Who are you following?

Oct 30, 2010 | 0 comments |
Does it matter?

It does, most of the times. Last year while travelling from India to London for the first time, after landing in Heathrow I was trying to find my way to get my luggage.

The guy sitting next to me in the flight was zigzagging through the airport, so I assumed he was familiar with the airport, so I just followed him, knowing that he will have to pick up the luggage as well.

Turned out, I followed him to the men’s restroom. I stopped, turned around and laughed at myself. What was I thinking?

This is what happens when you follow someone without thinking. Make sure you know what you are doing and why?

Interview with Valerie Thorn

I have always believed that Project Managers given their interest in running a business can do it really well.

Today’s interview is with Valerie Thorn BSc, FRSA- CEO and founder of AND Technology Research Ltd (UK) who personally has a 30 year practical experience in software and embedded engineering runs a company successfully. 

That’s not all, she started her business when she was only 25! 

Keep reading for inspiration, lessons learnt and what you should know if you are planning your own business.

Hi Valerie, please tell us something about your organization and how you started it.
We are AND Technology Research Ltd, a small private company – currently 10 staff situated in a small village between London and Cambridge in the UK. I started the company in 1980 when I was 25. I saw great potential in the use of distributed computing power within businesses, for communications and control. I began with some funding of my own and practical support of my parents and sister.

Since you have been managing a company and also running projects, which do you think is more challenging and why?
Running the company is in some ways just the same as running a project so both are challenging; however there are some differences Projects have an intensity and significant time pressures. For instance if you don’t start a project on time, then you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t finish on time; running a company in which you have a long term interest does not normally suffer from this sort of intensity. However overall I would say that the number of variables and the effects that your decisions have on people’s lives makes running a company more challenging.

How important are mistakes in trying to run a company?
If you don’t make mistakes then you don’t learn, what’s most important is how you deal them. The main thing to remember is that mistakes have to be managed or corrected for the best interest of the company, not for the best interest of the manager/owner. Personal conflict can inevitably occur but handling the conflict should add to the learning. So mistakes are important, you have to learn to recognise when mistakes occur, accept them, deal with them and not get hung up on them.

Do you think a good project manager can also be successful business person?
Yes I do, in fact they can make excellent business people, but they have to be able to cope with uncertainty. Project managers have to engage with a variety of project stakeholders and manipulate resources and time to make to project work. A good business person needs to be able to do this; however business people also need generally to cope with uncertain situations where either the resources or the time are just not as they would like them to be. They have to be a little more creative and inventive and be prepared to take the responsibility for risk.

Three important qualities that both project managers and entrepreneurs should have?
  • Vision and focus for what is to be achieved.
  • Organisational skills which allow them to stay focused but include enough flexibility to accommodate change
  • Ability to inspire others and to carry the message of the vision forward.
One thing you wish you knew when you started out.
The importance of the supply chain to a business. By this I mean, not just where your market is but how to navigate supply chains within the market in order to maximise business potential.

So, when organizations like you hire newbies- what are you looking for?
People who, given a necessary skill level, then demonstrate the potential to learn and to adapt to change, plus an ability to laugh.

Valerie is also an active participant in a number of creative and electronic industry organisations. Her career has involved creating digital and electronics based solutions for consumer, industrial and telecommunications products. AND has received numerous awards for innovation over its 30 year life-span and Valerie’s achievements in small business management have also been recognised. Valerie’s expertise lies in embedded software and the role played by software as Intellectual Property. She is engaged in research into technology management and innovation. 

To know more about AND visit their website here.

(Pic Courtesy: Valerie Thorn)

Dear Sr. Project Managers/PMO Directors

Dear Senior Project Managers/PMO Directors,
I have built my own door for someone to come knocking (Hint: If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door -Milton Berle). And I need your help. 

I know you are busy- with meetings, stakeholder communications, more charts and graphs, keeping up with your coffee addiction and running PMO’s. 

I’ll cut it short and say- I am looking for my next job/project/assignment. I'm diligent, smart and have positive review of my projects and client handling, it led to clients coming back for other projects as well.

So, I know what I am doing and where I want to go after I finish building the door. I like challenges, learning new skills, techniques and just when you think it is impossible- I will change your mind. 

I take risks and listen to my inner voice. I deal with clients and team members as other human beings and love what I do so much that I don’t want to give it up. 

I’m looking for an organization/PMO preferably in and around Chicago but don’t mind relocating within States or outside as long as I get to do what I love- more projects.

If you don’t have an empty chair in sight, feel free to forward this to someone else who might.

