Episode 20 – Scary Project Stories

Episode #20
Original Air Date: 10.18.2016

34 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Neal Whitten, Dr. Stacy Campbell, Mike Mosquito, Alan Claypool, Bob Mahler

From wolf rats to sleeping monsters, this episode is filled with scary stories you won't believe. Even the most experienced project managers face risks on their projects. Listen if you dare!

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"So when it came down to kind of implementing it and putting it into the system, this is one of the only times I had to actually turn, I mean, turn over the project to the client because their words were, “If we told you, if we gave you the information, then we’d have to kill you.” I was like, I do not want this in my head."

- Dr. Stacy Campbell

" And so that was one of my project management nightmares where I never saw and anticipated an injury of that while putting in a system for dispensing soft drinks."

- Mike Mosquito

"It was sort of a time when we were doing well, but it was well without her, and she was unaware of what we were doing. And so we were sort of thinking of her as this potential sleeping monster, but the monster’s asleep, and it’s all okay."

- Alan Claypool

" I do believe I’ve had more than my fair share of interesting moments on projects that have definitely increased my blood pressure and anxiety a little bit."

- Bob Mahler

"When your project sponsor gives you a delivery date that you just know is not achievable. If it hasn’t happened to you as a project manager, it likely will happen. And so what I would say in that situation – and that is kind of scary because you’re setting yourself up for failure. You don’t want your project sponsor to look bad, and you certainly don’t want to look bad, or your team."

- Neal Whitten

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ANDY CROWE ● BILL YATES ● NICK WALKER ● NEAL WHITTEN ● DR. STACY CAMPBELL ● MIKE MOSQUITO ● ALAN CLAYPOOL ● BOB MAHLER

NICK WALKER:  No, this is not a flashback to some old-time radio program like “The Shadow” or “War of the Worlds.”  This is a special Halloween edition of Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Every other week we get together to talk about what matters most to you as a professional project manager.  We talk about getting certified, staying certified, and getting projects done.

I’m your host, Nick Walker.  And with me are the in-house experts, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  Okay, guys.  I think it’s obvious we’re doing something a little bit different today.  Andy, would you kind of fill us in on the topic today?

ANDY CROWE:  We’re talking about project horror stories in honor of Halloween.  It’s a spooky season.  And I think – Bill and I were talking earlier about how you learn a lot more when things get scary on the project than you do when things go smoothly.  But I’m most excited that we also – we have a lot of guests calling in, but we also have a very special guest here in the studio, Neal Whitten.  Neal, welcome.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Thank you very much.  I’m honored to be here.

NICK WALKER:  We must have treated you right last time, Neal, because you decided to come back and join us.

BILL YATES:  He came back.

ANDY CROWE:  It was the coffee cup.

NEAL WHITTEN:  It must have been that.  I love this coffee.

NICK WALKER:  We’re looking forward to hearing your story here in just a little bit.  But first let’s talk to a guest on the phone.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah, we have Dr. Stacy Campbell as our first caller.  Stacy is a friend of Velociteach.  She’s been a professional consultant, a project manager.  Now she is a professor in the business school at Kennesaw State University.  All right, Stacy, thank you for being with us today.  So we’re talking about project horror stories.  What is yours?

STACY CAMPBELL:  Well, I don’t know if it’s a horror story.  But it was scary when I was going through it.  So this was when I was starting off.  I was a young project manager.  And I was working in D.C., working for the – our project was the U.S. Marshals.  And they were implementing part of the PeopleSoft HR system.  And specifically they were doing the module that tracked all the skills and certifications and training on these U.S. Marshals.  So before I could even get started, I had to go through a background check.  And I don’t know if anyone has ever done that, but the whole process of writing down all the people you’ve ever known and having them kind of vouch for you.  So that whole part was scary.  I knew that that was going to be – it was going to be an interesting project.

But once I got onboard, and I started looking into it, I mean, I basically was in charge of gathering all the different – making sure that the database had all the different skills that the U.S. Marshals had.  I mean, so in the past the only way to find out, if there was an emergency, and they had to deploy certain marshals because of their special karate skills, language skills, they would basically just do it by word of mouth.  Like, oh, yeah, we have that marshal that knows how to do that.  So that in itself, the way it was working in the past, was scary, the fact that, you know, they didn’t have a system to track all this information.

