The anxiety of project deliverable dates.
Kevin has graciously allowed me to champion this post as deadlines are not his expertise. He only knows the deadline for when he has to use the litterbox. For me, everyday for the past few years have hosted a deadline in some fashion. Some of the deadlines heavy and serious, others were little items that could jeopardize the project later on. The need for the team and myself to produce quickly and efficiently is staggering when I take the time to reflect on my work history.
The adrenaline spikes, anxiety, snacking on treats to fuel the buzz of being "in-the-zone" of concentration and neuron connecting extravaganza, can be so fierce that you don't even have time to use the litterbox.
I am no expert in managing the pressure of a deadline unfortunately because I function better under pressure of time constraints. Responding to this pressure does not mean that I am always happy or performing with the attention to details to my satisfaction. If you are a high-performer under pressure, the upper management will notice and then you always have work and then more work which can cause work fatigue and burnout. If you are not a high-performer, but your quality is great, then there is a place for that too, but it should be on projects with larger budgets and fussy clients. However, if you are none of the above, then you are a seat-warmer then I hope that you are the office clown so there is a need to keep you around.
What I do know about the deadline and anxiety relationship is that the deadlines start from the very top or the leadership team. When these individuals do not understand or listen to issues about the project(s), there is always a less-than-acceptable deadline. Listening to staff and being aware of what can go wrong, team's workloads, and team vacation calendars, can keep deadlines in the realm of realistic. There are clients that pay their bills that you want to have or to keep, who will push and demand the unachievable. In this yes-person client kiss-@ss case, all project players must understand and agree that the requirements for the project exceeds normal. It can be hard to get this agreement of terms in a document signed by the client, but a constant reminder with examples by the project manager can help reinforce what is being expected for a deliverable.
Days upon days of deadlines can leave the team tired and resentful if the rest of the office does not have the same timelines to work towards. Asking team members if they are okay with the constant pressure or allowing for enough time-off to regain energy can help keep high-performers from becoming low-performers. If the high-performers see the rest of the office operate at a different level and they are being rewarded the same, they will loose motivation.
Deadlines are here to stay as long as the global economics maintain its intensity. The best we can do is to take the time to properly understand what the project constraints are and what issues will slow us down. If we can improve on the most time consuming tasks, then all the better.
My heartrate is almost at normal as I am almost finished my own deadline. However, I just realized why it is called a deadline...cause they can kill you if you don't manage them.
Schedules and budgets are only part of the project management process.
Kevin is enjoying "alone time" while I take my vacation somewhere warmer than our office. For lack of a furry companion in my desert paradise, I have looked to the locals to assist in my writing. The locals: Dinosaurs. Well, not real ones anymore. Their distant cousins offered a helping reptilian paw. Project Management is as old as the raptors who needed to organize the hunt for their prey somehow. Then much later, Zog and Oga had to organize the saber tooth hunt and find shelter. There would have been specific resources to be used and a timeline. Sticks, moss, pelts for shelter to be secured before the snow came. This is leadership, however, due to the complexity of current projects, smaller units of management are now required.
Creating a workplan to meet a schedule with the correct number of resources to stay on an internal budget, to mention nothing of a construction or implementation budget, are only bogus numbers if the project variables are constantly changing. Part of Project Management is anticipating what can and will happen and allowing for issues in the budget and timeline. Most projects are unique and require relevant skill sets and experience to achieve an accurate schedule and budget. If you don't have the skill set or experience then ask someone who does. This does not make you look like an idiot, rather it makes you appear aware of your shortcomings enough to find a solution.
The big project drivers, obviously, people. Happy, talented people. People who like to learn and contribute to the project. People who like to feel that they are just as respected and valued as anyone else. People who have lives, problems, mouths to feed. People who need to stay engaged. Books, seminars, and websites are devoted to managing people. For those who are not genuinely interested in others or care about them, how to engage and motivate may never be taught to them. There are basics that anyone can learn and it sounds something like this:
"Hi, how are you today?"
"Hi, how are you today?"
"Not good? Anything you want to discuss?"
