As active project managers and PMO leaders, we need to look beyond just “linear thinking” and explore some other ways of examining situations, gathering information, and making decisions.  “Nonlinear thinking” “systems thinking,” and “integrative thinking” are just a few variations we need to be aware of and use occasionally.  This blog post is about “linear” versus “nonlinear” thinking.

Linear thinking is the usual “cause and effect” thinking that we have all grown up with.  It seeks to relate an action with a result and jump to a “cause and effect” solution.  For example, we see a broom fall from its resting place on a wall and make a loud noise at it hits the floor.  We associate the falling broom with the loud noise in a “cause and effect” relationship.  Or if we take some initiative to put something in motion and we see the end result that someone else takes action as a result of our initiative, we associate a “cause and effect” or linear thinking relationship.  But not all actions and results we see are the result of something we put into motion.  There can be “nonlinear” relationships between what we see and what actually happened that are very important in our understanding of the world and our surroundings.

Elsewhere in my blog I related this story but I have a different purpose for retelling it at this time.  When I was about ten years old, every Saturday I would watch the Baseball Game of the Week on TV at 1 PM.  Usually I would prepare a sandwich and sit in front of the TV at noon to give myself plenty of time to eat the sandwich.  CBS was the channel for the Game of the Week and the New York Yankees were usually the tam of choice by the network from Yankee Stadium in New York.

As I ate my sandwich, the network played a half hour program at noon or 12:30 each Saturday known as “Industry on Parade.”  “Industry on Parade” was a program produced by the National Association of Manufactures (NAM) extolling the new industries created after WW II and the “processes” they employed.  I found this program to be so fascinating because it detailed the “process” employed in each industry and showed assembly lines and other examples of the processes in place.

Throughout my undergraduate and graduate training in science and engineering, I often recalled the “Industry on Parade” program as the best tutorial on “PROCESS” I was ever exposed to.  That included some very formal courses in systems theory and networks.

Now, it might seems a stretch to you to say that the New York Yankees influenced my career choice of process and process improvement but the nonlinearity of such relationships is very much at work today in our businesses and social life.

The fact that I was poised to watch the Baseball Game of the Week meant that i was exposed to an environment that had TV programs available for my viewing.

There was once a college senior majoring in Physics in the late 1940’s who was undecided about his career after graduation.  He was a lab instructor and well thought of by the faculty.  One day the Director of the Physics School asked him what his plans were after graduation.  He said he was undecided but thought he would take a job.  The Director said he was being too short sighted and gave him a list of graduate physics programs to which he should apply.  Because the Director was a precise person, he alphabetized the list with “Chicago” being first on the list and his school “Yale” last on the list.  The Director told him to write a letter to each of the programs expressing interest.  With coursework and labs, the student only wrote to The University of Chicago.   When he arrived on campus to begin his graduate program, he was amazed to find many Nobel Laureates and advanced students who had worked on the Manhattan Project.  Chicago was, after all, the location for the first sustained nuclear reaction in a pile configuration.  Consequently, he received a top notch graduate experience, all because the Director had been careful to alphabetize the list.  How nonlinear can an outcome be? Very!

The next time one of your project team members seems to behave in a fashion that might be detrimental to the project outcomes or makes a decision that you think should have been reviewed by others, don’t automatically assume that the team member is being influenced completely by his project environment.  Consider that something else may be going on in his personal life of in his relationships with others.  Think nonlinearly.

As a project manager, it is easy to look close to the source for solutions.  Sometimes solutions are farther from the source and need insight and investigation.  Think nonlinearly.


I have received a number of comments from readers of my blog MEL BOST PMO EXPERT that make the observation that applying the Framework I have stressed in my book, Lessons Learned: Taking Project Management to a New Level, must mean that you have a large business process that needs improvement.

However, consider the fact that lessons learned are all around us in everyday life.  How we choose to capitalize on their usefulness is our own choice.  A quote that I often hear is “If we do not learn from history, we are destined to repeat it.”  How true this statement is!!!!

Every process, large and small, can benefit from a logical, rational approach to identifying the lessons from the situation and then finding the appropriate place to improve the process with the lessons.  In your own life, look for instances where what was expected differs from what actually happened.

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I am sure that most of my readership is familiar with the Billy Joel song “New York State of Mind.”  Those of you around New York will recognize in this song some familiar landmarks and favorite places which he says creates a “New York State of Mind.”  His longing for the old familiar of New York and its surroundings is particularly appealing in this song, which has become one of my favorites.

