Monthly Archives: January 2008

Stack Your Deck

Have you ever had the threat of potential lay-off?  The threat may be real or just office folklore, but there are things you can do to stack the deck in your favor.

I worked at a company where the management announced lay-offs may happen due to divestiture shopping.  It was also possible the affected employees would have no change except for a different name on the paycheck.  The management team’s repeated phrase was “Wait to see the other card before you make a decision”.

I took umbrage at this.  So should you.

Their comment implies management controls the deck and your career.  This is not true.  As knowledge workers, we all control our career. 

To deal with the threat of being laid off, I recommend the same steps Project Managers use to deal with risks.  You can only choose one response to the threat and it will be based on your level of tolerance:

  1. Avoidance – Don’t put up with it.  Get your resume up-to-date, circulate it, and take the steps to leave your organization.
  2. Mitigation – Reduce the impact of the threat and increase your value.  I have seen valuable people get telecommuting or relocation offers within the new organization and they generally are the last people to be let go.
  3. Acceptance– Wait it out and see what if there is an offer or a nice severance.  Just remember to avoid a victim mentality.

I suggest reading Robert Scoble’s recent post What to do if you’re laid off in 2008 recession for some excellent advice.  A lot of his tips can be utilized as a way to keep yourself portable.

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Becoming Irreplaceable At Work: Was It Something I Said?

Submitted by guest columnist Shelley Buck

 

Do people run away from you as soon as they see the expression on your face when you walk in the office? Does it feel like a team member is your friend one day then the next day barks at you?

Life may be perfect on television, but my experience is that everyone has at least one challenge to overcome every day:

  • Car breakdown
  • Disagreement with a loved one
  • Family or friends fighting a battle (health, work, etc.)
  • Just not feeling well
  • Not sleeping well

Whatever you’re experiencing, everyone around you is experiencing too. Most people don’t know how to leave work at work and home at home, and sometimes you just can’t.

Two things to keep in mind at work:

1. You:  How are you treating others at work when something happened the night before or that morning? You should always try your hardest to remain professional at work and control your emotions. If what you’re feeling is so overwhelming that you can’t control it, then communicate to your supervisor and possibly your teammates that something has happened, that you’re not well or that you may have a need for space.

This shouldn’t be everyday though. Do you know someone who is constantly making excuses for being “grumpy” or “moody” everyday because of some drama?  Don’t be that person! Complaining about the same situation every day for 15 minutes, with, alas, no plan to correct the drama, doesn’t help anyone. That drains others and wastes time.

2. Team member:  Have you had a teammate walk in with a horrible attitude? Don’t ask yourself “what did I do and how can I fix it?”, but ask “is there something going on that I’m not aware of?” Treat them as though you would any other day or even nicer. Trust me, this is hard! If it’s bad, then stay away as best as you can until it blows over.

If you have a good relationship with them, ask what you can do for them today or on your break offer to buy them a coffee. This usually opens the communication lines. They may not tell you what’s going on but it shows you’re there. As you build your trust, they will fill you in. You will be the best judge of how long to keep this conversation going.

And if you work with the person with the constant drama, mentioned under #1, and you get caught into the 15 minute talk – get out of it as soon as you can. Don’t you hear your telephone ringing – conveniently? This is not good for you and would only encourage them to come to you tomorrow.

So, how does following #1 and #2 make you irreplaceable at work?

It shows you:

  • can remain professional
  • can communicate appropriately
  • can be human
  • can be trusted
  • respect your team members

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Copper Top

Copper Top  Originally uploaded by Soubrause

I would like to introduce my friend Paul. He has a a great eye for photography and he has agreed to let his pictures be shared on Pass The Buck.  I really appreciate his involvement.  For a preview of his stuff, check out his flickr stream! 

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What Is Lean?

How do you explain Lean or the Toyota Production System (TPS)?  

I have started my new job where I am on the project management team applying Lean to healthcare.  I am still learning and hope to be able to add my thoughts about the subject on this blog soon.  