"Worried about a deadline? Let's see what we can do.."
"Family member is sick? Then finish-up and leave early. Your attention will be focused elsewhere anyways."
These are examples of asking a simple question, listening, and performing an action. This could be five minutes of your day to check on your team. They can either help you make your schedule or blow your budget.
There is no switch in the brain easily accessible that can be turned-on to get people to understand people. Often, individuals with excellent skills get tossed into leadership that they don't want and vise versa. A simple question implying interest can show an attempt to connect and understand people. Eventually, it will become apparent what issues are going to arise with teams. One of the big project success issues is how to get the right people in the right roles.
The dinosaurs had extra insight into survival and organization or they would not have effectively roamed the Earth for millions of years. Maybe we will find the key to global organization too...that doesn't involve eating each other...
When to use office standards and when to use your own.
Kevin likes having not just 1, but 2 litterboxes. They are the exact same size and shape but they are on two different floors of the house. There is a number 1 box and a number 2 box. He likes a specific brand of cat litter that works for him and for us. If a litterbox gets too old, or we need new litter, we use the same products. They are our household standard.
Not to be complicated with change or learning a new system, the litterbox standards are about tradition and efficiency. Following basic office standards is like a tradition. They are simple acts intended to make life more pleasurable. There are protocols, systems, and tools that can be used to make work easier and with better efficiency, thus eliminating stress and generating Profit.
Letterheads, file storage locations, and project set-up templates, are all examples of basic office functions that can create havoc for others and become a buffet for billable time to snack upon. Some of the office standards suck and dually noted. These ridiculous standards should be the topic of office staff meetings so that a consensus can be achieved which works, on-average, for everyone.
Each time an team member stores a project file on their own hard drive it becomes extremely difficult for collaboration. If that team member is away, then no one can find the file, the project work is delayed or has to be done again, and Profit jumps out the window never to been seen or heard from again.
All the idealisms of business can't help an inefficient project set-up being badly managed into Profit without sacrifice or loss. Following project standards can give a badly managed project some girth to start a re-structuring plan or team members a sense of organization in chaos.
Following a standard procedure or using office software properly does not make you a conformist. It does not challenge your inner rebel or lower your office "coolness" factor. It makes you the hero as it will always be easy to work with you and you will make Profit happy. A happy Profit makes upper management happy and you have a win-win. You can still be Punk and follow an office standard. If you have the time to question the global value of how using the standard letterhead template affects you emotionally and challenges your values to the company....then there is another blog for you out there called "Shrimp and the Corporate Shrink".
Kevin and I have our standard writing template. It may not be flashy, or as exciting as an Instagram breakfast, but it gives us one less thing to worry about so we can spend time meeting our deadlines. Now we are going to take a break and buy Kevin his new spiked collar - that isn't his standard.
When agreements get broken.
One of the major differences between Kevin and I apart from his genetic ability to be completely self-sufficient- cleaning his own butt, keeping himself warm in the winter by growing his own coat, and hunting his own food that doesn't require cooking before eating - is that Kevin isn't affected by failed commitments, misdirected performance feedback, and broken promises. If I promise him cat treats tomorrow because I have no more, he really doesn't give a mouse's a$$. However, as humans, we can be deeply effected by promises made with clients, consultants, co-workers and family.
When management announces a promise for new equipment, better software, additional staff, or a new role, and they do not deliver in a timely fashion, distrust, frustration, and anger begin to seed.
A promise made to a client about a deliverable that you don't deliver will create a lack of trust with the ones who pay your bills, and can jeopardize your relationship with the client. Everyone involved with your project needs assurance that you follow-through on your promises and commitments. Showing the team that you are good for your word will give you the reputation you need to keep succeeding and possibly a "let-this-one-slide" when there is a situation where you can't fulfill your promise. Continuously failing deliverables allows the team to label you as the project joke. No one will take your word seriously and it becomes difficult to persuade and influence issues when required.
