Overlord – 73 Years and Counting For the Greatest Project Success of All Time!

d-day

You walk into your boss’s office and you find out the requirements for a new project:

  1. You have to form the most powerful armada in the world to travel across a very rough water channel
  2. You must carry troops in this armada to battle the foremost military power in the world
  3. Before the armada launches, you must unleash hundreds of paratroopers into enemy territory to capture bridges in order for the seaborne troops to cross
  4. You do not have cell phones, computers, or any other technology other than very primitive walkie-talkies (line-of-site)
  5. You have to get this done in 6 months
  6. You have to get international support and concurrence and
  7. You have to defeat the enemy or possibly lose your way of life

So, there are the requirements and you are panicking since this has never been done before…or has it?

A little more than 73 years ago that project became a reality as the forces of the Allied Commands fighting the Nazi Forces of Germany landed on Normandy Beach in France to take back territories illegally and brutally obtained by the Forces of Germany and Italy.  The fighting began early in the morning and continued until that night.  The early morning started with paratroopers dropping behind enemy lines in order to take towns and bridges essential for the movement of troops from the several landing sites.  I remember my dad talking about his good friend — we called him “Uncle Petey” although he was not a blood relative — being one of those paratroopers.  Uncle Petey never talked about that day during our social gatherings, but I remember seeing a photograph of him with my father in his Army uniform with his parachutist badge gleaming.  It was not until after I entered the military that I realized that he had one ribbon on his uniform — the Purple Heart, indicating he was wounded in combat.  He was with the 82nd Airborne, but you would never have known it since he never talked about it.  It is the ones that never talk about their role in World War II that seem to have some of the biggest roles in that war.

Today you are the project manager and have at your disposal international communications that you can carry in your hand; computer systems that are much more powerful than the computer that broke the German Enigma Code in World War II.  You can communicate instantaneously with several people at once and can travel by plane anywhere in the world should the project need hands-on management.  You are more powerful than General Eisenhower was in World War II.  What General Eisenhower had that you do not is a “focus on purpose.”  Troops that were carried on board those ships or in those planes had their orders and their purpose.  They knew that if they failed, the shape and content of the world would be different.   Many of them were under 20 years old and this was the first time they had seen Europe, and many of them would make their last stands here, thousands of miles away from home.  They had each other and that, according to many accounts, helped them through the worst of this situation.

As we go about our lives, please take a moment to remember those that fought on that day in June.  Research the Operation Overlord project and see the many complications that could (and did) exist.  D-Day should not just be another day, but a day as thoughtful and purposeful as Memorial Day.  Every year I think of Uncle Petey and thank him for being there for us when we needed him.  It is these unsung heroes that made the success of Operation Overlord, and it will be the unsung heroes on your project team that will do the same.  Give them purpose, as Elie Weisel (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1986/wiesel-bio.html) said, and the rest will take care of itself.

Rest in Peace, thy Warriors for Peace.

I apologize for being one day late on this — the impact of the operation is still the greatest ever!

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)

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How much are we “into” NATO? Check the Data!

picture1There has been much discussion about whether or not we should restructure NATO, given the change in defense posture and the ever-growing “nation agnostic” threats that currently exist such as ISIS, cyberthreats, etc.  Given that we are part of NATO (since 1949) and that we conduct joint exercises in Europe, as well as contributing to the defense of Europe, we should probably know how much we have invested into the organization.

