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Carl’s Corner

Carl Pritchard is the principal and founder of Pritchard Management Associates and a recognized lecturer, author, researcher, and instructor in project management. As a lecturer he is considered a leading authority on risk management and presents on a variety of management topics, ranging from project essentials to the complexities of network diagramming and team motivation. His work as an instructor has taken him around the world, training with some of the leading international training organizations, as well as for private clients and the Project Management Institute®.

Given all that he has given to the profession, we felt it was about time to...
Let Carl Have His Say...

Promises, Promises

Promises, Promises
A Bold Attitude for the Year Ahead
by Carl Pritchard

I am going out on a limb here. I will teach two-thousand students this year. I will keep the lawn reasonably free of oak trees. I will figure out a way to finance that beautiful house next door. I will meet the deadlines I promise clients. I will make enough money to consider it a successful financial year. I will carve out time for my wife, my sons, and my friends. I will...

I will stop there.

Daunting, isn't it? A full year ahead with promises. A full year ahead where I could readily fail on any/all of those commitments. And yet, If I don't set the bar, no one will. If I don't make the commitments to myself, they simply won't happen. No one else will hold me to these commitments. No one else will force me into these boxes except myself. And with the year-ahead doom-and-gloomers looming large on the TV news shows right now, it's very easy NOT to make these kinds of commitments because they will be overwhelming.

I refuse to be overwhelmed. Don't get me wrong. I have the voices in the back of my head screaming about the impossibility of getting a huge loan. I have the schedule for the year ahead laden with "please hold" commitments, rather than firm dates. If I don't have this all locked in stone, why am I publishing it here? Because we need to hold our own feet to the fire.

I personally have been infuriated by media coverage of the economic "meltdown." Why? I believe much of life (and as a result, much of project management) is self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that the project outcomes will have positive results, there is a much higher probability that they will. (Check Victor Vroom on "expectancy theory" on that one). If we continually sob about our current state of affairs and take a posture of withdrawal and timidity, there are likely to be no great strides. The economist, John Maynard Keynes, came up with a concept he called the paradox of thrift. In tough economic times, he found that people saved a higher percentage of their income. It would seem that we would save more in the times when we make more, but the opposite holds true economically. I would suggest that the paradox of thrift goes to ambition as well. We are most ambitious when times are already good. And we stifle that ambition during the leaner days.

It doesn't make sense, but it does seem to be the case. Organizations back down on their ambitious approached not just because of tight lending, but because of a fear of further economic degradation. At a time when we can best leverage our ambitions, we hide them where they don't see the light of day. And in the process, we lose the light...and the opportunities.

So for this new year, I wish you nothing but wonderful tidings...high ambitions, and a willingness to step out on a limb and announce to the world your intentions of great things. Then you (and they) can hold your feet to the fire...

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Friday, January 02, 2009

The 8-Second Solution -- Meditative Management Moments

The 8-Second Solution
Meditative Management Moments

By Carl Pritchard

You might think that meditation and project management are not natural go-togethers, but they are. In fact, thanks to my wife (queen of the meditators), I'm beginning to believe that meditation is a requisite skill for virtually all of life's little situations. Just yesterday evening, I checked into a New York City hotel, with a room on the 30th floor. After beginning to unpack, my deli-delivered dining experience arrived in the lobby, and I got the call from the hotel operator to come downstairs to pick it up. Grabbing a t-shirt and $20, I headed downstairs for my evening's gustatory delights. The elevator lurched as I stepped on, but I really didn't give it a second thought. That "second thought" waited about 12 floors, where the elevator seized and I found myself motionless.

Punch a few buttons. Wait. Nothing.

Ring the bell. Wait. Nothing.

Ring the bell again. "This is hotel security. We see that the elevator is stuck. We'll try to get someone up there as soon as we can."

For over an hour, I sat on the elevator floor, with the occasional rap on the door from security to ensure I was still breathing. I had no cell phone, no laptop, no technology of any kind. I was in a t-shirt, slacks and socks. I had nowhere to go. Nothing to do. (In fact, I had to laugh when the security guy said, "You still in there??" What!? I had slipped out unnoticed?)

How does this tie to our project management experience? When things are going poorly (or we simply perceive them that way), we need to find meditative moments. We need to take pause and be sufficiently quiet to the noise around us to know that we are able to seize value from the silence.

The effort to achieve calm and silence has so many advantages. Tonight (on the same trip, no less), on the way to DC from NYC, my train came and went without me. They never opened the cars on the front end of the train, and without realizing they weren’t waiting for something else, the Amtrak simply pulled away. The temptation for a few of us to scream was palpable. Instead, a moment's calm led to a simple realization that Amtrak would be expecting those of us who missed the moment to trot back down to the ticket counter and try, try again.

Projects are rife with these types of frustrations. Be it the aggravation of a missed deadline or the annoyance of a team member with endless questions, the ability to seize a moment's calm and build a reserve of energy (not borne of pent-up frustration), is incredible.

Never meditated? It’s one of those "a-moment-to-learn-a-lifetime-to-master" kind of things. Most meditation classes suggest a focus on breathing. Deep. Slow. Cleansing. Breathing. Either with eyes closed, or with a focus on a blank spot on the wall. Slow, cleansing breaths. Try three slow breaths, focusing all of your attention on every moment of the breath. Focus on the slow, gradual intake of air. Focus on the slow release. Three times. Try it. I’ll wait here.

Other thoughts crept in, didn't they? You weren't just thinking about your breath, were you? It's easy to start, but it's very hard to follow through. But if you focus and practice, it gets easier. (My biggest problem was that once I figured out how to do it pretty well, I'd keep going and hyperventilate)! Note that your brief meditative experience lasted about eight or ten seconds. And look what it gained you. It afforded a moment's pause, a chance to regroup, and a mental freshness that you didn't have before you started. How often do you need that in a project? It also creates an interesting side effect. I've noted that when I spot my wife in a brief moment of meditation that she looks deeply thoughtful. Then I'll discover that she's just doing a quick meditation. There's value in that aura. There's value in having others see you as a thoughtful, pensive individual, willing to take a few moments to think through an issue or concern.

Whether the benefit is personal (in keeping you from losing your cool), professional (in creating an aura of thoughtfulness), or physical (in helping you to relax and focus), the benefits are real and tangible. They have value. They add to our abilities to perform and our capacity to handle and manage our responses to the world around us. Not bad for an eight-second solution.

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The 8-year project? DEAD.

Managing the "Background Project" (Part II)

The end of an excursion into project management

It was all so carefully planned. We were going to track a slow, methodical, project for you. From beginning to end, the plan was to update my investment property as an office and to catalog each of the modest changes along the way...for eight years.

It's up for sale.

The project is dead.

How did that happen? In just one quarter, we went from a grand eight-year plan to a dead project. The death of the project came as many others do. It came through the intervention of events that changed management direction. A different, nicer property came up for sale, and we're seizing that for the new office space. No sooner did we decide to change strategy entirely than I thought of the first article I had written about our efforts here. I had written these fateful words:

All too often, these are the types of projects that slip into a morass of neglect or fail to capture the imagination. It happens because there's no sense of urgency toward their completion.

