Ready to Make a Change to Agile? Make it STICKY!

“Change means uncertainty; uncertainly breeds opportunity.”      Japanese saying

 “Uncertainty is the breeding ground of all great possibility!”        Jennifer Chrisman

Are you ready to adopt Agile project management to improve project delivery and complement and enhance “traditional” project management rigor? If yes, then you need a change management approach with actions that can make change happen — and make it stick.

In their 2007 book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath explain six principles to make change stick.

Let’s look at each principle:

Simplicity: Find the core idea; keep it simple; overcome the curse of knowledge

Unexpectedness: Surprise generates interest and curiosity to grab attention; opens gaps that you can fill with knowledge

Concreteness: Be specific (i.e., Put a man on the moon by the end of this decade and bring him back safely); no abstract speak

Credibility: Use relevant experts; size your statistics (use a human scale—i.e. don’t say “micro-seconds”); use the power of details (if suitable to the audience)

Be careful  . . . don’t declare victory too soon. To embed the change and ensure that it sticks, acknowledge the lessons learned. Engage and involve project team members over the long term. Reward best practices to capture the full benefit of the change.

Emotions: Tap into things people care about, appeal to self-interest, appeal to identity

Many project leaders excel at building the rational case for change, but they are less adept in appealing to people’s emotional core. Yet the team members’ emotions are where the momentum for real transformation ultimately lies. “Make it stick” communications need to be targeted to each segment of the project team, and delivered in a two-way fashion that allows team members to make sense of the change subjectively.

Stories: Tell stories, it’s the next best thing to doing it; incorporate as many of these sticky principles as possible.

Maintain continuous effort to ensure that the changes are indeed working. Keep talking about how well the project is doing with the change to Agile to encourage people. When hiring new project team members, make the Agile approach stick in their minds.

Read Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath and learn why some ideas survive and others die.

If you are adopting Agile project management, a change management approach such as this can help you enhance your overall transformation capability, increase the speed of implementation, and improve the probability of success.

To learn how to apply Agile project management principles and the Scrum framework to create software-intensive products, check out Learning Tree’s course – Agile Project Management with Scrum.

James L. Haner

Attention! Project Leaders: Business Analysis is a Discipline, NOT a Job Title

Business analysis is the set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.” —BABOK Guide

What this will actually involve depends largely on the size, scale, and nature of your organization. Business analysis (BA) is not defined by your job title as a business analyst (aka BA), but rather by what you do in your workplace.

BA projects need not be IT centric, but many projects often include a system or other technical component. It’s helpful as a BA to have some working knowledge of several of these areas, but you don’t need to be an expert in any of them. The relationship with project management is particularly important.

Business Analysis vs. Project Management

Exact roles and responsibility distinctions between project managers and business analysts can vary by organization or project. BAs may be involved during the earliest phases of project definition. Business analysts primarily focus on the product or service, while project managers focus on the overall project. The BA is responsible for ensuring that the product is built according to requirements.

The role/responsibility boundaries are sometimes blurred so the rules aren’t hard and fast. The PM is overseeing the entire project from concept to implementation and there will likely be areas of overlap between the BA and PM. This is sometimes dependent on how the project is defined (e.g., sometimes project includes requirements documentation, etc., and sometimes it may not).

Here is an example. Imagine that you’re working on a new project concept to develop a reality show targeted at senior citizens. Consider what questions you might ask at the beginning stage of the project.

BA Primary Questions:
• What is driving the need for the show?
• Does this project represent the best interests of the business?
• What elements would seniors want to see in the show (e.g., requirements)?
• What are the benefits and costs associated with this project

PM Primary Questions:
• Who will be on the production team?
• How will we find out what seniors want to see?
• Who will gather show requirements?
• When will casting be completed?
• What is the production schedule?
• What are the executives’ expectations around project completion timing?
• What is the status of production?
• What is the budget?

The business analyst is the subject matter expert on delivering the business and user requirements. The project manager is the subject matter expert on delivering the project on target, on time, and on budget.

For more on Business Analysis/Business Analysts see Learning Tree, Intl. course 211, Business Analysis Introduction: Defining Successful Projects. For more on Project Management/Project Managers see course 296, Project Management: Skills for Success.

