PMP Lifestyle Blog

Beware the Non-Planners

Although, I’ve written before about the importance of being able to go-with-the-flow when planning vacation, the PM’s ability to strategize and multitask and plan ahead is useful in when planning many ‘regular’ life events. Sporting events come to mind today.

It’s especially frustrating when those on whom you’re dependent to pull off such events don’t have the same wherewithal. I honestly wonder how it’s so hard to briefly consider a plan a couple months off, especially when all that’s necessitated is saying yes. The organized person (me/the PM) does all actual planning, scheduling and procurement and communications. (See the all those pretty li’l knowledge areas?)

The PM and his minions

The PM and his minions

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The Winding Paths of Success

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine who is only a couple years into his career talked to me about how about he feels as though his older friends’ careers have been so much more structured than he envisions his has been.

But the truth is that few career paths are as structured as we envision they were, after the fact. We can make conscious decisions about training – getting the PMP, doing an MBA, etc.

Over at 99U, I saw this quote from Podcaster and 43Folders founder Merlin Mann at The Great Discontent

It’s easy to start regarding yourself as some kind of big success, crowing about all the things you did to get there and how you became a serial entrepreneur. But, most of us are just lucky to be alive.

Everyone encounters setbacks and twists in the path. The process by which we arrive at our life and career decisions is rarely a straight line. Control what you can, plan what you can but don’t obsess. Enjoy the process while you’re working it out.

Inventing Your Own Life’s Meaning – Bill Watterson

As we go about our careers, developing new skills and taking on new challenges, it can be very seductive to keep chasing the brass ring. Of course, you’ve worked hard to get to where you are and you don’t want to be complacent. Growth, change, challenge – these are important aspects of life, inside or outside of your career. But doing these things solely for their own sake isn’t going to lead to a better life.

The following is one of my favorite quotes of all time:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement.

In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive.

Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success.

Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake.

A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential.

As if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing.

There are a million ways to sell yourself out and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy but it’s still allowed and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

– Bill Watterson, Kenyon College, 1990

You may recognize the name, Bill Watterson. He is the artist who came up with the famed Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. Watterson is a man who fought tooth and nail for his art, for his vision of what Calvin & Hobbes was supposed to be. He wasn’t complacent but neither did he succumb to the trap of climbing the ladder for the sake of climbing the ladder.

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Helping Others Deal with Embarassing Situations

OpenForum has a list of seven tips for handling embarrassing rejections:

  1. Appreciate the defining moment.
  2. Remind yourself of the “spotlight effect”.
  3. Argue with self-criticism
  4. Drop the defensiveness.
  5. Ask for feedback.
  6. Desensitize yourself to the word, “no”.
  7. Keep your chin-up.

Good suggestions all. I wanted to concentrate on #2 – Remind yourself of the “spotlight effect”.

The “spotlight effect,” discovered in research at Cornell University, refers to the fact that people considerably overestimate how much attention other people are paying to them, whether it’s their embarrassing moments, their behavior or their appearance. So, for example, when we feel that our presentation wasn’t well received, we’re likely exaggerating the extent to which others noticed every possible flaw that we believe existed. It’s helpful to remind yourself once in a while that the social spotlight doesn’t shine as brightly on us as we believe.

But let’s turn it around. When dealing with your team members or people that report to you on a project, don’t forget the spotlight effect. If one of your coworkers experiences an embarrassing rejection or just an embarrassing situation, he or she will likely be subject to the spotlight effect. They will overestimate the effect and attention they received during or as a result of this situation.


As a PM, it’s your responsibility to help that person move past it and understand that the embarrassing situation probably wasn’t as a bad as he/she thought. It will help the teammate to move on from the rejection more quickly and not let them get bogged down in self-pity or self-doubt. The sooner they move on, the greater their contributions will be to the project. And certainly, this will benefit all team members not to mention the overall health of your project.

Use some of the other six steps listed above to help your colleague.

#1. Appreciate the defining moment.

We’ve all been through rejections. Share a story with your colleague about an embarrassing rejection of your own or some type of setback and how you moved past it and contributed to a successful past project.

#4 Feedback.

It’s a tricky situation but if you can offer constructive criticism to your colleague, you will help that person move on more quickly and with greater confidence.

#7. Keep your chin up.

In concert with the other suggestions on this list, buck up your team member. Don’t force them to get over the rejection before they’re ready but be there to gently encourage them to keep plugging away, to keep working hard and contributing. Show that you still value that person’s contributions and that this rejection or situation is only a small bump in the road.

Critical Path as a Way to Simplify Life

By Karol Alexandre [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsI was recently thinking about my friends in New York City who are always so busy, busy, busy. The phrase “in a New York minute” implies that everything there runs faster. Well, yes, to a degree, that’s true. But I worked in NYC for a time as well and I’d be willing to bet that a lot of that so-called busyness is a combination of make-work and humble-brag.

