Thursday, December 19, 2013

Non-Violent Communication and Project Management: An Introduction

Non-Violent Communication is something that is not the easiest thing to define. The part of my brain that has a degree in Communications wants to explain it as a framework for communicating. This is sort of like saying that Eric Clapton’s custom built “blackie” Stratocaster is a guitar.

If you look on the Center for Non-Violent Communication site, you will learn that it is a way of communicating/interacting that is “based on historical principles of nonviolence-- the natural state of compassion when no violence is present in the heart. NVC reminds us what we already instinctively know about how good it feels to authentically connect to another human being.”

Non-Violent Communication was initially developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, in the 1960’s “as a communication process that helps people to exchange the information necessary to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully”. Dr. Rosenberg is the author of a number of Non-Violent Communication and a number of other books on NVC.

There are aspects of NVC that touch on how we speak, how we listen, and how we bring compassion and empathy into our interactions with others. This past Spring I had the chance to interview Dr. Judith Hanson Lasater, the author of a number of books, including What We Say Matters. She explained it as:

Non-Violent communication is more of a process than a thing. And it begins first with understanding within yourself what need you are trying to meet before you speak. It’s also a process of learning how to listen to what the other person might be saying with their heart, not to get caught up with what they’re saying with their words.
And none of that sounds like it has much to do with Project Management. Except that it does. More and more, PMs on both the traditional side and Agile side are coming around to the importance of empathy in their work. As they realize that the job involves more than just getting people to do things, they are realizing the value of acknowledging that we work with human beings and that these individuals deserve more than just being told what to do.

It would be easy to say that NVC is a pattern or framework for how we talk and listen to people, but just following those practices isn’t going to mean you are really practicing NVC. As one friend said to me, “if you don’t have it in your heart, it is not the same”.

I believe this is a very important topic and it is especially important to those working in the Project Management area. If once upon a time, our focus as PMs was telling people what to do, and that has been evolving more towards the individuals and interactions focus, this is an indicator of a next stage in looking at how we approach working with others.

A great example from my interview with Dr. Lasater was when I described part of the role of someone leading an Agile team as being to empower people and “give people autonomy”. Dr. Lasater questioned me about my phrasing because it expresses my way of thinking. To say that a leader empowers, or gives autonomy means that the leader does not see the recipient as having those already. In fact, each of us has autonomy and is empowered… we (or others) may just not be aware of it. Or, as Dr. Lasater put it:
My words reflect my thoughts, my thoughts reflect my beliefs, and my beliefs run my life, especially the unconscious ones. So if I have the unconscious belief that I am some how giving someone autonomy, that's going to leak out in my words and my body language, my expressions and the rolling of my eyes and whatever I'm going to do. I have to first understand that they have autonomy and I recognize that. So I might say in that situation, “I'm feeling uneasy because I have a need for mutuality and shared power in this creative endeavor and sometimes I feel worried that the group does not move in that direction. I am wondering if you would be willing to tell me if I have said or done anything that may have inhibited your trust?”
Her explanation of how to express the message is a good example of how people often speak when using NVC. This is the opening post of a series I am going to be working on related to NVC. As a project manager, it is something I have been working towards coming to terms with for a while now. In the coming posts I’ll be writing about my attempts to gain a deeper understanding of it, my attempts to practice it and all that I learn along the way. Throughout the series I will be working in elements from my conversation with Dr. Lasater and I am also hoping to interview others who are practicing NVC while working with teams and with other trainers who are practicing it in the classroom. (Many of the Certified Scrum Trainers are now participating in NVC Friday each week.)

If you are practicing NVC and are open to being interviewed about your experiences with it, I would love to hear from you.

And, if you’d like to learn more about Non-Violent Communication, here are some valuable resources:

Center for Non-Violent Communication
Marshal Rosenberg’s Amazon Page
What We Say Matters

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Taking Care Of Your Clients By Putting Your Team First

At the DigitalPM 2013 Summit, Rachel Gertz gave a presentation called “Your Clients Matter, So Put Your Team First”. During the presentation she made the case that if you really care about giving the client your best, the most important thing you can do is make sure that the people who create the stuff you give to the client are well cared for. Deep with the Servant Leadership is this one.

Rachel’s approach to project management is heavy on the empathy, individuals and interactions“agile” side of things. But what makes Rachel’s work even more unique is that over 90% of her interactions with people are virtual, and most of that is just voice.

So, if you are among the crowd who has been struggling with the communication challenges that come with distributed teams, theStrayMuse=Yoda.