The new property captured our imagination. It's a beautiful spot. It's just as close as the other one (only in the other direction). It has every amenity. It's all fixed up.

How do I not write this up as a failed project? Well, the floors were part of the original plan, and they were done before the new office space became available. So as we try to sell the old office, we're able to do so with a big line in the advertisement about "NEWLY FINISHED FLOORS!!" It's actually proven to be a major selling point.

I looked back on the first article on this effort and laughed at the last sentence:

Momentum remains positive, as the project is young and the stakeholders are enthused.

The stakeholders proved to have the attention span of a gnat. All it took was one clearly better opportunity to get them to change vision, close down the project, and move on to truly greener pastures.

The good news is that everyone involved recognizes the original 8-year vision was good, but it was overcome by events. The project is dead. But there's plenty of work to be done as we plan our move to the new office in February. Long live the NEW project!!

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Few Project Management Statistics

A Few Project Management Statistics
By Carl Pritchard, PMP #1049, EVP #63

Mark Twain is given credit for the quote regarding the three types of lies: "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics." Nonetheless, as I was considering what data to gather for this month, I thought it might be fruitful to share just a couple of the statistics of our profession and some very brief thoughts on them.

According to the Project Management Institute (of Newtown Square, PA), there are:

More than 265,000 members of PMI in over 170 countries. Think about that. That's the ultimate roundup of deliverables-focused professionals. That's roughly the population of Birmingham, Alabama...all project managers. That's one project manager for roughly every 1,100 people in the U.S. Perhaps we should just divide ourselves up by population sector and each take responsibility for one group. Oh, that's right! It is global. That would make it one project manager for every 22-thousand people. Wow...that's the entire population of the nation of Andorra! (It's between France and Spain on the map…)

Over 260,000 certified Project Management Professionals (PMP®). If each of them is getting 60 hours of training each renewal cycle, that's over 15.5-million hours of training. Laid end-to-end, that's one person sitting in training from the middle of the Roman occupation until today. Whew. And that's just one cycle!

Then, take the statistics from just one organization heavily invested in project management. I decided to use ABB since I haven't worked with them in more than a decade, but I really respect what they do. According to their website (, they have:

Over 29-billion dollars in revenues for 2007. No matter how you cut it, that's sizeable. That's roughly a quarter-million in revenue generated per ABB employee.


We should. We really should. The reason I bring this whole topic up is that we all have a vested interest in who is counting what. The amazing thing is that many times, the counting is being done, and we don't even know that anyone is keeping track. And then, when we find out that they were keeping track, we're not sure how they're doing the measurements. And if we find out how they're doing the measurements, we don't agree with their approach, or style or practice or calculations.

Project managers seek to distinguish themselves as professionals, and yet we don't have a lot of consistent metrics that we can apply. For accountants in the U.S., they have something called the Generally Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP). For project management, we have the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. What's the difference? In project management, we definitely consider the PMBOK® a "guide" rather than the way we have to do business.

I would contend that if we're going to create a profession that has true meaning in the longer haul, we need to look at the PMBOK more as a true standard that represents the hallmark and guidance for our profession. If we know how the measurements are being taken and what they mean, we have a much higher probability of achieving success and in getting the proper degree of recognition for that success.

If we can standardize on our practices (as we've been able to do in some small areas, like earned value), we have a chance to have meaningful project statistics that can actually drive us to a higher level of both success and recognition. If, by contrast, we continue to consider ourselves too busy for honest, effective, meaningful numeric record-keeping, we may be consigning ourselves to join the liars of Twain's remarks. The only consolation in the ad hoc approach is that we will not be alone. Most business practices still have not found the joy inherent in rigid, lockstep, consistent practice (which, in project management, should be a little slice of heaven). So as Twain also said:

Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Sunday, October 05, 2008



This morning was not a bad morning. But it was enough of a bad morning that at 9:30, almost three hours after the wake-up alarm, I decided to do a do-over, and start my morning afresh. I was even able to convince my wife to do likewise, sitting down for a second cup of coffee and starting the day new.

What had gone wrong? Nothing major. The cat missed its litter box. My son was stung by a bee in bed. The cat box needed to be changed out completely. The basement fan had a vine growing into it from the outside of the house, making a loud "ticking" noise. I had to scour my son's room to find the errant bee (which I discovered and removed).

Nothing major. But at 7AM, that's a lot to take in, and not the way to start one's Labor Day holiday. So, at 9:30, with the world spinning back on its axis, I declared a mulligan and decided to start my day fresh. Back to the bathroom to wash my face. Back to the sun room for a cup of coffee. Mulligan.

If you've never heard the world "mulligan" it refers to a "do-over" in golf, and comes from the early days of the sport, when rather than a tee, the golfers piled a small pile of dirt for the tee shot. That small pile was called a "mull". If it resulted in a poor shot some golfers would request a "mull ­ again". There are a host of other etymological explanations for the term, but that's the earliest, and mirrors the spirit of the mulligan most accurately.

Ever play a bad shot in golf and get a mulligan for a much better shot? It's a great relief.

Ever cook something so badly that you scraped the leavings into the trash and tried from scratch? Mulligan! And the final meal is edible!

Ever botch a conversation so radically that you've said, "Can we start this over?" Mulligan! And you finally get your point (and the spirit of that point) across.

In project management, we are far too reticent in declaring mulligans. We don't go there for fear of looking like we don't know what we're doing, or because we don't think it will get us where we need to be when we need to be there. And yet, there's a lot to be said for starting fresh. In taking the one step back, the next two steps forward are often more confident and more positively framed. We know where we were, know what's gone wrong, and know what paths we wish we had taken. There's a sense of clarity that often didn't exist when the effort was originally underway.

Granted, you don't want to be doing this too frequently, but done on a truly as-needed basis, the mulligan is a powerful tool. It can eliminate the sense of frustration that comes with heading down the wrong path or fighting the tides of frustration for too long. It can also give a sense that this time, progress will be made at a reasonable pace in a reasoned way. It affords a firm foundation for the efforts ahead. It can also serve as a way to say to team members that we are committed to doing the work right, not just producing the end product. In many customer environments, that's a crucial distinction.

From a motivational perspective, it's also critical. For some teams, slogging through the morass of slow, unsure progress is daunting. But taking a step back to get sure footing can provide a common vision that everyone is aligned, firm in their conviction and clear on their direction.

A mulligan is sometimes seen as a great weakness or a failing. But in the right situations and context, it makes so much more sense than simply trying to make a bad situation work going forward.

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Monday, September 01, 2008

8 Years and Counting

Managing the "Background Project"
The beginning of an 8-year excursion into project management

Most project management literature of late focuses on the 'fast burn' and immediacy of project management. And yet, many projects (and many project managers) are faced with slow, plodding, long-term efforts that have their own unique set of challenges. This article marks the first in a quarterly, ongoing series that I'll be posting here, God willing, for the next eight years. That's right. Eight years. This is not a project in a hurry. It's background noise. It's "other work as assigned." In my case, it's the refurbishment and revitalization of an older home (a fixer-upper) into new offices for Pritchard Management Associates. The eight-year plan includes improvement of roughly 300 to 500 square feet of facility space per year until the entire building has been revamped for our purposes.