The chart below depicts the percent that our defense expenditures contribute to the NATO defense posture.  As you can see, we have NEVER contributed less than 56% of the NATO budget, although these data did have some differences based on NATO financial reports in different years (mainly because of different definitions of NATO vs NATO/Russian contribution).  However, I took this data straight from the NATO documents depicting the financial figures (http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_127537.htm).

nato-contributions

US Defense Contributions to NATO (See citation in text)

What does it all mean?  If you take a look at the US contributions vs European contributions you see a gradual increase in most countries contributions, but most come from the US.  It might be time to reduce our overall expenditures in this arena and have the Europeans take on more of the cost.  Germany seems to be coming up to speed, but given their stature in Europe as the center of economic development, it would seem they could become the main contributor, along with France, Spain, and Italy. Fair contributions based on nation involvement seems to be the best way of equalizing the funding of this very important organization but that is said without any real background information or political/economic information on why we have contributed so much to NATO.  This data speaks only on percentage (which incidentally runs in the billions of dollars per year).

The NATO council would have to meet and discuss a plan for future joint defense planning including resources that accompany this plan.  Until then, we will continue to contribute to an organization that has been a major part of the defense of Europe and has grown since the breakup of the Warsaw Pact (NATO’s original foe).

But in the meantime, the data presented shows a distinct difference between the US and European nations in defense contributions to an organization that entails the “North Atlantic” not just the US.  Maybe it is time for NATO to reorganize and restructure to better meet the future need of European Defense.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)

Political Appointee? – Don’t Be a “Bucket Leader!”

drip

In a little more than a month we will have a new President and, in preparation for his transition, there are plenty of Political Appointees that either have already been selected, or are about to get their letter of congratulations.

As a former employee of the Federal Government in several agencies over 30 years, I can tell you that the anticipation of these new political appointees is similar to waiting for a root canal.  The pain seems to get worse as the time approaches.  Although I am writing this article so that the new appointees will get a little preparation before going to their new post, I also doubt that many will read the advice since some of them already know EVERYTHING that goes on in the government, even if they have never served a day of federal government employment in their life.

So, as a stage setting measure, let me tell you something about being a Federal Government employee.

First, most employees of the Federal Government are hard-working individuals that feel their employment makes a difference and they do their job with a dedication and loyalty that would bring tears to your eyes.  There are some that are lazy and apathetic, but I would dare say that those types exist in every avenue of employment whether they are public or private industry.

Second, most employees of the Federal Government have FORGOTTEN more than you will ever KNOW about how the government process works, especially if you have never been a government employee.  They understand the regulations and the different elements of getting the job done, and have done so in spite of these regulations for decades.  They know what they are doing and sometimes just acknowledging that knowledge is enough to keep them going for another year or so.

Third, think of the Federal Government employee like a sailor on an aircraft carrier called the USS Government.  As any Navy person will tell you, it takes miles to turn an aircraft carrier, and so the analogy fits with the agency that you are about to join.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets done in a year.  Here’s why:

August – Contracting, HR, Budget, Accounting and the rest of the people who make the agency work are getting ready for the new fiscal year.  Everybody is trying to spend the money that they were budgeted so that they can “clear the books” for the new fiscal year.

September – Remember August?  Well, it is worse now because those departments that are behind in their spending are REALLY spending now just to catch up.  It is chaos.

October – New fiscal year and everyone is clearing the decks.  The new budget is being vetted and everyone is taking a breath

November – Veterans Day, Thanksgiving is happening this month and people are starting to get ready for the holidays, but work continues given those holidays.  It starts to slow in productivity.

December – Productivity is slow, but work still continues.  People are starting to get ready for the real big holidays coming up.  Christmas happens and people are leaving for the holiday

January – New Years, Martin Luther King Day and productivity is still lower than normal, but slowly ramping up.  Snow is lurking on the East Coast and Mid-West, and maybe one or two snow days are in the mix.

February – Presidents’ Day and at least one big snow fall, calling for as much as a week away from work.  Productivity is still level but people are cautious about coming in to work on the East Coast, where most of the HQ locations exist.

March – Work in full swing and productivity is up.  No government holidays until May.

April – Same/Same.  Easter is in there, but the month is stable and the weather is warmer.  Full productivity

May – Memorial Day starts the summer vacation season, but for the most part May is productive

June – Summer vacations now that school is out.  Projects are complete or nearing completion (from those started two years ago as a minimum).