Delivering on unrealistic deadlines or responding to unachievable promises is a different animal. ( ;) ) If the client or upper management dump unattainable requests on you or your team, then this needs to be recognized by all parties. The client needs to be told what they will actually get and not over promised results. Discussions, emails, and meeting minutes can capture what the expectations are and will be. This is something the PM can use to show why specifics of a deliverable were not met.
For upper management, promising better roles, challenging work, or increased wages for years is a strange form of abuse. I believe always offering a promise and never acting on it is called a tease? This constant offer of promises to employees stagnates performance and kills character. Promises that can't be addressed at work are also probably not being kept at home either.
There are a few hours a week where I make the time to go through my list of promises. Even if I can't attend to every item on the list, my goal is to consistently re-visit what I promised and see what I can do. When you know that a promise isn't going to be achievable, tell someone. Hiding your failure just makes the outcome worse.
As for following-up on Kevin's promise of treats, I get in the car and buy some more. As stupid as it is, a promise is a promise and I am accountable.
The ups and downs of company trips.
Within minutes of opening the carry-on bag to pack for a work trip, Kevin hops in and settles down for a nap. If only traveling was simple and relaxing. The late or early flights, waiting in airports during delays, long hours in stuffy boardrooms or convention halls, solo hotel dinners, and awkward timing for checking work emails, makes traveling for work nothing to be envied.
Work travel can be productive and fun. However, regular weekly trips become tiresome and pre-functionary. The upside, the change of environment - not being in the office - is nice break on the company's dime. That leads to the issue of what to expense and not expense. Expensing adult films in the hotel rooms and your third double at the bar are excessive if not unethical. No company should pay for your extra curricular activities unless it is a part of a work incentive strategy. In some underground corporate craziness I am sure strip club attendance isn't unheard of, but in respect of decent work environments, expensing the lap dance is not acceptable. Only the basics should be expensed - food, shelter, and transportation.
If you are working away from the office weekly, using your time effectively is essential. Responding to emails as you are boarding the plane can lead to more issues as your concentration is divided between the person in front of you trying to shove their oversized carry-on bag with one hand into the overhead bin with their jacket hanging out to the side getting hooked on the arm rest and your client emailing for a breakdown of project resources. Only respond to emails that you can clearly and confidently answer without confusing results. Using your time at the airport to review documents or to project plan is productive if you are not constantly being interrupted. Working in your hotel room is also constructive. Although, the hours that you spend working during free time should be evaluated as after all-day workshops and flights can weaken your concentration leaving you unfocused.
Traveling solo is hard on relationships and family. Taking trips only when really necessary can help keep you at home for longer periods. Having someone understand the elements of projects and why your attention is needed away from the office can ease the frustration at home. Not all partners share the same profession, so educating them on key aspects of your role can offer insight as to why work can distract you and take you away to travel. One-on-one conversations are needed during critical times on a project and can save the project time and money by having workshops to resolve current and future issues.
When I travel, I look forward to the time to think on the plane or at the airport where I can contemplate my bucket list - which is why I work - to pay to remove items from my menu. There are also moments where I can sneak away on a trip and see something new or watch how another part of the world experiences their work day.
Travel is not going away. Perhaps travel times and connectivity will change - be enhanced or become more efficient. Until we can comfortably hologram into boardrooms, face-to-face interactions will be required.
Kevin will get booted from the carry-on bag at security, so I will have to take him out and de-fur the inside of my bag before I leave. When I return, Kevin will hop back into my bag while I try to unpack. As teleportation is a distant dream, removing cat hair from my travel bag now and then for work will have to do.
Egos in the office.
When Kevin encounters other cats, he begins to observe their behaviour. He will sit and stare, slightly prepared to attack or submit, to determine who will be the boss - the top dog or cat - the Alpha.
Walking into a start-up meeting, joining a conference call for the first time, or meeting with a new client, is the same as Kevin's encounter with another feline. We assess the individuals involved and make our initial judgement to fight or flight.