James L. Haner

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Sally Helgesen reviewed Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead in Strategy+Business magazine as one of the Best Business Books 2013: Managerial Self-Help. This blog adapts her review to apply to project management/project leadership.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead combines exhortation, analysis, and memoir in addressing the question of why so many women who start their careers with high potential and high hopes fall behind as the years progress, resulting in a continuing paucity of women in project management positions. Until recently, this was widely attributed to the lack of a “pipeline,” a problem that, it was assumed, would resolve itself once enough women were hired on projects. This has not happened.

Although Sandberg recognizes that substantial extrinsic obstacles stand in the way of women’s success (organizational culture, blatant and subtle discrimination, and, of course, child-care issues), she’s also convinced that internal obstacles (issues related to women’s own thinking and behavior) play a role. This is what she sets out to examine, drawing on her own experience and that of other women. She buttresses her observations with well-integrated academic research on such issues as how success and likability are correlated in women (negatively, as it turns out), differences in how men and women perceive their own qualifications for advancement (men rate themselves more highly even in cases where women significantly outperform them), and how men and women perceive their employability (dishearteningly, women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men apply if they meet 60 percent of the requirements). Such data makes it difficult to argue with Sandberg’s central thesis that women’s tendency to question their own skills often plays a role in limiting their opportunities.

The Facebook COO freely admits that she has made every mistake she discusses and tells her own story with refreshing candor. For instance, when Larry Summers, her mentor and thesis advisor at Harvard, recommended she apply for an international fellowship, she ignored the advice because she feared it would make it harder for her to find a husband. Later, working for Summers at the World Bank, she made up for this strategic error by taking to heart his advice that she “bill like a boy.”

Sandberg demonstrates a gift for self-awareness that avoids both self-adulation and false modesty. She admits she didn’t know how to read a spreadsheet when she arrived at the World Bank and describes humiliating moments when she made poor decisions, received withering feedback, or even cried. Although she’s been criticized for these admissions by those who believe successful women must always inhabit the straitjacket of the unvaryingly positive role model, her honesty has stood her in good stead, both in her career and in the warm persona that animates the book.

She expresses humility and is not reluctant to assume a lower-status position if she has something to learn. She’s a skilled questioner who actively shows that she is listening so others will be comfortable opening up. She credits her success to recognizing that truth lies in the eye of the beholder and that statements of fact are therefore likely to put others on the defensive. She acknowledges that listening and being open were hard skills for her to learn and says she has to work at being “delicately honest.”

To improve your listening skills, have a look at Learning Tree Course 294: Influence Skills: Getting Results Without Direct Authority.

James L. Haner

Are You in Project Management? You are in $ALE$!

In To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others, Daniel H. Pink builds a strong, clear case that selling, which he defines broadly as “the ability to move others,” has become an essential project management practice rather than something that only salespeople do.

Sally Helgesen reviewed the book in Strategy+Business magazine as one of the Best Business Books 2013: Managerial Self-Help. The rest of this blog adapts her review to apply to project management/project leadership.

Yet even as more of us need to integrate sales skills into our project management repertoire, the nature of what constitutes skilled selling is changing. For instance, information parity is replacing information asymmetry. Such asymmetry historically gave salespeople and project managers an edge. But now, Pink notes, both can benefit by taking the high road—being honest, direct, and empathetic, and seeking to build relationships for the long term. In a transparent world, where we all have the means to research our choices, Pink says, “Moving people depends on more sophisticated skills and requires as much intellect and creativity as designing a house [or] reading a CT scan.”

The core of To Sell Is Human is a lively section titled “How to Be” that spells out Pink’s new ABCs of selling. Instead of “Always be closing,” the traditional sales mantra, Pink posits a new watchword for moving others: “Attunement, buoyancy, and clarity”—an ABC that’s as useful to project managers as to salespeople.

Pink offers research indicating that people with lower status tend to be keener perspective takers, more cognitively attuned to the moods and needs of those with higher status and so better able to discern what will move them. He therefore advocates the strategic assumption of lower status when trying to win someone to your cause. Pink also presents studies upending the conventional wisdom that extroverts are the best at moving others. It turns out that ambiverts—those able to move back and forth between action and reflection—are more skilled at attunement because they’re likely to be better listeners than are extroverts.

