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.

Moving Day

There are some jobs where it seems you are never “off duty”. No matter how hard you try not to look for it, something comes up that turns a quiet Sunday afternoon into a “Same crap, different office” situation.

Project Management is one of those jobs – and it seems not a month goes by without me having to use my PM skills in my personal life.

Last year we made our move from the busy London Docklands to leafy Hemel Hempstead and has proved a hit with the family.. nice town, new friends, lots of greenery.  The one slight wrinkle is the house we rented last year.  It was quite a walk from the station and lots of sharp corners – something not conducive to life with an inquisitive 16 month old!

There was nothing for it…I had to run to the bathroom to change into my Super PM outfit as for the third time in as many years – I had a house move to plan. For all the experience I’ve had moving house recently, it’s still a daunting task… Planning when everything needs to happen, when to get the post re-directed, where the nearest place is to buy milk and who the heck is actually going to move everything from A to B without it getting lost at C,D,E and F.

People everyday move house yet they don’t think about all of the Project Management they are doing be they lawyers, street sweepers or stand-up comedians.  They create a project plan, the project scope of what is going to be moved, what is being binned, what Christmas gift from a relative is “accidentally” dropped on the floor?

The hardest Project Management process that needs to be undertaken, but is most often overlooked is “Lessons Learned”.  Now if you’ve not moved for 15 years, then firstly well done, and this probably doesn’t apply… but for us, it was really important to analyse what we had done wrong in the last couple of moves and really make sure that this didn’t happen.

As it transpires, there were three big lessons that we learnt:

  • Get the professionals in. It might be more expensive but it’s easier than doing it using 1 car and a white van hire
  • Do not invite the mother-in-law to help look after our child unless you would like World War 3 to start
  • Just because something went in, it doesn’t always mean that it will also come back out (at least not without a hell of a fight!)

They say that the definition of madness is doing the same things over and over expecting to get a different outcome, so next time you move (or try your hand at a little DIY Project Management) – try and learn from your mistakes…. It makes the process much less painful.