Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reflection: Lessons Learned vs. Retrospective – Which one will you implement?

Throughout my career, I’ve managed several projects and one of the final project rituals which is a must do is the notion of lessons learned.  Earlier in my career, I decided that I would make lessons learned part of a weekly status reporting exercise.  I’m not a fan of doing lessons learned at the end of the project and logging it to a repository which no one will use or look.  

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about a notion of lessons learned – Are they really valuable?  Whether you do it at the end of a project or throughout, do we get the right lessons and is it agreeable with the whole team?  Here is a typical lessons learned exercise:
  • Project manager holds an hour meeting at the end of the project to discuss lessons learned
  • The team discusses what went well and what needs to be improved 
  • Project manager logs lessons learned in a log
  • The document gets filed in a repository
If you look at the above steps – how do you know if the entire team was engaged or whether the lessons learned will be reviewed by a subsequent project team?  These exercises are typically great for extroverts like me – Love to talk and love to throw suggestions – but what about the rest of the team?  

In the Agile world, Scrum introduces a retrospective ritual which is conducted at the end of the sprint.  During retrospective, the team provides feedback on the sprint and the process.  A way that our coach has trained us is by following the below framework:
  • Give sticky notes to each team
  • Scrum master places the following categories on a white board:  Went Well, Went Bad, One-Time Occurrences
  • When the team places the sticky on the board, they make sure their statement is unique and not a duplicate
  • At the end of 10 minutes, scrum master asks the team to vote by placing a dot on the sticky.  Each person will have 3 voting dots per category
  • Scrum Master discusses with team their three highest vote item per category and documents the results
  • Next – Scrum master places the following categories on the board:  Start, Stop, and Continue 
  • The process of writing, voting, reviewing, and documenting occurs as previous
  • At the end of the retrospective, the team makes the commitment to work on the highest vote and the document gets posted to a place where it is visible to the team
Sounds simple – Tools that are used are white board, sticky notes, and markers.  I have several introverts in the group and I see them engaged throughout the process.  There are two main things that allow this process to be effective:
  •  Reflection vs. Brainstorming – Each team member is empowered to write their thoughts on the categories.  Since this is a reflection exercise and not brainstorming, the fear is eliminated of talking to group on your thoughts.  It eliminates the feeling that you are being judged or getting cut-off.
  • Voting – The only items that are discussed are ones that have the highest votes.  This allows the group to focus and discuss items that are most important.  This process engages all personality types and doesn’t get overshadowed by the extroverts or the one that has a lot to say at all times. 
I’m sold on the notion of retrospectives – whether I run a project via traditional waterfall or agile, in order to get “lessons learned”, the retrospective framework provides the tools and techniques to effectively get team’s thoughts on how the project or sprint is going and what practices should start, stop, or continue.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Top Gun Project Managers

Richard Morreale, our June PMI Triad guest speaker, discussed with our group on what it takes to be on the top of the PM profession.  Here is a recap:

·         Most projects fail due to costs, schedule, expectations, and positive experience
·         Reasons for project failure

o   Lack of agreed requirements

o   Users/business unit are not co-located

o   Lack of proper planning

o   Poor change control – Too bureaucratic

o   Inadequate cost control

o   No agreed process

o   Poor communication

o   Lack of focus

o   Lack of commitment

This was a really interesting point:  In the late 1970s/early 80s showed a project failure rate of 70%.  Companies spent millions on project management methodology, tools and technology, project planning and control, reporting, cost and schedule maintenance, risk and issue management, project metrics, and quality assurance.  In year 2000, the statistic of project failure rate was still at 70%. 
After spending so much money on training and tools, why were projects failing?  What does it take to allow projects not to fail?  Here is a laundry list of each PM to evaluate against.  If you are lacking in any of these areas – develop a personal development plan to work on improving:
·         Hard Skills – Only 20%! – What we learned when we got our PMP certification
·         Soft Skills:

o   Enthusiasm

o   Energy

o   Commitment to excellence and success

o   Passion

o   Positive Attitude

o   Approachable

o   Go the extra mile

o   Get it done attitude

o   A “no problem” person

o   Motivator

o   Communicator

o   Interpersonal skills

Richard ended his presentation with an idea of a PM to be a master of paradox.  For example – Have the ability to be a visionary but know when to go into details.  Another example is the ability to be both a manager and a leader. 
To learn more about Richard Morreale - go to

Friday, June 8, 2012

Saag Paneer Automation

As I was preparing a meal for my family - Saag Paneer, I thought about automating my cooking process to see if I can shorten the cooking time. Typically, the dish takes one hour. After using tools such as food processor and multi-tasking by making chapatis on side, my cooking process that takes over an hour turned to be 20 mins. I was excited that I saved 40 mins by automating simple tasks. The best thing - the dish was amazingly yummy!!! At work, often times, we do things the same way everyday. We get stuck in a rut because it is comfortable and safe. If we would take few minutes and seek alternative ways, we may save those "minutes". Thinking creatively and finding ways to get the job done faster makes us very effective. It also makes us available to take on work that can be challenging. In a competitive market place, people that can think quick on their feet and work effectively survive. The next time we are doing tasks, challenge yourself to think creatively. You may surprise yourself.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