July – Starting to think about the new fiscal year.  Budget and accounting are starting to close out invoices so that the new year can be prepared.

August – “Which brings us back to DOE” (apologies to Sound of Music)

The above example does not mean that the employees do not work for the entire 12 months, but most of them work so hard you want them to take the time to recharge or else they will burn out and, unlike private industry, will just shut down enough to get through your tenure, still remaining in your office.  You want to ensure this burn out does not happen.  So, from this little example, you can see that there is a rhythm to this whole cycle.  As I told someone once, “it is not that you want to step on any toes, you just want to ensure that everyone knows the choreography.”  You have to know the dance steps so you won’t be embarrassed.  Trust me, you may serve upwards of 8 years, but your tenure can be cut short if you do not play well with others.

I have seen it.  I have seen political appointees removed from federal buildings in handcuffs and not in handcuffs.  I have seen them packing their boxes and no one saying good-bye to them as they took the exit walk out the front door.  You do not want to be one of those – right?  Here are some somethings to do (and not to do)

Do:

  1. Get to know the people in your office prior to espousing your philosophy of how things were done in private industry.  Federal Government is not private industry (and never will be).  There is no profit made here (no matter how hard you try).  When I say get to know them, I do not mean the 5 minute “tell me about yourself” horse poop.  I am talking about 30 minutes with each one after you review their personnel file so that you can find out about their quality of life priorities.  You are in this agency for a few years, they may be here for decades.
  2. I hate to say it this way – but sit down and shut up.  That’s right, no pontificating, no grand speeches, no talk about this is how things are going to go when YOU are in charge.  Let your actions speak much louder than your words.  If you want to give an entrance speech, say that you want to “learn from your troops.”  And THEN DO JUST THAT!
  3. Get to understand the agency’s process. READ THE AGENCY STRATEGIC PLAN!  Know the main points.  Understand that every year this plan changes so also understand the frustration that is associated with a “FNG” coming in to the place with THEIR plan rather than the AGENCY plan.  Do your homework now so you won’t be in a rut when you first arrive.
  4. I realize that you had all these perks when you were in private industry, but it is different when you get to the agency.  You may not have a driver or a car and may even have to get your own coffee.  If you are already doing this – great!  If you have not done this, you may want to do this when you first arrive and it will make a great difference in how people see you.  You are the leader – lead by example.
  5. Recognize good work (not just work for you).  People that are doing more than their share need that recognition.  Freely give it to them, preferably in public.

DO NOT:

  1. Ridicule in public – ever.  If you want to isolate your loyalty, then ridicule people in public.  If someone is silent in one your meetings and you want them to say something then ask them nicely.  “Sue, I would value your opinion on this issue” is much better than “If you have nothing to say, Sue, then maybe you should not come to these meetings.”  I have actually been in meetings when the political appointee said things like this to me.  I shut up (or never went to another meeting).
  2. Espouse your philosophy on the first day.  Your vision is something that needs revising and revisiting – period.  Some of these employees have already had their guidance at the beginning of the fiscal year.  You are popping in January (already at the 25% point of the fiscal year), so do not expect that people can turn on a dime.  Save it for the Spring and spend the January/February/March time frame giving your employees some time to get used to you.
  3. Be a “bucket leader.”  My father used this term to denote someone who comes in like a person placing their hand in a bucket of water and splashing it around.  When they remove their hand, the water will go back the way it was.  Unless you set the stage for long-term change, that is exactly what will happen after you leave.

Now, I am saying all this because I am assuming you WANT to make good impression or make long-term change.  If you are coming into the agency to build your resume and do not care about the government agency, then I cannot say I am surprised, just disappointed.  You will join some others that preceded you.  But I have to tell you that I have seen some political appointees that were fantastic, left a great impression, changed the agency for the long term because instead of changing something big, they focused on small changes that helped the overall process without interrupting the routine of individuals in a big way.  It is those appointees that made a difference.

