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Monday, November 22, 2010

Invite the Energy: 7 Ways

It has been a while since I last wrote back in July. Between leading the leadership institute, my work, family and a long list of other things, I had to balance the energy across the various demands.

To keep this posting short and to the point here are seven different ways to being energy into your circles:

1. Setting a Realistic and Compelling Vision
A vision of what tomorrow will look like, or what the to-be will be, is a strong energy magnet. However it needs to be relevant to the audience and not overwhelming. I recall years ago, a colleague of mine who worked at Cisco Systems, once described John Chambers' motivational drive as magic. He mentioned that whatever John envisions turns into a reality rally. Managers appreciate employees who not only identify problems, but also view problems as opportunities. Employees or team members who are constantly overly critical and non-generative are energy drainers. Creating an environment that allows team members to visualize solutions, predict needs, forecast demands and articulate the future will bring exponential energy into the team's environment. Cisco's technology is not necessarily the greatest or most advanced, however the clear vision that Chamber has set for Cisco has made it a leader in its industry.

2. Making a Difference
Being part of a team is one thing, and delivering part of the vision as part of the team is a totally different thing. Contributing and producing work that directly impacts the vision is a contagious act, the more work gets developed the higher the energy levels. People like to feel that their work is of utility and is making a positive impact on the final outcome. This is one of the reasons it is advisable to do consistently little than doing much in chunks, to keep that energy level above a level where it dies out. Energized team members are those who are active on conference calls and meetings, they listen, share and speak. They provide opportunities for others to get involved in discussions, they facilitate problem solving, and take on initiatives, they are humble and respect other people's opinions and are not blinded by their own sights and perspectives. It is not necessarily the smartest in the group that energizes the group, but rather the most consistent and committed. I have always found committed people to be people who have a sense of ownership, and really care about the cause. Even when they are extremely busy, they will be able to find a few moments to keep the momentum going.

3. Separation of Ideas from Sources
Energizers are focused on accomplishing and progressing. An energizer is someone who has a passion in solving the problem at hand. We usually notice that in discussing conflicting ideas energizers focus on the idea being discussed, and not the person who suggested the idea. This separation keeps the energy level high by decoupling the value statement from the contributor, so rather than mentioning to a team member "you said this, which will not work ..", an energizer would state something like "given our goals and the proposals on the table, here is another alternative which we also might wish to consider due to it advantages .."

4. Small Steps Lead to Huge Leaps
Starting somewhere early is better than starting later, or not starting at all. In many cases small steps might seem as if they are random pieces of a puzzle in the vacuum. They really are not, they are small components of a larger foundation that has just not been complete yet. Encourage small steps and ideas, as long as they tie back to the mission of the team, even if when these steps are isolated and seem to be random or ad-hoc. These accomplishments will fortify your sense of accomplishment and keep the energy growing.

5. Passion, Compassion and Love
We are humans,  not machines. Spreading passion about the cause and mission will only invite others to share the values and goodness resulting from the mission. We need to not only talk about team's progress and the difference its work has been making, but we have to explain it with passion, love and sincerity. Good people - those that you want around you after all - strive to compete in goodness. Everyone on the team will want piece of the rewards, and will not want to miss out on helping the next underprivileged group or great cause. Be the compassionate leader, clearly showing your empathy for others and appreciating the efforts and sacrifices everyone is contributing.

6. Lead with Integrity and Build Trust
Our behavior is a catalyst of how our social interactions are energized. Others are influenced by our characteristics and behavior, and integrity is on the top of the list. We are not talking about thugs that we are trying to energize, we are talking about the majority of the world out there. They will have a high appreciation of others' integrity and that will drive energy and motivation.

Energizing interactions are not only influenced by our behaviors, but also our interactions with others. Building trust is as simple as keeping a word, showing up to a meeting one is expected to be at, delivering what is expected, acting as promised and being the character we portray to others we are. Trust is making sure surprises do not happen, and others who depend on us are not left in the dark. Trustworthy people always get back to others even if the news is grim.

7. Sleep Well, Eat Good and Get Up Early
Nothing beats an early bird who gets up before the sunrise to reflect on the creation, remember the Lord of the Universe, thank the Creator, and appreciate a new day in one's life that will come only for once and never return after its sun sets.

Have other ways to invite the energy? Please share it with all of us in the comments here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Creating Energy

Creating energy within a group is a responsibility of each member of the group. The leader of the group is in the best position to facilitate the proper environment and group dynamics for the team members to bring energy. "Am I an energizer or a demotivator?" is a question each one of us should be asking each day.