The high-level WBS is as follows:

1.0 Facility refurbishment
1.1 Administrative Office Space/Kitchen
1.2 Management Office Space
1.3 Guest Office Space
1.4 Restrooms
1.5 Storage Areas
1.6 Supplemental Office Space
1.7 Reproduction/Copier Center
1.8 External Facility Rehab

The objective of the project is to have state-of-the-art working areas for two full-time and two occasional employees with support infrastructure including work and rest areas, functional kitchen and leisure space, and trim, well-appointed grounds complete no later than August 1, 2016 within annual budget limits to be determined at the beginning of each year.

It would be easy to be dismissive and say "Anyone can meet that type of deadline." Indeed, they could. The challenge is not meeting the deadline in this type of project; it's meeting the challenge of boredom, lack of focus, and the occasional desire to infuse other elements into the project that simply aren't there. It's also the challenge of keeping vendors and contractors on task.

All too often, these are the types of projects that slip into a morass of neglect or fail to capture the imagination. It happens because there's no sense of urgency toward their completion. At the same time, it's not possible to keep a knife-edge sense of near-panic alive for 8 solid years. Somewhere in the middle comes the gift --the ability to manage a project that requires years of occasional intervention while steaming ahead under a slow roll of momentum.

As we dissect this project over the next eight years, we'll talk through some of the classic challenges (and their resolutions) and we'll examine just when and how efforts like this can stumble and what makes them do so. The first mission at hand? The Administrative Office space:


1.1 Administrative Office Space
1.1.1 Floors (refinished)
1.1.2 Ceilings Leak repair Painting
1.1.3 Window Trim
1.1.4 Kitchen Trim (Formica)
1.1.5 Wood Paneling (polished)
1.1.6 Furnishings
1.1.7 Grill/Fireplace (restored)

The project will begin at the bottom and work its way up with refinished floors. The existing wood floors are stained from food, carpets and years of wear. The finished versions will be polished and polyurethaned.

Two vendors were initially contacted, both local to the office and both seemingly hungry for the work. The first pulled up in a gleaming Mercedes-Benz, conveying an image of success. They provided two quotes, one just for the administrative office space and one for all of the rooms in the facility with hardwood floors. They stressed that you only want to live through the refinishing experience once, and the larger-scale approach could be priced all the way down to $2000 if we were willing to have it all done at once.

The second vendor (Doug) arrived in a van the following morning, in shorts and tennis shoes, apologizing for being late, and stressing that he had to get to his morning job (a floor refinishing to which he was already committed). As he paced the floor, Doug emphasized the technical aspects of the work, and pointed out that he participated in every single job his company took on. He stressed that doing the entire facility at once would be a much smarter idea as well, and he also offered a price for the whole package. His quote? $1650. The difference of $350 notwithstanding, the more I thought about Doug's "I'll be there" pledge, the more I became inclined to feel like he was the right person for the job. The fact that his start time was at least two weeks later than his competitor was moot, as the entire project is still in the nascent days of an eight-year schedule.

The efforts begin next month. And by the time we meet again on this topic (in November), the plan is to have the floors finished, quotes on the kitchen, and the ceiling leaks repaired. So far, the project is on target and well within the prescribed budget of $3000 per room, although that's the official, organizational "ballpark" estimate. Momentum remains positive, as the project is young and the stakeholders are enthused.

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Another Can Do, I Can Do

What Another Can Do, I Can Do

I'll be the first to admit that one's deepest philosophical underpinnings should not come from a movie script, but I have to admit that I'm actually in that corner right now. Last week, my eldest son prodded me to watch a movie I hadn't seen in a while. It's called The Edge, starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. Hopkins plays a multi-billionaire trapped in the wilderness trying to find his way home. At about the mid-point in the movie, when much seems hopeless, he shares the revelation:

"What another can do, I can do."

He repeats the line over and over, trying to get Alec Baldwin to believe along with him. And eventually, they are shouting it together.

What another can do, I can do.

That's a powerful concept. I can never golf like Tiger Woods, but I can golf. I may never be Warren Buffett, but I can invest. What another can do, I can do.

I was reminded of the movie just a few days later, when a student of mine explained that he will never pass the PMP(r) certification exam. I pointed out that a quarter-million people had gone before him. He was clearly not the first.

What another can do, I can do.

It came to mind again when a PM at a client site asked what to do about those team members who really lack the confidence to take on even what seem to be simple challenges.

What another can do, I can do.

All too often, we forget the power of the human psyche. My wife marveled the other day as our plumber, Bruce, almost effortlessly unclogged the sink. She stressed that he accomplished what four bottles of Drano(r) had not. I pointed out that he had the right equipment, the incentive, and 30 years of unclogging experience. And then I asked her, "If you had all that, could you have done it?"

"Sure," she replied, "but I'd have still called Bruce."

What another can do, she could do, but only if she really wanted to.

That is so much a part of this. We spend a significant portion of our lives thinking that we can't do something when the reality is that we won't. In some cases, it's a function of a lack of drive. In others, it's a fear of failure. For ourselves and for our team members, we need to keep that philosophy front and center. We need to remember to encourage, support and hearten our team members by affirming their capabilities, present and future. If we limit those capabilities by simply assigning work to those who can already do activities well, we limit the organization's breadth. If we limit capabilities by only assigning work team members know how to do, they lose the opportunities for growth. We need to build and encourage them. We need to let them know we believe in them.

We also need to occasionally remind ourselves that we expand our capabilities only when we stretch. And stretching doesn't mean that we have to fail. It just means we have to be prepared to take the same protracted steps others have taken before us to learn, trip, fall, get back up again, and figure out something new. It's not easy. But...

What another can do, I can do.

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Friday, July 04, 2008

The Climate for Project Management - Global Cooling?

Good Evening, I'm Carl Pritchard with the Project Management Climate Forecast for the Summer ahead. Despite the extensive warming that we've seen over the past few years, I'm anticipating a somewhat precipitous drop in acceptance for project management in the days, weeks and months ahead.

We're seeing a trend coming out of the U.S. for lower profits and tighter margins. This front is expected to continue its sweep across the country for the year ahead, and that's going to push a lot of our project management efforts out to sea. Without the warmth of the dry corporate land to support them, I think it's fair to say that many of these projects will actually just be left adrift, with only a modest hope of being picked back up at a later date.

The two big hot spots in our PM forecast continue to be in India and China, where the desire for more and better project practices is heating up, despite what's happening here and on the European continent. But even with those pockets of heat, the overall cooling trend may continue into the next decade.

There are a couple of elements I see on our climate map that may cause some changes in the way the winds blow. For one, PMBOK 4 comes out this winter, and with it comes the potential for a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant mass of information. Also, the possibility of an uptick in the economy could quickly whip the winds back into the sails of projects otherwise left in the doldrums.

So...the short-term forecast? Look for a summer of cooling in the States and Europe, with fewer major initiatives and a general thinning of project management practice, while China and India will continue to warm up to the practices. Longer term? Look for flurries of activity in project management with the release of PMBOK 4th Edition in the winter, hopefully followed by a stronger economy and warmer days ahead.