The societal expectations of first impressions have been discussed at length over the past years. Acceptance of different physical attributes and unique personal attire has increased in the office since the 50's & 60's. However, we still scan the meeting table to see who is wearing jeans instead of a suit, or who looks nervous instead of calmly composed. We are also looking for confidence, and emotional status. Confidence isn't easily detected during first encounters. A quiet individual with a slight stature can still be confident. Confidence isn't about knowing that you are right, but that you can survive the consequences to your actions or the actions of others upon you. When you are confident, you are able to allow yourself to appear vulnerable or submissive when it is required to avoid useless conflicts. Those with an abundance of confidence can be perceived as an Alpha - a leader, a decision maker, and an instigator. The Alpha can be big or small, short or tall, girl or guy. Like the wolf pack leader, the Alpha can be angered when challenged and vindictive when hurt. The ego is a large motivator for the Alpha.
Alpha's can smell fear. Fear is what our ego uses to hold us back from exploring new things, joining an inner quest for achievement, or surrendering desire. The fear protects the ego from failure, reprimand, hurt, or negative perception of others.
Keeping our ego's and Alpha's content at work can be challenging. It is very easy to retaliate with malicious words to a consultant, contractor, or client in an email or during a phone call when we feel that someone is being unjust with a task or questioning our abilities. Parking our fear, anger, and thus ego in the back alley is difficult. It is not realistic to expect that everyone can comfortably park their ego outside before walking into the office.
Blatantly confronting the Alpha can result in a fight. The Alpha is not scared to fight so be prepared if you wish to challenge them. When two Alpha's go head-to-head, the infamous yardstick in the sky is ready to gather measurements and see who will be declared the winner. This game will stall the project. The time it takes for the Alpha's to fight can be minutes, days, or months, not allowing anything in the office to progress. This is where the Beta - second to lead who is confident, and does not need to be Alpha - steps-in and assists the Alpha in their reasoning to keep the project or office moving forward.
Machu is a big, strong Husky. His kingdom is the inside of the house and the outside. Most critters at the dog park fear being his snack, yet, he can be goofy and cuddly and oddly cautious of fragile creatures. Our advantage as humans over Huskies, should be our ability to control our basic emotions in order to make good decisions and use our awareness to understand how we impact others. That is the global project we are all currently working on. This project has a hard time with the relationships of our co-workers and the allusion of self - it may never be completed.
Perhaps each office should have a booth at the front door of the office with a sign before you start your day: "Park Your Ego Here. If Not, You May Be Rear-ended."
Kevin slips on the floor while playing with his toy mouse and runs into the wall. He is not concerned with feeling that the wall is purposely out to ruin him or that the toy mouse is plotting his demise. He has his ego parked therefore, he can enjoy his play.
Does what we wear to the office really matter?
Mikey makes heads turn with his blue plaid scarf. Does he appear more sophisticated? Or well disciplined? Ambitious?
It is a unique human behaviour that we determine social status by clothing cues first before letting someone speak. Perhaps it is rooted in our youth of how we perceived authority figures or adults that refined attire represents intelligence and leadership. This observation is supported by online celebrity sensations lack of clothing needs.
What does the colour of your socks have to do with project management? Although as a society we have made progress with trying to accept all individual persons in office management, bad hygiene and daisy-dukes still push the acceptability boundaries in the corporate HR department.
Like previous generations, we still like our management to be moderately if not fully professional. Even if that means a pressed non offensive t-shirt, clean jeans, and new runners. Putting effort into yourself shows that you are willing to work towards putting effort into your team to make them look good too. Additionally, it presents to everyone your respect for your own personal value.
As it becomes stressful for individuals to spend time coordinating and trying to decide on what top matches which bottoms, offices tend toward a non enforced uniform. Kaki pants and blue shirts had popularity in engineering firms in recent years. It doesn't matter if there is a specific style - crisp, clean, and appropriate is required in the office.
An easy way to determine if what you are wearing is office appropriate: if you look like your graduation photo or a tourist in Vegas, then you should ask a peer for their opinion. You can also take a picture of a look or style you like and walk into a clothing store and match it. With all the low-cost clothing stores we have today, there is no reason not to look good. Another inappropriate dress give-away: if a co-worker hasn't looked at your face during a conversation then something is either too high or too low. The last thing you want is to be the distraction in the meeting when you are trying to define action items and solutions to project issues.
