Monthly Archives: February 2014


What’s wrong with being a project manager?

I don’t get it. I was talking to a young woman last week who told me that in her company, being asked to work on a project was about as close to a punishment as one could get. “Projects are for those people that have been rejected from the normal line organization” she said. I guess you can see the logic, everyone is busy with their daily stuff except for those with nothing to do and they only have nothing to do because someone kicked them out of the line organization. But… I wonder why more line employees don’t want to jump into project management?

To answer my own question, it is true that at the end of a project there is a chance that you might find yourself on the bench waiting for the next ride but, let’s assume for one moment that you do a reasonable job on your project – what would you have done?
  • You would have spent a great deal of time trying to understand the root causes to the problems your project will set out to solve.
  • You would have spent some time persuading senior management to understand the importance of their support and buy in
  • You would have raised the budgets needed to do the work.
  • You would have recruited a team of mixed abilities and skill sets to tackle all the tasks that you and the team identified.
  • You would have built a schedule, pointing out risks and dependencies for each and every task
  • You would have analyzed the risks and come up with mitigation plans.
  • You would have anticipated the areas where people would have to change their behavior and anticipated their possible reactions, in advance
  • You would have come up with strategies to alleviate the anticipated resistance and fear in the mindset of all the people that your project touches.
  • Perhaps you would have negotiated with the trade unions?
  • You would have motivated the team to focus on and deliver all the tasks identified.
  • You would have monitored the progress and reported back to the management team the good and the bad. You would have asked for their help.
  • You would have communicated across the business, just what it is your project is doing
  • You would have organized project events
  • You could have even created a project culture of fun and cooperation that spreads into the rest of the business
  • You may have performed some of the project tasks and contributed to one of the teams successes
  • You would have signed off the project and handed the results over to the business

And imagine that you only did a small part of the above items – wouldn’t it have been more rewarding than the line organization tasks you left behind?

I don’t think the young woman’s company understood what a project can be and what it is at heart. I suppose they think of a project as an annoying irrelevance to what goes on in their daily lives? Imagine a business without change. Hmmm, I wonder how long it could last?

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:14+00:000 Comments


It’s getting dark, mist is drawing in, you’re tired and you’ve still an hour to drive before you reach home. You’re listening to the radio, the financial outlook looks grim. All of a sudden your eye is drawn to a pair of rear lights, way off in the distance to your right. As they get closer, there appears to be another set of lights but this time one of them is white. It’s then you notice a grey shadow in the middle of the road, not certain what it can be, perhaps a trick of the light? You realize that the tail lights are not moving and the shadow is getting rapidly bigger. There’s a woman standing in the middle of the road. She’s looking straight at you. Strange, it’s the middle of winter and she’s not wearing a coat. You’re breaking as hard as you can but collision is imminent.

There’s a gap to the left but your eyes are fixed on the woman as she stares back at you, her face is calm and questioning. At the very last minute she jumps out of the way and you crash into the shadow which turns out to be the side of a large black Mercedes.

It is a strange fact that in situations like these most drivers crash into objects because they become transfixed on them. Instead of looking for gaps we become fixed upon what is in front of us. The lady in the road has just stepped out of the Mercedes, she is dazed and your headlights are blinding her, she thinks you’re going to stop, she cannot judge your speed.

Far less dramatically, we sometimes let ourselves become blocked by people or circumstance. A boss that stands in our way, is all we focus on. An annoying colleague that makes our life miserable draws all our attention and energy in the wrong direction. In these circumstances we often miss the large gaps to our left or right. The object that is apparently blocking us simply becomes larger and larger, apparently unsurmountable. But it and they are not, they are often just vulnerable people like anyone else.

If you know someone who is blocked in or heading for a collision, don’t sympathize too much, you don’t need to remind them how terrible their situation is. Just try and encourage them to look wider, to see the bigger picture, to find the gaps to their left or right where they can safely continue on their journey.

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:14+00:001 Comment

How thick is your language?

We talk about culture and how it is defined by language. And we talk about the difference between languages and culture. We talk about how things get lost in Translation but here is living proof that the difference between languages can be measured in millimeters or pages! My latest book ‘Transition’ is considerably fatter in its German form than in its original English, nearly 20% fatter in fact! The German version had the most pages with 191, then the French with 183, the Dutch was third with 177 and the English had a mere 161 pages. But what does this mean in reality? Do Germans need more time to tell the same story as the English or..?

In all my international projects, translations have always been a challenge. Even when you use professional translators and then have their work edited by local employees, there are always complaints, and when they come in, they can be very severe. Nothing seems to raise deep seated passion more than the misuse of language it seems. And my latest book is certainly no exception.

What is it about language that upsets us so? Surely if we can understand one another that should be enough for all communication, except for possibly poetry and intimate conversations over candle light?

I remember when I first started to learn Dutch, my wife (whose is Flemish) agreed that to help me get underway we would only speak Dutch but it didn’t last long. Our relationship had begun in English. I had had the upper-hand, I could play with words and make her laugh or cry with them, as the mood suited. While in my forced Dutch our conversation became dry and inflexible; nuances were missed and subtle suggestions became hard instructions, leading to upset and frustration.  . But in those early days of our relationship the words we spoke formed only a part of our communication, we had so much to explore that we were totally focused on each other and the depth of the content of what we were saying.

With Valentine day just around the corner, perhaps it’s a good time to remind ourselves that it’s the message behind the words and actions that count for most and not quite how many words it takes to say it?

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:15+00:003 Comments

Just blend in?

Oh my goodness what to do? In life we have two options to stand out or to blend in. There are times like, for example when I go through customs, that even though I never do anything illegal, I somehow feel guilty so I do everything to ‘blend in’. I try to walk normally, to smile normally to behave normally – just like the next traveler. But when I am on a change assignment, I want to blend in enough to make people feel comfortable around me but there comes a point when blending no longer works…

There are consultants that try to prolong their assignments by blending in, staying ‘under the radar’ in the hope that somehow they will go unnoticed and their contracts will be renewed. But this is not me. I have been thinking back to my childhood, my first day in a new class at the age of six and once with a new group of children at summer camp. Some of them did crazy things to stand out and to draw attention to themselves, while others tried to blend in like me. (I like to think that I blended in but in reality I must have stood out, at least a bit). I am sure the psychologists have much to say on this topic, the geneticists too because there must be a survival advantage to know just when to blend in or to stand out. All I know is that as I get older, I find blending in more and more difficult.

I believe that you cannot bring about change by standing on the sidelines. And because people dislike change, especially when it is inflicted on them, to get them to desire it takes immense effort and energy, and to execute that one tends to stand out. I do, however, try everything in my power to avoid taking center stage and to encourage those around me to step up and take the lead. But recently I have found myself in a situation where blending in seems to be the best tactic to gain additional trust, but it leaves me seriously considering whether it is better to bite my tongue and remain in the shadow of others or to simply open up and say what was on my mind, at some point something is going to give!

Many elderly people (read those well into their retirement) don’t seem to care about blending in; they behave how they like, they say what they like to whom they like, when they like and somehow being ‘old’ gives them a free pass to get away with it, rather like an obstreperous two year old!

Strange how we tend to end up where we started?

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:15+00:006 Comments