Monday, November 17, 2014

The Art of War (Recommended Translations)

Later today I'll be giving my Personal Agility Canvas presentation for the PMI Agile Community of Practice. In this webinar (like the one I did recently on Redefining your PMO to Support Agile) I'll be referencing Sun Tzu's The Art of War. There are literally hundreds of translations of this classic text. IMHO, the best way to really understand the ideas and tools introduced in the book is to read a number of different translations. After the last session I had a number of requests for which versions of the book I recommend for those who are new to it, so I though I would post them here to save some time.

The Art of War (Pocket Edition) - Thomas Cleary
This is a great starting point. Cleary offers a simple translation that is easy to get through if this is your first time with the text or if you've had trouble with it in the past. He has larger versions that go into more detail and offer more commentary, but this is still my favorite - plus, it's smaller than an iPhone and you can carry it with you everywhere.

The Art of Strategy - R.L. Wing
R.L. Wing introduces each chapter with an explanation that looks at the meaning behind the text on three different levels : Conflict with the Self, Conflict with the Environment and Conflict with Others. For me, this helped open up the way I interpret and use the tools that are presented throughout the text.

Sun Tzu's The Art of War Plus It's Amazing Secrets - Gary Gagliardi
Gary Gagliardi's way of diagramming the tools and explaining how they fit into interaction with others is brilliant and his explanation of the Five Measures is what helped me understand how to apply it in everyday life. I would not start with this one, but if you have a decent grasp of the ideas, this is a must for understanding how to apply The Art of War.

Friday, November 07, 2014

What happened to October?

October got away from me. There were grand plans for blog posts and podcasts.

It’s good to plan things out. That’s how you know what isn’t going to happen.

At the beginning of this month I had the pleasure of speaking at the Digital PM Summit 2014. It was an inspiring two days that left me feeling more excited about the work I do than I have in a long time.
If you weren’t able to attend, you can check out the presentations here:

I was at the conference to give a talk called Personal Kanban - Less Guilt, More Finishing. The presentation was based on my Personal Kanban experiments. The experiment was a success, but not the success I was aiming for.

I wanted to be good at Personal Kanban. What I ended up being was someone with a much deeper understanding of how completely of the rails his approach to work is. But, they say knowing you have a problem is the first step. 

In my classes I always say that learning about project management is something you can’t undo. It is etched onto your soul. I could no easier stop being a guy who grew up in an Irish Catholic home in Philly than I could stop seeing everything I do as a project with a measure of success and a WBS. (It just takes a few seconds for the Agile mods to kick in and turn it into a backlog now.)

And now, I’m finding that practicing Personal Kanban is changing the way I look at work on as deep a level as project management did. What I am learning is that no matter how I try to get better at it, I’m still not getting to a point where I’d feel okay saying I’m good at it. What is happening though is that I'm discovering that being good at it is not the point. In fact, getting the items into the Done column isn’t really the point for me right now either. The point is learning more about how and why I am working, and using that information to make conscious, responsible decisions about what to change and what experiments to run.

My favorite moment at the Digital PM Symposium was when Mike Monteiro gave his presentation on “What Your Client’s Don’t Know and Why It’s Your Fault”. Mike is a compelling speaker and even though he comes from a design background, his message is just as applicable for those of us who manage projects. We need to be aware of what we are doing, make conscious decisions and take ownership of the impact. I’ve run across a number of project management professionals over the past few months who have expressed frustration about all that is dumped on them and all the roadblocks placed in their path and (insert your excuses here). We all have this… me too. I think it is normal and completely okay to have moments where we each play the role of victim and have our little “woe is me” party. (Because let’s face it, no one is ever going to do that for a PM.) But when that part is over, we need to shake it off and dig in. So, when I say that I'm still not good at Personal Kanban, the important thing is to realize why I work the way I do and to be conscious and mindful about what choices I am making. If you are a PM Managing projects, when someone asks you to do something that is impossible, you've got a choice to make. Whether you say yes, or no, the two screenshots  below from Mike’s presentation apply.