Like I said in the beginning, if you just take a few of these points and use them it will make a great difference in your time at the government agency.  If this comes off a little strong, I am sorry for being presumptuous, but just thank God that I am a retired government employee and do not have to relive those transitions, and hope that these few words can help you make a very smooth transition.  Sometimes they are just like a root canal, but other times they are like a root canal without anesthesia.

Good Luck!

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE) http://www.grectech.com

A Story Worth Telling – A Watercolor Artist who was a Fighter Pilot

P-47 FW-190

I wanted to get this down on paper before I forget the specifics, in which case I have no idea if the contents will ever get told.

It was over 30 years ago and my and I were stationed at an Air Base in Germany during the Cold War.  The job I did was pretty exciting, even if it was a desk job (for the most part), so I wanted to get a hobby that I could pursue in my off time (we had no children yet, so we had some time to take on a hobby).  I had heard about a watercolor painting course, so I decided to sign up for the course since I always wanted to paint in watercolor.  It seemed challenging to have to plan the paint around the paper, using the paper as the “white” of the picture.

The instructor of the course was an outstanding artist.  He once drew a rose on a chalkboard with white chalk and I swear that the flower was real!  His instruction was excellent, even though at times his thick German accent made him sound like something out of World War II movie.

Once, while teaching shadows, he started to refer to the direction of the shadows as “clock” directions.  For instance, he would say that the light is coming from the “9 o’clock” position or the “3 o’clock” position.  After the class, I approached the instructor; I believe his name was Hans, and asked him about the references.  I then asked him if he was ever a pilot.

We both sat down (the rest of the class had left) and he told me that he was a pilot in the Luftwaffe, flying Focke-Wulf 190s (FW-190s), probably one of the most powerful fighter planes in the War at that time.  I then was bold (probably bordering on presumptuous) to ask him if he had ever shot anyone down.  He then became very pensive and told me a story as if he was telling it to a student pilot.  He was ferrying aircraft as part of a “two ship” between Munich and Frankfurt toward the end of the war as a Luftwaffe Cadet.  He told me that the Americans were referred to as “Indians” on the radio; the German pilots were the “Cowboys” and that a number of “Indians” were located on their ferry route.  As Hans heard this on the radio, he saw that a number of US Army Air Corps P-47 Thunderbolts bombing and strafing a railway station.  The American aircraft were flying in a circle above the railway station and taking turns diving on the target.  Hans and his wing man mixed in with the P-47s as if they were part of the American group, he later telling me that the P-47 and the FW-190 had a similar silhouette.  It was working when one of the US pilots detected the two enemy aircraft and the pursuit was on.  Both Hans and his wing man were pursued separately by two P-47s.  Hans was trying to outrun his pursuer, including taking a dive into a nearby town, where he jinked and janked through streets.  I thought to ask him was his greatest fear was, but I thought he would probably say a “one-way street.”

He was still being pursued when he went into a climb, knowing that an FW-190 could out climb a P-47.  It worked and he was able to turn his pursuer into the pursued.  He then grew a little less vocal and told me that he fired just one burst into the P-47 and it exploded.   Hans paused for a moment and explained that he probably hit the fuel tank.  He then said that one of other US Aircraft shot and disabled his aircraft, but he was able to bail out, and looked over and saw his wingman’s parachute a little distance off.  They both landed in a field and were picked up by an US Army officer who took them prisoner and then were later released after the war was over.

I then asked him if he was a Nazi (again, I was getting a little carried away and becoming too curious for my own good).  He looked at me and stated he was, but that everyone was even if they did not believe in the cause because otherwise they were considered enemies of the state.  He did tell me that he wanted to be a doctor, but because he was a member of the Nazi party, he was not allowed to become a doctor.  He chose to become an artist and has lived that life ever since.

