The plot

Sometimes people we work with and communicate with “lose the plot”. They
forget the mission. They misconceptualize the conversation.

Sometimes it is because we are not conversing frequently enough – and our
thinking has evolved differently from theirs.

Other times we are unaware of other issues that may be urgently pressing
the other person.

Occasionally if this person is a frequent flyer – its ADHD.

Whatever the reason, in order to correctly engage – we need to reset.
Re-synchronize and help the pick up the plot – so they can add value to the

That is what we need someone to do when we have lost the plot!

The Gulf of Uncertainty

Passage across the gulf is difficult. It is too wide and deep to bridge,
and unpredictable weather makes surface travel risky at best.

Two modes of travel are common:

1) Individual swimmers – those of unusual strength and skill are able to
cross. Sometimes carrying many along with them as if on their back. It
requires both strength and resolve as in the middle, one can see neither
shore. Sometimes those who are carried claim to see the shore confusing
the swimmer who can become disoriented and fail, drowning the whole

2) Boatmen – some build crafts of various shapes and sizes, carrying crews
to help navigate and propel the craft. Wind cannot be relied on, because
prevailing winds on either shore are strong, but die down in the middle.
Different modes of propulsion have been devised, but none are sure to get
across, and when the oarsmen tire, they can also claim to see the shore,
causing the captain to become disoriented and fail.

It is hard to cross the Gulf of Uncertainty. Many do not even try.

Clear mind covalence

“Clearer minds prevail” – I have heard this phrase uttered as a hope
recently. Let’s hope that clearer minds prevail. It expresses a desire
for those who understand (as we do or better) to triumph over those who may
be confused, ignorant, hold hidden agendas (different from our own) or are
just plain stupid.

What I am searching for is clear mind covalence – the sharing of ideas and
thoughts between brilliant minds like electrons in a molecule. This
sharing forms a bond that requires energy to break. It forms the basis of
true partnership it supports the difficult conversations that must happen
to ensure progress. The covalent bond between clear minds that share ideas
is trust. Not the trust of expedient political alliance. The trust built
on shared values and beliefs and goals.


Sometimes when we think things are rolling along, or going according to
plan, or even before we get going, something unexpected happens.

It can be anything that appears to impede our progress, add work, make work
less fun, reduce our confidence, etc.

The impact of the setback can be obvious or subtle; easy or hard to
quantify; well or poorly understood; more or less overcomeable.

When these setbacks present themselves, they can cause the mood and morale
of the team to change. Leadership is requires to make adjustments.
Leaders cannot appear to lose hope or confidence, nor can they fail to
acknowledge to issue. When setback occur the team looks to the leaders for
hope. They ask the question “Explain to me how this doesn’t mean we are
totally screwed?”. They want to believe. They want to own the result.

What will you say?

Emotional intelligence

I want to be a better coach and mentor to my staff. I recently took a
course offered by employer on emotional intelligence.

One thing that came home to me was that it is more powerful to add value to
my staff by asking questions than by giving answers.

A manager should always be looking to add value to his staff members
decision making. Perhaps the best way to do this is to ask them the
questions the answers to which will make good decisions self-evident.

Asking questions takes time and energy. Listening to your employee stumble
through the answer requires patience.

Being a good manager is hard work.


Autonomy requires trust. Trust requires accountability. Accountability
requires measurement. Measurement requires standards. Standards require

If your manager/company will not invest in preparing meaningful standards –
not functional but qualitative and quantitative standards, then all
accountability is based on opinion or whim, and trust is based on results
and history, and autonomy is unstable, and in jeopardy. In fact,
everything is based on relationship, last outcomes, pain, and fear. Your
passion will drain away, your productivity will be diminished, and your
focus will be on outcomes rather than practices.

At the same time a manager/company who defines inflexible/rigid standards
that don’t support individual strengths, talents, and gifted. This
produces least common denominator performance, passive compliance, and
fear. All innovation is stifled, all passion is drained, and creativity is
only used to achieve compliance with the least pain and misery.

I want my team to be autonomous, to make good decisions within a framework
of constraints informed by impact to cost, schedule and risk.

