Rant Archive

4

Office of Zombie Personnel Management

You can talk to a zombie but don't expect them to listenA few days ago, we had a snow storm come through the Washington DC area.  Just a few hours before it hit, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced Federal Employees should depart 2 HOURS earlier than their normal departure time from work.  Unfortunately, if you were anyone in the Washington DC metro area and you left 2 hours earlier, you were screwed!  I heard of people being stuck in traffic for up to 12 hours, trying to get home.  It was a combination of people not using their own brains and OPM not knowing how to react to the weather.  There were a lot of people angry at OPM for making the late call and underestimating the volume of people leaving at the same time (due to the storm).

One issue is the Federal Government has been really slow to adopt telework.  When there was a threat of pandemic flu, they appeared to be paralyzed with fear, at the thought of people actually working from home.  Many of us (contractors) tried to explain we would actually get more work done, if we had the opportunity to telework.  If more people were teleworking, fewer would be out there messing up traffic.  Last year, when the Federal Government shut down for 4 days due to snow, many of us sat at home and did nothing.  It wasn’t by choice, mind you.  We were not authorized to do any work outside the office.

Part of my frustration rests with the fact that in the corporate world, teleworking or having distributed teams is not uncommon.  It’s not perfect but I would say it works.  We’ve figured it out, leveraging a combination of communication tools and approaches.

The other main issue is the lack of practical wisdom or the desire to just take care of people supporting the Federal Government.  I’ve previously quoted the definition of Practical Wisdom as

Have the moral will to make right by people.
Have the moral skill to figure out what doing right means.

As a contractor, for the last 2 days, I’ve been in the office.  If I was not, I won’t be paid.  For the last 2 days, this notice has gone out.

With forecast conditions for [date] highly variable and may include ice, sleet, and freezing rain, concern for safety is paramount. To protect the safety of Federal workers and our community, maintain continuity of operations and assist employees in planning accordingly, OPM has announced for [date], the option for unscheduled leave/telework.

Well, the freezing rain did not come.  Yes, the parking lots yesterday morning were icy.  But, the roads were fine yesterday and they were fine today.  If fact, the forecasted high temperature for today is 54 degrees!

Because OPM announced all Federal workers could either take leave or telework, most did.

Let’s see how much work gets done today.

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0

Zombie Culture

How do you refer to your company or team culture?  Do you refer to yourself and your immediate team as “we” or “us” and to your company or extended team as “they” or “them”?  If you do, do you think this is a problem?  I do.

For arguments sake, let’s refer to you as a non-zombie and we’ll refer to your extended team or company as the potential zombies.

Though it was fun back in the 5th grade to play a game of tug of war with your classmates, it’s not so cool when you’re working in a corporate environment.  Projects can be challenging enough.  You shouldn’t have to be distracted by other groups who don’t have the same high level goals or values as yourself.  You should be working as a team in order to be successful.  But, does your team or company have clearly defined goals or values?  I’ll ask it a different way.  Does your team or company have them written down; you know what they are; and you know what they mean?  If not, you and your group are at risk of being part of the zombie culture.

Zombie culture is a lot more common than you might think.  Zombies have no specific goals, other than to eat your brain.  They’re not trying to make you a zombie.  Becoming a zombie is merely a byproduct to having been bitten by the undead.  They really don’t care.

I’ve said before, don’t do something unless it’s applicable to meeting a goal.  But I bet you’re asking yourself right about now, “Derek, if my coworker doesn’t smell like rotting flesh or isn’t squatting in a corner knawing on a foot, how do I know they are a zombie?”  I’ve compiled a list of a few indicators of zombie culture.

Zombie Culture Indicators

  • Hosts meetings…long meetings… several of them…with no agenda… with several invitees.
  • Stops by your desk a lot to ask what’cha doin’?
  • Withholds information for personal gain
  • Just shows up for work and thinks they are doing you a favor
  • Farts (Actually, thinking of a farting zombie made me laugh so I thought I would add it)
  • Uses the “cc” email feature by default, when the recipient has nothing to do with the conversation
  • Uses the “reply-all” email feature to continue conversations that don’t pertain to the group
  • Is disrespectful
  • Is untrustworthy (with throw you under a bus)
  • Does not lead by example
  • Tries to impress everyone by how smart they are. (that’s a more advanced zombie type)

I can go on and on but I really don’t like negative posts.  Let’s turn this around.  What values can you and your team have that will have zombies avoiding you like the perfume department of the local Macy’s department store?

Values to Repel Zombie Culture

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Expect to deliver the extraordinary
  • Treat others with respect
  • Promote collaboration and teamwork
  • Encourage creativity and risk-taking
  • Make and meet our commitments
  • Trust and support one another
  • Be Humble

I’m going to admit, I didn’t think up those awesome zombie-repelling values.  I got them from Zappos and VersionOne. I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t think either of those organizations have zombie cultures.  Can you say the same for yours?

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0

(Zombie) Customer Service

I’m currently enjoying Delivering Happiness, the book by Tony Hsieh of Zappos.  In the book, his approach to customer service reminds me a lot of what Seth Godin wrote about in his book, Linchpin.  For those looking to map this to an activity in the PMBOK, I see this falling under Manage Stakeholder Expectations (Executing and Communications).

