Friday, April 23, 2010

Got Problems? A Project Manager Is Both Cause and Cure.

"Manager" is one of those titles into which people are promoted out of positions like "administrator" or "assistant" .. at which point most employees in today's title-ridden corporate culture can't wait to stop being a "manager" in order to become a "director" or a "vice president." Face it: declaring yourself a "project manager" earns lackluster response compared to the worshipful gazes cast on database -- or even social media -- folks. That's too bad because -- IF you really can "manage projects," IF you can conceive and successfully execute them, start to finish -- you're increasingly rare and deeply valuable.

The Recession Killed Middle Management Years Ago
Sometime in the early 80s , middle managers became obsolete. In that recession, Chiefs and Indians stayed, while mid-range Buffalo Hunters left in droves. Writing on bNet, Wharton Management Professor Peter Cappelli noted, "Downsizings during the 1980s took a disproportionate toll on managers. For corporations, the fallout is weakened allegiances and a threat to productivity ... Such efforts frequently 'thin' the management ranks while transferring managerial responsibilities elsewhere in the organization."

At the time he wrote this in 1992, Cappelli said, "Job security for managers has continued to erode: The unemployment rate for managers soared 55 percent last year, while overall unemployment climbed just 13 percent."

Time didn't reverse the free fall. David Lynch writing for USA Today in January this year confirmed the scars that linger after a savage recession. The visible disfigurement from the 80s recession is the dearth of middle managers who know how to take a project from A to Z. In my experience, that wasteland has left many organizations floundering in piecemeal goo.

Good Project Managers Are Both Born and Made
A Google search on "project manager skills" turns up considerable discussion of what makes a good project manager. Apparently, some project management skills are inherent within personality, while others get honed "on the job." Few seem to sprout from "education." For example, Asan Sofian's report, Project Success in Relation with Organizational Roles and Capabilities and Project Managers' Skills and Capabilities, cites the three key process skills as:
• the ability to communicate
• knowing how to handle costs
• practicing effective time management.

Key interpersonal skills of a good project manager include:
• leadership
• effective communication
• the ability to motivate.

Vital personal traits are:
• professional integrity
• personal integrity
• decisiveness.

In short, project manager essentials boil down to a heavy dose of integrity and a firm grip on communication. If the famous Peter Principle -- "In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence" -- is true, then the best managers tend to get stuck in the middle. Unfortunately, 30 years ago, thousands of middle managers were escorted out of the building and never replaced. So where does that leave organizations in the first decade of the 21st century? Adrift.

What can we do about it?

1. Acknowledge that project management is Mandatory Skill Number One for project success.

2. Rely less on "credentials" and more on a track record of proven project management aptitude. The next time you launch a project, see if somebody in your organization has Asan's essential skills and give that person a shot .... or, as Jim Collins would say, "The most effective leaders of companies in transition are the quiet, unassuming people whose inner wiring is such that the worst circumstances bring out their best. They're unflappable, they're ready to die if they have to. But you can trust that, when bad things are happening, they will become clearheaded and focused."

3. Recruit for the character and personality strengths that make a good project manager [see above] ..

4. Hire the better writer. Note: The April 12 edition of Newsweek featured an article titled "Chaos Theory" by the whiz kids who founded 37Signal. Their #2 Rule for succeeding in business without really trying is -- and I quote -- "HIRE THE BETTER WRITER: Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking."

5. Demand the ability to multi-task. Business executive F. John Reh says, "A successful Project Manager must simultaneously manage the four basic elements of a project: resources, time, money, and most importantly, scope. All these elements are interrelated. Each must be managed effectively. All must be managed together if the project, and the project manager, is to be a success."

6. Compensate the project manager who produces. Applaud and value a gifted project manager's contribution.

7. If the project manager you currently have is a clear thinker, a clear communicator, a respected leader, a marvel of organization, planning, and scheduling, and a proven leader, give that star a raise. If not, replace him or her. Or, as Jim Collins would say, "It is better to first get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats, and then figure out where to drive."

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Today's NEW Marketing Report (For Today Only)

Saturday's email and Twit-fodder spotlighted trends in today's marketing ("today" being April 17; this will all change tomorrow).