...and I’ve got them tacked up on the wall next to my desk to remind me every day.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Agilistocrats Episode 002

Click here to go straight to the podcast

In this episode of The Agilistocrats, Richard Cheng from Excella Consulting, Dhaval Panchal from Agile 42 and I (Dave Prior from BigVisible) discuss some of the common misconceptions people coming from a traditional (waterfall) background have when they come into Agile Training classes.
Knowledge workers coming from a waterfall backgound, especially those of us who have put in the time and effort to get a certification like PMP, face very specific challenges in learning how to let go of how we were taught to work. We may not believe that the traditional model works, (according to The Standish Group, IT Projects only succeed between 30%-40% of the time) but that does not necessarily mean we are ready to embrace an intrnalize an Agile way of looking at work. During the podcast we spend time sharing the different things each of us does in class to try and help folks let go of the concrete liferaft.

If you have suggestions for topics, or questions, please send them
Click here to listen to the podcast

Monday, October 06, 2014

Summary of Personal Kanban Posts - for DPM 2014

I'll be giving a presentation on Peronal Kanban at the Digital PM Summit 2014 this week, so I figured it would be a good idea to index some of my posts on the topic...

Posts on My Personal Kanban Experiment


Jim Benson - April 2014
Marcell Scachetti - July 2013
Don Kim - June 2013

Recommended Reading

Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry 
A Factory of One by Dan Markovitz
Why Limit WIP - by Jim Benson
Why Plans Fail - by Jim Benson

Friday, October 03, 2014

Personal Agility Canvas Webinars at BigVisible

I recently recorded some Personal Agility Canvas webinars for BigVisible:

Personal Agility Canvas
Five Measures Canvas

Downloadable versions of tabloid sized PDFs of the canvas tools are available with each.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Should Project Managers Be Trained in Social Engineering? (with Rachel Gertz from LouderThanTen)

Click here to go straight to the podcast

In celebration of the fact that the 2014 Digital PM Summit is less than a week away... some DrunkenPM / LouderThanTen podcasty mashup goodness... Rachel Gertz and I discussing the question of whether or not project managers should go through social engineering training to better enable them to understand more of what people are sharing with them and also to help them be better able to tailor how they are messaging the information they are sharing.

Click here for the podcast

If you will be in Austin for the conference next week, Rachel is co-presenting with Carson Pierce on Monday, October 6 at 2 PM. Her session is called PM First Aid: Bring Your Projects Back From The Dead and my session on Personal Kanban will be on Tuesday at 11 AM.

The Aikido book referenced in the podcast is Aikido: Principles of Kata and Randori by Nick Lowry. You can pick it up here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chris Matts on Real Options and Commitment - the Graphic Novel About Managing Project Risk

Click here to go straight to the interview on Projects at Work
Chris Matts is an Agile though leader and coach based in the UK. He’s also co-author (along with Olav Maassen and Chris Geary) of ”Commitment: A Novel About Managing Project Risk”. What makes the book so unique is that it is a graphic novel. The purpose of the story is to help the reader gain a deeper understanding of how to make truly informed (right) decisions based on a deeper understanding of the issues they are facing. 
Real Options is the central them presented in the book. This is a process that has been borrowed from the financial sector and applied to the decision making process that is part of managing project work.  The Real Options approach helps provide clarity around when decisions need to be made, rather than just focusing on how they are made. It begins with three key ideas:
  1. Options have value
  2. Options Expire
  3. Never commit early unless you know why
For more about Real Options, go here
One of the unique things Chris brings as an Agile coach is his background in investment banking. The application of tools and techniques from this area can provide a gateway or bridge into Agile for those coming from a similar work history. (Much the same way that looking at how Earned Value can be applied in Agile can help provide traditional PMs with a reference point.)
Chris is currently focusing his coaching efforts on how Agile works in the enterprise. If you’d like to learn more about the work he is doing, check out the podcast here.

You can follow Chris on twitter.
You can check out his blog here.
You can connect to Chris on LinkedIn here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

DPM Radio Interview

< Begin Shameless Plug...
The 2014 Digital PM Summit IS ONLY TWO WEEKS AWAY! Sign up at and you'll spend two day in the company of a few hundred project managers and digital media professionals who are part of a growing community of passionate, committed, creative people who are incredibly energizing to be around.
...end shameless plug>

If you'd like more detail on why this conference is so inspiring, check out the Digital PM Radio interview I did.  It was a little weird to be the one being interviewed for a change, but I had a great time. Carl Smith a great interviewer.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Agilistocrats 001

Click here to go straight to the podcast

Richard Cheng from Excella Consulting, Dhaval Panchal from Agile 42 and I (Dave Prior from BigVisible Solutions) have started a new series of podcasts focusing on new topics and current trends in Agile. In this podcast we got together to talk about some of the key topics from the Agile 2014 Conference and the current push for Agile in the Enterprise.

