Tag Archives: United States

“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people.”

Focused, but uncharacteristically tame words from old “Blood and Guts“, as he was often called, General George S. Patton. Many have reviled Patton for his often inappropriate remarks and tough leadership style, but few fault his battlefield successes. Patton believed in plain talk and direct action.

Project management is about leadership … sometimes tough and often direct.

Patton’s tough leadership style was tuned to the art and science of war. In spite of his “blood and guts” style, Patton knew how to gain the best from his men.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

He championed the strength of the individual, but he also understood the value of a team in achieving a goal.

An Army is a team … individual heroic stuff is pure horseshit … Every man is a vital link in the great chain.

In our world of political correctness and “feelings”, the hard-driving management style of Patton looks foreign and out-of-place. Out-of-place, but still effective. Patton’s style motivated his teams to achieve beyond what they or anyone else thought was possible. Patton played to his teams with a winner’s message,

Americans play to win at all times. I wouldn’t give a hoot and hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost nor ever lose a war.

But projects are not wars; projects are not battles. Projects do, however require good leaders. Is the blood-and-guts “Patton style” effective in project management?

I became a project manager and a team leader during the 1980s, when Patton-style management was commonplace, especially in IT and Consulting. High impact, high stress projects, commonly started with a 10-20% resource “buffer” to balance the expected attrition. Long hours and the get-it-done-or-be-pushed-aside style took high tolls on project resources. Only “the strong” survived.

With the Patton style, a manager could move forward with the same rhetoric and method regardless of the team. It was simple and direct. The method that worked with Team A on Project B, should also work with Team C on Project D. Success was not necessarily related to a particular team, it was about the method.

I can offer personal testimony that, yes, the Patton method of project management does work. You cannot, however, allow progress to slow for those team members who fall by the wayside. Again from General Patton,

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.

The Patton style of project management, unfortunately, is often used to compensate for incomplete planning, improper estimating or insufficient risk management processes. Failures are turned into “successes”, as teams spend nights and weekends trying to make up for management mistakes. When it happens too often, burnout occurs and we end up “[thanking] God that such men lived”.

As my career in IT management progressed, I shifted my leadership style to that of another World War II general,  Dwight D. Eisenhower. As President, he wrote,

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

Good project leadership is not about forcing an outcome, but inspiring a direction. I certainly could herd the cats and drive my teams, but in doing so, I saw that became the project engine. Remove me and the momentum declined. Using Eisenhower approach to move teams, allows the teams to deliver with or without the “engine”, because they want to do it. The teams move toward a self-motivating, self-managing state.

Successful projects bring the entire team to the point of completion … with growth, not attrition.

Both the Patton and the Eisenhower methods can achieve the same end result, a project successfully delivered. But the Eisenhower approach can require more effort from the manager. So, why employ a style that adds overhead?

Simply stated, attrition costs money. Casting off the casualties, might not hurt a particular project’s budget, but it eventually has a measurable impact on the company’s bottom line. Recruiting and training new resources costs money.

Instead of the use-and-discard of overworked resources, employing effective project processes and improving team member skills can deliver motivated teams who return the company’s investment with loyalty and improved performance.

While delivered as a joking remark, President Eisenhower also pointed out that,

leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well.

Delivered in jest or with sincerity, project managers know that truer words were never spoken. We ultimately take have to take responsibility for failures, as we are coordinating the attack. The real work is performed by our teams, who deserve the credit.

Today’s project managers should follow the Eisenhower methodology, inspiring their teams to “do something you want done because [they] want to do it.” Failure to do so can leave project managers acting out the infamous words of another World War II general, Douglas MacArthur,

We are not retreating – we are advancing in another direction.

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Related content:

“The General George S. Patton Story”, Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Narrated by Ronald Reagan, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvL0tj9ZaoY&noredirect=1

“Patton’s Speech to the 3rd Army prior to D-Day “, http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2398239/posts

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5 Steps to Becoming a Volunteneur

Entrepreneur + Volunteer = Volunteneur

There is no question that the World, the United States, your City has problems. Some are Big Problems; some are Small Problems.

So what are YOU doing about them … Today?

Complain to City Hall!

“Somebody should do something!” While being incensed about a problem  may have been enough to get some action in the past, it’s just not an effective course of action today. Tax revenues down. Public services are being cut. Finding more than a sympathetic ear might be difficult to do.