You can also ask a peer or complete stranger if you smell funky or have bad breath. In our polite HR oriented workplace, we tend to walk away from Pitstain Pete or not include Bad Breath Betty.
On days where the universe has singled you out of a billion people to unleash a deluge of frustration and failure at your doorstep, black-on-black clothes or black-and-white are a safe pick. Sometimes going to the office can feel like a black hole, so all black is appropriate. Wearing all black everyday may start to get teams talking about you therefore you may want to rotate how many days a week you wear it. Unless you work in an aspect of design - then there are no other colours.
Kevin isn't interested in wearing anything. The odd time outside he will don is collar. Yet, he is always groomed, has typical cat breath, and keeps his white's white. With his confidence as well as appearance, he is ready for success.
And when to let it go. Knowing when the office environment is good and when it needs cleaning.
On occasion, the litterbox smells like my son's hockey bag. As you walk past the box o'clumps it reminds you that it is time for a cleaning. Other times, there are only a few clumps with no fragrant challenges as Kevin has kept all his crap in a nice covered pile.
Projects and project teams work the same way. You need to know what tasks to let go of or delegate to someone else, what you need to be concerned about for your role, and when to take someone aside and confirm if they are doing okay.
Everyone will slip and make a comment that is construed by someone else to be offensive, disrespectful, or inappropriate. It is mitigating these instances and making sure that teams are at peace or in an acceptable tolerance zone. Some comments can and should be dismissed. Unless the comment affects your personal beliefs or demeans your ethics, the comment needs to be evaluated in context. There are several times a day that I chose to accept that a comment was made that I wasn't completely comfortable with, however, as there was no impact to my integrity or my personal well-being, or someone was having a bad day, in the words of Elsa, I let it go.
It is unfortunate when crap gets buried for a long time and sticks to the bottom of the litterbox or it piles too high. If you are too busy running the project to pay attention to the status of the litterbox, then you need to make time. If you stop your world from spinning for 20 min. and observe or listen to your team, then your senses can alert you to issues that are percolating. The more individuals allow frustrations to fester, the more likely you are to lose them as employees or lose their productivity. To allow individuals to vent, you need to be approachable - not dismissive of other's concerns, or undermine their perspective. Listening and then trying to find a cooperative solution can go a long way. Following through on your solution(s) and a check-up some time later gives confidence to the team that your leadership is effective.
Particular personalities do not like to deal with their own crap and knowingly wait until you deal with it for them. Avoidance is never good unless a pestering upper-management has finished chewing their bone and are looking for a new one. To assist those with avoidance issues, you need to confront them when it is safe and they don't feel fear. The fear of being reprimanded, deemed incompetent, or being fired. Definitely not in front of other teams or team members. Find a quiet time when you both at ease and then discusses the issue.
When the litterbox smells fresh and it is smooth like sand, Kevin is happy. He stands beside his litterbox for a couple of minutes taking in the pleasant cleanliness. Soon he will get to play in his new fresh sand and the world will be good.
When motivation is required to keep going...
Motivation - the desire for someone to do something. Incentive, inspiration, enthusiasm. For Kevin, motivation is easy. Wait by the food dish in the kitchen until someone trips over him and remembers to feed him his kibbles. His cat toy provides him with the motivation to play thus staying active. The motivation for humans to work is also easy as most of us work for the basics needs; food, clothing, and shelter. If you already have acquired the basic needs, then comparing yourself to the neighbours can motivate you to achieve or do more. This is a less desirable motivation as it leaves you always wanting more and not accepting and experiencing contentment.
Job satisfaction can be good for some lengths of time and then, not so good for other periods of time. It is important for management to recognize these ups and downs. When the team contentment levels are good, then management does their best to keep it that way. However, full team contentment can't always be accomplished as people have external factors that can influence their work - relationships, kids, economy, health, etc..