This prognosticator's best suggestion for weathering the storms? Always think through the value you bring to the table and be prepared with the cost-saving rationale for project management. Project Management saves money whenever it's deployed properly. Now is the time to ensure you're able to make the defense of the practice, and make it well. It's the best way to weather the storm and to position yourself for sunny skies, and a brighter future.

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Friday, May 30, 2008

The WBS in Daily Life

The Clock is Ticking and the WBS is Here to Help

My eldest son was growing concerned over a paper he has due for college. It's supposed to be more than 20 pages, and he wasn't sure how to tackle it. I stressed to him that I strive to write three pages a day, no matter what. The emphasis was on breaking work down into manageable chunks.

It's funny how the principles of project management can infuse themselves into everyday life. I find that project management is, in many ways, more of a lifestyle than a career. It's a matter of respecting the needs and wants of individuals, serving those needs, and doing so in a way that has some fundamental logic associated with it. This week, with my son, I had the opportunity to wax philosophical about the WBS. The Q&A was quite revealing.

How will I ever get this big task done?

Big tasks can readily be broken down into smaller, more reasonable chunks. Very few people have it in them to sit down and write a 20-page missive. Most of us can churn out two or three pages. The key is to be able to set what degree of "manageable" sounds reasonable. Similarly, at work, the breakdown of big tasks may not have some pre-ordained logic behind it, so arbitrarily selecting a sub-set size may be the only way to get the job done. Whether it's coding a software module or developing a strategic corporate plan, the principles remain the same.

But you said "arbitrary." That seems like a bad way to be doing business.

I don't care. Arbitrary is fine. Really. And frankly, it's only semi-arbitrary. It's the amount of effort you can put in in a given period of time. But I think it's important to have some concrete production volume in that period. 3 pages. 75 lines of code. 15 comment responses. Whatever. I think part of the success in breaking work down is to do enough that you know you're making headway, and you have a relative sense of how many days, at the given rate of volume, represents enough to get the job done.

What if I get to the end of my chunk and I'm on a roll. Should I stop?

Up to you, but I do. I do because that way I live up to my promises to myself not to get bogged down in work that I genuinely don't enjoy. We want to have some balance in the work we do, and if 75 lines of code on each work day is enough to get the job done, we should strive to step back from it after that point. If I am feeling very gung-ho, I may go ahead and do an entire second round later in the day. But I take enough time away to tackle other work and put my mind in another space for a while. This way I don't feel guilty about moving on to other work.

What if the small piece takes longer than I expect?

That will happen. Period. Don't doubt it for a second. There will come a time when you go to do a small piece of work and it takes much longer than you anticipate. That's actually why I break it off on the other days. If you take time away on the days when you get done a little early, it doesn't make the tough days seem quite so onerous.

Still, it can take forever. I think I'll just wait until the weekend and try to tackle it all at once.

The work will be a lower quality. Your attitude toward it will degrade. You will develop a negative perspective on its value. It will become a monkey on your back. What about that is appealing to you?

As the conversation ended, I reflected on the fact that my wife (an accountant) has been on a four-month campaign to detail (like you detail a car) our home, one furnishing at a time. It's been very slow. But as I look around our home, she has spruced up, removed detritus, done detail work and made the place sparkle. Shelves are free of unused stuff, and older furnishings shine. Similarly, I did an inventory of articles I've written in the past ten years and found over 200. And my son, Adam will finish his paper. I have faith.

What makes the tedious tolerable? Manageable chunks. What ensures that we take advantage of the clock as time marches inexorably forward? Manageable chunks. What's going to make all the difference in the world as we try to leave a lasting mark on our organizations and our client environments? Manageable chunks. If we can just get the work down to the point where we can see some headway, we're doing ourselves, our team and our clients a huge service.

Don't discount the basics of project management. They're how the real work gets done.

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Stake Through the Heart

Burned at the... the ground

...through the heart

Pull up...


The origin of the word stake comes from stick. It was the sticks put in the ground to mark territory or ownership that gave us the current meaning of the term stakeholder. In the past year, I have been witness to a lot of interesting stakes relating to articles, publications, project office decisions and the occasional family matter. What I am learning about these "sticks" is something my mother used to warn me about.

Be careful with that! You will put your eye out!

Burned at the stake.

There is one horrible punishment. Strap someone to a stick and burn them alive. Pretty grim. And yet, most of the stake-burning going on today actually seems to be self-inflicted. At a local car dealership, I went in to buy a van. The gentleman selling the van explained that there was a process to be followed. I explained that I knew what I wanted, what I was willing to pay, and I just needed a final price to get the amount for the cashiers check that I was going to purchase. Full cash deal. No trade. No supplemental warranty. No extra treatments. I just wanted a van. He told me it would take a while to work up a number. I agreed to allow him an hour, and I would return from lunch, expecting to get a number, so that I could buy a brand new van. Cash. Today. When I returned, he directed me to his manager. His manager explained that mine was an odd request, and that I would still have to meet with the title and finance managers to get a number. I agreed, but said it needed to be done in 10 minutes. Ten minutes later, I was being directed by the finance manager to brochures on extras I did not want. I explained I did not want to go through this experience. He explained that:

It is our process. We HAVE to do it this way. You have to follow our lead on this.

I did not. I left with $30,000 to spend and made the deal elsewhere.

We are not in a stellar economy right now. The salesman has called me half-a-dozen times. I have stopped answering his calls. What burned this particular Toyota dealership on the deal? Their insistence on their stake.

We have a process. We are willing to burn our own commissions on the altar of this stake. We are willing to antagonize you to another type of vehicle because we have this process.

And the match is lit.

In reading commentary on a recent series of professional writings, I have seen labels put to project management practices:






Because a practice has fallen out of favor with some, does that make it completely invalid? In a discussion on brainstorming recently, I commented on how much I enjoy paper-driven brainstorming in the form of the Crawford Slip. The individual on the other side of the discussion asked if the Crawford Slip had truly been validated since the advent of the Post-It® note brought it back to popularity. I explained that the validations had been done in the 1920's and no, aside from one text (Mass Interviewing Techniques-University Press) I didn't know of any project management validation. I was berated for introducing unproven concepts into the project management discussion. A similar discussion over the risk strategy matrix yielded a similar lack of fruit.

Why challenge processes that work, but where most of the evidence is, truly, anecdotal? Because you have stakes in other processes.

Pull Up Stakes

To pull up stakes is to move, to change location entirely and to uproot one's current existence. Most of us are reluctant to do so, because it means a major change in our paradigms, what's acceptable, and what's environmentally correct. But maybe it is time, as project managers, to start pulling up stakes. Maybe we need to welcome some changes in process, or at least let others know how the stakes can be moved. To pull up stakes used to mean that territory was being redrawn. That CAN be a good thing. We can benefit greatly from the opportunity to move to a new perspective, tool or approach.

Or, we can drive our existing stakes deeper. And in doing so, generate the risk of being seen as inflexible, unyielding and unwilling to grow with new perspective. If we are going to leave stakes in the ground, let us at least use them to plant new ideas around. And as you stake your spring planting this year, remember that you benefit most when you move those stakes--just a little--from year to year.