This is our first recording and we're looking for feedback (and a better name). Give a listen and let us know what you think.

We'd also like some ideas for new topics to focus on in our next recording. So if you have ideas or questions, please send 'em to

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

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 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.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Personal Agility Canvas

“What kind of idiot would ask if they were Agile enough? What a stupid question.” ~ Random guy I heard talking at an Agile conference

It was kind of a troublesome moment for me. (I have lots of those whenever I find myself in a crowd of Agile banty roosters who all want to play “mine’s bigger” with their Agile-ocity-ness-ish.)

For me, I ask that question all the time. I wear my hard earned experience in waterfall as a scarlet PMP that has been seared into my soul. When I was taught about project management, the guy who taught it to me started by saying “When I’m done with you… everything is a project.” And with that statement, he began to re-wire my brain. Once you learn to see things the way a PM does, there is no going back. And no matter how long I practice Agile, that will always be with me. I am a project manager in recovery.
The good part is, that if the question is “How will I know when I am Agile enough?”, I already know the answer… Never. The moment you think you’ve got Agile sorted is the moment you stop being Agile. So, somewhere in the back of the Agile recesses in the brain, you need to nurture your inner Captain Willard. 

I often get the question about being Agile enough when I am teaching Scrum classes to PMs or people who are deep with the waterfall. They either want to know the “right” way to do it, or when they are “done” learning it and can say they are Agile.

I decided to work on developing some way to address the question that would be both simple to use and relevant for people who are just stepping out of the waterfall, and people who have been doing Agile for awhile. 

The result is the Personal Agility Canvas

The Personal Agility Canvas is modeled after the Business Model Canvas (which you can learn more about here. I kept the basic layout because I thought it might be somewhat familiar and that might make it easier for people to digest. The Personal Agility Canvas is intended to be a way to personally reflect on your ability to improve your approach to Agile, establish goals, and develop a plan to achieve them. It is not intended to be something you fill out and then are done with. This is intended to be something you come back to again and again as part of your own personal effort to inspect and adapt.

In teaching the Personal Agility Canvas during the Redefining the PMO workshops, I have found that not providing step by step guidance on how to work through the different boxes can cause result in stress for the students. To help get you started, here is an example which has the boxes numbered (hyperlink) according to the order in which I normally teach them. In my own use of it, I begin with Goals, then move to Value Proposition and iterate repeatedly through the boxes until I am ready to define the Action Plan. If you are creating your own Personal Agility Canvas, I’d recommend working through the boxes in whatever way makes the most sense to you. As long as you end up with a measurable Action Plan at the end, it’s all good. 

Here is a description of each box:

Value Proposition - What is your personal value proposition? How do you deliver value to the teams you work with, the company you work for? How will an improved approach to Agile better enable you to serve your team(s) and organization?

Goals - What are your goals with moving further in your transition to (adoption of) Agile? How will you know when these goals have been achieved? (You need clearly measurable acceptance criteria for this to work.)

Strengths - What abilities, experiences, behaviors will you be able to leverage to strengthen your transition to Agile?

Desired Changes - What have you already identified that needs to change in order for you to better support an Agile approach? (This may include things like behavior, speech, mindset, interaction patterns)

Fears/Concerns - What about Agile, or transitioning to Agile causes you anxiety or stress? How does this impact you?

Interactions with Others - In evaluating your interactions with other people (teams, clients, peers, etc.) what is not in sync with the principles of Agile? (You may need assistance with seeing this clearly.)

Environment - What about your (individual and/or team) physical workspace is impeding your ability to improve your approach to Agile?

The Mark Inside - This will likely be the most difficult box to complete. William Burroughs said “Hustlers of the world, there is one Mark you cannot beat: The Mark Inside.” The idea here is that whether we are aware of it or not, each of us is often our own worst enemy. We con ourselves without even realizing it. How are you blocking yourself from truly embracing an Agile approach? Where are you second guessing the thought leaders who have come before you or hedging your bets with your practice?

Actions Needed - After completing all the other boxes and re-reviewing your goals, you need to develop a plan. These should be concrete steps you can take in the short term to help you move towards becoming more Agile.  Once you have completed these actions and achieved the goals, it is time to start your canvas all over again.