Team members who walk away on the group, disappear, set the wrong priorities, can not keep up promises are big energy drains. They demotivate their entire team bringing performance and capabilities down to the bottom. Moreover, demotivators are contagious. I have witnessed entire organizations brought down to their knees because of a first demotivator, he starts to whine and complain rather than propose and solve, or she misses a deadline followed by another and another and eventually those dependent on her miss their deadlines. De-energizers are easy to spot and they suck the energy out of the whole team.

This morning a colleague sent me an email asking for advice regarding a board meeting she chairs that gradually its members started dropping off like birds on a utility pole being shot one after the other. In her latest meeting no one showed up at all.

In my next post I will share seven ways that one can bring energy into their circle. Until then enjoy the TED presentation below on first followers and the energy they bring into their domain, a demonstration that energy is created and the responsibility of the whole team and not just the leader. Just like first followers play a role in energizing a group, they also play a role in draining a group and leaving it as a dead corpse.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Social Network Analysis: Uncovering Hidden Value in Organizations

Social network analysis (SNA) is a powerful method for collecting and analyzing data about patterns of relationships among people in groups, it allows an organization to become aware of invisible flows of knowledge and turn them into visible flows. SNA allows an organization to assess its relationships' distance, ties, centrality and density.

As the common say goes, "its who you know that makes a difference and not what you know". This is very true, social relationships can cross barriers and formal boundaries that typically would never exist.

A real-life example that I just witnessed this week in our community, which is a beautiful manifestation of trust in a social network is a story of a homeless lady with four children, all four of them lived in a crammed room in a run down house. The lady worked hard to support her four children one of who had medical challenges, she utilized the normal and formal sources of assistance in her society such as food stamps, housing assistance and other state provided services. However none of these services were able to put her into a state of self-sufficiency and independence. One day she was about to lose her belongings that she had to put into a rented public storage facility due to limited space in her room as a result of late rent payments. She pursued the typical and traditional approaches for financial support through her local places of worship, the support she received was minimal and inadequate. It was only when she was able to create a social network with a number of people in her community that a small group of families were able introduce new knowledge and setup an electronic process to support needy people in less than an hour and pool resources and pay off her outstanding payments on her rented storage, instead of the legacy approach used by the typical support centers. This is an example where a social network removed a bottleneck that existed in an organization, and the social network was able to work around the bottleneck to provide value for the whole network.

I have experienced the power of social network as an 18 year college student some 20 years ago. Through a family member I was able to get introduced to the president of a large university, to whom I brought to his attention my interest for a summer job. Because of the trust he had in my family member and in my skills, he connected me with the hiring manager who interviewed me and gave me the job the same day. This is an example of a social network that reduces the number of links between nodes. We have heard in the news about job seekers who communicate directly with CEOs and are able to get an interview. Social networks as a concept is not new, however technology has enabled nodes to be more easily accessible and has brought down barriers of communications.

Social networks that bring value are those that are developed at not only the same social levels but different levels. Imagine creating bridges and networks across different demographics. For example networking an ex-inmate, homeless individual or at-risk youth through a trusted relationship to networks of employment, professional development and economic development. The power of social network analysis is that it will identify new nodes, decision makers and information flow paths that do not necessarily follow the traditional paths.  For example an ex-inmate will typically interface with the society through a parole officer, or an at-risk youth would interface with opportunities through a social worker, however through a social network the ex-inmate transitioning would be able to interact with a multitude of opportunities at different levels of the society through his social coach, and the same applies to the young at-risk person. Social networks can allow groups in a society or enterprise that are usually not highly connected to be closer and less isolated.

Trust is a key element in a successful social network, it is a relationship based not on need, but on mutual social benefit and sense of community.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Shoot for a Star Even if You Miss

Courage and boldness, two attributes of a successful systems engineer and leader that make a difference between opportunity seizure and status quo. It is not always easy to make decisions that result in a big change, or address a big gap. Sometimes these decisions are needed. I am a big advocate of evolutionary development, meaning changes that occur in phases and evolve over time. However the decision to initiate that change and stay in the game until the end needs to be done with a sense of urgency. So lets look at an example to clarify the point.

You are a community leader and you notice that the rate of growth of your community membership exceeds your forecasted studies, and people will not be able to park their cars soon on property. The decision to expand the current parking space versus acquisition of a new satellite office for future growth is a major decision, and is not easy, but it needs to be made quickly. The solution implementation itself (parking or site acquisition) itself should be evolutionary.