So my job was to help put this system in place.  So I know I did lots of interviews with the people that worked there.  I interviewed even some of the marshals to find out all the different skills.  I mean, we’re talking about, you know, we talked about project management certifications and leadership training.  I mean, they’re telling me about the different rifles that they can shoot, and how far they can shoot.  And so, you know, that was – that in itself was kind of, you know, just intimidating, and understanding all the different skills that was required to be a U.S. Marshal.

But here’s the scary – this is the part that kind of – the horror story.  So after this database is built, you know, the next step is we have to load the data.  And so for each U.S. Marshal you have to then put the U.S. Marshal attached to all the different skills that they had.  Well, I couldn’t do that.  Neither could anyone on my team.  The client decided that we didn’t have the correct clearance because, I mean, basically, if we knew all the U.S. Marshals, and we had access to this information and knew what top secret skills and certifications they had, then for some reason they would – it would be in my head.

So when it came down to kind of implementing it and putting it into the system, this is one of the only times I had to actually turn, I mean, turn over the project to the client because their words were, “If we told you, if we gave you the information, then we’d have to kill you.”  I was like, I do not want this in my head.  I don’t want to know who’s attached to all these.  And so we basically had, in the end of this project, after we got all this cool information, we couldn’t finish it.  We basically had to hand it over to the client.  But to this day I’m kind of glad that I don’t know what skills each U.S. Marshal has.  So if I’m ever, you know, taken hostage, I can’t be held at gunpoint.  So it’s not in my head.

ANDY CROWE:  We’re not going to waterboard it out of you.

STACY CAMPBELL:  Yeah, no.

NICK WALKER:  Now, that’s a unique story.  Is there anything we could learn from this?  Maybe to the extent of how hard it is to not finish a project that you’ve started, having to hand it off to somebody else?

ANDY CROWE:  It’s like sending your child off to college, Nick.  Which I’m staring down the third one on that, you know.  So looking toward the empty nest thing.  But it is, it’s like it’s handing something off to someone else to see through.  It’s got to be difficult.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Yeah.  It’s, you know, we all put our passion and everything we have into our projects.  And when we get to a point where it’s really starting to come together, and we have to step out, that’s a big sacrifice.

NICK WALKER:  You know, there’s often a time that I come home from work, and my wife says, “How did you do today?”  And I say, “Nobody died, so I guess it was successful.”  But you know, in this case, it could have ended differently.

BILL YATES:  That’s true.

NICK WALKER:  All right.  Let’s hear from somebody else.  Let’s go to the phone again.

BILL YATES:  Mike Mosquito, thank you so much for joining us today on this podcast.  We’re having fun, sharing scary stories from projects in our past.  And Mike is a frequent partner and collaborator with Velociteach.  He’s been a friend of ours and worked with us for quite a while.  Mike, I understand you have a scary story from Hawaii.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  Yes, Bill.  I want to give you a little background here.  I was actually an engineer, running a large project, it was a 50-state project for Coke, and installing a new racking system in their convenience stores where they had their bottling systems.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  And this story happens while three grown men are in the back of a system of a convenience story in Hawaii.  So you’ve got glass rack.  Glass is upfront where the doors open.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  We’re in the backside of that, in the cooler.  And so we’re installing this, it’s a metal dispensing system that feeds bottles down to the front of the store.  And we’re installing it, and it’s cold.  But the quietness is kind of ominous because you’re not – you’re trying to figure out what you’re hearing in the background is not just a fan, but there’s something moving.  So we’re all down on hands and knees, looking up at this system we’re installing from the ground up, and we’re just starting it.  And both of the guys are Hawaiian.  And so we’re down there looking.  And these guys are pretty big, I’ve got to tell you, both pulling in about 275 to 350.

BILL YATES:  Okay.  All right.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  And I’m wedged between them.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  And so we’re looking at how to level the system out to get it started.  And one of the guys goes, “Did you hear that?”  And I’m like, “No, I didn’t.”  I didn’t hear it.  He goes, “I heard something behind us in that box.”  I’m like, I said, “I didn’t hear anything.”  So we’re starting to level this thing out.  About that time the box moves.