One on One with Richard Morreale - Author of Top Gun Project Managers

I had an opportunity to speak with Richard Morreale to get a sneak peek into what our PMI chapter can expect on Monday, June 11th. I was astonished when I heard about his experiences. Here is a brief bullet list:

• Worked for the Apollo Spaceship program – started out as a messenger

• Worked for Computer Sciences Corporation – started out managing small projects then ended up working on projects for the Army and Navy

• Spent roughly 10 years in Europe – working for England Revenue Services (really cool!)

• Developed CSC – UK’s first project management group

• Opened a project management consultancy group in UK

• Written several articles and books on project management such as Killer ideas for delivering successful projects and Top Gun Project Managers.

The chapter meeting is going to be on “Top Gun Project Managers” – What it takes to reach the top of the Project Management Profession. Richard will be discussing with us 8 strategies that each PMs should follow, how to become a master of paradox, and soft skills needed to be successful. He is a firm believer of a success equation that 20% of what we have learned is in the PMBOK and the other 80% is our attitude, behavior, and how we treat people.

If you haven’t register – you don’t want to miss this meeting:

To learn more about our speaker Richard Morreale:

Monday, April 9, 2012

Networking for Mutual Benefit - Takeaways

Networking for Mutual Benefit – Takeaways

You know it is a great meeting when after the meeting, people stayed back to talk to each other. Here are some takeaways to share:

Must Read Books:

• Never Eat Alone

• How to Win Friends and Influence People

What is Networking?

Teddy Burriss’s motto – “Networking is finding, developing, and nurturing relationships that mutually move people forward thru life”

• Not just for job search

• It is all about building relationships

• If you are not building relationships – you will not be successful

• It is a successful way to build business, find new job, help others

How to Network?

• You can’t ASK until you have developed a relationship

• Key to networking – making it all about the other person

• Meet people that are different so that you can learn new ideas, solutions, and possibilities

• Try to meet someone new daily

• In real life conversations are best form of networking

• Leverage social media to connect with people

• Connect with your weak ties periodically – people in the past you have had a relationship with that you haven’t contacted in a while

Principles of how to win friends and influence others

Teddy went over 9 critical – When I googled the principles, I liked all of them. I’ve copied the principles from the below website:

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

1. Don't criticize, condemn or complain.

2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.

3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Six ways to make people like you

1. Become genuinely interested in other people.

2. Smile.

3. Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.

5. Talk in terms of the other person's interests.

6. Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely.

Win people to your way of thinking

1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

2. Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say, "You're wrong."

3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

4. Begin in a friendly way.

5. Get the other person saying "yes, yes" immediately.

6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.

7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.

8. Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.

9. Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.

10. Appeal to the nobler motives.

11. Dramatize your ideas.

12. Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

A leader's job often includes changing your people's attitudes and behavior. Some suggestions to accomplish this:

1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.

2. Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.

3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.

4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

5. Let the other person save face.

6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be "hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise."

7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.

8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.

9. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Negotiating with a Car Salesman - Lessons Learned

Valuable Lessons Learned – Negotiating with a Car Salesman

People often tell me that I’m a hard core negotiator…I often get sought out to give advice on apartment rentals, house buying, or salary negotiations. One of my buddies recently took me to negotiate a deal for a car purchase. I learned something this weekend – How to be prepared to negotiate with a car salesmen. Here are some valuable lessons learned from this weekend –


o It was very important to listen to the salesman. As he talked, I knew that a sale for him was crucial as he needed to make his numbers and it was the end of the month.

o He also mentioned that they sell on average 10 cars a month. Since the next business day was the last day of the month, their chance of selling a new car was 33% - very low if you need to make your targets.

o My car salesman, while talking to his manager, repeatedly mentioned that this sale would go towards end of month numbers. He really had a sense of urgency to make the deal.


o My negotiating class taught me the importance of BATNA – Best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Thank You Bill Davis and Wake Forest!!!!

o I had a strong BATNA vs. the car salesman – I was in no rush of purchasing a car and I was interested in other brands. My best alternative would have been either to wait or go to another dealership. On the other hand, my car salesman, he was 1 car away from making the numbers.

Walk-away Point

o I’m not really a car person – I’m pretty shallow when it comes to cars…do they look pretty; is it easy to maintain; can I show it off to my friends. When I walked into the dealership, I didn’t know what car or model I wanted to purchase but I knew my walk-away point.

