Working with Multiple Project Baselines

I wrote a guest post about multiple project baselines for Erik Van Hurck’s blog, The Project Corner. Follow the link to learn about the contest we’re running: we’re giving away two copies of my books. Here’s the post:

A baseline is the key to staying on top of where your project is compared to where it should be. When you set a baseline in Project (you can set up to 11), the program takes a snapshot of schedule and cost values, which you can then use to see how current values compare to what you originally planned. What can you do with Project’s baselines? And how do you view them when you have more than one?

Saving more than one baseline comes in handy in several situations. Suppose you incorporate a big change request into your project plan. Keeping your original baseline is a good idea, especially when you want to answer stakeholder questions about why the big difference from the original dates and cost. At the same time, you can use the new baseline with the change request to track performance for the plan with the change request in place.

An additional baseline might be called for when a project experiences other types of changes: stakeholders dramatically increase or decrease the project scope or a higher priority project puts yours temporarily on hold. The original baseline values no longer produce meaningful variances, so you need a new baseline that reflects the revised schedule and cost.

Multiple baselines can also help document trends over time. Suppose your project has fallen behind schedule and you implement a recovery strategy. You can keep the original baseline, but set a new one using the values in place before you start the recovery. That way, you can compare your original variances to recovery variances to see whether your course correction is helping. Another way to evaluate trends is to add baselines at key points in a project, such as at every fiscal quarter or perhaps at the end of each phase.

Setting Multiple Baselines

If you’re going to use multiple baselines, it’s a good idea to store a second copy of your original baseline, for example, to Baseline 1 fields. That way, you have a copy of the original baseline for posterity. At the same time, you can keep your most recent baseline in Project’s Baseline fields, so it’s easy to see the variances from your most recent baseline in the default Variance fields.

Here’s how to set multiple baselines while easily keeping track of variances for the most recent one:

  1. Head to the Project tab’s Schedule section, and choose Set Baseline –> Set Baseline. The Set Baseline dialog box opens.
  2. In the “Set baseline” drop-down list, save your first baseline by choosing Baseline1.
  3. Make sure the “Entire project” option is selected. This option saves baseline values for the entire project, which is what you want the first time around.
  4. Click OK. Project stores the current values for start, finish, duration, work, and cost in the corresponding fields, such as Baseline1 Start, Baseline1 Finish, Baseline1 Duration, Baseline1 Work, and Baseline1 Cost.
  5. Immediately repeat steps 1 through 4 to save the original baseline a second time, but this time as Baseline.

When you open the Set Baseline dialog box after saving at least one baseline, the “Set baseline” drop-down list shows the last saved date for the baseline. For example, baselines that have been set have “(last saved on mm/dd/yy)” appended to the end of their names, where mm/dd/yy is the last saved date for that baseline.

If you try to set a baseline that has already been saved, Project warns you that the baseline has been used and asks if you want to overwrite it. Click Yes to overwrite the baseline’s existing values (for example, if you’ve used up all 11 baselines and want to reuse an older one). If you don’t want to overwrite it, click No, and then, back in the Set Baseline dialog box, select a different baseline.

When you’re ready to save another baseline, here’s what you do:

  1. In the Project tab’s Schedule section, choose Set Baseline –>Set Baseline.
  2. In the “Set baseline” drop-down list, choose Baseline2 to permanently save the second baseline. Make sure the “Entire project” option is selected, and then click OK.
  3. Immediately save the current project schedule again as Baseline. That way, The Variance fields like Start Variance, Finish Variance, and Cost Variance show the variances between your current values and those for your most recent baseline.

Note: For each additional baseline, save the project schedule once as Baseline and once as the next empty baseline.

Viewing Multiple Baselines

When you want to compare your current progress to your most recent baseline, Tracking Gantt view is perfect. It shows colored task bars for the current schedule above gray task bars for the baseline start and finish dates.

A Tracking gantt view with one baseline

However, if you save more than one baseline, you may want to view them simultaneously so you can compare performance from one to the next. Multiple Baselines Gantt view displays different color task bars for Baseline, Baseline 1, and Baseline 2. To display this view, in the View tab’s Task Views section, choose Other Views –>More Views. In the More Views dialog box, double-click Multiple Baselines Gantt. Multiple Baselines Gantt shows task bars for only Baseline, Baseline1, and Baseline2. It doesn’t display task bars for the current schedule.

A Gantt chart with multiple baselines visible

To see different baselines or more baselines, you can modify your view in several ways. From the ribbon, you can display any baseline you want in any Gantt Chart view. Display the Gantt Chart view you want and then choose the Format tab. In the Bar Styles section, click the Baseline down arrow, and then choose the baseline you want to display. For example, if you display Tracking Gantt view, by default it uses Baseline for the baseline task bars. However, if you choose Baseline2 in the Format tab’s Bar Styles Baseline menu, the baseline task bars reflect Baseline2’s dates.