If you would like to know more click here or I can connect with you on Linkedin

If you really want to know how I work, feel free to contact my co-workers or fellow bloggers independently who have known me for years now, that way you don’t have to worry about me taking them out to expensive lunches to make sure they give good reviews.  They know me well enough to talk about my work, ideas, implementation skills, teamwork, independent thinking capability, decision making and completion of sucessful projects.

If you need an updated resume email me (steppingintopm@gmail.com)please.

Yours sincerely,
Soma Bhattacharya.

Interview with Raj Menon

Oct 11, 2010 | | 2 comments |
He is honest, insightful and encouraging. If you havent met him, you should. Meet Raj Menon who writes about leadership, he thinks "My job is to make it easier for you to meet your goals by giving you confidence, direction and guidance.” You can also find him in twitter 

Your blog is in Alltop and that says a lot about the quality of your posts- tell us something about your blog.
Thanks Soma. Alltop included my site a long time ago under the leadership category, back when 13apples.com was lap31.com. I am not certain if my site is still listed as one of the upcoming and promising leadership blogs. That was a proud moment for me and I still cherish every win I have ever had.
The origin of the 13apples Blog started with a simple question I asked myself when I turned 30yrs old - am I ready to lead? You can say I was a bit paranoid. I looked back into what I had achieved in life and tried to figure out where I was headed. My writing was a way for me to find my path forward. I considered the site to be a pit stop for me. I was in a race called life and like any race driver I was in the pit stop to refuel, change tires, tune up, and zoom out to race another lap. As you can tell, I am a big F1 (Formula 1) racing fan, which is also where the original name for the site "lap31.com" came from as I was on my 31st lap in a race called life.

Why did you choose to write about leadership?
I believe that there is a leader in every one of us. As I was reflecting on my leadership lessons through my writing and life experiences, I thought of giving back to the world by exploring the mindset of leaders in every walk of life and thus provide every one who visits my site with the opportunity to awaken the leader in them, to share their leadership stories, to collaborate. Eventually it led to the site slogan "where leaders collaborate".

What are the qualities of a real leader, do you have a favorite?
It's tough to encapsulate all the qualities of a real leader in a few words or sentences. It's like asking "What makes a person good?". There are so many things - characteristic, environmental, situational, personal, professional, etc - to consider before summing it all up. To best answer this question, let me share with you what I believe are Leadership Mantras that everyone is inherently born with but needs to develop or fine tune:

  • Leadership is about people. We lead by creating an environment of trust, transparency, openness, empowerment and support; where failure is an opportunity to learn, where success stories are celebrated.
  • Leaders are social beings. They create collaborative teams beyond boundaries and borders, bridging cultural divides, in a globally diverse workspace.
  • Leaders inspire themselves by learning and listening so they can in turn inspire others by sharing and collaborating. 

How did you end up being in project management? Is this something you always wanted to do?
Project Management was never a goal for me, at least not when I started out in the IT field 11 years ago. I was an ASP developer, moved on to PHP and to Java development before I was promoted to a Lead role to manage the company's first dot net project overseas. I continued to wear multiple hats, that of a developer and a lead for another 2 years till I realized that I needed to be a full time lead if I am going to be held accountable for the project. During 2004-05 I was doing Project Leadership full time which gradually helped me go up the ranks to a Project Manager and now Program Manager. In short, I worked my way to project/program management.

I know you are part of toastmasters, so do you also read a lot? What are the last 3 books you read?
Yes, I have been part of toastmasters since 2008. I spoke about my foray into toastmasters and the journey in a speech last year, which you can find at this link here . I do read a lot, especially these days.
I am glad you asked me about book coz I read 3 very insightful books recently. The interesting part is that each author led me to the next book.

  • Who's Got Your Back? by Keith Ferrazzi
  • Get It Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More by Steve Robbins
  • The Go-Givers by Bob Burg & John David Mann (I am currently reading their 2nd book The Go-Givers Sell More)

Any new plans for your blog?
I have so many plans but I am taking it one step at a time. With my salaried job, toastmasters, family life and networking, I struggle to find time to put my 13apples plans into supersonic speed. But someday I will when my life permits.

Some immediate plans are to increase my subscription base. I have around 30 amazing subscribers now but I want to grow that as rapidly as possible. I will also continue to have 1 post per week emailed to my subscribers. I am also working on an eBook that I will be distributing freely to my subscribers, around a new concept I am working on called the Circle of Influence. These are the plans in action right now.

By the way, congratulations on your PMP- how much do you think preparation time one needs to go for it?
Thank You! Frankly, I spent a year of ad-hoc studying which was mainly listening to the PMPrepcast (which you are promoting on your website as well). Ad-hoc studying will not really get you through the test. What made a difference for me was the 1 week I took off from work and put my brain and body into overdrive to piece it all together. However, that is not the method I would recommend. Instead, I would advice any PMP aspirant to put in 3 months of effort (2 hours per weekday) and a dedicated review time 2 weeks prior to the exam, mainly to attempt sample tests.