So what does this have to do with courage and shooting for the moon? Well, a conservative systems engineer will propose a solution which entails the least risk. In the case above that might be to expand the parking area at a conservative rate each 5 years. A bold systems engineer might propose an immediate expansion, with a partnership with the church next door, and the charter for expanding the community center horizontally in another locality with the vision of spreading throughout the State within 5 years. That is a very different vision, one that requires commitment, radical change, motivation, dedication and courage.

Courageous leaders shoot for a shining star, and if they fail they know that their chance of landing on the moon - which is still an achievement - is high. They are willing to take the risk, to plan effectively, have a backup plan and will not settle for less than the moon.

Do you know have a vision of your star and do you know where is your moon?

More on Zero is Hero

So Salah Elleithy dropped me a note ... and shared information about his intriguing blog name ... Take a guess and get a free book on job hunting !!

Something that when it is zero, it leads to prosperity, development and will prevent inflation and depreciation. What is that something? First one to get the correct answer will get a copy of my free book Pragmatic Job Hunting.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Authority and Influence Through Servant Leadership

Many leaders miss the whole point of leadership. It is simply to serve. An effective leader is one who can serve and has the influence to make things happen to allow him/her to serve. Unfortunately many leaders believe that their role is to control and police. That is a fallacy. Leadership is not about enforcement, it is about strategy, vision, developing others and sustainability. Enforcement is a tactical task and does not need a leader, it needs an executor in the form of an employee.

Servant leadership was introduced in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf, however the concept is not new to humanity. God through his revelations to Ibrahim (Abraham), Moses, Jesus and Mohammad (peace be upon all of them) guided mankind to the true understanding of leadership. When God addressed Ibrahim (pbuh) he informed him that he is making him a leader to all of the human race. Ibrahim asked God to give leadership to his offspring and generations to come, but God corrected Ibrahim and clarified that leadership is not to be given to transgressors. Those who go over the boundaries of God. God wants the human race to follow Ibrahim. The question then becomes what is it that Ibrahim possessed that made him required by God to carry the burden of leadership on his shoulders? The answer is submission. In the Quran, in the chapter of the Cow, God shares with us a beautiful conversation that took place between God and Ibrahim and it ends showing us that Ibrahim confirmed his submission to God, this submission encompassed compassion, love, service to God and care for mankind through his building the Holy Kaaba, making prayers and supplications that God accept from him and his son, make them remain submitters, and that God give the best of bounties, guidance, to his offspring, and send a messenger from among themselves that guides them and purifies them.

"the answer is submission, followed by compassion"

God teaches Mohammad (pbuh) that should he been harsh and difficult people would have walked away from him. After submission (belief), compassion is positioned at the heart of being a servant leader. We have many examples of the Prophet being a compassionate servant leader; spending long hours of time with the youth of his community, joking with the elders, caring for the orphans, looking after the needy, serving the neighbors and coaching the young to take over responsibility and leadership. Mohammad (pbuh) was an empathetic listener, when talking with others he would give them his full attention, and fully turn towards the speaker, he would never get go of a handshake until the other party did first, he would always smile in the face of others and be an attentive listener, reflecting on what is being said to him, analyzing it, acknowledging and sharing the feelings of the speaker. The Prophet (pbuh) always recognized others' needs and feelings. He was well aware of their issues and acknowledged their concerns and needs.
A servant leader is one that is able to accept criticism, just like Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, when a woman from among the audience one day jumped up and recited a verse from the Quran which contradicted Omar and strongly corrected him. Omar was accepting the advice and smiled. A servant leader is one who endures, and is courageous, such a leader is courageous to take risks to serve others with what pleases God. A servant leader will make sure policies and procedures are flexible and efficient to serve the people, the servant leader will take risks to try new things and will be courageous to stand next to his/her decision. Servant leaders do not hide behind bureaucracies and policies that are handicapping and find them as shelters for excuses for not serving the followers. Mohammad was a courageous leader, taking risks when signing treaties with his enemies, accepting behavior from others at times of distress. Omar was risk taking as well, he stopped the application of Hudud (Islamic rulings on major crimes) at times of poverty and economic downturns.