But what if you want a view to show task bars for Baseline1 through Baseline4 to evaluate trends over time? In that case, you can modify the view definition to do just that.

  1. Copy Multiple Baselines Gantt view and give it a name like FourBaselines. (With Multiple Baselines Gantt view displayed, in the View tab’s Task Views section, choose Other Views –>More Views. In the More Views dialog box, click Copy, type a new name in the Name box, and then click OK. Back in the More Views dialog box, click Close.
  2. On the Gantt Chart Tools | Format tab, in the Bar Styles section, click Format –>Bar Styles. The Bar Styles dialog box opens.
  3. Select the row for the task bar you want to duplicate (for example, Baseline2), and then click Cut Row.
  4. Before you do anything else, click Paste Row to insert the cut row back where it was originally.
  5. Select the row below where you want to insert the copied row, and then click Paste Row again. Project inserts another copy of the row immediately above the row you selected.
  6. Edit the new row’s Name, From, and To cells to match the baseline you want to show. For example, to display Baseline3, change the name to include Baseline3, and then, in the From and To cells, choose Baseline3 Start and Baseline3 Finish, respectively.
  7. On the Bars tab in the lower half of the Bar Styles dialog box, choose the shape and color you want for the bar. Baseline1, Baseline2, and Baseline3 already use red, blue, and green, so choose a color like teal, orange, or purple. In the Shape box, choose a top, middle, or bottom narrow bar.
  8. If you’re including more than three baselines in Multiple Baselines Gantt view, you have to add a second task bar row to the view. In the Bar Styles dialog box, in the task bar’s Row cell, type 2 to tell Project to place the baseline’s task bar on a second row in the Gantt Chart.
  9. Repeat steps 3 through 8 to create task bars for split, milestone, and summary tasks for the baseline.

Here’s what the bar styles definitions look like when you add another baseline to the view:

Picture of the barstyles for baselines

And here’s what the view looks like with more than three sets of baseline bars.

The multiple baseline gantt chart with an explanation of the bars

What About Interim Plans?

The Set Baseline dialog box has a second option: “Set interim plan.” Unlike Project baselines, interim plans save only start and finish dates, not duration, cost, and work. Interim plans are a holdover from earlier Project versions, when the program offered only one baseline.

Even with the 11 baselines that Project now offers, interim plans may come in handy. If you import a project schedule from Project 2002 and earlier (it could happen), any additional baseline information ends up in interim plan fields (Start1/Finish1 through Start10/Finish10). You can copy that data from the interim plan Start and Finish fields (Start2/Finish2, for example) into baseline fields like Baseline2.You can also save interim plans as partial baselines in between the full baselines you save.

Don’t forget: for a chance to win a copy of one of my books, visit Erik Van Hurck’s blog, The Project Corner.

Git ‘em done!

todo_listAt a recent work reunion lunch, two of my former colleagues looked at me sheepishly as they confessed that they hadn’t made any progress on their respective book ideas since the last time we met. Yeah, like I get everything done that I intend to…but their confessions did make me reflect on some of my self-motivational tricks.

Sometimes, my workload looks like an unfortunate wild pig in an anaconda’s belly (except that, unlike the snake, I don’t get to rest for weeks afterward without additional input). My ability to chew through work isn’t due to genius, drugs, output of minions, or Santeria spells. Deadlines are a huge motivator for me and, hooboy, do publishers have deadlines.

However, I also have a few tricks that help me git ‘em done. If some of your New Year’s resolutions are starting to smell overly ripe, maybe one of these techniques will help.

1. Break a big project down into pieces.

Big projects can be scary: write a book, revamp a website, end world hunger, stop the zombie apocalypse.

Don’t let the big picture paralyze you. Take a sledgehammer to a big project and break it into pieces that aren’t scary. You don’t have to do everything at once. You don’t even have to build a plan in one sitting!

  • Start by jotting down what you know about your project.
  • Write down what you don’t know but need to find out.
  • Any time you think of something else (a task, goal, result, and so on), add it to your notes. (Use your favorite tool to store this stuff: a word processing document, spreadsheet, a spiral bound notebook, an electronic notepad, whatever.)
  • Once you have some manageable project to-dos, add them to your to-do list (read tip #2 for the how-to).

Hint: If you aren’t ready to tackle a big project, don’t force it. Add an entry for the entire project to your to-do list (tip #2), so you don’t forget about it. If the project is something you can’t put off, like preparing your tax return, then hammer away (and give yourself small rewards after you finish each small step).