I welcome your thoughts here or at

(Author's note: I am planting tomatoes this year, as always. My stakes will be in the ground, but I'm also growing one in an upside-down planter--just to keep it fresh)

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Friday, April 04, 2008

In Like a Lion

In like a Lion...Out like a lamb. Axiomatic Project Management...

March this year begins with a bluster along the East coast. A stiff breeze...snow in the higher elevations. And as the month began, I heard the old axiom: "In Like a Lion...out like a lamb." It's a saw, an axiom, an aphorism or an apothegm. It's a saying, a truism, a proverb...a maxim.

I thought of so many of "Poor Richard's" old sayings that used to hang on a towel rack in my Ohio home:

  • Many Wolves Grow Grey, but Few Grow Good.
  • If your head is wax, don't walk in the sun.
  • When the well is dry, they know the worth of water.
  • A little neglect may grow great mischief.
(OK, a towel rack is a weird place for proverbs, but that's where they were...)

In like a lion... So many projects start that way. Blustery. Confused. Cold. Relationships uncertain. The future looking downright Arctic. And yet, is it not those projects that (because of the investments we make in making them right) that go out like lambs? And conversely, those that we ignore or consider "easy pickings" from the beginning turn into the "lions" at the end?

I make this point because project management is often a perfect microcosm of so many things in life, which means that if we can find the classic life lessons, we can extrapolate them over to project management. From the ancient wisdom of the Tao to the modern insights of Dale Carnegie, there are powerful lessons to be drawn, if we're willing to draw them, and that's a big IF!

The beauty of prescribed wisdom is that people believe it, because it is not coming from internal sources. (A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country-Mark 6:4). When we find apothegms that make our points for us, we should leverage them. There's something different between a team member making a point and Ben Franklin making the same point. We tend to believe old Ben knew what he was talking about.

Take this simple example from Poor Richard's Almanac:

Want of care does us more damage than want of knowledge.

Ponder that for a moment. Don't you love it? It is SO project management-ish!

So what, Carl? I now have a catch-phrase. There's not a lot I can do with that. Yes there is. As an example, there's a gentleman who works for one of my biggest clients. I'll call him Reggie (not his real name). Reggie is a safety person in his organization, and he ends every meeting, phone call, e-mail, hall conversation and chat with the same phrase. "Have a Safe day," he says. As soon as you see him, you are thinking SAFETY. Even if your relationship has nothing to do with that role of his, it's what you are thinking about.

Now, think about the safety of axioms. Someone else wrote them, so you're not wholly to blame. If you tire of one, you can switch to another. BUT, if you find a few that resonate with you, they can become your signature. They can become a small component of what you represent. Just as Reggie immediately brings SAFETY to mind, you can build others' understanding of where you're coming from on projects with a nice, safe axiom.

Imagine the bottom of your e-mail signed with:

Contact Info
Want of care does us more damage than want of knowledge.
- Poor Richard

Imagine ending each meeting with that same phrase. Sooner or later, others will ask you to interpret, and at that point, you get to have intelligent philosophical discussion about your project management philosophy! It builds the project management dynamic on the foundations of history. And if builds the sense that you are interested in more than just the basic notion of getting work done. You actually have thoughts about how it should get done and how we can remove impediments to completing our efforts.

Axioms, maxims and sayings survive the test of time most often because they are true or resonate as true with those who have read them across the years and centuries.

As Poor Richard said: We may give advice but we cannot give conduct.

But we can give advice. And when we're trying to get others to follow our approaches in management, that advice can be critical.

When not trying to figure out Early American or Eastern philosophy, Carl Pritchard gives advice, serves on the board of directors of and is the lead chapter author for the risk management chapter of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 4th Edition. He is a principal with Pritchard Management Associates, author and internationally recognized speaker. He welcomes comments on his articles at

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Saturday, March 01, 2008

Baking Bread,Calculating PERT, and PMBOK 4th Edition

I've recently been at the heart of some modicum of controversy over the application of the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) with professionals who believe that the potential mathematical inaccuracies of PERT render it unusable in a project environment. They suggest that everyone willing to delve into the probabilistic nature of projects should start with Monte Carlo, forgoing the interim step of PERT as a means to calculate likely outcomes. As perhaps the last defender of the faith (aside from the nine major authors who, in the last six months, published books highlighting PERT as an estimating technique to mitigate risk), I would suggest that PERT is not the "be-all-and-end-all" of schedule risk evaluation tools. But I would also suggest that it is a vital interim step for those not willing to take on the challenge of wrestling with their first Monte Carlo assessments.

It comes down to baking bread.

I am a bread baker. Good bread. Artisan bread. Baked on a ceramic hearth. Every week. Our family doesn't eat store-bought bread. I haven't bought any in years. Why? Because we eat good bread. Real bread. No additives. No preservatives. Saturday mornings in our house are redolent with the heady smell of baking loaves. How did I wind up here?

When my wife and I married, we got a bread machine as a wedding present. It sat in the basement and moved around with us for the first twelve years of our marriage. (Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about PERT). Then, I broke it out and tried it. Hmmm.... Bread in a bread machine. It was OK. I used a box mix from the store. It wasn't anything marvelous, amazing or truly special, but it was warm and smelled pleasant. Shortly thereafter, someone suggested turning out the dough from the machine into loaf pans and baking it in the over. They pointed out that it makes a better loaf. It does. It makes a MUCH better loaf. And so, homemade bread became a tradition. Eventually, I stopped buying mixes. I created my own mixes. I got picky about flour (I'm a King Arthur fan, myself). And then, three years ago, I got a ceramic hearth liner for my oven for Christmas. The bread we consume now is crusty, home-crafted and wonderful. The stuff I made in the bread machine, comparatively speaking, was a pale imitation of REAL bread. I bake real bread now. This is the way it's supposed to be done.

The question is: Would I have ever gotten to where I am now if I had not learned the nature of what improves the process along the way? No. If someone had told me that I could not, should not and must not bake bread without a hearth liner, a baker's peel, the highest-quality flour and a well-tuned oven; I would have surrendered and kept on buying Sunbeam(r). The price of entry, both cash-wise and educationally, would have been too high.

Flash back to our discussion on PERT. There are some professionals who would have this 50-plus-year-old practice erased from memory because it is mathematically imperfect. Does it provide the same caliber of risk-driven estimates as some of the higher end tools like Monte Carlo (particularly Monte Carlo deploying a Latin Hypercube model)? No. But for some practitioners, the mere mention of Latin Hypercube caused a glazing of the eyes and thinning of the breath. Do I know how to use a Monte Carlo analysis now? Yes. I would not have gotten to an understanding of the distributions, statistics and the thinking behind it without PERT.

In the days ahead, the PMBOK(r) 4th Edition Exposure Draft will be released. Every PMI member gets a chance to offer his/her opinion on issues such as this. The 4th edition has served as the platform for the most recent discussions on PERT. Those who contend that PERT is WRONG have determined it should never be included in the PMBOK Guide again, and risk practitioners should start by using Monte Carlo alone to evaluate estimating risks. Those who contend that PERT is a stepping stone are taking one last shot at building it into the Guide. When you get the e-mail from PMI(r) asking for your opinion, please share your opinion, for or against. And if you need some REALLY good bread, stop by the house on any Saturday morning. (And thank my bread machine for starting me down this road...)