Volunteer to Help

Now you’ve got the idea! “If the City is short on resources, then I could volunteer to help. But what’s the plan? Can I realistically work as an unpaid volunteer for the City … addressing the problem that is bothering me the most today?” It’s possible, but unlikely.

Perhaps you could join others as a volunteer in their private sector initiative…

Strength in numbers! More hands make work light! Excellent!

There are numerous organizations that you could join. Perhaps one of them addresses your specific complaint/problem and you could get some muscle behind the solution.

But what if there isn’t someone or some organization that is addressing your particular issue? What if your problem is too small to be on someone else’s priority list but still too big for you to ignore?

Become a Volunteneur! 

“A what?” We all have an idea of what an “entrepreneur” is … it’s someone who sees a problem (or an opportunity), collects various resources/processes and (with a lot of hard work) creates a solution or product. Sometimes the solutions or products are a little unconventional. Sometimes they don’t work as planned. But when they work, the entrepreneur is a huge success!

As a “volunteer”, you show up somewhere and someone hands you a shovel or a paint brush or a soup ladle and you get to work. You become one of the rowers on someone else’s galley. If the planning was good (the galley is pointed the right direction) and the resources adequate (there are enough rowers), the initiative is a success.  There is nothing wrong with being a volunteer, but you rarely get to select the target problem or the solution.

Entrepreneur + Volunteer = Volunteneur

Part entrepreneur, part volunteer, a volunteneur looks at a problem from the perspective of a business owner who must solve it, given the available resources and constraints. No one else is going to step up and “fix” what’s broken, so YOU have to take charge.

Five Steps to Becoming a Successful Volunteneur

1. Identify / Define the Problem

This is also known as requirements definition. Document all of the problem components. (Write this down.) If you can’t define the problem, your success at solving it is greatly diminished.

2. Consider your Available Resources, Constraints and Problem Details

If you don’t know what you have available to you, you’re likely to overlook solution options or try to build something that can’t be completed. The “problem details” would include the “root causes” and any “triggering conditions”.

3. Look for Solution Options

This is the brainstorming session. No solution is too wild or too impractical. Don’t worry about the completeness of any single solution option. Several solution options might work better when combined.  This exercise often yields additional constraints or problem definition details.

4. Assess / Compare the Solution Options … Build a Plan

Identify the resource “costs” of each solution. Consider the pro’s and con’s, along with their potentials for success. Consider solution option combinations that might enhance each other. Select optimal solution(s), build implementation plan. Establish success metrics.

5. Execute the Solution Plan

Just because this is an unpaid effort, doesn’t mean that it will require less management. Use your business/project management skills to track work according to plan. Encourage your team along the way. Monitor success during and after implementation. Modify solution, as required, to improve the outcome. 

Volunteneurism — It’s All About Getting It Done

In business, project structure is commonplace. In civic or volunteer environments, good ideas can become lost long before the problem is properly defined. It’s so much easier to complain than to do. As a volunteneur, bring your business (get it done) expertise with you and get folks moved off that first square.

Step up, define the problem, identify your resources/constraints/details and get solution options on the table for discussion. Solution discussions can build a sense of decision ownership for volunteers, but keep them moving. Combine and eliminate options to end up with that single direction that you can all pull toward together.

People willing to help with projects that look successful. They just need a leader to get them started and a manager to help them be successful.

Don’t leave your expertise at the office. Share your coordination and management skills. You may find that the rewards from your community work far exceed those from your paycheck.

Does Spelling Count?

Many of us consider ourselves to be “technologists”. “English” may not be second language to us, but it definitely wasn’t highest on our “favorite subjects list” in college. Thank the application gods for Spell Checkers (with Autocorrect) which now show up in every conceivable application or platform. Yea verily, brothers & sisters, we, who have struggled with i_before_e_except_after_c since third grade, are now SAVED!! (… or at least it seems so.)

Our computers now do all the thinking while we just slam the words down. Right? Maybe someday, but not yet. Today we still have to do some level of thinking when writing. But is that “someday” closer than we think?