Like I said in the beginning of this article, this is a story worth telling not because it was something extraordinary, or because it was so unique, but it showed how this man became a part of my life.  Every time I do something in watercolor, whether it is a landscape, a character for my books, anything that involves art or drawing, I think of Hans.   Hans was a member of an armed force that was hated through its defeat, but somehow talking with him made me understand a little of what it was like from his perspective.  I felt so sorry for the US pilot whose life was taken that day, but also for the man who took that life.  Even 40 years after the incident, the Luftwaffe Cadet had regret.  I wanted to tell the story that he hopefully has told others, but told me in the privacy of a room on an US Air Base in Germany, something of an irony.  And it is something that I remembered from over 30 years ago; it had that big an impact on me.

Pass this story on as you see fit, to whomever you want.  This story was a part of my life and something I remember and wanted to share it if for nothing else than to put it in writing as a part of who I am.  I hope that Hans told the story to people he cared about, as I am telling it to you.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)

How Misreported Data Can Become Hyperbole

High HDL

I just read an article by Newsmax (http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/good-HDL-cholesterol-death/2016/08/17/id/743936/#CommentSection) that had the title of “Too Much ‘Good’ Cholesterol Linked to Early Death.”

Seeing as I have heart disease, I read with interest and saw that the study was in the Clinical Journal of American Nephrology (cjasn.asnjournals.org).  I searched the journal for the study and finally found one that I think the Newsmax story was referring (the study was not cited specifically in the article, so I had to do the search based on what was in the story).  This study was completed by researchers, some of which were from the Washington University School of Medicine (not all as implied by the story).  The title of the article was “High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol and the Risk of All-Cause Mortality among U.S. Veterans” (http://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/early/2016/08/10/CJN.00730116.abstract?sid=6a08e6c2-7164-4c48-bfe2-1a553bb161f4).

I read the abstract and found that the study was done on US Veterans (one factor that isolates this finding to US Veterans) and the study was done on over 1,000,000 MEN that were US Veterans between 2003 and 2004.  Basically, what this says is that this study is applicable to MEN who were veterans during a time when we were invading Iraq and preparing for that conflict.  In other words, by saying in a very general sense that “Too Much ‘Good’ Cholesterol Linked to Early Death” the news outlet published a misleading title and the article itself does little to mitigate the title.  The article does not refer to this article being done with US Veterans and Men only.  It does not go into the analogy that too much of ANYTHING can be deadly (including air and water).  It does not refer adequately to the study in question, other than the journal.  The title would have been better if it would have been specific to Male US Veterans that are suffering from kidney disease (that’s right, that was part of the study in the form of “eGFR” blood tests, which test for kidney disease).

I write this to ensure that people do NOT take news articles at face value.  Do some research and come to your own conclusions.  Do NOT let the news media outlets tell you how to think.  Do that for yourselves.

 I am surprised that the clinical journal authors have not tried to contact the news media outlet to let them know that the news outlet was wrong in their conclusions.  The sad part of all this is that some people will read this article and then believe that they need to reduce their HDL to survive longer.  This is not only misleading but could be fatal to those that do not understand the medical implications of what they are doing.  If you are in doubt, contact your doctor and talk to him/her about your condition and express your concerns to them.  They are the ones that are usually current on these studies.

As for me, I am going to continue to grow my HDL and ensure that I am protected against further instances of heart disease.   I will not let one article written by one news outlet that was in my opinion misleading to the point of life threatening influence me to do something that would be injurious to my health.  This shows how data, if taken in the wrong context, can be hurtful to individuals reading second-hand about the data.

Data analysts and journal writers, please be careful to give as much information as possible and cite your sources specifically.

The “Columbus” Project – Today

Would the Santa Maria have a British Flag under this scenario?

Art by Chris Greco

After my father died over 20 years ago, my siblings and I had access to his notes, speeches, and other documentation that he left as part of his life as an executive and consultant.  There were two articles that intrigued me.  One I will write about later, but the document I found relating to the title of this paper is one that left me smiling and pondering at the same time.

