Everything you needed to know about Project Management …

Everything you needed to know about Project Management …

… you probably learned while riding on a one speed bike without hand brakes.


Well, just about everything.


Recently I was transported back to my childhood while riding on a bike that lacked handbrakes and multiple speeds. It took a couple of minutes to remember that stopping required pedaling backwards, but after that initial awkwardness I was amazed at all that immediately came back.


So many actions were instinctual:

1.    A slight elevation ahead and automatically your body was standing atop those pedals to build momentum.

2.    A blind curve ahead? Pedal backwards, slow down, and gain control of the bike.

3.    A sharp curve? Swing out and use much space as possible on the outer part of the path to get as much room as possible to not wipeout.

4.    Crossing over a narrow bridge? Too risky to be peddling away – build momentum ahead of time to coast so that the required control and narrow body could be maintained. The same principle applied if someone was approaching on the slim path.

5.    Most importantly, a key lesson instantly came back: breathe through your nose and keep that mouth shut so that you don’t swallow a bug!


As this biking transported me back to my childhood, it dawned on me that all the skills that returned had taught me some of the most important principles of project management over four decades ago.


1.    Look like there is a mountain of work ahead? It’s too late to peddle fast once you’re on that slope, you must start peddling harder before you reach the beginning of the incline. You must anticipate the elevation and work harder when it’s actually still manageable.

2.    Not sure of what’s ahead around the blind corner? Better slow down until you have more information.

3.    Figure out ways to avert disaster.

4.    Think that you’re coming up to a sticky or tricky patch? Come across someone you’ve never worked with before? This is not a place to have your knees and arms waving about wildly.  You want to glide through this area with as much elegance and ease as possible.

5.    There are many times in business settings it’s better to keep your mouth shut.


Once you’ve navigated over a route a few times, it’s amazing how quickly your mind remembers the tricks to anticipate how best to traverse the terrain. The efficiencies accumulate.


Then when you can coast for those few moments, you feel the breeze, cool off, take some deep breaths, and survey the ground you’ve covered. You’re still working but at a pace that allows you to recover so that you can tackle the next obstacle with even more assurance and skill.

Reach for the STARs

Reach for the STARs

Our February musings have encouraged looking beyond your own environment — whether a groundhog emerging to see his shadow, imagining beyond deep snow drifts to the intricate physics of a single flake, and now urging you to gaze at STARs …

STARs is an acronym for Skilled Through Alternative Routes.

The Burning Glass Institute recently published The Emerging Degree Reset. While employers are finally understanding that eliminating the degree requirement for some of their jobs will give them access to a broader labor pool, there will be a burden as well: 

“A reset requires employers to be more articulate about the skills they require for the job”

Article after article on this topic concedes that employers have used the degree requirement as a proxy for the competencies that they assume a college degree imparts, versus articulating or probing for those behaviors in the interview process.

How many more workers?

In a recent story on Marketplace, Papia Debroy, who leads research at the nonprofit Opportunity@Work said:

“There are more than 70 million workers in our U.S. labor force today who are skilled through alternative routes — through community college, through military service. Most often they’re learning on the job…”

If you’re wondering what sort of employers might be looking for STARs, the piece interviews Jimmy Etheredge, CEO of Accenture North America, who is an advocate.  

“The assumption has always been, ‘I need to look for people that have a technical background, and then the easier thing to teach is the soft skills,’” “It’s easier to teach them the technology, and they already have amazing skills for doing client-customer interaction,” Etheredge said.

If you’ve ever seen a detailed image depicting the crystal structure of a snowflake, it didn’t come from a college graduate.  Those photos taken under a microscope in the bitter cold were taken by a farmer nicknamed Snowflake Bentley who had all the competencies like curiosity, initiative, and determination – but lacked the technical tool to capture the images.  Once armed with that technology, the sky was his limit, and his laboratory.

Empathetic Leadership

Empathetic Leadership

Yesterday one of the most noteworthy leaders of our time died. After speaking to a friend who had known Secretary Powell, I grabbed his 1996 autobiography, My American Journey, and started re-reading sections.

I had first read it when it came out. Like many Americans, I was curious to understand what experiences had formed this man that most of us knew from the TV briefings he gave as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he communicated with ease and subtle authority.

Twenty-five years ago, all of us were lacking the vocabulary that we have today regarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, let alone the insights.  At best, organizations thought it was a good thing, and something that they “should” do.  But overall, I think there was a sense that it would cost extra, and where was the ROI?

What struck me about Powell’s autobiography then, and again last night, was that he benefitted from a unique upbringing that alone prepared him for his future.  Very few of his generation (or today’s) were exposed to such a diverse neighborhood, let alone born into it.  He was a child of immigrants, which immediately gives most people a comfort in two cultures, if not two languages.  His parents ended up backing two different political parties, which makes you grow up listening to different points of view. Many know the story of how Colin Powell picked up Yiddish working for a Jewish family.  But this young man who was raised a very High Church Episcopalian, and served as an acolyte, was also comfortable in a synagogue, earning pocket money by turning off the lights when services were over on Friday night.