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Sunday, February 03, 2008

Resolving to Better Project Practice

Resolving to Better Project Practice
By Carl Pritchard, PMP, EVP

"Therefore be it resolved"

I Googled that little phrase and found over two-million hits. Two million resolutions. Two million commitments to the future. And as we launch 2008, we invariably hear personal resolution after personal resolution after personal resolution. And most of them, for weight loss, for abstention from bad habits or for perseverance on some daunting activity, fall by the wayside.

Why do we fail? We fail because we try to eat the elephant all at once. There's an old adage about "How do you eat an elephant?" to which the answer is "one bite at a time." Therefore, be it resolved, that we shall tackle our greatest challenges in true project management bite at a time.

Let me offer ten New Years' resolutions for you, and hope that maybe...just'll adapt/adopt one. Don't shoot for all ten. Pick one that's s you. Pick one that's realistic and achievable. Pick one that sounds like something that will improve your ability to do your job well.

-Create a set of dummy change forms. For the customer, for your team members, and for your management, create one set of dummy change forms with fake data in them (in the style and format you would want the real data to take). Give the gift of clarity to those who have to fill out the paperwork crucial to your success.

-Review one WBS for consistency. Pick one WBS and dissect it. At the work package level, are the work packages about the same scale, scope and size? Are the work packages described in a consistent fashion (All deliverables? All tasks?) Are the summary levels similar in nature. For the major or odd work packages, have you built WBS dictionaries? Are they stored in a common repository?

-Post the business need driving the deadlines for all of your major projects in your office or workspace. Post it in a large font for all to see. Let them know why the deadlines are deadlines!

-When MS-Project(r) asks you if you want to "Save with a baseline?", say "Yes!" Construct the WBS, the background information (especially resources) and schedules so that you can try saying "Yes!" for a change. And if you never know cost in your organization? Before you save the baseline, assign each resource at $1.00/hour. Then you can at least investigate the relative value of earned value in your project.

-Read the works of one quality guru. Pick a book about the practices of Deming, Juran, Crosby, Feigenbaum. Pick up a book on Six-Sigma management. Even if you never implement the practices as written, you at least know why you're not going to implement them.

-Have a PMI(r)-caliber team event. Host a team meeting and build the WBS together. Host a team meeting and network the activities. Host a team meeting and find out everyone's hometown and post it on a map. Do SOMETHING that creates a genuine sense of team and provides each team member with better insight into her/his peers that are doing the work.

-For one week, check your e-mail, and strive to expunge the word "You" from it as much as possible. Seriously. You'll be surprised how much it softens the tone of what's being written.

-For each work package in a WBS, find one risk event. Have the owner of the work package identify it. But give them a format to write it in. (My favorite: <> may happen, causing <>). Store it with your project plan in one of the text fields of your project management software package.

-Have one 20-minute meeting with someone in your contracts department to review a contract to which you're assigned. Don't look at the Statement of Work. Instead, review the implications of the terms and conditions (Ts&Cs) to the work you're doing. It can be an eye-opener.

-Take a major step toward a certification. Not a PMP(r)? Take a Preparation course (like the one to be held in Germantown January 22-23- ( and find out how much more work you have to do? Already a PMP(r)? Take a look at the PMI(r) website and see if you want to chase the new PgMP(r) certification. Or consider the other project management certifications offered by the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering ( Take the first step and download and fill out the application!

Now, here's a test to see if you're a true project management geek. Go back through the ten resolutions and see if you can identify why they're in the order they're in and what significance that may hold. I'm curious to see if you can figure it out, so for the first person to nail it (besides Rusty Richards), I'll offer a free seat at the January PMP(r) Certification exam preparation course in Germantown for you or a peer of your choosing. E-mail your answer to Happy resolving! And Happy New Year!

(PMI and PMP are registered trademarks of the Project Management Institute of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania)

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Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme - A Taste of History

Where do we go from here? That's not an easy question in most organizations. In fact, in most organizations, we find ourselves foundering on the notion that someone should be telling us what to do and where to go, despite the fact that we've done our project work a thousand times in the past and know largely what's involved. We don't truly seek direction. We seek approval. And that is where we are largely subverting our own innate project authority.

My sister is a world-class cook. She's a "best-in-show" blue-ribbon winner from one of the biggest county fairs in Ohio (a state which knows its fair share about fairs). I have often marveled at her ability to take an ordinary recipe and with a few little touches turn it into a culinary experience. My greatest learning from her has not come from any recipes she's shared or tools she has recommended. Instead, it has come from her insight on taking license with convention and game plans. It is her willingness to deviate from the norm without seeking approval or acceptance that I have found amazing. Does she stay unerringly close to the baseline recipes? You bet. Does she know where, how, and why she's taking exception? Again, you bet. Are these differences that the family would take umbrage at if we knew prior to a meal? Heck, no!

In other words, she knows the work, the plan, the places where the plan can be embellished to everyone's advantage, and she has a clear sense of what the embellishments can and will accomplish. And because she's a blue-ribbon winner, she also has to document those embellishments so that others can recreate what she's done.

In cooking, I learned all this with poultry seasoning. Thanksgiving. You know, the sage-y stuff that gets put into your holiday turkey? I found out the old Scarborough Fair lyric of "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" was actually the basic recipe for poultry seasoning. Stuffing! Simon and Garfunkel were singing about stuffing! What I learned was that if you increase the rosemary, you get a little more subtle Italian taste to the stuffing, which I like. And if you add real rosemary, it's even tangier.

I'm getting to be a better cook, thanks to my sister. But I also believe we can be better project managers if we take a page from her as well. If we know the original plan, what's involved, what's expected and where and how we can improve and embellish, we needn't sit idle and live with a mediocre process. We can make those marginal improvements that change the tone and flavor of our projects altogether. And we can take the initiative, since they don't fundamentally alter our relationships with our management, our teams and our customers. What they do provide is a better outcome, and a chance to build organization-wide improved outcomes as we document our recipes for success.

Take a chance. Spice your project this week. Bon Apetit!

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Risks of Complacency -- Does Silver Rust?

The Risks of Complacency
Does Silver Rust?

It's funny that I write for the Silver Spring Chapter of PMI's web site, given that I was born and raised in the Rust belt. Many of you have never even heard of Youngstown, Ohio (the nearest 'big city' close to my hometown), and given current trends, you probably never would have otherwise. Youngstown is the antithesis of Silver Spring. In Silver Spring, the economy is booming, and if you can afford a home, it means that you have been saving a lot of money through the years to make it happen. Home values are on the rise, jobs are plentiful, and the big question is not whether you have a job, but whether or not it's the right one.

Contrast that with Youngstown. When I was growing up, Youngstown was a bustling steel town with a population well over 160,000. Today, the population has dwindled to less than 80,000. In the past three years alone, 5,000 people have joined the exodus. As the U.S. steel business has changed, Youngstown has begun struggling with what they euphemistically call "smart-sizing" issues. They are trying to hang on to the shrinking tax base and population.