I have never found where this article originated and have tried to find a copyright or other periodical citations and I have not be able to locate the writer.  If someone out there is the writer of this article and can provide a citation, please let me know and I will be more than happy to give you credit.  The article is over 40 years old, so I do not know if the writer or originator is still alive.  I refuse to take credit for this satire on the Christopher Columbus voyage, but the example is so real, so pertinent to our times as both a project manager and management in general, that I had to write about this story.

The article starts with a brief introduction, along with the date that would denote the present day (in this case it was August 1970 — I told you it was old!)

In his time, Christopher Columbus cranked out a couple of nutty, if knowledgeable, notions. First, he argued the world was round when everybody who was anybody knew it was as flat as a doubloon. Then he stoutly maintained you could reach India by sailing west-ward across the Atlantic. Let’s assume history has slipped a few hundred years. Columbus is planning his historic venture under the ground rules of business management today. He hopes to set sail August 3, 1970, instead of 1492. He’s just received a royal okay from King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella and a passel of palace politicians. Armed with all our modern business “conveniences,” plus the ubiquitous Project Progress Report, Columbus picks up his quill pen and writes:

BiWeekly Progress Report  1

(From Grand Admiral Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand)

“First general staff meeting. Each section chief asked to submit detailed goals and timetables for his department. Task force formed to locate three seaworthy sailing vessels. Chief of Planning converting entire project into planning networks boards to be displayed in the new conference room upon completion. Chief of Public Relations brainstormed a title for our venture, ‘Project Ocean Blue.'”

Report 2

“Three vessels located, the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. Preliminary analysis of large seagoing vessel market indicates these ships are the only square-riggers immediately available that meet budget requirements and specifications. New Systems and computer Group has undertaken feasibility study to determine if they should do a feasibility study on computer buy or lease options. General Provisions unable to locate walnut for the conference room. Expert in artificial satellite navigation hired by Navigations.”

Report 3

“General Provisions reports difficulty in purchasing the three vessels. Holding up procurement is Termite Inspection certificate which must be issued prior to sale. Chief of Provisions attempting to circumvent delay by obtaining Waiver of Inspection. Completed feasibility study indicates a feasibility study is feasible. Wide variety of navigation equipment reviewed. Bids to be let next week. Walnut still unavailable for executive conference room. Advertising for the crew being run in all major coastal cities.”

Report 4

“Have leased a computer and installed a work control system called Work Hours in Process. Preliminary system reports indicate Ship Procurement is lagging. Navigation and Meteorology ahead of schedule. Chief of Provisioning able to get termite inspection waived. we are pleased to hear of your visit next week; pushing for completion of the executive conference room.”

Report 5

“Work temporarily delayed by labor dispute. Personnel in General Provisioning refused to work with the new Work Hours in Process (WHIP) Systems. They took an exception to the name WHIP System and refused to work under the WHIP for anyone.  Name subsequently changed to WTS (Work Tracking System) and operations resumed. Legal Department suggests [foreign] registry to obtain maximum tax consideration. “sorry our new executive conference room was not finished for your visit.”

Report 6

“Additional obstacles appeared. Stern portion of the Nina fell off–termites. Ship Engineering locating new source of oak for necessary repairs. Team of government inspectors arrived, insisting vessels be certified as complying with new laws and regulations before work continues. Computer indicates work behind schedule except in Navigations where electronic equipment is being delivered. Consultant from  Inc. retained. Mr. Markowitz is an expert in motivational problems and work flow. Personnel Department has been unable to find veteran square-rigger sailors. However, they did hire 180 experienced sailors whose experience on junks is very similar.”

Report 7

“Mixup in deliveries resulted in executive conference room being paneled with oak and a carload of walnut delivered for ships repairs. Chief of Public Relations reports analysis shows nonacceptance of vessel names.