I have been asked when I first felt a sense of racial identity, when I first understood that I belonged to a minority. In those early years, I had no such sense, because on Banana Kelly there was no majority.  Everybody was either a Jew, an Italian, a Pole, a Greek, a Puerto Rican, or as we said in those days, a Negro.

Several years ago, I heard a CEO discussing the importance of diversity on college campuses.  He wasn’t making the pitch for the good of the potential scholarship students who might come from more diverse backgrounds, he was making the business case for the more affluent students who had not been exposed to much, if any, diversity growing up.  He asked the room how these students were going to compete in Corporate America if they didn’t know people different from themselves? If they couldn’t relate and communicate with people who had different life experiences?

Especially today, as the working world is struggling to return to some sense of normalcy, the key leadership quality is empathy.  Empathy can only come when you have shared someone’s experiences.  The more experiences you have with those different from yourself, the more likely it is that you can empathize with a greater number of people, and thereby lead a greater number of people.


[Human] Capital Calibration

[Human] Capital Calibration

Manufacturing equipment has come a long way since 1964. The environment in which you put your equipment?  Back then, a somewhat level floor, a power supply, fans for HVAC, and what was a little grease on the floor? You turned it on, and assumed it would run.  When you invest in a sophisticated machine today, you may build a special room, complete with its own HVAC and filtration. You wouldn’t dream of operating this equipment without the needed care and calibration. Your organization ensures that those responsible for the care and upkeep of this huge capital investment have the requisite technical expertise to protect your investment; you wouldn’t dream of leaving it to someone that didn’t know what they were doing. Yet why are we okay doing that to our largest investment: our employees.

The current conversation about “back to the office” seems a lot more like 1964, the year that Gary Becker published his first book on human capital. He rocked the world of economics and business with his work on the value of human capital ––  people were one of your most valuable assets.  It paid to further invest in them now that their life span was longer and technological advances made new skill acquisition imperative.

We sit here in 2021 as the seeming randomness of Covid deaths and quarantining has given Americans plenty of time to pause to reflect on the meaning of life. For many Americans, they are finally understanding their worth as a unique model of human capital.  They’ve grown to understand the distinctive sets of skills that they have acquired, honed, and refined over the years AND the optimum conditions under which they perform.  When an employer doesn’t understand that, enter…

The Great Resignation

One of my favorite Total Rewards thought leaders, John Bremen, has written a great article, advising how organizations can turn The Great Resignation into the Great Hire.  He very rightly points out that more people have been hired in 2021 than have quit – which side of the equation is your organization on?

Solution? It’s not about going back to “the way we always did things.”  It IS about recognizing the conditions under which employees can turn in peak performance and earn their organizations more gold.


Finding a way out of the childcare desert

Finding a way out of the childcare desert

Everyone predicted it back in the spring. We even addressed some of the childcare issues that concerned people back in May on our blog.

But, we’re still here. Summer is ending, some schools have started (even if only virtually), and the picture isn’t any prettier. Are you willing to lose one of your best workers over two hours a day? Have you ever had someone resign when their mother died? Well, get ready…

An executive was stunned by the number of times that female employees resigned when their mother died. He couldn’t figure it out. Fortunately, other females connected the dots for him:  their mothers had provided essential childcare; without mom/grandma, they could no longer work. This executive then connected other dots too. Leaving children at home, with no way to get to and from school, or no way to get to after school activities, was worth losing income and childcare.  

And all of this was Pre-Covid.

This article from HR Executive provides some ways to start thinking differently, so that you and your company might be able to be as prepared as possible, and put all those agile thinking skills to use when your star performer comes in ready to quit. Read More Here

Base on Balls

Base on Balls

Maybe it’s my mom’s fault. When I was only six months old, she discovered that watching the Detroit Tigers on TV captivated me and gave her time to get things done. Then again, maybe it’s my dad’s fault because when he took me to games, he taught me how to keep score, the old-fashioned way, the way that you can go back and check which field a batter hit a pop fly in the third inning. (Foreshadowing my work with performance management tools?)

All blame aside, I love baseball. I still keep score whenever I’m lucky enough to go to a game; mocked until the seventh inning when someone does want to know what that guy did in the previous at-bats. So perhaps it was because I cannot go see a game in person this summer, that over the weekend I picked up Moneyball by Michael Lewis. I loved the movie when it came out and couldn’t imagine enjoying the book even more. But, I did.

It is so amazing to read how recruiters (scouts) with so many statistics at their fingertips, even before the advent of personal computers, still relied on gut and feel instead of cold, hard math. Getting on base and scoring runs wins games. Looking good in the uniform and having “the face” does not. I absolutely love Billy Beane’s line: “Are you selling jeans?” 

The biases in business do not differ very much from those exposed in professional baseball. I have been lucky enough to work with the sort of organizational development professionals that design robust competency-based selection tools, yet managers still need to be coached around their empty biases about how a candidate “seems” and “he’s got that look” like he would do well here. 

Even though Michael Lewis’s book is now seventeen years old, it really is a great summer read—especially this summer of fan-less baseball. While remote working has eliminated some of baseless management habits that sluggish managers have relied on for decades, if not centuries, if not millennia, there is plenty of work still to do. Perhaps diving into the lessons in this book will remind us to eschew bad old habits, and develop good new ones, grounded in stats, like your coaches used to drill you on every summer.