Accountability Partners

One last suggestion. Find someone you trust who will give you honest feedback and hold a mirror up to show you things you cannot see.  By sharing your canvas with an accountability partner, you can make a commitment to someone other than yourself. Ideally, each of you will pursue these goals because this is something you are committed to, but there may be times when your motivation lags. When this happens, it may help to have a voice in the back of your head reminding you that you promised someone you’d have it done and that they are expecting to hear from you when it is finished. 

And on that note… here is an example of a Personal Agility Canvas I completed for myself earlier this Spring. 

If you have any feedback on the canvas, how it is working for you, what might make it better, please let me know. I do not expect that this current version will be the final one, but it is the one I am using now.

If you’d like to learn more about how the Personal Agility Canvas works, it is part of the session I am leading for Redefining the PMO and I will also be giving a presentation on it at Agile 2014  this summer.

Podcast Interview w/ Ron Lichty, author of Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams

Click here to go straight to the podcast.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview Ron Lichty, Agile throught leader co-author and of Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams. One of the great things about the books is that Ron and his co-author Mickey W. Mantle have culled their collective experience and offered up a set of tools they have found useful over the years in working on software projects.

Ron and Mickey take the approach that software developers are a unique group within the knowledge workforce and that they require an adjustment in how we treat them, how they treat each other and what we can do to help them work with non-developers.

One of Ron’s current areas of focus is rooted in the question of “Why do we need managers if Agile teams are supposed to be self organizing?” Ron’s has found that only about 5% of software managers have had actual training in how to manage people. We basically just expect developers to be able to move into a managing role and just know how to do it based on their experience in not being a manager. Ron looks at the critical role that management can make in helping companies transform to Agile and the importance in making sure that they are trained both in management AND in how Agile works so that they can be better prepared to help, rather than impede the Agile teams as they are getting off the ground.

You can learn more about Ron, or the tools he and Mickey have put together, you can find them on his website
You can find the podcast interview here.
Ron’s book “Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams” can be found here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Apprentice and the Project Manager

A few weeks ago I had a chance to interview Kamal Manglani for Projects at Work. Kamal is an Agile coach who has written a book, The Apprentice and the Project Manager, that was recently released on HappyAbout.

(check out the interview here)

The book includes a narrative based in the past and the present. Stories from earlier work experiences as an apprentice mechanic and current experiences working as a technology project manager are used as a metaphor to explain some key concepts that factor into Agile and Lean.

Explaining an Agile process/framework as a call and response narrative is not a new approach, but what is unique and refreshing about Kamal's book is that in taking a practical approach to getting work done and coping with very specific situations, the author has made a choice to steer clear of promoting one method over another and just kept it to a very pragmatic, straight up approach.

Author: Kamal Manglani
If you are new to Agile and/or Lean, this book would be a great starting place to introduce some of the key concepts without drowning you in jargon and trying to sell you on having found "THE WAY".

When I interviewed Kamal we discussed the book and he mentioned that one of his goals in writing it was to provide a unique perspective on Agility that crossed the  boundaries of different areas within an organization (like Quality, Security and Infrastructure) in a way that would make it easy for executives to see how Agile and Lean could help them take advantage of opportunities.

For me, as someone who has spent a lot of time working in both traditional project management and in Agile, my favorite section of this book was the chapter on Financial Health. It is great to see a book for people who lead projects include an easy to understand explanation of why it is so important to factor finance into our decision making process and how to go about doing that in a responsible manner.

You can check out The Apprentice and the Project Manager at HappyAbout.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Catching up with Jim Benson on Personal Kanban

Back in December Jim Benson posted an entry to the PersonalKanban blog site called Are You Just Doing Things? In reading through his post, I started to wonder about how I was using Personal Kanban. It had been a year since I started my experiment and while I am not as fervent with it as I once was, I’m still using a board at home. One the road… I’m still looking for a viable option. But more on that later.

In this Projects At Work interview I got a chance to ask Jim some questions about putting items on the board just so you have a record of them and can move them over. At what point does that become a wasteful step. As always, Jim’s feedback led me to thinking about my practice of PK in a completely different way than I had in the past.

You can find the interview here:
Part 1(Listed as Part 3 on the ProjectsAtWork site)
Part 2 (Listed as Part 4 on the ProjectsAtWork site)

I still find that one of the most interesting aspects of using Personal Kanban (which  I have not found with other productivity practices) is that there is the doing of thing and the learning about how you are doing things. The insight provided by the latter continues to prove to be the more valuable part of working this way. For me, putting everything on to the board does mean that I am putting up stuff just to move it over. This does create some waste. But it also helps me become more aware of the fact that I am overloading every day/week all the time and still trying to  plan more in than could be done.  Yes, I need more discipline in how I work. (Who doesn’t?) But the discipline is not needed as much in how I work, as it is in what work I assign myself in the first place. Reducing or limiting what I put in my backlog should make it easier to get more done, but only if I can maintain the discipline to actually stick to my board and not keep including items that are not up there and taking them as items to work on.