1. We've gone to the movies.. the SHORT movies. Meet the irresistible Loic Le Meur and his report of YouTube mastery. Loic describes himself as a "French entrepreneur who lives in San Francisco, and is founder of Seemic and LeWeb conference." Loic told Twitter followers that he's posting a new YouTube daily, getting 3,000 hits a day, and has logged 1.7 million views. I believe it. This guy rocks (today). See a sample here.

2. Coupons Are Selling Us Out. Comrade Gabe Goldberg linked to a New York Times article that reported on information-gathering (some might say "spying") capabilities of online coupon vendors. If you're inclined to paranoia, don't read this -- especially the part that says barcodes on some of these coupons have the user's Facebook information embedded. (Does that include the office party photos? Ooops.)

3. Banks Want To Talk To Us. Well, they don't really want to talk to us; they want to "connect" with us online. (No, not in line; they don't want to talk to us at all in line. Online. Get it?) The Marketing Vox reports that banks are turning to social media to make "real, live" connections with customers. The horse left through the barn door long ago on that one, guys, but ... Bank of America's is reportedly using "many different strategies" to build -- or rebuild -- conversations with customers. (I suggest checking in with Frank Eliason, who's tweeting as "comcastcares" to see how that's working out.)

4. Social Media Friends Aren't All That. Writing on SmartBlog, Jesse Stanchak reports on Edleman's 2010 survey that says peers trust one another 20% less than they did in 2008. Edelman blames the recession, but Stanchak says social media may have redefined whom we consider peers, to wit: "The challenge is clear: We have a long way to go in understanding how relationships are formed, what they’re based on and how influence spreads. For now, we only know that consumers are becoming more discerning." (And just when we thought it was safe to go on Twitter...)

Speaking of social media gone bad, could "live, present, and in person" be the hot new secret marketing weapon? You heard it here first. And that's enough shocking news for one day.

--scrubbed by Marketing Brillo

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saying Things JUST So Is SO Worth the Effort

Lately, I find myself laboring over significant emails... like the one I wrote to my niece about graduating from college, or the one I wrote to my realtor about listing a house ... or the one I sent a client prior to a strategy meeting.

I don't mean laboring in a bad way. I mean honoring my need to examine, think through, and clearly express myself.

These emails take a long time to craft, but I find writing is my only option for clear communication. I don't want to communicate on the phone (unless there is plenty of time to hash it out "just so.") I could do it face to face, but very few have time for that anymore.

In writing, I can question -- and edit -- my own thinking process. I can check my own prejudices. I can examine my own emotions. Do I really feel that way? Do I want to disclose that feeling? Or is it more accurate that I feel this other way? Am I being respectful enough? Honest enough? Diplomatic enough? This process is very useful in a hurried society.


My obsession with careful expression is founded on the conviction that sloppy words equal sloppy thought. In this day of tweeting and texting, that realization leads to a huge question mark about the future of humanity (not that there's anything wrong with that....)

To support the premise that words have deep significance ... to exemplify the notion that words disclose thoughts we never knew we had ... to plead for greater appreciation of formulated human utterance, consider this:

1. I realized several years ago that when people describe their dreams, they always use -- without realizing it -- key words with double meanings. They'll say things like, "I got lost. I tried to make a phone call, but I didn't have the right change." (Okay, somebody old enough to remember pay phones said this, but ... ) Think about that: "the right change." So many meanings, so many insights. Give this a shot: Pay very close attention the next time somebody describes a dream. You'll hear the clues, too. Even better, listen to your own dream descriptions. (Hmmm...I guess that's what psychiatrists do -- wait for the patient to hear their own "true words.")

2. When I watch reality t.v. (and, yes, I do watch it), I see people screaming and yelling. That's bad enough, but usually everybody will yell at the same time. This fascinates me -- I gaze in wonder, watching human beings bellow, with no idea how to communicate the very thing about which they feel so passionate, and with zero understanding of the precious exchange inherent in a well-chosen word. I never stop being amazed.

3. The six months I spent in daily blogging are responsible for this revelation. I found that blogging took hours... not because I can't write fast, but because I wanted what I said to be precisely what I meant. And I wanted it to be thorough and well-researched, too. Whether I failed or succeeded is up to my readers to decide. But, for me, the effort confirmed that saying what you mean, means thinking about what you say.

That says a whole lot, right there, don't you think?

-- scrubbed by Marketing Brillo