Inspired Project Teams

Enduring Wisdom & Guided Challenges to Help Project Teams Achieve Their Best

  • May 26

    Image: Modern Gulliver weighed down by home ownership

    Recently we sold a summer home that we had owned for more than 20 years. Located in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, where we grew up, it provided us with a yearly change of scenery and the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and family. The place was great for holding cook-outs and bonfires or  just hanging out and watching birds, rabbits and deer cross the yard on their way to the hardwood forest out back.

    After a few years this double-home lifestyle began to take an increasingly larger toll on our peace of mind. In the winter, while we were safe and warm in California, we worried about pipes bursting in the empty Pennsylvania house as temperatures plunged below zero and stayed there for days at a time. And spring thunderstorms (often accompanied by hail or even tornadoes) posed their own threats to the place. To make sure everything was okay during these weather outbreaks we would have to ask relatives or a neighbor to brave the elements and check on the place.

    And then there was that large, green lawn. Unless we returned very early in Spring, we’d have to make arrangements for it to be mowed and tended by those same volunteers. Eventually, of course, we’d arrive and whip that big yard into shape. But this typically took the better part of a full day every week we were there.

    Over the years, our time in PA was increasingly spent on additional maintenance chores. The water from the well was brought into the house by a submersible pump that had to be repaired and eventually replaced. And the iron-saturated water, a legacy of ground-water contamination by local coal strip mining during the 1950s, had to be treated with strong chemicals in order to be usable. These chemicals, in turn, would become saturated themselves with iron, requiring monitoring. If you waited too long to replace them, you might find that your laundry, instead of becoming clean, had acquired a deep red-brown permanent stain.

    Eventually an ancient natural gas well that supplied the house with gas for heating and cooking simply ran out of gas. So we had to arrange for the local gas company to install a brand new gas line to the place. (It had never had a “gas company” gas line!) What’s more, those torrential rains that kept those beautiful hills green finally resulted in leaks in the roof and foundation that had to be repaired by specialists.  And there were many other chores large and small that our ownership of the place had earned us.

    After a few years of this split-home-base lifestyle, we started to realize that we were living in constant home maintenance mode, no matter where we were. Since each house stood exposed to the elements all year long, each gradually developed issues that had to be urgently attended to during our part-time stays there. (We typically spent about 6 months in each place, while the other, empty place simply stood there baking in the sun or hunkered down in the wet or frozen precipitation.)

    Everything You Own Owns You Back!

    One day, as I was shopping for the supplies for still another home maintenance chore, I began to feel particularly weary of this maintenance-intense lifestyle. In fact, I felt downright claustrophobic!  Trapped by all the stuff I owned!  It was at that moment that I heard these words bubble up through my consciousness: “Everything you own, owns you back!”

    WOW!! What an epiphany!  I shook my head in disgust and mumbled, “You can say that again, brother!” Every thing I owned was revealing its own maintenance demands. Everything — all those plumbing fixtures and walls and ceilings and heating units and roof shingles and rain gutters and electronics and appliances and gas lines and electric lines and landscaping elements — even the tools to do the fixing– all this stuff was consuming me with maintenance demands!  Everything I owned absolutely owned me back!

    I felt like Gulliver on the beach in Lilliput. But instead of Lilliputians staking me to the sand, I was crushed by all these things, each with its little rope attached to me, nailing down my psyche and my time and my effort.

    It was then that I experienced a huge shift in my consciousness. I could no longer count these things among my blessings. Instead, they had all become burdens. Discussing this with my wife, I discovered that she was feeling the same way. And before long we sold that second home in the country and experienced our first California winter in more than two decades absolutely free from the worry of freezing pipes back East. And this was followed by a CA spring and summer that were free of the fear of Eastern thunderstorms and tornadoes and undone maintenance chores. We were free!

    The Lesson Learned: Acquire with Care!

    Two decades of split-home living taught me a lesson I now know deep in my bones: I absolutely must be conscious of everything I acquire, as I acquire it, since everything has the potential to extend its tentacles deep into my peace of mind and suck the life out of my life!

    Think about it: If you’re a responsible adult, you honor your commitments whether they are to simply maintain the stuff you own or follow through with a new process you’ve just set up and agreed to use. Some examples: You have a car, you take it in for maintenance, check the oil regularly, make sure you have enough gas to get where you need to go. You have a lawn, you mow it, edge it, maybe even weed it once in a while. You have a dog, you walk it and pick up its waste. You tell your team you’ll do weekly project status reports, you do your best to prepare and distribute them, even when you don’t feel like it. You commit to a Project Post Mortem, you take the time to organize it and execute it and prepare that Lessons Learned report, even though everyone is thoroughly sick of the project and just wants to move on!

