Monday, September 15, 2014

Social Engineering for Project Managers and Agilists

Earlier this week we posted a podcast interview between myself and amazing Rachel Gertz from Louder than Ten. Once of the topics we talked about was the idea of providing training in Social Engineer for PMs and Team Leads. For me, this is one of those topics I found my way to on my own, but really wish I had learned more about it earlier in my career. For many PMs, Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence is a gateway towards the work of people like Dr. Paul Ekman. Once you begin learning how to be aware of and understand the unintentional information being communicated the natural next steps are to figure out what to do with that information and how to make sure the information you put out is what you want it to be. And this is where you’ve crossed over into Social Engineering.
Social Engineering is kind of a touchy subject with some folks. It tends to evoke an almost reflexive response that stems from the idea that a social engineer is an evil person who is out to do us harm. (Think Kevin Mitnick as portrayed in Takedown or Roy from The Grifters.) While there are plenty of people out there in all areas of life that are trying to grift or con their way into out lives and wallets. I would like to offer a different view.
We’re all social engineers.
And if you work in technology, leading projects or teams, you’ve probably already been exposed to things like Emotional Intelligence, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Non-Violent Communication, Situational Leadership (just to name a few). Developing your abilities in social engineering is a way to enhance or compliment your abilities in each of those areas.
Whether we are interacting with co-workers, our spouse, our children, the airline rep at the customer service counter in an airport full of angry travelers, we’re all trying to get something.
  • I want my daughter to remember to stop leaving dirty dishes in the living room.
  • I need the developers to start commenting their code.
  • I want to get bumped up in the standby list.
  • I want to take my wife to dinner at the Indian place instead of the noodle shop.
These are all simple things we face every day. Wanting them is neither good, not bad. Whether it is done with conscious intent, we are all trying to bend situations in a way that results in an outcome we desire.
If you are a project manager you probably spend a lot of your time trying to find ways to get people to do things you want them to do, or work the way you want them to work.
If you are a Scrum Master or an Agile Coach, you spend a good part of your day trying to figure out how to get people to want what you want them to want.
Some folks are naturally gifted with this. Some, not so much. The good news is that there are ways to develop your abilities in this area. The challenging part is that building your skills here is going to require learning a bit about a number of topics and finding ways to practice at using them. Developing your knowledge and abilities in this area will help you in two very specific ways:
1. It will enable you to become more mindful of the unintentional or non-verbal communication that is taking place when you interact with or observe others
2. It can enable you to become better at modifying your own verbal and non-verbal output in a way that will sway an interaction more towards your desired outcome.
If the success of the projects we work on hinges on communication (PMBOK 5th Edition Appendix X3.4), then our ability to understand what is being communicated and to manage what we communicate, is our greatest asset. Deepening your understanding of things like micro-expressions, changes in body language, conversational techniques for building rapport can only strengthen your ability to communicate. It helps you unpack the messages sent by others and can help you wrap up the messages you are sending with conscious intent. While it is unlikely you’ll end up like Sherlock or the guy in Lie to Me, simply becoming more mindful of these concepts will give you an edge and help you in your work with teams and individuals. The first step is educating yourself (some great starter resources are listed below). The second step is finding places to actually practice (in a non-career limiting, non-marriage limiting environment). The practice part can be tough - especially when you are just starting, but you’ll want to build skill and confidence before your start trying to use some of your new tools at work.
I spoke about this idea with a colleague at the Agile conference this summer and he expressed great concern that it would teach people to message information in a way that is less honest. That is certainly possible. My hope would be that developing knowledge and skill in these areas, if applied correctly, could help us to understand messages of others more clearly and to be more mindful of the noise we introd
uce into our own signals as we communicate with others.
Here are two books I’ve read recently that I recommend as a great starting place if you are interested in learning more about Social Engineering.
Unmasking the Social Engineer- Christopher Hadnagy (pictured above)
It’s Not All About “Me” - The Top Ten Techniques for Building Rapport with Anyone - Robin Dreeke
Christoper Hadnagy also has a website full of great resources at social-engineer.org