“Ships renamed  The Bonnie Bright,  The Blue Briar, and The Brentwood.  Analysis indicates B’s are big this year. Dispute over control of the Purchasing Unit has been settled. As a compromise, the Department will report to Markowitz, the consultant.”

Report 8

“Major decisions concerning vessels postponed for one week while general staff attended mandatory policy and procedures training on the insistence of Markowitz. Repairs progressing slowly on The Bonnie Bright (Nina). Government inspectors insist on inspecting all materials that go into repair. Problems developed with navigation equipment. Weight of units presenting problems of imbalance to older ships. Engineering working on a fix. Repairs to the The Bonnie Bright progressing slowly. Load of oak rejected by the inspectors because supplier lost his approved Vendor Rating for hiring a non-approved carpenter. Computer indicates vessels should be seaworthy, and general provisioning three-fourths complete. Chief of General Provisioning assures me logistics still within revised pessimistic estimates of original revision of the revised network. Foreign registry for the vessels received.”

Report 9

“Coordination of the project difficult. Staff having communication problems since returning from mandatory policy and procedure training. Engineering computes that if all navigation equipment is stowed on the starboard side of the ships, it can be kept in equilibrium if two-thirds or more of the crew stay on port side.

“A personal complication has arisen. My ship’s officer’s papers do not apply to a foreign registration.” Immediate search conducted for a ship’s captain who will qualify. Meetings held around the clock to bring the project back on schedule …

Report 10

“Several candidates located for ship’s captain. Interestingly, the consultant, Markowitz, was a captain stationed in Lithuania during the war and is qualified to hold registration. Government inspectors lean heavily to selecting Markowitz due to his five-point veterans’ preference. Distribution of seven million marketing brochures halted until captain selected.”

Report 11

“Markowitz chosen ship’s captain and new brochure being reprinted. Executive conference room completed and work board prominently displayed. Biggest break came, however, when government inspectors discovered they were on the wrong project. Actually they had been assigned to oversee construction of a replica of Lei£ Ericson’s bark for the Royal Museum. I have fired Chief of Navigation over new navigational equipment flap. Have decided to use archaic but reliable instrument called a sextant.”

Report 12

“Computer indicates vessels are 87 percent seaworthy. Estimated the project will only require two more weeks and an additional 20 percent allocation to complete.”

“A request for additional time and funding is hereby made.”

FOLLOWING CORRESPONDENCE FROM KING OF SPAIN, CHIEF OF PROJECTS:

“First, let us congratulate you on completing your conference room. We have followed the progress of ‘Ocean Blue’ with special interest. We are thrilled by the thought of three square-riggers called ‘The Bonnie Bright,’ ‘The Blue Briar’ and ‘The Brentwood,’ manned by 180 career sailors and captained by a man named Markowitz.”

“Unfortunately, a complication has arisen. First, an enterprising former employee named Frank Drake has formed a spin-off company, copped your ‘Round World’ thing. He set sail for the New world last week.   May I add ‘Project Ocean Blue’ was the most contemporary managed, best organized, ·and highly motivated adventure that ever went out of business.”

What this article points out does not need any additional narrative from this writer.  There are, however, a few questions that may bring a nice summary to this satirical article:

  1.  What was the original requirement?
  2.  How were these requirements morphed into something else?
  3.  How did the modern conveniences interlace with these requirements?

As project managers, it is our job to discuss with the stakeholders and determine requirements and then ensure we meet these requirements.  Please take the Columbus article with a grain of salt.  The bottom line is this:  if we do not consider the “reasons” then we cannot deliver the “results.”

Learn, Offer, Value and Educate (LOVE)

Customized Consulting – A Better Option?

Consulting-Client2Several years ago, I contacted an organization for financial counseling.  The organization was one that I trusted and had done business with them in the past so I knew them, and they knew me (or so I thought).