From Lifehacker:

To assume that being “busy” (at this point it has totally lost its meaning) is brag-worthy, is ridiculous. By endlessly puffing our shoulders about how “up to my neck” we are, we’re missing out on important connections with family and friends, as well as personal time. In addition to having entire conversations about how busy we are, we fail to share feelings with friends and family, ask about important matters, and realize that the “busy” is something that can be put on hold for a little while.

Anyone who works in Project Management in Corporate America knows that a lot of our time is spent in meetings, meetings and yes, more meetings. Even though the value of many meetings can be called into question, that’s not something that we can always be avoided. Stakeholders need to be updated. Team members have to be kept on task. Deadlines must be reiterated. You schedule a one-hour meeting and if you’re efficient, it will last 15-20 minutes. Or your meeting becomes inefficient and lasts the full hour while the true purpose only takes 5 minutes. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable even in the most efficiently-run, well-planned projects.

The importance of project planning and execution, managing scope & stakeholders and the like can rarely be understated. Even so, sometimes busy-work cannot be avoided in project life. However, it’s important to must avoid the pratfall of letting it creep into our personal lives.

You may not be able to control the number of useless meetings you must attend but that makes it all the more imperative to schedule your down-time constructively. ‘Constructive’ doesn’t have to mean productive, busy, frazzled and as over-scheduled outside of work as you are inside of it. Your career should not swallow you so much that you lose sight of why you go to work in the first place. If you cannot always control your busy-work, then control your life outside of work.

The minute you step out of the job – exhale. Relax. Appreciate your friends, your family, your kids. They’re the reason you go to work, right?


Do not keep as busy at home as you do at work. Pick 1 hobby, perhaps 2. Make sure you actually enjoy them; not just that you’re doing them because you feel you should. Get at them consistently.

Family Life Critical Path

Soccer practices and dance recitals and homework and summer camps. All important. Look to your ancestors though. If you’re not too young, look to your childhood. Chances are that if you’re 30+, your childhood wasn’t that complicated. Your children’s lives don’t have to be either. I know that is easier said than done.

But think about it this way. If your kids are over-scheduled now, how will they ever relax and enjoy their lives later on. They’ll never even have had a vision of a simple life.

Here’s where some PMP knowledge comes in handy. Use the Critical Path. Figure out the schedule and activities and how you go about trying to accomplish all the tasks you’ve set yourself. Then crash it. Focus on a small handful of the most important things. Simplify and/or eliminate the superfluous.


Delegation in Simple and Complex Projects

Regarding complex projects:

Because of the size and complexity of these projects, it’s impossible for the project manager to have expertise in many of the technical and regulatory areas involved in the project. So the project manager needs to set boundaries within which the project team members can operate, delegate responsibilities for areas of the project in which this work is being done to those team members who are appropriately knowledgeable and experienced, and “devolve” (Obolensky’s term) from the project work, providing active oversight and becoming more involved only as needed. This will produce the working space that project team members need to creatively resolve issues that regularly arise on their projects.

No matter the size of the project, this is one of the most difficult skills to master – delegation. How much to do, how much not to do. What should you know, what is it ok not to know. Delegation is not a skill that is easily mass reproducible. You will have to do it to varying degrees in each project you manage.

Balance Teamwork with Leadership

Balance Teamwork with Leadership

Even if you’re not the subject matter expert, sometimes you will be required to know enough to ask the right questions for team members that don’t speak up enough. Or you will need to know how to bring them into the conversation so that their skills are properly utilized.

Other times, you just need to get out of the way and let assertive, knowledgeable associates work. This is where it is important to create that working space where team members can function creatively and freely (referenced above).

Project Management For Newbies

Plan the Work. Work the Plan.I remember my first project. I was working for my first company and was shadowing under a more seasoned architect. I was assigned to do QA testing for an existing implementation. For hours. But slowly, she brought me forward and taught me the software development life cycle. As I grew in experience (and learned from my mistakes), I took meeting minutes, performed work tasks, set deadlines for those tasks. I moved clients through requirements definition, build, test and finally to Go-Live.

It was a heady experience but the company made sure that we weren’t thrown out into the fire. There was a lot of documentation to guide the novice along. Soon enough I was leading projects and while they weren’t multimillion dollar deals, the whole gamut from requirements gathering to build to test to go-live was on display. All the administrative functions were required. Follow-up was required. Sign-off and communications skills had to be on point. And when that was done, more follow-up was required.

Laura Buford from LAD Enterprises detailed her first experience with Project Management, which was pretty harrowing at first.

As soon as the project started, I was in trouble. Project management was definitely not as easy and straightforward as it seemed; in reality, planning and managing a project was hard work with many touch points. The Executive Director, board members, and volunteers expected me to have all of the answers to every question and know how to resolve every conflict. Because I was struggling, a few of the board members and volunteers started providing advice—including offering different tools and templates based on their project experience.