Rachel works at Louder than Ten
She tweets as The Stray Muse
She blogs here  (warning, not always 100% SFW)
And she’s all about the unicat

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rant n' Review: The Tim Ferriss Experiment ... Awesome AND Scary

Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Work Week, 4 Hour Body, and 4-Hour Chef recently launched a new show, The Tim Ferriss Experiment, on Upwave.  (You can also find it on iTunes.) In each episode, Ferriss will take on the task of learning a new skill and getting good enough at it in five days to prove his abilities in some type of high-profile demonstration. The show follows some of same basic principles also covered in JoshKaufman’s The First 20 Hours.

Basically, the idea is that by following a specific process, you can take anything you want to learn and in a short amount of time, develop a “good enough” level of skill/knowledge to get by.

It’s a interesting premise. As I read Kaufman’s book, I found the idea inspiring. He takes a number of things he wants to learn about – like yoga, playing the game Go!, playing the ukulele, and by dividing up the work of learning in a specific way, he gets good enough to feel like he can check the item off his list of things he wants to do.

In Kaufman’s chapter on learning the ukulele and how part of what makes it work is that you have to set some pretty high stakes for yourself. In his case, performing at a speaking event.

Segway to The Tim Ferriss Experiment…

Tim Ferriss is an amazing human example of transparency and being open to the possibility of failure. I love the fact that he’s hacking his own life in public and that this is how he makes his living. I also think the idea of outsourcing the stuff you don’t like doing is great, in theory… but whose going to change the cat litter? (An argument for another post…)

In the initial episode of The Tim Ferriss Experiment, Tim decides he wants to learn drums. The program has a very Myth Busters/How It’s Made vibe. Ferriss has 5 days to learn to play drums well enough to play “Hot Blooded” on stage with Foreigner in L.A. He’s got a few people helping him out, including the rhythmic god, Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police. Ferriss also has a drumming teacher from The School of Rock in LA help him out. This is the part where the show reeled me in like a starving fish. The line at the bottom of the screen about drumming together being like paired programming. I’m not really convinced it is 100% accurate, but it was a cool geek tidbit. (And with any luck, the masses will very soon begin misusing “pairing” with the same degree of ninja like expertise they employ in misusing the word “agile”.)

In another segment of the show, Ferriss talks about how he always tries to find things to do that are scary for him because it is a way of inoculating himself against the fear of failure.  This is also quite brilliant.

But then the scary part...

Vilfredo Pareto
Ferriss has a massive world-wide audience. People who read his books look to these books for advice on how to improve the way they approach their work in order to make their lives better.  In his 80/20 approach, Ferriss is going to be learning to do new things in each episode. He’ll get “good enough” at 20% of something to deliver 80% of the value.  This is more, or less the same approach Josh Kaufmann promotes. And I think, if you are applying it to a hobby, that is great. But, my deep, dark, wake me shaking in the middle of the night fear, is that people are going to see Ferriss applying this to pretty high profile gigs (like being a professional drummer), and a new trend will emerge. We will suddenly have an ocean of professionals whose goal is to just learn 20% of a skill so they can get by stumbling through 80% of a task or job ... 

and I may have to work with people who think that is ok. 

And that makes me wanna get my Gran Torino on...

Sam Barnes has turned to the Dark Side

Click here to go directly to the podcast

My favorite presentation at DigitalPM2013 was given by Sam Barnes. After years working as a PM in Digital, Sam turned to the DARK SIDE… he became a client. Suddenly, he was taking bids from all the companies he was used to competing against. Given his years of experience leading projects from the agency side of the table, he walked into it thinking it would be a bit of a cake walk. What he found was maybe not so much with the cake … or the walk.

In this podcast interview Sam and I talk about his experience being on the client side, his presentation at DigitalPM 2013, the challenges for those working in the Digital PM space who have to be able to work in both waterfall, and Agile, but find that neither really fits as well as one would hope and the upcoming DigitalPM UK conference

If you’d like to learn more about Sam:
He’s got him some blog
He’s on the twitter
And his presentation from Digital PM 2013 is here

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Designing Together - Podcast Interview with Dan Brown

Click here to listen to the podcast

At DigitalPM 2013 I had the chance to meet Dan Brown, who is a founder and principal at Eight Shapes, a Washington D.C. based user experience consulting firm. Dan is also the author of Communicating Design and Designing Together and at the conference he facilitated a session using a game called Surviving Design Projects that he developed to help improve communication with design on projects where there is conflict.

In the interview we discuss Dan’s perspective on the value Design brings to the team and how we can improve our interaction with them. Dan also shares his thoughts on the challenges facing the role of project management in the digital space.

One of my lightbulb moments during this conversation was that in many ways, it seems as though the design side of the house and the agile software side of the house are headed down the street in the same direction, but on opposite sides of the street. It raises the question of when/how there will be a convergence in how the two sides approach their work.

If you’d like to learn more about Dan, here are some links that will help:
Eight Shapes