Jose Eduardo Deboni (c)

Jose Eduardo Deboni (c)

I would like to use Billy Joel’s theme to introduce my readers and friends to a concept I call “a Process State of Mind.”

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As most of my readers know, for the past twenty years I have been actively involved in defining project practices and in leading project teams to successful completion of projects.  I have learned a great deal through direct experience, feedback from other project managers, and from benchmarking my own organization’s practices versus those of others.

by kongsky–

But I never cease to be amazed at the sensitivities that are inherent in the project process, and the insights that can be gained by listening to the feedback of experienced, in the trenches, project managers.

This post is about one of those rare sensitivities that can really “leverage” your energy and activity of your project team at critical times in your project.

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Those of you who saw the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers footballand the Seattle Seahawks yesterday are certainly asking yourselves the question about how a team can appear to play so poorly for 55 minutes of the game and then win the game to go to the Super Bowl in two weeks.  The Seattle Seahawks are certainly an excellent team and certainly a well coached team but needless penalties as well as a sluggish offense gave the Packers opportunities to build a 19-7 lead late into the fourth quarter.  The Packers certainly capitalized on every opportunity they saw to build a lead that looked insurmountable with five minutes to play in the regulation game.  But Seattle continued to play “their game,” insisting on using the strengths in their tool kit that had taken them to the NFC Championship game.

Finally, with great effort and agility, they took the lead 22-19.  A last second field goal by Green Bay sent the game into overtime.  After winning the coin toss, Seattle moved down the field to score the winning touchdown and the game 28-22.

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It’s funny how the brain and your mind work together–even when you are not engaged consciously in an activity.

Take for example one of the Lou Tice principles I have often referred to in this blog.

Lou Tice often said that managers should not wait until they have assembled all their resources to make bold plans.

Instead, managers should focus their attention and vision on bold plans first.  Then the mind and bring will use their “energy” to find the solutions for the bold plans in both conscious and unconscious undertakings.  The power of the Mind and brain combination is truly remarkable.

Now what does this have to do with the process of “osmosis” and project manager performance?

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As project managers, we have all participated in Project Reviews and Project Closeout Sessions that looked and felt more like “inquisitions” than positive, healthy, and constructive reviews. “What went wrong? Who is to blame? Who was responsible for these outcomes and results? These actual results were not expected and we are going to get to the bottom of the story.”

There is a certain “mood” created by reviews such as these that perpetuates similar behavior in subsequent reviews. They take on a “habitual characteristic.” How does this happen and how might we as project management practitioners change these practices to improve our project management processes in a positive, sustainable and constructive way?

Each of us has often found ourselves “whistling” or “humming” a tune which has stuck in our heads. You could be walking through a department or grocery store with some background music softly playing and suddenly you are humming or whistling it too. Or you could see a musical performance that really struck a “resonance” in your heart or mind.

We often say that this music sets the “mood” or “tone” for our behavior and actions. For example, I can recall as a young child hearing my mother softly singing…

O what a beautiful morning,
O what a beautiful day.
O what a beautiful feeling,
Everything’s going my way.

I didn’t think much about it at the time but, as I grew older, I began to recognize that what she was singing actually represented her philosophy or attitude and approach to life. The more she carried this tune with her throughout the day and week, the more her behavior and actions and those of people around her mirrored that tone.

I would say that there is something “infectious” about the mood music you have in your head, So much so that I want to challenge each of you to find that “mood” music that improves your performance and that of your projects in every area.

Once you do that, you will realize that you personally can change the mood and tone of your Project Reviews and Closeouts to reflect your own philosophy of what a successful project should look and feel like.

For project managers who are familiar with the older ways of conducing project reviews, there exists an opportunity to change completely the “mood music” of these reviews. YOU CAN BREAK THE HABIT. Focusing on project lessons learned in a positive manner would establish a “mood” or “tone” for all project managers in an organization or group which they could “whistle” or “hum” as they go about their daily project manager tasks.

Is this thinking too radical for the project community to embrace and use as a new standard for conducting “actionable” project reviews? I really think not. We have all been impacted by “mood music” in all facets of our lives and this is just another application of that concept.

You as an active project manager in your organization can help ingrain this thinking and approach in your project practices. You can forge a new philosophy and approach to your project management career going forward by embracing these ideas.