In Silver Spring, the median home price is over half-a-million dollars. "Bargain" is anything under $300K. In Youngstown, you can still easily find bargains under $50,000 and the median home price is $115,000. The reason for this snippet of U.S demography? No one in Youngstown in 1965 or 1970 would have seen this coming. As fire belched from the mills, the town was riding a boom that seemed insatiable.

Could the same fate befall Silver Spring?

I don't think so, Carl. We have the government, not steel, as our primary industry.

Fair enough. But the reality is that no-one thought Youngstown's outcome would be as it has. No one could envision a city with half the population and a median income of $26,500. (Silver Springs' median income is over $61,000).

And what does this have to do with risk?

To get to where they are now, the folks back in Youngstown lived with a host of assumptions. They assumed that the environment was static; they assumed unions would continue to rule, they assumed no one would want to use different processes to make steel, and they assumed the government would ensure that the city continued to thrive.

Alarmingly, complacency is born of assumptions and culture, and a major concern that we should have is rooted in the notion that assumptions don't tend to change, leading us to a false sense of security. Classic examples? NASA and Challenger. Driving "with traffic" and your last speeding ticket. High blood pressure and heart attacks. We believe because we have survived risk one day that we will inherently survive it the next. But we fail to re-evaluate the conditions.

Great, Carl. Now you're telling me I should live in a constant state of paranoia?

Not at all. What we should do is live in a constant state of re-evaluation. (Please brace for an existential moment). If you read some Eastern philosophy (I Ching, the Tao), you find that they emphasize the ability to live within a given moment. They stress the importance of not borrowing from the past or driving too heavily into the future. The emphasis is on capturing the present. Meditation, and virtually all types of self-evaluation drive home the importance of recognizing the moment.

This ties into risk management in some rather surprising ways. Instead of evaluating risks exclusively on history, it points us to the need to look at a given moment in time and ask whether or not that moment has characteristics that make it risk-distinctive. The question is not "Are there distinctive characteristics that make this moment unique?" The answer to that is always "yes." The question is "Are there distinctive characteristics that generate a higher threat or opportunity level than we otherwise anticipated?" THAT is the hallmark of a non-complacent risk environment.

Leveraging that Insight

We can actually leverage that insight if we're willing to start our project meetings with that existential question: "What makes the project special today?" and then follow it with how that might impact our risk or opportunity posture. Just that simple question reminds team members that we live in a fluid environment, and that the moment today is going to be some cases radically so...from the other moments in our project environment. It opens the door for a heightened awareness not only of risk, but of all of our project considerations--time, cost and requirements--as well as individual team member, management and customer satisfaction. With that constantly refreshed perspective, we don't take the "now" for granted. We accept it with all of the changes and insights and differences that it may bring to bear on our capacity and likelihood for success.


Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Monday, November 05, 2007

Projectizing the Personal - Welcome to Work Package

Welcome to the beginning of a new project...I am turning 50. This month, I have the delight of reaching the magic 5-0 mark, and joining the ranks of those working on their second half-century.

Carl! Point of order! This is not a project. A project has a defined beginning and end. There is a clear objective. It is unique.

I definitely have the "unique" part down. As for a defense of the other points, let me suggest to you that it is a project in the truest sense of the term, and it is one where I am striving to succeed. Moreover, I think it is emblematic of the way in which we should view our day-to-day lives in order to really savor the benefits of effective project management.

The simplest objective of my project is to make it to the next decade milestone...60. Survival is defined for this project as reasonable health (physical and mental), and the time to enjoy them along the way.

As I look at the ten-year project that lays ahead, I need to consider how I will break down the work into manageable chunks. I believe 1.1 of my WBS is the physical, while 1.2 is the mental. My mental health breaks down into two major chunks...professional and personal. My professional mental health breaks down into major professional areas, including public speaking, teaching/mentoring, writing and voluntarism. Writing breaks down into articles and books. Articles include this blog, which, God willing, will include 120 subtasks over the next 10 years. (Success in my WBS will be measured by anything over 100).

Think about that. Tracking personal information is not something we generally do well. And yet, If we do, we have the opportunity to build an impressive (if not inspired) list of accomplishments. Last year, I spent some of my free time sifting through almost a decade of e-mail trying to figure out how many PMPs under my tutelage had passed the exam. My personal goal? 1,049. (I am PMP #1049, and I thought it would be cool to find out that I had taught more successful PMPs than existed when I sat for the exam). When I finished the tally, the number crested 2,000. I never dreamed the number was near that high.

All too often we lose sight of the aggregated effects of our accomplishments. Think about yourself. What do you do on a daily or weekly basis? Hit a bucket of golf balls? Have you pounded #10,000 yet? Do you fill out weekly status reports for your supervisor? Have you completed #500? Do you go fishing with your children? Have you caught #3 yet? (That's the number we were working on last time we went). When defined as discrete tasks and milestones, there's a sense of accomplishment associated with the mundane. If we don't track the information, those everyday accomplishments are lost in the sea of other activities.

Should we celebrate and mark the everyday? ABSOLUTELY! I genuinely look forward to the completely unneeded chocolate cake with chocolate icing. I plan to relish every present and every well-wish as I cross what is realistically just another "blip" on the calendar. Why? Because if we don't track this stuff, no-one will. If we don't spread some modicum of enthusiasm for the ordinary, no one else on the team will, either. And if we don't encourage those around us to acknowledge what they bring to the table, and provide them (and ourselves) with a means to define it manageably and calculate progress and success, then our efforts are potentially for naught!

Hey! Do you realize that you just built your expertise in project management by one more article? You should make a note of how many of these things you sort through in a year. You might genuinely amaze yourself. That's one article many more to go??

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Monday, October 01, 2007

Day by Every Way...Getting Better

Those who know me well know me to be the terminal optimist. There will never be a time when there's no work. There will never be a time when there are not new opportunities. There's a brighter day ahead. I write this in reflection after reading my last column, which makes me sound like a bit of a "doom-and-gloomer". I'm not. On that score, I am my mother's son.

My mother (Mary Beth Hoon Pritchard) was a wonderful human being. She taught elementary school much of her life, and she had that "tomorrow-is-a-brighter-day" attitude. On the days when tomorrow did NOT seem brighter, she would take her thumb and index finger, juxtapose them and start see-sawing them back and forth saying "One finger, one thumb....keep moving." It was her way of saying that there's no point in mulling over problems and not making forward progress. It was her way of reinforcing that there's progress to be made, whether the environment warrants it or not. That may not sound like an optimistic act. In fact, it comes across as a dictum to soldier on, despite adversity. But it is optimism. And it's optimism in the perfect frame for project managers.

Projects are often the fruit of someone's optimism. The Statue of Liberty, for example, was the optimistic act of Frederic Bartholdi, who wanted to acknowledge the centennial of the United States. Like so many projects, it had supporters and detractors. The statue was hard to fund... (One finger, one thumb...) The statue was considered a waste of U.S dollars... (One finger, one thumb...) The statue almost sunk at sea and then sat in crates for most of a year (One finger, one thumb...) The pedestal ran out of money... (One finger, one thumb...) The statue was ten years late (One finger, one thumb...) For those with true vision, the image of the lady in the harbor never changed. But there must have been times when the challenges seemed insurmountable.