A servant leader is one who transforms an experience and a follower, a leader who not only embraces change, trust, delegation and integration, but also one who acts in a powerful way to transform the behavior of his followers. Mohammad (pbuh) has many instances when he transformed Omar from the angry disbeliever who was after killing him to the submissive crying believer. He transformed the ruthless thug and disbeliever who attacked him under the tree while sleeping into a humble, compassionate believer. He transformed Arabia, he transformed the world. Ghandi is another modern example of a servant leader who exhibited transformation in our times.

"A servant leader is one who transforms an experience and a follower, a leader who not only embraces change, trust, delegation and integration, but also one who acts in a powerful way to transform the behavior of his followers."

Servant leaders humble themselves and work for serving the cause of God through serving the people with wisdom and best of advice. They build bridges of cooperation, trust and compassion. They care for others more than they care for themselves.

Servant leaders are leaders who are hard to spot in the middle of a crowd, they are easy going, cheerful, accepting and trustworthy. They have authority not through control, but rather through love and admiration. They respect others, the can not sleep the nights when they know that one of their followers is hungry, has a problem or is in need.

A servant leader is one who cares that each young person under his responsibility is protected in his deen (way of life, religion) and has the means to get closer to his/her Lord. A servant leader is one who cares that each elder person under his responsibility has their needs fulfilled and the capabilities to look forward to a bright tomorrow.

"Ibn-Al-Khattab did, .. ask yourself did I cry today because I fell short in my leadership responsibility?"

Servant leaders care about the core and not the surface. They care that the hearts are satisfied and the minds are at peace. They do not care too much about what people say about them, or how they view them, or whether people see them following policies and rules. After all policies and rules are to benefit and assist in growth, not to block success and impede progress.

To every leader out there, I remind myself and you if you want to lead, then be a servant. Put your face in the dirt and humble yourself just like Omar Ibn-Al-Khattab did, and ask yourself did I cry today because I fell short in my leadership responsibility?

"I follow the footsteps of Omar when coaching leaders .... and I follow the footsteps of Abu Bakr when I coach followers"

When I coach leaders I follow the footsteps of Omar when it comes to coaching leaders, I bang on them real hard. I do not just criticize, I send them a blow into their face. Call it a wake up call, call it a reality check. No sugar coating, no sweet talk, direct dump of feedback from the heart. Coaching a follower is very different. I follow the footsteps of Abu Bakr when it comes to dealing with followers.

In 2000 Larry Spears summarized Greenleaf's servant leadership writings into ten characteristics:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to Growth
  • Building Community
Servant leadership is deeply rooted in the Islamic way of life. Traits of compassion, submission, patience, generosity, frugal life-style, humility, humbleness, love, caring, sincerity, integrity, courage, honesty, dedication, commitment, perseverance, steadfastness and ihsan are all components of a servant leader.

"compassion, submission, patience, generosity, frugal life-style, humility, humbleness, love, caring, sincerity, integrity, courage, honesty, dedication, commitment, perseverance, steadfastness and ihsan"

I share this little knowledge I have with every leader out there, whether a member of the board of a non-profit, a county executive, a country president, a teacher, a parent, a principal, a CEO, a head of class or a self-leader.

pbuh = peace be upon him

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Zero is Hero, A blog by Salah Elleithy

My friend Salah launched a blog a few months ago, Zero is Hero. It can be reached at

Zero is a very interesting number. Mankind has been using numbers from the days of the Babylonians. However we never knew about the number zero until much later in history, sometime around 458 AD. Zero comes from arabic term "Sifr" and indicates two very different meanings. The first meaning being empty, and the second a place holder in a larger number to indicate a multiple of ten. Zero did revolutionize the numbering system and provided more meaning to a positional concept of numbers. The positional concept of numbers was introduced around 500 AD by Al-Khawarizmi.

To read more about zero check the links below, and do not forget to drop by Salah's blog

[6] "1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World", Second Edition, Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization, p. 66, 67.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Rare But Catastrophic

Accidents are a fact of life, simply because we are humans and have been created with two key characteristics; (1) decision-making, and (2) limited abilities. Only the creator of the universe has full control over every single element in the universe, ranging from the smallest part of an atom to the largest galaxy.

Personal accidents are very common and their impacts could be trivial to severe, and are usually local. Examples are simple fender benders, a child pushing another one while reaching out for a toy doll, and a house fire.