In a recent June 2014 issue of Scientific American is an article “The Neuroscience of Habits.” One of the major findings recently is that short terms decisions and judgments are often directed by “habit” than by rational and reasoned study of all the issues. “Mood music” works the same as habits. So if we can get project managers to embrace project lessons learned as the most up to date “mood music” they will begin to use it in their habitual thinking going forward.

Before his death, noted leadership development teacher Louis Tice of The Pacific Institute often stated that “People act in accordance with the truth as they perceive it to be.” What if that TRUTH were guided by mood music which valued lessons learned as a contributor to advancement of process and procedures? When I was a project coordinator with ConocoPhillips, we initiated some Project Lessons Learned Reviews to give our project managers some experience at identifying, capturing and sharing lessons learned from projects. We established a Microsoft Sharepoint database for storing these lessons learned for future reference. In doing so, I would like to think that we started the “mood music” for project managers to follow going forward which focused less on who was to blame for project shortfalls and more on the improvement of the project process going forward for the entire organization.

So, what is the bottom line here? If you ensure that your project environment is providing the right background and mood music to your project managers, you can cement the habitual reactions that will lead to identifying, capturing and sharing project lessons learned for continuous improvement to your business.

So, come on Maestro…..a little mood music if you please!!!

Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand, and with a lever I will move the whole world.”

As a project manager, you have probably used the term “lever” in the engineering or physics context to describe a device that can be used to gain a “mechanical advantage” in a given scenario.  It means that you can apply force, in varying amounts, to perform useful work.

Likewise, “leverage,” a commonly used word derived from the word “lever,” means the application of any number of concepts to achieve some advantage in a given scenario for the person or group that is skilled in the application of the concept.

Some forms of leverage might be an individual or group’s position in an organization, a specialized knowledge, a unique piece of information, or a robust technology, etc.

A good example of technology as a “leveraging” variable arose a few weeks back in a New York Yankees baseball game with the Detroit Tigers.  With Yankee Mark Teixeira on third base, the batter hit a ground ball to the infield that resulted in a throw from first base to home to stop a run from scoring.  Teixeira slid into home plate and touched the base with his left hand while the Detroit catcher was almost simultaneously taking the throw from first base and applying the tag to Teixeira.

The home plate umpire called Teixeira out, but Yankees Manager Joe Girardi disagreed.  He challenged the call while his Yankee bench coach called the press box to get some other camera views of the play.  Under challenge, the home plate umpire and umpiring crew chief consulted with the instant replay staff, whose use of camera technology has become an accepted practice in Major League Baseball.

The challenge by Girardi was upheld, and the home plate umpire’s call was reversed.

Girardi had used technology to leverage the situation.

Prior to instant replay technology and challenge, the play would have resulted in an out for the Yankees, and no run scored.

Think of areas in your project management experience where you or a project team member, stakeholder ,or third party has used position, knowledge, information, or technology to “leverage” a situation.  How might you have prepared yourself or your team to “leverage” your outcomes and your project objectives?

Those of you who are familiar with my recent book, Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework, know that I have also applied “leverage” in an organizational dynamics connotation to describe how project lessons learned can be derived from seeing single projects as “events,” but recognizing that a more “leveraging” connotation for project groups can be identified. This can help you make lasting changes in project or business processes by identifying “patterns of behavior” among a group of projects subject to the same project environment.

“Leverage,” in this case, is insight about how project teams behave, how they organize themselves, what management principles and objectives they choose to follow, and what they value as being the “truth” for their direction.

If you as a project manager have not considered “leverage” in your day-to-day work process, give this some thought.

You might turn out to be the “lever” that Archimedes referred to who can move the whole world.

Thanks for reading my 100th Blog Post!

A great deal has been written during this golfing season on the abilities of many young golfers such as Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, and Rory McIlroy on the PGA tour and the international golf circuit.  By winning The Open Championship at Liverpool this past month (and maintaining his number one rank since then), Rory McIlroy has positioned himself to become one of a few select golfers to win Four Major Championships in professional golf.

This caused my thoughts to turn to a golfer who accomplished more than anyone else has accomplished in golf at so young an age…Robert Tyre Jones Jr….better known as Bobby Jones.

Bobby Jones was the only golfer in history to win the Grand Slam of golf which, in 1930, consisted of The U.S. Open, The British Open, the U.S. Amateur, and the British Amateur in the same season.  He accomplished this at age 28.  He was revered by The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews because he won so many British Open titles.  And St. Andrews is, by all accounts, considered to be the birthplace and origin of golf.