For the time being, the following articles provide great visual and interesting ways to explain Lean. 

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Simple Thanks

How often do you take the time to send a quick thank you to the people on your project team? 

You can build great working relationships with a simple thank you.  Here are a few free or cheap ways to show your appreciation:

  • Thank you cardsKeep a box of blank cards in your laptop case and hand them to people who help your project succeed.
  • Send a positive email to their managerGive specific feedback to your team-member’s manager and let them how much you value their participation.  This goes a long way in a functional organization!
  • Internal recognition programsIf your company has an internal recognition program, nominate your team-member to win.  
  • Gift cards – Have a few low amount gift cards on hand for coffee or something fun. 

A simple thank you can go a long way.  You may work with the team-member again or someone else from their functional team.  This will help you build a reputation as a Project Manager who is great to work with. 

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PM Online Resources

Podcasts and blogs are great ways to increase your project management skills and knowledge. 

Ron Holohan’s recently had a pm411.org podcast about project management web resources that has a whole lotta links I have never visited before.  He nicely listed all of the URLs in the show notes for us.  Go and add all of these links to your Google Reader immediately!!

My favorite new site I discovered from this podcast is the pm hut.  Their articles are very well written and relevant.  Please do yourself a favor and check it out.

Other web favorites of mine are, Cornelius Fichtner’s The Project Management Podcast and The Project Management PrepCast™(the latter is what I am using to help me learn the PMBOK and highly recommend for new PMs).  Thomas Cutting’s The Cutting Edge has great advice as well. 

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Compassion – Don’t Pizzle People

The TED conference speakers are always thought provoking and Daniel Goleman has some great points about compassion.  This 10 minute speech is great for Project Managers because it is very easy to for people to feel pizzled in a meeting!

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Own It

One piece of advice for project managers:  own it!

I come from a functional organization where I have heard project managers or team-members give excuses that I do not accept. 

I recently worked with a PM who advised me she will “do the best she can do” but I should know how hard it is to get people to do things when they don’t report to you.  Another advised me there is no update becase so-and-so hasn’t responded to their email.  I will admit functional organizations are difficult, but this kind of attitude will affect your approach to managing the project.

If you take full responsibility for project success or failure, you will work harder and be creative to make it succeed.  This is what I call owning it!

Project Managers should be seen as people who can get things done even if they are difficult.  You will develop tenacity when you own it and gain a reputation of being results-driven.

Yoda said it best,  “Do or do not, there is no try”.

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New Job First Impression

bugsbandage.jpg

I begin a journey with a new position in healthcare on a project management team applying lean to lower costs, improve workflow, and increase safety.  I do not begin until a week from now but I had an excellent first impression of my new organization.

I had to go in for shots before my start date (I feel like a pin cushion).  The bandages they gave me had Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck on them!  The kid in me is already excited to begin in a place that appears fun and caring!  

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Be Portable

Cell phones let us talk anywhere, mp3 players allow people to travel with every song they own, and commuter trains offer wi-fi to access the internet while we are on the move.  How portable are you with your career?

People rarely work at one company for 30 years like previous generations.  Downsizing, mergers, and acquisitions have displaced many workers.  Projects are temporary by nature and consultants have opportunities to work with many organizations (internal and external).   Some people see their talent as being up for sale to the highest bidder with no loyalty to a company.

It has now gotten to the point where we need to build our career outside of the organization we currently work for.

I am not suggesting random job hopping, but set yourself up to be able to change organizations quickly.  A change could either be forced on you by the organization or due to your own choice.

1)  Keep your personal cell phone – Besides potential ethical issues using a work cell phone for primary personal calls, it is practical to do this to allow friends, family, and associates to maintain contact with you through an organizational change.

2)  Pay your own association fees – If your organization pays your association fees, there may be challenges when you leave but still want to participate.  I am sure there are some exceptions but make sure you understand what you are agreeing to when allowing them to pay.