Organizational accidents on the other hand are less common and their impacts are more significant, and usually devastating and affecting others not related to the organization or its services. The root cause of an organizational impact can be due to an individual choice, a group decision, or a larger organizational error. However, at the end it is within the context of an organization. Individual accidents could also have origins in organizations. Hence, the line of separation between individual and organizational accidents is subtle and often quite not clear. Examples of organizational accidents are aircraft crashes like Air India's recent crash 1, 2, 3, and BP's oil well leak 4, 5, 6.

Key differences between individual and organizational accidents are listed below:

Root Cause Individual or personal error, negligence; poor decision-making; poor personal quality. Accumulated errors; altered relationships between systems and human elements; altered states of the environment due to technological innovations
Impact Local, usually agent and victim could be the same; small to devastating Wide-spread, reaches to uninvolved populations; small to devastating.
Frequency High Low
Predictability Easy Medium
Complexity Low Medium  - High
Survival Rate Medium – High Low – Medium
Defenses Weak or lacking Medium to strong

A main challenge in understanding organizational accidents is defining where the boundaries of the accident end. Both time and causality are seamless and do not have natural boundaries. To best analyze an accident, to prevent it from happening again, one may limit the scope of interest to things that people in the organization can manage. Accidents are usually triggered when some weakness in a defense system appears, the weakness could be a latent condition that exists and turned into an active failure. Latent conditions are similar to pathogens in a human body, they can be present for a long time and might not be detectable, however once triggered they turn into failures leading to immediate accidents. All organizations young and mature, simple and complex include latent conditions within their boundaries. More about latent conditions and active failures in my next post.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Dedication and Commitment: What if They Existed on a Project or the Workplace?

I had an opportunity to listen to Michael Phelps this week in Baltimore at a convention. He shared factors leading to his success. The one that intrigued me the most was when he mentioned that he worked with his coach following his guidance and advice, and for five full years he practiced every single day, not a single day off. When you think about it that is really something. For a 13 year old to practice every single day for four hours between workouts and being soaked in the pool, add to it his school hours, homework, family life and hanging out with friends, until he is 18. That is effective time utilization to say the least.

Michael had a clear vision, he wanted to have gold medals around his neck, and he wanted to hear the national anthem of his country being broadcast across the world while he receives the medal. His objective was clear, the path was direct and he needed to execute. His execution would not be possible without guidance. Michael understood that his coach is his guidance, he followed his leader in every foot step. They practiced together, ate together, had fun together, worked together, persevered together, talked together, and did everything together. Michael was committed and so was his coach, and together they had a winning team. Michael shadowed his leader, to become a leader. I consider Michael a leader, he is the world leader in swimming, and his coach is even a greater leader as he developed a leader out of Michael.

There are many beautiful lessons for project teams, volunteer teams, young people, experienced people and almost everyone in the few experiences that Michael Phelps shared on Tuesday. I will list some below,

1. Great leaders make leaders.
2. Leaders need mentors and coaches.
3. A vision is created by a leader, it is the spark that starts the passion.
4. A success story is created by a team, turning the spark into a wild fire.
5. A coach is more than just a teacher, a coach is a partner.
6. Commitment and dedication are not for anyone, they are invaluable and only the patient will realize the reward.
7. Leaders persevere and steadfast.
8. Humility and Humbleness can not be absent for dedication and commitment to flourish.

Imagine applying all of this on your ailing project, now add to it a solid methodology. With confidence, you can expect your project to get back on track sooner than you thought.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

5 Signs of a Dysfunctional Attitude in Your Organization

The Baldrige National Quality Program covers all functional components of a business. An effective organization will exhibit strong interacting processes across the various functional units. Many organization however lack such strong interactions among its functional groups. How to know if yours is one of them? Five common symptoms are:

  1. Hiding mistakes and keeping them internal to the functional unit.
  2. Selfishness and attempting to get all the resources we need for our unit, regardless of the needs of other units.
  3. Making sure we spend all the budget before the fiscal year is over, to avoid reduction in next year's allotment.
  4. Focusing on own unit's work and not supportive of initiatives outside the unit.
  5. Ignoring the external customer unless we are in a sales or marketing role.

    Organizations which structure internal operations based on end-to-end processes have been able to offer their customers a more comprehensive and integrated value proposition. Moreover the organizations are more streamlined and efficient. A leading example is IBM's Enterprise Process Framework (EPF) 1, 2. IBM transformed its operations across multiple end-to-end levels, each level represents one enterprise process area, for example product ordering, IT services or HR services.