Here’s how I tackled modernizing my web site (which, by the way, had been on my list for about four years). I was a tad overwhelmed by what’s changed online since I first set up my website: Web 2.0, search engine optimization, responsive web pages, and so on. So I started by finding someone to help me. I have a lot of friends with web pages, so I asked around. Scott Baird ( was the unlucky, but very competent soul I chose to work with.

A few phone calls and emails were all it took to come up with project to-dos: choose a Word Press template, plan the new layout, build the site, add content, review, test, and tweak. Scott recommended a few templates to consider (out of tens of thousand), so that step wasn’t too bad.

My next to-do was more involved: I had a good idea of the web pages I wanted, but I needed to figure out how I wanted each page laid out and gather the content for each one. I tackled this task one web page at a time. It went something like this:

  • Create a Word document for my notes.
  • Add a heading for a page.
  • Write up notes about the page layout.
  • Edit the notes.
  • A sip of wine.
  • Edit the notes some more.
  • Another sip of wine.
  • Copy existing content into the file.
  • Track down links to insert.
  • Another sip of wine.
  • Find the images to include, copy them to a folder, and add the image filenames to the doc.
  • Some more wine.
  • Continue until too tired, bored, or tipsy to do more.
  • Rinse and repeat on following days until all the pages were done.

I used the same technique for my review. Small doses of reviewing each page and documenting the changes needed. Scott made a lot of the changes initially. As the tweaking continued, I edited more so I learned how to maintain my site.

All told, it took about three weeks — an hour or two each day — to complete the work. If you’re trying to cut back on your wine consumption, the next tip shows you how to coax yourself into gittin’ your to-dos done.

2. Pester yourself.

Have you ever been harried by someone impatiently waiting for you? A small child in a snowsuit in desperate need of a bathroom, for example. You do whatever it takes to get them out of your hair, off your back, or out of your back hair for that matter.  Keeping to-dos in view is one way to apply that same kind of pressure. You may be surprised how much you get done just for the sake of shortening that list.

The reminder tool I use is a Windows 7 electronic sticky note on my computer monitor. I throw everything into one note that sits at my primary monitor’s top-right: work, personal, important non-urgent stuff, honey-dos without a honey to do them, and fun stuff like learning Italian, playing the accordion, or training the neighborhood mountain lion to fetch. (Only one of these fun things is on my actual to-do list.)

I add, delete, revise, and rearrange to-dos as often as I want. I move to-dos with looming deadlines closer to the top of the list. The ones at the top tickle my attention: “Hey! How about now?” I sometimes knock out a simple to-do, because crossing something off my list gives me a boost of energy, which can kick-start a tougher to-do. I delete to-dos when they’re done (or I decide I don’t need to do them anymore).

Remember tip #1 and those projects that aren’t ready for primetime? Put them in the bottom half of the list. They might sit there a while like my website modernization. I scan the entire list several times a day, and eventually, those projects’ time will come.

What if you aren’t chained to your computer? Take a photo of your sticky note to-do list with your smartphone. If you have some spare time while you’re out and about, dig into one of your assignments, which leads into the next tip…

3. Carry a notepad at all times.

Reporters and cops carry notepads and you should, too. If you remember something you forgot to add to your list, write it down. If the perfect chapter opener comes to you, write it down. If you’re in line at the department of motor vehicles, write a whole damn chapter.

For something really quick like that perfect chapter opener, turn on your phone’s voice recorder and record it. A notepad app on a smartphone will do in a pinch. My issue with smartphone notes is that typing intelligible notes on a phone keyboard demands so much concentration I might forget some of what I wanted to document.

4. Get colleagues to apply pressure.

Let’s get back to my former colleagues who were embarrassed by their lack of progress. I wasn’t calling them every week asking “How’s it going? Are you done yet?” But they felt guilty about not making progress, because they had told me about their plans. Committing publicly to goals can be a powerful motivator.

If you aren’t living at home with your mother keeping after you to get things done, invite cohorts to help. It’s a win-win. Everyone in the group feels peer pressure to do what they told the group they would do. (Face-to-face is ideal, but Google Hangouts, conference calls, and even email exchanges can work, too.)

Each person commits to goals and timeframes. Then, at meetings, each person talks about what they’ve done, what they haven’t done, and what they’re going to do about it. Another plus, members can help each other get unstuck by answering questions, making suggestions, or holding an intervention.

OK, enough. *My* to-do list is peeking from behind my document window and I feel the urge to get something done.

The Trouble with Assumptions

I was writing about assumptions for a project management training course and struggling to think of a good example. Fast forward to the first day of a vacation when I stressfully experienced a great example of an assumption and the trouble it can cause.