BILL YATES:  Oh.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  We all happen to actually see the box move.  So we’re still down on hands and knees, though.  We hadn’t – we just raised our heads up like, okay, that did move.  And so we kind of paused for a second.  And about that time the box tips over, and a wolf rat the size of a large cat runs from under the box.

BILL YATES:  No.  Oh, no.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  And I have never seen 300 pounds move so fast before.  But he moved so fast, he pushed me into the guy that was standing now in the cooler into the racking system.  He went through the glass doors.

BILL YATES:  Oh, no.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  Broke the front glass, busted and shattered the glass next to it, and all the dispensing system fell out into the store.

BILL YATES:  Oh, my goodness.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  So this story ends up with him taking 40 stitches at the hospital, and we still haven’t found the wolf rat in the store.

BILL YATES:  Oh, my goodness.  Oh, man.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  And so that was one of my project management nightmares where I never saw and anticipated an injury of that while putting in a system for dispensing soft drinks.

BILL YATES:  Oh, no kidding, man.  And you’re in Hawaii.  That’s not supposed to be a bloody place with rats and bad, scary stories.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  No.  Most people think of paradise in Hawaii.

BILL YATES:  Exactly.

MIKE MOSQUITO:  Not so much.

BILL YATES:  That’s an awesome story.

NICK WALKER:  They don’t teach this in school.

ANDY CROWE:  This is what Rumsfeld called the “unknown unknowns.”  Neal, what does your risk plan look like, to account for something like that?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Take it as it comes.

ANDY CROWE:  You know what, I did a project years ago that was a music festival.  And we did this elaborate plan.  And at the end, what we had to do was say – there were eight or nine people.  And I had to put one in charge of kind of each sort of domain.  One was in charge of security.  One was in charge of ticketing.  And a lot of people were asking, hey, what happens – and we were getting into some crazy scenarios – what happens if, in this scenario and this scenario.  And finally what we said is, “Look.  The nine people who are over each of these domains are empowered.  They’re smart people, and your job is to solve problems on the spot.”

BILL YATES: Even if that problem is a big old wolf rat.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

NICK WALKER:  Is this a common concern in project management?

ANDY CROWE:  Security!

NICK WALKER:  All right.  Let’s hear from somebody else.  Let’s go to the phone again.

BILL YATES:  Alan Claypool, thank you so much for joining us in our fun that we’re having reflecting on scary moments in project management.  For those who have not met Alan, he’s the CEO and President, actually the founder of TAC4 Solutions.  And Alan, you have a scary story regarding stakeholder analysis.  You want to tell us about it?

ALAN CLAYPOOL:  Absolutely.  So we had a project where we were brought in to do process redesign and build a little bit of software, as well.  And so we came in, and as we were supposed to do, as Bill Yates taught me to do, we were doing stakeholder analysis, interviewing folks.  And we identified early on that there was this one person who was strongly suggested to us as a likely naysayer of the project, someone who had kind of killed a few other projects and was sometimes hard to work with.

And so we, as the training taught us, we kept her close.  We included her in all of the design sessions.  We made sure that she was communicated with, made sure that she was onboard with what we were doing.

BILL YATES:  Awesome.

ALAN CLAYPOOL:  And then – and so it was all going well.  And by the way, you keep a naysayer close, specifically not because they’re bad people, but because sometimes their naysaying thoughts have validity to them.

BILL YATES:  True.

ALAN CLAYPOOL:  You want to make sure that you’re covering all of the concerns that they may have.  That way you’re eliminating any need for that naysayer to come up and do something negative to the project.

So anyway, we were going along the project.  We kept her close, and it was going well.  And then she got busy on some other things, the project got busy, and we lost communication with her.  It was sort of a time when we were doing well, but it was well without her, and she was unaware of what we were doing.  And so we were sort of thinking of her as this potential sleeping monster, but the monster’s asleep, and it’s all okay.

BILL YATES:  Okay.

