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9 Steps to Overcoming a Major Project Failure

When project failures occur, it’s easy to place blame. But in the process, we often forget a simple fact: “it doesn’t matter, we’re here now.” Here are nine steps for getting past the problem to a solution.

1. Stop drinking coffee. When a major problem occurs, your adrenaline will kick in, if you add caffeine to the mix, you will likely just compound the problem. What you need when a major issue occurs isn’t to think fast, but to think slow. You need to make a good decision despite the tension. (I learned this from a colleague of mine.)

2. Instill trust. People need to feel secure after a failure. They need to know that you don’t plan to fire them, but instead that you just want to solve the problem. If you get angry with someone, you will put them on the defense, and, as a result, make them nervous and difficult to work with. What you need in the moment of failure is everyone, and especially those who failed–they know more than anyone else about the problem. If you make people feel trusted and that you’re trustworthy, your chances of success are much higher.


The Art of Admitting Mistakes

One of the most difficult things for a strong-willed person to do is to admit that they’re wrong.

If you can admit that you’re wrong, you will gain the respect of others, be able to move quicker through projects, and continue to grow personally. If you can’t, your mistakes will catch up to you.

Small failures are part of innovation. And it may sound cheesy to say, but learning from your small failures is part of innovating yourself.

Ask yourself today: What’s failing? It’s not negative to go to work with that thought in your mind, it’s actually positive. If you can approach things that way today, chance has it that you’re going to fix a relationship along the way to improving a project.

What’s failing? How can you admit defeat, admit your wrong, and then improve your life and the lives of others as a result?

(Many of the ideas in this post stem from Seth Godin’s The Dip and Paul Arden’s Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite.)

3 Reasons to Create Your Own Project Management System

I’m a project manager who can’t stand pre-built project management solutions. Churches use them, businesses use them, but frankly, they’re just not as helpful as we act like they are.

I used Microsoft Project. I’ve seen and used cloud based project management solutions—many of the ones available on the market. All the options frustrate me and waste my time. They each taught me something about my process and I’m certainly a better project manager for it, but they each led me to force projects into molds and ultimately inhibited workflow. Here are three reasons why you should create your own project management solution(s).

1. Smart people don’t need every task written out for them.

Writing out milestones and dependent tasks is essential for every project, but writing out every task isn’t. Many project management technology solutions require that every task be written out. (And even if they don’t require it, they make you feel like you should.) I have found myself spending hours writing out tasks when I could be accomplishing things. If you work with smart people, why do you need to write out every task? I work with smart people, so why would I force people into my style of a task list? Having one task list master also makes others feel small and bossed around. I want to work with others because of who they are, not force them to think like me. In addition, ridiculously detailed lists created by “supervisors” are for people who want to check boxes. And people who check boxes will never lead in a meaningful way.


Numbers Don’t Lie and 3 More Fiscal Leadership Proverbs

Pithy leadership statements can be annoying, but when forced to make a difficult decision quickly, they can be sage wisdom. This is especially the case when it comes to fiscal decisions. Perhaps this is why much of the biblical proverbs are about money. Here are four modern fiscal proverbs and why they will help you be a better leader.

1. Numbers don’t lie.

Numbers don’t lie when it comes to our bank accounts, yet they’re often ignored when it comes to employee performance. If you can’t measure it, and point to your accomplishment, then why do it? If people aren’t held accountable by data, our coaching is really based on feelings and intuition, not performance. After prayer and relationship building, start with the numbers. If you don’t have the numbers, create an unbiased system. Then, make decisions using it.

2. Intangibles are intangible.

When faced with ugly financial statements, we’ve all heard the appeal to intangibles, but intangibles are just that, intangible—they don’t pay the bills. The garbage collector won’t get the job done on the basis of purely good intentions. The collector can have all the great intentions in the world and the trash can still be sitting in front of my house. Likewise, the collectors won’t keep picking up my trash on the basis of my good intentions—they need to be paid. Why do we let intangibles guide businesses when intangibles will fail us? The numbers should back your intentions: does a pro forma and past financials prove it? If not, then you probably shouldn’t do it.


Playing Business Like the Oakland A’s

If gross miscalculations of a person’s value could occur on a baseball field, before a live audience of thirty thousand, and a television audience of millions more, what did that say about the measurement of performance in other lines of work? If professional baseball players could be over- or under-valued, who couldn’t? Bad as they may have been, the statistics used to evaluate baseball players were probably far more accurate than anything used to measure the value of people who didn’t play baseball for a living.