The first financial counselor I spoke with told my wife and me that we needed to be riskier in our investments, be more bold and grow our nest egg as quickly as possible.  I then asked the questions that caused this financial counselor to pause:

  1. Are you married?
  2. Do you have children?
  3. How old are your children?
  4. Are either of them in college?
  5. Do you live in a state that has a state tax?
  6. Do both of you work?
  7. Do YOU have risky investments?

I found out that this individual was married, the spouse worked, they had no kids (just animals) and they lived in a state that does NOT have a state tax.  I asked that the next financial counselor study our  file more closely and better match our life situation and experience.

Voila, the next financial counselor matched our life profile almost to a “T” and we talked for a while and this financial counselor stated that we were doing everything necessary to retire at the age we would like.

Why am I bringing this example in to an article talking about consulting?  I am a consultant with experience in private industry, public service, military, and academia.  As such, I have situations and knowledge of all these areas (granted some better than others).  However, after being in government employment for over 30 years, I would be better matched to consult in a government environment than a Fortune 500 environment and would be more than willing to admit that to the client.  However, I see Federal Government Agencies bring in private industry consultants to advise on management and other techniques.  Although I am sure that is some rare occasions this works, I can attest from experience on the receiving end of these consults that they do not work.  The main reasons are this:

  1. Many of the political appointees to Federal Government are from private industry and readily accept and use consultants’ recommendations, even if those recommendations do not fit the workforce
  2. Political appointees are now part of a government organization where the government employee has been part of the system (institution actually) for many years, sometimes decades.  Trying to move these employees past what they know is like moving an aircraft carrier (it takes miles)
  3. Consultants cannot relate to the government employee unless they have been there (and I am not talking about government contractors that have never been government employees – they have never experienced what government employees experience unless they have been there)
  4. Many government employees will simply wait out the political appointee (after all, the government employee will be there longer in any case) for the next voting cycle to possibly force the appointee to move on and things will move back to where they were before the political appointee (much like a bucket of water after the hand that is moving the water is removed from the bucket)

How does the consulting company change?  They really are not required to change.  The government will continue to use their services, thinking that they are somehow improving their organization, when in fact they are sometimes spending money for generalized recommendations that do not value-add to the organization, because the consulting company cannot in any way relate to the client, so they go into their tool kit and present generalized recommendations.  Do not believe me?  When you had your last consulting experience, how many recommendations related to communications?  This is one of the areas where NO company will perform in an outstanding manner, so it can always be improved, hence the recommendation.  Another topic for another article.

What I am saying is that the client/customer must change their ways and outline a series of requirements (questions) that they give to the company.  For example, let’s say you are government agency looking for a consult on a project/program management office (PMO) and need some advice from an outside consulting company.  The following questions would help to gauge the fitness of the consulting company for your purposes.

  1. How many of your employees are former government employees (not former government contractors)?
  2. How many of these employees possess project/program management experience (including any government project management/program management certifications)?
  3. What agencies employed these former government employees? (This helps to understand their shared experience – if they worked for very small agencies and never for a large one, this might be something you want to consider)
  4. How much do you understand the FARs?  (You do not have to expand this abbreviation.  Wait for the consulting company to ask which one.)
  5. What are the demographics of your company?  What are the demographics of your former government workers? (This will help in determining those from different age groups, which can help the overall consulting experience.)
  6. Will your recommendations use specific instances, examples, and situations so that the client can make any necessary changes to their existing processes?  If yes, please present any other reports to show your capabilities and experience in this area.

I am not saying these are the only questions, but these will help to tune the experience to be more beneficial for both the client and the consultant.  Of course, this article will not change any consulting processes without the client changing their methods of selecting consultants.  If the client looks more to their requirements and not their (possibly preconceived) results, the entire process would be forced to change.  Until that time happens, most of the the consulting business will give more of the same — generic recommendations for generic results.

Learn, Offer, Value, Educate (LOVE)