ALAN CLAYPOOL:  So we’re just going fine on the project.  So then we continued on the project.  It was going fine.  And we were actually coming to the end of the project and looking toward a Phase 2.  It was about an eight-month project for Phase 1 and getting ready to go into Phase 2.  And it was time to do training.  And so we included her with the training on Phase 1.  And this project had cost – it was probably about a $600,000 project at that time to finish Phase 1.

BILL YATES:  Got it.

ALAN CLAYPOOL:  And so we did that and did the training.  And the training seemed to go well until the very next morning after the training, and I come in to an email that I was copied on that she had sent to the CEO of the company…

BILL YATES:  Ouch.

ALAN CLAYPOOL:  …that said, “This has been” – yeah, it’s crazy – that said, “This has been a nice little experiment, and it’s time to move on from this project and get back to what we were doing.”

BILL YATES:  Okay.  So then what happened?

ALAN CLAYPOOL:  Well, that was actually the end of the project.  So it was kind of insane.  We had done really good work.  The process we had done, processes we created had really saved a lot of time.  It was easily worth the $600,000 that we were doing.  And it was over in a minute.  And in fact, not only was the process part that we had done, we had done a lot of behavior improvement of this company.  It was sort of a madhouse inside the company, as far as they never had meetings.  They never talked to each other.  They had a lot of cross-departmental blame.

BILL YATES:  Right.

ALAN CLAYPOOL:  And over the course of the eight-month project, we had eliminated that cross-departmental blame and got people to where they were seeing each other as, oh, if I’ve got a problem, I’ll just go talk to you.  We’re a collaborative team instead of people that are separated and against each other, which is the way it had always been.  And in one email, the sleeping monster arose, woke up, scared us to death, actually, and made us go home.  So we were gone, I think we got to finish out a few things like in maybe two days or something.  And instead we were gone.

So after eight months and about $600,000 and a lot of behavior improvement and hoping to have a Phase 2 that was going to do a lot of other process improvements, instead it all just fell away, and they don’t use the software.  They don’t use the processes.  And from what I can tell, they’re back to cross-departmental blame and all sorts of bad stuff.  So the sleeping monster arose and was able to just snuff out the project.  And we blame ourselves.  I mean, it truly was we knew, because of the training that Velociteach had done with us, you always keep a naysayer close.  Which we did at the beginning, and I think we just lost our discipline about that.  And because of it, the giant was stirred up and arose and shut the project down.

BILL YATES:  Wow.  Alan, that is truly a scary story.  Ouch.

NICK WALKER:  The sleeping monster.  Is that a common scenario, or is this really outside the box?

ANDY CROWE:  It can be.  You know, people are resistant to change.  I was sort of expecting an end to this story where Alan and Shaggy and Scooby pulled the mask off the naysayer, and it was Old Man Whitaker.  I think it turned out that Alan was the guy they pulled the mask off.

BILL YATES:  Those meddling kids.

ANDY CROWE:  I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you.

ANDY CROWE:  No, you do, you keep your friends close, and you keep your enemies closer.  And it’s not, you know, people have reasons for being against the project that doesn’t make them bad people.

BILL YATES:  Right.

NICK WALKER:  Is there a way to armchair quarterback this scenario?  Or do you just write it off?

BILL YATES:  Boy, that’s tough.  I think, as Alan said, they learned their lesson.  And he shared with me offline that this was early in the life of the company, and they certainly learned a lesson from it.  But, you know, he brought up a good point, too.  We have to listen to those Negative Nellies, if you will, those naysayers, those who are against our project.  They still have really good input to provide.  Their opinion is valuable.  But we have to keep them engaged.  You never know just how much influence and power they have.

NEAL WHITTEN:  I like people around me who present problems.  I like people who present an opposing view because I need that diversity.  And I look forward to that.  As far as I’m concerned, as project managers, we are businesspeople first and project managers second.  And a businessperson wants to know what their potential problems are going to be out there.  I feel a lot better knowing the problems and having them on the table than the unknowns that are out there.