Daniel Pink’s examination of buoyancy is spot-on. He notes that being good at moving others requires great persistence as well as an ability to deal with the discouragement that comes as a result of “wave after wave of rebuffs, refusals and repudiations.” How can we stay afloat amid this ocean of rejection? By drawing on three techniques that social science identifies as most vital for resilience.
First, an individual must practice the right kind of self-talk in advance. What works best, per Pink, is using an interrogative voice before you undertake the task at hand. For example, asking yourself, “Can I make the head of this division understand what we’re up against?” and then listing the reasons you can do it is the most effective way to establish a buoyant spirit. (The corollary is to remedy any reason that you can’t.)

The second step to buoyancy is maintaining a high degree of positivity, a catchall term for a variety of positive emotions. As it turns out, the optimal ratio for tapping into the power of positive thinking is three positive emotions for every negative one. This strategic approach to creating positive experiences can also help project managers improve their resilience.

The final step is having the right explanatory style—that is, the kind of story you tell yourself to explain what happened when things go wrong. Pink cites an extensive study showing that people who give up easily tend to explain negative events to themselves as permanent, pervasive, and personal. By contrast, buoyant individuals tend to frame negative encounters as temporary, specific, and external. It’s a great technique for anyone who is a project leader.

To Sell Is Human shows us how we can all benefit from further insight on how to become more persuasive and thoughtful project leaders – especially towards our team members.

James L. Haner

Some Certification Exam Day Tips for Future PMPs and CBAPs

On your certification exam day, you should be relaxed, psychologically prepared, and confident.  Taking the PMP, CBAP or other certification exam can be a stressful event! Try to be well rested and adequately nourished when you take the exam. Staying up all night before the exam for some last minute studying is not a good idea.

Make sure you know the location of your testing center prior to exam day.  Perhaps consider doing a “drive by” of the exam location so you know where you are going and exactly how to get there.  You can also scope out your favorite coffee spots along the route.  Just remember that you can’t take any food or drink into the testing area, so you will need to finish your coffee or snack before you start the exam.

You might call your testing center the day before your exam to confirm your exam date and time and the hours of operation.  I suggest this based upon the experiences of one of my best buddies, Peggy.  She made it through a surprise and unpredicted Colorado spring snowstorm, which included 8 inches of fresh snow in the early morning hours and many car accidents on her way to get to her early morning PMP exam. The story gets even better. When Peggy showed up at her testing center to sit her certification exam she discovered that the location of the testing center had moved the week before. Luckily, the new address of the exam site (handwritten, no less) was taped to the front door.

Peggy rushed to the other location and then begin her exam. Almost everyone, including the exam center staff, was late to work that morning so the damage was minimal.  However, the stress spike caused by this situation made Peggy have to sit at the computer for about 30 minutes before she could calm down and focus on the exam itself. This is when you discover the power of preparation, since she passed her exam with flying colors. The testing center staff told her that she had been notified of this relocation by email, but she could find no message from them in her inbox.

When you arrive at the testing center, you will have to lock up your personal belongings in a locker or leave them in your car for the duration of your exam.  The testing center staff will provide you with pieces of scratch paper and pencils, which you will need to return to them after your exam.  They will also take you into the testing area, seat you at your computer, provide you with headphones to muffle the noise, and confirm that the correct exam is being provided.

You have some time before the exam must start if you take the tutorial on how to use the exam software.  I recommend that you run the tutorial and then use this time to jot down any “cheat sheet” notes on the scrap paper that you have prepared prior to the exam.  Of course, these notes and reminders must all be in your head as you can’t take your own paper into the testing area.

Be aware that there could be other folks in the testing area taking a wide variety of exams, so people may come and go during your testing interval.  If you are easily distracted, this activity may take your attention away from your exam and its questions from time to time.  You may take a break during the exam; however, the timer keeps going while you are away from your seat.

Any other tips and tricks to add to the list? Please share.

Happy testing!