With two flights, an overnight in Toronto, immigration, and customs, I opted for carry-on luggage. No baggage fees and faster — or so I assumed.

luggageAt the entrance to the jetway, the attendant handed me a gate check tag. I attached the tag to my roller bag, placed it on the cart, and got on the plane without another thought. I assumed the bag was traveling a mere 50 feet from the cart to the belly of the plane and then, in Toronto, would travel another 50 feet from the belly of the plane to my waiting hand on a different jetway.

A few hours later, the baggage handler finished tossing gate-checked bags onto the jetway and I stood there with a disappointed look on my face instead of a roller bag handle in my hand.

I headed for the baggage carousel. Maybe the bag got mixed in with the checked bags. Nope. My only consolation was that several other people were missing luggage as well. Visions of X-Files-esque conspiracies arose. Hmmm. Maybe the airline came up with a different solution to the weight restriction problem they had on the flight…Pull a passenger off or temporarily inconvenience a few passengers with delayed luggage?

As I spoke to the airline folks and filled out a form, I kicked myself about my erroneous assumption. Each person I spoke to asked for the gate check stub. When I admitted I didn’t have it, these people shared the same reaction – a slow, sad shake of the head accompanied by a quiet “That’s going to make it tough.” I felt like an idiot. Then, I wondered whether I had an ID tag on the bag.

At the Toronto airport, this disaster cost about an hour and a half. More annoying, I was on a rare vacation, but stuck in project manager mode. What to buy? Should I rent a car so it’s easier to shop? Shopping for clothes will take more time and cost money—and I HATE to shop.

What makes assumptions so dangerous is that they lull us into thinking things are fine when they might not be; or lead us to believe that we should proceed one way when we should go the other. In many cases, the assumptions and subsequent choices pass by in a moment, so we don’t even realize that there is something to consider.

What can we do to identify assumptions and get them out in the open?

  • Pay attention.
  • Ask questions.
  • What’s happening?
  • Are there other ways to look at the situation?
  • How do you see this process working?
  • How about you?
  • And you?
  • Has something changed?
  • Do my plans still make sense?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there consequences?

Luckily, this story had a happy ending. When I arrived, I was ready with a list and set to buy a bare minimum to see me through the week. But first, I had to file a delayed baggage report. As I walked toward the baggage counter, my eyes caught on before my brain. There, waiting with several other bags, was my wayward roller bag with a RUSH tag attached.

It’s Just a Plan

Plans are nothing; planning is everything. — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Project managers love to plan. Sometimes even the best project managers fall in love with their plans. When they get too committed to those plans, however, they lose the ability to respond nimbly to the curve balls thrown in every project. Nimbleness is one of the key tools in a project manager’s toolkit.

curveballThe ephemeral nature of plans is easy to remember on large projects. But an overzealous adherence to a plan can sneak up at any time. I ended up clinging irrationally to a plan I made for one of my projects, ironically, recording movies for one of my courses, Managing Small Projects.

I had constructed a tight schedule for myself. I was juggling several small projects: finishing work on QuickBooks 2013: The Missing Manual, recording my course, a conference for my fiction writing, and some fun to sharpen the saw. Here’s what it looked like:

Sept 6: Finish author review for QuickBooks 2013: The Missing Manual.

Sept 7-9: Attend Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference

Sept 9: Fly to California

Sept 10-12: Record Managing Small Projects course at’s studio in Carpinteria.

Sept 13: Fly home and go to Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers meeting.

Sept 14-16: Drive to Steamboat Springs and carouse with friends.

But things didn’t go as I had envisioned. (A fun example of plans getting derailed is a classic Preston Sturges movie, Unfaithfully Yours.)

Sunday morning, September 9, I was pestered by a slight dry cough. By Monday morning, I was in California and the cough had transformed into a sore throat, hacking cough, and what I think is called post-nasal drip. We spent five grim hours recording atrociously nasal and unenergetic audio voiceovers.

After twelve hours of sleep and a lot of cough and cold medicine, I went in Tuesday morning, and the recordings were even worse. By 10:30 am, my producer got out the hook and yanked me off the microphone. He asked me if I could stay an extra day or two. My initial response was “I can’t! I have all these things I need to do.” After all, I had a plan, a schedule to follow…But I went back to the hotel, rested up, and got another marathon night of sleep.

Wednesday morning, I felt a little better, sounded much better, and my brain was working again. I realized that the Mystery Writers meeting wasn’t a must-do–as much as I wanted to be there. What’s more, with the drubbing the cold was giving me, I wouldn’t be doing much carousing over the weekend either. The project manager in me had re-awoken. I told my producer that I could stay to record the course. (We actually started over from the beginning; and it was so much better the second time around.)

I even came up with a revised plan that accomplished some nice-to-haves I didn’t expect. I suggested that I fly home on Saturday so we didn’t have to guess when we would finish on Friday. Then, I could also visit friends who live in LA. Sure enough, we recorded Wednesday, Thursday, and wrapped up mid-day Friday. I drove to LA, caught up with my friends Friday night, and had a shorter drive to the airport Saturday morning.