ANDY CROWE:  You know, this whole concept of alignment keeps getting more and more attention in project management.  And we’re supposed to be aligned to goals and aligned to strategy.  And it is easy as a project manager to get so locked into your project and forget everything going on around you, forget the context.  And, you know what, technology changes.  Personalities change.  Businesses change.  Goals change.  And so we’ve got to be adaptable, and we’ve got to stay aligned.  We’ve got to have a good North Star.

NICK WALKER:  We appreciate Alan’s story, and hopefully we can all learn something from that.  All right.  Bob Mahler, one of our instructors here at Velociteach, has a scary story of his own.

BOB MAHLER:  Hi.  My name is Bob Mahler, and I was recently asked if I’d ever had any scary project moments.  And I don’t know because I’m not one that’s easily scared.  But I do believe I’ve had more than my fair share of interesting moments on projects that have definitely increased my blood pressure and anxiety a little bit.  Yeah, let’s just run with that – not fear, just concern.

I had a 200-amp power bay installed in a cell site, and apparently the vendor couldn’t read the instructions and reversed the polarity on the input power.  So I walked in like any other day to turn on the power and begin to turn up equipment.  And as soon as I turned it on, there was a very nice shower of sparks which, once again, caused me the tiniest bit of concern.  So always remember, project management is like riding a bike, and you never forget how to ride a bike.  Only in this case, the bike is usually on fire.

NICK WALKER:  All right.  Fires and sparks.  Maybe not something that we would normally think of in terms of project management. But, gosh, it’s these wildcards that are just amazing.

ANDY CROWE:  It is.  It’s the cascade of risks that hit you, the ones that you don’t think about.  Having wrecked a motorcycle before, I can fully appreciate Bob’s analogy.

NEAL WHITTEN:  And by the way, although project management is really about being proactive, let’s face it, there’s a lot of reactiveness that we all have to deal with.  And this is a good example of that.

BILL YATES:  It really is.  And fortunately for me personally, I didn’t deal with a lot of projects that had a lot of moving parts and broken glass or the chance to be electrocuted.  But there were scary moments that involved a lot of surprises from other contributors, vendors or other participants who were supposed to do one thing, and they either did it wrong or have not done it.  So I think we can all relate to that.  But I never got zapped. No, it’s a different experience.

ANDY CROWE:  They should have paid attention in the spirit of Halloween to “Ghostbusters” and don’t cross the streams; right?  Everybody knows that. You don’t cross the streams.

NICK WALKER:  All right.  Fortunately, we have in-studio Neal Whitten.  Neal, you’ve written a book, “The Gift of Wisdom:  Lessons for a Lifetime,” that deals with some of the things you’ve learned along the way.  Fill us in on some of the things you’ve learned maybe that were a little bit scary for you.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, you know, again, I’m not sure “scary” is the right thing.  But I’ll tell you what, it represents, I guess, that scary moment.  In this particular book I had asked the people I’d interviewed, tell me the philosophies that drive you.  Tell me one of those philosophies and a particular individual that you learned it from.

And this one gentleman, Fernando, said, “I’m sitting in my office.  This high-level executive from headquarters walks into my office, sits down in the chair, my guest chair.  And although I knew him, and he knew me, we weren’t that close.  And he, out of the blue, just said, ‘So, Fernando, are you having a good time?  Are you having fun?’  And I said to him, being pretty quick on my feet, at least I thought I was, I said, ‘You don’t pay me to have a good time.  You pay me to get the job done.’  That isn’t what he expected me to say.  He said, ‘Fernando, if you’re not having fun in your job, then you’re not doing the best that you can for me.’”

NICK WALKER:  Oh, my.

NEAL WHITTEN:  And that rode with him for decades.  And he’s given that information to so many other people he’s mentored over the years.  And it’s a very important item.  And that is, when you go to work every day, you really do want to have fun.  And if you’re not having fun, the likelihood is it’s all about you and how you think.

NICK WALKER:  Interesting.  So a lesson to know thy boss.  Know what he’s thinking.

BILL YATES:  Right, right. Yeah, knowing the manager, I’m sure for Fernando, obviously that turned over a whole new experience, a whole ‘nother dimension to that relationship with that upper manager and going, oh, wow, okay, this may actually be a human that I’m working for.