3)  Keep your resume current – Don’t wait to update your resume for when you need it, because then it may be too late.  I recently went through divestiture stress and it was empowering to know my resume was already looking good and circulating.

4)  Build a network – Begin to collect contact information from people you currently enjoy working with internally and externally and store it away from your work items.  I personally use LinkedIn to keep only the people I have worked with or know very well.  You can help your network by being a reference for them or they can do the same for you.

5)  Build external reputation and brand – Begin to network and contribute within your industry so you can build a professional reputation.   This will help you find a new job if you ever need to change organizations.  Three great articles related to branding: 

When you make yourself portable, it empowers you to control your career and not give that power to your current organization.

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Why You Should Use Google Reader

Ever have somebody share WAYYY too much information (TMI) with you?  The internet is getting to the point of TMI also.

There are a lot of authors and sites I enjoy reading regularly.  Bloggers in my field (Project Mgt and Lean) provide a great community and help with my professional development.  There are writers who inspire me to post an article to add my perspective on a topic.  The trouble is – who has time to visit sites frequently anymore? 

Google Reader has helped me increase my productivity and unleashed my ability to keep up on many sites.  I am able to focus on my projects and not get sidetracked looking for updates or trying to remember that one site I really liked a couple months ago but can’t find it in my favorites.

I popped all of my favorite RSS feeds into “Add subscription” and now I can see site updates quickly.  I can read about 45 sites in about 10-15 minutes a day.  I use three folders to separate work-related sites, personal interest pages, and sites that I only read when time permits (low, low priority).  I set my preferences to open on my work-related sites folder.

The following keyboard shortcuts quickly separate the articles I want to read from the ones I wish to skip (there are more but this is what I use):

  • j/k: next/previous item – Marks the post as read once I am done with it and goes to the next article
  • s: star item – Highlights a post I want to read again or more thoroughly
  • v: view original – Quickly opens up the native blog in a new window
  • <Shift> + s: share item – I do this to capture posts I think my readers will find interesting.  This is found at My Shared RSS under Discovered Posts
  • <Shift> + a: mark all as read – I use this primarily for my low, low priority folder because I know I won’t worry if I missed anything

If you run a site, you should use the reader to your advantage.  I think more and more people will be using this (or something similar).  If your site doesn’t have an RSS feed, the chances of people keeping up with you may dwindle.  You can easily add a button to your posts so visitors can subscribe to your content.  I use this whenever I find an interesting site.

I was finally inspired to use the reader after reading Tim Ferriss’ post 12 Filtering Tips for Better Information in Half the Time: RSS, Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon.  There is more advice in the article.

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To Do … Or Not To Do

Ever toss and turn at night knowing you forgot to finish something or your mind races with items you want to do the next day (which you hope you remember the next morning?)

I usually am pretty good with the worry about forgetting to finish something.  I have accepted the fact that I have not mastered quantum time where I can travel to the past to fix my mistake so I don’t lose sleep over it.  I can’t change anything at 1:30 AM anyways.

I do toss and turn over endless loop planning for the next day in my head.  Now that I write this blog, creative ideas pop into my head when I would rather sleep.  About six months ago, my wife forced me to leave a pad of paper and a pen next to the bed. 

This has helped tremendously.  I find if I wake up, I jot it down and put it into my todo list when I wake up.  I am able to go to sleep because I know my idea or thought is captured

Dustin Wax wrote the following in How to Use a Todo List to Make 2008 Your Best Year Ever:

“…the main reason most people fail, get overwhelmed, or drive themselves to the cardiologist with worry and stress is that they don’t have a good grip on what they need to be doing. So they wake up in the middle of the night (if they can sleep at all) in a panic over whether they did everything the needed to do that day, or they look over the piles of clutter around them and wonder how they’ll ever reach the bottom. “

I highly recommend Dustin’s post for tips on how to use todo lists effectively.  These tips can help you achieve your new years resolutions and make a great 2008!

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Becoming Irreplaceable at Work: What Time Do You Really Start?