In the case of my head cold, Helmuth von Motke the Elder’s planning quote might be the most appropriate: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. While my original plan didn’t survive contact with a cold, the revised plan resulted in much better recordings and a wonderful visit with friends I thought I wouldn’t see.

Even though it’s “just a plan,” a plan is still essential to every project. Plans are meant to change, and part of the challenge (and fun) of a project manager’s job is to think of those curve balls as opportunities to respond well and perhaps even achieve something better.

Productivity Hack #6. All I Have To Do Is…

In project management, a work breakdown structure conveys the work behind project scope; aids estimating, assigning work, and tracking progress; and more. Breaking work down can also act as a hack for getting started (or unstuck) in smaller assignments or personal projects.

bulldozer in landfillSuppose you’re facing a task that seems overwhelming, never-ending, or downright tedious and unappealing. The typical response is to find reasons to procrastinate. Instead, you can apply the “All I Have To Do Is” hack to break down work into pieces that are so small that it’s easy to talk yourself into doing them.

Try it. Say “All I have to do is” and fill in a name for a really small chunk of work. Do that a few times and before you know it, the entire task will be done and you’ll feel great.

Here’s a personal example of this hack in real life:

The task:

Here in Colorado, wildfires have been consuming forests and homes like, well, wildfire. I can’t control whether a fire starts near me, but I can take steps to prepare for disaster. (Risk management in action, but that’s a topic for another post.) So, I decided to prepare a new inventory of my belongings and store irreplaceable items someplace safe. Preparing a household inventory is not something I enjoy.

The procrastination:

First, I did some research on house inventory programs. But someone as nerdy as me doesn’t need inventory software. How else could I procrastinate? Suddenly, my work assignments took on new appeal. This deadline, that deadline. Wait, I’ve got it! How about a new project? Isn’t it time I finally sell the stuff that’s been gathering dust for years?

After years as a professional freelancer, I can recognize the signs of procrastination.

All I Have To Do Is — Step 1:

I identified the first small “All I Have To Do Is” step, which was to take photographs of everything in my front hallway and document them in a spreadsheet. My front hallway has a coat closet, a rug, and a couple of things hanging on the wall. After five minutes, I had seven photos and a spreadsheet with descriptions and the corresponding digital photo filenames.

Gosh, that wasn’t so bad. So, I moved on to the powder room and another hallway. Easy-peasy.

All I Have To Do Is — Step 2:

Knowing when to take a break is key to this hack. It’s important to stop before the overwhelming feeling returns. The next space in my house’s floor plan is the kitchen and pantry. I’m a foodie. I have lots of gadgets, spices, cookbooks, and other cooking stuff. I took one look and could feel my motivation draining. I stopped.

All I Have To Do Is — Step 3:

After some time passes — a few hours or a few days, at the most — it’s time to say with renewed vigor “All I have to do is…” I finished the pantry and my cookbook shelves. I still felt inspired, so I got through about half of the kitchen cabinets. Mind you, I did not add individual entries for every kitchen gadget I own.

The results:

After three days of this hack, the contents of my house and garage were recorded in photographs and a spreadsheet (which, by the way, are stored on the cloud and on an external drive in my safe deposit box.) I packed up the irreplaceable items as I encountered them and took them to a friend’s house for safekeeping. I also had photos of items I wanted to sell, posted them on craigslist and eBay, and discovered to my delight that people really did want to buy the crap, er, fine wares that I didn’t want any more. The icing on the cake was when my homeowner’s insurance agent told me that I inspired her to do her own inventory.

I feel great and motivated to get more off my to-do list.

Are You Leading If You’re Going in the Wrong Direction?

Have you ever gotten jazzed up listening to an executive talk about what a project or program is going to do for the company? Big things, I tell you! This project is going to jet-fuel the organization! Go team! Then, you’re tapped to manage the project. As the excitement wears off, the realization dawns that you have NO IDEA what the project is really supposed to do.

Precise Leadership, a presentation by Executive Leadership Group at the 2012 PMI Mile Hi Spring Symposium, talked about how project managers can be successful by bringing clarity to a project. The emphasis of this approach is on uncovering the big picture of the project.

The first step is to understand the purpose of the project or program. That makes sense. But, in many instances, executives toss out vague goals cloaked in stimulating words, followed immediately by the directive “Get going!” Then, they revel in the warm fuzzy feeling they get watching the burst of activity that ensues. You probably know how that will end.

What you need are clear results that the endeavor is supposed to deliver. Results-based philanthropy was one example provided by the presenters, Wendi Peck and Bill Casey. Instead of a goal of raising as much money for a charity as possible, results-based philanthropy starts by identifying a desired result, raises the money for that result, and then uses the money to achieve the result.