NEAL WHITTEN:  And he was a good big boss, if you will.  But it showed to Fernando that, when he comes to work every day, although it is about business, it’s also about having fun.  This is – work is a big part of life, and we don’t want to exclude having fun in work.

BILL YATES:  Right.

NICK WALKER:  Wow.  Some amazing stories.  It seems like the common thread through these is the unexpected, just the things that you are totally not expecting to happen.  You know, you’ve got this plan in place.  You’ve got your organized thinking.  But some wildcard comes into play here.  That is probably a lesson in itself to be ready for those.

ANDY CROWE:  You know what, Nick, project managers are sort of wired, genetically wired to or taught to be afraid of risk.  Risk is an unknown.  And we don’t like unknowns.  We want things to go according to plan.  But I’m convinced that Mike Mosquito’s rat is really a metaphor for these unknowns popping up.  You just don’t see it coming.  You don’t think it’s going to happen.  There’s a quote I love from a long ago field marshal of Prussia who said that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.  And that one sticks with me.

BILL YATES:  Ah, like Mike Tyson’s quote, “Everybody has a plan till they get hit in the mouth.”

NICK WALKER:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

ANDY CROWE:  So, Neal, we’ve got this tension between wanting to plan things out and wanting to control and make sure that they go according to plan, and then being able to adapt to unknowns.  How do you manage that seesaw?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, I can give you an example of something that happened to me as a project manager.  But it’s also happened to a number of people that I’ve mentored on this, as well.  And that is when your project sponsor gives you a delivery date that you just know is not achievable.  If it hasn’t happened to you as a project manager, it likely will happen.  And so what I would say in that situation – and that is kind of scary because you’re setting yourself up for failure.  You don’t want your project sponsor to look bad, and you certainly don’t want to look bad, or your team.

So when that happens to you, in my view, the best thing to do is to first do your very best to put an achievable plan in place.  I mean, who knows?  Maybe you can pull it off.  If there’s any chance you can, you want to go down that route.  But let’s say that’s not possible.  Your job as a project manager is to go back to that project sponsor and not just say “I can’t do it,” but to say, “But here’s what I can do.”  Here’s some alternatives.  Whether it’s reducing scope, whether it’s buying components off the shelf and not develop themselves, you fill in the words.  It doesn’t matter.

But let’s say now, worst-case scenario, your project sponsor says, “I need you to do it anyway.”  And you can read an org chart.  So the question is, what do you do?  In my opinion, you put a plan together that’s very aggressive, even though it’s not achievable.  You can read an org chart.  But there are some things that I think you should do.  The first thing I would do is make the delivery date a project risk.  Let it be known to everybody.  Don’t hold back.  I don’t want you to be the fall guy as the project manager in this project.  But I do want you to do your very best.  But it’s now a risk, and you’re going to track that risk.

The second thing I would do is solicit a review from somebody that is well respected in the organization, a review of your project management plan.  And what this will do, you hope, is that that person will agree with you that this plan is far too aggressive.  And because of the – it’s called “referent power” because that individual is well respected in the organization.  That raises your respect, as well.  And hopefully that ally can help you change the overall delivery date.  But be careful.  This can backfire.  What if that person doing the review does not think it’s too aggressive?

The third thing I do – and I’m going to give you five items that I would do.  And I would do all five.  It’s not just pick one.  The third thing I would do is immediately put metrics in place and start tracking the project and show that the project is eroding, and so it’s predictable.  Be careful.  You don’t want it to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  So you want to do your level best that you are trying to make this thing work.

The fourth thing I would do is establish a major milestone that’s one to two months away so that you can pause and take stock of where you are.  So what would happen then is, once you’ve achieved that major milestone – and the presumption is you’re probably going to achieve it late – you ask yourself, “What are we doing?  What are doing that we could improve on?”  What is likely going to be, because now we have enough project history, and especially through earned value concepts, we can now have a better predictive outcome of the project.  And that now can be a very telling and compelling story to bring to your project sponsor.

And then the last thing I would do on a project like that is every three or four months I would schedule a project review where someone comes in from outside the project – not necessarily outside your company, but outside the project – and does a health assessment on the project.  And there again you hope they’re going to support you in terms of that this project is too aggressive, and it needs to be replanned in some way.