    A process optimized organization is a mid-stage organization in between a business unit optimized organization and an enterprise optimized organization. Optimized business units are silos of work centers and processing units, process optimized are definitely a step above where waste is reduced, processing is automated end-to-end and economies of scale can be achieved. If your organization is exhibiting any of the five signs above, then know that you are still way far from a process optimized organization.

    Read more here:
    - Streamlining Business Processes, IBM
    - The Business Shrink The Dysfunctional Workplace
    - Top Ten Reasons Teams Become Dysfunctional

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Getting Over the Project Bifurcation Point

    So we are already there. We reached the bifurcation point on the project I am currently managing. It is a $3.5 million software development project to automate and speed up the ordering and provisioning of several telecom services at a major operator. The project is due to deploy in June 2010 but is behind schedule by more than six months. So how do we get out of this dilemma? (see post on 2/19/10 for symptoms of project bifurcation).

    Along with two of my colleagues we have come up with a simple straight forward process to stop the bleeding and deliver something over the next three months. The process is summarized as follows:

    1. Enforce an immediate stop on all activities.
    2. Rescope the project to deliver the core capabilities in the time available.
    3. Ensure all project documents are baselined and a strict change control process is enforced to avoid creep
    4. Introduce an agile approach to realize some leaps in project delivery
    5. Evaluate open issues on the project and close any ones that are no longer applicable to the rescoped project.
    6. Prioritize the issues that remain open and ensure all architectural and user requirement related issues are resolved first.
    7. Ensure end to end traceability starting from business objectives to test results including all the various requirement level, design artifacts and test cases.
    8. Ensure all interfaces are well understood and interface requirements are documented.
    9. Hold at least one technical review at some reasonable point to assess the integrity and soundness of the work developed and processes followed.

    These simple steps if done, at the bare minimum will guarantee that you will deliver something, that will most probably work. When projects reach bifurcation salvage is the top priority and salvaging means focusing on the key capabilities and ensuring that they will operate as expected. Do not try to get too fancy and deliver everything, it will not work and the project will fail.

    Friday, March 05, 2010

    Change Agent Strategies: A Need for Survivability

    The only constant in this world are the rules of the Creator. The world we live in has been created in accordance to precise measures and in adherence to strict laws. Laws of physics, chemistry and biology are a few examples. Another clear example is the earth's rotation around itself and the sun, a phenomena we experience every moment and take for granted. So does this mean we live in a constant world with no changes. Absolutely not, change is the norm of our lives. People's interests change, impacting business dynamics, which impacts economies and society which in turn impacts people's behaviors and the cycle goes on.

    Organizations which wish to survive must adapt to change, in other words must change themselves. Healthy change however has to be founded by a certain set of values which a person, organization and society treasures and takes as sacred.

    Hence, there are two main points we need to consider when we talk about change. The first is a stable unchanging framework that defines the boundaries that we operate and live within. We can not exceed these boundaries, either due to inherent limitations in our capabilities or due to a conflict with laws of the Creator, manifested in how the creation behaves. The second point is that for change to be of utility it must be controlled and understood. So lets look at an example to understand these two points better.

    Considering the sun, moon and earth. These are Creations of the All-Mighty God. Their behavior does not change, and adhere to a precise set of laws, and we are unable to change their behavior. The sun rises from the east every morning and sets in the west every evening. This is our framework of light, heat and energy. Now we might decide that during summer season we do not want too much sun light, so we place barriers between us and the sun in the form of hat, canopy, umbrella or some other structure that we develop. We can change the configuration of this barrier as the sun rotates and moves around, and during winter months we can remove it all-together.

    "a stable unchanging framework that defines the boundaries that we operate and live within is needed for a viable environment"
    What we are able to do is only change the impact of the behavior of the framework, but not the framework itself. When mankind starts to attempt to change the framework itself, unpredictable results occur which could be devastating, if we are even able to do so.  Change within the framework is healthy and recommended, as it leads to innovation and growth. Going back to the example of the sun's heat and protecting one self from it, we realize that the simple shield of a ceiling made of straws thousands of years ago has turned into advanced engineering structures with air cooling and filtering systems and sensor controlled sky lights.

    " controlled change leads to innovation, growth and opportunities"
    Of course man made frameworks are not perfect, and could have limitations that require changes and improvements. This is also healthy as long as we can control the changes and understand the impact of the change on what is inside that framework and on other frameworks that communicate with our framework.