Knowing the desired results delivers all sorts of benefits. The focus is on achieving results. That focus elevates everyone’s perspective to a more strategic level. Racking up hours or expenditures doesn’t mean squat if you aren’t getting closer to the desired results. In addition, you can prevent scope creep, because it’s easier to determine whether work supports the results. Team members understand why they’re doing work so they can be creative in how they achieve results. They’re also accountable for those results, so executives don’t need to micro-manage.

Bonnie's cartoon about heading in the wrong directionNow, you have a list of results to achieve. Everyone’s feeling pretty good. But you burst their balloon by asking “What is the right result?” Stephen Covey shares my favorite example of the importance of this question in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Someone looks up from their work and says “We’re going the wrong way!” The response is “Shut up! We’re making great progress!” You might run the most efficient project and deliver every result, but if the original goal was off the mark, the project will be a failure.

I liked the presenters’ take on the right result: a sweet spot somewhere between what you do and your lofty ideals. For example, doctors do physical exams. At the same time, they’re lofty ideal may be to make people healthy. The right result might be the middle ground of helping people make informed healthcare decisions.

The third step is to identify success in such a way that the results are indisputable. The bad news: The simplicity of an indisputable result is inversely proportional to the amount of thinking and discussion required. Is your desired result to decrease the cost of customer support by 10 percent, shorten calls to an average of less than 5 minutes, reduce average wait time to less than 4 minutes, or increase customer retention by 25 percent? Another challenge: you don’t want to saddle the organization with bureaucratic procedures for measuring those results.

Finally, you need to define some restrictions on those indisputable results. Some people are known for delivering exactly what you ask for, not what you intended. That is, if they can find a way to weasel around a result, they will. For example, if you’re trying to reduce customer service costs, you might want to specify that the results are achieved without a decrease in customer satisfaction. In most cases, 1 to 3 restrictions suffice to protect the results.  A test that the presenters recommend is to ask whether taking a restriction off the list makes the result easier to achieve. If the answer is yes, the restriction is probably warranted

What is Excellence in Leadership?

The leadership theme continues — mainly because I attended the 2012 PMI Mile Hi Spring Symposium, whose theme was “Leadership: Winning strategies for achieving project success.” I didn’t yawn once, not even after the great lunch buffet. In fact, I got goose bumps a couple of times.

Pat Williams, Senior VP for the Orlando Magic, gave an inspiring keynote speech about leadership based on his book, Leadership Excellence: The Seven Sides of Leadership in the 21st Century. Although I can take or leave watching professional sports, I admire performers of all ilk — from actors to Cirque du Soleil acrobats to professional athletes. These folks have to perform their best no matter whether they’re injured, didn’t get enough sleep, or face crises in their lives. In team sports as in projects, the team has to perform as a, um, team and that means someone has to lead.

Now, I’m pretty good at getting myself motivated, unstuck, out of ruts, past obstacles. Which is pretty important for someone who’s self-employed. I have had some success motivating teams as I mentioned in an earlier post. However, I am in awe of leaders who can inspire teams to beat overwhelming odds, come back from demoralizing setbacks, and achieve more than they even dreamed possible. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it.

So I thought I’d summarize what Mr. Williams says are the seven things that leaders in the 21st century must do to excel.

What are these characteristics of leadership excellence?

1. Vision. No surprise there. What is surprising is how often vision is missing. Vision helps everyone focus. It gives you energy, enthusiasm, and passion for the project at hand. Vision helps you finish, because you know what you’re trying to achieve.

2. Communication. A leader doesn’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell of succeeding if he or she doesn’t communicate well with everyone involved. One of Mr. Williams recommendations is a favorite of mine: Speak to an audience in their language. (If I want my dog Maia to do something, I better be talking duck jerky.) Be clear, concise, and correct. Leaders must be motivational and inspirational. They communicate optimism and hope.

3. People skills. Some people think leaders are in charge. In reality, leaders work for the teams they lead. Leaders must be visible and available. They listen, ask questions, and do what they must to empower people to deliver.

4. Character. Integrity and honesty are crucial. Leaders with character build up their emotional bank accounts (a Stephen Covey concept) with their people. When the going gets tough, teams are willing to work through the issues. Another aspect of character is humility. To me, this links to the idea that leaders work for their teams. Excellent leaders make sure their teams shine.

5. Competence. Although leaders are humble, they must be good at what they do. They build teams, solve problems, sell themselves, and sell their ideas. They are life-long teachers and– so they don’t run out of material– are also life-long learners. Mr. Williams talked about being a life-long reader. He talked about how much reading you can do simply by reading an hour a day.