Three qualities you think every aspiring project manager should have?
1. Be Confident in Yourself
2. Respect People especially your Team
3. Be Accountable for your actions and Never Give Up

Thank you for your time Raj.
Thank You!!

So which side are you on- 80 or 20?

This is a guest blog post from my friend and a budding Project Manager Sanchita Bhattacharjee and along with our love of Project Management; we also happen to share our last name.

She talks about the Pareto Principle, brushes on her discovery of project management and how she plans to implement it in her life.

The other day, someone asked me about the Pareto principle and I fell from the sky!
Faintly did I hear economist Vilfredo Pareto and Juran's names in the University corridors but that's all. Never really thought I could use it one day in the work I was learning myself- yes, Project Management.  

Technically, The Pareto principle also called the 80-20 rule/Law of the vital few states that 'for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.'

What Pareto initially observed was that 80% of the land or wealth in Italy was owned by 20% of the population. Not too sure if Gregor Mendel also inferred that 20% of the pea pods contribute to 80% of peas produced when he was playing with genetics in his garden:) Come to Software, even Microsoft noted that by fixing only 20% of bugs they were able to eliminate 80% of errors reported.

Interestingly when Business Schools started seeing more of it, it was concluded that actually 80% of your total sales come from 20% of your clients. So the next question comes up, how can we imply this in Project Management? A general response would be that in any project, the first 10% and last 10% of a project are the most crucial parts. In other words the Initiation and Delivery Phases will take up 80% of your time and resource.

An article I read somewhere highlights that ' 80 percent of your sales will come from 20 percent of your sales staff. 20 percent of your staff will cause 80 percent of your problems, but another 20 percent of your staff will provide 80 percent of your production. It works both ways.'  

Even the very famous management consultant Richard Koch discusses how to apply the Pareto principle in all walks of life. So here is the deal, so far all of us have heard and believed in the 'work smart' technique. Perhaps, the same is based on focusing your energy, your attention of 20% of things which really matter.  Stop being on the 80 side and keep struggling with causes which can be treated later. So first step would be to identify them. Even if you are missing out points and areas in your daily life, make sure they do NOT fall under the significant 20%. So work smart but on the right things. 

To know more read on and do not forget to mention how YOU imply the 80-20 rule in your work and in your life!

The site will be unavailable this weekend, while I and my designer friend try to upload the new design to bring in a better visual experience for you. 

(Pic Courtesy: Google Images)

Interview with Elizabeth Harrin

She got me started on project management and is one of my favorite person who inspires me everyday. She is a great person to talk to, email for some advise and meeting her last year in person was the best thing ever- meet Elizabeth Harrin.

Her second book  is out and she is providing a free course, if you want to ramp up on your social media skills today.
Enjoy the interview.

Elizabeth, congratulations on your new book! Tell us something about your book and why did you choose to write something so specifically about project management and social media?

I’m part of PMI’s New Media Council and at the Congress in Orlando last year we did a presentation on the uses of social media for project teams.  It was amazingly well attended and people were standing up at the back as the room was so busy.  There were other presentations at Congress on new technologies that also had their rooms packed out.  It made me realize that there was an appetite amongst the project management community to learn about how we can embrace new technology and specifically social media to help with the way we manage project teams.  There are lots of books written about how to use social media for marketing and communication with customers, but nothing about how to use it behind the firewall for collaboration and communication between colleagues.  That’s the gap I was trying to fill.

I know you are an advanced user of social media, however how much of it do you use in ongoing projects and how?

I use Twitter and LinkedIn for personal development and information seeking, to stay in touch with relevant people, and to keep abreast of industry developments.  My blog allows me to connect with industry colleagues and other project managers.  I use Highrise as a contact management system - it's not 'pure' social media, but it includes several social media-y features like tags and as it is cloud-based it is good for multiple people keeping the same records up to date.  We also use wikis for keeping track of project

I am personally inspired by simply observing how much you are doing everyday- the book, the Otobos Group (your company), the job - how do you manage to keep everything together? Do you plan on a regular basis or yearly? Do you make a list of things you want to do and achieve every New Year and follow the plan or is it more instinctive?

I have two jobs and a life!  

I’m Head of IT Programme Delivery for a UK healthcare company, and I run my own company, a business writing practice that supplies content to websites.  We do other writing-related things too; recently I wrote a project management case study for a professor to use in her university classes, for example.  