The movie Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius was released a few years ago as a tribute to Bobby Jones’s life and his work in establishing Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters Golf Tournament, a Major on the PGA Tour.  The movie does a great job detailing his life in golfing, his love for and devotion to his wife Mary (which caused him to give up tournament golf), his chaotic relationship with professional golfer Walter Hagen, his friendship with Atlanta Journal sports writer O. B. Keeler, and his desire to remain an amateur in the face of intense pressure to become a professional golfer.

What does all of this have to do with project management, you ask?  Well, bear with me.  There are two points to be made here…both extremely relevant to you as a project manager.

In an early scene in the movie when Bobby Jones is being “thrashed” by the deep bunkers and the high winds of the old course at St. Andrews, Bobby Jones turns to his caddy and says “I hate this course.  Who designed this course?”

“A glacier 15,000 years ago,” remarked his caddy.  “The winds are so strong today even the crows are walking.”

In a scene late in the movie, after Jones has tamed the St. Andrews course many time, he tees off for yet another tournament at the old course and says “I love this course.”  What was different?  Same deep bunkers, same windy conditions.

Learning.  Learning how to deal with the elements and the layout of the course and the context of your game is essential to mastering a discipline, whether it is project management or golf. 

When I worked for ConocoPhillips, there was a well-told story that never got old.  In ConocoPhillips’s attempts to drill for and produce oil in the North Sea, the weather condition were often so bad, with extremely heavy wind and rain, that many experienced engineers often said that condition were too bad to work.

Undaunted by the challenge, Phillips Petroleum CEO C. J. (“Pete”) Silas was quoted as saying “We can’t stop now.  We have to learn to work in the rain.”

Similarly, in another scene from the movie, Jones and Keeler are waiting in a train station for a train back to Atlanta after Jones had been narrowly defeated in a major golf tournament.  Although dejected by this loss, Jones realizes that even the loss is valuable, remarking to Keeler that “I just realized that I never really learned anything from those tournaments I won.

Sometimes we are so busy focusing on what went wrong, we don’t see the opportunity in what went right.  This applies to golf as well as to project management.

So, what does this all mean to you as a project manager?  It means that, from this day forward, you have an opportunity to learn and get better at your chosen discipline.  You might be the Bobby Jones of your discipline or you might aspire to be like Bobby Jones.

Every new “golf course” and every past experience is an OPPORTUNITY to grow and learn and share and prosper.

Good golfing!!!!!




Readers of my new book Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework will know that I present a Framework for identifying, capturing, documenting, and sharing “actionable” project lessons learned with the organization, and incorporating them in the project process.

Along with this Framework, I have presented a number of courses on this subject through, CMCS (Collaboration Management and Control Solutions) in Dubai, and through my own consulting firm, MBPE LLC.Walk on the wild side
Creative Commons License photo credit: Maëlle Caborderie

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In my new book Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework, I discuss identifying, capturing, documenting, and sharing project lessons learned, and feeding them back to improve the project and business processes through a Continuous Process Improvement Framework.

Many readers have asked me about Continuous Process Improvement, and my response has always been to emphasize that “Continuous Process Improvement” is really a state of mind, an aspect of maturity.  It is not just another project “activity” that the project group should pursue.

There are many underlying facets of Continuous Process Improvement as well.

First, “do it right the first time” if your organization has a methodology or a practice that they follow consistently.  Eliminating rework and redo will go a long way toward improving overall group and individual performance.

Second, approach everything as if you wanted to find a Best Practice for your organization that could SUSTAIN performance by relying on successful processes that are proven to work in your business context.

Third, continuously look at feedback from stakeholders, customers, clients, auditors, and internal project groups that advocate changing some part of your internal business processes.

Fourth, understand and apply good sound business and project practices as the underlying foundation for your organization’s project processes.  You may recall that I covered this topic in a recent blog.

Fifth, benchmark your tools and your practices versus others in your industry and in your field of discipline.  You will be surprised at how many “new” ways of looking at the same thing there are in action.

An excellent reference in the area of project workflow is a new book by Daniel Epstein and Rich Maltzman entitled Project Workflow Management:  A Business Process Approach.

Continuous Process Improvement is a state of maturity that pervades every facet of your business.  Embrace it and you will find true rewards in the process improvements and resulting performance you will see.