For a project team, there needs to be something that everyone is working towards as a group. If individuals are working on various projects, then a common team goal. There are smaller daily or weekly baby goals that can be discussed and decided by team members which are more individual. These are not the same goals that management uses to review performance. Baby goals are set by the individual and achieved with assistance when required by the project manager specific to their day-to-day roles. Not everyone wants to set goals for themselves. Pushing individuals that do not want to be pushed can create negative experiences for all. You can't take motivation and try to stuff it into the souls of everyone. You can, but you are usually an unbalanced individual or a sociopath.
To hear an "inspiring" speech from the company CEO doesn't ignite motivation either. After years of the office rallies and town hall presentations, we have all become immune to the lyrical words of upper management describing the company profit goals and direction.
Negative Nellies are also motivation killers. These are the managers who can only find fault and criticise the team and demoralizes everyone's attempt at work satisfaction. When individuals are addicted to managers that they can never please, the motivation to excel is replaced by abuse. This should be addressed by upper management and made apparent to the team that action has been taken to remove the abuse.
Kevin is acting bored as Spring is coming and the birds are starting to chirp at him through the window. However, it is still cold and he doesn't want to go outside. His old cat toy doesn't get him off the chair and doing lunges as it once did. He starts to knock objects of the computer desk as his way of telling me he isn't motivated by his toy anymore.. It is now time for a new cat toy to give him motivation.
Animal references to office behaviours.
Kevin and I are approaching our sixth month of The Corporate Litterbox. This is a good time to refresh overall objective of our work. As mentioned many ramblings ago, there are lots of great tools and resources available on how to be a good, efficient, and profitable Project Manager. There are lists, spreadsheets, how-to's, however, there are some individuals looking for a more human or personable description of management. Management is obviously about people. People relate to stories and animals. Thus, Kevin the Cat and the Corporate Litterbox. Kevin had work habits that I could share, and so does Mikey the dog. This observation presented questions about our society. Is it a Doggy-dog world or a Dog-Eat-Dog? Or is it full of Cat Fights and Fur Flying? Which leads to the bigger question:
Do women behave like cats and men behave like dogs?
This is a very controversial and highly generalized question which doesn't have a lot of scientific data to answer it at this time. The overall characteristics from a site www.sciencedirect.ca, observed dogs are "playful, chase-prone, curious, fearless, sociable, and aggressive". Another site www.phychologytoday.com indicated that cat people are more distinctive that dog people, as cats are considered "graceful, subtle, independent, and thoughtful". These umbrella traits to describe dogs and cats are oddly reflective of words used to describe male and female friends and coworkers. Although, cats are more likely to eat each other under extreme environmental conditions then dogs, cats are trusting with only those they are familiar. Cats are solitary hunters and self-sufficient. Dogs are pack hunters. Cats have stealth and agility. Dogs are bigger and have larger muscles. Cats are more likely to potty train themselves. Dogs need to be trained. Cats have good memory. Dogs, not so much. Still seeing a male and female trend.
The similarities seem strong, but these general personality qualities are not enough evidence to establish a good argument that women behave like cats and men like dogs. It is more logical that each individual has a preference for the traits of each species, irrelevant of sex. Good leaders observe their team for different traits and behaviour patterns and try to use them to the advantage of the project. Individuals who work slow and steady should be put on projects which require that talent. Perhaps with an impatient intern who needs to learn quality and restraint. The quick-thinker and aggressive personality - to help push and get work. If an individual wants to try and change their perceived traits, let them. They may not succeed at first, they may never want the opportunity again, or they just might excel. People like to feel individualized and not always generalized, even when playing on a team.
Kevin sometimes acts like a dog. He actually likes them, and he is interested in playing with them. I am good with him having days where he acts like a dog and days which he is very "cat". He is just who he is.
Apologies if reptiles, rodents, and non-vertebrate are not represented in these posts. No discrimination is intended. It is more difficult for the fish to hold a pen and the reptiles keep eating the keyboard. We are working to find other options where their thoughts on Project Management can be included in our posts.