    The point is that responsible adults feel the pull of commitment from everything they own, everyone they agree to serve and every process or tool they agree to use. All these things acquire “mind share” and a certain amount of effort in maintenance. In short, the relationship with any acquisition is reciprocal!  It may give you something, but you will be giving something in return, even if it’s just a little of your peace of mind.

    So the next time you are about to buy something or commit to use a new process or develop a new business relationship with someone, step back and ask these four questions:

    1. What is the purpose of this?
    2. How much effort will it take to maintain?
    3. Is this worthwhile? (Will there be a large enough return?)
    4. How much energy will this pull from my creativity, my peace of mind, my family and the quality of my other efforts?

    Then think carefully about your answers to these questions. And commit to your acquisition cautiously. After all, ultimately everything you own owns you back!

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  • Apr 28

    Image: Authority & Responsibility in Balance (scales)Remember the first time you were trusted — truly trusted — to act on behalf of someone? Maybe it was babysitting your kid brother so your parents could have that special night out or taking care of your aunt’s favorite plants and her beloved old dog while she went on vacation.  You know the kind of trust I’m talking about: the kind that weighs on you a little and causes you to take a deep breath and say to yourself, “I can do this! This is really important and I can do this!” Remember what that felt like the first time you experienced it?

    That kind of trust can be a powerful motivator. And it can be even more compelling when it’s accompanied by the full authority— money, tools, decision-making power — to take action.  Feeling the responsiblity for handling an important job and knowing you have the authority to make things happen somehow helps you stand a little taller and strengthens your resolve to do great work — to prove that the trust isn’t misplaced. So, in the end, trusting people completely can inspire them to do their best.

    So You Say You Trust Me? Prove It!

    To clarify, it’s not enough for you to say, “I trust you to do this job” and then withhold meaningful authority by requiring me to ask your permission to make simple decisions or by forcing me to beg for resources to get the job done. No. If you really trust me to do the job, then you’ll give me the full authority (decision-making power, money, tools, people, etc.) that enables me to do it. By granting me this breadth of authority, you prove that you trust me. And, given that proof, I will be more likely to work hard to ensure that your trust hasn’t been misplaced.

    This balance between authority and responsibility is an important component of all sorts of human relationships. When we strive for and maintain this balance, we ultimately prove that we respect the dignity of those whom we’ve tasked with doing a job. In ethical terms, getting this balance right is simply the fair and decent thing to do!  Whether the work to be done is within the context of your family, a formal work team in an organization or society at large, it’s critical to achieve. This little video illustrates:

    Greer’s Challenges

    The questions below can help you make practical use of these ideas.

    Reflections

    Reflect on these questions:

    • Are you conscious of the authority/responsibility balance when you assign work to team members?
    • Do you have enough authority to do all the chores assigned to you? (If not, how might you get this authority?)
    • What specific actions could you take on behalf of your project team or yourself to better balance the authority and responsibilities of everyone working on your projects?
    Team Challenges 

    Ask your team:

    • Do you feel adequately empowered to do the work assigned to you? (If not, what additional power or resources do you need?)
    • Do you recall any specific situations in which you lacked adequate authority (resources or power) to do your job? (If so, what can we do to prevent this from happening again?)
    Project Manager Challenges 
    • Make certain that everyone on your project team has the power to get and use all the resources they need to do their assigned tasks.
    • Make certain that everyone on your project team has the power to make all the routine decisions necessary to keep from getting “stuck.”
    • Make sure you don’t micromanage your team.
    • If you are currently being micromanaged by your senior managers or don’t have enough authority to make key decisions to keep your project moving or lack the resources (people, tools, money, etc) to get good results, then resolve to do what you need to do (have that “tough talk” or confront that difficult senior manager) and get your authority and responsibility in balance!

    Learn More…

    Check out these related Inspired Project Teams posts/podcasts:

  • Dec 29

    Audio:  Take Charge… Stop Playing the Victim [Time – 8:16, File Size – 7.7 MB]

    Life Law #2: You create your own experience.
    Strategy:  Acknowledge and accept accountability for your life. Understand your role in creating results….
    Life Law #4:  You cannot change what you do not acknowledge.
    Strategy: Get real with yourself about life and everybody in it. Be truthful about what isn’t working in your life. Stop making excuses and start making results…
    Life Law #5:  Life rewards action.
    Strategy: Make careful decisions and then pull the trigger. Learn that the world couldn’t care less about thoughts without actions…”

    Dr. Phil McGraw in Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters

    _____________________________________________

    These three Life Laws can be truly empowering. When I feel victimized by other people or circumstances that are “beyond my control,” I step back and mentally run through these Laws.

    Here’s an example: Let’s say I have an ongoing relationship with a client who is driving my project teams crazy by making last minute changes to every project’s deliverables. Here’s how I might apply these Laws:

    Read the rest of this entry »

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