BILL YATES:  So Neal, what I hear is, even if our original plan gets upended by a wolf rat or a spark of energy or an unrealistic delivery date, our team is still looking to us to lead.  And how are we going to react to that?  Can we come out with a modified plan?  Can we negotiate with that sponsor or that manager?  So they’re looking to us to see, do we have the flexibility?  Do we have what it takes to lead through these changes?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well said.  And it’s all about being positive and, like you said, leading the team.  Your job as a project manager is to make your project sponsor look good.

BILL YATES:  Right.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Your job is also to make your team look good.  And they’re relying on you to do the right thing.  And I need you to have a good attitude because leaders don’t blame other people.  They’re too busy solving problems.  And that’s what your job is in this scenario.

ANDY CROWE:  Absolutely.

NICK WALKER:  Can I go back to our metaphor of the wolf rat again for just a second?  Because, you know, I recognize that, as the outsider here, I sometimes have the off-the-wall questions.  But, you know, is there a moment when the wolf rat has not yet been exposed, but you see the box moving?

BILL YATES:  It’s still in the box.

NICK WALKER:  You know, you see the box moving, so you have a sign that something is amiss.  Before you expose the wolf rat and things go crazy, is there a way to sort of take a step back and say, “Huh.  Can we maybe figure this out before things get crazy?”

ANDY CROWE:  In project management we call those “risk triggers.”  And the whole idea is to learn which ones to monitor and which ones to watch for.  I think, Nick, you know, it’s my personality, my leadership style.  I always want to be proactive.  And I think, you know, what we’ve seen is that you cannot plan for every single thing.  Yes, the box is going to move.  But what happens when you flip the switch, and the polarity was reversed, and you didn’t know, and all of a sudden sparks are flying right now?  So, yes, there certainly are things you can do in advance.  And if I had two guys that large in the room with me, I know exactly what I would do.  That would be my risk mitigation plan right there.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah.  I think even the sleeping monster, as Alan was describing that, we can all think of times when we have – we’ve had good plans in place, and we’ve recognized a risk.  We’ve recognized – and it could be a person who is at risk.  We’ve recognized it upfront, and we’ve planned for it.  And then we’ve gotten distracted by the busyness of our project, and we’ve lost sight of it.  And then there is that death email, there’s that one email, that one conversation that just puts our whole project in the trash can.

NEAL WHITTEN:  This reminds me of “The Mythical Man-Month,” the classic book by Frederick Brooks.  And when asked, “How does a project get late?” he said, “One day at a time.”  And that was something that I’ve carried with me for a long time because I recognized we make decisions every single day on our projects.  And those decisions, a project – that day ends predominantly based on the decisions you’ve made that day.  And the project ends predominantly based on decisions you made day in and day out throughout that project.  And so every decision counts to me.  And when you talked about the box starting to move with the wolf rat, I like seeing that because it’s something that I need to address and make the right decisions now before that wolf rat causes major problems down the road.

ANDY CROWE:  You know what, Neal, bad decisions are cumulative a lot of times.  And risks can be cumulative.  They can start adding up, and it causes a cascade.  At some point it hits a tipping point, and everything falls apart.

NICK WALKER:  Wow, some amazing stories we have heard today.  We could probably go on and on with many more.  And maybe that’s a subject for next Halloween.  We’ll see.  Andy Crowe, Bill Yates, as always, thank you for your insight, for your comments.  Neal Whitten, thank you for joining us, and we hope to see you again, as well.

We mentioned last time that this podcast is a great way to earn PDUs, Professional Development Units, toward keeping your project management certifications current.  To claim your free PDUs from us, go to Velociteach.com and select “Manage This Podcast” at the top of the page.  Click on the button that says “Claim PDUs,” and it will take you through the steps.  It couldn’t be simpler.

That’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on November 1st for our next podcast.  Meanwhile, you can visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have a quick comment or a question or a story.  We want to hear from you.  That’s all for this episode.  Talk to you again soon.  In the meantime, keep calm and Manage This.

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