—Michael Lewis, Moneyball, pg. 72, in reference to what Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts revealed.

Think for a moment how often you have heard people say, “Because I know it will work,” or “He just seems to work harder than his colleagues,” or “She puts in more hours and thus is more valuable,” or even “I was told this by x person and therefore y must be the case.”

Like baseball, business is full of mystery and assumptions. Because we feel or think something doesn’t make it true. Because it happened that way in the past doesn’t mean it will happen that way in the future. Because a few customers have that perception doesn’t mean the viewpoint is accurate.

Most people who are misplaced in a job are misplaced either because they were the wrong hire to begin with, or because no one took the time to train them properly. (Note the “most” qualifier—there are certainly exceptions.) But how can we properly train someone if we don’t measure their performance accurately, with statistics that matter and contribute to the bottom line?


Impossible: Ban It from Your Vocabulary

The word “impossible” keeps many people from doing what they’re capable of. Along with many other words, “impossible” should be banned from your vocabulary.

Now, there are certainly things in life that are impossible, but you won’t know what they are until you try them and then try again. A lack of precedence doesn’t necessitate a reality of constraints. Biblical interpretation actually serves as a good example for explaining this point.


They Don’t Care: Half the Battle Isn’t Showing Up

It was cold outside. I could see my breath. The section lead of the drum line didn’t show up. I was a freshman—third snare drum. I realized, “I’m going to have to lead this.”

I rallied the line and we went onto the field. My hands were shaking—part nerves and part cold. My drum roll at the beginning of the Star Spangled Banner was inconsistent. It was embarrassing. (Who messes up the national anthem?) We moved on. We began the pep band songs. I was off rhythm for two entire measures; it took four more measures to get the drum line back in sync.

We left the field. My band instructor grabbed my snare harness near my shoulders. He looked me in the eyes and yelled over the noise of the crowd, “Barry, what happened?” I replied, “My hands were cold. And I just learned the cadence last week.” He yelled, “You hear that?” He pointed towards the crowd. “They don’t care. They don’t care. They don’t care that your hands were cold. They don’t care that you just learned the cadence. They don’t care.”


5 Principles to Lead By

Innovation without excellent execution will fail. And execution without innovation is a waste of time.

What makes a team different? What makes them unique?

I think the combination of five things can set any team apart:

  1. The Henry Gantt principle: Execute well and follow through
  2. The William Zinsser principle: Use art, story, risk and science to communicate
  3. The Jacqueline Novogratz principle: Solutions is the answer in an interconnected world
  4. The Seth Godin principle: Be a rebar company that creates tribes around linchpin products and people
  5. The Donald Clifton principle: Play to strengths, working as a unit

What type of leader are you? Where will you lead?

What principle would you add to the list?

It’s All About the Follow-Up

I have a massive sequence of reminders built into my life. This is for one simple reason: I don’t trust myself to remember everything that I need to do. I don’t even trust a task list; instead, it’s all on my calendar.

Most business partnerships I’ve developed have happened (in part) because of follow-up reminders. (Of course, this is after the partnership has been built on good will, honesty, and working towards a goal that benefits all involved.) It’s the reminders, though, that prompted the work to happen. I see the reminder and I immediately check on the status of the partnership. This principle is also true for project management in general.


Initiate, Plan; Initiate and Plan Again

It’s easy to spend most of our time reacting to problems. Some of us are built for this, meant for it even, but it shouldn’t be what we do with the majority of our time—unless that’s actually our job description. (Many IT people and Customer Service reps actually have this job description and rightfully so.)

Isn’t it just better to plan? As the boy scouts say: “Be prepared.” I would rather not have my inbox decide my schedule. I prefer to initiate over having my surroundings decide for me.

Much of the urgent is only urgent because we didn’t address it last month, last week, or yesterday. I’m a believer in the “clear the inbox” and “every problem should be addressed now” mentality—whenever possible. Yet, this too must be built into our planning. (I certainly don’t live up to this, but it’s a goal.) Problems often seem more manageable in retrospect; so, if we make retrospect now, we will be able to apply the lesson from today to tomorrow’s problems before they begin.


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