The more I work with PK, the more I discover that it isn’t so much about getting things into the done column, or clearing out a backlog as it is about raising my awareness of how I think about and approach my work. It is a more mindful way of planning and managing what I have to do.

… and I guess admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. ;)

* The interviews are listed on the Projects at Work site as Part 3 and Part 4

If you'd like to learn more about Personal Kanban, you can find the book here.
You can find Jim on Twitter here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

PhilaPM March Meetup Recap

Wednesday night @HappyCog in Philadelphia…

@brennaheaps kicks off the March PhilaPM Meetup by asking a room full of Digital PMs if any of them have had to overcome an overwhelming challenge with a team.

By traditional PM standards, this is an odd question.

Answering it requires admitting there are times when you don’t know what you are doing and are way out of your depth. This is not the way of the traditional PM. If you admit not knowing everything, you demonstrate WEAKNESS and might lose CONTROL. If you have no CONTROL, how can you MANAGE PEOPLE?

By Agile standards, it’s not an odd question. It’s an “it depends” question.

HELP! We have to overcome an overwhelming situation. What do we do? It depends… what does the team want to do?

But the team is not here. The PM is here. The PM is supposed to conduct the mayhem and find a way to create music.


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Once the question has been laid down for the room, however, the sharing begins. Several of the PMs around the table offer stories of impossible situations they’ve faced. These aren’t the kind of challenges that can be addressed with a change to a contract or a revised scoping doc. These are the “we had it sorted and then the bottom fell out of the world” problems. The ones you couldn’t have seen coming and which leave you with no good options. These are the problems you give talks about at conferences for the next five years.

Only right now… some of these folks need solutions to test out.

The Digital PMs
As the PMs in the room begin examining the different situations, it’s a crowd-sourced triage of the situation and options. Some of the suggestions offered have already been tried. Some helped a little, some not so much. There are some new ones though and some of them might work... so at least, there is hope. At the very least, there is a supportive crowd of people who do the same type of work and share the same type of challenges.


If you’ve been working in project management for any length of time, you’ve been involved with the meetings that take place at the end of projects. These project reviews or post mortems are generally a wee bit heavy on blame side and a bit light on the learning to improve side. That is, assuming you are actually doing them.

If you are working with Agile, hopefully you are doing retrospectives so that your team can get together to explore how to improve how they work together. Retrospectives are one of the best parts of Agile and a great thing for the team… but this is a little different.

This meeting, which is hosted by Happy Cog is none of the above. It is, however, one of the more interesting characteristics of this segment of the PM population. Digital PM has been around for a while, but only in the past few years has it begun to identify itself as a somewhat separate group. This meeting is full of PMs from different companies. What they have in common is that in one way or another, they all manage projects that are involved with digital media. Some of their projects are less than a month long. Some last more than a year. Some of their clients demand a traditional approach to managing the work. Some demand an Agile approach. The PMs working in these organizations are generally working with fairly small, design centric teams. Their hybrid model is evolving from needing to be able to work a variety of ways, but being able to fully lock into neither. Their agility is their flexibility and this sharing is part of their approach to continuous improvement.

Ten years ago, the project management that existed in this space was simple, basic and practiced by people who were just beginning to cut their teeth. Now it is led by experienced professional project managers and leaders who are schooled up in Agile and waterfall and are collaborating on hybrid tools and techniques that allow them to leverage the best of both. Their pragmatic, collaborative, framework agnostic approach to finding the best way to work with the team and deliver for the client is an exciting and emerging thing.

PhilaPM is organized by Brett Harned, Brenna Heaps, Sloan Miller, and Justin Handler. The group has evolved to the point where they are now working developing a new logo, name and website. Until that happens, you can find them here -

If you aren’t from Philly, but do work in digital media or if you are just a PM who could use a little inspiration, you may want to check out some of the following…



Groups in the US and Canada 

NYC and

Groups in EMEA 

London, UK 
Manchester, UK

Groups in ASIAPAC

Melbourne Digital Project Managers
Sydney Digital Project Managers