Susan Weese

Reprinted by permission from Susan’s exam crammer book blog located at

Eleven Project Leadership Principles Worth Doing

Project managers, did you know there is a 1983 Army Leadership Guide that contains eleven principles of leadership well worth adding to your project leadership skill set? Funny how sometimes things survive the “test of time”, isn’t it? On this first day of June, here are some traits to consider the next time you are doing some self-analysis of your project leadership skills, straight from the US Army Military Leadership Guide.

1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement. As a project manager and a leader, we all need to look for opportunities to fine tune and improve our leadership skills. There is nothing quite like taking a good look at your project leadership skills and accentuating the positive skills, minimizing the negative things you might do and adding some new skills to the mix.

2. Be technically proficient.   Seems like the best leaders I have worked for and with on my projects knew their jobs and were very much “in the know” about my job, its tasks and the desired outcomes as well. That didn’t mean these leaders micromanaged me or were more technically proficient at the task level, though.

3. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. Every effective project manager is both responsible and accountable – for their project and for their team. Effective leaders look ahead to the future and also look back at the past for lessons learned to help the team succeed.

4. Make sound and timely decisions. If you don’t have a serious toolkit of   problem solving, decision-making, and planning tools, it is time to construct one. Effective leaders also involve the team in these activities – it never hurts to have more than one person thinking about how to solve a problem or do something differently.

5. Set the example. I have always thought that project managers set the tone for their team. They also set the bar for their team’s behavior and work ethic. Knowing this, who wouldn’t want to set the bar high for the team and encourage everyone to “strive to excel”.

6. Know your people and look out for their well-being. Taking care of your team should be a project manager’s top priority, right up there with achieving the project’s objectives and delivering a successful outcome. A manager I worked for many years ago told me that she thought of her team as a garden, and she was the gardener who nurtured her team members to help them grow.

7. Keep your team informed. All project managers know the number one cause of project failure is poor communication – with internal and external stakeholders, team members, the organization, specific individuals or all of the above. Effective leaders are capable communicators at all levels of the organization, and with one to many people.

8. Develop a sense of responsibility in your workers. This relates back to leadership trait #3. It can be tough to be a responsible leader when your followers and peers are not so responsible. Fostering and teaching your team to be responsible in the workplace pays dividends for everyone down the line.

9. Ensure that tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished. Effective delegation skills are essential. This item makes me think about delegating work packages to team members or team leaders: involving the team in defining and planning what needs to be done, agreeing to the work, keeping you up-to-date with the status of the work and making sure the work is completed correctly. Remember, no micromanaging required.

10. Train and work as a team. Ask yourself, is your project team really a team or are they a group of people who work for you that are just doing their jobs? Teams of people do more than just show up to do their 9 to 5 jobs. High-performing teams work together to achieve a goal or objective, and oftentimes produce more than the sum of their individual parts.

11. Use and develop the full capabilities of your team. Leading your project team and encouraging them to achieve their full potential requires some effort on your part. To me, the idea of servant leadership fits really well here as you enable and encourage your team to excel but try to also get out of their way.

Susan Weese


Reference: U.S. Army. (October 1983). Military Leadership (FM 22-100). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Get Involved with PMI’s New Practice Standard for Requirements Management

There sure are many opportunities for all you project managers and business analysts who are crazy about requirements to get involved with developing or reviewing new standards focusing on exactly that discipline.  I mentioned one opportunity in an earlier post about the current time window for public review of the IIBA’s new version 3 of the BABOK® Guide.

Well, here is another interesting opportunity to get involved with development of a new requirements management standard from the “ground up”. One of the Project Management Institute’s current standards development projects is building a new standard focusing on requirements. Check out this opportunity as well as other opportunities to participate in new standards development or existing standards revision work on the PMI website.

In a nutshell, PMI is in the process of developing a full consensus, practice standard on the topic of requirements management, which is slated for launch in 2015. That means PMI is currently collaborating with project and program managers, software and systems engineers as well as business and Agile analysts to “define the common processes of multiple disciplines and industries for developing detailed program and project requirements. The intent of this practice standard is to provide depth to the functional execution of requirements management in alignment with our other foundational standards.”

Sounds like fun!  Does this opportunity interest you? Perhaps we will meet in virtual land working on this new requirements standard…

Susan Weese

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