6. Boldness. Lots of people make decisions. Leaders make the best decisions they can and don’t look back.

7. A serving heart. Leaders gave authority in order to serve. You’ve heard the saying “Power corrupts.” Excellent leaders have power, but don’t fall into using if for their personal gain. They use it to achieve others’ goals, to better the world around them.

Learning Lessons on Leadership

The first thing I think of when I think about leadership: I was a bad employee. I wasn’t a bad employee because I did bad work. On the contrary, I did great work and customers loved me. But I always had problems with the management in the companies I worked for. I was told I had a bad attitude — and I did. (Since I’m a terrible follower, I had better learn to be a good leader.) Then, I read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and realized the source of my “problems.” Many (not all) of the managers and executives I knew didn’t think win-win. They focused on making sales and making money, not on making sure customers got what they needed. Covey talked about treating employees the way you want them to treat customers and I typically don’t see that happening in companies either.

A long story shortened, I have had my own business since 1997. When I quit, a good friend said “Well, now, your boss is an *$$hole, but at least you know what to do about it.” He was right. But I digress.

I used a quote on leadership from Dwight Eisenhower in my book, Successful Project Management:

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

How do you get people to do something you want because they want to? My two cents, give them something to believe in: a mission, if you will.

Not long before I quit to start my company, I was promoted to manage a customer support group. Making the company a success wasn’t exactly something I could believe in. But making our customers successful so they would remain our customers was. So, without really thinking about it, I worked on a win-win with customers and my team to deliver a win for the company.

I fought for training and raises for my people. My previously demoralized team became re-energized and customer support improved. As it turns out, the training also helped the members of my team keep their jobs or find new ones. And the raises set them up to obtain higher salaries at their new jobs. The company didn’t survive, but I couldn’t do anything to turn that around. Having something to believe in seems to work.

Jumping ahead to my writing career: It is a success, but my leadership style hasn’t been. My standards are very high. My clients love my work. But I have taken to warning potential co-workers about my great expectations. Pushing too hard reminds me of another great Eisenhower quote:

Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.

I still have something to believe in: providing engaging, clear guidance and instruction to my readers. So why have I failed to lead people who work with me on writing projects? My first thought is deadlines. Books, articles, and other writing projects are rife with tough deadlines. But all projects have deadlines. With my writing, I willingly flog myself to meet deadlines because I’m the one who accepts them. (See what my friend meant about my boss being an *$$hole?) I turn to other people for help only when I have deadlines I can’t possibly achieve by myself — when I’m stressed, when I’m at my least nurturing. It isn’t pretty.

I won’t change my high expectations. But instead of beating people over the head with them, I’ll set those expectations as a goal. I’ll use projects with less challenging deadlines as a training ground. That way, I have the time to train, guide, coach, and support to my teammates, just as the end result is a book or course that provides training, guidance, coaching, and support to my readers.

Project Conference 2012: Drinking from the Firehose

drinking from the fire hoseMy first experience with  “drinking from a fire hose” was in college. The three days I spent in Phoenix at Project Conference 2012 brought back those memories. For me, the conference was a whirlwind of attending presentations, meeting exhibitors, catching up with old friends, and meeting new ones. I had good intentions of blogging during the conference, but each night when I got back to my room, I was so exhausted that the pillow won out. Here’s my PC12 memoir:

Monday: Travel ran as if it were managed by a project manager with unlimited resources, Project Server, and an administrator with a Starbucks IV hookup. My flight landed early and I hopped on the light rail right to the convention center just in time for the Microsoft Project Users Group reception.

The MPUG award presentation with Matt Davis and John Riopel from MPUG Project Talk and Ludovic Hauduc, GM of the Microsoft Project business unit, kicked things off perfectly. When I chatted with Matt and John during the conference, they boasted that they could answer any Project question. We’ll have to see about that. The MPUG event was the catalyst for me to meet one of the award winners, Gerald Leonard, who presented a session on critical chain project management. I’m a big fan of critical chain and the theory of constraints and now I’m psyched to try out ProChain, an add-in for Microsoft Project that offers critical chain features.

Gantthead’s welcome reception was a few hours of sipping cocktails, nibbling tasty snacks, and swapping business cards…..uh, doh! I knew I forgot something.