I guess I’m lucky that I learned about Project Management in a less high pressure environment. Ms. Buford’s mentor really set her on the straight path by simplifying things for her with these three critical activities:

  1. Define the outcome: Start by defining the product, service, or result—the outcome—and understand the importance of the outcome to the nonprofit. Focus on understanding the wants, needs, and expectations of the project as well as exclusions.
  2. Plan what needs to done to accomplish the outcome: Use the project definition as the starting point for creating a plan to create the outcome—the deliverable or result. …No plan is perfect and plans change all the time.
  3. Work the plan: Execute the plan by monitoring and controlling the work with the aid of a “status report.” Working the plan means focusing on the work required for a particular task and striving to complete the task by the planned date (on-time) at the planned cost (on-budget.) Adjust the plan as appropriate.

It was some years into my career before I learned the phrase, “Plan the work. Work the plan.” But instinctively, this is what any successful type of Project Management involves. It sounds so simple but the complexity involved in going from planning to execution and the many, many revisions that are often encountered make Project Management such an interesting field. By falling back on your core skills, and most importantly, by staying humble and calm, you’ll be able to work your way towards success.

Don’t Project Manage Your Vacations

Plan plan plan plan plan. You love doing it. I love doing it. We all love planning. It’s in our Project Manager’s DNA to plan. Making checklists of items to buy for tailgating. Running down friends to follow-up on when and where and even if they’re meeting up. Sketching out your weekend schedule so as to maximize your drive time efficiently.

But I’ll tell you what I don’t plan that heavily. Vacations. I plan the airline route if I’m flying. I plan where I’m staying. And if it’s international, I buy a Lonely Planet book and read up on things to do. But once I’m there, nothing must be done that I don’t really want to do at that moment.

Case in point – a trip I took to Barcelona several years ago. I was living in London at the time so airline flights are really cheap there. I bought a ticket, booked a hostel and that was it. I hopped on the plane, took a taxi to my hostel, checked in and started walking around. I had a vague recollection of things I wanted to see but nothing was set in stone.

Barcelona - La Sagrada Familia

Barcelona – La Sagrada Familia

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Zen and the Art of Happiness at Work

If you’ve ever read about the practice of Zen, you’ve probably thought about how it applies mostly to your home life rather than your work life. Joelle Steiniger, writing at, makes a really wonderful point:

Where’s the logic in having two sets of rules for how we live our lives vs. how we run our businesses?

Even if you’re not an entrepreneur (though I tend to think that Project Management, even if for an existing company, is a form of entrepreneurship), her post about how to use Zen at work is very useful.

Forget the Fantasy

Every industry has a fabricated image of what your company or career is supposed to look like if you’re a card-carrying member. Are you a startup? Are you automatically supposed to work 23 hours a day in a dark room with a case of RedBull. No!

Sometimes you do need to work long hours but that’s not an automatic regardless of what field you’re in. Get in, do your work and get out. It’s probably one of the biggest travesties of modern corporate America that most of us have forty hour work weeks. Do we really do forty hours of work? No! Most of us Project Managers do more, especially at the outset of a project when you’re doing the planning and strategy work. But the point is that you should organize your work as efficiently as possible.

Question Your Goals

Be deliberate and honest with yourself when you set goals — especially ones you intend on meeting.

Additionally, reflect on things you’ve achieved that weren’t explicit goals. Celebrate small accomplishments and acknowledge all that you have done, rather than focusing on what you haven’t. Do this regularly.

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Staying Productive After Work

exclamation-pointAlan Henry writes on Lifehacker about various ways to stay alert and productive on after-work projects:

Get Started As Soon As You Get Home

If you wait until you’ve had dinner or spent some time with your family, it’s too late and your energy is gone—you’re too far out of “the zone” to really get back into it. The solution? Walk through the door, say hello to everyone, and head right for your workspace at home to do a little work.

I get this one bigtime. If I sit down on my couch, it’s really difficult to get back up again. (It’s a really comfortable couch!) But if I don’t stop moving, I stand a better chance of starting and finishing the minor tasks that had built up in my to-do list – laundry, walking the dog, doing the dishes or at the very least, starting dinner – and then moving on to my recreational projects.

Get Out of the House
If the siren song of your couch or bed is just too much for you to bear, the key for you to make headway on your pet projects may be to get out of the house and go somewhere you can work or learn something new.

I’ve never really resonated with the whole working at a coffeehouse setup but I’ve been thinking about trying it out. It seems more like working for the sake of being seen working. However, some of my favorite overseas bloggers work exclusively at cafés because that’s where the good internet is located so perhaps I’ll check it out sometime. (Just not at Starbucks. Let’s not get that cliched, ok!)

Give Yourself 10 Minutes, Just 10 Minutes

If he can drag himself off the couch for 10 minutes of focused work, that’s a success—and at the end of that 10 minutes, if he feels like working some more, he does. If he feels like closing up shop and going back to the couch, he does. The important thing here is that he makes himself get started, and even on those nights when he doesn’t feel like doing anything, he at least gets 10 minutes of progress towards his goals.

I’ve used this mindset/trick before. It’s good when combined with a weekly list of just regular, household chores that need to be done. So yes, it’s a pain to vacuum but if tell myself it’s just 10 minutes and set a timer for those 10 minutes, it’s amazing how much vacuuming can get done in 10 minutes.

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