Monday, September 08, 2014

Shall We Play A Game


If you are coming from the traditional side of the house and you are probably all too familiar with the types of training classes, workshops and conference sessions where you have the opportunity to hone your ability to sleep with your eyes open while someone stands at the front of the room and reads slides to you. My most memorable (worst) experience with this was a lecture at a project management convention where one presenter read the words on each of his slides to the audience while his co-presenter sat next to him doing email… FOR AN HOUR. At some point you have to ask yourself… is this any way to learn?
For a number of years now the way people teach, and learn has been changing. In general, people tend to learn, and retain a little more when you give them something to do, and even more so when they have the chance to arrive at the light bulb moments on their own.
Last month I sat in on a class where I watched a friend of mine lead a group of technology professionals through an exercise where each team was offered the following supplies:
  • 20 sticks of spaghetti
  • One yard of tape
  • One yard of string
  • One marshmallow
The game was simple; whichever team was able to build the tallest freestanding structure in 18 minutes, with the marshmallow on top, wins. During the 18 minutes the team members collaborated on trying different techniques to determine what the most effective approach to a relatively stable structure might be. There were moments when it took turns being comical and heartbreaking, but in the end, a clear winner emerged… so what does that have to do with working in IT? The Marshmallow Challenge was created by Tom Wujec to help teams learn lessons about creative collaboration and innovation.
To the uninitiated, activities like this can seem a bit off-putting at first. In my own experience teaching PMs, I find that often times, the desire of the room is “feed my brain, don’t make me interact, and let me go stumble through this on my own”. That is certainly one way to go about it, but more often than not, those same class participants end up discovering that by actually getting involved with their classmates, and collaborating on something fun, can lead to unexpected and very valuable lessons they would not have learned in a straight up lecture style class.
These types of games are very common in Agile trainings. Organizations like Luke Hohmann’s Conteneo  have focused their efforts on promoting Innovation Games  as a great way of enabling organizations of knowledge workers to deepen their learning experience. These types of games extend well beyond the class room and are used by many organizations as a way of learning more about their business, how to collaborate and interact in a collaborative, and highly creative manner.
Having trouble understanding what isn’t working with your existing products or service offerings? Maybe a little SpeedBoat would help. Does your organization want to get a simple taste of what it would be like to switch to Scrum? Head over to Agile42 and try the Scrum Lego City game. If you are having trouble understanding how to cope with the challenges you are facing with Distributed Teams, TastyCupcakes is where you’ll find the Epic Bedtime Story. And if you want to get some practice at helping a cross-functional team get better at continuously improving how they work together, you might try my personal favorite, Flavio Steffens The Airplane Factory Game.
Warning, if you believe that anyone who ever built paper airplanes as a child will have retained that skill as they reached adulthood, you may find this exercise a little soul crushing. Unless you are in France, where each paper airplane is like a beautiful work of engineering and art… it’s flying them that is the problem.
While most of these games were initially designed to be done in a setting where everyone was physically present, many of them are now available in online versions as well.
In each of these games, what helps people reach moments of insight is the creative learning play that occurs through working together in a fun atmosphere. Whether you are putting together a class, or just trying to discover a new way to help a group of professionals come up with unique solutions to a business problem, the collaborative play these games offer is a great way to find those light bulb moments.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Digital PM Summit 2014 - Interview with Brett Harned

Click here to go straight to the interview on ProjectsAtWork

Digital PM Summit is coming up fast. It takes place in Austin on October 6-7. If you're needing project management inspiration, this is your Philomath.

Check out my ProjectsAtWork interview with Brett Harned who in addition to being the VP of Project Management for Happy Cog, is one of the primary organizers of the event.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Aikido, social engineering and Digital PM w/ Rachel Gertz from Louder than Ten

Go Straight to the Interview on Projects at Work

Rachel Gertz from Louder than Ten and I having a conversation with about the way Aikido, social engineering, body language and Project Management all intersect. This will be the first of many podcasty-ish chats. Thoughts/comments, feedback, hurled shoes would all be greatly appreciated. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Breaking Gantt Webinar - October 1 - SIGN UP HERE

I'm going to be doing a webinar called Breaking Gantt for Project Management.com on October 1, 2014.

In this webinar I'll be presenting some tips and tools I have found to have a positive impact when helping an organization let go of their dependence on traditional project tracking in favor of Agile reporting.

Get Details and Sign up here.