    So how can one implement change agents that are healthy and valuable? Lets say an organization wishes to change its bylaws. The bylaws to the organization is the same as the sun to people living on earth. It is the framework by which this organization runs its affairs and the binding contract among its members. Lets look at some practical steps for introducing the change into the bylaws.

    1. The need for the change must be clearly understood. This includes documenting the need for the change. Assessing its feasibility, its pros and cons, its urgency, its importance and its impact. This is must be followed by an assessment to study the readiness of the organization for change. Once the need is understood, the need must be communicated to all impacted parties and awareness must be established.

    2. Organize a team or project with required authority to guide the process and formulate methods, policies and plans to control and guide the change process; and visualize it.

    3. Remove obstacles that prevent others from acting on the vision, and create a sense of urgency to ensure buy-in and support. It is crucial to ensure that all parties involved are empowered. An empowered organization is one whose main focus is on its constituents that it serves and the role of its leadership is one of a facilitator and coach, rather than a controller and monitor. Relationships across the organization are peer-based rather than top-down and every individual in the organization has the ability to make decisions and take responsibility within a clear framework without lack of power and authority.

    4. Coach, train and educate top management on the technical aspects involved in the change.

    5. Collect all ideas and points of view to each proposed change. Measure, control and report progress of the implementation of the change.

    6. Be ready to utilize emotional intelligence, and to handle behavioral issues effectively. Control the complexities of change which are a result of the intangible areas involved in change such as beliefs, behaviors and perceptions of people through constraint management, scenario forecasting, motivation, negotiation and collaboration.

    7. Guide the assessment of the results of change, and ensure the implementation of clear acceptance criteria and metrics to accept the change as measured or to make further improvements to it. Capture lessons learned and evaluate comprehensively the impact of the change; economically, socially, and otherwise.

    When change agents hit road blocks the points above could help move the process forward safely and effectively. Each of these points is an exercise in itself and needs to be executed carefully and comprehensively. However once the need for change can be justified and plans developed, execution needs to be quick.

    More on changing the state of an ailing project that reached bifurcation next week.

    ** The above image has been developed using Wordle at

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Project Bifurcation: Are We There Yet?

    Bifurcation is a sudden qualitative change in a system's behavior. The change can be for good or worse, and could be small or large. A subtle change in a project usually has negligible impact initially, however it could quickly multiply following some patterns such as period-doubling or subharmonic bifurcation. These developments in the magnitude of changes in a project could be devastating and lead to chaos and eventually total failure or collapse.

    One key challenge is identifying these reflection points and be prepared to deal with them. However, fortunately there are signs that can help the project manager forecast and determine that the project is approaching one of these points that cause a huge negative impact on the project health.

    A few examples of projects that are at a bifurcation point and approaching a chaotic state are:

    • Escalation of issues to upper management
    • Project documents not being baselined due to lack of agreement of stakeholders
    • Project documents changing too often
    • Teams not agreeing on technical approaches, processes or solution architectures

    I have recently been asked to join one of my client's ailing projects. The day I joined the project there were over 300 technical issues logged, over 200 which were open issues. I quickly noticed that these issues are not being closed. The reason chaos. The project had reached a bifurcation point where closure of issues was not only a challenge due to the reasons listed above, but also the issues were becoming redundant, reproducing off-shoot issues, and duplicating as a result of bifurcation of problems, and the non-linear growth in issue dependencies.

    Other symptoms of a project reaching a negative bifurcation point is sudden scope changes, descoping of work without having a clear documented baseline for the fear of not being able to meet deadlines. The project team's rework skyrockets, and effectiveness of team members drops to almost nil. This is a point of not only chaos but also paralysis. Paralysis could exhibit itself in paralysis of leadership decision making, paralysis of technical work productivity, and paralysis of stakeholder status reporting and performance assessment. Projects that reach this point will exhibit the following:
    • Work performed out of order resulting in errors and omissions
    • Large volumes of rework
    • Sudden decisions for scope change
    • Project teams on hold, awaiting for others to provide input
    • High rates of change in technical direction and documentation
    • Change requests out of order

    Next week I will talk more about ways to mitigate the impact of a crisis on a project that has went beyond major negative bifurcation points as part of efforts to bring it back to order.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Leadership Lessons Through Project Management from Around - India 2025

    After about 60 years of independence India is still considered a country developing itself. Since the 1990s India has embarked on a serious transformation initiative and has not turned its face back. The Indians understand their mission, its significance and are committed to making it a reality.