Submitted by guest columnist Shelley Buck 

Okay, so no one at work is irreplaceable, but there are many steps you can take to become a more trusted and valued employee.

Starting to work at (not after) your designated start time and leaving after (not before) your designated leave time*, on a consistent basis:

  • Impresses your supervisor, co-workers and many times anyone in higher management.
  • Shows that you take your job seriously.
  • Proves that you value your company and are invested in its mission.
  • Demonstrates your respect for your supervisor and his/her authority.

You will go so much further with this little act that you should be doing already.

When you have a start time of 8am and come walking in the door at 8am (or later), it can appear that this job is not a priority for you and might effect promotions in duties, title and/or pay. Think of it this way, you’re paying a person to do eight hours of work on your house, to babysit or whatever, they came in at 8:10am, they talked to the neighbor for 10 minutes, took at 1 hour and 15 minutes for lunch and was sitting next to the door, coat on, keys in hand at 5pm. And they did it every day or several times a week. Would you bring them back? Would you trust them with more duties if they can’t even respect your time? I think not.

This happens way too often and I’ve seen (or heard of) the problem at most workplaces, but no one says anything! Why?

I understand traffic and weather can tie you up on occasion, but if you know your traffic is bad Monday through Friday of every week, leave earlier! Not a morning person? Suck it up – most people aren’t! Daycare or other issues that are outside of your control? Talk to your supervisor about an alternative start and end time. They’d rather you discuss it with them and come up with a solution.

All businesses are different, but there is always an expectation that you’ll arrive at work on time and not be sneaking out one minute early. An 8am start time means your coat is off, your coffee is in hand, your computer is up and (shock, shock) you’re working. A 5pm quit time means you start turning off your computer, then gathering your coat and keys, not before.

 *These statements are typically for hourly employees. If you’re exempt, like I am, I believe you should still be on time, or earlier, and leave at the designated time, or later. Your supervisor will notice and appreciate it! I know this for a fact!

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Virtual Team Gift Idea

Ever need a last minute gift for a project team-member in a virtual environment?  I recently had an urgent need to come up with something fast (see my recent post for the background).

Due to a quick deadline in the middle of people utilizing holiday vacations, I was unable to snail-mail a gift card.  My team-member works on the opposite side of the country in a state I have never visited and have no idea what stores are there anyways.

I frantically searched for an idea to proactively reward my team-member because I knew he had a lot of stuff due in a short amount of time (and was overworked before he was thrown into the project).

I discovered Amazon.com has a nifty email gift card.  I paid for the card and it was emailed to my team-member within a few minutes.  It gave him a code to use on their site immediately.  He called before he began his day and thanked me for recognizing all the work I was asking him to do!  He also completed his tasks first thing in his day.

I am sure there are other sites that offer similar email gift cards but this idea sure worked out nicely. 

I would like to make a special thanks to Cornelius Fichtner and Thomas Cutting for responding to me with advice to build my relationship authority with my SME, how to demonstrate my value of them,  and show that I was willing to go the extra mile.

Two related posts from Thomas Cutting:  Reward / Penalty Authority and Referent Authority

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Bring It On Home – WW Shopping

bt-hungryhippo-gallery-344.jpg 

I am sure this is not a new idea, but I think it will work very well!  I have been reading a lot about outsourcing my life and found a neat way to save time and lose weight!  I am going to have groceries delivered to my house

My 2008 goals include following Weight Watchers, seeking healthier options, and increasing discernment in spending.  I feel delivered groceries will meet this criteria.

  • Proactively selecting my choices and menus will make WW easier to follow
  • Knowing my house has  food will help me choose healthier instead of hitting a drive-through or eating whatever is left in the house
  • My spending will be wiser because I will only select what I need and not be tempted by impulse urges that present itself at the store

My time is important and so is yours.  The most time you spend is in the initial set-up but most major grocery chains keep a running shopping list so making minor changes will be quick week-to-week. 

This outsourcing saves you shopping time which can be used for exercise, reading, or anything else you want to do! 

Image above is from BustedTees

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