Don’t just take my word for it….be creative in your approaches to everything.

In my new book, Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework, I talk at great length about the role that organizational dynamics plays in driving the behaviors and ultimately the performance of groups like PMOs or Project

Some people have asked me to elaborate more on this subject, so I want to provide a real life example that vividly shows the relationship between mental models in groups/individual behavior.

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Some people are bitten with it an early age.  Some in later life.MH900309173

Some experience it through an event that happened directly to them.  Some experience it by watching someone else impacted by an event.

Some are touched by a revelation about some aspect of life that they either did not understand before or to which they had not previously been exposed.

No matter how it happens to you….BECOME A LIFE-LONG LEARNER.

Embrace what you know, but acknowledge what you don’t know–especially what you know you don’t know.

Choose a “philosophy of life” and let your experiences and relationships guide you to a higher level understanding of what life is all about.

Lou Tice once said “People act according to the truth as they perceive it to be.”  Yes, everyone has a different TRUTH they are living by….one that is based on how and what they perceive about their surroundings and environment.

However, be very wary that you don’t exclude other things from your environment that you need to learn as the world evolves on a day to day basis.  It is so easy to be a life-long learner about those things you want to learn about, but to be oblivious as to other things you need to know.  This is a mistake.

In your Project organization, have you become a life-long learner?  Begin today.

footballLike many football fans last weekend, I watched the gripping championship games this Sunday.

What really hit me about these games was the enormity that they have taken on in recent times.  These are no ordinary football games.  They are duels between two teams fighting to make it to the Super Bowl on February 2….Ground Hog Day.

But even more than the games themselves, I began to watch the attention to detail that each team displayed.

And, the more I watched, the more it became clear that “it’s the little things that count.”  Yes, we all know that is important but all the little things add up to big things and the winner of this game was the team that paid the most attention to the little things.

As a Project Manager, do you pay attention to the little things?  It is truly the stuff that matters….the little things every day that add up to the end results.  Did you talk to that team member who seemed a little reluctant to call the vendor about a problem with the software you were using?  Did you remember to tell your stakeholders that a delay was around the corner because another project would not deliver its information on time?  Did you remember to authorize your team to enlist the help of an experienced resource who had lived through this situation before and delivered?

Think about the myriad of little things you see on your project every day.  You may never play in a Super Bowl, but your reputation as a top notch Project Manager will be assured if you pay attention to the little things.


713c77a096eda382f174d6209a0dcda13In my new book, Lessons Learned:  Taking Project Management to a New Level in a Continuous Process Improvement Framework, I develop a process for project managers at a Project Close phase of their projects to capture, document, and share lessons learned from their projects with the assistance of the project organization.  In the past, many project groups have attempted to document lessons learned, but inevitably they end up on some shelf in the archives of the group, and never really have any impact on the growth and development of the group’s project or business processes going forward. However, I believe that this situation is changing as more and more organizations are embracing the concepts of continuous process improvement.  The framework in my book emphasizes that it isn’t enough to analyze results or outcomes of the project process, and to document lessons learned.  The issue of “actionability” is key here. So what do we really mean when we use the term “actionability?” It means a number of things. First, it means that the organization has an intent to capture, document and share lessons learned. Second, it means that the organization builds in the capability to capture the lessons learned through a facilitated process in which the project manager, his team, and the stakeholders participate “actively” in the process.  There is some debate in organizations today whether the project manager is the best equipped person to do this.  Some organizations are dedicating this activity to a group that is unbiased in its approach, which has the facilitation, framing and reframing, and collaboration skills and competencies to make it work. Third, it means that the organization builds in the capability to actually implement the changes agreed to the in lessons learned statements.  This is not easy in some organizations.  But what I am advocating is that the lessons learned be written in sufficient detail that a knowledgeable person in that group who understands the processes and the complexities of the organizational “structure” can implement the changes.  Ultimately, this is what “actionability” is all about. Fourth, it means that the organization devotes tools and mechanisms of sharing the new changes and incorporating these changes in a way that makes them “the business of the company” and not just a “good thing to consider.” “Actionability” is about intent, capture, documentation, and sharing of project lessons learned in a way that it becomes part of the fabric of the company’s business.  If this is not the case in your organization, ask yourself why not.  Start today to assess where you are with project lessons learned and what path you can take to make all project lessons learned “actionable” in your business context.

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