Tuesday: I walked over to the convention center in unseasonably cool air. Lucky me! A quick breakfast and caffeination and I was ready for the conference to begin. By the end of the opening keynote, I was pretty jazzed and it wasn’t the coffee talking.

christopheThe presentations and demos that Microsoft delivered during the Tuesday and Wednesday keynotes were awesome. As a former demo jockey, I know how tough it is to design demos that make people crave your products and then have those demos actually work — with one glitch left in to prove that the demo’s running in real time. The Microsoft folks did all that. I collaborate with a lot of people and I thought I was geekily adept with my collaboration tools. After I saw Keshav Puttaswamy, Christophe Feissinger, and a few others share info from Project to Project Web App to Visio to OneNote to Office 365 from desktop to laptop to Windows tablet to Windows phone to — um, I don’t even remember the rest — I’m ready to play and share well with others. I was also impressed that Microsoft even did a demo with an iPhone! Boy, have times changed.

clouseauChristophe put up with some good-natured razzing over his moustache. Ludo compared it to The Artist, but I had hoped Christophe would slip into an Inspector Clouseau persona.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday:

It was tough to choose which presentations to attend. The content and quality were overwhelmingly good. Danny Smith from Marquette University talked about project portfolio management that works. Marquette has set up a sweet-sounding environment. However, Danny’s unflappable character seems like it would help any system run smoothly. (I also liked his comment about how shiny things pull focus away from the important stuff. So true.)

Mary Ellen Kliethermes and Sharon Harness from Ameren talked about how to implement Project Server with little or no consulting money. The bottom line on that presentation: use virtual servers (VMWare) to eliminate hardware cost, tackle the implementation in chunks to see what does or doesn’t work, and be prepared to really work at it.

Speaking of Project Server and project portfolio management, hosted Project Server in the cloud, in some cases, pre-built environments should make this technology more accessible to organizations. Lots of companies don’t have the hardware, people, or money to put together their own Project Server environment. Hosted systems offered by Project Hosts, Bemo, or SharkPro could be the answer. For example, subscribe for the length of time and number of users you need; or get a ready-made configuration; or expand without having to line up more hardware, software, or system administrators.

On Wednesday I enjoyed a half hour of fame signing books for a long line of patient fans. Because my book partner, Teresa Stover, couldn’t attend, I signed my book, Successful Project Management, and Teresa’s Microsoft Project 2010 Inside Out. I also signed a few copies of Your Project Management Coach, a book co-authored by Teresa and me and published by Wiley. (Thanks to Microsoft for putting the book signing together.) During my book signing slot, I was lucky enough to finally meet Carl Chatfield in person. Carl’s and my books, Project Step By Step and On Time! On Track! On Target!, were paired for several years as a project management kit. His Step by Step book is one of my favorites. People told me he is recommending my updated and improved edition, Successful Project Management. Thanks Carl!

That close encounter with Carl spawned an idea. I felt honored to have people stand in line to shake my hand. But several other of my favorite Project authors were present, so I did the paparazzi thing and snagged some pictures with yours truly. Sadly, the photo with Eric Verzuh of Fast Forward MBA in Project Management fame was too blurry to include.

eric_uHowever, here I am with Eric Uyttewaal who wrote Forecast Scheduling, a great book on scheduling with Project. I did catch up with Gary Chevetz and Dale Howard from ProjectExperts (but didn’t remember to take a picture). And I also finally met Larry Christofaro in person. He has written some incredible articles over the years.

Now I’m home and back to work. Since you’re reading this post, I obviously finished my #1 priority. Next up is emailing and sending LinkedIn invitations to the people whose business cards I gathered at the conference. (Bonnie’s project management tip of the day: If you promise to do something for someone, do it!)

From Peep Show to Full Monty

I’ve never been to a peep show. Really. But I imagine they’re a lot like authoring a book (or other projects for that matter).

A peep at a book coverOf course, a peep show costs a few bucks whereas the price I pay to write a book is hundreds of hours of my life and a savage brain pummeling. During the “show” I get unsatisfying looks at the work in progress. A paragraph here. A screenshot there. (And those are not even close to as titillating as a scantily clad person.)

As time goes on, the view improves, or, at least with some projects, becomes clearer. (Sometimes, progress and results don’t quite live up to expectations, which means some course correction is in order.) For a book, the page proofs begin to expose what the final book will really look like. When I see the cover art from the graphics folks, I begin to get excited. That cover art means the book (and my torment) is almost over.

One day, I head out to my driveway and find a box from my publisher sitting on the steps. I rip open the cardboard box, ruffle through the packing material, and extract a copy. Finally, the book version of the full monty! I turn the book this way and that to appreciate the view from all angles. I flip through the pages. As quickly as it appeared, the exhilaration goes away. About fifteen seconds have passed. I stow the box of books, put a copy on the book shelf with the other books I’ve written, and get on with the next thing.

That isn’t the end of the story–or the project. I document the lessons I learned so things go better the next time. And I deposit the final advance payment to wrap up the pesky financial details. A book project delivers a product, the printed book. Like other product-oriented projects, the final product triggers a handoff from me to… me. I go from book writing to book marketing, which is a new project.

From time to time, readers email questions. I might get the satisfaction of hearing how much they like the book. I get to answer whatever question is on the table and enjoy the feeling of helping someone, which is a fulfilling reminder of the goal of the book project that began so long ago.