I’m not a Superhero

Now there are many reasons that this is true… I look terrible in a Lycra bodysuit as it shows all of the bumps and lumps I would rather not have, I get laughed at when I wear my boxer shorts over my jeans … especially when making a presentation to a board meeting, but mainly because I make mistakes… and boy, do I make a lot of them.

I recently did a workshop at The Best You Expo in London where I talked about planning being one of the critical success factors – yet it is something I am notoriously bad at doing myself.

It’s not for lack of trying either! I have read books on it, I have templates and journals, I have the Journal from Robert Craven but I always get distracted by normally one or two tasks that I want to get done as a priority. It’s a bit like trying to have my frog and eat it.

The problem is that this method frequently leads me to unstuck. I have lots of little habits that frequently get overlooked because I’ve failed to plan my day.

I’m one of those people who has 1000 ideas floating around their head all day long and so I never seem to be able to actually get around to getting stuff done

I’m taking a couple of days out for the rest of Feb just to go back to the drawing board and make sure that I enter March with more purpose …. And that also includes making sure that I am actually blogging on a regular basis!

Sometimes it’s very easy to tell people how to improve .. much harder to do it yourself!!

Out of my comfort zone

They say that once in a while you should do something that’s a little bit crazy and a little bit scary … so I’ve gone ahead and booked myself into a big, big event… and now I’m wondering why the hell I decided to throw myself into the biggest challenge of my career.

I’ve signed up to do a 45-minute speech in front of an audience of around 150 people at a well known and well-respected expo in London early next year. The speech is on Change Management and Lessons Learned, which might sound fairly dull but the reality is that it will be both motivating and uplifting.

The story behind this starts a few months ago when (and I won’t bore you with the details) I decided that one of my life goals over the course of the next couple of years was to earn some money through public speaking.

Now I’m not a complete novice at talking – in a former life I was a radio and TV journalist and I am also a member of Toastmasters International, so I know how to string a sentence or two together in public, but this is a whole new level for me.

I don’t know how many people watch Celebrity Masterchef here in the UK, but as part of the second round they have a “mass catering” challenge – where they looked shocked to learn that they’re cooking for 120 people as they’ve rarely, if ever, cooked for 12 people before.

This challenge is a bit like this. I’ve spoken in front of 30 – 40 people face to face (and a few thousand or tens of thousands on the radio) but this is a whole new ball game. These are people who have paid to attend and they have chosen (for whatever reason) to come and listen to little ol’ me. This is far more professional than I’ve ever needed to do before and now I’m questioning why I am putting myself through this.

I’ve got just under six months to start preparing a 45-minute speech, get props, lose a couple of stone, buy a nice flashy suit ….

I’m hoping that I will see some readers of my blog in February at London’s Olympia … that’s assuming I have a speech written by then!


Learn Your Lesson well!

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

Any PM worth their salt spends a potentially painful but rewarding period at the end of the project doing a lessons learned review.  The more cynical refer to it as a Post-Mortem.  Regardless of the title, it is vital that you learn areas of improvement, new ways of tackling problems and personal improvements, but it is a process that is often misunderstood.

In my spare time I dabble in a bit of public speaking with my local Toastmasters club.  After every speech there is an evaluation.  The aims of the evaluation are simple – to let the speaker know how they have done and what they could do to improve next time.  An evaluation should always be balanced where possible, and contain at least two recommendations and at least two commendations.  By doing it this way, you (hopefully) feel positive and motivated but also with an understanding of where you can improve (and we can always improve!)

This is, to me, exactly the same thing as a project Lessons Learned review.  It is not all about the challenges and the failures.  It is about celebrating success, moving to the next project with your head held high knowing that you have learnt new skills, new problem solving techniques and areas you have improved on from the previous project.

The worst thing that a PM or Programme Manager can do is skip this critical part of the feedback cycle.  It is often done because senior managers feel that they will get poor feedback and that it will impact future career progression, but handled the right way can often be far more positive than negative.

Which brings me on to this week’s election.  As I write this, early Saturday morning, exactly 36 hours since the polls closed, it seems apparent that our Prime Minister has decided against learning lessons from her chastening experience at the ballot box – if anything she seems more resolutely determined to stick to the path previously trodden.

For a start, it would appear that the most senior Cabinet ministers are remaining in their posts (for the time being).  I understand the tried (and somewhat tested) mantra of “Strong and Stable” but it is the same old voices telling her the same advice that she had before the election.  This suggests that like the manager who is fearful of poor feedback, she has retreated back to the advisers who tell her what she wants to hear.  Normally, every speech at Toastmasters will have a different evaluator so you can get a range of opinions and views.

Secondly, unless I have missed it, there has been no acknowledgement that almost exactly 50% of the country has an opinion that does not match hers.  It seems that Mrs May has not understood one of the key issues that has undermined her plan –  only 50% of her “customers” are saying that they are satisfied with her approach.  If this was a product being sold on Amazon, it would be removed from the listings overnight and replaced by something more popular and marketable, something that would be recommended in an evaluation

If I were advising her, from one PM (Project Manager) to another PM (Prime Minister), I would recommend this:

Learn from the mistakes of the past and heed the recommendations of others.  Einstein knew what he was talking about.  Lessons Learned is as critical to a project as a Business Case or a PID… never treat it as a waste of time – it may save your career.