A New Year's Resolution to Review

by Geof Lory

This year I have the honor of writing the first article of the New Year and I feel a certain obligation to write about making resolutions for project management practices in 2004. After all, there are many things we could be resolving to do, or do better, as project managers. Well, I wouldn't want to disappoint you and just write about what I got for Christmas, but I will start there.

My daughters have a shopping disadvantage since casual dress has taken over the workplace. No longer can they buy me the traditional tie, since I rarely wear one, so they actually have to think of something thoughtful to buy me. So, what they do is buy golf balls and hand "paint" each one with different sayings or pictures on them. Some are decorative with smiley faces, or made to look like a soccer ball. The ones I really like though are the ones with writing on them. They write just a few words to remind me of what I am supposed to do, or just that they love me. They say things like "hole in one" or "hit me" or my favorite "waterball" which depicts a ball splashing down like an Apollo space capsule in the lake short of the green.

These certainly make for interesting discussion pieces on the first tee, but their real value is the continual affirmation they provide me throughout the round. Every time I clean my ball or put it on the tee or line up a putt on the green, I read the words on the ball and it reminds me of what I want to do, and it reminds me of them. Both are mental images that help me stay in a better frame of mind. Like the sticky notes on my monitor, they keep me focused on what I know is important but I too easily lose track of in the heat of the battle.

One of my clients recently completed a major milestone for a product they have been working on for quite some time. It was no small achievement, and the month prior to the milestone was typically filled with frenzied activities and extraordinary effort by a very committed team. Only a few days after successful installation of the system, the entire project team of almost 100 celebrated with a party. We are now going through the lessons learned and making resolutions to continue doing the things that were successful and improve those areas where the team fell short.

The timing of the activities on this project paralleled my holiday activities. For the month leading up to Christmas I went into overdrive to complete all the shopping, wrapping, mailing and cooking. I wasn't sure I would get it all done in time, but I did. Then there was the celebration, and now the New Year's resolutions, my favorite part.

Every year my wife and I sit down and review the year, much the same as you would review a project. We look at the goals we had individually and collectively set in the areas of, body, mind, spirit and relationships and see how we are doing. I am particular about saying "how are we doing" instead of "how we did." To me, there is a subtle but meaningful difference between these two ways of reviewing.

"How we did" feels both judgmental and irrevocable. It's all in the past and can't be changed. It puts me in a defensive mode, feeling the need to justify what did or did not happen. It also requires some preset expectations of how we were going to do (i.e. budget, schedule and quality) which are many times unrealistically set or ill-articulated. I don't want to discount the value of comparing actual results to a plan or budget; there are great learnings to be had by doing this, if the goal is learning over judging. But many times this single point of review is the sole moment of consciousness in the project.

"How are we doing" feels more inviting and continual. It is present and future oriented. I feel I can change how we are doing if we are not doing how we want to be doing. I just have to resolve to do differently. It calls for a continual exploration of the expectations and requires that we stay conscious with greater regularity. It includes the past for reference and learning, but focuses on the future, where we want to be, and the changes necessary to get there.

As a person who is regularly involved with change and initiating change, I have to conduct reviews, assess processes, evaluate skills and appraise competencies. As an outsider to the individuals in the organization I engage with, it is no surprise that I am not always greeted with open arms. Who really likes to be reviewed, assessed, evaluated and appraised? Not me. But ask me "how are you doing?" and you will usually get more than you bargained for. Everyone likes to tell their story, and I am certainly no different.

There is a little trick to asking this question though; it can't be asked in an irrelevant or immaterial way. To be taken seriously, it has to be asked with sincerity and interest. I have found that as a project manager, consultant, father or spouse, the best way to show genuine interest in the response to "how are you doing?" is to patiently listen with an intent to understand. As a self-proclaimed "fixer," this is something I can get better at in 2004.

This year, my New Year's resolution is to regularly review myself. I will set aside just a few minutes on my drive into work to ask myself "how am I doing?" I will make it a habit to ask those around me "how are we doing?" Then, patiently and openly, I will listen for the response. What will happen after that I'm not going to try to determine, but I have a feeling it will result in more meaningful resolutions that I am really willing to keep or I'll have to admit they are not really important to me.

So, how are we doing? I am interested in your responses and look forward to your e-mails. Please send your thoughts, ideas and feedback to Happy New Year, and may all your projects exceed your expectations.

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