How did they survive?

One day at a time. Knowing that every day that passed was another day closer to fruition (WHENEVER it happened).

We tend to think of optimism as cheerfulness, exuberance and ebullience. The reality is that optimism (according to is "a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome." Does that inherently lead to a brighter disposition? Perhaps. But it is a matter of perspective. It's a perspective that says that we have the ability to succeed...eventually.

Our role as project managers is to infuse that kind of attitude into our projects and our teams. It's not an attitude that "Everything is all right", but instead is an attitude that "We will achieve positive results...eventually. And in the meantime, we must continue to move forward".

If we can instill that attitude (that any day of even the most modest progress is a good day), we create the sense that our efforts have meaning. Victor Vroom (social theorist and management guru) deduced (in his expectancy theory) that if we believe our work will ultimately have meaning and that we have hope of achieving that goal, that we will be motivated to produce. Vroom believed tomorrow could be a brighter day as well. Just like Mom. Just as we should.

So what's the first step? That's what I'd like YOU to post. Or e-mail me. Or better still...just DO! I'd like you to take one small step toward sharing the notion that you and your team and your peers have a chance at better outcomes. And that you can do it with one tiny incremental step!

(for e-mail, send them along to Thanks for reading!!

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Monday, September 03, 2007

It Can't Possibly Get Worse!

"It Can't Possibly Get Worse!" From projects to personal health to neighborhood chats over the fence, those five fateful words seem almost invariably to be harbingers of doom. No sooner does one utter them, than things DO get worse. A dry spell becomes a drought. A mole becomes a melanoma. A delay becomes a lawsuit. It's pretty darned grim! Yet somehow, by sharing those few words, we get the sense that we have set a limit on bad. For future reference, there's no limit. Things can always get worse.

Thanks, Carl. I feel much better about my life now.

Well, you should! Why? Because if we acknowledge that there are no boundaries on how far down a project can potentially go, it means that we have not hit bottom! We are not living the "worst-case scenario!" There is a worse case. And as such, we have extended the range of how much things can improve from where we are right now. Knowing the depths of negative possibilities means that we also have the opportunity to show how far above the bottom of this nigh-bottomless pit we are.

In having some work done in our yard, we found out that they'd have to dig a trench from the house 100 feet across the lawn. Can it get worse? Sure. They found a huge patch of poison ivy in the area where they're digging. Can it get worse? Bedrock. Can it get worse? I don't ask that question any more, because I know there's the possibility someone will answer "yes." Indeed, the contractor working the job shared the story of a client who had a native American archaeological find on the land where he wanted to put in a feature. The opportunity created by the find was enough to push back his intended project by almost a year. Why did he share this nightmare scenario with me? He did it to make me feel better. It CAN get worse...and to my good fortune, as yet, it has not.

Oddly enough, team members, family members, even folks on our own management teams tend to share information about their own worst-case scenarios. They outline the dark, nightmare scenarios, and we tend to see those scenarios as situations where they're trying to depress us. In fact, often, the reason they're sharing the information is both as a catharsis for their own pain, but also to make us feel better that our situations have not plumbed the same depths as theirs once did.

Think of the inverse. Ever run into the terminally cheery person? A bit out of season perhaps, but did you ever get the Christmas Card letter that details the virtually Olympic achievements of the family who sent it?

We have more things than you, we make more money than you, our children are prettier than yours, and we're living a nearly perfect life. Our world is perfect while you are mired in sludge. Happy Holidays!

Who makes you feel better about yourself? That person? Or the person who sends you the e-mail sharing a litany of their concerns and woes? Oddly enough, it's the latter, rather than the former. It's not a matter of schadenfreude (delight in the woe of others). Instead, it's that you feel like you can empathize more with the latter.

So how does this help us in our projects? It helps in a number of ways. First, it helps from a team perspective. Second it helps from a risk perspective. And third, it helps in establishing and adjusting management expectations.


From a team perspective, when team members want to share bad news, we should welcome it. First, it affords them the ability to identify problems that others may be able to help with, and second, it gives them the ability to clarify the limits of their capabilities in resolving some of those challenges and conflicts.


By allowing and encouraging discussions on how much worse things could get, we afford team members to paint darker scenarios than currently exist. If we know this information, we can then assess the relative probability and impact and ensure that there's a common understanding of how much time and energy we really should devote to the worst-case scenarios.


From a management perspective, we need to take the opportunity to show management that there are depths that have not yet been plumbed, and that we are currently in a situation with plenty of room for improvement. The range of that "room for improvement" widens as things get worse. If we can get management to buy in to the improvement plans we develop, knowing the range that exists goes a long way toward a clearer, more effectively shared understanding of where the project is and may go.

The 1966 "beat" novel is titled Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. That's not an altogether negative state of being. It can be if we dwell (personally and corporately) on the notions that being down means there's no hope of improvement. Or it can be construed in a completely different fashion. It can mean that we are now able to look positively upon the accomplishments of the past and hold them in higher esteem than we otherwise might have because we understand only in the darkness how bright they actually were!

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Your Volunteer is Here! And He Has L'Attitude!

Do I have a volunteer? Fateful words, n'est-ce pas? Those are among the most dangerous words answered in virtually any setting. The simple raising of a hand for a question or the clearing of the throat can result in a months- or years-long commitment with no end in sight. But what of voluntarism? Have we forgotten the very nature of the beast?

Voluntary - c..1374 (implied in voluntarily), from L. voluntarius "of one's free will"

Online Dictionary of Etymology

I'm currently serving with three different committees/groups as a volunteer. I'm having three very different experiences. In one, I am perceived as an indentured servant. I signed up. And they believe they have me through the end of 2008. I made a commitment (and frankly, they're right. I'll stick it out). In another group, nothing is ever asked of me and no action is made on my part. In yet a third (Silver Spring PMI), I've been asked to shape the work that I do in this little corner of the website, and make it my own! I get to do what I want! Yeeeeeee-hawwwwww!

Which of these three currently has my imagination whirring? Which is truly energizing activity which is helping me broaden myself a little professionally? The local chapter wins, hands down. Why? They granted me latitude. Which has significantly improved my attitude about whether or not volunteering is a good idea. When Rusty Richards asked if I was game to do this, I was actually enthused. Why? Because I get to make this in my own structure and approach. I'm doing it my way.

What can we learn from this? Think about the people who are "volunteered" to our projects. Many of them come to us with a serious attitude problem. They don't want to be there, but management has thrust it upon them. We have two choices. We can treat them as our indentured servants... there to put in their time, OR we can ask them how they would like to shape the work. We can ask them how the work can work best for them. We can afford them the opportunity to approach their work in ways that make them energized and comfortable that they have some modicum of control. We should be working for a latitude attitude ---the attitude that is associated with knowing you have some leeway in how you approach what you're doing. Granted some work has to be done in particular ways at particular times, but more often than not, there are some aspects which can be left to individual discretion. The more discretion we can afford our "volunteers", the more we can hope for a positive, liberating and energizing experience for those around us.

Email This! -- Posted by Carl Pritchard on Tuesday, July 03, 2007

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