I want them to proceed as quickly as possible with as little redirection,
correction, and drama as possible.

I want my customers to understand how we approach our work, accommodate
change, and handle dissatisfaction so that there are fewer surprises and
less drama.

I want my team to continually evaluate their results and their means
looking for opportunities to improve quality, delivery speed, cost
efficiency, and predictability.

I want my team members to grow into their full potential, and grow their
potential with each new experience.

This is hard when my team is managed in isolation (I have autonomy to
define my teams practices). Difficulty is multiplied when I manage in
concert with others as we share responsibility for practice/process
standards, and results.

A new pim – part 2

My trial of chandler is a few days old. Overall I like the metaphor.
Calendar and task list. Everything has notes. User definable categories.
Good stuff.

I have not used any of the advanced features yet like group stuff – ‘cuz I
am the only one using it.

My experience is that it has trouble with persistence. It saves fine, but
tries to backup data on shutdown and crashes. Twice it has lost data I

Perhaps connecting to a hub account would help. Maybe my data would be
safe there.

My other complaint is the lack of user definable columns or fields.
Chandler has categories, but so far, they appear in a scalar taxonomy and
although I can assign a task to more than one, it only let’s me filter one
at a time.

I want to have multiple taxonomies, and non-taxonomy attributes (like
estimated effort).

I also want to define new views on the same data – different sorts, groups,
column sets.

Right now I have a calendar view and a task view and I can filter.

Still beats todo’s in lotus notes


I have some bad habits. Most of them cause productivity problems. Most of
them derive from my tendency to wear many hats.

I tend to be interrupted often. I tend to lose track of tasks that are not
accomplished quickly. New tasks displace old tasks.

I have been looking for some handles to grab to help with these issues.

One handle that I found is called the pomodoro technique. The technique
involves estimating tasks and completing them with uninterrupted focus for
25 minutes at a time. The name comes from the italian word for tomato, and
that represents a tomato shaped kitchen timer that was originally used to
measure the focus period.

While it sounds goofy, (and feels goofy at first), it actually works. Even
on days when I only have 2 hours of unscheduled time, I can get some things
done – do to increased focus.

Instead of a kitchen timer, I use a small application called Focus Booster.
It works like a kitchen timer for your pc, complete with ticking and bell

The one thing that I learned using the pomodoro technique, was that I often
interrupt myself. The technique trains this behavior out of your
repertoire. Google it and give it a 1 week trial. You will be surprised
at the results.

The cynic

It has been oft said that an optimist views the glass as half full, while the pessimist views the glass as half empty. I know engineers who would say that the glass has 2x the required capacity.

The cynic is the one looking for the SOB who drilled the hole in the glassĀ at the halfway point.

Project hope

I manage project managers. I am not a good project manager, but I know one
when I see one.

Sometime a project manager will provide a status or answer a status inquiry
with the phrase “I hope” followed by some outcome.

This almost always leads me to recite the oft quoted aphorism:

“Hope is not a project strategy.”

Underlying that aphorism is a question, “What are you doing to ensure the
desired outcome?”. What steps are you taking? Who is assigned? Etc?

This is the pragmatic aspect of project management; not hope but plans and
risk management. On the other side of project management is the notion of
hope. One must believe that the plan is rational. One must maintain hope
that the objectives can be achieved on schedule. Without hope the project
becomes a “death march”.

A death march project is one where the parameters of cost, schedule and
scope cannot be adjusted, even after it is known that the plan cannot
reasonably be achieved. Resources know that the project is “screwed”, but
management refuses to admit and alter the plan.

Sometimes when the schedule is the key driver, the addition of resources is
limited by either budget or the time required to onboard new resources and
the customer’s unwillingness or inability to make scope reduction
decisions, the team knows we are screwed, but it FEELS like those
responsible for planning are not connected to reality. Asked to work late
hours and weekends, without meaningful hope of a positive outcome. That is
the hope that is important – that if I as a contributor do my best, then we
could reasonably deliver on time.

On one current project, I am trying to maintain that hope…