    Today India, the world's second largest populous country and the 10th largest economy is expected to be the 3rd largest economy in the world by 2025. Indians are making use of many factors to reach this expectation, among them is project management. How are Indians using project management principles to avoid a business as usual status, and become a global leader bringing inspiration to other nations?

    Unfortunately many successful organizations and growing institutions focus on the immediate gains, although immediate gains are important and required to ensure positive cash flow and growth, it can in some cases make longer term goals, issues and actions less clear and understood.

    Indians have invested heavily in promoting project management concepts, knowledge and practice. A surge in project management certification has been witnessed in the last decade. Indians have been keen on bringing project management conferences to their country, this was noticed by holding the first International Project Management Association (IPMA) world conference outside of Europe in forty years, in New Delhi.

    Applying project management principles to the business process outsourcing (BPO) sectors has resulted in the abundance of best practices and streamlined approaches. Heavy investment into various sectors such as transportation, construction, energy and healthcare is resulting in the abundance of projects requiring even further application of project management skills and knowledge. The Indians have been successful in applying lessons learned in the these sectors to other areas of the society which has traditionally not applied project management such as tourism, education and research.

    Cross industry lessons and critical thinking are key success factors for institutional leadership. The ability of an institution to apply project management concepts across industries could result in huge economies of scale and growth opportunities

    Indians have not only used project management for capital projects, but also its application is expanding into the management of operations, training, competence development, new product development and services.  This has been assisted by the introduction of project management into educational curriculum at institutes of higher education [1, 2]. Moreover the Indian government has provided incentives to businesses [3, 4, 5] to establish training centers and to develop competency in core competence areas including project management.

    Interestingly, although India ranks lowest in a study published by the International Growth Centre analyzing management practices at firms. India scores above the US when it comes to the percentage of firms applying sound management practices.

    We learn several lessons from the Indian experience, most important are:

    1. Institutions which wish to accelerate their growth need to look at experiences not only within industry, but across industries.
    2. Project management brings scalability benefits and allows the institution to take on larger loads of work and initiatives in a streamlined approach.
    3. Project management for services, and managing operations as projects could bring in order, improve quality, and enhance performance.
    4. Investing is project management education and competence development in younger generations and introducing project management as a field of study is critical to skills development.

    Sunday, February 07, 2010

    Stakeholder Analysis: Are We Doing Enough?

    Many organizations and individuals focus on satisfying the customer, which is of course one of the basic rules of business. After all, no customer equals no business. However the majority of us do not have a comprehensive look at all stakeholders. Stakeholders include not only customers, but suppliers, partners, customers' suppliers, policy makers, our own management, investors and the list goes on.

    If you are a non-profit school your students and their parents are your customers, and you ought to make sure the services they are receiving are top notch quality. However your donors are also key stakeholders. They have high interest in what you do, otherwise they would not have donated their hard earned dollars, and they have high power in supporting your mission. Maybe even more than the customer. Does you school stay in continuous touch with the donors? Does it constantly solicit feedback from them? Do they have representation at your various governance bodies?

    One useful tool to analyze stakeholders is to look at their power and their interest, we call that a power/interest grid. Power can be mapped on one dimension and interest on another, as shown in the top figure.

    Another tool is a matrix linking stakeholder groups and their interests to an entity's capabilities allowing the identification of value gap to be addressed. A sample of such a simple stakeholder alignment matrix is on the right. It allows us to align our capabilities to our stakeholder's interest and needs.

    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    How Effective is Your PMO

    Project Management Offices come in all shapes and forms. Some are there to support the various projects in the organization, others provide oversight and control, and quite a few offer direction and expertise. A good PMO can make all the difference in the world to project performance and return on invesment at a company.

    Effective PMOs share some key attributes which are:

    • Ensure standardized terminology and process across projects
    • Ensure best practices are propogated across the projects
    • Instill a culture of innovation and allow project teams to provide ideas for improvements to process and templates
    • Automate and streamline project reporting and project tools, for repeatability and efficiency

    It is all too common to witness PMOs that stifle innovation and productivity through very rigid templates, or exhaustive processes that add overhead. PMOs must allow project managers and teams the flexibility to adapt processes and guidance the unique attributes and constraints of their project.

    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Pragmatic Hob Hunting: Book Proof Arrived

    With the grace of the Lord, my new book's proof arrived today. One final adjustment and its on the market inshaa Allah... Want a free copy?

    Leave a comment below and email me your snail mail address to anassar at, and will send you a free copy. Offer valid only in 48 States.