For the February issue of Wired Magazine, Anne Trubeck, an associate professor at Oberlin College, wrote an opinion piece, “Proper Spelling? Its Tyme to Let Luce!”. In her article, she wrote, “Consistent spelling was a great way to ensure clarity in the print era. But with new technologies, the way that we write and read (and search and data-mine) is changing, and so must spelling.” She went on to say that “Standardized spelling enables readers to understand writing, to aid communication and ensure clarity. Period. There is no additional reason, other than snobbery, for spelling rules.”

This article lit up the blogs and newspapers with editors proclaiming that the Oberlin College professor’s comments were just short of heresy. Even a copy editor from Wired magazine, itself, responded, “Personally, I like to be able to understand what I read, without having to stop and puzzle over “creative” spellings—whether it’s in a book, on a tablet, or online. What exactly is it about digital media that demands the abolition of spelling rules?”

It is true, as Trubeck points out, that English spelling is “a terrible mess” and that there were few sources for “proper spelling” prior to the 1800s. In her article, she reminds us,

In 1768, Benjamin Franklin published “A Scheme for a New Alphabet and Reformed Mode of Spelling,” a treatise that laid out a detailed plan for making spelling sensible. He invented three new vowels and removed c, j, q, w, x, and y from our alphabet. Noah Webster (of Webster’s Dictionary) agreed with many of Franklin’s suggestions and came up with more of his own, some of which were accepted: Webster is why the American spelling of color has no u. Mark Twain placed the blame for spelling errors on “this present silly alphabet, which I fancy was invented by a drunken thief,” and proposed a “sane, determinate” alternative with “a system of accents, giving to each vowel its own soul and value.”

While I do agree that English, or perhaps more pointedly, “American”, spelling can be a challenge, discarding the rules of our written word for the sole purpose of the writer’s convenience is more than one step beyond the point of reason. Writing for oneself is one thing, but writing as a form of communication to others is entirely another.

As the Wired copy editor writes, “So if you want to chat in leetspeak [where a user replaces letters for numbers or other characters] or use cutesy abbreviations in your texts, go crazy. You’re talking to your own tribe; they know the code, and they’re willing to indulge your affectations. And let’s be honest: A lot of that intentional misspelling, like the argot of any subculture, is meant to exclude outsiders—such as nosy parents. It’s a badge of membership in your little clique.”

Precise use of language or simply of spelling is designed to avoid confusion in communication. Precise language is not for the writer’s convenience, but for the readers’ understanding. In the normal course of our jobs, most of us are required to drift outside those sacred halls of technology and into the cold, unforgiving world of the written word. With the first misunderstood business email, we are faced with the reality that communication has two components: what we meant (delivery) and what was understood (comprehension). Without enabling that comprehension component with proper spelling/use, our words may as well be random characters on the screen.

Even if the misspelled words are understood, what do their incorrect configurations say about how much the writer valued the words selected or what was conveyed? Do the misspellings/misuses indicate that the writer really doesn’t care enough about the reader to get the words right?

Professor Trubek seems to think that “There is no additional reason, other than snobbery, for spelling rules.” I disagree with her. If there is no additional reason for spelling rules, other than respect of the reader, then THAT is enough for me. Get out the dictionary and find the correct spelling of the word!

We remind ourselves to re-read our emails before sending them and still, mistakes do slip in. Our computers are not foolproof. Their spell checkers and grammar checkers are programmed to support common use, but what happens when we are looking for the fine detail of a proper spelling or word use? Should we reduce the flexibility and color of our language just to satisfy the indolent nature of some writers?

Read through the blog postings listed below. Do you agree the “thru” could be a reasonable alternative to “through”? But does “l8r” really add to the value or efficiency of communication? How does this “new spelling” initiative impact legal contracts, where clear and precise meanings are essential.

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Proper Spelling? Its Tyme to Let Luce!

By Anne Trubek, January 31, 2012 |  12:30 pm |  Wired February 2012

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2012/01/st_essay_autocorrect/

Spelling: A Rebuttal From Wired’s Copydesk

By Lee Simmons Email Author January 31, 2012 |  12:30 pm |  Wired February 2012

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2012/01/st_essay_autocorrect_rebuttal/

Should We Abandon Standard Spelling?

Podcast Episode 308: February 9, 2012 by Mignon Fogarty

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/should-we-abandon-standard-spelling.aspx

A spell of rough weather

The Baltimore Sun  > You Don’t Say, by John McIntyre, editor

http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/2012/01/a_spell_of_rough_weather.html