Do I plan?  Well, as a project manager I should say yes, but it is a pretty flexible plan.  I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years and this is the first year I have drawn up an editorial calendar.  I have a spreadsheet with a tab per month and in each month I note what I want to publish when, notes for the following month and so on.  So I can tell you that I have already started thinking about what A Girl’s Guide to Project Management will be doing for its 5th birthday in January!  I do regularly review what I would like to achieve, but new opportunities come along all the time and the plan gets reworked.  For example, Social Media for Project Managers is officially launched on 11 October, and I wanted to do something alongside that, so I wrote a course which you can get as a series of emails or as a short e-book.  That needed to be done in time for the launch of Social Media for Project Managers, but I have more flexibility with other deadlines.

In terms of fitting it all in, I believe that people make time for things that they love.  I love my healthcare job and I love writing.  It’s all about prioritizing your time.  I still have enough hours in the day to fit in the rest of my life, family, hobbies.  We waste a lot of time not doing the right things.

Tell us about a day in the life of Elizabeth Harrin.

OK, I’ll pick today.  I got up, checked my emails, and responded to a client who is enquiring about some website content for his site.  I left for the office, and read a bit more of The Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More, which is the book I’m currently reviewing.  I picked up a coffee on the way, and got to my desk about 8.45am.  

The office day comprises of project planning, financial management and budgets, a team meeting, prep for a meeting next week, following up on outstanding tasks, catching up on emails, reviewing documentation and speaking to suppliers.  I left the office after 5pm and head home, reading a daily paper on the journey.  
Once I’m at home, I reviewed personal and Otobos Group emails that I received through the day.  Many of the Otobos Group’s clients are in the U.S. so they are still at work by the time I get to their messages.  I do a bit of writing or office admin, catching up with sources for articles, talking to editors or editing video content.  Dinner, more work, an episode of CSI and bed!  Like many people who run their own business, I work long hours, but I love what I do so I don’t notice it until someone like you asks.

Did you always envision being who you are today as a child? What did you want to be then and what do you think changed you goal?

I never grew up thinking I would be a project manager.  Who knew what one of those was?  I wanted to be an ambulance driver.  My goal was changed when I realized I could join the ambulance service straight out of school and I really wanted to go to university first.  At university it changed again.

What inspires you?

What a difficult question!  I like learning, so I’m inspired by new things.  And snow.  I do like a good snowy landscape.

Do you have a new list coming up for New Year?

I expect I will re-work an old list and see how well I have done.  As I said, next year is A Girl’s Guide to Project Management’s 5th birthday, and the 5th year that Project Management in the Real World has been on the shelves, so I think I’ll be doing something around that.

Thank you for your time Elizabeth, always wonderful to have you here.

Thanks for having me!

To read her award winning blog click here and to see more on what she is working, visit her shop.  

Stressful Times

Oct 1, 2010 | | 1 comments |
How you react during crisis  and manage your stress level tells a lot about you.

If you are like me where crisis strikes rarely, moments like this can be turned into learning experiences.

There are few things to keep in mind:

Handling pressure- Having to deal with the pressure is good perhaps because it keeps you alert and open. It also suddenly teaches you lessons of a lifetime in handling it and keeping your sanity itact also at the same time.
To learn more about stress and learning to handle it, read this.

Using the time effectively- When you encounter situations where decisions have to be made quickly, everyone wants to make the right use of time. 

·         You know your current situation based on reality and not assumptions
·         You know your goal and what you want to decide
·         You are aware of the time factor and not procrastinating decisions
·         You are using time effectively for your own benefit.
To learn more on stress management click here 

Support – Your social support is perhaps one of the most important thing at this point. If you are lucky, you already have a strong array of family and friends there for you. No one can make the decision for you, however they can be your sounding board to test ideas, talk about other options and just the fact that they area round you is enough to keep you going.

Creating Opportunity- You might not be writing a blog post out of it, but you sure can take the time to make the best decision for you based on the opportunities you have. 

Chances are you are more open to earning more about yourself and what you can do, this might be the best time to try out things you have been waiting to try.  Your acceptance of the situation and willingness to try new things can bring up more than you have been expecting. Before you decide, listen to everyone, look into every single details and most importantly listen to yourself. Don’t let the confusing time drag you down. Make the decision that works best for you- emotionally and professionally.

Vulnerability- When in tough situations especially if it is publicly known, feelings of vulnerability are natural.  It almost like standing in the glass box where people pass by freely with their opinions about you.  The fear of being judged on everything is a nightmare but if you look into more calmly, you will realize you get to know you, your fears which you have been avoiding and things that you haven’t really noticed before.  Use this as an opportunity to know from others and you what you should be working on, where you lack and what you can do about it.
If it can happen to pros, its ok if it happens to you.

Listen you your body- It never lies. You knew this was coming you just wasn't prepared for it. Next time, when your body gives up, don't take it for granted. it has more to say than we realize.

Want to read more and reduce your stress, try here .