Don’t Finish Negotiation on the Same Day

o At the end of the negotiation, I took the offer and went home to sleep on it. I also felt it makes the other party nervous – will she take the car or not.

o I also knew I may have a little more wiggle room to negotiate when I got an email after 10 minutes from the dealership opening time.

Be Fair

o In India, there is a saying that good deals are often when both parties feel happy. If one side feels slighted, in the long term, the deal will somehow get sour. I did enough research to know what was fair for both me and the salesman. I made sure my end amount was good to make both parties happy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

One on One with Teddy Burriss

It was a hot sunny day when I entered Starbucks on Wednesday March 21st. As I was contemplating what I will order when I get to Starbucks, my diet told me no fufu drinks, stick with green tea but my body told me Caffeine!!! I was also anxious to meet Teddy Burriss, who will be speaking at NC PMI Triad’s April chapter meeting on networking. I found out about Teddy from a friend couple of months ago and I instantly followed him on Twitter. I really enjoyed his tweets and especially his blog, “Are you listening to me.”

After I ordered by soy latte (yes..I cheated), I sat down to have a one on one conversation with Teddy. My first question was –Do you work??? I see Teddy post on twitter all day long and checking in at various places around Triad using four square – I really was curious as to how he was able to make a career out of networking and leveraging social media. Here are some highlights of our discussion:

In my long life of 29 years :), I’ve had an opportunity to network with a lot of people. I have good radar when it comes to a fake networker – who is sparking a conversation because they need something from you. I also know when someone is truly genuine. Teddy is all about finding, developing, and nurturing relationships. At our April chapter meeting, he will go over why it is critical to give before you ask when it comes to networking and the power of the statement: “How can I help?”

Teddy has a very interesting background. I knew I liked him when I found out he comes from a technology background (Sometimes us tech geeks have to stick together). Seven years ago, he was working for an organization selling technology. He was asked to make cold calls – Teddy’s answer – there is a better way. He found Linked In in 2007 and enjoyed connecting with various people. He left his job and pursued his passion of helping people. He teaches social media and assists any customer facing employees or business to leverage networking and social media to their advantage.

After meeting Teddy, I’m ecstatic about listening him discuss networking for mutual benefit. With having over 500+ connections on Linked In and over 700 followers on Twitter (which is very difficult as I only have about 60+), he has truly mastered the art of networking for mutual benefit. To register for NC PMI Triad's April Chapter meeting, please register here

Monday, March 5, 2012

One on One with Anthony Reed

Anthony Reed has over 30 years in project management and executive positions. His area of expertise is implementing multi-million dollar, international business applications. The business, IT, travel, and sports publications which have featured him include the PMI Today, Dallas Morning News, Runner’s World, Ebony, Southern Living, and the Journal of Accountancy. His latest book is Running to Leadership: What Finishing 100+ Marathons On All Seven Continents Teaches Us About Success. Anthony is one of about 300 people in the world who finished 26.2-mile marathons on all of the continents, including Antarctica. Anthony shows how he fuses marathon risk taking and endurance with project management strategies to motivate global teams through difficult projects. I had an opportunity to speak with Anthony Reed last week about his background and what will we expect at our March meeting and seminar. Click here to read more about Anthony Reed

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Agile - Are you falling into empty ritual syndrome?

My first blog entry of 2012. Received inspiration to write this blog from the PMI Region 5 Leaderhsip Conference.

Daily Stand-up Meetings

“Sprint” sessions

Task Boards

If you work for an organization or department that believes Agile is all about daily standup meetings, having sticky notes all over the board when gathering data, or doing development in sprints, then you are not alone my friend. How do we convince our senior leadership that Agile is a mind-set not just a latest trend in software development? How do we start living by Agile principles rather than performing two to three rituals? In my experience, the main reasons we fall into empty ritual syndrome are the following:

Lack of training on Agile
How many of us have gone to a PMI event and have tried techniques presented by the speaker? Many of us fall into traps where we listen to great lectures and try other’s best practices without putting the brain power of understanding the fundamentals. We are so anxious to try a technique; we fail to understand the true purpose.

Many of us enjoy certain aspects of Agile like daily stand-ups because they make us feel that we are doing something “agile”. Some are pretenders and perform these rituals to please senior management. Agile Manifesto, , contains four core values that is key to embrace for every agile practitioner
• Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
• Working software over comprehensive documentation
• Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
• Responding to change over following a plan

If you follow a few of the core values, then you fall into a trap of doing some of the rituals and will not get the benefit of following agile.

Implementing Rituals that are not “empty”
I’m very new to Agile and ways that I’ve tried to learn the methodology is go to PMI events related to Agile. I’m also attending free webinars at to understand the philosophy behind Agile. I love trying new ideas and implementing new strategies at the work place. Before implementing a “ritual”, I’m asking myself – What is the purpose and how will my organization benefit from the ritual?