In any case, I can relate to my intent to communicate directly to people as people, not as mere customers, vendors, or colleagues.  Every day, I see people act as though they have no free will to make a decision.  They ignore what is right or wrong.  They act like they need permission to be honest and humble. They act like…wait for it…zombies!  Yes, zombies!

I recently sat in a meeting and heard how the vendor screwed up.  I’m talking completely-their-fault nobody-else-to-blame screwed up.  When confronted by the customer, their reaction was “I’m sorry you feel that way about [this].  I respect how you feel.”

My reaction?  [expletive] YOU, man! I don’t care if you respect how I feel or not.  And don’t try to feed me that Dr. Phil line about me owning my own feelings!  What I want to hear you say is “I’m sorry we screwed up.  I will do whatever I can to make this right.”

Another scenario that comes to mind was my wife contacting a credit card company about something.  The customer service rep was painfully unprepared to talk to a human being.  They could not deviate from a script one word without needed to talk to a supervisor.

Thank you for calling.  We appreciate your business.  Can we interest you in buying our credit protection plan? [my wife complaining] Oh, I’m sorry, can I put you on hold while I discuss this with my supervisor? [5 minutes later....click]

People, you want to provide great customer service?  Empower your customer service representatives.  Vendors, you want to provide great customer service? Empower your teams to admit when they screwed up and offer to fix it, not just cover it up.

I’ve always seen the best performance from my teams, when they knew what we needed to do but were not being told how they needed to do it.  I believed they would make the right choices for us all to reach our goals.  Those of you in the Agile community get this already.  Empower the team and communicate with everyone as much as possible.  Don’t just communicate.  Talk to them.

So, as I step down off my rant soapbox, I want you to take a look at the Zappos core values (listed below). They actually remind me of the 4 values, 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto or Agile community as a whole.

Zappos core values

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

If you had 10 core values for your project or team, how would you refine this list?

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8

Failing The Exam

Here comes the rant

One of the things people know about me is I’m always willing to help them out.  I’ve been in the business of Project Management for 15 years.  I’ve lived the life as a Project Management Professional (PMP) and as a Certified Scrum Master (CSM).  These days, either certification will get you either praise or disdain. It just depends on the company you keep.  Some out there have heard me rant about people who I don’t believe deserve to say they have a certification, based on their motivations.  You should get a CSM or a PMP as proof of a minimum level of competency; that you support what they represent.  I see them as mere indicators of where you are on the path of mastering your craft.  Some have also heard me rant about certification boot camps that will guarantee a certification or your money back.  Ask yourself, why do/did you want that certification?  My holier-than-though attitude kicks in when the response is/was “because it looks good on a resume“.

Where am I going with this

I was approached a while back by someone looking for assistance in prepping for his PMP.  He is not a project manager (never was; never will be) and does not want to be.  But, his company told him to get the certification.  He got his membership with PMI, which his company paid for.  He then hit a wall when completing his exam application.  He didn’t have the experience.  There are ways around that, right?  Just get someone to agree with your stories or pray like hell that you don’t get audited (or both).  When he approached me, the first thing I asked was “what’s your goal?”  His response was “to not get audited“.  Um, ok.  Let’s try this again.  “What’s your long term goal?”  His response was ” to get Corporate off my back.”  I felt betrayed by PMI, the day I found out he registered for the exam and was not going to be audited.

The update

After attending a week-long (he needed the 35 hours of project management education) money-back-guaranteed PMP bootcamp last week, he sat for the exam.  He failed.  He failed badly.  Now, I’m not going to be mean.  I feel bad for the guy.  He now has to explain this to those who were paying him to take the exam.  I am relieved, however, that there is one less unquantified PMP out there.  But, when I asked him if he thought the exam was hard he gave me a very good answer.  He admitted he didn’t even understand half of the terminology or formulas, let alone when and why he would use them.

And that is the broader lesson I want people to understand.

You need to understand when and why you do things.

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2

I won’t be staying late with you

I have to again give credit to 37signals.  In their book Rework, they pointed out the 800 pound gorilla in the room, over and over again.  This video is a “gorilla” I’ve been dealing with for the last 15 years.

I usually arrive at the office around 06:30 or 07:00 (2 hours before anyone else).  Why?  I’ll probably get more done in those 2 first hours than I will the rest of the day.  Though I only check my email at the top of each hour, I still deal with meetings and people “dropping by” to ask me questions or to tell me about the newest restaurant in their neighborhood.  Interruptions mean you don’t get work done. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make your customer happy. I’m saying you should be able to get it done without working late.

Tell me if this sounds familiar.  Some of your co-workers show up at the office around 09:00 (closer to 09:30) and then take a 1.5 to 2 hour lunch break.  They then don’t understand why you turn down meeting requests scheduled for late in the afternoon or don’t respond to emails sent to you after business hours.  Just because someone is unable to manage his or her work, I am not going to feel guilty for not working late.  Before I had a family or understood work-life balance, I didn’t hesitate pulling an all-nighter at the office.  Now it just looks like poor time management.

So, are you working late tonight? Do you really have work you need to do are are you just trying to make yourself feel better by creating work for yourself? I’ll make you a deal. Drink your preferred caffeinated beverage around 05:00 and get to the office no later than 07:00. You’ll probably have the most productive day you’ve had in months.