will be decentralized and will rely on tailoring best practices from all streams of project management (traditional, agile) for the benefit of the project, than relying on any one method.
  4. Project requirements will be evolving and flexible
  5. Work breakdown structures will evolve bottom up
  6. Assumptions and constraints will be re-validated and revised throughout the project
  7. Activity workflows will become parallel

Out of these, the biggest paradigm shift is the shift in project’s success criteria from delivering on time to the return on investment (ROI) or the return on capital deployed (ROCE).

This change in project management canvas, called as Project Management 2.0 , and now followed by renowned industry bodies like Construction Industry Institute (CII) and Project Management Institute calls for enhancement of project manager’s skill set from tactical to strategic or it justifies the emergence of the ‘Project Leader’ role across all significant projects, whose primary role will be enhancing value to the owner by focusing on benefits management.

When the teams are no more collocated, motivational aspects of the team which drives them to accomplish the project goals are very important. While managing ROI, principle centered decision making is important to create an open and trustworthy environment to facilitate open communication and collaboration across all stakeholders. That is the reason why so much emphasis is given to principle driven project management over process driven project management. Without trust, there is no collaboration across distributed teams.

Carrying stones Vs Building the Cathedral

One day in 1671, Christopher Wren observed three bricklayers on a scaffold, one crouched, one half-standing and one standing tall, working very hard and fast. To the first bricklayer, Christopher Wren asked the question, “What are you doing?” to which the bricklayer replied, “I’m a bricklayer. I’m working hard laying bricks to feed my family.” The second bricklayer, responded, “I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.” But the third brick layer, the most productive of the three and the future leader of the group, when asked the question, “What are you doing?” replied with a gleam in his eye, “I’m a cathedral builder. I’m building a great cathedral to The Almighty.”

Delivering value by continuously portraying the larger picture of the project and it’s benefits to every stakeholder in a trustworthy manner consistently is the new emerging role of true Project Leaders. In other words, project Leaders are the new CEO of the projects.

Abrachan Pudussery

Product & Project Management Analyst

Project Integration Management

Many project management meetings looks like manager’s meetings. Almost every one you see in these  meetings are managers like Engineering managers, Quality managers, Project Owner’s managers, Contractor’s manager, Sub-contractor’s managers, H.R Managers, Project Controllers, Finance managers, Change managers……. that is a long list. Each of them are busy handling their fragment of the project. Who manages the project as a whole?. Who is the CEO of the project?. What does she do ensure that all fragments integrates well on time to deliver value to the Owner of the project or program?

 Project Integration management is the key responsibility of true project / program  managers.  

Let us drill down further to understand Project Integration Management which is the backbone of Integrated Project Delivery;

  • Project Integration Management’s emphasis is on collaborative teams working together from the contracting phase till the project completion
    • Project teams comprises of teams of different disciplines and they develop their plans (subsidiary plans)  like;
      • Engineering -> Engineering plan
      • Construction -> Construction plan
      • Quality -> Quality management plan
      • Procurement -> Procurement management plan
      • Risk management -> Risk management plan
      • Resourcing – > Resource management plan
      • Communications -> Communications management plan
      • Owner / Architect / Business analysts – Requirements / Scope management plan
  • These efforts can be further distributed among Owners, Architects, Contractors, Sub-contractors and Suppliers
  • Project integration management comprises of integrating the efforts of all these different disciplines towards the accomplishment of project goals of Time, Cost, Scope, Return on Investment (ROI) , Return on Capital Employed (ROCE) throughout the project’s life cycle by performing activities like;
      •  Developing and communicating the Project’s charter to the relevant stakeholders for approval and knowledge sharing. Typically project charter contains;
          • High level description of the project 
          • Business case of the project 
          • Alternatives analysis 
          • Major milestones with dates 
          • High level risks, constraints and assumptions 
          • Project approval criteria 
          • Project exit criteria 
          • Key stakeholders, their roles and responsibilities 
          • Project manager’s name, roles and responsibilities etc 
      • Developing the Project management plan and communicating the same to the relevant stakeholders for approval and knowledge sharing. Many get confused between the project management plan and the project’s schedule. Schedule is only part of the project management plan. Project management plan contains;
          • Project’s overall strategy for execution
          • Explanation of  how the project will be executed, monitored and controlled
          • Has the consolidation of the subsidiary plans like;
            • Scope management plan
            • Requirements management plan
            • Schedule management plan
            • Cost management plan
            • Quality management plan
            • Resource management plan
            • Communications management plan
            • Risk management plan
            • Procurement management plan
            • Stakeholder engagement plan
            • Change management plan
            • Configuration management plan
          • Scope baseline
          • Schedule baseline
          • Cost baseline
          • Performance measurement baseline (time based budgets)
          • Project life cycle description
          • Development approach
      • Ensuring that project’s work is happening as per the project plan during the execution phase. 
      • Ensuring knowledge capture, dissemination and archival for future use. 
      • Monitor and control project work to ensure that the project will get over on time, within budget and meet the scope. The most common tools used for monitoring and controlling project work are;
          • Earned Value Management (EVM)
          • Earned Schedule Management (ESM)
          • Burn down charts 
          • Critical Path Analysis 
          • Project dashboards
      • Perform Integrated Change control by;
          • Ensuring establishment of Change Control Board, Change Management Process.
          • Ensuring adherence to the process 
      • Ensure formal closure of phases and project according to the defined process 

 

If there are no dogs on Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went. Will Rogers.

Our dog Theo….